Has Greece escaped financial calamity?

It is still unclear whether

Is Greece out of the woods? As the euro crisis unfolded this spring, many experts predicted this country would be forced out of the single-currency zone, such was the scale of its economic problems and size of its debt.

I’m back in Athens after several weeks away, and am trying to take the pulse. 

I take a walk across Syntagma Square, in the centre of the city, in autumn sunshine.

Outside the finance ministry, there are several hundred shipyard workers staging a demonstration. 

Nearby are some 40 kiosk owners, on hunger strike. They say they are being driven out of business, and are demanding the right to charge more for products like cigarettes. 

They’ve set up tents, and say they have no intention of going anywhere. The ministry is protected by policemen, with riot shields and helmets, in case the demonstration gets out of hand.

I buy a newspaper, and discover that the trains are not running this week, and the (once efficient, now hopelessly undependable) metro service to the airport is also not working.

Railway staff are on strike again, protesting against privatisation plans.

So is this the beginnings of the winter of discontent that many feared? 

My own feeling is that the street protests have never recovered momentum after the events of May 5, when three bank workers were killed amidst widespread violence in the centre of Athens.

Those deaths were shocking to the vast majority of Greeks.

On the other hand, there’s a mood of anxiety in the country right now, that could easily spill over into anger again. 

Certainly, many experts still say that a Greek default is inevitable here are the views of one prominent economist.

But George Papandreou, the prime minister, is also starting to get more favourable reviews abroad.

There’s a growing sentiment, in Brussels and Washington, that he is a man who is actually serious about changing Greece’s political and economic culture.

Papandreou is a charming, persuasive man, and he’s good at selling his ideas to foreigners, whether they are sceptical Western bankers, would-be Chinese investors, or Turkish businessmen.

The latest welcome endorsement comes from a distinguished critic in the pages of the New York Times.

But Papandreou is answerable, above all, to the Greek electorate.

We’ll get a better idea of how they feel on November 7, with local elections.

In recent days, the prime minister has been arguing that these elections are, effectively, a referendum on his reforms, whilst also promising that there will be no more austerity measures against low-income workers and pensioners. 

On my walk home from Syntagma Square, I turn into my own street and see that yet another small family-run shop has closed down, “For Rent” signs plastered over its forlorn windows.

Papandreou himself acknowledged this week that the “alert is not over” for Greece.

Whether he succeeds or not in pulling this country through, there are still some very difficult months ahead.

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