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Outrage and disenchantment in Greece ahead of austerity vote

The protests have become the largest social movement in Greece since martial law in 1974. More than a pushback against austerity, they hint at broad skepticism toward Europe's leaders.

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A key conundrum is that in forming the EU after German reunification, Europe agreed to a common currency. But it did not forge a common political union, and common fiscal and banking policy that would oversee affairs. The Greek crisis is an example of the problem of what is often called a "fair weather" union that chugs along swimmingly in good times, but now faces storms.

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In Greece, nearly 1 million out of a population of 11 million receive some kind of state salary. The Greek debt is a public spending debt. Yet cuts last year and economic decline have dried up the extra jobs and renowned extended Mediterranean family support.

"Last year my parents gave money to my children," says economist Leonidas Vatikiotis, a consultant on the film "Debtocracy," a popular documentary about the Greek crisis. "This year I'm giving money to my parents."

Outraged in Greece

One reason the "outrage" protesters get credence is that their rank and file are mostly outsiders – too young or too poor to have achieved any state spoils or patronage. They are seen as those carrying the burden of tax hikes and job cuts. They are not part of a sizable cohort angry about bad management and an end to a spigot of jobs, early pensions, stuffed corporate envelopes, or trade union payout. When crowds grow in the square – a group that walked from Sparta was welcomed with roars – there is a palpable upwelling of pride. ("The outrage movement has achieved such a status of virtue that everyone is afraid to criticize it," says a Greek journalist.)

Add to the mix an undercurrent of culture war with northern European states whose press often characterize Greece as feckless or lazy. Ms. Merkel said last fall that it was a mistake to have allowed Greece into the eurozone. On the square, there's a feeling of speaking to other Europeans.

"We are not animals, just people that exist to keep an economy and a finance system grinding on," says Filos, a tall 27-year-old with a Quicksilver-logo T-shirt. He claims to live in a posh suburb with a car and a job: "But I feel a need to come here in the evening. The Greeks don't just exist to consume and buy and sit around in clubs. Our politicians don't acknowledge this. The rich need to pay more taxes," he says, referring to the austerity package's unpopular across-the-board cuts.

While many in the "outrage" movement say they are ready to "leave Europe," the sentiment does not seem to be overwhelming in Greece. Vassiliki, a singer with flowing locks in a traditional Greek band says, "I want Greece to stay in Europe, but with dignity."

RELATED: Who's Europe rescuing and by how much?

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