Amidst all the geo-socio-political news since the start of this year, the Greek debt crisis most likely resonates as the most ubiquitous. While negotiations are being held, a recent deal has allowed for a bailout, resulting in crushing austerity measures. Now, I have never taken an economics class in my life. Following the terminology has been a challenge. For the most part, my only connection to Greece is that I’ve lived there for a short span of months. Speaking to friends and acquaintances there, the jargon is not so much a problem as its repeated presence in Greek life. In the past five years, coming to terms with the reality of the crisis has been a frustrating ordeal for the Greeks. Covering an expansive range of topics from national-supranational identity to Greek history and politics, discussions on the crisis represents a tumultuous melting pot. What has remained, is a populace that is moving forward amidst a confusing and painful time.
When I first visited Greece in 2012, the Piraeus port in Athens had already displayed the trickling failures of the 2010 bailout. For a Euro-tripping teen, this was the reality of a heterogeneous currency union. The homeless peddlers in the port and streets were a far cry from the quaint cobblestones of Berlin. The 2010 bailout then had attempted to boost an economy with 11.8% unemployment. Today, as the Eurozone demands for austerity, unemployment is more than 25%. What needs to be understood is that the crisis has affected the populace’s identity. Feelings of humiliation and desperation have come to replace what had been Greece’s longstanding pride of its heritage. By now everyone has realized that Greece’s debt will never be repaid. Because of this, the new austerity measures are more vindictive than practical for Greece.
Last week, Europe and the entire world saw a nation celebrate their voting against austerity measures. Behind the scenes, political propaganda had for the most part taken over the decisions. Despoina Lioliou, a Clarkie from Greece, states that the international media has provided a skewed image of the crisis. The inner political drama has been sparsely covered. The week before the referendum vote, people described their situation as such: “We are standing over a cliff. We can either wait for them to push us over, or we can jump ourselves.” When NO came out as the nation’s answer, people were celebrating on the streets. Only a week later, everyone demanded that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras resigns because he didn’t fulfill his party’s promise against austerity. The conflict lies in the political arena, both amongst the people and the decision makers.
According to Lioliou,
“the week before the referendum vote, all Greek media outlets promoted YES as the most beneficial vote. They interviewed people on the streets, and just as someone said they will vote no, they pulled away the microphone. They presented fake polls where the YES vote was predicted an astounding victory, more than 70% or so. They only covered the rallies supporting the YES vote, and not the much bigger ones advocating for NO. Greek celebrities made TV spots talking about how Europe is a Greek word and thus Greece belongs in Europe. If people took only this into consideration, it would make sense to them why the Greeks are celebrating the NO vote: part reactance, part genuine support of the vote.”
The neglect of such nuances in the political climate beckons for a reassessment of our international news outlets.
Speaking to young adults in Greece, the supranational political relations have evoked fear of a “war-without-bullets.” The term war itself evokes a historical tragedy for Greek identity. In truth, one could say Greece never had a recuperation “post-war” period; Greece has experienced Nazi occupation, civil war and a dictatorship until joining the European Union. The desperation that follows these historical patterns provides for a bleak outlook. Young students struggle for a future amidst such high unemployment rates. Most college students work as much as they can and live with their parents to save money. Many even resolve on saving to move abroad in search of better opportunities. USA would be a tough destination, but relations with other European countries have also been very vulnerable. Entering the European Union while already in a poor economic stage, the burden of debt piled onto the Greek economy. Adding to the politics, the emergence of caricatures depicting the Greek citizen as lazy has sparked a crisis in the Greek identity. Many call for a reckoning, but the proposed austerity would be another humiliating challenge to overcome.
Yet even so, in spite the confusion and vulnerability, Greek life is as normal as they try to be. The Piraues port is still functioning. Greek families still celebrate birthdays, baptisms and weddings. Friends continue to meet, to fish, to chat in cafes and joke for the curse off against their economic situation. While the bigger decisions are being made, most have realized the futility of their efforts to negotiate a less humiliating agreement. Not to say that they’ve stopped striving. Everyone still goes to their jobs and tries to make the most of their situation. The resulting “take-it-as-you-go” attitude is both a humbling and helpless reaction as a general populace.