Before I left for Greece in August, nearly everyone I spoke to had some kind of comment to make about the state of the Greek economy. Some snarky, others concerned, everyone wondered what it would be like and whether I would be safe. At the time, I shrugged it off. Of course I’ll be fine – the media is exaggerating the state of unrest, my family will look after me, I don’t live in the centre of the Athens, etc.
Five months later, and I’m still perfectly safe, but have lost the certainty that, while things are hard, they’ll get better soon. I’ve devoured news, eavesdropped on the bus, talked to my colleagues and wandered the city, and was consistently met with the inevitability of empty shops, faces creased with worry, and blaring headlines.
Stubbornly proud of my fatherland, I refused to believe that this was something we wouldn’t survive. I also adamantly protested to friends abroad, claiming that the images of tear gas and riot police showed only a small piece of the real processes at work here. I started a second blog, where I posted daily snapshots of my life in Athens in an attempt to counterbalance images such as the NY Times ‘Pictures of the Day‘ which, when they featured Greece, were not usually positive. Ultimately, I tried not to engage with ‘the crisis,’ perhaps in the subconscious hope that it would either ease into the background or become an acceptable status quo.
Only a cursory glance at the news indicates that this is definitely something that isn’t going away on its own. On the contrary, it seems almost everyone has their hand in the pie, trying to prop up the flailing Euro and prevent a Greek default.
My own opinion now as to how best to deal with the circumstances is becoming increasingly murky. Despite an attempt to remain informed and my inherent optimism, I am beginning to feel that there’s no way out. Yesterday evening at the end of a phone call, my aunt added ‘by the way, the government is in chaos.’ The newscaster then reported ‘Yesterday they said Greece wouldn’t be able to pass the deal because our political system is dysfunctional. Today this is confirmed.’
Up until the last few days, I probably would have interpreted such statements as defeatist and dramatic, but now I’m not so sure. This excellent article, about life in Athens during the Nazi occupation, equally might have seemed like a bit of leap. Today, however, it is evocative and could even prove prescient. Living here, I notice that it seems every week there is a new empty storefront in the shopping area I walk by everyday. My colleagues’ worries about paycuts and their children’s future are serious and increasing. The number of people homeless on the street seems to be skyrocketing.
Is there an end in sight? I don’t know. But what I do know is that the average Greek doesn’t deserve this, the way life is now. The confusion and uncertainty the country is faced with cannot be blamed on most of its citizens. The way the ‘inflated public sector’ is discussed, both inside Greece and abroad, seems to ignore the fact that these employees are people too, who cannot necessarily be assigned blame for being redundant. Of course, something has to give. I just hope Greece can survive.