Any article attempting to describe the situation in Greece today, the effects of the present national, European and global crisis, is bound to fail. The complexity of the challenge that Greece and its youth face is so overwhelming that books alone could provide sufficient space to untangle the amalgam of conflicting and many times contradictory elements at work today. For, besides the economic dimension, Greece is currently changing culturally, politically, socially, spiritually – and this is reflected in the broken dreams and the simultaneous cultural resistance that characterize Greek youth today. It is an exciting place to live at the moment.
Greece currently faces a major restructuring of patterns that have been shaped during the past 180 years; therefore understanding of its situation necessitates a brief historical overview. Since its inception and after the assassination of its first governor Ioannis Kapodistrias in 1831 -the assassination for which the files of the Foreign Office still remain classified-, Greece has been ruled mostly by elite (the 1%) which has been directly influenced by foreign powers: the UK before World War II, the USA thereafter. This combination has kept Greeks wary of the state and the intervention of the Great Powers, memories of which are mostly bitter –and this of course includes today’s “life-saving” package of the Memoranda. During the Cold War, Greece belonged politically and culturally to the West – my generation grew up watching the Dynasty. After the fall of the Soviet bloc, the neoliberal agenda spread in Greece unhindered: television shows, such as Beverly Hills 90210, promoted “shopping therapy” through credit cards while aggressive advertising propagated consuming through loans as social success.
The 1999 stock exchange scandal ensued, in which more than 100 billion euro, most of the Greek savings, changed pockets (the details of the scandal escape this article, but a decent discussion can be found here). But by then, Greeks were already drunk with the prospect of acquiring a German lifestyle – and the corresponding ecological footprint. And, of course, during the 2000s they attained it: through loans. Thus 10 million people and their businesses ended up owing over 120 billion euro to unscrupulous banks, which then started collecting houses, cars, land, the lot – and still do. Greeks were taught during those two decades that happiness is found in ever-increasing consumerism and in the amount of envy in the eyes of neighbors (in Greece and outside of it). We allowed this hubris to happen – and now it’s time for the Nemesis.
The punishment is that this fantasy is over. The young people of Greece now feel that they cannot pursue their dreams. This is perhaps the most intense feeling that pervades the streets of Athens (where the “crisis” unfolds in a full scale). And albeit the spark fades from the eyes and the smiles hardly visit the faces of people, the demise of this dream is perhaps the greatest gift of this “crisis”. For it was finally a nightmare: built on greed and fuelling corruption, disregard for the other and global injustice. And it certainly hasn’t led to true happiness, but rather to the triumph of appearances: of the plastic face and the fake smile. Freeing our minds from this chain is our opportunity now: the transition from defining our own selves based not on our belongings, on what we have, but on our inherent human qualities, on who we are as individuals. Many people make this shift, realizing it is the sole way out of what essentially is a crisis of perception; many don’t, locked in the illusion of reclaiming a “glorious” past which is however a bubble that’s burst. Greater freedom awaits the former, heavier depression the latter. Nowadays, you see both in Greece.
Of course, the situation is mostly hard and cruel. The Greek youth feel betrayed. They feel betrayed by the politicians and the financial elite of the country, by its journalists, its police, its trade unions. They feel betrayed by the fragmented workforce which hasn’t been able to stage a decent strike that would last, say, for two weeks until the smothering measures of the Memoranda are lifted. They feel betrayed by their parents who voted once more for the conservative elite of the two-party system (including the Trojan horse of the “Democratic Left” party) during the last elections. And they feel betrayed by themselves: either because they fell in the trap of comfort during the past two decades and now lose their “rights” or because they haven’t managed to overturn the rotten system and reclaim the future.
Hence there is also a significant amount of guilt involved; and even though Greeks are heavily responsible for this chaos, this has been blown way out of proportion. After all, it seems convenient for the political elite (both in Greece and in the entire Western world) to cast off its own responsibility and blame the laziness or caginess of an entire people rather than to have a sincere look at the inherent contradictions which besiege the current economic and financial system. If it is “Greek laziness” that brings down the globalized economy as we know it, then those Greeks must be the most powerful people on this planet! While if it is endemic “corruption”, as frau Merkel claims, then it should always be remembered that one of the greatest scandals of modern Greece involves bribes given by a German company, Siemens.
How do people handle this Gordian knot? Many seek a way out, they emigrate. But the feeling I personally receive from people who leave is that of sadness and of abandoning your beloved in times of need. Moreover, there’s so much going on here now that many of my friends who lived abroad have actually returned. Others find their way to rage, extremism and polarization. Since the universal needs for justice, safety, security and dignity are not met, a significant part of the population has turned into the populist, Far Right party “Golden Dawn”, which presents itself as an extra-institutional, purist organization; a development that brings grave portent for Greek society, striking straight at its psyche. Others cannot take it any more: we now witness one suicide every three days approximately. This is the tragic reality of the “saved” Greece.
On the other hand, others struggle with all their might to reverse the tide – and they face a hard task ahead of them. They realize that the only way out of the mess is to assume personal and political responsibility, to foster unity in a divided population, and to create exactly those structures which will meet the aforementioned needs autonomously and at the grassroots level. This is one of the most vital aspects of today’s “crisis”: that a segment of the Greek youth feels empowered. A thousand things take place at the neighborhood level, actions that don’t make it to the front news of the Financial Times, or even the Greek press – perhaps thankfully. Structures of solidarity against the incredibly inhumane taxes are being set. When one’s electricity is being cut because they didn’t pay the haratsi (a huge tax levied in the electricity bill), people from the neighborhood either help reinstate electricity or offer from their own houses. In many neighborhoods, there is a free exchange of goods and services taking place, a giving that has been unprecedented in recent history and which indicates that all has not failed, that the hardship awakens humanness inside of large numbers of people. Urban agriculture and eco-communities have started to appear, while the first festival of collectives fostering solidarity and cooperation took place last October, with over 20 participating groups.
Those structures are still on their baby-steps in Greece, and they need time to be diffused in the general populace. But they clearly form the seeds of a new future, where the collective values system of this country won’t be characterized by a drive for riches, fame and power, but by solidarity, autonomy and personal responsibility for the neighborhood. Those seeds are currently just sprouting, like a seedling that finds its way through the cracks on the pavement. Now that in Greece the whole pavement has cracked, those seeds are slowly finding their way into the Sun where they can bloom to their fullest.