Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Greece on the move as crisis bites deeper.

For Rent says the sign behind the man. Thessaloniki, Greece

While for many outside the country, the main symptoms of the current economic crisis are the soup kitchens in central Athens, or perhaps the violent confrontations that light up TV screens from time to time,but there is another quieter, yet just as significant trend sweeping Greece. Thousands upon thousands of Greeks are on the move, leaving the larger cities for the countryside or smaller provincial towns or abandoning the country to try their luck abroad. As with so many other economic and social upheavals the current one has forced people to up sticks and try their luck elsewhere. However, this time there are no endless trails of refugees marching along dusty roads, or convoys of dispossessed Okies with their belonging strapped to the top of a car. Instead it's the steady rhythm of friends, neighbours and colleagues gradually slipping away.

There are no firm figures for the numbers involved and those official statistics that do surface in the media often contradict themselves, nevertheless the truth is that something is changing and I see it with my own eyes every day. In every apartment block in every street no entrance hall is complete without a handful of For Rent or For Sale signs, apartments I pass by on my way to work lay empty for months on end, even though the removal vans seem to be doing a roaring trade.

On a more personal level, many of my friends and acquaintances have left the city. Thomas, who's now in Germany, trying to start a new life, Anne and Makis who have decided to go back to Makis's home town of Alexandroupolis, Panos who is off to Crete to try his hand at farming after losing his job in the latest round of job cuts, and so the list goes on.

And most importantly for me, my own 12 year old daughter, who is now living in central Greece, after her mother's business finally succumb to the crisis., so obliging her to move back to be closer to the her own family and the support they can offer. So instead of being a weekend dad, I've become a fortnightly one, as every two weeks I catch a train to Larissa, and then a coach and then a lift to see her in her new home.

I do not harbour any bitterness to my ex for her decision, she tried everything to find work in Thessaloniki and when that didn't work out she was left with no real choice. Given such unpalatable options, you do what you can to survive.

This weekend though, my daughter is staying with me, or to be more accurate she's staying over at a series of friends, catching up on lost gossip and news from the classmates she left behind. Even then, the story is the same. One has left for England, another is going with her family to Australia, another's family is contemplating moving back to Albania if things do not improve in the near future.

Ironically, my financial situation has stabilised and unlike the last few summers, paying the rent and bills is not something that wakes me up at 4am in a cold sweat. I've even been in the enviable situation of turning down jobs (don't worry, I passed them on to friends in need) in order to take a couple of weeks off but this is something I usually keep to myself as complaining about work when so many around you are desperate for any kind of job seems the height of bad taste.

Those left behind hang on, hoping that things will change soon or praying that their job won't be the next in line. All the while the new government at the behest of Greece's creditors carve yet more slices off the public sector and chase after an ever dwindling tax base. This week it's the turn of higher education as Athens desperately seeks to find another 11.5 billion euros worth of spending cuts and so has announced the closure of at least 30% of the university and polytechnic department, effective immediately.

On the other hand it feels at times like being on a raft in the middle of a storm and all you can do is cling on as tightly as possible and focus on the few inches in front of your face, you do not have the energy to imagine what will happen next so all you do is focus on the immediately around you and forget the rest.


Gia said...

Living through this crisis and seeing so many of my own friends searching in desperation for new beginnings has made a great impact on my life here in Greece. It feels as though everyone is trying to hang on to their lives by a thread. Things must change. We must be the change we want to see, but, as in times of war, the only solutions most people see are using short term, survival techniques. A sad to sight to watch day after day !!!

Anonymous said...

This is not a criticism but merely an observation. The guy in the photo has a bottle of water, a coffee type drink, cigarettes, lighter, ear phones and some devise to produce sound. Probably current and former relics of another life. The photo is sad in some ways. I'm American but tell people we're all Greek. Our turn is coming too.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious as to how you are regarded by Greek being "a foreigner." Stories about Golden Dawn's attacks on visible minority immigrants are frightening...