ATHENS, Greece—Almost 30, what many would call a young professional, Tina sat over fried zucchini uncomfortably talking about her future. She is not making plans for a year from now, though her job in Athens has been a steady one until recently. We were at a restaurant three blocks from and four weeks-post the spot where three people were killed by the police in a riot. The night we ate, the street was calm, the restaurant busy, and the wait staff actively employed. As we talked, an enterprising street dog, still fat, eyed our meal.
But if Tina’s experience can be taken to be representative, the fallout of the “financial situation” (a phrase equivalent to PTSD in how removed from the root problem the terminology is) is just starting to make its way into the lives of the country’s residents.
According to The Seattle Times, the Greek government faces “growing discontent over a new round of economic austerity, with fresh strikes, public hostility, and party dissent testing the nation's ability to make it out of its debt crisis.” This struggle makes this “the biggest crisis yet seen in the move toward European integration that began more than half a century ago,” according to The New York Times.
I say "according to" because I've been in Greece for long over a month, and I see only hints of the discontent of the newspaper articles. I have looked for the obvious signs of economic despair—riot around the corner, a sale signs in windows, a restaurant closed at dinner time—but to me, the police office spraying the protestor in the back of the neck with the fire hose is as real as the photo in the newspaper. What I have seen has been far more subtle, far less sexy, and carries with it deeper, more problematic implications of what is still to come.
In Athens—the scene of the most newspaper coverage, the site of the riots, where the police hoses and tear gas have been brandished—my visit was calm. My arrival coincided with annual sale season, so I could not distinguish the usual 20% off signs from those that were there because the country’s debt now out-sizes its economy. The Acropolis was still packed with as many geriatrics as could pool their resources for the trip. And though transit workers struck three times during my three weeks there, businesses were still open on the day of the strikes.
In Mykonos, my next stop, island revelers splurged on appletinis like tomorrow God would rip them out of Eden. In Tinos and Naxos, I had to change hostels for a night because my primary one was over-booked my second evening; the beaches, even (if not especially) the nude ones, would be uncomfortable if more crowded.
But in Andros, an island on the outskirts of the tourist map, the dire numbers resonated more. In the past year, two of the island’s three travel agencies closed, one town’s police station merged with that of the town over, and the water taxi service shut for the year in anticipation of a slow tourist season. That said, masons in the largest town still worked day in and day out grinding at a horrid stonecutter machine to repave the main street in anticipation of the mid-July wear of tourists’ flip-flops.
The effects of the crisis, from what I can tell, are just starting to set in. A lawyer, trained in the US and practicing in Kolonaki, the frou-frou district of Athens, said that her VAT tax had just increased to 23%, meaning that she either takes a pay cut or charges her clients more going forward. A restaurant owner, when asked the price of a salad said that now it cost €12 but that in 10 days, which have now elapsed, the price would decrease by 20% to reflect his decrease in patronage. His restaurant owner friends, he said, are likely going to instate similar price shifts in the next few weeks.
But perhaps most palpable is the general sense that the future is unclear, and most problematic the sense that the government is inept. The average Greek speaks of the government with as much disdain as she would if it were revealed that the government had indeed taken the people’s money, built a pool with the funds, and then swam in the bills that remained.
The average Greek, envisioning the pool of cash, may be expressing what the husband of the Kolonaki-lawyer called “Mediterranean temperament” —in the best of interpretations to be excitable, in the worst of terms to be apocalyptic or hysterical for naught. Or this average Greek may be prophetic.
Elyssa A.L. Spitzer ’12, a Crimson news writer and blog executive, is a social studies concentrator in Currier House.