For Ordinary Greeks, Has Greece’s Battered Economy Turned the Corner?
Greece’s Syriza Government claims the economy is improving, but many Athenians do not agree
Dimitri Lascaris: This is Dimitri Lascaris for the Real News Network. The Real News Network has come back to Greece this year in order to examine the development of the economic crisis and whether, in fact, the circumstances for the average Greek citizen have improved during the course of the austerity program that was most recently implemented in the summer of 2015. I’m standing here in front of the main gate to the Athens Polytechnic Institute. This was the site of a massive student uprising in November 1973 against the military junta of George Papadopoulos, a dictator who had strong connections to the CIA and had been a Nazi collaborator during the Second World War, and who was supported by the American presidential administration of the time. So we’re here today to ask people in the area of Exarcheia, this is the home of Greek antifascists and anarchists and has been for a long time, to ask them whether or not the situation has actually improved in their day to day lives, and this is what we discovered.
George: The last one, two years nothing. The situation is all the same, all the day it’s all the same. Nothing change. All Greeks here, we wait for something to change, but nothing, we still wait for it.
Dimitri Lascaris: And one of the things we hear is that because the circumstances are so difficult that a lot of the young people are leaving. Do you have young friends who have left Greece to try to find employment opportunities outside of the country?
George: Yes. I have young friends and they want to leave from here. They want to pass away from this country. They want to go to another place.
Dimitri Lascaris: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
George: Because here now no jobs and for real you can’t find job here. It’s difficult.
Dimitri Lascaris: Do you feel like the country has much of a future, particularly for your generation?
George: Yes. It have future, yes. But the next two years it will be something good, I think so.
Merto: My name is Merto.
Dimitri Lascaris: And you’re from Athens?
Merto: I’m from Athens, yes.
Dimitri Lascaris: Have you been in Greece your entire life?
Merto: Yes I have.
Dimitri Lascaris: So we’re hearing from the government of Alexis Tsipras that the economic conditions are improving, and we’re curious to hear from people in the street about whether they feel that in their own lives. Have you seen in your own life an improvement in economic conditions over the last year or two?
Merto: No I haven’t, and it’s not because of the government, in my opinion. Every government that is going to be elected is not the government that should be elected, because we are controlled by economic things that are not in our control.
And I believe that for the whole world, it’s not only for Greece. They are the economic globalization, etc. that it’s not about politics, it’s about money. Everything’s about money. So whatever the people vote for, it’s not what they vote for. If you know what I mean.
Dimitri Lascaris: Yes.
Merto: That’s what I believe. And solidarity from the people to the people, it’s the only solution that I can find possible. Because we have to be side by side with each other because politics are politics. Politicians are just trying to make more money. They don’t have any ideas, for example, socialism, communism or even the capitalism that we are living in, the ideas of these ideologies are not going to do anything anymore because behind them they’re politicians with economic benefits.
Dimitri Lascaris: It’s interesting you talk about methods of solidarity. Here in Athens have you witnessed that? Have you experienced and participating in solidarity movements, organizations-
Merto: Well, yes but in particular there are some squads that the solidarity comes from them.
Dimitri Lascaris: You say squads.
Merto: Squads, yes.
Dimitri Lascaris: So in other words, these are people who are in need of accommodation housing, they’ve taken over abandoned buildings. Is that what you’re referring to?
Merto: Yes. But also from people that they’re not organized in a party or something, or in an organization that doesn’t take money from the government or states. It’s from people, just from people. That’s the thing that I think only from your neighbor. If your neighbor is beside you and he’s with you in your struggle, it’s the only thing that’s gonna work.
Dimitri Lascaris: And do you feel hopeful about the future of Greece given these examples of solidarity that you’ve witnessed in your own life?
Merto: Well it’s a very hard struggle and, to be honest with you, I don’t think that there is a bright future for us, or for anyone in this world, because the environment is falling apart, President Trump just decided to quit UNESCO and everything is going to be like, you know, I don’t know. We have paranoid leaders all over the world, and your Prime Minister is, I think, something that is hopeful. But I don’t know, it’s very difficult.
Rowan Wood: My name is Rowan Wood.
Dimitri Lascaris: And where are you from?
Rowan Wood: I’m from California originally.
Dimitri Lascaris: And you’re living now in Athens?
Rowan Wood: I’ve been living here for four years.
Dimitri Lascaris: And I’m gonna ask what industry you work in?
Rowan Wood: I work in tourism, hospitality.
Dimitri Lascaris: So before we went on camera we were talking briefly about this area that we’re now in, Exarcheia. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
Rowan Wood: Exarcheia is a very unique place. It’s ungentrified, it’s a bohemian area. It’s controlled by the anarchist group here, which is the largest anarchist political group I’ve heard in the world. There’s also a large communist contingency. So it’s kind of a separate reality from the rest of the city.
Dimitri Lascaris: And you mentioned that there was a regular conflict between the anarchists and the police. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
Rowan Wood: Yeah, there’s a regular fight between anarchists and police about every two weeks, maybe. It occurs about a block away up there. And there’s Molotov cocktails, there’s a lot of tear gas, there’s huge clouds of tear gas, there’s rocks being thrown. The anarchists come and fight.
Dimitri Lascaris: So as an American, do you know what the significance of this particular area behind us is in modern Greek political history?
Rowan Wood: I know there was a huge battle here back in the 70s and that there were a lot of students that were killed. I believe tanks were involved. But I’m not too aware of the exact history.
Dimitri Lascaris: And the last thing I want to ask is, you know, we’re hearing from the government that the economic conditions have improved over the last couple of years, or at least to in this year. Do you feel that on the street and in your day-to-day life that there is an improvement in the economic conditions?
Rowan Wood: I feel there’s an improvement, and if you go around the city you’ll see a lot of economic development, a lot of shops that were closed are opening, rent pricing are booming actually, especially around the Acropolis. There’s a price increase that I’ve talked with real estate agents, they say they’ve never seen it before. In the history of Greece they’ve never experienced it. So it’s like an Airbnb and tourism just booming. The last three years have been record years in tourism and they expect next year to be another record year.
Costas: My name is Costas.
Dimitri Lascaris: And where are you from, Costas?
Costas: I’m from here, from Greece. From Athens.
Dimitri Lascaris: And you’ve been in Greece your entire life?
Costas: Not really, but I’ve spent quite a lot of time in New York.
Dimitri Lascaris: Right. Well, we’ve come here because we’re interested in understanding how the country is currently fairing with the austerity measures that were implemented in 2015. We’ve heard from government officials that the situation has begun to improve. As a Greek who has to deal with the day-to-day realities of life in Greece, do you feel that there has been improvement? Do you sense an improvement?
Costas: Not really, not really. What the government is talking about is that people got used to the idea of being poor. That’s very different from saying that things are getting better. The thing is that this whole thing happened obviously for them to manage to keep wages as low as possible. And they’ve obviously managed to do that. The minimum wage now is, I think, 540 euros a month, and there’s no way someone could live in Athens with this amount of money in his pocket. And this is especially hard on young people and older people. These are the people who’ve been hit more than anybody else from this situation.
Dimitri Lascaris: We hear a lot about the brain drain in Greece? Do you know a lot of young people who’ve left the country to try to find work elsewhere?
Costas: It’s a tremendous amount of people. Actually yesterday I was reading in the newspaper that 400,000 people have left Greece in the past two years. So if that’s what they mean by economic improvement, well it’s a very strange thing.
Dimitri Lascaris: In recent polls indicate that the center right party is now, or at least has been for some time, leading the city’s government. Why do you think there’s a … Because of course the center right party participated in the imposition of austerity prior to Syriza’s election. Why do you think they have appealed to the general populace? Do you think that the people believe that the New Democracy party is going to improve matters from a perspective of austerity?
Costas: Actually I think that that’s another lie. I mean we live in a society of lies. I mean polls, especially here in Greece, have been very deceiving and not real polls. Meaning that whoever is paying for the poll is getting the results they want to get. So, I mean let’s not forget the last election they were projecting that the New Democracy was gonna win by a big margin and all that. Actually I think we’re in a situation where people will most probably vote again for the leftist government, not for any other reason, just for the fact that they’ve given up on any hope of change from any of the parties. So they would probably prefer to be in a situation where the government doesn’t change constantly instead of voting for the New Democracy party.
And they haven’t offered anything new. I mean I will not vote for Syriza but I will not vote for the other people either.
Dimitri Lascaris: Right.
Costas: So it’s a weird thing. People don’t wanna be anymore messed up by the government so they’ve just given up. Everybody’s like, “Okay, I don’t care who’s up there. I have to figure out a way to keep on living.” Because things are real hard, even for the middle class.
Dimitri Lascaris: And this has been Dimitri Lascaris reporting for the Real News Network at the gates of the Athens Polytechnic Institute in Athens Greece.