Greece's wheel of financial hardship


It is 45 years since the father of my children, seeking a way in which to provide his youngest sister with a dowry, disembarked from the good ship Patris and stood, shivering and bewildered, on rainy Station Pier.

He was not alone, for the ship's cargo, people and mail, had come from Piraeus: those were the days when the Chandris Line had a whole fleet moving constantly between Europe and Australia.

Greek immigration was a highly organised process in the booming mid-60s. Factory agents boarded the Patris at Fremantle, and by the time Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney were reached, most hopeful arrivals had been set up in jobs and boarding-houses.

Factories had experienced Greek workers already in situ, and the new chums always found themselves living in the familiar comfort of Greek families who saw a good way to add to their income, for that was what immigration was all about then, in that period between the displaced post-war refugees and the 'boat people' of the 1980s.

My very old Dad is fond of saying that 'the wheel has come full circle.' And that is what most people, I think, hope for: replication in the form of descendants. But there are other wheels, and one has already turned for me, for my eldest son left Greece for Melbourne in 2002, and has never returned. Now my second son is thinking of doing the same thing.

There are many countries whose main export has traditionally been people: Ireland and Greece, suffering dire financial difficulties together at present, are two of these. For an extended period, however, the populations of both countries enjoyed the prosperity that they had long yearned for.

Such prosperity did not last, for both simple and complex reasons that are still being investigated and analysed, and it now seems that many young Greeks, at least, may revert to traditional patterns as part of the human search for hope and for work.

Greece's story is an old one borne out by new statistics: just on 33 per cent of people aged between 15 and 24 are currently out of work, and 16 per cent of those in the 25-34 group are also unemployed, at least in the short term: Greece is an agricultural country in which there is a great deal of casual, seasonal labour, but construction activity, which also uses casual labour, is down 80 per cent on the 2006 level. In 2008, before the financial crisis had deepened, more than two million people were living below the poverty line. Now there must be many more.

The Greek population is trying to cope with the consequences of three decades of greed and irresponsibility, and with the fact that the nation as a whole has been living beyond its means: these are the simple reasons for the catastrophe.

Another fact, one that has to be accepted all over again, is that Greece is a hard, poor and inhospitable land: it can no longer support a growing population in the manner to which it became all too readily accustomed. The middle-aged and old are angry but resigned. At least that's how it seems to me: part of ageing consists of dealing with consequences, after all. But youth is a time of possibilities, or should be.

My middle son is in the Greek Army; my youngest son, a bachelor, is a fire fighter. Both have had their salaries cut by a total of 3000 euros for the year, and more cuts may follow. My youngest son has tightened his belt, and has adopted a typically fatalistic attitude; my middle son has made his economies, and he and his wife are good managers.

But they are worried about their two very young children: Greece has never treated its youth well, as Greeks themselves will tell you, and although cautious optimism is being expressed about the nation's current situation, nobody can predict how long the present hardships will continue. But they seem certain to be with us for years rather than months.

Hence my Melbourne-born son's investigation of opportunities Down Under: a couple of his colleagues have already left for Germany.

I am keeping a close eye on this particular wheel. I do not look forward to it turning again.

Gillian BourasGillian Bouras is an Australian writer who has been based in Greece for 30 years. She has had nine books published. Her most recent is No Time For Dances. Her latest, Seeing and Believing, is appearing in instalments on her website.

Topic tags: Greece, migration, financial hardship, cuts



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Existing comments

Gillian Bouras's description of the Greek economy is correct. As a Greek person myself, I am disgusted in the way the politicians allowed the country to reach this shocking economic state. Corruption, nepotism, failure of many to understate or pay no tax at all and early retirement plunged Greece into this economic crisis.You reap what you sow aptly applies to Greece.

Bouras is correct that many young Greeks are trying to leave the country to improve their economic lot.

Terry Steve | 03 November 2010

Gillian, You are up to your usual form with another well written, informative and interesting article re the wheel of economic hardship, and Greece it seems has been hit particularly hard.
John Whitehead | 03 November 2010

Greece and Greeks have not just suffered from greed and financial irresponsibility.

Denial is also their hubris. Greeks pride themselves for their laid-back and carefree lifestyle; it is the kind of lifestyle though, through which Greeks shirk off their financial responsibilities.

My husband and I were in Greece this summer (July). Some cousins, uncles, aunts and strangers sarcastically toyed with us on the issue currently plaguing Greece: 'Crisis? Crisis? What Crisis?'

And then, a big guffaw! Some insisted that there was no crisis, that it was all a conspiracy to dump Greece from the European Union.

But, there's no denying what we saw: near empty streets, cafeterias and clubs. In the small town of Serres, to the north of Greece, where we stayed, at least two shops had folded. Most abandoned their businesses and headed to the beach.

Three years ago, the cafeterias and clubs were brimming with young and old. You couldn't walk for a moment without tripping over someone's feet.

It was now like a ghost town - especially at nights. Crisis? You betcha! Until Greeks face up to their denials and sarcasm, Greece won't be overcoming anything.
Helen Koukoutsis | 03 November 2010


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