BOTTOM-UP REACTIONS TO THE CURRENT SOCIO ECONOMIC TURMOIL IN GREECE
We, the Oral History Group of Kypseli, will present the reactions from bellow to the current socio-economic turmoil in Greece.
We will use data from interviews conducted by our three thematic sub groups:
(a) the crisis,
(b) migration, and
(c) everyday life.
The interviews used for this presentation were conducted from 2011 to 2015, an interesting time period marked by a plurality of changes. Actually, this is the very nature of a crisis: in such times, history is being accelerated. Therefore, this time frame allows us to illustrate the aforementioned changes together with their effects on the perspectives and realities of our interviewees.
Half of them are males and the other half females. Their age ranges from 23 to 80 years old. Their social status also varies: we interviewed employed as well as unemployed, students, migrants, asylum seekers, and people from the lower middle classes. However, the common denominator of all the interviewees is that they live, work or spend their free time in the area of Kypseli.
DEFINING THE FIELD
When we, as a group, tried to analyze the way in which people experienced the crisis, we uncovered its multi-dimensional character. Some of our interviewees defined it as an economic, political, or primarily social crisis, while others referred to it as a crisis of ethics and values. In any case, the majority of our interviewees described it as a violent disruption of everyday life. However, the interviewees with a migrant background implicitly underlined the «relativity» of the crisis. Although these are the ones who have been hit the most by crisis, they are experiencing the present state of affairs with greater ease. Perhaps, as a result of the fact that they have dealt with similar situations and managed to get through them.
Another interesting insight concerns they way that people became aware of the crisis. For some of our interviewees the starting point of the crisis was when they first heard about it from the media or their friends while others experienced the negative effects from the very beginning.
For a student with an Albanian background, the crisis started in 2009, as this in his words, “was the period when all of us were looking for a crisis”. However, the crisis on a personal level started in 2010 with the occurrence of a specific event: “I realized it when we needed to buy new tires for our old car and at the same time we needed to pay the insurance, an amount of money that simply was not available”. For the majority of our interviewees, the crisis started when they first found themselves unable to fulfill their financial commitments to third parties.
CHANGES DUE TO THE CRISIS
Changes in the neighborhood
The crisis has caused a transformation in the structures of Greek society. In the beginning of the crisis, Kypseli, a formerly middle class neighborhood, was a highly populated area with a high number of migrants.
As expected, the situation worsened with the first signs of the crisis. According to most of our interviewees, the worst year of the crisis so far was 2012-2013. The lighting of the streets became inadequate, shops shut down. Signs for rentals and sales were everywhere. Slowly the situation became better. “Some new shops opened, but of low quality”.
The number of shops owned by migrants has increased. This development led some of our Greek interviewees to characterize Kypseli as a ghetto-area, and, by extension, adding negative connotations to this transformation.
However, our interviewees with a migrant background experienced the positive sides of this development. For them, Kypseli is now a safe area.
Abani, a migrant from Nigeria said:
The majority of our interviewees, both Greeks and migrants, suggested that the increased criminality in the area, like drug dealing, women’s trafficking, thefts and robberies, made them feel insecure, and conduced to the rise of fear. Some attribute this development to the increase in the number of migrants in the area. However, migrants are themselves equally appalled.
Changes in the work environment and the economic situation
Unemployment is one of the most important consequences of the crisis, which has influence the whole society. A female upper-middle class interviewee noticed “it is really sad that nowadays all of Greece stands in line for the employment office”.
The following extract summarizes the prevailing feeling of the working class.
As the crisis deepened the higher strata of society, the middle classes, became affected as well. House-owners have also been hit. As houses were considered a timeless value in Greek society, someone said: “Today we cannot even sell our houses. If you manage to do so though, the price would be… it is completely disrespectful.”
A retired high-school teacher told us that in October 2014, after having paid all her taxes and bills, she was left with 95 Euros to spend the whole month. And she exclaimed: “after so many years of studying, and after 38 years of work. No. This is a plight!”
While an employed woman told us “I don’t have any golden jewelry left. I gave everything away. Everything… except the gold cross pendants of my children”. The fact that many people are selling their valuables is evident when walking Patission Street; which is full of pawnshops.
Changes in everyday life
High unemployment rates, wage cuts and tax increase have dramatically changed people’s everyday habits.
Searching for food in the trash is a much more common image in Greece. Although this does not constitute the norm, it has been normalized within society; it has become acceptable and unnoticeable. This normalization underlines the heightened levels of structural violence within the Greek society.
The dietary habits of most of our interviewees have also changed. Nowadays they go grocery shopping with a strict list. Almost all of our interviewees mention that they have reduced their spending. «I haven’t bought new clothes in the past one and a half year», they told us.
Many, however, use their imagination instead of their money:
People have rediscovered their talents and creativity. Many of our interviewees proudly told us that they now sew, recondition their clothes; they knit, they make jewelry and soaps as well as small gifts for their friends.
Undoubtedly, this positive development does not overshadow the negative ones that the crisis has introduced. As access to electricity and heating, is significantly restricted.
From 2012 onwards, many building blocks are not buying petrol to heat their apartments. But people used their imagination, again, to cope with everyday life’s difficulties. “I was wearing my mountaineer clothes inside”, an interviewee told us; while another said that he spent most of the winter months at either his girlfriend’s or his brother’s houses.
Another interviewee said that her electricity was cut off the same period her daughter was preparing for the final school exams. To overcome this, she used an extension cord and plugged it into a socket in her mother’s house, which was downstairs. “I am not ashamed about what I am telling you”, the mother told us.
Going out had always been essential for the Greeks. But today most people don’t go to the tavern; instead they just eat a souvlaki. Many youngsters now go out only for a peripterobyra, a beer from the local kiosk. A young male told us that flirting is particularly difficult; as he lacks the money to buy the girl he likes a drink.
Changes in health
The majority choose personal solutions such us arrangements between doctors and patients, negotiating payments etc. The increasing number of uninsured people, face the biggest problem: they have to pay their own medical expenses or to visit solidarity medical centers
Changes in psychological state
As far as the relationships between families and friends are concerned, some of them became stronger while others have been dissolved.
Children and teenagers saw their parents under stress, while normally parents stand for stability.
One serious problem which has arisen is when either the younger generation returns or do not leave the family home. A 24 years old employed student stated: “Do you know how difficult it is for seven people to live in one house?” There are cases that the family cannot support their children to study at a university away from home.
The prevailing emotions nowadays are anger, fear and insecurity. A retired architect told us: “There are times, if only for a few seconds, that I am so angry that throwing a Molotov cocktail (bomb) crosses my mind.”
During the past years, there has been a rise in depression, psychiatric drug use and suicides.
A retired woman told us: “There is a feeling of hopelessness, disappointment and a lack of trust, yet many people no longer have the courage to react. They are tired, psychologically drained and they are ready to quit”. A lot of interviewees have told us that they can no longer dream and make plans for the future.
Migrants’ fear is also closely associated with the rise of the Golden Dawn, an openly neo-Nazi organization. As Konstantinos, a migrant from Romania, confessed: “With the rise of Golden Dawn I was kind of stressed, I was in fear”.
There are always voices of hope:
AND WHAT ARE WE DOING NOW?
The solution to the crisis, according to a woman who had never taken part in a demonstration, is a “revolution”; she also believes that through this process the people attitudes will change. And a supporter of SYRIZA told us that maybe, an accidental event could result a mass reaction. A woman also proposed that it would be a social “crach”, in order Greek society could get rid of the patron client system and corruption.
Nevertheless, after the elections of 25th January and 20th September, it seems that there is more awareness of the difficulty to change the current situation. Somebody told us:
Slowly but steadily, a new perspective seems to be emerging. According to this, we could live without a lot of money and simultaneously without misery. Our narrators think that we should become frugal, by changing our priorities in favor of essentials. “Consumerism, bank loans and credit cards have spoiled us”, they say.
This new attitude became more apparent at the interviews which took place in 2014 and 2015. At the previous interviews people opted for more radical solutions: to go away to the countryside in order to improve their standard of living or to migrate.
This new attitude suggests that “We could be happy with simple things”. (with greeting on neighbors, walk in the park, a day out to the beach, coffee with friends, physical training, reading, making handmade gifts, learning dances, art activities, human communication etc.).
One way to face the situation is through organized solidarity groups and structures (formal or informal). Our narrators believe that these structures can’t cover the whole problem although they play a positive role in the current crisis. Beyond the practical needs there are collectivities that create networks and unite people.
The violence through austerity measures has changed our everyday life led to a change of our identities. Somebody told us that “We try to find out our priorities about relationships and actions”.
Self-understanding passes through history’s understanding. According to an interviewee, “We see now what the German Occupation meant. Till now we had heard about Occupation only from our grandparents”. Moreover, some younger people took the tape recorder and went to their grandparents complaining they hadn’t shared their experiences from the civil war and the dictatorship.
With regard to the duration of the crisis, everyone believes that the crisis will not end soon. In order to get over the crisis, our interviewees have put their hopes on children, those who are between 10 and 12 years old.
Meanwhile, it appears that some people, in order to survive, will now dream of a healthy and happy life.