After a year of austerity, we Greeks have seen our country and our lives changed beyond recognition
A year after the International Monetary Fund and the European Union imposed their now infamous austerity memorandum on Greece, life here has changed radically. If you are between 18 and 24 years old, the chances are that you are unemployed, like 40% of your generation. If you are in your 30s and do have a job, it is likely to be part-time and flexible; you probably cannot imagine it being secure, and you have no idea how much longer it is going to last. Your wages are gradually getting lower, you cannot go on strike, you cannot organise collectively, you cannot even demand to get paid. Holidays are out of the question, getting sick is too much of a risk, and you cannot afford a flat of your own.
Young people in Greece can no longer make ordinary life choices: they cannot plan for the present, let alone for the future. But they are told – and many of them feel – that they can’t complain. They belong, after all, to a doomed generation.
Many ordinary Greeks have stopped watching the news or thinking about why all this is happening. But everybody talks with one another about what is going on: friends, children and parents, shopkeepers, taxi drivers, teachers – everyone says this austerity is unfair and unjust, but everyone also feels insecure and fearful, there is nothing we can do about it, after all. This new reality feels as if it has been cast upon us – almost like a supernatural phenomenon. We are told that we bear the blame of the crisis because “we all partied and spent beyond our means” – but those suffering the most know we had nothing to do with it.
It has been less than 12 months since this crisis began, but little stories that illustrate the change keep bubbling up: homeless people looking for food in dustbins; friends fired without compensation, or accepting wage cuts; police officers beating up citizens who protest; schools and hospitals shutting; teachers and doctors losing their jobs; journalists censored; trade unionists persecuted; racist attacks downtown. Legality, majority, democracy and equality start to seem like odd little words.
All of a sudden, things that only a year ago happened in remote, underdeveloped places – as if to prove how lucky we were to belong in civilised Europe – are now happening here in Greece. But Greeks cannot complain, cannot react, because they are told that the crisis is their fault – even if everyone knows it cannot be just their fault.
But beyond the mainstream media coverage and the declarations of the elites and the politicians, more and more people experience the lack of meaning, rationality, justice and freedom in their everyday lives. Some refuse to pay transport and hospital fees, tolls and debts, and others create tiny local networks of solidarity, alternative commerce or self-education in their districts. Some read blogs and narrate different stories reconfirming their dignity with humble, daily acts of resistance because they feel the difference between “us” and “them” that no media or state narrative can obscure.
A whole people cannot live in isolation, fear and guilt for much longer, facing a future full of problems that cannot be resolved. What the IMF and Greek politicians know and are fearful of is that an oppressed people can learn to communicate without speaking, to step forward without appearing to move, to resist without resisting – they will gradually find each other and make sense of what is going on, and who is really to blame. And, then, as happened in December 2008, there may be a mass reaction here in Greece, one that may be violent, and that will once again be said to be unpredictable and irrational.