The Greek economic crisis: a conflict that hits close to home

Posted by Stefan Cocorelis

My house back home is on the outskirts of Athens, just in front of the mountain Penteli where the marbles for the Acropolis were mined. These days, when I fly back home, I sometimes hike up the mountainside, but I no longer visit the surrounding area in which I grew up, This is in part because I want to preserve my memories of how it once was, and partly because I don't want to accept the fact that it has forever been changed.

When I first arrived at Skidmore, things back home were relatively fine, and I still had this boyhood excitement and energy about me. Sure, I was fully aware of the corruption, lack of organization and general array of problems, but like most Greeks, I wasn't concerned because, in truth, I personally was doing fine.

Even before the economic crisis began, virtually every Greek knew that the government was corrupt; people took bribes all the while knowing that the things worked was very ineffective. However, no one ever did anything about it, simply because they were never really affected by it personally. So when the crisis stated to unfold in 2008, no one was really concerned because, they continued to think in this hyper-individualistic way. It wasn't until catastrophe struck in 2010 that people actually started to feel unease.

When the crisis hit in 2010, my country's unscrupulous financial practices were finally revealed. You see, up until that time, Greeks in general worked primarily under a system based on corruption, something that was largely fueled by the government. This system of corruption, as well as bribery, was something that really became a part of modern Greek society. It became so common that one could not even get a driver's license without having to "slip someone an envelope".

Eventually this method of cutting corners, both on national and international levels, resulted in a giant bubble effect, in which the majority kept finding ways in which to both obtain and retain as much money as possible, with no one caring about any repercussions.

When the wave of the 2008 recession hit, it unearthed this massive amount of debt that had been hidden away for so long. The rest of the story, as some may already know, was that the government started to implement severe austerity measures in order to somehow keep the country afloat. This led to significant job losses and laid the burden of recovery strictly on the people, subsequently creating a massive nationwide movement of people who have come to be known as "??????????????" or "frustrated", peacefully protesting against these measures as their last resort.

All in all, it's a very weird feeling seeing your country slowly fall and break apart from afar. You can never really prepare for something like that. It is difficult to explain, for in order to really understand it, one must experience it as well. If I could sum it up in one word, it would have to be just plain weird. The best reason I can think to explain that ambiguity is that I am here while everything over there is collapsing. The feeling of shock, sadness and utter disbelief at what is happening dramatically increases when you are watching it unfold in its entirety, from your laptop in your bedroom, almost 5,000 miles away.

I may complain about my countrymen, how they annoy and frustrate me, but deep down my Greek identity is a huge part of who I am. I guess the closest analogy I can think of to better explain my view of my country is the character of Jesse Pinkman from the TV series, "Breaking Bad." Jesse is a type of character who is not in his heart a bad guy, though bad things always seem to happen around him. You just can't help but feel heartbroken because you know that, if under any different circumstance, he could have so much potential.

Greece is like that to me. We as a people have the potential to do great things, and it has been proven that throughout our illustrious history that in brief periods, we have - but for whatever reason we often come up short, and that's what really breaks my heart. Ultimately, I hope that somehow, after this mess, we can finally find a way to be the great people I know we can be. But this requires true honesty and realism, things that seem to be diminishing more and more. 

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