This photo has been on my mind a lot lately. It’s a picture I took in 2010 of my mother walking on a bike path near her home in northern Greece. It makes me think of the long road ahead for Greece and Greeks in general, despite how far they’ve come.
As a Greek-American, all the attention being paid on my country of heritage has weight heavily on me. Any bit of news about Greece’s political or economic situation is front and center for me. But as a member of the diaspora, there’s really nothing I can do but watch as my family in Greece tries to make the best of a deteriorating situation.
… I’d written a long post about this today, actually. Somehow, as fate would have it, WordPress ate the draft. So it’s gone. Let’s pretend it was brilliant (can we?)
To articulate everything I feel about the Greek economic crisis — from the problems at hand, to the press coverage, to the blatant racism — it would fill tomes. I don’t have any solutions to propose, but I am not surprised by what’s happening there either. I’m just saddened by this tragedy’s extent.
Instead of trying to recreate my previously-eaten blog post, I’m going to instead quote my mother. She is a first-generation American who came to the States as a child, and because she spent her childhood, many of her teenage years and her early adult years in Greece, she has much better perspective on the crisis than I ever could. The pervasive corruption and suffocating bureaucracy is why she and my father both eventually left Greece to stay in the United States for good (and that’s why I grew up in the States). It’s why so many Greeks make the difficult choice to leave.
My mom wrote this in her blog last year, her first full summer in my parents’ vacation home in northern Greece:
But our first full summer here has also played out against the backdrop of the economic crisis in Greece and the EU. This crisis has fully exposed the corruption and dysfunctionality of the Greek system of governance. The Greeks, of course, have always known it was so, but the other Europeans seem to be surprised at the extent of the corruption, embezzlement, tax evasion, etc. They should have done their homework before admitting Greece to the Eurozone.
That is the part I hate: the Greek political system. The tax evaders, corrupt politicians, and others who benefit in a major way from the status quo are truly rotten and the source of the country’s problems.
But even Greeks who are basically honest are often tainted by the pervasive corruption. It is almost impossible not to be. And many young lives are put on hold because there are so few opportunities for young people. (That is a topic for an entire book. Enough said here.)
In addition to the corrupt system, so much has changed in the mad rush to modernize and urbanize. The Greece I remember from my teen years is gone, gone, gone. I have not seen a donkey in decades. Tourism has overrun the country, for better or worse.
There is a strange mental disease (whose name I don’t recall). Its victims are convinced that one of their limbs does not belong to them. There are documented cases where they try to get a doctor to amputate their perfectly normal leg, and in even more extreme cases, they try to amputate it themselves.
My relationship with Greece reminds me of that disease. I cannot forget the Greek language, nor can I erase the wonderful memories I have from summers spent in my village of Megali Panagia in the ‘60s. I cannot pretend my parents were not Greek, nor can I stop cooking and eating Greek foods and loving traditional Greek music. Like it or not, part of me is Greek and I cannot rid myself of that “good” part. But a part of me is always uncomfortable being attached to it.
I hope that Greece emerges from this crisis a better—and better-governed—nation. Otherwise, Greece could become the ungovernable “wild West” of the EU.
Just this afternoon my parents landed in Greece to spend another summer there, which is why I hearken back to her post today.
I’ll be going to Greece myself in a month for a little over a week. It’s been two years since my last visit (and it was a 10-year gap before then), and this time my fiance will be with me. He’s never been to Greece, and though I wish he was seeing the country in better times, he’s very educated on the intricacies of the Greek economic crisis. While we’re both looking forward to seeing the Greek sun and sea and to visiting my family, we’re steeling ourselves for the inevitable and unexpected reflections of this tragedy in the lives of the people there.
Inevitably, the resilience of the Greek spirit will prevail. It will take a lot of time, but I know the people will pull through. Always have, always will.