Unsustainable Living: A Greek Perspective

by Eirini Glyki


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Throughout the past 15 years the Greek economy has been slowly moving towards stagnation and breakdown. The economic crisis unfolded during the past two years, making Greeks face a very difficult situation, one they have been trying to overlook for years.

The economic breakdown has its roots in an extended and malfunctioning public sector as well as the misuse of funds given to Greece by the European Union right after it became a part of the Eurozone in 2001. This was not helped by the unsustainable changes in the lifestyle of Greek people; a capitalist lifestyle in a country where the policies implemented seemed to be springing more from a communist mentality than the free markets.

It is this lifestyle, followed throughout the past 30 years, which led Greece’s economy to collapse underneath the weight of a continuously increasing debt and a large deficit that the country’s economy doesn’t seem able to overcome. The political and economic elites in charge of the country had no vision of transforming Greece to a more sustainable country, one that could follow the rest of its European partners in a successful way. Thus, the crisis spread rapidly from the state sector to the private banks and infected the whole economy.

In the past year, help for the troubled Greeks came in the form of a bailout package by the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the European Central Bank, tied with a hard austerity program – one of the harshest ever seen in Europe – Greek officials had to impose on the country. Greeks are asked to implement reforms that usually materialize within decades in a two-year time span. Therefore, at the present moment, Greece is closer to a default than ever before. A chief IMF representative recently admitted that the program implemented had an emphasis on fiscal consolidation that has failed to work.

Talks are now being conducted between the newly appointed Greek coalition government and the IMF, EU and ECB. A government that was not elected by the people, therefore Greek society is pressuring for immediate elections. During these negotiations Greeks are asked, once more, to take hard austerity measures in order to receive another yet bailout package and a deduction of the debt from 150% of the GDP now to 120% in 2020. Many argue that this is not a viable situation and that Greece should, for it’s own salvation, declare bankruptcy.

The social repercussions of these continuous severe austerity policies on an already weakened country have been disturbing. Massive demonstrations, in some cases with violent outbursts, have been tantalizing Greek society during the past year, with an escalation during the last seven months. Additionally, most Greeks feel alienated from their fellow European citizens by being painted as the villains of the euro, even the global, crisis.

Before this crisis, Greek society was filled with people who traditionally found it hard to make ends meet due to low wages, exploitative working conditions, a rate of inflation much above the official average - especially after the euro’s introduction boosted food and basic goods prices - massive pressure from banks to take loans out in order to provide for their kids that which western lifestyles demand and which their meager wages cannot afford.

During the Crisis, many workers lost their jobs, others saw their wages decrease substantially, bank loans were called in, taxes rose and people had to adjust their use of daily necessities, such as electricity. Overall the Greek family’s ‘modern’ prospects collapsed.

Furthermore, Greek society always encompassed large inequalities of opportunity and inequality of incomes. The economic crisis has certainly increased this inequity, creating an even larger polarization within the society. Nationalism has also sprung its nasty face in many parts of the country during the past two years, making this, newly introduced to immigration, society even more frightened.

The aftershocks of the severe recession followed by massive protest have been numerous, especially amongst the younger generation. Many young people recognize the unsustainable living model that has seemed like the sole option since the late 1980s and want to distance themselves from it.

In terms of social change, the situation in Greece is encouraging, probably due to the recent tradition of progressive self-organization. During the past year, many movements developed through out the country with people demanding direct democracy and change. Protesters united into self-organized groups, put in place an elaborate communication system and managed to engage into the discussions people from many different layers of the society. When the question concerned the future, how to move beyond protest, it was clear that what was needed was not a revolution or the creation of a new party, but a movement whose aim would be to criticize and pressure existing political parties towards more sustainable policies.

In the past months, solidarity movements have appeared within Greek society. People have been slowly connecting, operating beyond the crisis, taking matters into their own hands and trying to become part of the solution not the problem. The lack of money has introduced a response through the creation of exchanging markets. In answer to lack of food, collective kitchens have appeared. As a respond to unemployment, labor collectives and cooperatives are being formed.

During the past month, throughout the country, people have chosen to show solidarity with the homeless, unemployed and poor in the form of offering clothes, food and helping in the transformation of empty buildings into suitable spaces to accommodate people in need.

Change is rapid. In the center of Athens volunteers have taken their own initiative and organized the transportation of excess food from restaurants and supermarkets to a space where it is cooked and distributed to people in need. This movement grew so large that producers and farmers from all over Greece offer they support daily, thus providing their fellow citizens with food.

It seems that ties within Greek society are getting stronger, people are coming closer together, looking for ways to support each other. In the capital and other large cities many empty buildings have been taken over and turned into creative spaces to use as a base for the self-organized movements. Art has also been employed in order to bring people closer together, to help society understand the rapid changes taking place and perhaps show the way to a new, more sustainable lifestyle.

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