How Life Has Changed in Greece, an AAUW Alumna’s Perspective

July 03, 2012

AAUW regularly receives updates from alumnae about their work and significant milestones in their professional lives. A few weeks ago, we received a very unique and profound update from Evgenia Mylonaki, a 2009–10 AAUW International Fellow. Although AAUW is a non-partisan organization, her take on Greece’s financial crisis highlights the importance of remembering how global and national issues affect individuals, especially when most global news coverage reflects a detached, high-level perspective. We welcome your thoughts and reactions in the comments below.

“One Paid Song,” courtesy of the artist, Eirene Efstathiou, and Eleni Koroneou Gallery

People plan like this: We say, “If it rains, I will not go to the park.” We wait to see what happens, and then we act.

Three years ago, life in Greece started depending on other kinds of things — things that people couldn’t avoid or plan for.

First it was the bonus cuts: If I don’t get a Christmas bonus, I will not have my teeth fixed. Anger.

Then it was the pay cuts: If I don’t get a 30 percent pay cut, I will save for my daughter’s college tuition. Pain.

Then it was the layoffs: If I have a job next month, I will pay back my loans. Frustration.

Then it was unemployment: If I find a job next month, I will pay the new tax on my electricity bill. Anxiety.

Then it was borrowing: If no one gives me a loan, I will end up on the streets. Panic.

Then it was the new taxes and more loan payments: If no one does anything to change this whole situation, I will not be able to live. Despair.

Before 2009, time in Greece used to move along linearly like yours: First I go to school. Then I get a degree. I find a job. I make a family. I have kids. I help them through school. And finally, I retire to enjoy the rest of my life. After 2009, this time line for Greeks was violently replaced by spikes of anger, pain, frustration, anxiety, panic, and despair.

But not everyone in Greece lives on this new time line. There are corporations in the country right now that are growing, but they still cut paychecks and lay off employees. Those who support the corporations say that profit exists in the present only if the gains are visible in the future.

And not everyone in Greece experiences each point of this new time line in the same manner and at the same time. Some are laid off later than others. Some find lousy jobs, but some find no jobs at all. Some move to their parents’ houses, while others take to the streets. Some can no longer afford to have a car, and some can no longer afford to feed their children on a daily basis. Some migrate, some kill themselves.

In the beginning, some people hoped that the new time line would not affect them. They simply waited.  But most realized that the disruption is unrelentingly approaching, coming their way, threatening them and their lives.

People asked themselves the question of politics. If the old political order is not re-established, I will be disabused of the illusion that my silent sacrifice had a point. Claustrophobia.

If a new political order is established, I may get disappointed yet again. Fear of hope.

The first elections came, and claustrophobia gave way to hope. You should have been here to see the smiles. Then we got ready for another election.

There was a fork in the time line.

If Greece were to be thrown out of the eurozone, I would not be able to think about the future of my life. The unthinkable.

If Greece is not released from austerity measures — which take away our jobs, our pensions, our houses, our social security benefits, and the future of our children — I will not be able to live the life that befits a human being. The unlivable.

Some representatives of the European Union, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund said that Greece could stay in the eurozone only if the Greeks voted to inflict more austerity measures upon themselves. And these institutions said that the Greeks were free to choose between austerity in the eurozone and life outside it.

The second elections came. Fear won over hope by a small margin. We who fight for hope look at each other, and we see human beings in need of freedom.

We say that austerity in the eurozone is unlivable and that life outside the eurozone is unthinkable. And we say that no human is free who is called to choose between the unlivable and the unthinkable.

This post was written by 2009–10 AAUW International Fellow Evgenia Mylonaki.

6 Comments

  1. MAXINE b says:

    Evgenia does not mention the “1%” (or whatever percent it is in Greece) which became even richer because of the turbulence . Surely the banking institutions can share a large piece of the problem, not to mention government officials who do not insist upon regulatios and control. There seems to be a global “cowboy” economy rampant. God help us all!!!

  2. evgenia says:

    Maxine b, thank you for your comment! I wanted to talk about the corporations in Greece right now which are growing. I’m not sure what percentage they amount to – but I do believe that it’s better for us to look at the first thing we need to free ourselves from – and this is our very own fear of freedom – our fear of ourselves qua subjects, that is. And to do this we need to talk about *us* not *them*. *Them* they make us talk about all the time. *We*, we need to change the *subject*.
    Because “cowboy” economies are all economies which grow beasts – whether those beasts are controlled or not. A beast is no less beastly for its golden harnesses. Even the very gold of the harnesses could be food on our table. Can we find a way to say this? This is what I’m struggling for.

    Evgenia

  3. RL says:

    What an excellent piece! Americans need to see this perspective along with those we read in the newspapers (which I find mostly represent the financial aspects of the crisis) and respond with compassion and empathy.

  4. Maria says:

    “life outside the eurozone is unthinkable”

    Free yourself of that belief. Time, greece, and the universe in general, amazingly existed even before the arrival of the euro.

    Euro = drachma attached to a strong currency, while you have a weak economy. If that, historically, is sustainable, I leave it as an exercise for the reader.

    34

  5. Sarah Spencer Sarah Spencer says:

    The endowment which provided Ms. Mylonaki’s International Fellowship was created by AAUW members in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine in 1927 in honor of Mary Woolley (1863-1947). A past President of AAUW, Mary Woolley (http://www.mtholyoke.edu/~cewhite/marywoolley.html) was appointed by President Hoover in 1932 to the Disarmament Conference in Geneva. To her credit, this was probably the most important government appointment of an American woman up to that time. In a nationwide poll, she was declared one of American’s twelve greatest women in the past hundred years.

    How wonderful that this legacy created so long ago by AAUW members in honor of Mary Woolley is still creating opportunities for women internationally!

  6. alamedarj says:

    Yeah. I really agree with this article. This is also happening to other country. Helping one another is one of the best solution i know.

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