Living in Greece this summer was the best experience of my life. From the habit of getting coffee three times a day to the awesome meeting with Antonis Samaras, president of the New Democracy political party, I am still in disbelief I was given the opportunity for an experience so fulfilling.
Regardless of what the media is reporting, Greece is not falling apart. During the three weeks I spent working in Athens, I was in Syntagma Square multiple times a day (covering the protests). Still, nobody kicked me in the face for being the media or for being American, two things a lot of friends and family at home were worried about the Greeks discovering. My friends and I even witnessed a Communist protest, which consisted of about forty people holding signs and screaming at the Parliament building, and men opening beers on the street in front of the police (which is illegal), trying to anger them. No tear gas was released, and no rioters turned violent — the worst that happened was the people refused to leave their tents in the square.
The fact that people had time to spend weeks camping out was initially surprising to me. From what I have now learned of the Greek economic situation, however, I cannot say I am surprised that these people either left jobs or didn’t have jobs to hold them back, and so they sat and protested. The total amount of people losing their jobs is incredible, and in my opinion they have every right to try to make their voices heard.
Unexpectedly, though, from my experience, the situation on the islands of Greece is completely different (from the situation in Athens). Of the three weeks I spent on vacation with my family to Naxos, Santorini and Rhodes, I saw one man throw one sign out the window of one government building in protest. Nobody else cared about the politics going on in Athens — they were content to continue running their individual family businesses and leave the protesting for those in the city.
Due to the sheer volume of people out of work, hoping the economic crisis will right itself, many of Greece’s young people are leaving the country. This absolutely needs to stop; in order for Greece to become economically stable and self-sufficient again, the government needs both to downsize and to accept new faces among their ranks. The country itself needs to turn to exporting its natural resources to get the money it needs to right itself, as opposed to simply firing everyone and making each individual citizen’s economic situation worse.
Greece is a beautiful country with an irreplaceable culture and history and is simply going through a rough patch. Protests and riots are nothing new for the nation, and I cannot imagine them stopping anytime soon — it’s become part of Greek society. The media needs to stop yelling about the protests in Greece when there are, in fact, bigger issues at hand. I hope that soon, the country will be back to its former glory and we Greeks in America can continue to boast about being Greek.
Maria and other students in the Reinventing Greece fellows program took these pictures of protests around Syntagma Square in central Athens.