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Brain drain and declining birth rate threaten the future of Greece

Seven years since the financial crisis shook Greece, many young people lack opportunity or hope for the future. Austerity and financial insecurity have pushed the birthrate to all-time lows, and members of the younger generations are leaving Greece for better opportunities elsewhere, leaving experts worried about Greece’s very existence. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We turn our focus now to Greece, where the ripple effects of the severe financial crisis there are still felt seven years later. The damage might last generations, given economics have forced many young Greeks to forgo having children or to leave the country entirely.

    Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports on this growing brain drain.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Dusk in Northern Greece, time for the marriage of administrator Christina Theofilidou and Sotiris Manitsaris, a researcher in artificial intelligence.

  • Sotiris Manitsaris:

    It’s a unique moment. It’s the first time in my life that I have had this kind of moment, so it’s between stress and happiness, let’s say.

  • Christina Theofilidou:

    Right now, a bit of a panic. But I will be fine soon. I will be fine in a second.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Summer’s end used to be prime wedding season. But as Greece languishes in its great depression, statistics show an increasing number of young people can’t afford to marry.

  • Christina Theofilidou:

     Basically, I think, it was kind of love at first sight.

  • Sotiris Manitsaris:

    When I found Christina, I said, this girl is for me. She’s beautiful. She has an excellent character. She’s very clever, and she also left Greece for me.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Besides love, being on a typical monthly wage of $750 convinced Christina to join the brain drain and move to France.

  • Christina Theofilidou:

     As a human being, you need to have dreams. You need to be able to dream of a future, of having a family. But due to the crisis, all these dreams were shattered, because you cannot live with 625 euros, my salary. I have a master’s degree. I have work experience. That’s my salary.

    Another 625 euros, if you put that together, I mean, you really cannot live with that kind of money.

    This is not a big fat Greek wedding, not at all.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    There was no honeymoon. They were heading straight back to Paris, so Christina could start a new job.

  • Christina Theofilidou:

    I feel we were very lucky to be able to do this. I know that there are many families in Greece at this moment in time, that cannot have this kind of celebration.

  • Sotiris Manitsaris:

    To be honest, I worry more about the country than about the young people, because I think that young Greeks know very well how to survive.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

     But, according to research emanating from the island of Lesbos, that confidence is misplaced. With its rapidly aging population, Greece is not only facing a demographic time bomb, its young generation is in the firing line of what a sociologist calls “geneocide” or annihilation.

  • Sotiris Xtouris:

    If a country is losing a creative young generation, they have not have the means to reproduce itself. This will be a vicious cycle of degradation, of decline of the society. It’s not just a problem. It’s the most difficult problem that is Greece facing today.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

     Sotiris Xtouris is a professor of sociology at the University of the Aegean.

  • Sotiris Xtouris:

    I call this the annihilation of a generation. They have no jobs. They will not have a generation of creative entrepreneurs in Greece. It can be that Greeks and the Greek society will decline totally, as a failed state, as a failed society.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Forty-two-year-old Yannis Sarakatsanis is determined to ensure that his society survives the seemingly never ending trial of austerity. Despite being a well-known comic actor and satirist, he struggles.

  • Yannis Sarakatsanis:

    Whatever you want to do, the reward has to come quick, because we don’t trust that we’re going to have a stable system in three months.

    Getting paid is a more difficult process now. So me, as an actor, let’s say I do a commercial. The production company will pay me actually six months after the work I have done. In the meantime, I have to pay my taxes. I have to wait, and I have to call them again and again and again, because, if I don’t call them, they’re not going to bother with me, because that’s actually a bonus for them.

    If I don’t call them, and if I don’t bother them, they’re going to keep my money and pay someone else who is actually bothering them.

  • Soso Hatzimanoli:

    When I wake up in the morning, I have this knot in my neck because I feel like it’s a new day that I have to pull through.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Soso Hatzimanoli is a 34-year-old actress. Like so many of her generation, the financial crisis has taken away her sense of independence.

  • Soso Hatzimanoli:

    I feel sad and angry that I had to move back with my parents, because the first thing that came to my mind when I did it, it was like, OK, you are taking a step back in your life.

    And I couldn’t understand why, because I was working all day, all night, every day since I was 21 years old.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

     Financial insecurity across Greece has made couples too scared to have children. To maintain the level of population, the fertility rate should be two children per family. In Greece, it’s down to about 1.3.

    The population decline in Greece is one of the most severe in the world. And it’s being exacerbated by austerity. In 2010, when the financial meltdown began, 115,000 children were born. Five years later, that number had dropped to 92,000.

    So, how do you counter that birth rate reduction of 20 percent, together with the silencing of wedding bells?

    Sociologist Sotiris Xtouris says the government must prioritize investing in the lost generation. One way, he says, would be to unlock the giant portfolio of unused state property and turn it into cheap housing.

  • Sotiris Xtouris:

    The most important thing for the Greek society today is to concentrate all its efforts to reproduce this generation, to give to these young people the possibility to be creative, to stay in Greece, and to have the ability to form the society again.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    But the actors are skeptical about Greece emerging from the abyss.

  • Soso Hatzimanoli:

    We should work twice as hard as our parents to get through our lives. So, it’s a little bit unfair, but it’s what we have to do right now.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Alexandra Ousta is another household name. She and Yannis married last year.

  • Alexandra Ousta:

    I believe that my generation is passive. They — we — we don’t do as much things as we have to do to make it better. We have to have a voice. And nobody screams.

  • Yannis Sarakatsanis:

    Because the austerity becomes harder, we continue to lose faith in the state. And because it becomes a matter of survival, we don’t pay taxes, and we don’t cut our receipts, and we don’t show our income, because we won’t survive.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

     The day after their marriage, newlyweds Sotiris and Christina were having coffee and cakes with their friends, before setting off for their new life together in France.

  • Christina Theofilidou:

    We would want to come back at some point in the future, but we want to know that there are the conditions, at least like some basic conditions, we can find a job, we can have a decent salary, we can maintain our family. We need the basics.

  • Yannis Sarakatsanis:

    I feel that I have an obligation to my country to make the country better. You either go away to another country, or you stay here and help. So, I think I’m deciding to stay here and help.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    If Greece were to follow the sociologist’s advice and invest in the lost generation, it would require more sacrifices from everyone else. For most people, after years of austerity, the tank is empty. They’re just flying on the fumes.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Malcolm Brabant in Greece.

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