Summer 2015 may arguably be considered one of the most chaotic and delicate times that has marked modern Greek history. The July 5th referendum, the daily limited 60 euro withdrawal from the banks in early July, Athens’s shaky relationship with Berlin, and the frenzy talk about Grexit all shed spotlight on Greece, making her gain momentum and popularity among domestic and International media.
Many claim that Greece’s overly generous public sector, political corruption, and its long history with a system based on kinship and tax evasion were the main reasons of blame. Yet, others argued that the austerity measures imposed by Troika and the EU Commission were not only heavily influenced by Nordic European ideologies, but that Greek austerity was in reality a project to enrich and empower the donor countries, thereby creating a form of economic neo-colonialism.
One problem with both perspectives, however, is that they both tend to be based on a unique causal force. That is to say, they both follow the logic of placing blame upon a single actor. Who shall we blame for chaos in EU relations? Greece alone or the IMF, ECB, Troika and Germany? Much time was invested in trying to find the culprit to a bloody tragedy, that many were overlooking the consequences of the crisis.
The reactions occurring after the deepening of the Greek crisis are different depending on whether the subject is “the social impact of austerity in Greece” or “reactions from the rest of Europe.” However, the point is that what occurred after the amplification of the ‘Grisis’ is worthy of analysis as much as what caused it. This is the epiphany that I had on July 13th at noon.
The morning of that same day, I had left my house in Athens to buy a flower for my friend Eleni who had been robbed a week earlier of more than €600 worth of goods from her store.
Little did I know, upon my return to my house, I would find my house door jammed and unlocked with computers, research materials, keys, jewelry and many more valuables missing.
I flashbacked to a quote I had written before the robbery: “[the situation is increasing] ‘fear’ and ‘mass hysteria’ in the markets and social realms, thereby creating a ‘polarization of opposites’ [among the people]”.
In between my heart racing from the robbery and trying to regain rational capacity, I realized my sense of security that day had been violated.
Panic and hysteria had indeed become real, not just in the markets, but in my home too. I realized both Greece and Germany might feel that same way about each other.
The polarization of opposites that I once thought was a phenomenon splitting only the pro “NAI” side vs. the pro “OXI” side, now involved a third party: criminals and burglars and in worst cases, murderers.
That day something changed. My priority was not to find the culprit of the Greco-Euro crisis. Now the main concerns were the consequences and solutions. One consequence that my eyes had observed was the increase in crime rates. That inspired me to dig into statistics.
Consequences: Crimes and Burglaries
Data found by Balkan Analysis demonstrates a “steep increase in organized crime in Greece” linking it indeed to the country’s ongoing economic crisis.
In 2009, during the initial steps of recession, 216 estimated burglaries occurred on a daily basis, along with 14 armed robberies, 70 auto thefts and one homicide. To provide a contrast, 1980 recorded only 80 robberies.
The Ministry for Citizen Protection recorded that in 2011, the homicides associated with robbery had increased by 87%. Most predictions argued that crime rates were thus expected to increase from 2012 onwards.
Oddly, for most recent years, most data do not reveal a drastic increase, but rather, especially Eurostat, claims a decrease in crimes, burglaries and thefts. It is an interesting point as it does not go hand in hand with the stories told around Athens from family member to sibling, friend to friend.
Criminologist Stratos Georgoulas, from the University of the Aegean, in fact claims that the statistics for most recent years do not accurately reflect reality. He speaks of ‘dark numbers’ or unrecorded crimes which in his view distort real numbers.
He argues that confidence in the police and security forces is in decline, and that this in part explains why many people experiencing crimes choose not to involve the authorities. Victims like 37 year old Maria Papadopoulou confirm that the figures seem skewed and are higher. She says, “everyone I speak to has either experienced a burglary… first hand or else it has happened to their family or friends.”
The mother of three was held up at gun point in her own garage as she was about to pick her daughter up from school. “I gave them everything they asked for – I just wanted them out of my house and away from my children as quickly as possible,” she concluded.
Another sad story occurred to 75 year old Niki Yanakopoulou who in broad daylight was returning to her apartment in central Athens after attempting to withdraw her pension.
Her son discovered her body in a pool of blood lying next to her flat door. After inspections, the police concluded that she had been robbed of her purse and that the thief had hit her head with a steel pipe.
The authorities luckily found one of the thieves who turned out to be Albanian. This sheds light on another consequence of the deepening of the crisis – the rise of xenophobia.
The Rise of Xenophobia
Official statistics report that immigrants hold about half of the responsibility for criminal activity within the state. However, the Greek authorties have claimed that armed gangs entering the country from bordering countries such as Albania or Bulgaria increased, especially during the period of July, where all media were reporting lines of people withdrawing cash from banks.
As great historian Stephen Runciman mentions when speaking of the fall of the Byzantine Empire, fear is a powerful enemy and in many cases is the recipe for self destruction. This is the fear that was reflected in the markets, banks and jittery public.
Since 2010, about €72 billion have left the Greek banks by a panicked population who treads that institutions may become insolvent or worse that euros may be turned back into Drachmas.
Indeed as fear crept into the psyche of the peoples, money was leaving the bank and ‘going under the mattress.’ Great news for international criminals, bad news for the individuals that were already struggling to access their income.
Consequentially to the series of events, the ultra-nationalist party, Golden Dawn, has been gaining a wider spectrum of admirers. In 2012, it gained 440,966 votes, earning for the first time 21 seats in parliament. In January 2015, there was a decrease to 17 seats, however, it was accompanied by a rise of 3 seats in European Parliament.
Although mainstream media have centralized their discourses on the culprit of the Greco-Euro crisis, contemporary events such as increasing crime rates within Greece and growing domestic mistrust towards the ‘Other’ reflected in the recent accentuation of xenophobia show some consequences of the crisis.
It is these consequences that are characterizing the contemporary atmosphere of daily lives. These instances are the moments of social change that are marking modern Greek history in delicate times – both politically and economically.
This is one gloomy aspect of reality, the other one is explained perfectly in Zacharo Gialamas’s poem entitled Η Ελλάδα δεν πεθαίνει,
“…justice and goodness cannot die, even if you can’t see them, they are there, in the roots of the olive trees and hope.
They lie in the veins of young Greeks who work for three euros an hour and the generation who built their homes with their own backs.
They lie in the kids who play on the sand and they lie in the parents who have given their all for their children.
They also lie in those who have taken their minds elsewhere so they can strengthen them and their faith in order to return home and help those around them.
We have seen and lived other worlds.
And I cannot speak for you, but I know that I have found no better than Ellas.
We will overcome this because we are meant to”