Many Greeks, their lives ravaged by the debt crisis, are thinking of emigrating like hundreds of thousands of their compatriots who left for foreign shores after World War II.
The country is trapped in a deepening recession and many Greeks point out that the cumulative cuts are only digging a deeper hole for the economy, which is expected to contract by 5.5% of output this year.
Agricultural engineer Apostolos Kafchitsas has seen his pay slashed from €1 600 to €1,200 in six months with no light at the end of the tunnel in the near future.
“My wife’s sister wants to move to Cyprus, because she says for the next 10 years nothing good will happen here,” the father of two young girls said.
“Now nobody is secure any more, everything changes every day, even our jobs are not secure any more,” he said.
Dimitri (33) a former computer programmer, is meanwhile betting on a meal ticket to Australia — the favoured destination of hundreds of thousands of Greeks along with the United States in the 1950s after the Second World War.
“Some of my friends have gone to England or to Holland,” he said. “I am thinking of leaving for Australia.”
His CV has been chosen and he is due to appear for an interview with the Australian embassy’s representatives.
What to do in this crisis?
Dimitri worked for a company that went bust at the start of the crisis and is hoping he will land himself the job of a school teacher in November.
“When I went for interviews in IT companies, they had received 9 000 CVs for 10 jobs,” he said. “I was thinking of starting my own company but how do you want to start anything in this crisis?”
The official unemployment rate in Greece is pegged at 16.3% but trade union estimates put it as high as 23%.
Dimitri gets €400 a month as unemployment benefits but it will stop in four months.
“Fortunately I have some money left in the bank and I have a family who helps me too,” he said. “My rent is €500 a month.”
After struggling for months to find a job worthy of her qualifications, young programmer Ioanna Giannopoulou decided last July to pack her bags and seek a better future in France.
“I think I have no choice, I need to go abroad,” said Ioanna the 23-year-old who was awarded her master’s degree this year.
“All of my classmates have already left, they too are unable to find work in Greece even though they are top-notch students,” she added.
Lois Lambrianidis, an economist and geographer at the University of Macedonia in Thessaloniki, estimates that 9% of young Greek graduates emigrated between May 2009 and February 2010.
“And in recent months, the departures are accelerating,” he said.
What do we owe and to whom?
Greece has a population of roughly 11-million while seven-million people of Greek descent live overseas.
Kafchitsas meanwhile wants more answers from his government, locked in desperate talks for fresh bailout funds amid mounting pressure on Athens to tighten the belt even further.
“I want a committee to see how much exactly does the country owe, to whom,” he said. “The government is saying it’s increasing every day but we need to sit down and really talk about this debt.”
“The government, they are puppets, they don’t represent the country anymore,” he said. “It’s a matter of dignity, it’s not for my €400 a month. It’s the whole independence of the country which is at stake.
“We cannot say we owe money without knowing what and to whom.”
The Greek government has imposed new taxes, wage cuts and layoffs to avert a default on its debt payments, as the next instalment of international aid hangs in the balance.
Athens was on Wednesday denied for yet another day the next €8-billion ($10.7-billion) tranche of bailout money it urgently needs to avoid defaulting on its debts.
At the same time on Wednesday Greek police were tear-gassing protestors in the capital as public sector staff and students went on strike over the austerity cuts, shutting down courts, schools and transport including flights.
Dimitri said there were some projections that things would be back on track after a decade.
“When I hear people say that things will go better in 10 years from now, it’s very difficult to hear. Now I am 33, I will be 43,” he said.
“But I don’t really want to leave my country, I want to stay here”. — AFP