Everyone has asked me what is like in Athens and after walking around for the last two days, I would say the biggest thing is that the city, the people, the stores, everyone is waiting. Waiting for customers, waiting for food, waiting for something, anything to happen. Even early in the morning, the streets seem to be waiting for cars – the subways here wait for people and not the other way around as it should be.
I thought yesterday that this must be a little bit like what it was like in the United States during the Great Depression; I thought I was being dramatic until I read this morning that the economic output has fallen 27% here – the same amount that it fell in the States in the 1930s, so it is exactly what it is like.
There is a resignation among the people here and they walk among the closed shops, or past the graffiti that is everywhere – they seem to need hope, energy, a chance that the bright blue beautiful Greek skies will bring sun and warmth and a better day. The jobless rate for the youth has climbed over 50%. The total unemployment rate is somewhere in the 30 – 35% range but that seems low to be honest.
Despite an economics degree in college, I don’t completely know and understand where the money went that was lent here, and I certainly understand the ones who did the lending want their money back. In the political hallways of Berlin, pounding the table might make sense and demanding repayment may make all the sense in the world. But here, on the ground, it’s clear there’s no chance of that. (And posters around town of Angela Merkel as a Nazi should clearly indicate exactly how the Greeks feel about the situation.)
The US emerged from the Great Depression through a massive spending program, among other things, and some luck and help. Greece won’t recover from this without something similar I don’t think.
I have seen crowds gathered in exactly two places. The first was a refugee assistance office just outside of Omonoia Square. And the second was where vans and worn out buses fill up to take people north to Romania.
This is fascinating to me because before, the issue would have been people trying to get down here from countries like that – but that’s not true now.
Just down the street from that, I saw a group of men setting up their fruit stand for the day in the shadows of what was once, maybe even recently, a beautiful building. It reminded me one what one of the founders of Emfasis Foundation said about being here and helping. She was used to seeing scenes of poverty and despair overseas and now it was here, and indeed it is.
I have so many pictures like this one from Rangoon and from around Burma. People surviving in the shadows of ruins, but it was different in Burma in 2012 and 2013. There was hope for the future – there was a core belief that things, life, was getting better and would continue to do so. Here, that’s what missing. This one street is lined with men who have set up simple fruit stands, selling tomatoes, watermelon, cherries and strawberries. Between here and Omonoia, there must be a dozen stands and at each one, four or five people sit, and wait.