Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

A Very Greek Depression

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

A Very Greek Depression

Article excerpt

Like an overwhelming number of Greeks, we are fighting to keep our dignity and avoid the despair enveloping our country.

Like many Greeks caught in the maelstrom of the economic crisis, my wife and I live a day-to-day existence.

Since the newspaper where I worked for 23 years (my wife for 17) went out of circulation in December of 2011, we have both been unemployed. Neither of us have received a paycheck in 18 months, as our newspaper stopped paying us five months before it closed. With unemployment for journalists at over 30 percent, and the official unemployment rate at 26 percent, our prospects for this year are, shall we say, not terribly favorable.

Our story is typical of many in Greece, though some are much worse off and some have it better. But like an overwhelming number of Greeks who are struggling just to get enough food, to keep their homes warm and to maintain a semblance of normalcy, we are fighting to keep our dignity intact and avoid the depression that is enveloping our country.

We have been lucky in some ways. Our son, like many young people, has left Greece and found work as a software engineer in Scotland, and we are watching as the country loses a generation of highly skilled university graduates. Our parents, though elderly, are healthy and manage to survive on their pension, which has been cut by almost 50 percent in the last two years. They have offered to share what little they have with us -- something common in Greece, where traditional family ties often offset ineffective social welfare programs.

In the past 18 months, we have tried to find work in journalism. With a group of former colleagues, we tried to create a start-up digital newspaper. After months of hard -- and unpaid -- work, our primary investor pulled out just a few days before we were supposed to go online, unwilling to take the risk in such a fragile economy.

We have continuously explored other avenues to find work. My wife has taken up baking to help keep us afloat. We are exploring the possibility of exporting Greek agricultural products.

In an economy where home sales are almost nonexistent, we managed to sell our small country home. Even though we got less than 20 percent of its previous value, we feel lucky because it allows us to survive for a few more months.

We also managed to get a court order that prevents the banks from foreclosing on our mortgage, so our home in Athens is safe until 2015. We are luckier than the people who are forced to live in their cars -- their only property after they lost their jobs and the banks took their houses or their landlords refused to extend them any more credit. They park at a different spot every few days and usually rely on the kindness of strangers for bath and toilet facilities, or relieve themselves at public or private gardens, including, occasionally, our own. …

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