Stella Leventoyannis Harvey

Greek Voices

“Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.” Oscar Wilde

Greece is in the news again, on the brink once more. The tit-for-tat political rhetoric is never ending and fervent, but it gives no voice to those dealing with the economic crisis day in, day out – Greek citizens. In the end, they will be the ones to pay for the sins of their governments.

“I can’t tell you what I think,” a man responded when I asked him about the financial situation in Greece and the current talks between Athens and the EU. “What I have to say would not be polite.” I met him fishing on the dock in Kyparissia. I saw him again in the small village of Kalo Nero (good water in English). He’s retired. His pension reduced recently as part of the government’s austerity program. He worries he may not get whatever is left of his pension at the end of June. “Medical benefits have also been cut,” he said. “What can you do?” He sipped his coffee and shrugged.

In Argostoli, on the island of Kefalonia, I asked a shop owner where I might buy a parking pass. We’d parked our car in a pay-parking area. “You don’t need one,” she said. “No one monitors the parking anymore.”

“Are you sure?”

“They were all let go.”

Some storefronts are boarded up. I search out the shops I was lucky enough to be in when I was here three years ago. They are still open. I walk into these stores, find the owners and tell them how happy I am to see them. And of course, I ask, what do you think of the current impasse between Greece and its lenders? What do you think will happen?

“We have survived worse,” one business owner says. “Occupations, civil war, the earthquake of 1953 and more. We will survive this too.”

He’s a Greek Canadian who came back to Greece because as he put it the first time I met him, “Greeks know how to take care of their elderly and I’m getting old.” He thanked me for remembering him and stopping by to say hello.

“It’s complicated, this economy,” another business owner told me in the village of Sami. “The Greek people didn’t borrow the money, we are not to blame, yet we have to pay for the mistakes of our government.”

But don’t people elect governments? The thought floated through my brain and thankfully didn’t come out my mouth.

“The town seems busier,” I said. “There are lots of tourists.”

“It’s a graveyard in the winter,” he replied. “They stopped the ferry from Patra because there wasn’t enough business to sustain it.”

Then he told me about the EU imposed sanctions against Russia and Russian retaliation. “All this because of what is happening in the Ukraine. Before the sanctions, close to $200 million Euros in fruit and vegetables were exported to Russia from Greece. Russia was one of our major trading partners. This is a big loss we also have to deal with. Yes, we are a member nation, but does the EU understand what they have done to us? You see how complicated things are?”

I heard this message over and over again: “they want us to be a member, part of the European Union when it comes to paying loans, but we’re on our own when we have to deal with other things.”

“Such as?” I asked.

“Turkey lets refugees steal away on boats that end up in Greece. Then we have to deal with it. We don’t have enough jobs or food for Greeks. How can we support so many others? And they put ships in our waters and fly in our airspace without permission. Where is the EU to help us then? Should the EU not protect us? Is that something we should get for being part of the family?”

“We have Greek yogurt now imported from Germany because trade is supposed to flow freely through member countries. Their yogurt is cheaper and when people don’t have money they buy the least expensive things. What does this do to our farmers? How can they survive?”

All valid questions that should be addressed.

“I’ve stopped listening to the news because it is a rollercoaster ride,” a friend of mine in Athens said. “Whatever comes we will deal with it. For now, I have to live my life. I can’t be upset and scared all the time.”

And there’s more. “They think they are saints, but the Germans never paid back the loan they forced the National Bank of Greece to give them during the war. They should pay their loans too. We are not the first country to go into debt and we won’t be the last.”

These are only snippets of what I’ve heard during my time here. The anguish and uncertainty settled in faces, even as friendly smiles lingered.

My hope for them is that I’m not the only who is listening.

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