Research - 03.07.2012 - 00:00 

Discussions in Athens

On their way to the Greek island of Tinos, three St.Gallen sociologists stopped in Athens, where they talked to unemployed young people, teachers, public officials and academics. A summary.


29 June 2012. In Athens Franz Schultheis, Patricia Holder and Michael Gemperle introduced themselves as sociologists from far-away Switzerland who were interested in first-hand information beyond the customary media reports. Their interviews with people from different social groups in the Greek capital were set up by Nikos Panayotopoulos from the University of Crete. In 90-minute interviews, the academics found out how their interviewees perceive their personal situations and their country’s position.

Loss of trust and "big depression"
With these dozen ethnographic informers, the St.Gallen sociologists did not intend to claim any representativeness of the Greek population, nor were they able to do so, even though the interviewees were a good mixture in terms of age and gender. Although they were not representative, the result of the interviews still proved to be polyphonic. "What took shape in our interviews step by step, sentence by sentence, was the picture of a big depression comparable to the perception of the world economic crisis of 1929," says Schultheis.

All interviewees depicted their situations as characterised by severe restraints and a deterioration in their circumstances and opportunities: salaries reduced by up to 50 per cent, unemployment since the beginning of the crisis two years ago, returning to live under their parents’ roofs because they are unable to pay the rent for a flat of their own, and entire families that have to subsist on their grandparents’ pension.

All testimonials reveal how under the supervision of the troika of the IMF, ECB and the EU Commission, the middle class collectively plummeted cruelly from the normality of a modest prosperity that only recently seemed assured into a state of being eroded. Across the board, the interviewees emphasised a total loss of trust, not only in the actors, political parties and trade unions who support the redistribution policy, but also in government institutions, which in order to satisfy “international obligations” again, are demanding increasingly higher levies from them.

The family as a refuge
As the sole institution that appears reliable in view of a collapsing "caring state", the family acts as a "haven in a heartless world" (quotation from Christopher Lasch). "What was particularly harrowing for us three visitors was the enormous lack of perspective, which was unanimously expressed very credibly in all these descriptions," says Schultheis. None of the interviewees was even beginning to see an opportunity for alternatives to gain the upper hand in the foreseeable future.

Instead, they talked about a period of 30 years, that of a whole generation – almost as long as it took them to move from the old regime of the military dictatorship into the present. Here and there, a glimmer of hope breaks through when the interviewees speak of new social movements, new forms of solidarity in civil society and creative ways of coping with shortages, which result in something new.

All in all, however, a gloomy picture prevails of material difficulties and restraints, uncertainties and great worries for the young, who have been left with a complete shambles by way of inheritance on their journey through life. Another talking point was the symbolic violations caused by the stereotypical recriminations now doing the rounds, to the effect that the Greeks were themselves responsible for the present misery and would therefore have to assume collective liability.

Photo: Photocase / The Cramped

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