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The personal side of a very public crisis

Young Greeks talk to Dr Athanasia Chalari about their experience of the economic crisis

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"Professionally, I don't know if I will have a job tomorrow and personally, I have no desire to do anything joyful anymore. There is so much insecurity about everything," says Antonis, a young Greek caught up in the turmoil that has engulfed his nation.

Dr Athanasia Chalari, a sociologist from the Hellenic Observatory, is interested in how ordinary people like Antonis are experiencing the Greek financial crisis.

She explains: "From a social scientist's point of view what is happening in Greece, is an opportunity to observe social change taking place in real time and to try and understand it.

"I'm interested in when and how societies change and how individuals contribute to and respond to it. And the knowledge we get from looking at Greece will help us understand what may happen in other societies"

For her research Dr Chalari interviewed a sample of 25 – 45 year olds between August and September 2011 in Athens and on the islands of Lesbos and Syros.

As a result of the crisis the interviewees said they did not spend as much money as they used to and worked longer hours. They were more anxious, the quality of their everyday life had worsened and they felt they were unable to plan for the future.

But she was surprised at the extent to which the interviewees saw themselves as having played a role in the crisis and did not see themselves as passive victims of other people's decisions.

"There is a attitude in Greece which we call 'ohaderfismos' which means that if there is a problem a person will say, 'It's not up to me to solve it, it's someone else's problem,'" she explains.

"But I found that this mentality is a thing of the past and that is a huge change. The people I interviewed weren't just blaming everyone else – the politicians, the political parties, the European Union and so on. Rather they acknowledged they had contributed to the crisis themselves to a certain extent."

AcropolisUntil recently, for example, ordinary Greeks dealt with the country's extensive bureaucracy through systems of patronage. Characteristically one 38 year old noted: "I contributed [to this] but I was forced to do it because that is how the system works".

One interviewee said he didn't always report incidents of mismanagement or abuses of power in the workplace and, in this way, his silence and tolerance of the situation had contributed to the Greece's situation. And one 29 year old said he was responsible because he had voted repeatedly for those in power.

Chalari found a remarkably consistent attitude among the participants that they needed to improve themselves first if things were going to get better. This meant being better employees, members of their families and communities.

Getting more involved in organised action, such as demonstrations and strikes - although not violent protest - was also seen as important, but as secondary to personal action and changing their values and priorities.

Indeed, the participants were critical of their parents for over-protecting and spoiling them. The older generation survived the war and lived through the military junta. They worked hard to offer their children a better future and whatever they didn't have, they wanted their children to have.

Although the interviewees recognised that this was all done with love and care, they said that their parents didn't pass on the values and knowledge of the hard times because they thought the future was going to be easy.

Lina, aged 27 from Syros explains: "Our parents were tougher and stronger and they tried to make their living in any way they could. Whereas we avoid difficulties."

Because of this they felt that they needed to be conscious of what they passed onto their own children. They talked abut teaching their children to help others, that happiness does not come from extensive consumerism and to plan for their future without expecting that everything will be provided by their parents.

"The interviewees felt bad because they would not be able to offer their children the same advantages that their parents had offered them but I noticed a shift in priorities," Chalari explains. "They wanted to teach their children the difference between right and wrong rather than just giving them whatever they want. And they also placed a great emphasis on getting a good education."

She concludes: "The people I interviewed saw the necessity of the austerity measures –  although they feel that Greece is being unfairly blamed for all of the EU's problems. However, they are realistic. This is not the end of Greek history or the Greek nation. They recognise that it is a crisis and that things may get worse before they get better, but that it will pass."


Useful links

For full details of Dr Athanasia Chalari's research and publications see her profile on the LSE experts directory: Athanasia Chalari|

This article is based on Dr Chalari's research 'Social change in modern Greece: the contribution of young generation to a new social reality': Powerpoint|