Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Can the Youth Still be the Hope for Greece’s Future?

by Arthur Gutzke

Greek Youth Protest
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On December 3rd, Professor Neni Panourgia of Columbia University visited the University of Illinois to give a lecture hosted by the Modern Greek Studies program on the Greek Crisis titled “There is No End to Mourning Here: Giving an Account of the Precarious Self in Greece of the Crises.”  In it she discussed many of the issues facing the people of Greece, not from the perspective of the national debt and austerity measures but about how they must fight to keep these problems from defining them.  The challenges that Greeks face go beyond fiscal and monetary issues to the leadership, or lack thereof, in the politics of Greece.

Golden Dawn Flyer
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The confidence of youths that everything will turn around and the future will be brighter has been undermined by the violence of “soccer, neo-nazi and political hooligans,” as Panourgia described them.  Probably the most depressing statistic is that in 2011, suicide rates had increased by 45% compared to 2007 before the financial crisis hit and the bottom fell out. The number of suicides has continued to climb in both 2012 and 2013.  In politics, all forms of expression seem to have shifted away from informed debate to violence.  “Golden Dawn,” the far-right fascist political party and social movement, has incited violent protests and riots against any groups they consider non-Greek or too liberal.  In response, anti-fascist protests have also become violent, with protesters physically assaulting Golden Dawn party officers after the murder of anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas by a member of Golden Dawn.  If all that the youth of Greece see is political violence and death, there seems to be little hope that they will be able to start the intelligent and peaceful discourse necessary to set Greece back on the right track.  So what are the future leaders of the country doing?

To Panourgia, taking away all of the direct troubles imposed by the financial crisis such as the debt, the unemployment, the depression, the IMF and the austerity measures it has imposed on the government will not relieve Greece of its underlying problems.  The culture of politics and the government of Greece are rotten, and this outdates the problems caused by the crisis.  She believes that even with the debt forgiven, tax evaders still would not pay taxes, corporations would continue to bribe bureaucrats for favors, and politicians would continue to act like hooligans and play political games instead of govern.  This view would give little hope for the future, except that she has found that hope in the culture created by the educated, unemployed youth.  The poverty that their lack of income forces them into is not institutionalized, and not accepted as a new fact.  They do not want to be seen as impoverished because that would be a disservice to families in Africa or Central America who are completely impoverished.  As Panourgia said, “Greece is not India or Honduras, it is Argentina.”  Greeks do not accept poverty.  They did not grow up in it and they do not see it as their future.  Youths fight back by working together to create soup kitchens for those even worse off than them, and by starting their own cooperative efforts such as urban farming to earn money. The hope and strength of the youth is what will define the recovery of Greece.

Arthur Gutzke is a Civic Leadership Program fellow working towards a master’s degree in Political Science.  He has studied the European Union in depth both at the University of Illinois where he earned his bachelor’s degree, also in Political Science, and at the Humboldt University in Berlin, where he studied for a year. 

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