By Anna Karpathakis, PhD
By the summer of 2009, the world recession hit the small marginal economy of Greece. There was one unique feature to Greece’s economic financial problems, however which affected the Diaspora’s reactions and responses to the crisis. Political scandals, corruption and nepotism had contributed greatly to the financial crisis. The newly elected government of PASOK (Fall 2009) soon discovered that the budget gap was over 135 billion Euros. Prime Minister George Papandreou turned to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Central Bank (ECB) for loans so the state could meet its financial responsibilities. The American born Papandreou also turned to the Greek American community for support in a program of Diaspora bonds. In the meantime, commentators from the European Union, Internal Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and Wall Street began pointing their fingers to the average Greek as the culprit for the financial crisis. The international media began rhetoric of class warfare to prepare the public for the austerity and economic liberalization programs imposed by the IMF. There was barely a mention of the corruption that caused the severity of the financial crisis, nor the further problems created by the IMF’s austerity measures.
Academics, business personalities and journalists in the Diaspora wrote editorials in both the Greek and Greek American press. And while these editorials clearly represented very diverse political sympathies, all agreed on the issues of governance and constitutional changes regarding amnesty to politicians. It appeared that the Diaspora turned its back to their home society. It was a very sobering moment for the political leaders of both Greece and the community in the U.S. While the precise nature of the causes of the financial crisis were perceived within very partisan frameworks and quite diverse suggestions were created to get the country’s economy back on track, all in the Diaspora agreed that the crisis was, if not created, then at least exacerbated by the Greek politicians and they did not have faith in the state. The crisis in Greece, in other words, is not simply an economic crisis but it is a problem of the legitimacy of the state itself and despite verbal promises for help from the Diaspora, immigrants and the American born did not invest their money in a country ruled by a government which has not taken the necessary steps to curb further corruption and nepotism. While the Greek government spoke of governance reform, it acted on economic reform which placed the onus on the working and middle classes. In other words, the Greek government did not heed the Diaspora’s suggestions (or even demands) of major structural reforms to ensure governmental responsibility, accountability and transparency.
Interviews with immigrants and the American born depict an emotionally trying period for the community. The initial responses of shame have passed, especially as the young, using internet news sources have discovered quite diverse approaches to the problems in Greece; indeed, some websites present the continuing demonstrations and riots in Greece as a people’s fight against global capitalism, greedy financial institutions and an expression of a democratic movement. The fact that the U.S. itself is currently undergoing financial troubles creates an uneasy combination of on the one hand of sympathy for the plight of the Greek people and its troubles along with criticism of the street politics and riots.
While the Diaspora has refused to help the state rebound from the economic recession, the immigrants and American born have turned their attention to helping their families through these difficult times. As unemployment rates increase in Greece, many of the immigrants and American born send money to unemployed family members. Others visiting Greece for the summer months have in effect begun a process of sending care packages through shipping and freight companies. The items and gifts that the immigrants and the American born sent to family back home have varied over the past fifty years, reflecting the country’s economic realities. Once again, the immigrants are sending food staples and clothing, rather than the luxury personal items of the decades of the 1980s and 1990s.
The Greek government is following the austerity measures of the IMF and imposing economic programs which many see as leading to more hardship for the country. The government has furthermore begun the process of selling public land to private European corporations (which as some economists have argued are the very institutions which have over the past 70 years created the current crisis) while still refusing to punish those among the corrupt politicians who through greed and corruption brought the final blow and threw the country’s economy to its knees. For the Diaspora, the land sale is interpreted as in effect selling off bits and pieces of Greek history. The Diaspora spoke and the Greek government did not heed its demands for major structural governmental reforms. For the first time in the history of modern Greece, the Diaspora has refused to offer aid to Greece through formal institutions.
**** Assoc. Prof. Sociology, KBCC, CUNY