An Elegy for Greece

There is nobody I know in journalism who is more modest than Joanna Kakassis, who I got to know several years ago when we were both fellows at the University of Colorado, in Boulder. Since then, Joanna has been filing incredible stories from around the world, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and her native Greece.

Joanna’s latest piece, now featured at Foreign Policy, is a poignant essay about her homeland. Here’s an excerpt:

Greece has changed, and not changed, since my father and his older brother — my Uncle Thanassis — were born. It’s no longer the impoverished country where many Greeks died of treatable illnesses, as my paternal grandparents did in the 1930s. It has transformed from a wild, agrarian land plowed by donkeys to a full-service, high-end mecca for sun-and-sea tourists. Half of the population now lives in Athens, the capital, a once-provincial city that is now a crushing, seething chaos of concrete apartment blocks and ancient ruins, Michelin-starred restaurants and screaming bouzouki clubs, suburban villas and inner-city ghettos. And the country now has about a million immigrants, many from Africa and South Asia, and the Greek-born, Greek-speaking children of those immigrants have sparked a separate identity crisis over what it means to “be Greek.”

But Greece’s sky is still, in many ways, deep and changeless. Greeks have clung to the distant past and have sometimes managed to live very viscerally in the present, but they have never really welcomed the future. Now the future is so grim, no one wants to think about it.

There is the Greece in today’s headlines and the romanticized, stereotypical Greece to outsiders. Joanna’s beautiful essay captures the economic tumult and cultural upheaval rocking the country, but we see it through the eyes of family members whose lifetimes have borne witness to what Greece was and to what it has become. It’s a richly contextualized portrait of a country that the rest of the world has viewed one-dimensionally for far too long.

4 Responses to “An Elegy for Greece”

  1. Anteros says:

    “Now the future is so grim….”
    I’d wager that there hasn’t been a day in the last ten thousand years when someone didn’t utter those words. The grimness of the future correlates with ones perspective, not reality.

  2. Thanks Keith! You’re very kind to give me a shout-out. Glad you liked the essay!

  3. Cola Vaughan says:

    In trying to understand Greece’s current sovereign debt crisis I came across these articles on the economics blog “The Street Light”

    Moral Judgment and Bad Economics from the ECB
    Estimating the Cost of the Eurozone Crisis
    Causes of the Eurozone Crisis (Part 2): Policy Imp…
    What Really Caused the Eurozone Crisis? (Part 1)

  4. Eric Adler says:

    Thanks for bringing this beautifully written and poignant essay to my attention.
    Shouldn’t the banks who own Greek bonds have done better due diligence? Greece is probably going to default eventually.  It is doubtful that austerity is going to enable the government  to develop a budget surplus, since GDP is plunging too fast.
    The creditors will eventually have to write down the principle and reduce the interest rates.  It is probably better to do it before overdone austerity destroys the economy thereby reducing the amount that Greece capable of paying. The total destruction of the Greek society will not help Greece or its creditors.  People are simply going to desert the country.
    The creditors are going to have to take responsibility for their failure to assess the ability of the debtor to pay back.  The corruption of Greek society, and the massive tax evasion taking place in Greece was common knowledge.  The banks will just have to take a hit for ignoring this for so many years.

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