With the Greek crisis entering its last stages after another fudge of a deal was reached earlier this month in Brussels, everyone is now supposed to think the adventure is over (it isn’t), and that we’re safe to switch channels from the endless bulletins of what a German or Greek politician said about the deal or Greece’s debt or someone’s mum. (That last bit might be an exaggeration, but trust me reader, we’re getting there.)
Amongst all the talk of macroeconomic indexes and debt viability, it’s easy to forget what this has all meant for people on the ground and why it is that in the referendum held just a week ago, young Greeks rejected the dealon the table by more than 70 per cent (the overall result was 61 per cent for “No”).
Youth unemployment in Greece stands at a staggering 50 per cent right now. Alongside them, the group that has been hurt the most is those in their late thirties and early forties, professionals who are way into their professional lives, making them too expensive to employe compared to the young coming on to the job market with great qualifications, but not senior enough to challenge the boomers who, like in most of Europe, got off lightly compared to everyone else.
Equally spread between men and women, the ailments of the Greek economy have brought medical and social issues to the forefront. Heart attacks among the under-45 have jumped by 74.5 per cent. The greatest increase was amongst women, at 86.5 per cent. In 2014, there were 802 new cases of HIV infection, of which 86.8 per cent were men.
Greek anti-austerity protestors (Photo: EPA)
These issues have given birth to a prevailing sense of despair. Mental health is suffering too: 12.3 per cent of the Greek population has shown symptoms of clinical depression. This is obviously tied to the rise of 35 per cent in suicides, in which the most vulnerable group is middle-aged men who were facing financial difficulties. Men under 34, meanwhile, have gone back to living with their parents in a rate of 2 out of 3, a situation definitely adding to their problems.
What I’ve seen, among Greek friends and family, is young men who before the crisis had entered the job market and in many cases were doing really well, leaving their old lives behind after losing employment and social status. In Greece, being unemployed is a social stigma, unlike what many outside think. (It’s worth pointing out too that contrary to the popular myth of the “lazy Greek”, the OECD stats make it clear that Greeks work “the longest hours in Europe”.)
Cutting corners, as in “being smart” might be part of the Greek identity, but a man not making his way in the world is seen as little more than a child, and is treated as such.
This infantilisation has taken hold. Men are suspending indefinitely the idea of moving in with a partner, getting married and starting a family, preferring the safe option of living with parents instead. Divorces are going up, while the birth rate is going down, with Greece’s population projected to decline in the coming decades. And while the Greek nuclear family works as a sort of safety net, the crisis is now so deep that this traditional approach to welfare is also going away.
The last, but perhaps biggest issue at the moment, is Greece’s brain drain. While many countries, including the UK, have absorbed the influx of young scientists leaving Greece in droves (some 200.000 have now left Greece and found employment elsewhere), for the ailing country, this amounts to social catastrophe.
Unlike the migration waves out of Greece in the ’50s and ’60s, those leaving the country now aren’t people looking for manual labour. The examples around me include doctors, data analysts, finance industry workers, IT professionals and other highly sough-out skilled workers (and… this writer), all of them abandoning Greece seeking greener pastures abroad.
It’s no wonder that these young men and women have are ready to reject a currency, the Euro, that’s tied to austerity.
But what we’re witnessing in Greece is simply the situation faced by young people in many European countries, only on steroids. With the young being increasingly sidelined by politicians, and with other nations’ finances looking vulnerable, it’s easy to imagine the Greek phenomena spreading across the western world. If young Greeks are the canaries in the coalmine, young Britons should be worried too.