After three very intense weeks in Athens, I am back home after a christmas holiday with friends and family in Germany. The contrast is weird. The situation in Athens is so unknown to our society that it is difficult to relate it to people living outside Greece and not experiencing it themselves. I had the strange feeling of putting people in an uneasy mood when trying to tell them about what is going on in Greece : the reaction was sometimes as if I was talking about starvation in Africa or child-labour in Pakistan at an inappropriate moment. People try to change subject instead of getting curious. But this is maybe exactly what is happening : the social drama unfolding is taken at a good distance by people still living normally. One can easily understand this : who would like to waste its own life by getting concerned too early about a potential catastrophe, but not certain ? But for me, the biggest change is that belonging to « european (monetary) union » doesn’t mean a common destiny anymore, as it used to be the case in my « Erasmus generation » student life. Societies taking the dive into austerity are looked from a very distant point of view by the ones still on the good side of the cliff.
Maybe I had the feeling of being a party spoiler at my come back, but at least I got convinced that this radio work can really bring something, after seeing the dazed looks of the people who let me tell them a little bit of what I saw and heard in Athens. Listening to those stories told directly from the mouth of those living this will not let someone indifferent.
And it is actually exactly what happened this year inside of Greece. Everyone will tell you this there : one year ago, the same day, people still lived in collective denial of what was coming. Austerity, decrease of living standards, threats of big damages to the society : all this was still abstract in December 2010. Statistics were already showing a trend, but for the majority of the population, this situation was still hiding in a pile of newspapers and reports, or by the far echoe of people who had already lost their job. Then, along the year of 2011, threats came closer to everyday life : it was parents who couldn’t pay the rent anymore, friends who lost one third or half of their salary, a husband or a wife who hasn’t been paid in the last six months, an appreciated café or the next door baker that closed from one day to the other, friends who don’t have heating in their building anymore, the neighbor moving out to the countryside… Every person living in Greece hears those stories from first hand all the time. Everyone is threatened and experiencing those changes in its own life.
And this completely changes the point of view on the events unfolding. Living styles, ways of thinking, trust in the media, life plans : everything falters more and more. In Greece, it is talked about “mass disillusionnement”. The former world now belongs for good to the past, and the last hopes of coming back to the “normal” have faded the last months. And the necessity to begin something new very soon is now an evidence to a majority.
In less than a year, the passage through the mirror happened. In France or Germany, this strange reality is still perceived from our old well known universe. As it was the case in Greece in 2009 or 2010. And creating a tangible link between the two universes is not easy.
Chronicles of a European Winter
January, 3rd, 2012
Coming back home after three weeks of recordings in Athens