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Maria Delaney/The Journal
Crisis Comparison

'It's unbearable': Young Greeks speak out about lack of prospects 15 years after crisis

The Journal visited Athens in advance of the EU elections to find out how young people have fared in comparison to Ireland.

“I WAS 13 when the economic crisis came and we learned in schools that we can dream.

“We can dream about what job we want to do. We can dream about the university, the studies we want to follow.

“But we [learned we] wouldn’t be able to do that job… to follow the path that we want.”

Nick Vasilopoulos (24) told The Journal of his generation’s crushed dreams. “There’s not enough jobs out there for us,” he adds. 

It was a sentiment shared among a group of young activists in their 20s that The Journal sat down with in Athens.

The Greek crisis began almost 15 years ago, near the end of 2009, but The Journal observed how often it still comes up in regular conversation. 

Given our shared recent history, in advance of the European Parliament elections, we travelled to the ancient city and met up with members of the Youth Initiative, a non-partisan activist group who hope to inspire young people to get involved in politics. 

So, how are they faring compared to young people in Ireland who also grew up with austerity? We started by asking: What is the biggest issue facing young Greeks today? “Working conditions” – the resounding answer.

A quarter (25%) of young people under 25 are unemployed in Greece. Latest figures from February show it has the second highest youth unemployment rate in the EU.

That is significantly higher than Ireland whose rate was just under 11% that month.

Nick Vasilopoulos is working in a marketing agency and studying for his masters in policies of higher education at the University of Patras Maria Delaney / The Journal Maria Delaney / The Journal / The Journal

Undeclared, cash-in-hand work is “a very common thing” for students who get jobs in tourism and hospitality, Petros Apostolakis (22) said. “The worst part is that they don’t have any protection… and may face an abuse of power from the employer.”

Measures have been taken in recent years to address this, including imposing stricter sanctions, but Apostolakis said these initiatives aren’t stopping the practice.

“It is very difficult to find a job in your areas of expertise,” said Apostolakis. “That is one of the biggest issues.” This is especially true, he said, in more theoretical subjects and the arts, such as the subjects – economics, policy and political science – being studied by the students we spoke to. 

“We have a huge problem with brain drain,” Nina Kalentzou (22) said. She explained that many of her peers go to Germany, France, the Netherlands and Belgium. Before Brexit, they used to go to the UK. 

Difficult to own a home ‘if not inherited’ 

“The housing crisis is another huge problem… because the economy is very orientated on tourism,” Apostolakis said, with resounding agreement from the others.

“We are the most qualified generation. We learn incredible things. And we cannot afford to rent our own place,” Vasilopoulos said. 

Like Ireland, rents are very extremely high compared to wages and this has resulted in people living into their 30s at home with their parents. 

“I think it’s unbearable,” Kalentzou said of the high costs of rent. 

The monthly minimum wage in Greece is €910 before tax. In Ireland, it is €2,146 as of the start of this year, according to the same dataset in Eurostat

The students told us to rent a flat with their own bedroom costs €300-400. That does not leave much for other essentials like a weekly food shop, which they said has increased from around €80 to €140 per week due to the cost of living.

Nina Kalentzou Nina Kalentzou is studying political science at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens Maria Delaney / The Journal Maria Delaney / The Journal / The Journal

And when it comes to buying their own home in the future, none of the students felt this was possible. “It would be difficult if it wasn’t inherited… to buy a house of your own,” said Nektarios Gkikas (22).

“People like our grandparents that were not even studying, came from the countryside to the city and could afford to buy a house,” said Kalentzou.

But now… we’re studying, we have so many qualifications and we’re trying to find a job, pay our rents. We cannot.

Short-term lets on sites such as AirBnB have contributed to higher prices. Another controversial policy, golden visas, has also sparked outrage. 

This rule allowed people to live in Greece and travel freely across Europe for a €250,000 to €500,000 investment in Greek real estate, depending on the location.

Last week, the parliament voted to amend this “to increase the supply of long-term rental housing”. It was increased to €800,000 in certain regions and €400,000 across the rest of the country. 

Like Ireland, the crisis continues. Last Saturday, The Journal saw members of a left leaning political party, Mera25, leading a march through the centre of Athens calling for affordable housing and for golden visas to be cancelled.   

Protest Athens Political protesters in the centre of Athens last Saturday with a cardboard house on wheels with a sign 'Opportunity €700' Maria Delaney / The Journal Maria Delaney / The Journal / The Journal

No bicycles in sight 

With devastating wildfires, soaring temperatures and catastrophic floods impacting the country, climate change was also high on the agenda of the young people we spoke to. 

“Greece is going to be disproportionately affected by the climate crisis,” said Apostolakis.

It is already very warm in Athens and everyone here is speaking about it being one of the hottest springs they have experienced. “It is like we skipped spring this time,” said Kalentzou.

It was already the hottest ever winter, with tour operators telling The Journal that ski resorts were impacted. Greece has already tackled its first wildfire on the island of Crete, almost a month before the onset of the tradition fire season in May. 

During the course of a week in Athens, this reporter spotted just one bicycle – though it was being wheeled in the protest above – but did see a nicely designed empty bike stand. “It’s very dangerous to use a bicycle,” Apostolakis said, though he added that sometimes people cycle in cities other than Athens. 

When asked if any of them knew someone who cycled, just Apostolakis said he knew “one person”. “Who?” asked Kalentzou in surprise. “You don’t know them,” he replied. 

Petros Apostolakis Petros Apostolakis is studying international and European economics at Athens University of Economics and Business Maria Delaney / The Journal Maria Delaney / The Journal / The Journal

None of the students were happy with the government’s response to the climate crisis. 

Apostolakis recalled Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis telling Bloomberg in an interview that “climate change is an opportunity to expand tourism” last September.  

The economics student pointed out that this was a month after the largest wildfire ever recorded in the EU which, across 16 days, destroyed 96,600 hectares of forest in Evros, including a national park with endangered species.

Authorities recovered 18 burned bodies, including two children – migrants travelling on the mountain trails, with one group found huddled together. 

Parties using migrant issues ‘to gain popularity’

The death of these migrants led to a widespread baseless allegation that migrants were responsible for starting the fire. This is one of the many times migrants were used to steer politics in Greece in recent years. 

“The far-right use [migrants] as a talking point to gain popularity,” said Apostolakis. 

In the last national elections over the summer, three far-right parties won seats, including Spartans, backed by former Golden Dawn leader Ilias Kasidiaris. He was jailed for 13-years for membership of Golden Dawn, now considered a criminal organisation. 

Asylum-seekers face pushback from the national coast guard on different Greek islands, according to the European Council of Refugees and Exiles. But “most people deny that there are actually pushbacks”, said Gkikas. Fellow student Kalentzou added: 

There’s a huge discussion around human rights in Greece. 

“The European Parliament and European Commission have noticed that we have issues with human rights.”

Nekdarios Zkikas Nektarios Gkikas is studying economics at Athens University of Economics and Business Maria Delaney / The Journal Maria Delaney / The Journal / The Journal

‘EU doing more than Greek government’

So with the EU elections coming up, how do the young activists feel about the EU?

The Journal asked them for their thoughts on the EU’s performance on climate change, the economy and on Israel/Gaza – the same questions we put to a nationwide poll in Ireland of 18-34 year olds(This is obviously a tiny Greek sample size so is not representative of all young people.)

In this poll in Ireland, young people were asked to rank the EU’s climate or economic measures on a scale of one to five (with 1 being very bad and 5 being very good).

Like the majority of Irish young people polled, the Greek students felt the EU was middling when it came to the climate crisis, all giving it a score of 3

And how is the Greek government doing? Most gave it the lowest score (1), with Kalentzou asking: “Can we give zero?” 

Vasilopoulos said: 

The EU are doing more than the Greek government, but not enough.

And though housing is a problem for the Greek government, issues with employment are clearly having an impact on young people’s ability to rent and purchase their own homes. So, related to this, what about the EU’s performance on the economy? 

The Greek students chose a lower rank (mainly 2) than the majority of Irish young people (average 2.8), though a mixed response was also received on this question here.

Again, when asked the same question of their own government, it fared poorly, with a resounding 1 by all.

Gaza Athens Graffiti in Athens showing different views on the war Maria Delaney / The Journal Maria Delaney / The Journal / The Journal

Finally, when it came to Israeli-Palestinian relations, young people in Ireland expressed a much stronger, more negative view on the EU’s performance, with most scoring giving it a 1, the worst score. 

This was mixed among the Greek students, but only one gave it the lowest score. They gave the Greek government a similar score – most saying 2

When asked what the sentiment is like in Greece when it comes to the war, they said that most would support Palestine, though Apostolakis added that “people who are in politics [can] have different motives”.

Greece would have traditionally been pro-Palestine but he said that Greece had “cooperated well” with Israel in recent years, mentioning the EastMed gas pipeline deal between Israel, Greece and Cyprus which Türkiye opposes.

The country is now considered an ally of Israel and there have been mixed poll results in Greece when it comes to support of Israel or Palestine since the start of the war.  

One thing the young political activists felt was certain, was that new faces will be voted into the EU Parliament this summer, including more from the far-right. Though Kalentzou felt these parties will not gain as many MEPs in Greece as they will in France. 

She said that “the crisis affected the parties a lot over the last 10 years”. 

“There have been a lot of changes, a lot of new parties, parties that disappeared along the way.” 

This work is co-funded by Journal Media and a grant programme from the European Parliament. Any opinions or conclusions expressed in this work are the author’s own. The European Parliament has no involvement in nor responsibility for the editorial content published by the project. For more information, see here.

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