Young People Have Always Been at the Centre of the Protests in Greece

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Recent months have been marked by the collapse of the Greek economy and all the debates about what should be the next step. An exhausting session of negotiations that started Monday afternoon (10th of August) has finally finished  24 hours later. The assumption is that the agreed pact is worth up to 86 billion Euros. Greek officials expect that the agreement will be ratified by parliament on Wednesday or Thursday and then be vetted by euro zone finance ministers by the end of the working week. We spoke with Stavros Malichudis, a 23 year-old journalist who was born in Athens and has lived most of his life there. Malichudis was willing to share his thoughts on the current situation and give us a chance to hear the voice of youth, the voice that seemed muted or at least not heard often enough in the run-up to the referendum.

Young People Have Always Been at the Centre of the Protests in Greece
Young People Have Always Been at the Centre of the Protests in Greece

The Role of Young People in Greece

Greece has voted „no“ on the referendum regarding the possible bailout from the country’s international creditors. Do you think there was a lack of real communication between the people and the politicians throughout the process?

People voted “NO” despite propaganda from the country’s most powerful media, propaganda that was massive, disrespectful, and inimical to basic human rights.

Today, we need open discussions more than ever. The vast majority of the people living in Greece are residents, they are inhabitants – but not citizens; no way can they be categorized this way.

We live here, but have no idea what is going on in our country and by this I mean that there is no wish, no need for the people to participate in the social and political life of their country (with a few, fortunate exceptions).

Abstention from elections is always around 35-40% and while a very small percentage does that consciously, for their own political reasons, most Greeks either don’t care or are too disappointed to vote.

In any case, democracy needs citizens and you can’t call yourself a citizen, when your whole participation in the social and political life of your country – is simply to vote (or not), once in every four years.

Democracy demands participation, but nowadays people are so busy trying to pursue careers or pay their debts, that this is not possible.

 

Were there any people from your community who decided not to vote at all? Why do you think they did?

Actually, some people were unable to vote, since they would have had to travel to their hometown to do so.

They were unable to do that due to the financial constraints that came with the bank controls that were set up in the days after announcing the referendum. Some of my friends did not vote at all, thinking that their vote wouldn’t change anything.

Truth is, there were a lot of people who were undecided or were even thinking to vote “YES” who ended up voting “NO”. They couldn’t accept how obvious and aggressive the media propaganda was. I am a journalist too;

I consider this profession to be sacred and of great importance, with specific ethical and humanitarian values and great responsibility towards society.

Broadcasting by the major media in my country was openly trying to make people vote “YES”, or even force them to do so. It was a shocking and terrifying thing to see. For the first few days it worked: they managed to terrify a whole country, especially older people or people living in the countryside, who did not have another source of information.

But, as the days went by, people were fed up with all the propaganda. So, a lot of people who would not vote, or would possibly vote “YES” – voted “NO”, as a response and sign of protest.

 

World media has also been talking about the rioting in Athens after the referendum. What is the real situation in your city?

I live in Athens, the capital, where more than 1.000 foreign journalists, reporters and crew members came during the days before and after the referendum, in order to broadcast to their countries.

Ever since I can remember, riots (in a larger or smaller scale), have happened in Athens, during all the “special” political occasions. People feel it’s their right to go out on the streets and protest against what is imposed on them; they are angry and have no patience left. Violence exists everywhere: in schools, universities, stadiums, in the streets, workplaces, inside the Greek family.

To me, the image I had of Athens during the days leading up to the referendum was that of a city waiting to be burnt; that’s how Rome must have looked, when Neron burnt it down to compose his poetry.

 

Banks are now closed, making money inaccessible to the Greeks. How do people cope with the crisis?

That’s true: for the past few years we got used to seeing homeless people sleeping next to or in front of the ATMS, during the night. This has changed. Now, next to them we also see lines of people anxiously waiting to withdraw money.

They were allowed 60 Euros per day at the beginning, 50 Euros per day later on. At this moment, people are able to withdraw a bit more than 300 Euros per week, from each bank account they possess.

Personally, I was not affected by that, since being able to withdraw “only” 60 Euros per day seems to be far from my real concerns.

I do know, however, that lots of companies faced financial issues, especially when it comes to fields like trading/importing/exporting, and many had to postpone their activities, with financial losses as an obvious result.

What I would like to take away from this period, though, is the solidarity that some local businesses showed.

For example, there were bakeries that were giving away bread for free during those days, cafeterias doing the same with their products, companies in other sectors helping in whatever way they could.

 

What do you think is the role of young people here? Were they a majority among the people involved in the protests? What’s the overall spirit – are young people interested in taking some part in bringing about change?

Young people have always been in the middle of the protests and riots taking place in Greece, even if the actual numbers come to a small percentage of the total youth population.

Truth is that, if you are young in Greece, you are simply not allowed to dream. Some years ago, we were joking saying: “We are the generation that will work for 700 Euros”. Now, the basic salary is reduced to scarcely half of that.

Young people nowadays travel abroad, they see how things function in other countries, how it should and could be.

So, you can expect to see young people protesting, acting, reacting, even though you will not see as many as there should be.

Usually, you will not see creative responses to what we are experiencing. The young people who are educated, sensitive, ambitious and hopeful always react, not older people. The old ones did what they did in the past, and they are responsible for what is happening now.

 

Does today’s youth have any fresh ideas about possible solutions? Do they get the chance to share their thoughts?

Young people are totally isolated from decision making, and their general participation at a higher political level is very, very limited.

Of course, there have to be ideas regarding what we are experiencing and how to find the right balance, in the coming years. They are all young, educated, and informed people. But they have no real access to give their own beliefs a try.

Also, a big percentage of the young people inherit their political beliefs, whether it’s through universities or from their parents.

Political parties exist in the universities, preparing the blind and deaf voters of tomorrow, and despite what all the parties have done to this country, young university students still support their existence.

The only positive impact comes from some self-organized, autonomous initiatives within the youth population, which I expect and hope will develop a wider following in the coming years.

 

What do you think about world media and its role in this historical moment?

As it happened, until just a few days before the announcement of the referendum, I was interning at the Greek edition of The Huffington Post.

There, I had the chance to get a clearer image of how the media organizations of the world presented the “Greek issue”, on a daily basis. Of course, one may expect to read articles reflecting a variety of beliefs, respecting the role of the Greek government and the structure of our state, the IMF’s role and stance and the European Union’s wonderful lie of the “Euro-family”.

Some broadcasts have been a bit too harsh, some over-protective. Some more, while many others less accurate.

We shall not forget that the media, in any country, are companies: they have owners, employees, rents and expenses, and as a cook or a restaurant owner will both keep an eye on their restaurant’s interests, so do the media organizations. Personally, I am satisfied with the polyphony, even if the results of it put me on edge.

 

Across the world, opinions are divided regarding the situation in Greece. There are even people who say that the citizens of Europe should feel a moral obligation to forgive the debt (or contribute to repaying it) because Ancient Greece was the cradle of Western Civilization. Others say that creating that kind of precedent will cause conflicts among other countries in the Eurozone. What are your thoughts on that?

Sadly, there are many Greeks who also believe that the countries of the so-called Western Civilization owe us morally and ethically, and therefore they should help us, maybe forgive our debt or, in any case – treat us differently than any other country of this suffering world. Personally, I couldn’t disagree more.

It’s unfair, childish, and unethical to expect a benefit from something you did not participate in.

Europe owes us nothing for what our ancestors did, thousands of years ago. Similarly, we can’t handle differently our relations with modern Egypt, in favor of this country or any other – simply to honor what happened there thousands of years ago.

I believe that what happened in the past in any place of the world – is heritage to all of us, at the same level.

In addition, I believe it’s time for us to grow up and stop expecting others to respect us, just because we live in the same place where other people, thousands of years ago, lived.

Each can only be proud by what he/she makes, and I’d rather see us competing with our “ancestors”, than being willing to enjoy some benefits, because of them. More about young people in Greece read here.


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