I am a young, unemployed Greek, and all I want is my dignity back

The celebration before the storm.
The celebration before the storm.
Image: Reuters/Alkis Konstantinidis
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Editor’s Note: This article is available in Greek.

ATHENS, Greece—After a sleepless night, endless predictions and exit polls, we can say with utmost certainty: Alexis Tsipras has taken the oath of office and is ready, at least at a bureaucratic level, to guide our country out of this crisis.

Hope came. So why don’t I feel any different?

When I opened my eyes this morning, I saw the sun shining above Athens—and I thought it was a good sign. Maybe change will finally come. Maybe I shouldn’t be so skeptical about Syriza’s promises. Maybe I should try a little bit harder to find the confidence, dignity, and optimism I once had.

Positive thoughts. Positive thoughts. Positive thoughts. I channeled this mantra all night and into this morning, as I have been for years.

Reality hit me hard by Monday morning. To be fair, the prime minister-to-be couldn’t possibly change my life overnight. No matter if that’s what he promised.

Us Greeks are used to promises. Antonis Samaras, our outgoing prime minister, certainly didn’t keep all his pre-electoral promises from back in 2012. All he did for me was make it even harder to find a job. His speeches and actions fueled my feelings of despair. The thought of leaving Greece became my obsession, as it is with so many others in their twenties.

I didn’t vote in this election. One might say that since I didn’t vote, I can’t complain. My parents voted. I’m glad that someone from our family had the chance to have a say about the future of our country. Yet they belong in a previous generation. And this can be both good and bad at the same time. They have the experience—they have seen how life in Greece evolved after the end of military rule in 1974. As business people, they surely know how a government’s decisions can affect a company’s growth. On the other hand, they are not part of the future-oriented generation that we need in Greece in order to escape this crisis. I have all the respect and love in the world for my parents, but my future should be in my hands and not theirs.

I am the generation Tsipras must focus on now—even though I didn’t vote. In fact, the reasons I didn’t vote should concern him, too. I come from the countryside, a small town in Northern Greece called Edessa. I moved to Athens four years ago in search of a better future. Maybe, in my wildest dreams, a steady job. Of course, this didn’t work out as I thought it would. (But on the bright side, the airport is closer to me now and so I keep plotting ways to leave Greece.)

Without a job, I am broke and simply didn’t have the money to go home and vote. I take the little work I can get and have worked in several positions all these years: Administrative, volunteer, teaching, security. However, I haven’t managed to keep of those jobs, at least not the paid ones. Working for 12 hours a day, at €2.5 per hour, no insurance, no benefits, no life. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to do that if I knew that somewhere at the end of the tunnel, there is light. That would guide me and keep me going. But I’m 24 years old and in most of these jobs, I felt used. It is outrageous for me to work all these hours and then beg for a wage or hope that it will be delivered on time. I think that I speak for most of the Greek youth that have tried to find employment when I tell the truth about how there’s really no work and for the work there is, there’s no money—or dignity.

Now I’ve decided keep on volunteering with hopes something full time works out. I also do work-study in my university. I don’t get paid for that but it keeps me feeling like my brain is working—a huge accomplishment in Greece today.

Still, I feel insecure and desperate for a solution. I’m European and I want to live as a European. I don’t believe in the “Grexit” or in any other scenario that wants Greece out of the European Union and or of the euro zone. I want to be able to keep my head up high and say out loud that I’m proud to be Greek, proud to be European, proud to be a citizen of this country, of this continent. I’m willing to try and trust Tsipras and I really hope that he can change something, anything.

Except I also can’t help feeling that nothing will change if our society won’t change.

Today, all our hopes are pinned on a sustainable government in Greece. In my view though, only if change begins at the more personal, individual level, only if hope starts pouring out of our souls, only if Tsipras has the power to attain and retain the ultimate governmental power without fearing that he might lose his position, only then change, hope and sustainable governance will follow.

One person can’t fix Greece right now. Syriza can start making a change in a macro level but it will be successful and sustainable only if we the people, start making a change in a micro level. We need to become a community again. We need to learn to respect, love and help everyone who needs us. We need to stop caring only about ourselves and start advocating for the ones that do not have a voice as strong as ours. We need to create a feeling of belonging among us and not a feeling of hatred and jealousy based on who has a job and who hasn’t, who gets paid and who doesn’t. In other words, we need to grow up as a society and find a way to support each other through these difficult times. Honesty, respect, and love are the values that I believe should drive us in the formation of our new society. They are the values that the last few years of crisis stripped from us.

A friend of mine on Facebook posted that hoping for Tsipras to change Greece’s fate is like hoping that changing captains in a sinking ship will save the ship. I can’t stop myself from wondering what will happen if the ship finally sinks. But today, it’s time for Greeks to come together and say that is simply not an option.

The Greek version of this piece can be read here.