Aegean to Appleton: The Modern Greekosystem

By Savvas Sfairopoulos

“There is a close relationship between national humiliation and political radicalization.” This is how the late great Christopher Hitchens described modern Greek history. As a Greek, I can verify the validity of Hitchens’ words. Long after the promising days of the ‘80s had passed, Greece became a shadow of its former self; misguided Greeks voted in a bunch of troglodytes, eventually leading to the obliteration of the Greek democratic ideals. This kind of sociopolitical parody has tarnished my country’s reputation, and endless political corruption has forced the Greek populace to their knees. When I left my country to come to the U.S., unemployment was as high as 25%. It has been three months and I am afraid of what I am going to find upon my return during winter break.

Truth be told, I belong to an unbelievably lucky group of Greeks. My father is employed and works tirelessly to provide for us, his family. My mother, too, has a certain income that helps our family live well, despite the incredible uncertainty of the times. Without their support, I would not have managed to escape the abysmal conditions of my nation’s economy. Not everybody has the same fate.

My second cousin is a brilliant young man, eager to learn and with an unshakable passion for computer science. During one of our discussions, he told me that the educational system is a nightmare. Underpaid teachers refuse to teach and go on strike every other month. The result? Students’ presence in class is inconsequential because the syllabus is either nonexistent or changes incessantly throughout the year. Additionally, parents have to pay for tutors to prepare their kids for the national exams during their senior year. The educational system is in a state of decay, but everyone is so preoccupied with the debt crisis that they seem to have forgotten about the scholarship of future Greeks. In this chaotic system that has been forged through endless corruption and chronic mismanagement, education is the least of people’s concerns.

My description may come off as fatalistic, but in order to understand the true scope of Greece’s problems, one has to get out of Greece and investigate the situation from the outside. It has been three months since I left home, and from what I have gathered, quite a few things have changed. The people are livid and react quite impulsively to the government’s choices. Admittedly, I do not know what to expect when I return—disappointment painted on people’s faces is a given. Sometimes, I wonder if there is any hope for Greece. Is our debt viable? Can we fight through the crisis? These are the questions that keep me awake at night. However, I know that there is a solution. I do not know what that solution is, but I am convinced that it can be found through the unity of all Greeks. As the great Greek benefactor Aristotle Onassis once said, “It is in our darkest moments when we must focus to see the light.”

I am fairly certain that what awaits me upon my arrival is not going to be a pretty sight. My country is in a constant state of turmoil, and as the wealth gap amongst Greeks keeps increasing, some people realize this more than others. As young adults now, it is time for my generation, myself included, to step in and strive to be better than the ones preceding us. We have been given a system that is broken and our economy is a ticking time bomb. The burden is now ours. A large portion of the Greek community has fallen into miserable self-pity, but we have to be better than that. Once I go back home, I plan on sharing these ideas with my peers. My hope is that they will inspire some to act, to assume responsibility for the future of our beautiful country and strive to focus not on the me of the situation but on the we. From the mighty Spartans at Thermopylae to the fierce revolutionaries of the 1820s, this is what history has taught us: we must remain united in times of great despair. That is Greek beauty.