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Thursday, 22 January 2015

Brain-drained (Ανενγκέφαλοι)

"Young, gifted and Greek: Generation G – the world’s biggest brain drain," the headline reads, in a discussion about the Greeks that have left the country since the financial crisis hit.

Yes, they've gone, and we call this a brain drain, but as Aliki Mouri is stated in the article as acknowledging:
"...even in good times Greece had difficulty absorbing the surplus of professionals its universities produced..." 
These are the same people that wanted public-sector jobs, the same ones that are often blamed for the crisis:. Again in the same article, we read:
"The north German town of Minden was not on Roppa’s radar when she elected to study medicine at Athens University in the late 1990s. She made the move when it became clear the alternative was years on a waiting list for a position as a specialist dermatologist." 
A position where? In the public sector, of course.

We often hear about the "leaving Greeks" and the "Greek brain drain", but it is important to note that this is nothing new in Greece. Young gifted individuals have been doing this long before the crisis. Indeed, many young (and not-so-young) people have left recently, and their 'glad I left' stories are often published in blogs and fora, but we rarely hear about the failure stories, the ones about the people who left Greece during the crisis, but realised that they could not fit into their chosen new setting and returned home. There are plenty such stories floating about, but I think they are simply not sensational enough to be made into a 'newsworthy' story. It's not hard to track some of these down though, and the way most of those bandwagon-joining Greeks actually made their move does bring up a whole set of other questions.

Most Greeks who left Greece during the crisis do not fit into the truly desperate category - they leave with aspirations of greater comfort and high income prospects, which is probably the reason why many of them fail. Only the head-hunted can succeed in this way, and most of us simply don't fall into that category. I rarely hear Greeks mentioning the opportunity to widen their experiences abroad or to go on a working holiday. I often read the most embittered comments, mentioning things like 'getting married', 'starting a family' and 'having children', which is the last thing you expect to hear from people who find themselves in a similar predicament (ie they are out of work). This is a sign of the monorail lifestyle that most Greeks were on before the crisis: there is only one road, and you hop onto the train, all heading in the same direction. A country where people aspire to greater individual wealth rather than a greater collective spirit was never going to succeed economically in the first place.

People say politicians are to blame for what is happening in Greece, but surely people are just as much to blame, as they are the ones voting in the politicians - they mirror each other in many ways. As the election looms ahead of us this weekend, we will see exactly the same kind of choices being made now as they were being made a decade ago, when this new "Great Catastrophe"* could not even have been imagined. Despite the unsustainability of a bloated public sector, and the lack of creative alternative solutions for Greek tourism which would have maintained an advanced modern tourist industry, Greeks generally voted for the party that would maintain their privileges, or promise them something.

Pulse: Στο 4% η διαφορά ΣΥΡΙΖΑ-ΝΔ
Opinion poll, 21-01-2015
ΝΔ = conservatives (they will continue with the reforms as the EU/ECB/IMF demand)
ΣΥΡΙΖΑ = radical left (they reject austerity)
ΠΑΣΟΚ = socialists (ruled almost uninterrupted from 1981 to 2004; it is regarded as causing the economic crisis - the majority of its supporters defected to ΣΥΡΙΖΑ)
Ανεξάρτητοι Έλληνες = claims a patriotic agenda, but also claims not to be left or right; doesn't support ΝΔ; is contemplating to be part of a coalition if a majority party is not voted in
Χρυσή Αυγή = far right, mainly extremist: most of its members of Parliament are in jail - refuses to form a coalition with anyone
KKE = communist-style agenda (before the crisis, it was always the '3rd party') - refuses to form a coalition with anyone
Το Ποτάμι = claims to be centre-left, but is often regarded as centre-right, due to its leader who is a TV journalist; is contemplating to be part of a coalition if a majority party is not voted in
ΚΙΝ. Δημοκρατών Σοσιαλιστών = founded a few weeks ago by former PASOK dynasty family member George Papandreou
ΛΑΟΣ = run by a far-right uber-rich one-man show (he was implicated in off-shore scandals)
ΑΝΤΑΡΣΥΑ = anti-capitalism, far left
Άλλο κόμμα = Another party (including the 'Pirate' party, etc)
Λευκό/Άκυρο/Αποχή = Blank paper/Invalid/Abstain from voting
Αναποφάσιστοι = Not decided

This is probably not so different to any other country - surely it sounds logical that people vote for the privileges they believe they will maintain according to their voting choice. But it also isn't true everywhere: there are many people in the world that vote 'for the greater good' and 'in the interests of the country'. That is not the norm in Greece.

Let's not forget how against the tide Greece was operating compared to global politics, after its entry to the EU. In 1981, PASOK formed the first socialist government in the history of Greece, lasting for nearly 24 years, interrupted only for 3 years by a Conservative government. Compare that to the free-market economies dominating the UK and the US at the time, when Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were running their respective governments. Greece was being governed by old communist-style closed-shop rules and regulations, making her look similar to her north, south and east communist/totalitarian regime neighbours.

But it isn't all Greeks' (and Greek politicians') fault, is it? It's Europe's fault too. When you lend someone money, you expect to get it back. If you keep lending people money in the form of new loans, even though they haven't paid back the old ones, surely you also keep tabs on them, checking up on how they spend it and how quickly they make repayments. I guess Europe (aka Germany) wasn't doing that at all. How dumb. No wonder Greece is in this mess.

Despite the weak situation of the economy which lessens Greece's stature in global politics, it's still all eyes on Greece, in the same way that Greece's woes dominated the G20 summit in 2011, when the then Greek prime minister thought it would be a good idea to offer Greeks a referendum deciding whether they would like to remain a part of the EU which reduced Angela Merkel to tears. As the weakest member of the EU, Greece still holds so much power: if Greece leaves the EU, the euro is in danger; but Greece can's leave the EU becasue there is no mechanism for throwing a member out - there is only a mechanism for adding more members. Not that it is impossible for Greece to leave the euro - but that will only happen if the euro ceases to exist, which tells us why it continues to exist: only Germany can push that button.

Promise a Greek what they want, and they will vote for you, even if it means that the country will sink. 600 cleaners in the Finance Ministry! Reminds me of the how-many-Irishmen-do-you-need-to-change-a-lightbulb joke. Tell a Greek that, if they vote for you, they will have to incur hardship, and you've lost them, end of story. Given that Greeks are so predictable in their voting, how will they vote this weekend?


Poor Antonis, the protagonist of Helena Smith's venomous post about my dying country (she has really aided the situation of the Greek bank runs), who hates his country. But it seems that he has another one to go to! I hope he reads this (I have left it as a comment in the article):  
Hey, Antonis, don't feel so sorry for yourself! You are leaving a beautiful country - Greece - to go to another beautiful country - New Zealand - and that is certainly something to be envied because I don't know many Greeks who are in your privileged position to be able to move from one beauty spot to another! I too have this privilege because I was born raised and educated there, and moved to Greece about 24 years ago. "ARE YOU CRAZY? WHY DID YOU DO THAT?" I hear you asking me. Well, there was a recession in NZ at the time, and despite my BAs and MAs and my good teaching and research skills, I couldn't get a job, which to my surprise I found that I could get in Greece! So count yourself lucky, mate - and learn to drink beer. From a bottle. At a pub. Standing up. The locals will love you. Of all the wonderful things that I did learn in and love about New Zealand, that was the one thing I could not get used to.
Oh, by the way, I didn't realise that photographers were in short supply in New Zealand. Or maybe that is just your hobby when you showed whoever it was around 'the wound of Greece'. Or maybe... you have some right to enter New Zealand, in the same way that I can return to NZ if I really wanted to (through my citizenship). Well, it's your choice, and you will be especially happy to do that since you hate this country.
But you aren't alone: I hear this a lot from many Greeks around me, that they hate this country. But they aren't like you: they aren't leaving. They seem to be stuck here, unable to leave (or unwilling to make the move). I can't really argue with my hot-blooded knee-jerking compatriots about why they hate Greece, but I am always left wondering something when I hear them say that they are not happy in their country: Did they ever stop to think whether Greece likes them? Just a thought.

As a family, we talk politics a lot in my household, over our home-cooked communal meals. One thing I know I have imprinted into the minds of my children is that they have no right to ever say "I hate my country". because, as I have explained to them, it will reverberate back on to them in a negative way. In my mind, Antonis' parents made a mistake somewhere along the line. For me, it really does all start in the home.

PS: It isn't only Greeks leaving their country in search of work.

* This name is solely used in Greece to denote the loss of the Greek colonies in Asia Minor in 1922.

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