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The
Community
Psychologist

Volume 48 Number 4 
Fall 2015

International

Edited by Kahaema Byer

The International Committee transitions its leadership this summer. Outgoing chair Mona Amer (American University: Cairo, Egypt) is succeeded by Toshi Sasao (International Christian University: Tokyo, Japan). Toshi, who was spotlighted in our previous issue, will also maintain the column for TCP, which I enjoyed managing over the past 2 years. Our thanks go out to Mona and the team for their hard work! We also celebrate our growing membership and a strong turnout at this year’s committee meeting at the SCRA Biennial.  This issue’s article is written by Agostino Carbone of Naples, Italy. Agostino provides personal reflections on his travel to Greece since 2010, around the time when the economic crisis began to unfold. Since the article’s authorship this past May, major updates have followed. However, the piece provides critical analysis and up close and personal observations from the perspective of a citizen of a neighboring member of the Eurozone, which continue to be important points of reflection.  Please submit future submissions to Toshi Sasao (tsasao1@gmail.com).

Traveling to Athens: Some reflections on the crisis in Greece

Written by Agostino Carbone
(agostino.carbone@unina.it)

The second half of the twentieth century was a time that redefined the boundaries between Europe and the rest around it. This process of unification and solidarity among nations led them to what is now known as the European Union. Many policy initiatives were implemented in order to align the democratic features of individual states and reduce their disparities: the free exchange of goods, the free movement of citizens, and in 2002 the monetary union with the birth of EURO. The process of development has not had the same results and the pace in all countries. In particular, the southern European countries like Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece have had more difficulties in reorganizing functioning to align with objectives on a political level (Carbone, 2013). The latter two countries were the cradles of ancient culture respectively, Roman and Greek that both have helped lay the groundwork for the development of ethnic and cultural features of the peoples inhabiting the Mediterranean basin (democracy, philosophy, agriculture, wine, food, etc.). As an inhabitant of Naples, I consider myself Italian, but even before now I could consider myself an inhabitant of a region of the Italian peninsula colonized by the Greeks in VIII B.C. and given the appellative of Μεγάλη Ἑλλάς / Megale Hellas / Magna Graecia / Great Greece. I spent several summers in various blue Greek islands yet had not been able to grasp the socio-politics of Greece. In 2011 the news that Greek banks were taking money from the private accounts of citizens began to circulate. The news provoked panic in Italy. Driven by curiosity, I traveled for the first time to the Greek capital in May 2012, accompanied by a friend, who as bank employee, was afraid to use his credit card in Athens and preferred to withdraw all his money for the trip while in Italy. Upon arrival, from the moment we exited the terminal through taking the subway and then arriving at Syntagma, Parliament Square just half an hour later, we got the sense of being in a well-organized place. We were there for five days, during which we traveled around the city visiting the most famous archaeological sites and their museums. We were overwhelmed by the beauty. On mornings, we woke to the view of the Parthenon through the window and we spent evenings on the terrace of the hotel to better admire it under the spotlight. The Parthenon is the compass for every Athenian, it governs the city from above and from that position allows everyone to orient themselves. The scenario for anyone visiting or living in Athens is the same since the fifth century B.C. when Pericles decided to build a temple to the goddess Athena.

Nevertheless, the feeling is that the crisis was changing the quality of life very quickly. In 2010 the Eurozone countries, European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF), later nicknamed the Troika, began granting a series of bailout loans to rescue the country from sovereign default and cover its financial needs provided a plan of implementation of austerity measures, structural reforms and privatization of government assets. Although the historic center was able to preserve the grandeur of the city, the neighborhoods were the first to suffer the consequences of the austerity measures (Blyth, 2013): pay cuts, mass layoffs, rising taxes. There were entire streets with empty shops (fig.1), as though abandoned hastily. The place had a post-nuclear atmosphere Moving to the port of Piraeus we reached casually in sport area that had been built specifically for the 2004 Olympics (Nissirio, 2012). Today almost all the sports facilities are in a state of abandonment. We were very impressed by their friendliness and hospitality of the citizens towards us. Before returning home we had the opportunity to interview some citizens about the impact of the crisis on quality of life, the perception of the future, their resilience strategies. The following were the main themes 1) major dissatisfaction the recent cuts in salaries of public servants; 2) the pervasive experience of dispossession (Butler & Athanasiou, 2013); and 3) the anger towards politicians considered responsible for the austerity measures and overall uneasiness. The next parliamentary elections (May 15, 2012) would be where citizens could express their dissent for what was happening, and Syntagma Square continues to be a center of protest (Athanasiou, 2014). I have visited Athens ever summer since then: in 2013 for a month, in 2014 for 2 weeks. I have the situation deteriorate year after year the situation, the town more impoverished (fig. 2), the hopes of the Greeks dissolved, and a fascist party to emerge. The austerity continued to do damage, the idea that saving money was the only way to generate cash was supported by the government. Unemployment, cutting health care costs, and the loss of free access to health care for the unemployed, seem to be the biggest problems, the consequences of which can be seen by the increase of infant mortality, suicide, AIDS cases, depression (Economou, Kaitelidou, Kentikelenis, Sissouras, & Maresso, 2014; Kondilis et al., 2013; Carbone, in press). 

Column_Photo_2-_Carbone-FIG_1_small.jpgDuring those years I tried to get in touch with some Greek colleagues to know their points of view on the matter, and located a chapter written by Triliva and Marvakis (2007) on the evolution of community based initiatives promoted by the Greek psychologists and social movements since the late 80s. I proposed that Triliva publish an article on this topic in a special issue of the Revista di Psicologia Clinica (translated “Journal of Clinical Psychology”) about the evolution of mental health system (Triliva & Georga, 2014). We are now in the process of implementing projects to detect the psychological needs of the Greek population in Crete and in Athens.

In January 2015 the radical left party Syriza came to power and promised citizens new agreements with the Troika to release the pressure of creditors. I question the feasibility of a state in deficit due to its own operational arrangements can at the same time repair its own budget and simultaneously payoff its debt in a timely fashion without major reform of its administration. Does Greece really just need money? Is this the only form of help to be offered?   

The organizational culture of a country like Greece is not easy to understand and to analyze if it does not take into account the historical difficulties with which the modern nation was built. The centennial occupation by the Ottoman Empire (1453-1921) and the dictatorship of the colonels (1967-1974) make this nation, a young democracy, inexperienced in sharing power between citizens and the ruling class and politics. It seems no coincidence that the number of wealthy in Greece has increased in 2014. I think that this is the goal of any restructuring plan: the exit from a familistic system of power, not certainly the formula of GRExit which provides the exit of the Greece from monetary union, a choice, if carried out, could necessarily compromise the relationship of alliance with the rest the EU.

Column_Photo_3-Carbone_FIG2_small.jpgReferences

Athanasiou, A. (2014). Precarious Intensities: Gendered Bodies in the Streets and Squares of Greece. Signs, 40(1), 1-9.

Blyth, M. (2013). Austerity: the history of a dangerous idea. New York: Oxford University Press.

Butler, J., & Athanasiou, A. (2013). Dispossession: The performative in the political. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Carbone, A. (submitted). The function of the Solidarity Health Clinics in Greece. Rivista di Psicologia Clinica.

Carbone, A. (2013). Mediterranean Europe under the Crisis. Theories and Methods of European Community Psychology - Bulletin of European Society of Community Psychology ECPA, 4, 14-16.

Economou, C., Kaitelidou, D., Kentikelenis, A., Sissouras, A., & Maresso, A. (2014). The impact of the financial crisis on the health system and health in Greece. Economic crisis, health systems and health in Europe: country experience. Copenhagen: WHO/European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies.

Kondilis, E., Giannakopoulos, S., Gavana, S.M., Ierodiakonou, I., Waitzkin H., & Benos A. (2013). Economic Crisis, Restrictive Policies, and the Population’s Health and Health Care: The Greek Case. American Journal of Public Health 103, 6, 973-979

Nissiorio, P. (2012). Oùzo Amaro: La Tragedia Greca dalle Olimpiadi al gol di Samaras [the bitter oùzo: the Greek Tragedy from Olympics in 2004 to the goal of Samaras]. Roma: Fazi

Triliva, S., & Georga, A. (2014). Austerity and precarity: The social milieu creeps into the psychotherapeutic context. Rivista di Psicologia Clinica, 1,140-152.

Triliva, S. & Marvakis, A. (2007). Community Psychology Initiatives in Greece. In S. Reich, M. Riemer, I. Prilleltensky, & M. Montero, M. International Community Psychology. New York: Springer.

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