Nathalie Savaricas: Football success shows teamwork can boost country's fortunes

Desperation has fuelled a rise in extremism. Four Egyptian fishermen were savagely beaten last week

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Like everybody else in Greece, I was not really caught by surprise when the new Socialist government in 2009 announced Greece's deficit and debt were far bigger than its predecessors had announced. A lax approach to statistics and similar formalities has always seemed to be the norm in Greece.

While these weaknesses drive Greeks up the wall, for me they also endowed this nation with a peculiar charm. But neither I nor anybody else expected these intentional miscalculations to bring about such catastrophic results that are now tearing the country's social fabric apart.

Undoubtedly, the punishing measures attached to the bailout packages have compounded Greece's financial crisis. Recession is now in its fifth year, scores of businesses have shut, social services are in disarray and unemployment continues to climb while one out of two young people is now looking for a job – possibly abroad.

Educated young Greeks are doing menial jobs for scanty money – for around €500 (£400) a month. One highly educated entrepreneur I know quit his top position at a multinational bank to open a restaurant just before the crisis kicked in. But customers and profit dwindled as parliament voted for wage cuts and increased taxes. He shut his restaurant a year ago and started looking for jobs anywhere in the world, including Iraq and Afghanistan. Today he's a skipper on rented luxury boats. There is no doubt that Greece needs to change many of its old ways. But change in mentality does not come overnight or within a few years. And change cannot come from a nation in shock.

Misery and poverty are rampant and instead of uniting Greeks, have polarised a society that is desperate for change.

This desperation has fuelled a rise in extremism. Four Egyptian fishermen were savagely beaten in their house near Piraeus last week. Violence has soared, reflecting the depth of this crisis and the desire to punish.

I feel nervous walking to my apartment at night and sleep with the lights on when as a child I played carefree in the street until late at night. The rate of armed robberies and theft in Athens is now comparable to any other European capital, though Greece had traditionally little crime. In a county where family ties are strong, scenes of people sleeping in the street are no longer scarce.

In times of crisis one would expect Greece to put unity and co-operation over party politics and ideology. The country's football team filled Greeks with pride on Saturday as the tiny country beat Russia to proceed to the quarter finals of the European championships. I suddenly found myself cheering the team and felt my eyes swelling up, even though football has never really interested me. Proof that good team work can take this country a long way.