Greece: The create escape

Economic meltdown is forcing an exodus of creative Greeks, unprepared to trust their future to their crippled homeland. Sophia Ignatidou hears their tales

Wednesday 03 August 2011 00:00 BST
While Greeks protest their countries severe austerity measures in Syntagma Square, young creatives are being forced to abandon their native country
While Greeks protest their countries severe austerity measures in Syntagma Square, young creatives are being forced to abandon their native country (AFP/GETTY)

I left because they stole my dreams. I love you Greece, my home," photographer Manos Mak writes on his Facebook, as he unpacks his bags in his new apartment in London.

He is but one of many Greeks who – in the midst of an economic implosion – have seen life-long plans collapse, their ambitions scatter and all the constants in their lives give way to a nerve-racking arbitrariness.

Some will weather the storm but others are already leaving. The massive emigration wave of some of Greece's more talented citizens could leave it in a permanent state of creative limbo. Is running out of money really worse than running out of ideas?

Eleana Kolovou

30, journalist

"I have been working as a journalist for the Greek Kathimerini newspaper but in September I'm moving to London to do an MA in investigative journalism. I always thought of living abroad for a while but the crisis helped me make up my mind.

No one expected things to go that bad. Now everybody is desperately looking for some perspective. It's not just our work that's at stake; it's our future, our lives. You have this sense of freefalling.

People are in distress. Parents are worrying they won't have any pension to support their unemployed children.

There is also a lot of discrepancy in the media. One newspaper may frame a news story in a certain way while the other publishes the opposite. Many Greeks don't understand what's going on. For the past year, almost every month, a big media outlet is firing people. If you don't lose your job, you're forced to accept salary cuts. Colleagues tell me there is exploitation.

I know personally seven people who are leaving Greece this September and 15 more who are planning to."

Dimosthenis Papadopoulos

40, actor

"I had been working in Greece for more than 20 years as an actor, leading a successful career (starring in popular TV series Karyotakis and I zoi mas, mia volta). Eight months ago I decided to move to Berlin. I realised my personal and professional life had come full circle but, more crucially, Athens had become a suffocating place to be. Some of my friends are planning to leave as well.

I have been living in Berlin for more than a month, learning German, getting familiar with the city and enjoying its nightlife. Living in an environment that makes you feel good is an immense relief.

I believe the crisis in Greece goes way back. It has existed for some time, the only difference now is that it has been addressed as such. I didn't participate in the protests because I never believed anything would change."

Angelos Bratis

33, fashion designer

"I moved to Rome last October after shutting down my studio in Athens. I had set it up in 2005 and managed to create an amazing network of clients.

But by 2008 recession was palpable and the following year was even harder. I thought I might need to change my profession. Instead, I decided to emigrate. Rome was a convenient choice since I can fly to Athens in less than two hours to see family and friends.

Italy has welcomed me. I recently won the first award at Italian Vogue's "Who Is On Next?" competition. Just a few months after leaving my home country I got more recognition than I ever got there. But Greece is not a country that eulogises the different."

George Eleftheriadis

26, biology graduate

"I returned to Greece in 2008 after studying biology in Edinburgh. I spent the following year looking for a job but nothing came up. With an MSc in genomics and pathway biology, I wanted to work in research but Greece is hard for scientists – there are few positions available and it is not a meritocracy.

Even if you decide to do a PhD, which is a possible next step for a postgraduate, you can easily have your sponsorship cut after a couple of months.

So I am coming to London to do an MRes in bioscience at UCL with a scholarship from the Onassis Foundation. I can prove myself there regardless of my political affiliation.

Dionysis Livanis

37, graphic designer

"When recession first hit Greece, I was one of the few who saw it as an opportunity. I thought when you're at the bottom you can only go up. Apparently I didn't know where the bottom was.

Back home I used to run my own creative agency, The Design Shop. When you have your own company, giving everything up and moving abroad is not easy. When the first austerity measures passed last May we thought things might change but after six months nothing did. When my company became unsustainable I was left with no choice.

Because of my experience and the ED (European Design) awards my agency won last year I managed to find a job in London-based company WHAM relatively soon. A lot of designers have left Greece. In the last EVGE (the Greek design awards) ceremony, on three or four occasions the designers who were supposed to receive the awards had already left the country."

Spyros Simotas

35, copywriter/photographer

"After eight years of studying and working abroad I returned to Greece in 2004.

I soon started working as a copywriter for advertising and as a photographer. But for the last two years magazines have been shutting down one after the other and advertising agencies, like the Greek branch of Leo Burnett, are going bankrupt.

The communication chaos, intentional or not, left everybody numb. One day you would read something with a faint glimpse of hope and the next about the collapse of our nation.

I started looking for a way out when I lost my copywriting job in April. Nicosia became my destination because of a job offer, the fact that as a copywriter I won't have to face a language barrier, and Cyprus's proximity to Greece.

It's not just the creative young generation that leaves, even whole families decide to go to countries like Australia, claiming a better future for their children. One of my colleagues, a family man, has also moved to London."

The boss's view:

Dimitris Fakinos, publisher of +Design magazine:

"Some of the most talented people are leaving because they know the foreign market will employ them.

It's much easier for designers because image's language is universal. They won't face the obstacles a lawyer or a writer would face.

The emigration wave is totally real but I hope all these creatives will decide to return eventually.

One of the reasons behind the Greek design boom of the previous years was the fact that a lot of designers were educated abroad, bringing back their acquired knowledge. I hope the same will happen again."

Sophia Ignatidou is an MA student in print journalism at Goldsmiths College. She has also been freelancing for Greek media for the past seven years.

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