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Living Through a Crisis: Greece Under Austerity

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"The situation isn't good," Eleni confirms when we arrive on the island. "They have stopped a number of ships coming into the harbour from Italy, so we have to rely on flights alone to keep our business afloat". Eleni, who owns a cluster of apartments in a quiet, sleepy village is understandably concerned. Her husband and eldest son look up drearily in agreement. Tourism is the magnet which brings in wages not just for Eleni and her family, but for the majority of the Greek islands. Without it, the lifestyle of many locals declines dramatically as they struggle on through the austerity measures imposed on them and their villagers. Measures which, I am told, come and go and chop and change by the day. One day it's this, the next it's that - any sense of stability appears non-existent. 

In the island's capital, the situation is similar. "The government wants us to cut our prices but how can we?" cries Yannis, a local restaurateur. "The season started very slowly, now we need more business. Ten years ago we had customers lining up outside waiting for tables..." Such sights have now vanished. It's not just his family who he needs to provide for but also his staff, he adds. Loyal waiters who have been part of his team for years also need to be provided for. 'We're all in this together' is the manner in which they work. 

On the beaches, the picture is worse. Dimitri has run a popular local beach situated in one of the island's liveliest towns for over twenty years. This year, however, he has suffered under the tight grip of the government. He explains how he had to bid for the beach in an auction which took place in late June, almost two months after the touristic season started, thus costing him a profit during a key period in the summer calendar. However, once the beach was successfully claimed this time round, his electricity was instantly cut off. The cost? An extra €2000 if he wants to keep fridges or electrical appliances in his small beach bar (a condition which, until this year, has never been imposed on him). Ever the mastermind, Dimitri has managed to keep his canteen afloat without the luxury of electricity. He routinely brings down ice every morning which keeps any food and drink expertly chilled and heats a kettle using gas appliances. "There is always a solution," he comments with a sparkle in his eye that suggests he won't give up easily.

These scenes are a far cry from what they were like ten, even as little as three years ago. Back then, the restaurants and nightlife around the island buzzed with happy tourists and relieved locals, all enjoying the summer heat without a care in the world. However, driving along the same roads this year is very different. Gone is the music, along with a substantial number of tourists. Instead, the towns appear quiet and tired - the buzz has clearly gone. Although the island's vibe has diminished, it's beauty hasn't. Stunning views opposite our apartment and the positive attitude of all the locals I know puts things back into perspective. "You have come back to visit, we have sun, we have health...these are the important things," Yannis comments before taking our order. 

*The island and the real names of the people featured here have been changed to protect their privacy.