The Blog

Without Swift Debt Relief for Greece, The Last Five Years Will be the Prelude to More Chaos

In the last five years that hope grew. As networks spread and people reached rock bottom, they realized all they really had was themselves and that even if that was all they had, together and united it meant power.

If my childhood could have a soundtrack it would be my Dad's conflicted thoughts and inner debates about whether to go back to Greece. He left there for the UK the year I was born. Twice he packed us up ready to go back.. Once in a Volkswagen camper van and we even stayed for a year. But, ultimately he always came to the conclusion that life in the UK would be better.

Probably the most tragic thing he's ever said to me is that "Greece is a great country, but only for holidays." I can see why he would say that.

In my Dad's lifetime at least, all the country appears to have seen is lies, conflict, corruption, polarization, clientelism, over-inflated bureaucracy, debt, broken promises and illusions.

But I never really fully understood what it all meant until these last five years. With Greece's economic problems constantly making the headlines my work as a journalist forced me back on a regular basis. And the differences between the two lifestyles became more and more magnified.

I don't mean the countless coffees, the late nights, the smoky offices and the laidback attitude. I mean the difficulties. The obstacles that people encounter in everyday life. The fact that trust in the political system had become so eroded that nobody wanted to pay tax. That it gave rise to a mentality whereby people only looked after their own; That to obtain any form of paperwork or get something signed it involved an entire day of processing unless you had a 'contact' or could slip someone an envelope filled with Euros; That politician after politician after politician claimed to represent the people, but continued to help themselves to Greece's funds, claiming a modest salary whilst transferring millions abroad.

Then, after the first bailout deal was signed, it all got worse. First came the demonstrations, the austerity and then the rising fascism and police violence. I started to believe he might be right about Greece and holidays.

But, the more I re-visited the country, the more I discovered that ironically the worst financial crisis to hit Europe since WWII has in many ways brought positives. If you look deep beneath the figures - the €400 typical young person's wage, the 50% unemployment amongst young people and the 177% ratio of debt to GDP - you will see solidarity, hope, compassion and a newfound appreciation of the present and the small things. You have to look deep of course. You have to traipse through poverty, depression, homelessness, suicides and fascism to get to it. But you will get to it.

In the last five years that hope grew. As networks spread and people reached rock bottom, they realized all they really had was themselves and that even if that was all they had, together and united it meant power.

If everything is cyclical in a financial crisis, this dragged out period felt like it was aching to reach an end point. In the past some had put their faith in violent protests, others in peaceful sit-ins, this time, in a final bid to change their lives and their country, they put their faith in Syriza, the coalition of the radical left.

Not because it had a radical left agenda or because its leader was a former communist. Or even because they believed that its politicians would abolish austerity.

Syriza, became popular, because it was breath of fresh air when most in Greece felt suffocated. It was untarnished, modern, seemed to have values and it connected with the people, especially the young, who felt that finally they could vote for a party who would represent them and their needs. And most importantly they had not yet disappointed anyone.

According to pre-election pledges, they would crack down on the corrupt oligarchy, reform the media, the tax system and the justice system. In short, they would clean up the country and re-balance society.

And somewhere amidst the mutterings a of an older generation whose every hope had been ground into dust, there grew a following who stood watching them with eager eyes, waiting for results. And that included my dad and I.

We watched Syriza stumble from over-optimism, to confusion, to the elation of the referendum result to the agony of the economic siege warfare Europe inflicted on Greece. I had a ringside seat: I was in the Maximou Mansion when Syriza's leaders learned they had won the referendum; I watched Alexis Tsipras agonise during April over whether to pay the IMF or pay Greek pensions.

Syriza is now having to implement a third bailout deal seen by many as the worst of the three that Greece has signed up to. For me, the tragedy of this story is not about the mistakes Syriza made - the descent into factionalism, the blind overconfidence of its ministers.

It's that Syriza, a group of people who genuinely wanted to help Greece recover and be rebuilt in all the ways that an electorate felt it needed to, was not given a chance.

Not given a chance and actively prevented from succeeding. Of course they are in no way perfect and of course they made many mistakes in their dealings with the EU and Greece's creditors. But, they were a democratically elected party trying to achieve change within an institution that unfortunately had no interest in allowing it to do so.

Some may say they had no interest in democracy itself.

As Dina, an actress, who takes part in the documentary, once told me, "The last five months of Syriza being in power was a nice break. An interlude. A dream. But that was all. We were silly to believe even for a moment, that parliament can change things. The power is always in the streets."

It was amazing for those five months to picture a new road for Greece. And it was equally amazing to see that road destroyed and bordered up with no entry signs everywhere. Perhaps there's another road to take. But for now at least, my dad and I are stood waiting confused and disorientated at the crossroads. And who knows how long we will be there.

As a result of this last bailout, Greek debt will rise next year to 190% of GDP. The Greek government, as Alexis Tsipras told me has lost its sovereignty. Unless we see meaningful and swift debt relief for Greece, I fear the last five years will be the prelude to more political chaos and hopelessness.