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EU > Greece > Thessaloniki

EU the Greek way

Thessaloniki, GR (View on map)

Democracy may well have its cradle in Greece but the Greeks have only seen little of it during most of their history. The most recent restoration of the democratic legacy dates from 1973, when a student uprising led to the fall of Greece`s last dictator. The resulting revolution and free elections paved the way for membership of the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1981. But how much of the European dream actually makes it all the way to Greece?

Matina (18):

..needs no subway in Thessaloniki
True, Athens is located further away from Brussels than any other EU capital, but there are many occasions for Greeks to walk into something European. Daily groceries are paid for in Euros, many people speak at least one foreign languages and huge infrastructural project are signposted as `co-funded by the EU`.

Few Greeks will deny that the integration with Europe has brought material wealth and new opportunities. Greece has better roads than it had ten years ago and the overall standard of living has improved. Traveling has become lots easier and unemployment has decreased. But there is much more to Greek life than economic progress. Greeks care a great deal about money, but they are good at pushing their heels into the sand if anything risks touching on their values and traditions.

The Greek lifestyle looks quite chaotic when seen through Western European eyes. Written rules do not seem to matter and promises have limited expiry dates. Greeks can change their mind from one second to the other. They find their way according to how the way presents itself. They will most certainly complain when the road turns unexpectedly, but they live with it.

What the Europeans would call anarchy is named freedom in Greece. To many Greeks, the European practice of setting numeric targets and defining ambitions feels unnatural at best, and antisocial at worst. `Our country is about family and friendship, not about economic progress and capitalism`, says Kostas (27), `if you are a politician, you will not be fined for speeding. If your brother is a politician, you will not be fined for speeding. If your brother is a police officer, you will not have to pay the fine. That`s how things work here.`

`By becoming a part of the European Union, we have sold happiness for success. We have given up the production of our own products and lost the ability to nourish ourselves from our own crops. And what does the European Union represent anyway. They have no power compared to the United States`, Kostas continues, `of course, the ideals of the EU are beautiful, but so are the ideas of communism. Unfortunately, it hardly ever works like that in real practice. We are not like Sweden, and we don`t want to become like Sweden.`

Gradual change
Alex (20) laughs at how 50% of European funding is admitted to end up in the pockets of contractors and local politicians: `Maybe it`s not something to be proud of, but it at least serves as a guarantee that things don`t change to quickly. It gives us time to adjust to a new balance in life. If the EU wanted us to spend the money in their way, they should be more specific what happens when it leaves their bank account. But they don`t seem to care.`

Matina (18, photo) says that the education system may be far from perfect, but insists that it is at least independent from politics: `Education in Greece is for free, and you can take as much time as you want to finish university. Last year, all students went on a strike for one year and there was nothing the government can do. Police officers are not allowed onto university terrains, it almost counts as international terrain.` She adds that Greek people are not ready to accept an imposed mentality that wipes out their own: `Look at how many people in Greece smoke. They consider it a freedom. Some professors smoke during lectures and students do the same. I think the EU will have a hard time implementing their anti-smoking lobby here. Sure, there are people who don`t like smoking, but even they will see it as a measurement that limits the freedom of the Greek people.`

She adds the new subway system in Thessaloniki as another prestige project that will enrich some of the contractors and politicians involved, but hardly be of any use to the city: `The whole centre is one big mess because of the construction works. We have never needed a subway so why would we need one now. Especially if it only has one line and thirteen stops. But some people are making money out of it, so a subway system we shall have.`

Turkey membership
Relations between Greece and Turkey have been troublesome over the last centuries, resulting in strong political opposition against the idea of Turkey becoming an EU member. The Turks are first and foremost remembered for attempting to erase the Greek and Byzantine civilisation during their occupation of Greece, which lasted for almost 400 years (1453-1821).

The Greeks see this period as one of the darkest in their nation`s history. The Turks installed a cruel oppression and imposed the Islam as the national religion. The Greek intelligentsia fled to Western Europe, while another migration gulf moved Christian Orthodox Greeks to the islands and to the countryside. Greece managed to unite its forces to declare independence from Turkey in 1821, but frequent battles between the two countries persisted for another century.

Iannis (23) thinks that, still today, Turkey is less civilised than Greece is: `They are too much into religion, their jails are bad. They accept torture as a punishment and they don`t allow minorities on their territory`, his explanation reads, then adding that `maybe it would actually be a good idea, because the European Union would force them to improve themselves and adjust to modern standards of civilisation` - which is exactly what the Greeks themselves do not want.

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