First in a series of reports from the Eastern Mediterranean
By Churm Media CEO and OC METRO Publisher Steve Churm
ATHENS, Greece–Weaving through the traffic on the outskirts of steamy Athens, the cabbie told a story of spiraling unease, one shared by many in this historic seat of power in the Eastern Mediterranean. Come September and October, when the summer tourists have returned to Germany, the U.S. and points beyond; when the stifling heat that bakes this land of olives and ouzo mercifully retreats, the political temperature may reach a boiling point, our driver fears. He believes his beloved Athens, the only city he has called home, may become the stage for world economic headlines, yet again. Only this time it could be the final tipping point.
Unemployment hovers near 25 percent and this nation of 11 million teeters on the edge insolvency.
“It might not be good,” says Milton, an English name the round-faced driver adopted to make it easier for his fares to pronounce. “Nobody knows what’s next, but this fall could be bad.” Rosary beads hang from the rearview mirror of this late-model Mercedes. He talks of his two sons and their uncertain future as he stealthy slips past slower traffic, only to be passed by darting motorcyclists who seem unfazed by red lights and honking horns. For months, Greece and its collapsing currency and downtrodden economy has been the focus of intense international debate. Money markets worldwide have risen and fallen on hopes of saving this country from bankruptcy and sparing the rest of Europe and the U.S. the crippling Domino effect its fall could have on their own sputtering recoveries.
While the world waits for this fiscal drama to play out, many Greeks are readying for August and vacation. Even in the face of political strife that Milton says may spill into the streets and crater what stability remains, this nation, as it has done forever, will essentially shut down soon for summer holiday.
“It’s the Greek way,” says Milton, offering a mild defense for behavior that seems so incongruous to the state of affairs here. It speaks to the maddening indifference some world leaders have railed about when it comes to rescuing this country. Greek’s geo-political importance as a democratic port on the doorstep to the volatile Middle East has long been noted by Western Europe and American interests.
“Greece has been around a long time,” he says near the end of my 90-minute cab ride from the Athens airport through the center of the city to the harbor. “We are survivors and we will weather the storm. At what price? I don’t know.”