I came to live in Greece in 2009, on February 12th the day of my birthday. On my first night in Athens I had a fantastic, welcoming dinner with my Greek friends. It was normal for one person to buy everyone dinner at the time and it was a pleasure to share with friends. Money was enough then and trips, gifts… everything was possible! A few months later things started changing. Many stores closed. It was the first sign of an economic “war” that continues today.
Having experienced the same situation in Portugal a few years back, I felt heartbroken! The crisis started in Portugal in early 2000. Working as an actor it became evident that my proceeds were decreasing, I started paying more taxes, fuel prices increased, therefore transportation, food and first aid goods also became more expensive. It was the first sign of the crisis!
The Portuguese governments – Socialists or Social Democrats – opened the door to the European Union, without setting any limits. I never had the illusion of a United Europe of common cultural interests and respect towards nationalities but the Socialist government that signed Portugal’s commitment to the EU, really marked the beginning of the end.
Banking problems arose, corrupted members of governments and corporations were unveiled. A privatization scheme was put forward, while the government started to reduce the money allocated to Education and Health and unemployment rose.
The situation soon deteriorated but the Portuguese have gone through 49 years of dictatorship; they are used to suffer and they stand still! When University students approached ex-prime minister, Pedro Passos Coelho, asking him to talk about the poor state of Universities, he simply showed them the door; “Go abroad!”, he said and he did absolutely nothing! Many students migrated to England and the United States. It is estimated that half a million students have gone abroad during the last few years. And amid a difficult economic environment Passos Coelho announced he had managed to reduce unemployment!
Twice the experience
It seems that Greece and Portugal have been sharing the same historical events; similar political developments, the same kinds of problems (economic instability, corruption) and finally the crisis. Also identical measures applied by the TROIKA have destroyed fundamental institutions, such as the public Education, the Health system and the labor market. But with no Education and Health a country is as good as dead!
Having experienced the crisis twice, I think the Greeks are really brave. I admire them and I want to continue living in Greece. This country gave me space to create, to develop my artistic soul and I´m truly thankful for that. I feel at home!
Just over a year ago the Greeks voted for SYRIZA, saying “no” to the previous governments of PASOK and New Democracy. It seems that SYRIZA started changing things but it’s been a difficult fight against a Conservative Europe. Greece is suffocating at the moment! Meanwhile racist and fascist parties and organizations raise their voices against the south European countries. Greece has been included in the PIIGS, along with the economies of Portugal, Ireland, Italy and Spain.
However major changes have been taking place in Portugal’s political environment. For the first time in its history, the country formed a government with Socialists, Communists and BE (Bloco de Esquerda) to stand against the Right. The political developments seem to have affected Spain and perhaps other countries as well. The Left could bring a new balance within the EU and Europe, that is also experiencing the consequences of a prolonged crisis; A crisis also deteriorating due to the refugee crisis.
I am glad I live in a country that continues to show its solidarity. The future is uncertain, we are experiencing difficult times, but we need to continue; With art, culture and love, by promoting the classical values of beauty, balance and harmony. Having experienced the crisis twice, I think the Greeks are really brave. I admire them and I want to continue living in Greece. This country gave me space to create, to develop my artistic soul and I´m truly thankful for that. I feel at home!
* André Maia is a singer and an actor
PHOTOS: Dimitris Kapnorizas