Refugee crisis offers chance to Greeks to show their better self

Refugee crisis offers chance to Greeks to show their better self

My journalist colleague from Thessaloniki has been very busy these days as she told me on the phone last week.  Was it about a new job, I asked, after not having spoken to her for some time and knowing that she had been recently laid off from her newspaper. No, it was not about a new job, there are no new jobs in the media when you live in Thessaloniki, she told me.

The “capital of Northern Greece” has been hard hit by the crisis and media jobs are no exception. Several newspapers based in the second largest city in the country with just under a million people, have closed down. Many have reduced their staff and cut down their salaries. Some journalists are working just to maintain the social security status. 

My friend is no exception. She can barely manage to make ends meet with just a part time job in the local branch of Greece’s state radio. But she sounded happier than usual and keen to talk to me about her recent sociological observations about her city. 

“What is happening here,” she said, “is not known. All the reporting about the refugees is superficial. They are just showing women crying, smiling hungry children, young men in hooded sweatshirts from Syria who want to go to Germany, “as if nothing else exists around them.”

When she was working in her newspaper, my friend was involved in interesting investigative reporting, ranging from the remaining Jewish families in Thessaloniki to corruption in the church and by local authorities, etc. And as a grandchild of a family who originated from these lands, she was always closely following the developments in Turkey. 

Directly or indirectly, the life of the Greeks has been seriously affected by the new phenomenon of the refugee/migrant inflow to their country. Their life for the past six years has been already shaken by continuous political and economic uncertainty, disappointments followed by short lived periods of optimism and a general feeling of despair, but since last year, on top of all that, they had to find a space to accommodate the issue of refugees in their shaken psychology. Some reacted with negativity and rejection towards these new temporary inhabitants of their land who may end up by becoming permanent fellow citizens, if the EU does not create a plausible solution to the problem. Some discovered their better self and got involved in numerous NGOs, initiatives and charities to help as much as they could. Some spoke loud about the dangers that a new foreign social group inserted into an already struggling society could cause. 

My friend explained why she had been so busy lately. “We are collecting aid for the refugees and during the last days for those who are trapped in Idomeni,” she said. “You cannot imagine the response of the people. I mean even people who themselves are finding difficult to get by in present circumstances, they bring whatever they have to a collection point in the building of the radio station. We cannot keep up with the heaps of things that have been gathered at the entrance. We are at the center of the city so it is accessible to everybody.”

I had heard about the solidarity shown by many Greeks towards the refugees who have found themselves on Greek land after not drowning in the Aegean Sea. I knew of the hospitality shown in certain islands like Lesbos. But I was not sure about the attitude in the cities. And certainly I did not know about the behavior of the citizens of Thessaloniki.

“You would be surprised,” my friend assured me. “I was surprised to that extent that I changed my bad opinion of my fellow countrymen. In spite of all, there are still genuine some feelings left in our people,” she said, but lost no time in attacking our mutual profession. “But journalists and editors, being what the media is, are only going for the easy selling story. There can be hundreds of other stories on the people around the refugees. The ones we do not know, the ones who help and do not expect to be mentioned. But what editor cares about that!”

I cannot disagree with that.