Still struggling to exit a decade of financial crisis, bailouts and harsh cutbacks, Greece finds itself at a political turning point. All polls agree that in Sunday’s national elections the country’s largest conservative party _ a major player in the lead-up to Greece’s financial woes _ is set to return to power after more than four years of rule by anti-establishment left-wingers.
Ahead of the vote, The Associated Press approached 12 Greeks from all walks of life to ask them about their expectations from the next government, whichever that might be.
While answers vary, the common thread runs through better education, healthcare and pensions, lower taxes, more jobs and higher salaries. Other expectations include less bureaucracy, more meritocracy, and greater gender equality, better policing, and an end to the brain drain that has seen hundreds of thousands of qualified young graduates seeking well-paid jobs abroad.
69, ceramicist and sculptor
I’ve had a hard time over the past decade with all the austerity measures foisted on us. Even though I’ve reached a pensionable age I continue to work, but again I could only expect a very modest pension. I hope that one day my workshop will fill up with young artists so that I can teach them ceramics and sculpture, because it’s an art I don’t want to be lost. But to do that I will need help from the government, which unfortunately doesn’t look as if it will be forthcoming. Nevertheless, I am an optimist and believe Greece will progress sooner or later. It will require changes, first of all cuts in income tax, as well as in social security and pension contributions.
I am a retired chartered accountant. I worked for 36 years and looked forward to getting a decent pension that would have allowed me a dignified retirement. But the crisis that swept through our country brought pensioners close to, and, in many cases, below, the poverty line. What I expect from the next government is naturally an improvement in pensioners’ finances, but above all the following: In education, university studies for all, which must be overhauled to meet modern needs. More educated citizens is more thinking citizens. In health, better services. In security, better police staffing so that cities can be well policed. And well-paying jobs for all. And of course, to achieve all this I hope to see investment, investment, investment.
43, physical education teacher
I have been hoping for change for years. Life is truly very hard right now. More work, lower salaries, more worries, greater fear and constant insecurity _ and only too often I see the same concerns in other people’s eyes. I want better living conditions and quality of life for all. Suitable and equal health and education services, and proper handling of immigration so that these key sectors that are already in a precarious state do not deteriorate further. Because especially in education many immigrant children have trouble with the language, and as a result it’s hard to achieve learning targets which should apply equally to all children in each class. I hope to see a better approach to lowering unemployment, so that every family can live with dignity and every child can enjoy what it deserves and needs.
24, conscript serving in the prestigious Presidential Guard
I seek change! During the 1950s and 60s, when Greeks were emigrating massively, parents seeing their children taking off would tearfully exhort them to return one day. Nowadays, parents wholeheartedly wish that their children, who are again going abroad, become successful where they go. Therefore, I hope for a shift in the current financial mood that would stop the exodus of educated young Greeks, who are full of ideals and values and of whom our country is being deprived. And as the economy and the job market improve I hope that they will decide to return or stop emigrating. Furthermore, I hope for a better sense of public security, and greater meritocracy which will strengthen our society, improve the system of justice. (Reforms) would lead to boost our country’s low birth rate. Finally, I hope to see an improvement in our society’s morale and sense of national pride. Our history stretches back to the dawn of time, which is both a source of great pride and our heavy heritage.
Captain Ioanna Rotziokou
33, Hellenic Police press spokeswoman
Greece’s police faces a wide variety of challenges, from organized and cross-border crime to human trafficking and drugs. However, throughout my years in the force, what has really shaken me more than anything else is the fatal road accidents that I had to deal with while serving in the traffic police. I’ve seen things I will never forget, which have reduced me to tears and frightened me. I hope in the future to see an improvement in the way Greeks drive, so that there’s a drastic fall in the number of road deaths. It is truly tragic that fellow human beings should lose their lives in such a way. What saddens me as a woman is that despite the great progress we’ve seen in recent years, gender equality has still not been effectively attained. It is something I have observed both through my work and in my personal life. I would like to see more women reach the top of their profession and fewer women abused. I hope that with the passage of time things will improve.
I have lived a full life, and am 67 years old. For as long as I can remember myself I have been accustomed to living among crowds of people. My parents’ house became one of the neighborhood’s first taverns. We always had to struggle to make a living. From when my family came to Greece as refugees to the (economic) bloom before the crisis. These were good times, which we thought would last for ever. In my old age, together with my pension, came the bailouts. So what I would like is a better healthcare system, better education, lower taxes, a better quality of life _ where work is employment, not slavery. An evening-out of social disparities. I would like younger generations to continue to view their families as important, living institutions, and us to preserve our country’s customs.
55, lawyer specialising in labor law
The past 10 years have been hard for everyone in Greece. Unfortunately, developments, both recent and older, leave little ground for high expectations. Some progress has been made in the awarding of justice, particularly with the use of new technology. In labor law, the trend is to take measures intended to tightly control everything, if possible, with an increase in bureaucracy and the imposition of penalties, particularly fines, that are disproportionately high compared to company turnover and profits. Nevertheless, in most cases, this does not work to the benefit of employees. On the whole, in all areas of the law, instead of procedures being simplified paper bureaucracy has been replaced by electronic bureaucracy. For example, the same _ or an even greater _ number of entries that were needed to complete a tax return on paper are now needed to fill it in electronically. Furthermore, European and global developments do not allow great expectations. We live in a time of low expectations. But that leaves greater leeway for pleasant surprises, and that is the positive aspect to remember.
42, kindergarten teacher
I am a kindergarten teacher and a mother of three. I have worked for quite a few years and my children now go to school themselves. Education is the future of our children, but ours as well. As teachers we have a moral obligation to provide youngsters with an optimistic view of the world and the future. And that’s what we do. But what do we expect of the government? We want fewer children per class and per teacher, because our classes are too numerous and the classrooms are overcrowded. Better teaching materials, better school facilities that address contemporary requirements and are accessible to all. Better salaries for teachers, which should be commensurate with the important job they carry out daily in class. Free education for all children, which should all be able to begin life with equal opportunities. We also expect not just economic but sustainable growth, without fire sales that look good for book-keeping purposes, but with investments for the sake of the people.
36, head of pastry production
I decided after 18 years in London to return to my home city of Athens to get involved with the family pastry business which has a legacy going back over a century. My expectation is to be able to carry this legacy forward in a challenging economic and sociopolitical environment that makes it very difficult for small businesses to survive and thrive. What I would like to see is the ability for small and medium sized businesses to reinvest themselves within their enterprises and grow healthily while respecting their history and uniqueness. I would be sad to see such cultural heritage get lost due to the economic misfortunes of Greece’s past decade. My biggest expectation is for young people like myself not to be the lost generation that many had predicted. Instead what I wish to witness is the return of bright minds and hard-working Greeks to prosper in their home country. To enjoy the quality of life that Greece has to offer and help it progress steadily. The time is now.
What I would like to see in Greece is meritocracy and respect for the law. The number of state employees needs to be reduced and corruption and tax evasion have to be controlled. Medical education needs to be modernized, University professors should be evaluated, as everywhere else, for their teaching ability. In healthcare, we need to create a model that brings the public and private sectors together. Currently, a significant number of Greeks seek private healthcare. This opportunity could be exploited so that some of the burden of the public sector could be carried by the private, so that the resources of the public institutions can be utilized in an optimal way. We need a culture of quality control, guideline adherence, as well as a new attitude towards excellence. Finally, we need to allow the middle class and private initiative to grow. Currently, the middle class is struggling under the extreme weight of heavy, irrational taxation.
44, car mechanic
It’s really hard to be a self-employed professional in Greece. The taxation is unbearable and it’s a constant battle to make ends meet every month. You work more for minimal profit. That’s what we’ve all had to cope with since the day our country signed its first bailout agreement. I hope to see a reduction in tax and social security contributions, which would allow small and medium-sized professionals to regain their footing. I also hope for investments and growth. Our country must pay greater attention to education, which will essentially shape our future, and to health, so that we can retain our dignity even when we are bodily infirm.
24, university student
Like most other students in their last year of studies, I find myself in search of a job. I will be graduating soon from the Economic Department of Panteion University (in Athens) and am sending CVs and being interviewed by companies related to my field. Knowing that I belong to an underprivileged generation because of the economic crisis my country is going through, I realize that the competition is quite big, the job opportunities few, and the salaries obviously low. However, I really hope that the situation will get better and that Greece will improve financially so that I am not forced to emigrate abroad in search of a better life.
Text from AP News story, AP PHOTOS: Greeks’ expectations ahead of July 7 election, by Petros Giannakouris.
Nicholas Paphitis in Athens contributed to this story.
Photos by Petros Giannakouris