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Greeks in America React to Greek Financial Crisis

Greeks in Baltimore, Maryland discuss the Greek financial crisis
Greeks in Baltimore, Maryland discuss the Greek financial crisis
Penelope Poulou

The almost $1 trillion EU bailout package has not quelled the Greek financial crisis, nor has it erased the memories of last week's deadly demonstrations in Athens, in which hundreds of thousands of  Greeks took to the streets to protest the government's austerity measures. These events have made headlines worldwide. They have also stirred emotions in the Greek - American community. VOA's Penelope Poulou has more.

In the Baltimore, Maryland neighborhood known as "Greek Town," one feels transported to the Greece of 40 years ago. Shopkeepers sit outside their little stores enjoying a warm spring breeze. Greek flags are flying proudly next to American ones and local coffee shops, like this one, are hangouts for Greek men who gather for a game of cards and a debate on Greek politics.

These days their conversations are heated because of the Greek economic crisis which, they say, they have watched brewing for years. One of them, Nikos a swimming pool contractor, criticizes the Greek political establishment. He says for decades Greek administrations have usurped people's money and have gotten away with it. Now, he says it's payback time.

"Thieves ought to be punished and there should be transparency in the state's finances," said Nikos. "Greece has to assemble a national court of justice that should investigate everybody and should find out how huge government loans of the past 30 years were spent."

Nikos's views are shared by the rest of the company.  But John says it's also the lack of work ethic that has brought Greece to its knees.

"Greeks don't have money but they borrow to go on vacation," said John. "The young people spend their whole day drinking coffee. The Albanian immigrants work our fields, fix our homes and to top it, Greeks, rich and poor, they all evade taxes.

The discussion goes on and on. They talk about a sluggish Greek bureaucracy, a socio - economic system based on bribery and an inflated public sector which employs  the majority of the Greek middle class. These Greek - Americans are pessimistic. But others are not.  Basil Mossaidis is the executive director of AHEPA, a Greek - American association based in Washington.  He says don't write the Greeks off so quickly.

"I think they are very resilient people," said Basil Mossaidis. "They are very educated people, too. They are not fooling themselves into thinking everything is fine. They know what challenges they face. In every society, the media always accentuates the complainers. Not the hard working people that go to work every day."

What began as a protest against harsh austerity measures and government corruption turned deadly on May fifth, when a bank was firebombed.  That event marred what could otherwise have been seen as righteous public anger. That's the view of Dr. Harris Mylonas a Political Science professor at George Washington University.

"Violence is not part of politics, and every time that something like that happened in the past there was a clear condemnation [by the Greek government]," said Harris Mylonas.

But Dr. Mylonas says on this occasion, some Greek opposition party members took a much softer stance towards violence, calling it "collateral damage."

Nevertheless, the political divisiveness economic turmoil and pessimism in Greece do not dampen  Greek -Americans' love and longing for the old country.

"I have brothers and sisters in Greece, I have nieces and nephews," said an older man on the street. "In a couple of years I hope to go live with them there.  Greeks are compassionate, hospitable. They are not terrorists. Why did we have to come to such low point?  It's the fault of the political establishment."

Optimists or pessimists, the Greek Americans are watching the daily news deeply concerned about their homeland.

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