An Elegy for Greece

By Keith Kloor
Sep 29, 2011 10:16 PMNov 20, 2019 2:02 AM


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There is nobody I know in journalism who is more modest than Joanna Kakassis, who I got to know several years ago when we were both fellows at the University of Colorado, in Boulder. Since then, Joanna has been filing incredible stories from around the world, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and her native Greece. Joanna's latest piece, now featured at Foreign Policy, is a poignant essay about her homeland. Here's an excerpt:

Greece has changed, and not changed, since my father and his older brother -- my Uncle Thanassis -- were born. It's no longer the impoverished country where many Greeks died of treatable illnesses, as my paternal grandparents did in the 1930s. It has transformed from a wild, agrarian land plowed by donkeys to a full-service, high-end mecca for sun-and-sea tourists. Half of the population now lives in Athens, the capital, a once-provincial city that is now a crushing, seething chaos of concrete apartment blocks and ancient ruins, Michelin-starred restaurants and screaming bouzouki clubs, suburban villas and inner-city ghettos. And the country now has about a million immigrants, many from Africa and South Asia, and the Greek-born, Greek-speaking children of those immigrants have sparked a separate identity crisis over what it means to "be Greek." But Greece's sky is still, in many ways, deep and changeless. Greeks have clung to the distant past and have sometimes managed to live very viscerally in the present, but they have never really welcomed the future. Now the future is so grim, no one wants to think about it.

There is the Greece in today's headlines and the romanticized, stereotypical Greece to outsiders. Joanna's beautiful essay captures the economic tumult and cultural upheaval rocking the country, but we see it through the eyes of family members whose lifetimes have borne witness to what Greece was and to what it has become. It's a richly contextualized portrait of a country that the rest of the world has viewed one-dimensionally for far too long.

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