Endemic problems plague a proud country.
Growing up on Long Island in the 1980s, freelance journalist Angelos often visited his grandmother, who lived in a humble, pastoral Greek village with a view of an Apollo temple. In 2011, returning on assignment for the Wall Street Journal, the author found a country in economic ruins, a place “both familiar to me but still foreign enough that I often found myself bewildered by it.” For his revealing and well-informed debut book, Angelos revisited Greece many times, interviewing politicians and ordinary citizens, government administrators and religious figures, émigrés and xenophobes, to investigate the causes and extent of the country’s financial and political crises. Many of those who spoke with him were angry, cynical, and despondent about the future. Repeatedly, the author discovered evidence of waste, graft, and political patronage. Years after two town treasurers were convicted of murdering a mayor, for example, they continued to receive their salaries, even while Greece’s official creditors pushed for bureaucratic reform. Bribes were a fact of daily life; tax evasion, “a national preoccupation. The pervasiveness of the habit, and the government’s enduring unwillingness to do anything about it, was more than any other single factor the cause of Greece’s financial troubles.” Many Greeks resented the European Union for imposing conditions in order to grant economic relief. Germany, especially, was hated by a population that recalled the brutal Nazi occupation. Germany, many felt, “was plundering Greece again, but this time without an army.” Like other European nations, Greece struggles with an influx of immigrants seeking refuge from poverty and persecution. Often the first country where these immigrants land, it resentfully sees itself as “Europe’s basement.” Many citizens believe in a self-serving narrative of “Hellenic purity and superiority” that has resulted in the rise of a fascist political party espousing anti-Semitism, anti-Turkish hatred, and strident anti-immigration rhetoric. Angelos follows these many threads with aplomb.
A candid, unsparing look at the challenges Greece has yet to overcome.