In Greece 26.5% of the labour force, or 1.3 million people, are currently unemployed (out of total a population of about 11 million). If they were a city it would be the second largest city in Greece (with almost twice the population of Thessaloniki). Were they all to march on parliament all at once they would thoroughly overwhelm the riot police through sheer force of numbers. Were they all to vote for one political party, that party would win any election in a landslide.
Yet while unemployment is at the forefront of Greek political discourse, the unemployed themselves are often almost completely invisible.
On panel shows and radio broadcasts the vast majority of those talking about unemployment are very gainfully employed. The ‘unemployed’ in these discussion often fade into a faceless mass defined only by their lack of paid work, a group unable to help themselves that is simply to be pitied and, when possible, assisted (just as soon as we sort out the primary surplus or sell off a few more state assets).
In part it is the unemployed themselves who are responsible for this ‘disappearing act’. As journalist and author Christoforos Kasdaglis explains, “Of course part of the responsibility for their ‘non-presence’ belongs in some respects with the unemployed themselves. And if not with them personally, with their introspection, their guilt, their shame and their resignation which leads them to shut themselves in their homes and not attempt to speak, to protest, to complain, to shout. They often prefer themselves to remain invisible, in order not to provoke pity.”
I see every morning by son’s torn shoes and I reconsider.
Do I have the right to dignity, or was that lost two years ago together with my job?”
It was partly this observation – that in Greece we so often talk about the unemployed but never to them – that led Kasdaglis to set up the website ‘Diary of the Unemployed’ (Imerologio Anergou), an internet platform that invites the unemployed to share their stories (created and hosted by ThePressProject). As Kasdaglis writes, “The unemployed themselves write about their experiences, their torments, they outline their demands to a society that must urgently reverse its priorities. First the unemployed and then the middle-class. First the unemployed and then the minimum wage. First the unemployed and then the property tax. First the unemployed and then pensions and rebates.”
That the Diary of the Unemployed met a need that was desperately unfulfilled was demonstrated almost immediately. One the first day the site went live in April 2013, fifteen people uploaded their stories. To date over 3,000 first-hand accounts have been added, some named, many anonymous. Reading through the entries can be a brutal experience, each entry more heart-wrenching than the next. Breadwinners cast off overnight from jobs that they had held for decades. Months and months of futile job searches. Families nervously eyeing fast approaching dates when their last leg of social security will be kicked out from under them, raising the spectre of homelessness. Parents who can no longer look at their children without feeling shame and desperation over being unable to provide for them. “I will say one thing about unemployment. Whoever has not experienced unemployment will have difficulty understanding where we are and where we are going. There is no greater truth in our time that ‘unemployment is violence’. Raw violence,” Kasdaglis says.
Kasdaglis has now selected 155+1 stories from the ‘Diary’ and assembled them with additional linking texts in an eponymous book that was published last week (in Greek, published by Kastaniotis). A book about unemployment by the unemployed, it undeniably provides an insight into the dark emotional journey that so often accompanies joblessness.
Kasdaglis has already focused on the plight of the unemployed an earlier book Anonymoi chreokopimenoi (Anonymous Bankrupts), a collection of sketches published in 2012 about the effect of the crisis on people’s lives including his own experience with unemployment.
Anonymous Bankrupts was featured in an April 2013 article in The Nation by noted historian Mark Mazower about the increasing body of ‘crisis literature’ that has emerged in Greece over the past few years. Mazower describes Kasdaglis’s sketches as a ‘mordant account of the spreading unemployment and unrelenting weariness of living through the crisis at a daily level,” but adds that, “Kasdaglis can hardly be accused of indulging in pessimism: in the current climate, pessimism seems perfectly reasonable.”
“Now all one can do is write in the hope of finding some way out of hopelessness,” Mazower writes of Kasdaglis’s view of the crisis. But it is also an apt description of the motivation of many of those who logged on and contributed their stories to ‘Diary of the Unemployed’.
Beyond the book as a stand-alone work, Kasdaglis sees its publication as the closing of one chapter and the opening of another. One that will help empower the unemployed to move beyond their exclusion from the public discourse and to speak up and make demands, ‘breaking the taboo’ as he puts it. The Diary of the Unemployed is more than a book, but a multimedia platform that is intended to offer more than just a place to vent anger and sorrow to those who have borne the brunt of the more disastrous economic policies implemented in Greece. It is a place for a community to unite and demand that they are listened to, and not just be treated as another number.
“Self organisation is the key. Nobody will provide an answer to the problem if the unemployed don’t collectively and combatively fight for their lives, their dignity and chiefly for their right to create.” Kasdaglis says. “There is a part of society which is content with the idea (regardless of whether they have also been hurt) that it is logical for half of society to be sacrificed in order for the other half to be saved. This cannibalism is of course a complete utopia but until that is understood, the destruction will have reached frightening proportions. Read the book and you will remember me.”
Below are some excerpts from ‘Imerologio Enos Anergou 155+1 Alithines Istories’ (Diary of the Unemployed 155+1 True Stories).
“Nora is the name that I would like to have in another, different life to the one I am living now… In that life I would be happier with optimism, with dreams and goals which it would be possible to realize. In a life where I would wake up in the morning and have my job to go to.”
“I worked for 23 years in the metal industry. When they fired me I felt like they were murdering me, just like that, with a bullet that had my name written on (and court oversight). That’s how I feel, I changed, I am no longer the same, I became wilder.”
“Why should I be called, ‘unemployed’? Why should I take responsibility for a situation I did not choose? Almost from the moment that I lost my job I’ve wondered that.
For that reason I propose that we shouldn’t say we are unemployed but we should tell the truth: we have been fired!”
“In 25 years I don’t know how many shows I’ve done, how many headlines I came up with, how many hours I have spent at the microphone. And on the 11th of June they fired me… I feel like they raped me… at 46 years old with a child and divorced. I have not learnt to do anything else, radio is my life. Why did they deprive me of it?”
Roulame, 46, Larisa
“Today I was told by a company to whom I had sent my resume that they are hiring me and with good money. It was the first time in my life that I cried out of joy. After two years of unemployment and hitting the bottom of poverty, with only 2 euros in my pocket for a family of four for a month, it was like manna from heaven. I want to share this joy with all of you.”
“I am given life by my sell-out colleagues. Suck-ups, selfish, egotistical and ruthless. The more undignified, dirty, stolen profiteering money they make, the more tenacious they make me.”
“That is when depression knocked on my door, accompanied by daily panic attacks. I wouldn’t wish on my enemy something like that, a frightful illness, you lose yourself, you are not yourself, you become trapped and fighting with your subconscious, shaking, fears, heart racing, dizziness, a beast inside you which grows…”
George, 30, Attica
“No I won’t / we won’t last, not even until the summer.
In my pocket I don’t have a penny and to all my friends, relatives, acquaintances I owe something. I have exhausted that as well. I have exhausted all of my sources.”
“I remember like it was yesterday the first night I came home. We had put the kids to bed. The elder seven and the younger five then. Passing outside of their room I heard them whispering in the dark. “Dad was fired,” said the older. “What does it mean that he was ‘fired’?” asked the younger. “They kicked him out from his work”. “And now what are we going to do? How will we shop? What will we eat?” the little one wondered, clearly worried. “Don’t worry, go to sleep…” They stopped talking…”