Business, Finance & Economics

New Diaspora: Online Project Documents the Greek Immigrant Experience

Greece remains mired in economic misery. The country's unemployment rate is currently running at 27 percent. And for the country's young people, the situation is even worse. Nearly 60 percent of those under the age of 25 are without work. Thousands have already left Greece to seek work elsewhere, and thousands more are preparing to do so. Documenting the stories of this new wave of Greek immigration is the impetus behind an online project called New Diaspora.

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It's the brainchild of Nicolas Stamboulopoulos, who himself left Greece in October of 2009, just before the economic crisis began in earnest.

"I could see it coming. I could see that something is seriously wrong with Greece," he says.

"So I decided to leave, and I moved to the Netherlands. And I'm still trying to adapt to this new reality," he says with a chuckle. "Let's face it. I can't really stand the weather here."

"Here" is Amsterdam, where Stamboulopoulos settled. As the economic crisis in Greece deepened over the past few years, he's watched as many from Greece followed suit and left.

Stamboulopoulos, a filmmaker, decided that he wanted to capture their diaspora stories. But that meant, first and foremost, getting Greeks to face up to the problems back home.

"There is a tendency that we hide things under the carpet, and keep talking about how beautiful Greece is — and it is beautiful by the way — and avoid mentioning that there are problems."

"There's a huge crisis, a humanitarian crisis," says Stamboulopoulos. "There is political instability, and people are leaving en masse."

At first, Stamboulopolous envisioned doing a full-length documentary on the experiences of this new wave of Greeks living and working abroad.

But then he realized that project would be too big for one person or one production team. So, he decided to open it up to anyone by creating a website called New Diaspora.

"It's a platform that enables Greek people around the world to share their own stories, whether that's videos or texts or photos…anything."

"Greek people around the world," Stamboulopoulos says, "feel that they need to have a voice."

"In my country, in Greece, something very important is happening," says Matina Magkou. "I would like to be able to have a say."

Magkou was so taken with the idea of New Diaspora that she decided to volunteer her time and skills to the project.

She lived and worked outside of Greece for years, first in Brussels and later in Spain. Last year, she decided – in the worst of the crisis – to move back home.

Think about it for a second: Spain to Greece. Talk about going from the frying pan into the fire.

"It felt a bit weird at first," Magkou says. "You feel a bit different than the others, but at the same time, you bring a different kind of energy, and you're not stuck into the misery that sometimes prevails among Greek people right now."

Magkou admits she's got it good. For now, she's able to live in Greece, but earn her money by getting work mainly from outside of Greece. Magkou is an events planner and youth project manager.

She knows many in Grece aren't so lucky, and notes a whole generation of bright, capable kids are leaving Greece.

"There are many people in Greece that are criticizing the ones that are leaving," Magkou tells me. "But I don't believe you are less Greek if you move out of Greece. You can actually be even more Greek, you can care for your country even more. I don't believe the ones that are leaving are taking out Greece from their hearts."

You can see these struggles in the stories that have already been posted on the New Diaspora website.

Elia, a Greek living in Britain, writes:

"We who live outside of Greece are blamed for running away, but we have other challenges to fight – being away from our families, being treated as immigrants…and always being the foreigners that take jobs from the locals."

Nicolas Stamboulopoulos is also producing his own mini-documentaries as part of the New Diaspora project.

Nicolas Stamboulopoulus hopes that New Diaspora can help people outside of Greece empathize. But more importantly, he hopes it will spark a conversation among those Greeks who have left.

"The whole idea is that we start talking about the problem, talking about who we are, and redefine an identity."

It won't be an easy discussion. For example, today in Athens, a lawmaker from the far-right Golden Dawn party allegedly tried to punch the city's mayor. The Golden Dawn politician reportedly missed, and ended up hitting a twelve year old girl instead.

Stamboulopoulos says what's going on back in Greece is, in a word, scary.

"For people who have migrated to other countries and felt even a tiny bit of racism, seeing that happening to your homeland is extreme."

He pauses for a second, then continues. "It's like seeing the Acropolis being bombed by flying saucers or something. It's completely far out."

And it's spreading, Stamboulopoulos says.

The economic crisis, he notes, is now affecting places like The Netherlands and Germany. And anti-immigrant feeling, he says, is coming right along with it.

The New Diaspora project is currently trying to raise funds via the crowd-funding site Indiegogo.

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