No agreement yet as Greece tries to form a government and population fumes
The Greece of today is nothing like the triumphant Greece that hosted the 2004 Olympic games. Unemployment is high, anger is high and mental health is frayed. That's the findings of a reporter who used to live in Greece and headed back to see what's changed in the days of austerity and budget cuts.
In Greece, party leaders headed back to the negotiating table Monday, after failing to agree Sunday on a new coalition government.
The national elections eight days ago ended in a deadlock, with no party winning enough seats to form a government.
President Karolos Papoulias has tried various combinations of majority and minority parties with little positive results. A last-ditch effort was held Monday night in Greece, but no break-through was reached. According to the BBC, meetings will continue on Tuesday.
The radical far left Syriza party says it won't back any coalition that supports continued austerity measures. The moderate Democratic Left party in Greece says it won't join pro-bailout parties in a coalition without Syriza.
If nothing changes, Greece will have to go forward with new elections and is increasingly likely to go back on its austerity measures, lose its European loans, default on its debts and be forced out of the euro zone. That potential downward spiral has changed Greece and its people — and not really for the better.
The BBC’s Richard Galpin, the former Athens correspondent, recently traveled back to Greece to see what has changed as the country struggles with the weight of its debt and its budget cuts.
"I was based here during the heady days of the Athens Olympics in 2004, when the country was riding high," Galpin said. "Now, here in Athens, it feels so different. It's quite shocking, seeing how run down some parts of the city are."
Galpin described buildings covered in graffiti and scarred by the anti-austerity riots that have become a regular part of life.
Many Greeks are now trying to get out of the country. George Neris, the head of Synthesis Media Company in Athens, has run a network of art exhibition spaces in Greece for years. He's planning to move to the United Kingdom.
"Unemployment now is at 20 percent or more," he said to the BBC. "One of the ways you can do something about it is go some place where there are jobs. This way, you decrease unemployment overnight and you go some place where there are jobs and you start working."
According to the latest figures in Greece, about 25 percent of people have lost their jobs in the current economic downturn, Galpin said. For people under 25, the situation is worse: about 54 percent are without work.
The numbers are still climbing. That's exactly what's behind the vote that sent austerity-backing parties to defeat. But it's also presented serious problems in mental health.
"Suicide is much more common," Galpin said.
In 2011, according to one psychiatrist who mans a helpline for people considering suicide, there were twice as many calls as there were in 2010. And in 2012, the numbers are climbing even higher.
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