Today we were supposed to visit the National Gardens, Syntagma Square and the Panathenaic Stadium, but unfortunately a subway strike led to a change in our plans. The strikes in Greece reflect an economic trend as worker pensions have been severely cut and working conditions remain difficult. Greece has faced a difficult eight year recovery from the recession that first hit their nation in 2010. A strong economic recovery has still not reached Greece, and the coming years will continue to be difficult for the Greek people.
Despite the strike, our first half of the day went as planned. We started with class at the American College of Greece, where we enjoy class every morning in an open-air classroom. Our discussion referenced readings on both modern policy challenges the Greek state faces as well as the origins of democracy. It is important to discuss how the history of Greece influences their standing in the world today. Many believe Greece is a Western country as their ancient history has heavily influenced Western Europe and because of their European Union membership. However, Greece could also be considered an Eastern country, as their economic policies rely upon a strong public sector, they belonged to the Byzantine as well as the Ottoman Empires, and they skipped the Industrial Revolution. These were all points my classmates and I discussed at length, and we came to the conclusion that Greece can ultimately be described as a traditionally Eastern country desperately trying to find its place within the powers of Western Europe.
After some analysis of modern challenges Greece faces, we turned toward discussion of how we got here and the origins of Greek democracy. The catalysts for Athenian experimentation with democracy were their small population size (250,000), their mountainous topography that allowed for natural protection, their easy access to the sea, and a lack of serious income inequality. Furthermore, the poor were dissatisfied with the aristocracy. A famous Athenian named Solon responded to Greece’s troubles with a model of democracy. The most interesting reform instituted was the abolition of all debts. I was intrigued by Solon’s selflessness and his actions that helped his city-state. I find it admirable that he sacrificed his reputation for the betterment of Athens.
All CLC students were free to explore Athens in the afternoon. Many went to beaches, hiking, downtown shopping, or down the street to restaurants. For the afternoon, my friend Lauren and I went to a local restaurant called Stars, where we enjoyed a delicious margherita pizza. The day was spent exploring the streets of Athens, which feature beautiful architecture. What amazes me about the Greek people is despite the economic hardships they are undergoing, the people here remain optimistic and vibrant. The Greek people prove that a positive outlook is always possible and that the small joys of life, not money, make life meaningful. It is a message that often is lacking within our American culture overseas.