When considering Greece, the first things that come to most people’s minds are hot summers, crystal clear blue oceans, and islands of paradise.  Unfortunately, if you think about it for too long you remember what was on the news: the crisis, the poverty, the political conflict and that your favorite restaurant on Mykonos now has to pay more tax.

By Mihali Stamatis*

Growing up in Australia, I noticed the dominating view on the Greek nation is that of bankruptcy and laziness. From my own experience, I know the latter not to be true, at least not entirely. My family came from Kastellorizo, to Australia in the 1920’s, along with a large portion of the island. Today in Perth, the residents have enjoyed remarkable success. Families from this small Greek island have prospered, coming to Australia with nothing and working hard to succeed in business. These people from the ‘lazy Greece’ demonstrated the opposite virtues. How can the problem be the Greeks, if they seem to succeed everywhere (except when they are in Greece) on a widespread scale? Clearly there is something wrong in Greece, but from my perspective it is not the people.

All the Greek-Australians are grateful for one thing, the opportunity to have come to Australia. My opinions and thoughts of Greece, from an outside perspective, come from this.  My family knows that Greece, while beautiful and full of culture, is not a place where they would have been able to achieve similar prosperity. This view is dictated by their first hand experiences. After leaving Kastellorizo, many Greek-Australian families still held ownership of their property. However upon return (decades later), the property had been resold. Official documents of land ownership only created trouble for everyone involved. An article published by Reuters in 2013, showed the widespread nature of the issue, with implications of ‘land grabs’, by officials running the island. Many where forced to buy back their own land, and if they didn’t, it was gone forever. This meant giving up their last tangible link to Greece.

I have had little experience in dealing with business in Greece, and for the most part that seems to be a good thing. My only real contact with the Greek government, and the bureaucratic nightmare, comes from an attempt to receive recognition of Greek citizenship and thus receive a passport (providing the extremely valuable ability to work throughout Europe). The process proved difficult and unsuccessful. Even after gathering the instructed documents, the application seemed to disappear with no updates received, even after many years of waiting. This had not been the first time we had tried to obtain passports, but every time we end up stuck in a bureaucratic mess.  

From the large Greek-Australian community, it seems almost everyone has had difficult experiences in dealing with Greece. It must be clarified however, that these have generally involved the government, not local entrepreneurs and business owners. Even so, it is not surprising that most do not have the stomach to handle any permanent return to the country. Yet with all the issues, the Greek communities in Australia still are proud of their background and focus on the beauties of the country, not its flaws.

To summarize how I feel about Greece is difficult because while there is so much good, there are also a lot of problems. It makes me grateful to be born in Australia, a place where we are able to embrace the best parts of Greek culture, while avoiding the disastrous mismanagement attributed to the Greek politicians. In Australia, we complain about the politics, yet could never imagine a condition of widespread corruption and virtually no accountability. In this juxtaposition of the two nations it reveals how so many problems remain. Corruption seems to have become engrained in local society, politics that seem separated from the people and a breakdown of democracy in its place of birth.  While views on how to fix the crisis differ, it is clear that an issue of perception needs to be overcome. From abroad Greece is an attractive destination for tourists, but the perception of incompetence and excessive bureaucracy have hindered the ability for the country to be an important player on world markets. This means that not only does Greece need reform, but also this reform must perform an important role of reversing the damaging stereotypes applied to this country with so much potential.

*Mihali Stamatis comes from Perth, Australia and is of greek descent. He is a recent Finance and Economics graduate from the University of Western Australia, currently interning at GLM via a Mannkal student scholarship.

The article photo shows a rundown house in Kastellorizo, all that remains from his families' lives on the island.