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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 1 April 2017
2 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 1 APRIL 2017 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM COMMENT People like us Notes on the newmigrant experience NIKOS FOTAKIS Bruce Springsteen narrates a great story in his recent memoir Born to Run, describing how his parents and younger sister moved from New Jersey to California in 1969, leaving him behind, at nineteen, to go on and become, Bruce Springsteen, actually. Like East Coast Okies, Springsteen writes, they pointed their 1960s Rambler - a big, heavy, reliable vehicle - to the west and drove all the way up to Sausalito, a small arty and expensive town near San Fransis- co. Not the right place for them, as they instantly realised. So they pulled into the nearest gas station, and Springsteen's mother, with the down-to-earth straightforwardness of a woman who does not play with life, asked the attendant: "Where do people like us live?" I asked the exact same question, when I did a similar journey. Not to the west, but to the southeast. Not on a Rambler, but on a Boeing 777. Not 4,000 but 15,000 kilometres away. From Athens to Melbourne. I asked the question in the most wrong place possible: Oakleigh: this small patch of a Greek rural town that seems to have been removed from its original place and pasted upon Melbourne suburbia. All around, the middle class Victorian dream lives on in small, identical houses with green front yards and wellmanicured nature strips, porches, fences, parks, and quietude. And in the middle: loud Greek noise, bouzoukia of terrible quality, ciggies, souvas, gyros, frothy frappe coffee, feta, olives, tarama salad. "Where do people like us live?". Good question. But to anNEOS KOSMOS Published since 1957 Published by Ethnic Publications Pty Ltd (ABN: 13005 255 087) of 169 Burwood Rd, Hawthorn, Victoria 3122. Printed by ACM Printing, 126 Fairbank Road, Clayton South 3168. No. 5866 Contacts Reception Phone: (03) 9482 4433 Fax: (03) 9482 2962 Email: email@example.com Advertising Phone: (03) 9482 4433 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: www.neoskosmos.com letters Email: email@example.com NEOS KOSMOS - English Publisher: Editor-in-chief: Editorial director: Journalists: Address: Level 1, 169 Burwood Road, Hawthorn, Victoria 3122 Subscriptions Phone: (03) 9482 4433 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Fax: (03) 9482 2962 Letters should not be more than 200 words and they must indicate your full name, address and a day time telephone number for verification. By submitting your letter to us for publication you agree that we may edit the letter for legal, space or other reasons and may, after the publication in the paper, republish it on the internet or in other media. Christopher Gogos Sotiris Hatzimanolis Nelly Skoufatoglou Anastasia Tsirtsakis, Nikos Fotakis Contributors: Dean Kalimniou, Theodora Maios, Jim Claven, George Stogiannou, Zoe George, Gerry Georgatos, Eugenia Pavlopoulou, Melina Mallos, Alexander Billinis Proofreader: Allyson Griffith Graphic design: Peter Kelidis, Nicole Denton Mail: PO Box 6068 Hawthorn West, Victoria 3122 swer that, you have to pose another question first. Who are we? For statistics, we're the 247,000 - give or take - who have fled Greece since the global financial crisis (GFC) hit, in 2008, but mostly over the past four or five years. For Greece, we're the 'brain drain'. For the Australian state, we're some more nuts and bolts in its welloiled machine. For the few sensitive Australians, we're some people worthy of their sympathy, coming from this exotic default country. For a few not so sensitive Greek Australians we’re the lazy Greeks who destroyed the country, because 'we did not work and did not pay taxes' (as the persistent myth has it) and came here to spoil their party. We're all this and nothing like that. During the past couple of years, I've met a few people like me: newcomers. One was previously a construction worker in Greece, he does the same here, honouring a day's wage. Another was a civil engineer in Greece, he's a cleaner now, sometimes he's ashamed, but he's mostly happy that he can support his family away from Greece’s toxic environment. The other was a multinational executive in Greece who found a job in another multinational here, enjoying a high quality of life, guiltfree. We are all asking the same questions: “Who are we? Where do we belong? Where do people like us live?” We're nothing special. We're just the pre-eminent, most symbolic example of an identity crisis that we don't talk about, that came as an aftershock of the crisis - and it is not only Greek. If the GFC showed anything, this was the cracks in a system that we took for granted - as we took our position in it. Then came the collapse of the investment banks; the burst of the housing bubble; the golden boys emptying their tower offices and carrying their stuff in cardboard boxes; 'Occupy Wall Street'; 'Feel the Bern'; the indignant movement in Syntagma Square; Brexit; Trumpism; SYRIZA swiftly moving to fill the void left by PASOK; the shrinking of the middle class. Particularly the shrinking of the middle class. In Greece, this happened - it is still happening - in a most violent way, but it is slowly, steadily the case throughout the world: in Germany, in the US, in Australia, everywhere. The lower and middle classes are expected now to support their way of life with lower earnings, they carry the weight of taxation, they see the social infrastructure collapse, they allow for the welfare state to be dismantled, for the social fabric to be torn, they are pressured downwards, they become 'working-class-with-property-and-white-collar-jobs'. At the same time, at the top of the pyramid the few rich ones are constantly becoming fewer and richer. This is not Noam Chomsky making the claim, nor Naomi Klein, Slavoj Zizek, Thomas Piketty; it is the International Monetary Fund raising the issue in the 2015 paper ‘Causes and Consequences of Income Inequality : A Global Perspective’. In this environment, it is no wonder that we are looking at each other and cannot remember who we used to be. In a way reality threw us in the deep end without a life raft. Because while the class system proves to be as strong as ever - and it does so with a certain amount of cruelty - the idea of class consciousness is dismissed as antiquated. If anyone ignores the hardcore, arteriosclerotic communists - something not hard to do, the mainstream public sphere has successfully done that for decades now, since the 'end of history' days, when the Berlin Wall was torn down and the Soviet Union collapse - there's no mention of social class struggle in public discourse. Especially during the last few years, the devaluation of political debate and the system it stems from, combined with the particular circumstances of the Greek crisis, has allowed for the dogma 'they're all the same' to prevail, dismissing not only the distinction between Right and Left, but the idea of a class system in itself.
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