Reviewed by Darcy Hurford in SBR 2014:1
Review Section: Non-Fiction
Greek has given us many words: democracy, philosophy, logic and poetry, for example. It is almost a cliché. Since the collapse of the country’s economy however, a newer, unhappier vocabulary has sprung up associated with Greece: words like troika, corruption, austerity. Following the story is not always easy. This makes Kaos all the more valuable in bringing home the human cost of the Greek crisis to a Swedish-speaking readership. Alexandra Pascalidou, a Swedish-Greek journalist, has named each chapter after a Greek loanword. As well as neatly subverting the cliché, this approach turns what in lesser hands could have felt like a compilation of newspaper columns into a cohesive narrative.
Simultaneously an insider and an outsider, Pascalidou is excellently suited to the task: of Greek parentage, she worked in Greek media around the time of the Athens Olympics and has a wide range of contacts. At the same time, her own family background and upbringing in Sweden makes her well placed to understand outsiders like the Roma and immigrant workers she interviews. She moves effortlessly from poolside conversations with wealthy wives complaining about maids (‘Cosmopolite’) to tense interviews with Golden Dawn members (‘Xenophobia’).
Kaos offers a multi-faceted picture of life in Greece today, but several themes emerge. One is that many elements of Greek society were untouched by the boom years; for Roma, immigrants and victims of trafficking and domestic violence, the crisis has made an already bad situation worse, reducing job opportunities and support funding while increasing the hostility of ethnic Greeks.
Another is the long-term impact of the crisis: as well as speaking to thirtysomethings who have been forced to move back in with their parents, unable to start families of their own, and visiting primary schools where the children have nothing to eat, Pascalidou also visits an SOS Children’s Village. Before the crisis, children ended up there because of abuse. Nowadays, they are left there by parents who cannot afford to feed them. Untold damage is being done to the next generation.
Pascalidou dispels the myth that the crisis is the Greeks’ own fault. While not afraid to draw attention to the dynasties dominating Greek politics or public sector corruption, she also neatly dissects prejudices about ‘the insufferable laziness and lack of work ethic of the Zorba-dancing and ouzodrinking Greeks’, particularly in the ‘Mythology’ chapter. In fact, Greeks work longer than the European average, without the perks Scandinavians take for granted – no half-hour coffee breaks, no five weeks’ annual leave, no year-long parental leave. Pascalidou also makes a point which should not be forgotten, namely that the Greek state is indebted, not the Greeks themselves and banks elsewhere in Europe are doing nicely out of it.
Finally, Kaos makes it clear that the crisis in Greece is a European issue. If we care about democracy and solidarity, we should care about what happens in Greece.