We have been hearing for the past three years about the Great Greek Crisis and how it has uprooted many young professionals and even entire families in search of work and career opportunities in other countries. For this month’s issue spotlight at www.greekamericangirl.com, we will be looking at the waves of immigration to and from Greece and the New Diaspora. Why have Hellenes opted to leave Greece while others have decided to move back?
According to a study published in The Modern Greek Language Journal, immigration from Greece to the US started in earnest in the late 1880s spurred by the need for industrial workers and railroad workers. The influx of Greeks continued to rise after the First World War and successively with the Second. It wasn’t until the 80s t hat immigration slowed due in part to the improvement of living standards in Greece. It reached a trickle in the 90s prompting the noted sociologist Theodore Souloutas to say that immigration from Greece would halt and mark an end to the wave of new Greek blood into the US. According to recent estimates, there are approximately 4 million Greeks that comprise the Diaspora, close to 50% of the mainland population. However, since the Eurozone crisis, Greek immigration is on the rise. Just a quick stroll through the streets of “Little Greece” here in Astoria and you will note the niceties of the “pure Greek” accent in couples holding hands or young beauty queens with perfect lipstick to match their jeans. The Immigration Advocacy Services in Astoria, a nonprofit organization that helps newcomers navigate residency paperwork, staff have observed a 50% rise in Greek clients in just the past year. So pronounced is the exodus that web-based documentaries such as NewDiaspora.com have sprung up to gather the stories of those ousted by the Crisis. A startling undercurrent of transmigration has occurred with the Greeks on the mainland themselves emigrating to other parts of Greece which are more rural and less expensive as a result.
Concurrently, and quite counterintuitively, a reverse migration phenomenon has taken place. A current study, entitled Cultural Geographies of Counter-Diasporic Migration: The Second Generation Returns ‘Home’ and spearheaded by the University of Sussex School of Migration Studies, aims to trace this growing trend. There appears to be evidence of a steady stream of second generation Greeks opting to return to the motherland. As the study notes, “demographic data from various parts of the world with a history of postwar mass emigration (such as Greece and Cyprus) show that second-generation return is a growing phenomenon.” In 2011, the relative share of returning nationals within the total number of immigrants was 54.5% according to Eurostat, a data gathering arm which collects info by the national statistical authorities of the EU Member States. The population of Greece itself was calculated as 10,815,197 in the 2011 census.
But some who have returned have deep regrets about their move. Take Filippos Katampouris, as interviewed in a recent Radio 4 segment on the BBC. With a degree from a Greek university and a Masters in technology management from the UK, he returned to Athens as a marketing researcher. But when the crisis hit he was reduced to working in the fish market alongside his father just to make ends meet. A survey conducted by Focus Bari found that seventy-six percent of the 444 interviewed emigration is the best way to cope with the country’s financial crisis while almost seven out of 10 of those polled said they have been significantly affected by the crisis. Only 14 percent of those surveyed said they stay in Greece because they take the view that they can help improve the situation.
HOWEVER, even though many are scrambling to leave Greece for better prospects abroad, there are those who have returned and made a life for themselves there somewhat happily. Take Alexia Kostopolou, a lawyer centered in the university section of Athens. She states, “I personally wanted to come back to Greece because I have all my family here and also I love the way of life here. I was in the US 13 years before I came back. I loved the US and the years that I spent there but it was time to move on for me. I am not regretting my choice since at that point it seemed the best and I love my life here, personally and professionally.” Her friend a pharmacist, Mario, has been back for five years coinciding with the start of the crisis. He claims the lure is the quality of life one can receive in Greece as opposed to the more hectic work-oriented countries. He has never regretted his choice, but has grown better at managing his money as he has cut costs considerably and is not spending as much money as he was used to in the UK.
In fact, most young professionals I interviewed would have chosen NOT to move from Greece had it not been for the crisis. Antoinette Cocorinos, a 30-year-old with advanced marketing degrees in strategy management, was forced to move twice, once from Greece and another from Brussels, the city she was born and raised in, due to the crisis. But given an option, she would have chosen to remain in Greece. But given that her job and her fiancé were located in the US, she moved.
The Greeks have had a long history of migration and are rather a restless lot. While true there is an exodus of young professionals to other shores, many still choose to stay and be part of the solution to the crisis. Whether coming or going, however, Greeks will survive and most likely thrive like they have done for thousands of years on any soil.