CRISIS IN GREECE

A Society Collapses

By Melanie Muehl

Georg Pieper had no illusions when he travelled to Greece. What the trauma-therapist saw surpassed his worst fears. Greek society explodes under the pressure of the crisis.

[This article published 12/15/2012 is translated from the German on the Internet, link to www.faz.net.]

Traumas are Georg Pieper's business. Whenever a catastrophe erupted over Germany in the last decades, the traumatologist was there, with the Erfurt running amok, the mining disaster in Borkin or the ICE-disaster in Eschede. After the attacks in Oslo and Utoya, Pieper journeyed to Norway and looked after colleagues there. Georg Pieper knows how to judge the dimensions of a catastrophe.

In October 2012, Pieper spent several days in Athens where he trained psychologists, psychiatrists and doctors in trauma therapy free of charge. As we all know, the country is in crisis. Pieper thought he was prepared when he set out. However the reality surpassed his darkest expectations.

DEFENSE MECHANISM OF POLITICIANS

For German news consumers, the crisis is very far away, no more than a distant threat somewhere on the horizon. The crisis is revealed in terms like bailout-umbrellas, debt cut, holes of billions, mismanagement, Troika, relief packages, debt repurchases or bank bailouts without understanding what all these words really mean. Instead of understanding the global connections, we see Angela Merkel in Berlin, Brussels or wherever, looking serious, climbing out of black limousines, on the way to the next summit where the rescue of Greece and Europe should be pushed forward a little.

We do not learn the truth about Greece, Germany or Europe. Obviously no one dares tell it to us. Pieper describes what happens before our eyes, a "gigantic repression work." The defense mechanism of politicians functions outstandingly.

DOUBLE SUICIDE RATE

Georg Pieper does not incline to repression. In October 2012, Greece appeared this way to him: women in advanced stages of pregnancy rushing and begging from hospital to hospital because they didn't have enough money for health insurance and no one would help them, bring their children to the world. People - youths, seniors and children - who counted themselves middle class a short time ago, collect fruit- and vegetable leftovers in an Athens suburb while the market stalls are taken down... An old man tells a reporter he cannot afford the medicines against heart trouble. Like the pensions of many others, his pension was cut in half. He worked for more than forty years and thought he did everything right. Now he cannot understand the world any more. Whoever enters a hospital must bring along his or her own sheets and food. Doctors, nurses and orderlies unpaid for months clean the toilets since the cleaning personnel were dismissed. Disposable gloves and catheters are lacking. In view of the partly disastrous hygienic conditions, the European Union warns of the danger of a spread of infectious diseases.

Whole residential blocks are cut off from the oil supply for financial reasons. People heat their apartments with little ovens so they don't have to sit around freezing in the winter. Cutting down wood for that is illegal. In the spring of 2012, a seventy-six year old man shot himself before the parliament in Athens. Just before his act, he cried out: "so I don't leave behind any debts to my children." The suicide rate has doubled in the past three years.

THE DEPRESSION OF MEN

A trauma is an event that shakes the experiential world of individuals to its very foundations. What is experienced is so overpowering that it drags the affected into a whirlpool of absolute helplessness. Nothing is what it once was; nothing will ever be the same again. Only a cynic still speaks of social descent in Greece. It is much more than that. A society collapses. We experience a collective traumatization.

"The crisis of men strikes very hard," Pieper says. As everybody knows, men draw their identity from work and from their market value much more intensely than women. But the market value of most sinks continuously. Work is no longer paid at the same level as in the past. Often work is completely cancelled without any prospect for a new job. Men fall into a deep hole. This is also an attack on their manliness. Mental sicknesses like depressions or anxiety disorders spread like epidemics in Greece. Since only a few can afford therapeutic help, the sick as a rule remain untreated. No one should be surprised that three-quarters of all suicides are committed by men.

At the moment Greek women represent the strong gender. They join their occupational activity with pragmatism more than with pride and therefore fall less deeply than men. Their flexible understanding of roles is the best protection against the crisis though it is not enough to defeat it.

BELLS OF SOLIDARITY

One does not have to be a pessimist or expert to imagine what this means for the social relations of people and for the cohesion of Greek society. The rage over a corrupt perverted system and international politics whose money infusions flow in bailing out banks but not people is tremendous and grows inexorably. Men bring their rage into their families and the sons act it out vicariously in the streets. The number of violent bands attacking minorities increases.

In November 2012 America issued a travel warning for Greece. Persons with a dark complexion are now especially endangered. This is shocking in a country like Greece that counts hospitality toward foreigners as its self-image or national identity, Pieper says. In polls the radical Chrysi Augi is already at twelve percent, the third-strongest force in the country. Georg Pieper's new book from Knaus publishers is titled "Surviving or Failing. The Art of Withstanding Crises and Growing." This is a positive and impressive book that shows the astonishing survival skills of individuals. The most devastating stroke of fate need not inevitably force one to one's knees since everyone is outfitted with a tremendous will to survive. That is the good news.

The bad news is that a functioning society is needed for survival, a cushioning net. The Utoya example demonstrates the energy of a functioning society. All Norway helped the stricken after the massacre. It was as though someone rang a bell of solidarity over the country.

In Greece, the functioning society was undermined until it finally collapsed like a house rotten to the core. The crisis has destroyed the social state. "A person becomes a kind of predatory wild animal," Pieper says, "in dramatic situations as now seen in Greece. He only sees himself and his own survival." Sheer necessity drives him to folly and this folly in the worst case means criminality. Egoism replaces solidarity.

As it does every year, Transparency International recently published a Corruption Index. That Greece has a great problem with corruption is not new. The recent report shows how massive corruption really is. Greece has the lowest rating within the European Union and is comparable to Columbia or Djibouti regarding corruption. Such news is sheer poison.

Georg Pieper says: "I ask myself how much this society can endure before it explodes." Greece may soon face a civil war. It only seems to be a question of time until the collective despair of people erupts in violence and spreads over the country. We will all be affected by that.

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