It is impossible to say with any certainty how many Greeks have been forced by circumstance to leave the country since the start of the crisis. However, the simple fact is that however many there are, we need them back – the country needs them, and for all sorts of reasons.
We need people with an appetite for work, who are professional and can operate as part of a team within the context of a system. Greeks who have shed the false expectations of the past for a cushy job in the public sector or a life bankrolled by subsidies can play an important role in the country’s revival.
The sad truth, however, is that the way back home is strewn with obstacles. In a recent letter to Kathimerini, a young academic recounted how she expressed interest in a position here in Greece that she had seen advertised only to realize later down the line that it had been intended for someone specific from the outset and was not actually open to competition. The experience made her realize that the prevailing system of convenience only promotes mediocrity and protects its cronyistic ways.
Many young Greeks who left the country at the start of the crisis were enchanted by the prospect of a SYRIZA government because they were angry at the old political system and the way it went about its business. They truly believed that the leftist party would help Greece turn over a new leaf. Most have been sorely disappointed and are now skeptical of the country’s ability to change. Politics are becoming less and less interesting to them and they certainly can’t imagine themselves flying back to support a specific party – though it is extremely important that they do return if only to vote in the next general election.
The problem is that they are gradually putting down roots, adopting new mind-sets and having their own families away from Greece. The more time that goes by, the harder it is to return. And beyond any other obstacles that may stand in their way, the new diaspora Greeks see the overinflated taxes and social security contributions back home as being prohibitive.
That said, we should not abandon the idea that these people need to come back, that we need them to prop up our culture and values, and for practical reasons too. They can raise the bar at a time when the common denominator just keeps being pushed further down.