Greek Americans React To Turmoil Abroad

fromWBEZ

In Greece Thursday, lawmakers passed a bill clearing the way for international financial aid that is crucial to solving the country's debt crisis. As the country's Parliament debated austerity measures this week, thousands of Greek protesters took to the streets — sometimes clashing with police. In Chicago, Greek Americans and immigrants watch the turmoil in their home country with dismay.

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In Greece today, lawmakers passed a bill clearing the way for international financial aid that's crucial for solving the country's debt crisis. As the country's parliament debated austerity measures this week, thousands of Greek protesters took to the streets, sometimes clashing with police.

Here in the U.S., many Greek-Americans watched the turmoil with dismay.

Chip Mitchell, of member station WBEZ, visited a Greek community in Chicago. He sent this report.

CHIP MITCHELL: Greek-Americans say they have all kinds of feelings about the financial crisis.

Mr. MICHAEL DAVROS (Author, "Greeks in Chicago"): From resentment to sympathy to embarrassment to anger.

MITCHELL: Michael Davros is the author of a book called "Greeks in Chicago." This area is home to as many as 200,000 people of Greek descent.

Mr. DAVROS: I think that the Greek problem is so monumental that it's very difficult for any one person to wrap their minds around it.

MITCHELL: But some Greek-American leaders say they have a way for their community to help out.

Mr. GEORGE CHEGOROUS (American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association): Visit Greece.

MITCHELL: George Chegorous promotes Greek culture through a fraternal group called the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association.

Mr. CHEGOROUS: That is the one way that we can help: by showing there, by spending our money and have some fun, visit the sites, visit the Acropolis, visit all the things that the Greeks have given us for 2,500 years.

MITCHELL: Chegorous and his wife have tickets to Greece for next month.

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MITCHELL: And in an enclave of Chicago restaurants and bars known as Greektown, many others say they're planning trips.

Mr. VASILUS RUFUS(ph): My name is Vasilus Rufus, and I'm working at the Greek Islands Restaurant as a maitre d'. I'm supporting the country also. You know, I'm leaving the 28th of August. I'm going to go down there. I'm going to spend some money. I'm going to bring some money into the country.

MITCHELL: Greece's top tourism chief in the United States says his country expects a 10 percent boost in income from American visitors this year. That's after a slump during the recession. It will take a lot more than tourism to deal with Greece's debt. The government is planning big spending cuts, tax hikes and sales of state assets.

Ms. MARIA SKLAVOS(ph)(Manager, Pegasus Restaurant and Taverna): Kalinihta, good night.

MITCHELL: And Maria Sklavos is not convinced so many Americans will flock to Greece. She manages Pegasus Restaurant in Greektown.

Ms. SKLAVOS: People here that do have enough money, I think they do travel, and they try and find the time to travel to Greece every year. And most of them do have houses. They have property. I don't think they're really going to - spending money on vacation is going to help the economy of Greece. Financial crisis or not, they're already going to go.

MITCHELL: Davros, the author, points to ongoing unrest in the country.

Mr. DAVROS: They're not going to be too many people traveling to Greece if they see Athens going up in smoke. Riots have a deleterious effect on tourism. It's just kind of natural.

MITCHELL: Tourists willing to brave any protests could face other issues, including work stoppages. Visitors this week have had to contend with a general strike honored by everyone from ferry drivers to air traffic controllers.

For NPR News, I'm Chip Mitchell in Chicago.

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