What Greek Austerity Looks Like

Half-Greek and half-Indonesian, photojournalist Eirini Vourloumis moved back to her hometown of Athens, Greece, in 2010 to cover the economic crisis. She found her country unrecognizable.

  • Hide caption
    Stella Trivizaki stands near an abandoned locker at Asklypeio Public Hospital in Athens. This nurse's area was scheduled for renovation four years ago.
    Courtesy of Eirini Vourloumis
  • Hide caption
    Shoes are abandoned on top of lockers at Asklypeio Public Hospital.
    Courtesy of Eirini Vourloumis
  • Hide caption
    Dock workers stand in line outside union offices in Perama to be called for work. Some say they have worked only a couple months in the past two years.
    Courtesy of Eirini Vourloumis
  • Hide caption
    Most workers wait all day in cafeterias throughout the dock area. A few workers have committed suicide after losing their jobs and homes.
    Courtesy of Eirini Vourloumis
  • Hide caption
    A woman fishes off the Perama coast. The ships behind her, waiting for repair, have been abandoned.
    Courtesy of Eirini Vourloumis
  • Hide caption
    An icon on the helm of a boat being repaired.
    Courtesy of Eirini Vourloumis
  • Hide caption
    A man waits at a window at Athens' central tax office, which is filled with shopping carts full of tax papers left to be filed.
    Courtesy of Eirini Vourloumis
  • Hide caption
    The tax archives at the central tax office of the Piraeus district in Athens.
    Courtesy of Eirini Vourloumis
  • Hide caption
    A kiosk owner wears a gas mask during anti-austerity protests outside parliament in Athens last June.
    Courtesy of Eirini Vourloumis
  • Hide caption
    A woman recuperates in Athens' Syntagma Square after being gassed during a demonstration against austerity measures last summer.
    Courtesy of Eirini Vourloumis
  • Hide caption
    Milk and bread sit on a table at the Athenian Municipal Solidarity Center where poor families and the homeless are fed.
    Courtesy of Eirini Vourloumis
  • Hide caption
    People line up for food at the Athenian Municipal Solidarity Center, which provides three daily meals for the homeless. The face of homelessness has changed in Greece, as white-collar workers have increasingly lost their jobs and require psychological support, food and shelter.
    Courtesy of Eirini Vourloumis
  • Hide caption
    A protester holds up a Greek flag in front of the parliament building during anti-austerity demonstrations in Athens last summer.
    Courtesy of Eirini Vourloumis

1 of 13

View slideshow i

For one thing, she was struck by the surge of immigrants.

"When I was growing up it was very rare to see a non-Greek anywhere," she says.

Once-docile areas in Athens now seethe with crime, yet Vourloumis says the most dramatic shift for Greeks has been psychological.

"The mood of the people is becoming increasingly heavy," Vourloumis says. "I feel like I am living in a society which is depressed and isolated."

Vourloumis moved to New York from Greece in 2000 with an old Minolta camera given to her by her father. The lens guided her through the neighborhoods of the city while she worked on a degree. After Sept. 11, the camera became her voice.

For years, she photographed for local newspapers and worked on stories focusing on social issues. She documented the Indonesian Muslim community in New York – her mother's culture, which had seemed so foreign growing up in Greece.

Then came the global economic crisis, and headlines from Europe began calling her home.

By the time she came back to Athens, Greece's own economic crisis had been unfolding for more than a year. Through news assignments and personal work, Vourloumis has been busy documenting the impact of the austerity measures imposed by Europe and the IMF as a condition of Greece's bailout.

Her subject matter ranges from riots to homelessness, the plight of civil servants to the Perama repair docks. Once known as the "Wall Street of Greece's ship repair industry," the docks are now dotted with abandoned ships and out-of-work men.

The view of Perama, a port city and one of the poorest areas near Athens, Greece. The city has been one of the hardest-hit during the economic crisis.

The view of Perama, a port city and one of the poorest areas near Athens, Greece. The city has been one of the hardest-hit during the economic crisis. Eirini Vourloumis hide caption

itoggle caption Eirini Vourloumis

Vourloumis' images offer an intimate view into to the economic crisis: A nurse standing in an empty locker room; a young woman recovering from a tear-gassing; dock workers desperate to get a days work. All are vignettes of a country mired in uncertainty and dire economic times. For Vourloumis, the news story has become personal.

"We feel trapped," she says, "and the worst thing is waiting for [an] event to unfold blindly without us having any control of what is to happen." The austerity measures threaten more than the livelihood of the Greek people, she says, it's affecting their sense of national identity, one that is mired in pride.

Athens is a different city, Vourloumis says, and it's getting worse – even unstable. She believes it will take at least a generation to mend what she calls "the dysfunction of the Greek system."

With so many people out of work and more austerity measures looming, bad news has kept Greece in the headlines — and Vourloumis employed. "It is a double-edged sword," she says. "I do sometimes feel uncomfortable."

"But that is why it is my responsibility to cover this story with as much sensitivity and respect as possible."

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.