With motherland in crisis, Greek-Americans plan visits
Lawmakers in Greece this week have passed bills clearing the way for international financial aid crucial to solving the country’s debt crisis. As the Greek parliament has debated austerity measures this week, thousands of protesters have poured into central plazas across the country, sometimes clashing with police. In the United States, many Greek-Americans have watched the turmoil with dismay — wondering what, if anything, they can do to help.
Greek-Americans say they have all kinds of feelings about the financial crisis.
DAVROS: From resentment to sympathy to embarrassment to anger.
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.
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.
But some Greek-American leaders say they have a way for their community to help out.
CHIAGOURIS: Visit Greece.
George Chiagouris promotes Greek culture through a fraternal group called the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association.
CHIAGOURIS: That is the one way that we can help — by showing [up] 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.
Chiagouris and his wife have tickets to Greece for next month. And, in an enclave of Chicago restaurants and bars known as Greektown, many others say they’re planning trips.
SKOUFIS: My name is Vasilios Skoufis. And I’m working at the Greek Islands restaurant as a maître d'. I’m supporting the country also. 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.
Greece’s 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. And Maria Sklavos is not convinced so many Americans will flock to Greece. She manages Pegasus Restaurant in Greektown.
SKLAVOS: People here that do have money, I think they do travel and they try to find the time to travel to Greece every year. Most of them do have houses. They have property. I don’t think spending money on vacation is going to help the economy of Greece. Financial crisis or not, they’re already going to go.
Davros, the author, points to ongoing unrest in the country.
DAVROS: There are 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.
Tourists willing to brave any protest 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.