A Modern Greek Tragedy: My Fellow Jobless Youth

More than 61% of Greeks aged 25 or younger are unemployed amid the country's economic crisis. They are educated and demoralized, writes one young woman lucky enough to have work.

A homeless man in Athens
A homeless man in Athens
*Theodora Matziropoulou

THESSALONIKI — It’s Saturday evening in Thessaloniki, and near my apartment building I’m approached by a young man I suspect is a drug addict. He asks me for money.

I stick my hands in my jacket pockets hoping to find some spare coins and pull my bag tighter around me. “Hey, need some help?” he says jokingly. I smile at him and keep searching my pockets, but loose change is somehow never around when you need it.

“It’s really shameful to ask a young person for money, particularly someone younger than I am,” he says. “I don’t have a problem with it when people are older, but you’re around my age.”

I am 25. He keeps up the friendly chatter and I become less tense, but I always feel pressure in such situations because I don’t know if some harm is going to come my way or not.

It’s terrible,” the young man continues. “A few years ago you could at least find some kind of job, and earn minimum wage for a day’s work. But now...” He pauses briefly. “It’s Saturday night, and I should be asking you out for a drink, but instead I’m begging money off you.”

Finally I dig up a 2 euro coin. “Here, please,” I say, “and have a nice evening. Who knows, maybe things will change. One of these Saturday nights you’ll be enjoying that drink with a date.” He laughs and moves on.

According to the latest Eurostat figures, Greece has the highest unemployment rate (28%) of all 28 EU member states, as well as the highest number of unemployed people under 25 (61.4%). In absolute numbers, this means that of 1.3 million unemployed people in Greece in the fall of 2013, 174,000 young people were looking for jobs.

I recently followed a discussion on Facebook about job applications and what young people should say about their motivation when answering the question, “Why do you want to work for us?” Somebody suggested, “Because through work I want to get my self-esteem back.” Others suggested replying that they wanted the job to gain experience.

The under-30 working minority

So how are things with the working minority? Meeting friends and exchanging news is always fun, but asking about what they’re doing and how things are going are a bit more perilous these days.

I recently met up with a friend I attended university with and who I hadn’t seen in a year. She had completed her masters degree during that time, and had moved back in with her parents. Going back to live with mom and dad is like a virus in Greece. Young adults are back in the rooms they occupied as kids, sitting on the bed where they used to dream of being grown up, moving out, being independent, and starting a new life.

Like thousands of other young Greeks, my unemployed friend had signed up with Greece’s employment organization OAED. She told me that she started a new job in September. “We were told we would be paid at some point,” she said. But no. She received no money.

“I go crazy when I watch the news,” another friend told me. “It is unbelievable that politicians who decided that we should work pseudo-jobs for five months for no pay to lower unemployment rates are still occupying their positions.” She was referring to the measures applied by the OAED. “And we’re thankful for this! ... But we don’t even have the prospect of regular job and a good life.”

Despite all this, things are going better for Greece. The budget showed a surplus, and this had parliament members cheering. Then again, they don’t seem to care that Greek homes are cold because nobody can afford the exorbitant price of heating fuel.

Some Greeks have chosen very uncertain survival strategies. In December, I read the dreadful news of a teenage boy found dead with his mother. They had been asphyxiated by the charcoal they were using to heat their apartment. Tragically, they’re not the only ones, but after a while the media stop reporting the incidents. What’s most wretched is getting so thoroughly accustomed to the wretchedness.

But spring is approaching. Elections for the European Parliament will be taking place. Unfortunately, I doubt that the anger of young Greeks will translate into more of them voting. According to Eurobarometer data, 46% of Greeks do not vote. Two-thirds of these non-voters say they avoid the polls because it wouldn’t change anything, and that as an EU institution the European Parliament doesn’t deal with their problems anyway.

To be honest, I completely understand them. Firstly, we have demonized the EU. We keep waiting for change that never happens, although we’re working hard for it. But there is also the lack of solidarity. People who claim Greeks are corrupt and lazy are immoral because they are discriminating against a whole nation and don’t know the facts. Present figures indicate that the Greeks work considerably longer hours than other Europeans.

Instead we should put things in context. True, some chasms are huge, but we should become fully aware of them and imagine ourselves in the shoes of the young people mentioned above. In their situation, would you want to go and vote? And if you did, who or what would you vote for?

*Theodora Matziropoulou has a degree in Slavic and Oriental studies and studied international relations and anthropology at the University of Sussex in the UK.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
food / travel

The True Horrors Behind 7 Haunted Locations Around The World

With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.

Inside Poveglia Island's abandoned asylum

Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson

When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.

And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.

Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan

photo of  ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola,

The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan

Dai He/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire

According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.

In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.

The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.

Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.

photo of rocks and trees in Gettysburg

View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA


Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!

The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.

Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.

Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain

photo of sunset of old Belchite

Old Belchite, Spain

Belchite Town Council

Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…

That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.

Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.

If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.

Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan

photo of Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) i

Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Chris Bradley/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire

The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.

The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.

Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."

Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.

Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden

a photo of The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden


After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.

Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia

a photo of ort Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Flickr/Eli Duke

During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.

Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.

Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy

a photo of Poveglia Island, Italy

Poveglia Island, Italy

Mirco Toniolo/ROPI via ZUMA Press

Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).

During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.

In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.

Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!