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Kaos: Ett grekiskt krislexikon Alexandra Pascalidou, Kaos: Ett grekiskt krislexikon (Chaos: A Greek Crisis Lexicon)

Atlas,  2013.

Reviewed by Darcy Hurford in SBR 2014:1

Review Section: Non-Fiction

Greek has given us many words:  democracy, philosophy, logic and poetry,  for example. It is almost a cliché. Since  the collapse of the country’s economy  however, a newer, unhappier vocabulary  has sprung up associated with Greece:  words like troika, corruption, austerity.  Following the story is not always easy.  This makes Kaos all the more valuable  in bringing home the human cost of  the Greek crisis to a Swedish-speaking  readership. Alexandra Pascalidou, a  Swedish-Greek journalist, has named  each chapter after a Greek loanword.  As well as neatly subverting the cliché,  this approach turns what in lesser  hands could have felt like a compilation  of newspaper columns into a cohesive  narrative.

Simultaneously an insider and an  outsider, Pascalidou is excellently suited  to the task: of Greek parentage, she  worked in Greek media around the time  of the Athens Olympics and has a wide  range of contacts. At the same time, her  own family background and upbringing  in Sweden makes her well placed to  understand outsiders like the Roma  and immigrant workers she interviews.  She moves effortlessly from poolside  conversations with wealthy wives  complaining about maids (‘Cosmopolite’)  to tense interviews with Golden Dawn  members (‘Xenophobia’). 

Kaos offers a multi-faceted picture of  life in Greece today, but several themes  emerge. One is that many elements  of Greek society were untouched by  the boom years; for Roma, immigrants  and victims of trafficking and domestic  violence, the crisis has made an already  bad situation worse, reducing job  opportunities and support funding while  increasing the hostility of ethnic Greeks. 

Another is the long-term impact of  the crisis: as well as speaking to thirtysomethings who have been forced to  move back in with their parents, unable  to start families of their own, and visiting  primary schools where the children have  nothing to eat, Pascalidou also visits an  SOS Children’s Village. Before the crisis,  children ended up there because of  abuse. Nowadays, they are left there by  parents who cannot afford to feed them.  Untold damage is being done to the next  generation.

Pascalidou dispels the myth that the  crisis is the Greeks’ own fault. While  not afraid to draw attention to the  dynasties dominating Greek politics  or public sector corruption, she also  neatly dissects prejudices about ‘the  insufferable laziness and lack of work  ethic of the Zorba-dancing and ouzodrinking Greeks’, particularly in the  ‘Mythology’ chapter. In fact, Greeks  work longer than the European average,  without the perks Scandinavians take for  granted – no half-hour coffee breaks, no  five weeks’ annual leave, no year-long  parental leave. Pascalidou also makes  a point which should not be forgotten,  namely that the Greek state is indebted,  not the Greeks themselves and banks  elsewhere in Europe are doing nicely out  of it.

Finally, Kaos makes it clear that the  crisis in Greece is a European issue. If  we care about democracy and solidarity,  we should care about what happens in  Greece.

Other reviews by Darcy Hurford

Other reviews in SBR 2014:1

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