By Irene Chapple
- Maria Papanagiotaki and Aristotle Skalizos are in love, but they disagree over whether to stay in Greece or leave
- The couple belong to a generation devastated by the country’s economic crisis
- Others who have left Greece come back to contribute to the recovery of their homeland
- The country’s young face such dilemmas even as politicians try and renegotiate the bailout package
Athens (CNN) – Wandering through central Athens’ Syntagma Square, Maria Papanagiotaki and Aristotle Skalizos stop to perch on a sun-soaked bench as they consider their future.
The couple, who have been dating for two-and-a-half years, belong to Greece’s post-junta generation, growing up as the country emerged into its modern democracy.
As Greece’s turbulent history faded into its past, the country’s political landscape remained fraught with nepotism and mismanagement.
Read more: Is Greek democracy regressing?
But the boom times had begun. Greece entered the euro in 2001, and ex-pat money flooded back into the country.
It hosted the Olympic Games in 2004, swelling the country with pride.
It was time to feed my heart, not my mind
But by 2009 — when the country admitted its deficit was out of control — the financial mirage evaporated. Maria, 34, and 25-year old Aristotle’s generation was caught in the fallout.
The couple belong to a young professional class that will help shape their country’s future. Together, they must decide if they are willing to live through — and help alleviate — Greece’s pain.
Their views differ dramatically, and it weighs on their relationship.
A few meters away from where Maria, an electronic mobile technician, and Aristotle, an electronics tester, chat, a man stumbles to his knees, dropping a begging cup. Grasping for it as it rolls away, he ends up splayed on the ground.
It’s a disturbing sight, but one which has become increasingly common in Athens since austerity measures began to bite.
Greece’s poverty, suicide and crime rates have increased alongside unemployment and emigration.
It is this environment Maria wants to leave. She dreams of life outside of Greece, in the UK or the U.S., where she has relatives. “I have to go,” she says. “I have to leave from here.”
Aristotle wants to remain. “I want to stay and fight,” he says. “I don’t want to abandon my country.”
His reasoning is clear: “I love my country.”