Skip to content
Subscriber Only

In Athens, Fear, Loathing, and Plenty of Parking

As prospects dim, professionals look for a way out
The Parthenon is seen beneath a European Union flag on the Acropolis of Athens
The Parthenon is seen beneath a European Union flag on the Acropolis of AthensPhotograph by Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

In Greece, the lighting of the Olympic torch is normally a moment in the sun, a reminder of the country’s contributions to Western civilization. As the torch began its journey from Athens to London, this year’s host city, dark rain clouds cast a pall over the proceedings. Many Greeks no doubt watched the torch’s departure and wondered if they shouldn’t follow.

Even when the sun breaks through in Athens these days, it shines on sparsely attended cafés, on beggars lying on sidewalks, and on a tourism industry that’s all but collapsed. So many locals have traded in their cars for bikes that it’s disturbingly easy to find a parking space. One in five Greeks is looking in vain for a job; among the young, it’s one in two. The failure of Greek political parties to form a government after the May 6 elections has deepened the gloom. “It’s like being on a ship in the middle of a storm,” says Giorgia, a 29-year-old civil servant who asked to be identified only by her first name to avoid trouble at work, “and there’s no captain.”