Aegean’s flight to Thessaloniki was, typically, on time. The service was excellent, the staff very attentive. It was like being in another Greece.
The airport, however, is inadequate for the co-capital of a country. Fortunately, the company that bought it has begun its renovation and expansion. It’s about time.
It was very early in the morning. The sky was cloudy. The temperature was just 39 degrees Fahrenheit.
Nothing, however, prepared me for the ferocious arrival of the storm Oceanis, the second big storm in a string of bad weather over a few days that would hit the country the next day.
A friend had taken care to send a taxi driver to pick me up, a polite young man immersed in his thoughts.
I wanted to learn as much as possible about how people saw the tumultuous recent events. I got more than I could imagine.
In a while we were outside the city.
Left and right, green fields appeared, and then a nightmarish spectacle :
Many abandoned buildings. A tragic image repeated for several kilometers.
These buildings, which reminded of the many abandoned buildings along the railroad tracks from New York to Washington, were once factories. They were once places alive with creation and productivity in which tens of thousands of Greeks worked.
People who dreamed their dreams. Who lived a decent life.
There, on this road, I discovered – in all its horror – the collapse of the Greek economy.
There it was, on clear display, as if it were a showcase of economic failure, the vicious consequences of the incorrect mentality and wrongheaded politics.
This is where we must see the first signs of the rectification of the situation.
But at that moment I felt the need for company and conversation.
Why are were all these factories closed, I asked the taxi driver.
They went to Bulgaria, he replied.
How far is it from here to Bulgaria,” I asked him rhetorically.
The border is 1.5 hours from here. Sofia, the capital, is 2.5 hours away.
Why did they leave?
Why? The owners said they were not competitive in our country.
And how much is the unemployment rate now, I continued the unofficial interview I was conducting.
He waited several seconds before answering.
60% he replied, finally.
How much? I almost shouted.
And how do these people live now?
Young people migrate, he replied.
Are you married?
How can I get married? With what money will I support a family? With the 30-40 euros I clear on a good day? With the taxes we have?
They were the words – and the tone of voice – of a desperate man.
That is why the Greek, every 40-50 years when the country plunges into crisis, decides to leave the sacred soil of the homeland, relatives and friends, and hits the road for foreign lands.
Desperation pushes him. Unemployment chases him.
They have robbed him of his dignity.
He carries this bitterness with him in his soul, like a picture in his wallet, for a lifetime.
It marks him, and shapes what he does, not matter how successful he becomes later on.
My soul hurt.
I changed the subject, coming to my central concern.
How many of you Macedonians support the Prespes agreement with Skopje?
It’s not possible that nobody supports it, I assert.
Nobody, he insists.
How do you feel about those who signed it?
Shame on them. I will not vote for them.
He was angry. Indignant.
I did not want to continue.
These words – and much worse – I heard over and over again during my short visit.
Look: In Macedonia, the deal with Skopje is a very personal affair.
It touches things the locals hold sacred and holy. It reminds them of the history of the place, of the battles that have been fought, and the blood shed by grandparents and great-grandparents so that Macedonia could be liberated from the Ottoman yoke.
You walk on the soil and look at the blossoming trees and feel a rush of emotion. You want to hug everything in the place so that you don’t lose them. You do not feel secure …
The return flight to Athens was adventurous.
Oceanis shook up everything.
The winds roared at 10 beaufort – thank God we landed without a problem.
That night I turned on the TV. Something I do not do very often.
The Prime Minister was describing his achievements.
The Exit from the Memoranda. The money he will be giving to everyone.
He was talking about the “progressive, democratic left-wing” forces that promise now to do everything they did not do for four years.
Cynicism in full bloom.
Can sweet words triumph over reality? And how many times can a person be deceived?
Can one deceive people who are freezing from the cold but do not switch on the heating system to get warm because they have no money?
Or is Mr. Tsipras’ revenge waiting for him on election day?