Against all odds
Christos Vrettos, an Australian by birth who has resided in Greece for the past 15 years, is determined to stay in Greece and brave the crisis
With the current economic situation in Greece, concerns are emerging that the numbers of Greeks seeking to migrate to Australia, as well as other parts of the world, will increase dramatically.
Despite such fears, such a dramatic response has not yet occurred, with reports from both Greece and other countries emphasizing the reluctance of many to leave their homeland. Christos Vrettos, an Australian by birth who has resided in Greece for the past 15 years and recently visited Melbourne, can be counted among those who have chosen to remain despite the present difficulties.
Christos left Australia 15 years ago to seek a new life in Greece. Before his departure, he had worked in various governmental positions, including the first attempt of a Greek-Australian English newspaper, an offshoot of Melbourne's Hellenic Times.
What prompted him to leave Australia at the age of 22, despite having spent little time in Greece in the past, was what he describes as "unconditional love for anything Greek" - encouraged by both an avid reading of books about Greece, as well as stories told by family members. Christos now holds a management position at Travel Solutions, a Lefkada-based tourism and hospitality company that offers a broad range of services, including travel advice, car hire and hotel accommodation. He has married a native-born Greek, and now also has a two-year-old daughter.
When Vrettos first decided to migrate in his early 20s, Greece was in a very different economic position. "Greece did look like an El Dorado", he says in reference to the mythical golden city. He is quick to mention, however, that when he first left for Greece, he did not do so with grand hopes of wealth.
"The reason I went there was unconditional love, I didn't go there for financial reasons, I didn't go there expecting a gold rush or something like that - to make money. I didn't see it as an opportunity. I knew that if I stayed in Australia financially I would have been better off."
He was joined by many other Greek-Australians who also felt a close bond with the homeland of their parents and grandparents. Although many Greek-Australians and, indeed, many Greeks of the diaspora around the world decided to move to Greece in the late 1990s, those who had 'high expectations' were often those who left within a few years. Vrettos does confess that the crisis in Greece has changed his day-to-day life, but still he has decided not to leave.
He admits that "all have been affected, some more than others. Our problem now is basically that we've had the same salaries for the past five years and the prospect of having a pay increase is very slim. So the next five years will be frozen as far as salaries go." Although some reorganization of personal finances has been necessary, he is not considering leaving Greece. "What's keeping us there is that we've committed ourselves to various things, and invested our lives there so it's not easy to give up and walk away. We're not happy with the current situation, but I think it will be also sacrificing too much to just get up and go."
He views the swift departure of those who have left since the crisis began as premature, insisting that history is cyclical and that Greece will inevitably emerge out of this temporary setback. "I do believe things will get better, but I think they are heading towards rough times. It will get worse before it gets better. It's just a matter of someone - whether they can hold out. Whether they can last that decade until it gets better. I mean, can you invest that time?" He does acknowledge, however, that everyone has different circumstances.
"I don't look down on anyone who wants to come to Australia", he says, "but I do think that it's a bit early to jump ship, and I think that people should stick around and see what can happen." Despite this, those who are employed in areas without tourism are suffering the most, and Vrettos believes that many of these have extremely limited options, thus a move - whether intra-national or overseas - cannot be criticized.
"There's a lot of talk about going back to Australia, especially people with young children," he says. "It's not really for themselves that they want to come back to Australia, it's more for their children's future." Although Vrettos associates mainly with Greek-Australians, most of whom migrated to Greece at around the same time he did - in the late 1990s - he does also admit that migrating to Australia is now discussed more frequently among all Greeks, and particularly in the media. He does not believe, however, that the prevailing view of Australia by interested parties is always a realistic one.
"In Greece there's a myth that Australia is a lucky country, like the 1950s and 60s. It's getting blown out of proportion." Despite this, Vrettos has not seen the dramatic migration spoken about in worldwide media occurring from Greece at the present time. He sees many native-born Greeks and Greek-Australians living in Greece sharing his own view - that of seeing it through by being prepared to make sacrifices and working hard so as to survive through these difficult times. He admits that it is not going to be an easy task, particularly because he still has strong family ties in Australia. His decision to remain in Greece, however, comes from a strong sense of patriotism, and a determination not to 'give up'.
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