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Greeks Forced To Weather Multiple Crises In 2015


2015 has turned out to be the year of migration. The International Migration Organization announced yesterday that 1 million migrants crossed into Europe, most of them, about 800,000, arriving in Greece. That wave of asylum-seekers was just one of several crises Greeks weathered this year. There was near bankruptcy and also political upheaval, all of which Joanna Kakissis in Athens has been following. Good morning, Joanna.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: The year began their with an election, which brought to power an untested but very charismatic young prime minister, Alexis Tsipras. Now, he fed into Greeks' fury over tough austerity measures demanded of them. That's what people were thinking about in January of this year. How has that worked out?

KAKISSIS: It didn't work out very well because people feel really disappointed that Tsipras never actually came through with any plan to help Greece out of austerity. If you go to Omonia Square, and this is a bit of a forgotten, inner-city Athens neighborhood where there are a lot of shop owners, working-class people, you'll hear people there saying, you know, he just doesn't get what we're going through. And he never had a plan. And he - and we needed somebody with a plan.

MONTAGNE: In the end, Tsipras just accepted even the austerity measures that he had initially rejected, right?

KAKISSIS: That's right. He had to accept everything. And he had to actually accept even harsher austerity measures than anyone had imagined in the first place. People understand that Greece needs to reform. You know, I met a nurse this year who retired at age 42 about 20 years ago under the old system. She's supporting her extended family on her pension at the moment. But even she understands that, you know, she's benefited from the cronyism that the old part's offered. And it's not sustainable anymore. Greeks know that they have to change, and the country has to change. But they want it done in a way that gives them some hope.

MONTAGNE: And of course, in the middle of all of this came hundreds of thousands of migrants. How has that affected the Greek economy?

KAKISSIS: You see the effects most vividly on the islands. And one island, Lesbos, it's now the main gateway for migrants into Europe. And the whole island is oriented to the migrant and refugee crisis. You see hotels, restaurants, shops. They cater to the hundreds of volunteers and NGO workers who are here, you know, who are here helping. And I met a restaurant owner named Dionysus Haramis. The square outside his restaurant became a makeshift camp for refugee families. And he just - you know, he let them use his bathroom. He offered them food and water even though this actually killed his business. So this was a really vivid example of the Greek government and the European Union leaving him and other islanders to cope with the biggest crisis to hit Europe in decades.

MONTAGNE: Joanna, any hopeful signs for 2016?

KAKISSIS: You know, perhaps a change in perspective is a reason for hope. You know, seeing desperate refugees crossing dangerous seas showed the Greeks that their own financial crisis wasn't the worst thing in the world. And it brought out this kind of self-reliance, this new kind of self reliance. They saw that with a little help from the European Union and their own government that they could help people, that they could help cold, wet babies and their families off boats. They could give food and shelter. The migrant crisis has divided the E.U. since there's no coordinated response. But the Greeks decided this was their moment to show that they can manage.

MONTAGNE: That is Joanna Kakissis in Athens. And thank you for all your reporting this year.

KAKISSIS: You're welcome, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.