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Greek Historian: History Shows 'There Is Always An End To All Problems'


Four years ago on this program, I talked with a Greek man named Michael Iliakis who lives in Athens. It was a time of economic free fall in Greece, one of many to come, and we wanted to hear from a Greek citizen about what the future looked like from his perspective. When we spoke back in 2011, Iliakis had just gotten his PhD in ancient history. He'd been sending out a blizzard of job applications and getting nothing but rejections.


MICHAEL ILIAKIS: I've actually lost count. It should be somewhere between 40 and 80.

BLOCK: And he told me that at age 35, he was embarrassed to still be living at home with his parents.

ILIAKIS: This is rather distressing because I had to return home because I couldn't afford staying alone. And it's not what I expected my life to be at this age.

BLOCK: At 35.


BLOCK: And Michael, are you married?

ILIAKIS: I'm trying to (laughter). I have a very good relationship that is heading that direction, but it's impossible to say when we'll get married because there isn't financial stability, meaning that we don't have two salaries to pay the cost of a married life.

BLOCK: I wonder how all of this shapes how you think about the future, the woman you'd like to marry and potentially the children that you would want to have.

ILIAKIS: Actually, my future, now, is on hold until I, you know, I get that first job. And I'll pick it up from there. There is nothing that I can do about that right now but keep sending applications, going to interviews and just hoping for the best.

BLOCK: So four years later, is Michael Iliakis still hoping for the best? Well, since this is my last week hosting ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, I figured I'd check in with him one more time.

Hello. Is that Michael?


BLOCK: Michael, yasou - good to hear your voice again. How are you?

ILIAKIS: I'm fine.

BLOCK: I keep wondering, Michael, if you ever got married.

ILIAKIS: Well, no. That relationship was one of the casualties of the financial crisis.

BLOCK: Really - what happened?

ILIAKIS: I mean, it's - it was extremely difficult to plan about anything with having limited money and both living with our parents. So when she got the chance for something better, she left - simple as that.

BLOCK: I'm sorry to hear that.

ILIAKIS: It's, you know, it's old history by now.

BLOCK: Michael, are you still living in your parents' home?

ILIAKIS: No. I'm away 11 months now.

BLOCK: Have you been able to find any steady work over these last four years?

ILIAKIS: No. I've been going from job to job, nothing more than two months, and there was always a significant gap between them.

BLOCK: When you think back to the first time you and I talked back in 2011, Michael, think about where Greece was then, where you were then, you said you were hoping for the best. What do you think about what's happened since, and are you still hoping for the best?

ILIAKIS: I'm saying life is becoming more and more complicated. It's a sense that you feel pressure from all sides, and whenever you try to make one step forward, you are forced to take three or four steps back.

BLOCK: How do you deal with that pressure? What still gives you pleasure in your life?

ILIAKIS: Well, I can say that I'm one of the lucky ones because my profession is such that I will go to the library, open a book, start doing research, and eventually, I will forget what's happening around me and focus on the scientific problem.

BLOCK: So maybe looking through books of ancient history puts things in a bit of perspective, maybe.

ILIAKIS: Oh, yes. As a historian, you can see that there is always an end to all problems. That is, this is a situation that is happening now. For better or worse, we are living it, but eventually, it will stop at some point. I don't know if it's going to be 10, 15, 20 or 30 years from now.

BLOCK: It sounds like you're taking the long view.

ILIAKIS: Yes. Well, I'm an ancient historian. A century means nothing to me.

BLOCK: (Laughter). Well, Michael Iliakis, I do wish you all the best, and thanks again for talking with us.

ILIAKIS: Thank you.

BLOCK: That's Michael Iliakis speaking with us from Athens. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.