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Greeks joke, "Even God gave up on us"

Greeks draw, laugh and paint on the brink of bankruptcy.

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Wall art is pictured next to demonstrators during a 24-hour strike against austerity measures in Athens on Jan. 17, 2012. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

ATHENS, Greece — A Greek, a Portuguese and a Spaniard ask God when their countries' debts will be paid off. God says, “In 100 years for Portugal and in 150 years for Spain.” Disappointed, they say: “But, we’ll be dead by then.” When the Greek asks, God replies, “I don't know — I'll be dead by then.”

Gallows humor abounds in Greece these days, and Greeks openly say they have little to be optimistic about, now or in the future. With the recession in its third year, humor and art have become mechanisms to cope with high unemployment, poverty and the chaos that is Greek politics. Through cartoons, street art and jokes, Greeks laugh at the grim.

Street Art

                                                                                                                               Nikos Pilos/Courtesy

There’s a line in a well-known Greek song: “The streets have their own history, someone wrote it on the wall with paint,” and that's what seems to be happening in Athens these days. On the side of a building two blocks from the main square, a meticulously-painted pair of hands clasped in prayer descend from the sky. Underneath, drug addicts pass out after getting their daily fix.

“Street art is society's diary on public display,” said Bleeps, a Greek activist who has been adding color to walls across the country ( On one of Athens’ busy streets, Bleeps has painted “Greece's Next Economic Model” — which he proposes as a new symbol for Greece. It shows an alluring young woman wearing a bikini, striding confidently forward despite a wooden leg reminiscent of an old pirate. “It’s a disability that looks chic in history’s rotten catwalk," Bleeps said. "I borrowed the name from the reality show and transformed it into a political manifesto.”

Through his work, Bleeps says he’s trying to remind Greeks that they are not alone, since collectively they can get rid of the existing system. “I believe the average Greek, like the average person anywhere else in the world, is just trying to preserve their values,” Bleeps said. “As one by one the values decline (politics, religion, family), it is a major blow to the broader existential question of human beings.”

Far from the busy streets of Athens, on Santorini, one of the world’s most visited islands, Bleeps has painted another woman. "In Farewell EU, we see the concept of the modern woman viewed from the classic cinematic image of farewell,” Bleeps said.

“Do you remember how a piece of land was cut off in Emir Kusturica’s movie, 'Underground?' Similarly, we’re saying goodbye to the European Union, not because we’re going to be kicked out, but because in order to stay we’ll need to lose a part of ourselves.”

PASOK + New Fear

The walls in central Athens are covered with drawings and cheeky slogans. In a popular one, a little boy pees over the sun, the symbol of PASOK, a major political party in Greece. Another wishes Greeks happy holidays, Greek-style: “Merry Crisis and a Happy New Fear.”

                                                                                                                               Nikos Pilos/Courtesy

Digital humor

As with most social movements these days, the response to the crisis has included extensive use of social media. In particular, digitally altered photos have garnered buzz on Facebook and Twitter. “New technologies might allow expression to get disseminated more widely but the mechanisms used to generate laughter are the same — political satire and mockery,” said Yannis Skarpelos, associate professor of