Astoria’s Greek leaders and residents said the western Queens neighborhood was unnerved by Greece’s economic woes as well as the recent violent riots in the struggling European nation.
The Queens community has the world’s largest Greek population in the world outside of Greece. Residents of the neighborhood said they still had family and property in Greece and were therefore concerned about their home country’s financial crisis.
“Many people live here but have family there,” said Freida Bletsas, of Astoria’s Corner Taverna on 23rd Avenue. “They’re not very proud of this, it’s disgraceful. But I don’t think it affects the economy in Astoria.”
By late 2009, Greece was facing a financial crisis due to uncontrolled spending, which led to fears for other European nations with weak economies, including Spain, Portugal and Italy.
This month Prime Minister George Papandreou announced austerity measures to bring the nation’s deficit under control in order to obtain bailout money from the European Union. A national strike was held May 5 to oppose Greece’s spending cuts and tax increases. The protest turned violent and three people were killed in Athens.
Stock markets around the world declined last week, but global stocks and the euro rose Monday after the Eurozone, an economic and monetary union of 16 European Union members, approved a rescue package of nearly $1 trillion to aid the ailing European economies.
State Assembly contender Aravella Simotas said Greece’s ongoing problems have left people in Astoria on edge.
“It’s a very severe situation,” Simotas said. “People are worried about their families and how the economy will turn itself around. However, there are so many Greek organizations in the United States who assist in these types of scenarios. So in times like these they usually set up emergency relief funds.”
Global tragedies, such as the massive 2009 earthquake in Italy’s Abruzzo region or the devastating 2007 forest fires in Greece, have often drawn together the Astoria community, causing residents to pitch in financial aid to struggling regions of the world.
But state Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said Greece’s economic crash is so monumental that neighborhood residents have been left scratching their heads on how to help out.
“The issue that Greece is facing in this global economy will undoubtedly cascade and have an effect on Europe and the U.S.,” Gianaris said. “The lesson is that we need to keep government spending within our means. It’s a warning sign for New York state. It’s a vision of our future.”
But some Astorians were not as nervous about Greece’s economic issues.
“Over there, the TV and newspapers are saying too much,” said Chris Skarlatos, owner of To Laiko, “The Little Coffee Shop,” on 23rd Avenue in Astoria. “It’s not as bad as we think.”
Skarlatos said he has friends and family living in Greece.
Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.
©2010 Community News Group
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