A mother and her child view an art installation during the "Greece in the 80s" exhibition in Athens, Greece on Jan. 25, 2017. The exhibition is a historical journey through the 80s which aims to immerse visitors in a unique re-enactment experience. The exhibition "Greece in the 80s" is on at the Technopolis City of Athens cultural complex and runs until March 12. (Xinhua/Lefteris Partsalis)
by Valentini Anagnostopoulou
ATHENS, Feb. 14 (Xinhua) -- It was a time of change, of extroversion, a time when Greeks felt everything was possible. It was the 1980s, a much-debated decade brought into the spotlight in the exhibition "Greece in the '80s" that recently opened its doors here.
The exhibition is a historical journey through the '80s which aims to immerse visitors in a unique re-enactment experience, organizers explained.
It revolves around four major topics -- politics, lifestyle, arts and technology -- which are brought to life through a combination of direct information, audio-visual exhibits, original objects, and interactive applications.
A re-creation of a fully equipped 1980s apartment and a hair salon of the time, a container full of vintage -- but still operational -- electronic games, a bus that used to run the Piraeus-Athens line, a disco night simulation, an old Yamaha motorcycle and omni-present sound stimuli are only some of the displays that offer visitors in their 40s and 50s a chance to revisit their youth.
Younger audiences are given a chance to get acquainted with an era when there was no internet or mobile phones, and yet defined their future.
Out of the 4,000 objects on display, approximately 2,500 were lent by people from all over Greece who responded enthusiastically to curators' calls to dig up relics in their attics and basements.
The quest yielded an incredible variety of items ranging from school report cards and posters to family photo albums, eccentric disco outfits, and retro product packages.
In an effort to balance between a dull history lesson and barren nostalgia and steer away from idealized memories and stereotypes, curators and academics Panagis Panagiotopoulos and Vassilis Vamvakas, supported by a team of 50 people, also put together a program of lectures, concerts, film screenings, roundtables, and master classes that provide a comprehensive insight.
The essential question that naturally pops up is "What makes the 80s such a crucial decade for Greece?"
The first thing that sociology professor Vassilis Vamvakas noted was the shift in Greek society from saving to consumption.
"The dominant impression is that, during the 80s, Greeks prospered, that they had a very big buying power," Vamvakas told Xinhua in an interview.
"However, figures don't agree with that, because, while there is indeed a rise in salaries and pensions, it is neutralized by a simultaneous rise of the inflation rate.
"What actually changes is Greek people's mentality, their priorities -- they want to spend their money rather than stash it in banks," Vamvakas said.
For the deprived post-war generations of a poor country like Greece, the 1980s marked a time when they could, after years of hard work, at last improve their quality of life.
"The most positive memory people have is that of the social mobility that they finally acquired during this decade, the excitement of prospect and a personal progress that allows them to change themselves in any way they wish," Vamvakas stressed.
Naturally, youngsters become the pioneers of this change.
"Especially younger people become unprecedentedly extrovert. All their interests, in terms of music, entertainment, product consumption etc., revolve around what is happening abroad, their references are outside of Greece, in the Western world. And they manage to catch up perfectly," the curator underlined.
Xinhua asked Vamvakas to pinpoint the two facts that best illustrated Greek society in the 1980s.
"The decade starts with a major political event: PASOK, the socialist party, assumes power for the first time in Greece, and manages to stay in power for eight years, when, following a sequence of scandals and internal problems, it declines in a very turbulent way. This decline evokes in people a strong feeling of disappointment by politics, and eventually a depoliticization," he answered.
The other event that marked the decade was the conquest of the Eurobasket of 1987 by the underdog Greek national basketball team, which caused massive celebrations all over the country.
"While in 1987 people would still fight and divide over politics in rallies, during the Eurobasket they were all brought together in a national reunion, thanks to an athletic victory," Vamvakas added.
In recent years of recession and introspection, the questions have been when the crisis began and what led to the downward spiral.
Asked whether it was possible to trace the roots of the country's current devastating economic situation back to the 1980s, Vamvakas said: "There are definitely numbers that point to this: Greece in the 80s is the country that brought us to our current state of bankruptcy."
Public debt and public deficit literally exploded during the 1980s, paving the way for the point of no return for the Greek fiscal landscape.
While in 1979, the public deficit hardly reached 2.0 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), in ten years time it represented almost 24 percent of the GDP.
However, Vamvakas insisted it would be a mistake to demonize a whole decade and identify it solely as the beginning of the end.
What went wrong was that the GDP failed to rise in Greece in the 80s.
"This was the biggest problem: a society that wishes to consume and open up to the world, but at the same time cannot figure out a way to change its productive structure in order to support this shift," Vamvakas concluded.
The exhibition "Greece in the 80s" is on at the Technopolis City of Athens cultural complex and runs until March 12.