meet simay karakaş: a turkısh psychologıst ın thessalonıkı

Simay Karakaş is a 28 years-old clinical psychologist originally from Istanbul, who has been living in Thessaloniki (Greece) for around two and a half year. She is currently working with asylum seekers and refugees at an NGO as well as providing face-to-face and online psychological counseling. Today, as Baklava Mag, we directed a bunch of questions to Simay regarding the social differences between two lands through the eye of a psychologist, the ongoing global refugee crisis with a particular focus on Greece and Turkey and the reflections of pandemic.

Read on to get your daily dose of inspiration.

Simay in Thessaloniki

Simay is used to be a frequent visitor of Greece since she was 10 years-old. “I always liked the idea of being here and one day, I took a step to see how it looks like living in a country that makes me feel like home.”, she says. “Since it is a small and peaceful city that is surrounded by sea, I chose settling down in Thessaloniki. It provides everything you need with its own pace, which is called halara.”


She describes her interest in psychology as a life-long curiosity towards human mind, body and the reasons behind of our differences.

“In the last grade of high school, I decided to move on in psychology. Afterwards, throughout my university years, I was impressed by the wide range of clinical applications. This was my main motivation to pursue a master’s degree in clinical psychology. During the time of my studies I started working in Istanbul but following my my graduation, I have ended up in Greece. Here, I am working at an NGO that is titled “IFRC”, in which we provide services including including primary health care, food distribution, first aid, psychosocial support, restoring family links and cash assistance. Where I have been working for is known as the world’s largest humanitarian organization. Apart from that, I have been offering psychotherapy for Turkish and English speakers, but mostly for immigrants and expats from all around the world.”


Simay considers Greece as a second hometown and feels like a part of her belongs there.

“I feel peaceful and happy in where I have settled in. One thing is for sure that the similarities of my two lands, Istanbul and Thessaloniki, are quiet a lot but that helps me as well in hard times that I have. In Istanbul, people are in rush due to too many reasons so that they constantly ignore the purpose of life. Particularly, the importance of being alive. The rhythm of life in big city life effects the psychological states of both individuals and societies and that can be observed through the speech given by politicians and the street interviews. Here in Greece, I feel more free and less stressful since neither Greece nor Greeks expect a lot from me or the others. 

“Greek way of living, specifically in Thessaloniki, is all about enjoying each moment.”, she states. “They are pleasant and calmer in comparison with people in Turkey. For instance, after a work-day, you can reach home easily to spend time with your loved ones without dealing with crowd or traffic or you can go out for a drink since you still have time and energy to fulfill your individual needs. Just as Greeks care about personal life outside of work, they have a collective way of living. Their family members gather so far as possible -especially in the period of special occasions such as the Easter and Christmas. No need to mention that religion plays a significant part in Greek culture. As a person who grew up in the multicultural atmosphere in Tatavla (Istanbul), I am already aware of the spot of similarities and differences within social dynamics. For that reason, I was not in the need of adapting myself to the new conditions since there was non for me.”

Simay in Istanbul

“Both countries have been dealing with economical crisis and its affects are visible on their societies. Mostly, young generations are anxious about their future although their families try supporting them both financially and psychologically. In addition to that, both countries are hosting a great amount of asylum seekers and this creates tension between two contiguous countries on the ground of politics. As a result of all of those, individuals are getting more aggressive and discriminative.”


When Simay moved to Greece, she did not know Modern Greek at all. To learn the language properly, the first thing she did was to enroll in Greek Language school for 6 months.

“Thankfully, Greeks have a good level of English due to being a major tourist destination in Europe.Thus, in shopping or socializing hours, I got the chance of speaking in English. However, it was still a self-restriction and a major challenge for me until I reached to the adequate level of speaking. Plus, learning bureaucratic and health system of Greece was a bit challenging even today, as well as learning a new language.


“Greece in comparison with Turkey, is a small-sized country but it has a European Union membership. As expected, there are some positive and negative outcomes as result of that membership situation. According to my observation, Greece needs more understanding and support from the European Union but at the same time, it might be better to accept and find solutions towards the current situations.”


“1951 Refugee Convention defines a refugee as someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion. This is not an easy situation to cope with especially when you find yourself in a foreign country, where you do not have any idea about what happens around you and your faith is on the hands of some important people. Before pandemic, refugees were already facing with enough difficulties on mainland and islands. There is not enough capacities in the sites or other accommodation facilities to host asylum seekers. They absolutely need better conditions to stay healthy and more assistance in terms of medical and psychological support. There are so many associations like NGOs and movements running by locals which are trying to help as much as they can do. On the other hand, there is also an opponent side, which thinks that Greece is not in charge of this issue and they cannot do something for that anymore.”

“Thanks to the rising COVID-19 pandemic, the whole situation got worse and locals are afraid of getting infected since some migrant facilities were being put under lockdown after the test positives. The glance towards towards those people might be less friendly and more hesitated until we get over this period.”


“All individuals have been facing with pandemic with their own ways. On social media, there are so many suggestion lists and articles to push people for taking those times as a chance to improve their skills. According to me, the recommendation must be something like: “Don’t listen them. You know what is the best for you. Do not feel bad, if you can not spend your time effectively because there is something outside that we don’t have a control over it.” “

“The future is uncertain for all of us and we feel under threat. This is something real and not being able to manage your fear is a natural outcome of it. However, if you feel like it effects your daily activities and you feel in the need of extra, don’t hesitate to go for it.”


“For near future, my aim is to get proficiency in Modern Greek to continue my profession here in Greece as a member of some occupational Greek Associations. I am not planning to move back to Turkey yet.”

#artworkers ın THE MIDST OF PANDEMIC: Manolıs Chrıstodoulou

Manolis Christodoulou is a 30 years-old music teacher and a music performer from Greece and he has been living in Athens for six years. Although he grew up in Athens, he is originally from Kalymnos and Livadeia in Greece. Before he graduated from the department of Music at University of Ioannina, he had participated in Erasmus program at Turkish Music State Conservatory of Istanbul Technical University.

Grab a cup of coffee, put on your headphones, click on the link below and get ready to read our interview.

Music: M. Christodoulou, C. Kyriazis | Arrangement: Dysanatolia

How do you describe your profession? When and how did you start doing it?

Music as a profession, in my point of view, is a blessing for anyone who follows it despite its difficulties and requirements such as commitment and strength to perform it -especially in tough times like the one we have been going through. Economic instability and various other stuff are the main difficulties that the musicians face with. Perhaps the worst of all is that in my country, as in many other countries, the majority considers music as something just can be done as a hobby rather than a profession. Besides, our industry must guarantee that the rights of the musicians are secured. Also, I would like to underline that performing music as a leisure time activity is a way different than doing it professionally. People should avoid underestimating this field and they should be aware of the difference between those two. A professional musician must be responsible for their object. If you have the talent, one way of doing this is moving forward in academy, for instance. Also, you can always read and expand your knowledge about music in a more broader sense.

How would you describe your Erasmus experience in Istanbul?

I had been in Istanbul Technical University in Istanbul for a short period in 2013. There is no doubt that my experience in Istanbul was one of the best times of my life. I admire Istanbul from the moment I started playing kanun so that the opportunity of performing it in the city where it is played was a remarkable thing for me. I adore both the diversity and the interaction between people. After living there, I felt like I favored it more. In particular, Istanbul Technical University impressed me with its facilities. In addition to that, the level of students who enrolled in were very high. I keep hanging out people I met there such as musicians, colleagues, locals and other citizens since they had contributed to that valuable experience. One final thing, participating to the program of “TRT” (Owned by the Turkish government) and all our daily experiences were meant to me as well.

How was your life before pandemic? How much time were you spending at work?

My life was quite good before pandemic, both financially and personally, since my country has slowly begun to recover from the severe economic crisis that has plagued us in recent years. I was taking part in various projects and orchestras. Plus, I was offering kanun lessons as well so that I had been working for long hours every day besides the time I spend for practicing. Strictly speaking, music fulfills a huge part of your daily life if you perform it professionally because we take it as a way of life instead of a regular job. Parallel to that, it turns into a vital need for the musicians to express themselves so it goes beyond the technique and theoretical knowledge in time.

Manolis plays Kanun.

In which way has pandemic impacted your professional life ? Do you work from home nowadays?

All arrangements including daily activities, concerts, orchestra rehearsals were suspended much earlier than the governmental restrictions. Nowadays, I have been continuing giving private lessons through Skype. For now, all I can do is practicing and making music at home, but that is not an efficient way for us to work. At this point, I would like to remind everyone that all art workers in the industry has been dealing with tough circumstances.

How do you cope with this whole situation? What has changed in your personal life due to pandemic?

I think everyone’s life has changed radically in this period of COVID-19, especially the ones who work are affected much more. By going under lockdown, we are forced to stay home while we had no idea about what will come next day. That uncertainty made us feel psychologically devastated. For me, a lot of things have changed due to restrictions and my personality. I was used to be outgoing and social; however, interacting with others is impossible now. That lack of interaction is the a major issue for me as a musician, who has to be in touch with people. We have to engage each other by participating rehearsals, attending live programs or in an academic environment so working from home is not the way for us.

Manolis plays Kanun.

What has challenged you the most during COVID-19?

Unfortunately, pandemic had a huge impact on musicians in all possible manners. The government hasn’t taken any action for the art workers so far so that most of the people have been struggling. As long as they will be ignored, the situation will get worse since the financial incapability will make people depressed. Above all, one of the most challenging thing for art workers is the creative process and inspiration. On the other hand, those music videos, which are created in the middle of pandemic has become a phenomenon. Thanks to such initiatives, we will be able to motivate a wide range of people with our art work.

In terms of art workers, what were the minor and major consequences of the decisions that are taken by government?

What else could have been done to protect the rights of art workers? Unfortunately, no substantive decision has been taken for the sake of art workers who are affected by pandemic restrictions. There was a granted governmental allowance, but just a few people could get benefits of it. Nowadays, there is a great deal of supportive movement by the art workers who are willing to react to that unfair situation and hopefully, we will receive those positive news that we wish to hear. The immediate financial support that will be provided by the government will help us survive until the concerts and other organizations run again.

How about #SupportArtWorkers movement? How did it all start?

“Support Art Workers” is a campaign organized by a group of talented art workers with various fields of culture. It is published on Avaaz, which is considered as the world’s largest and most powerful online petition platform. Basically, it aims to centralize the voice of citizens in political decision-making process. Avaaz refers to the term “voice” in Greek as well as many other languages that are spoken in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. In the same line with the meaning of that word, the platform mobilizes citizens from all over the world in order for them to have a voice in key national and global issues. In the light of aforementioned information, ’Support Art Workers’ movement is an initiative for collecting signatures in favor of implementing the demands of Greek workers in the wider area of culture. By collaborating, we aim to fulfill our personal and professional needs in order to be able to survive for the next few months. The pandemic and the lockdown have confronted these people with the uncertain future.

Do you consider yourself productive during pandemic times? Are you able to find that inspiration?

Inspiration is the hardest thing to get for the artists regardless of the circumstances. Fortunately, I have been passing through a creative process on my own. During the time I have been spending at home, I have performed and composed quite a lot. As the days go by, our perception towards the things have been changing and I have started thinking that we will be able to see pandemic times as an inspiring feature in our future works. I believe that we, as musicians, have been giving faith to a considerable amount of people all over the world because music is always here to keep us alive and inspired in tough times.

How do other art workers in Greece react to that challenging conditions? Have you come up with a common idea to prevent your rights?

Unfortunately, there has always been a lack of unity in art industry. To be more specified, there is some kind of an existing medium-sized unification between musicians to defend our rights and actually pandemic period is the best time to give a start for a better future for us. Art, itself, has become an extremely important matter for each of us in the course of financial, moral and cultural crisis. For instance, a major protest planned from all over the art world for this week and this is obviously a great start. One thing is for sure that those are the days that we must be taken care by the state. • Have you planned anything for the post-pandemic period in terms of your job or education? It is very difficult for me to think on my professional plans in this specific period because the future is uncertain. Nevertheless, I have been studying something about intercultural education for a while. One final word, thinking on what art means to us and the possible consequences of its absence is highly important.

As Plato once said: “Music is a moral rule. It gives the universe a soul, feathers in thought, takes off the imagination, gives joy to sadness and life in everything.” 

Editor’s Note: Since the majority of art workers have become unable to get the unemployment support they need during COVID-19 pandemic, they have been struggling for survival. By conducting a series of interviews, Baklava Mag aims to inform youth around the world in order for them to come up with concrete solutions.

an ıntervıew on PANDEMIC’s ımpact on art workers

Gizem is a Thessaloniki based musician who originally comes from Istanbul. Currently, she has been trying to learn Greek and expanding her knowledge in Byzantium Music.

If you have ever wondered what it feels like struggling with pandemic as a musician, read our interview below.

From her last concert with Daemonia Nymphe Official in Athens.

Visual Credits: Jo Gogou and Afternoiz

🎤Could you tell us where and when did the virus occur in the region/country you live in?

Basically, everything has started here in Thessaloniki. First, I read the news on the Internet around the mid January. It was being told that after a business meeting in China, the virus had started to spread, but such conspiracy theories like “Chinese government wanted to kill their people in order to control the population growth” were existed as well. When I shared such news with my friends, we made fun of how media fakes everything. We all thought that it could never appear around us.

I am not sure about when did it all start since we were pretty shocked. I felt like we were diving into a trouble. Globally speaking, we were all so late in terms of preventions such as curfew and lockdown. However, the UK and in the states are worse to be honest. 

🎤Do you think those preventions are enough? What could have been done in a different way to protect people?

All things are being done here, the government did what they could do but the actual chaos hits the households. Putting people under lockdown was an easy decision, but now we are out of budget and have literally no idea about how to pay our rents and so on. At this point, I must add that I feel deeply sorry and thankful for Italian people who demonstrated efforts on making people aware about what will come next.

🎤How do you and the society feel about being under lock down? Could you talk about the physiological side effects of the isolation? How were you spending a regular day of yours on the very first days of the pandemic and what has been changed so far?

It was okay in the very first days. We had no clear idea about the number of the days we were about to stay inside so we spent our time by making up sci-fi scenarios. Personally, I like staying home because I am mostly out at nights due to my job. That’s why it felt like an unexpected holiday in the beginning. I was reading more than before, learning new things, practicing music. Even sitting and drinking my coffee in my balcony became a routine in that period. Now, as the days passed by, we started to get minor depressions. We have no clue about what will come next and we kind of lost our trust to the governments and politicians in a broader sense. As musicians and art workers, we are all out of work for at least six more months and knowing that makes us restless. Plus, there is nothing to inspire us to produce new songs since we can’t step out of home.

Actually both for Greece and Turkey, something more can be provided to help people. But even our own government, I mean the Turkish one, follows a wrong path. For instance, Turkish business people provide masks to famous people in the USA instead of helping their people. I strongly believe that only solidarity between people will solve this issue. To make the situation better, governments must have release the actual case numbers and make hospital accessible for all sick people. Nowadays almost 20.000 tests per day are implementing in Turkey, where 80 million people locate in. In fact, all people needs proper health care by the government that they voted for.

For sure, lockdown is a part of the solution but besides, have to secure your people as well in order for the lockdown to achieve true success. In Germany, the government paid thousands of euros to their people without considering the deadline of the virus. Their rents were paid, they kept getting their salaries. Whereas here, before government told us to stay in quarantine, we locked ourselves home. Also, in Turkey, ages below 20 and above 65 are in lockdown but the rest needs to work. What is the purpose of this prevention, then?

🎤Who do you think fight against the pandemic most successfully when you take the whole world into consideration? Do you even think such country exists?

New Zealand seems like on top. They closed their borders just in the beginning. Their government handled the situation more safely.

🎤What do you miss the most while in lock down?

I miss going out for a coffee with my friends and ending up in a bar to drink Campari. I could be so happy by singing out as well…

Visual Credit: S.L. Hillman

🎤What might be the major and minor consequences of the pandemic when everything calms down?

Depression and xenophobia. Seriously, what is about to come makes me more nervous than what we have been dealing right now. The majority will lose their jobs and there will be no art-related activities until next October. We need some time to free our minds. For two to three weeks, life in outside will be hell. All I hope is that the virus won’t strike us again.

Here in Greece, the commercial places are planned to be open beginning from the next week, but there will be curfew after midday. Also, summer is coming so it is possible for Greece to have some financial issues since its economy is based on tourism. Honestly, since everything is pretty unclear for all of us, it’s really hard to come up with any clear prediction.

🎤Do you have any plans for your the post-pandemic period, both in academic and professional manner?

No idea. It will be extremely hard because until October, it seems like we are off business. I guess I will end up camping somewhere during this summer -quarantine mood but without walls, in other words. We don’t know anything about the future of the schools, festivalsa and concerts. We have lack of inspiration in these days so we can’t release a new album. So we try keeping ourselves in kind of zen mood and pushing ourselves to stay as patient as possible.


COVID-19 pandemic is a thing we all share and everyone has their own story to share about it. When the first case was announced on the 11th of March in Turkey, I was at home. In the following day, I leave the house by covering myself with a surgical mask, which I have never done in my entire life before.

Starting from the 12th of March, I had limited the times I spent outside and kind of self-isolated myself. In this way, I felt a bit more safe. During that period, I had been following the cases in Turkey but also keeping an eye on the news coming from my parents who live in Xanthi, Greece. When I heard that Echinos were under lockdown on the 25th of March, I became more anxious since my parents’ place locates there. Therewithal, national lockdown was announced in Greece so that we were considerably calm. 

Personally, I did not consider going back to Greece. Although the borders were closed already, students were able to go back to Greece with special permission provided by the Greek Embassy in Edirne (Turkey). I felt so weird when I learnt that my last chance was to get the last permitted bus, which were scheduled to the 2nd of April. I felt worried about the uncertain future that I faced with and the fear of not seeing my parents challenged me. I was all packed but it was hard for me to decide until the last minute. Eventually, I thought I could feel better and safe there and I took the last bus with 15 other passengers. We were all careful and stayed distanced during the trip.

After our passport controls were done in the Greek border, they transferred us to another bus that was arranged by the state. Afterwards, we were settled in a hotel that takes place in Komotini. Two days later, COVID-19 tests were made. Waiting for the results were a way more tiring and psychologically damaging than the decision I made and the whole trip. To be more specific, I was worried about diving into a random crowd and taking a bus that is full of people after spending long time at home.

Fortunately, our test results were negative and we could either go to our places or spend the risky 14 days in the hotel. Since the lockdown in Echinos were continuing, I had to stay in the hotel. The ones who wanted to stay in their own places were informed about the rest of the procedure which consist of being under regular check by the police during 14 days. In case if they don’t follow the rules of lockdown, they were obliged to pay 5.000 Euro.

I was comfortable during two weeks I stayed in the hotel, there was a bedroom and a separate living room inside. I got three meals per day, which was left on the door of my room.

I had a lot of books with me but I couldn’t read something new, just reread the things I had already completed instead. Also, I couldn’t follow the news. All I could do was watching outside the balcony while the days were passing. Luckily, the hotel takes place inside of nature so that I found some time to introspect myself. That meant something to me because I met all faces of nature during my staying.

The day I arrived, it was freaking cold outside and I woke up to a snowy view in the next morning. The following day was a hell of rain, even my room was flooded and the top of the mountains were foggy. Another day, I watched the trees that were shaken by the breeze -after waking up to the sound of a chair that fall down due to severe wind.

The second week was sunny so that those snow in the mountains had melted. The sound coming from the birds and dogs accompanied me while sunbathing in the balcony. Then one day, I realized how the time had gone so fast. Those trees that were all dry when I arrived were coming into leaf now. Just as they did, I had also passed through a lot -experienced various emotions, thought on tons of stuff and listened myself. I even celebrated my own birthday! Although I don’t really care about such celebrations, I wanted to make this one memorable. Since I had some Nutella in my fridge, I was happy just as I had a birthday cake so that I didn’t feel upset about being under lockdown in my birthday. On the first day of my new age, I got a call from the reception of the hotel and I learnt that I could check out. Both in the manner of time and place, the lock down period was meaningful for me. I finally feel rested and purified. 


The healing power of music has been used as a therapeutic intervention since the late 18th century and is considered as a tool to fight against the fear of pandemic nowadays. Starting from the very first day of lockdown, people in Italy have been singing in their balconies as they were used to do centuries ago -even the ones that have millions of followers such as the famous Ferragnez family.

As the days go by, this collective singing tradition has become more creative and impressive. As more people have been involved, more sounds have emerged all around us . A compelling example of that was released on the 6th of April by a group of people with different backgrounds. Under the title of “ThesSingers”, 40 people gathered to cover a historical song by Antonis Vardis and Costas Tripolitis.

Credits: ThesSingers Facebook Page

Within just a few days, their work has reached out more than 4.000 audiences and hundreds of comments that are full of gratitude.

Click here to watch them on Youtube.

In the meantime, another initiative was about to start on the other side of the Aegean sea. An Istanbul based acapella choir that aims to embody the polyphonic, diverse, and colourful culture of Eurasia has invited everyone to join them with a particular song for an online concert.

Credits: Chromas Choir Official Website
Translation: For the first time in Turkey: Sing with us Turkey! #MusicFitsinHome

Today at 19.30 /CET), the choir will hold an informal Q&A session via a Zoom meeting.

Until the 17th of April, Chromas Choir will receive the online applications through their official page.

Baklava Magcalls everyone to #stayhome and apply for such inspiring gatherings with hope in wherever they are.

Have yourself a sweet quarantine, everyone!

COVID-19 For All?

The frenzy caused by the pandemic found all of us a little unprepared, thinking that it can infect royal families, popes and prime ministers. At first glance, it seems as if COVID-19 equates us to those in power by reducing all of us merely into biological beings. We may think that the boundaries between races and classes are thus rendered invisible. However, a sociological glance tells a quite different story. Indeed, COVID-19 is the very agent that reveals the inequalities within the system we live in.

Think about the universalizing call “Stay at home”. Who does this line address? Those who can work from home and pay their rents without a regular income are the first to come to mind. What kind of works can be done from home, then? Can a baker, nurse, grocery shop worker work from home? Those who provide the basic needs during the crisis, those who feed the ones in their homes cannot “go home”. And we are okay with this. As long as the middle and upper classes are safe and well-fed during the quarantine. As is seen, some lives can be sacrificed for others, which reveals the class dynamics of capitalism in its harshest facet. Another call “Wash your hands with soap” sets another frame, from which countries without adequate sanitary resources are excluded.

With these in mind, we are to see that only some of us have the means not to encounter the virus. So, COVID-19 does not equate us. It rather hits the poorest and vulnerable first, as the capitalist system has long been doing.

Border Blockage: How Turks ın Bulgarıa helped hundreds of stranded truck drıvers

Turkish Embassy in Bulgaria and Ambassador Aylin Sekizkök, together with the General Consul of Turkey in Plovdiv – Hussein Ergani and the chairman of Yesilay Bulgaria – Ahmed Pehlivan combined efforts to provide food & water for drivers, waiting with days to pass the Bulgarian-Turkish border in Kapıkule. 

Food for 2 days, water and other basic necessities were donated to hundreds of drivers, who are currently stuck on the border crossing between Turkey and Bulgaria in Kapitan Andreevo (Kapıkule), because of the Coronavirus pandemic. The campaign was launched thanks to the tight cooperation between the Turkish Embassy in Sofia, the General Consulate of Turkey in Plovdiv and the Green Crescent Turkey.


The queue at the border is currently exceeding 50 kilometres, as drivers from Bulgaria, Turkey, Poland, Hungary and many other countries are waiting for medical checks, before they are allowed to enter Turkish territory. The Coronavirus restrictions imposed by the Turkish government, request for body temperature measuring of every driver, as well as signing an official declaration. Any other non-essential type of travel, such as tourist visits, are strictly forbidden for all non-Turkish citizens who wish to enter Turkey now.

Every driver has received 2 loaves of bread, 2 litres of mineral water, some type of meat (Bulgarian cheese for the vegetarians) as well as a desert or a candy. The aid has been delivered to more than 2500 drivers, who were personally visited by General Consul Hussein Ergani and Mr. Ahmed Pehlivan, chairman of Yesilay Bulgaria.  As Mr. Ergani said: ‘Some of the drivers here have been waiting for 3 or more days, they were not prepared to wait for such a long time. This is why we are doing everything we can to help all the people who are currently in this situation.’

PHOTO-2020-03-25-11-55-59 (1)

The official representatives from the Embassy in Sofia and the Consulate will also assist anyone, who experiences difficulties to fill the declaration, Mr. Pehlivan explained: ‘Apart from donating food, we will also help everyone who needs help to fill the required documents. Right now there are hundreds of people stuck here, coming from many other countries besides Turkey. The aid is reaching everybody, regardless of their nationality’.

Headline picture:

Others: Nebahat Pehlivan, Ahmed Pehlivan 

How does Italy deal wIth COVID-19?

I am a 22-years-old Italian girl living in the extreme south part of the country. I have completed a bachelor’s degree in Foreign Languages and Literature last October at the University of Palermo (Sicily) and I will be attending a second master’s degree in digital marketing starting from the end of April.

It has been now a month since this monster has started changing our lives. At the very beginning, it seemed affecting only the Northern regions – Lombardy in particular with its main cities Milan and Bergamo which is still at the heart of the coronavirus crisis. But in the end, it spread over all the regions, in particular, due to the fact people kept going moving from one area to the other.

Credits: Ahram Online

At the beginning, we all undervalued the severity of this epidemy, starting from the governments and the leading authorities. The message received at the first stages was: “It’s just flu. It only affects old people with preconditions”. But it’s not like this, and we had to face sooner than expected with the seriousness of it.

And how have we realized that? Exactly at the moment when a doctor stated on TV news that they begun to have to decide who lives and who dies when the patients show up in the emergency room, like what happens in a war . “This will only get worse!” he added. Right at this moment, our Prime Minister announced that the entire country, meaning almost 60 million people, would go for lockdown because there was no more time. What he meant is that if the numbers of contagion did not start to go down, the Italian system would collapse.

The first step was shutting down the schools. Afterwards, all the flights from and to Italy were cancelled. Since the 9th of March, all the commercial activities have been suspended except groceries, pharmacies and banks. Besides parties, matches, celebration of any kind were forbidden. Even these were not enough, because especially young people did not understand the power of that epidemic and kept going with gathering around and chatting away in parks and outdoor areas. The next step was to ban every kind of open-air sports and reduces as much as possible all the movements not necessary from one place to another and, if so, they need to be justified by a self-declaration: who falsely states risks a fine or, in the worst cases, three months in jail.

Credits: Ahram Online

How do we get affected by all those? Can you imagine the psychological side effects of this strict quarantine? Our streets are empty, lots of pigeon instead of people, you cannot see anymore not even the lonely elders sit on the benches: police monitor every movement and it feels like living in a ghost town. But even in the darkness, we haven’t lost our positivity; this quietness has never been as loud as now. We sing from our balconies every day to feel closer even if apart, to keep up our mood and lift our spirits, while all the kids painted and stitched on the doors of their homes a banner portraying a rainbow embracing a small meaningful sentence: “andrà tutto bene” – everything will be fine. 

In my point of view, the only way to stop this virus is to limit contagion. And the only way to do it is for everyone to change their behaviour. I do not believe the first measures of the prevention they took were enough. The issue was no longer the exposition of the country to the risk of infection from the outside; the most problematic condition occurring was the contagion Italian-to-Italian. But if this is relatively easy to say, the hard part is to accept and do it concretely. We all needed our time to process the new containment measures.

If we are facing now, the worst crisis occurred after the Second World War, it is also because Europe abandoned us in this moment of necessity. Even if we asked for medical supplies and health items such as masks, sanitizers and medical respirators, we have not received anything if it was not for China and now Russia and Cuba, who have also sent us a team of volunteers ready to help and fight with us in the first line.

Italy has now superated China for numbers of deaths: to date, among the infected, victims and healed persons, we register 63,927 total cases. The daily growth scares Italy, and it does just while China seems to be winning its battle. China’s courageous approach to contain the rapid spread of this virus has changed the course of a quick rising and deadly epidemy. This is the reason why we needed to watch with interest in the method adopted by the Chinese governments.

For sure many mistakes have been made. For instance, at the beginning the masks were compulsory only for infected patients and for medical staff. On the contrary, in China, they have been obligatory since the beginning for everyone; but I believe that the most significant difference between us and the Asian approach stays in the idea of quarantine itself. Car use has been banned, and only one person for a family was allowed to leave the house every three days (mask on) to buy food and supplies. In Italy, measures similar to a total lockdown, have been applied after an initial phase in which it was planned only for Lombardy and some provinces. But even so, data and numbers of the last three days are proving that we are, slowly, following the right way.

To conclude, our life has totally changed during the last month. We are living a scenario that only a month ago we would have considered lunar: Queues at supermarkets, police on the streets to check who leaves home, schools closed, riots and deaths in prisons, trains that don’t leave, the impossibility to visit our beloved ones. After all, it is useless to give ourselves a time limit for the return to normality. For sure, it will not be ended on the 3rd of April (date initially indicated as the end of the Italian quarantine). We must put ourselves in the perspective of a new way of life that will involve many sectors. We will probably have to get used in the next few years to distrust metro, bars, pubs too crowded or gyms could start putting more money into online courses. The cinemas, the tea rooms, the shopping centres could install armchairs at least one metre apart from each other, benches where you can sit only one at a time and so on.

It makes no sense to delude ourselves that the stop we are obliged to, will be a short-term one. Surely what is going to happen to us in the next months is unprecedented, and it will lead us into an unknown land. Any important program we had planned during this time (marriage, children, travel, change of job, etc.) we have to take into account will be surely postponed. Even schools could remain closed, in the West, with effects on children never seen before. I have been myself reconsidering my future projects, and I am aware they will inevitably change due to the course of events. For this reason, as I was supposed to move to Milan for my studies, I will be waiting for better times and start attending classes online.

The tragedy Italy is experiencing has to be a warning to other European countries and to the United States, where the virus has started spreading at the same speed.
I have learned from my boyfriend who leaves in Thessaloniki, that the Greek government has started taking as same measures as the Italian ones, by limiting all the unnecessaries exits and movements unless they are proved and justified by strong motivations. Moreover, every greek citizen has to send a message to the municipality texting from where to where he\she is moving, and if it turns out to be a lie, he\she has to pay 1 thousand euro.

But, even if your government is still indecisive whether if closing or not offices, schools and non-core activities, or adopting these strict measures, you have to learn from our experience and mistakes: stay home! There’s no vaccine or drug able to fight this virus, and only our behaviour can stop it!

The only positive aspect of all this is that, even if we don’t know when exactly, the cruellest part of the conflict will end as long as we follow the rules imposed by the governments and the ones dictated by our common sense and civil responsibility.

“Each of you, today, not the government, not the mayor, each cıtızen has the chance, today, to take actıons that wıll prevent the sıtuatıon of ıtaly from becomıng your own country’s realıty. You have an opportunıty to make a dıfference and stop the spread ın your country. Work at home ıf you can, cancel bırthday partıes and other gatherıngs. Do anythıng you can. Practıce socıal dıstancıng and stay home as much as possıble because ıt saves lıves. AND THIS IS MIND: a LITTLE DISTANCE now WILL save and UNITE us all later!”

Emergency Bulgaria: What’s next?

“EU solidarity has been broken into million pieces. There is no such thing right now. This is war.”

Prime Minster Boyko Borissov

Bulgaria hasn’t been in a state of emergency since World War Two. Nobody could have guessed that the parliament will vote by unanimity the first state of emergency in the democratic history of Bulgaria on the 13th of March 2020, just 10 days after celebrating 142 years of freedom.

The novel Coronavirus has put thousands of people in lockdown, unable to leave their cities, except for work duties, seeking urgent medical assistance or returning from a journey. Those who are put under obligatory quarantine, disobey the orders and leave their homes for any trivial reason (7,000 people), face up to 5 years in jail and 50,000 leva fine (25,000 Euros). Hundreds of flights are cancelled, foreign nationals are sent back to their country of origin with charter flights, as soon as possible. Bulgarians studying abroad are coming back to the country, uncertain when they will resume their education overseas. Thousands of people are left jobless; the government has told students they don’t know the date they will go back to class.

Only 10 days were needed to completely transform the life we’ve known for decades. People are scared they will go bankrupt, being incapable to pay their monthly bills and rents, even though Sofia has promised it will compensate 60% of the salaries of the most affected ones. An unforeseen and most definitely unprecedented economic crisis will be detrimental for a country, whose economy has just started to grow in positive figures. But for now, the economy has been put at the back rows. Hopes for capital injections from the EU are wrapped in ambiguity, as PM Borissov said today, there is ‘no EU Coronavirus money’.

Around 190 Bulgarians have been tested positive for COVID-19 so far. 3 of them have passed away, 30 are in close medical observation in hospitals. Most of the patients are registered in the capital Sofia, one of the most famous ski resorts on the Balkan Peninsula – Bansko, is locked down in a complete quarantine, nobody is allowed in or out. Many other major cities – Plovdiv, Bourgas, Stara Zagora, Varna, have recently reported their first cases. People commuting to work outside of their cities or towns are required a signed declaration from their employers, otherwise, they will be refused to re-entry their homes.  Everyone who enters Bulgaria now will be placed into mandatory quarantine for 14 days, regardless of nationality.


Bulgarian parliament, 20th of March

The first COVID-19 case was reported on the 8th of March. So far, the most affected age group in Bulgaria are the people between 40 and 42 years old (29%), followed by those between 20 and 29, and 50 – 59 years of age (both account for 16%). The 3 people who have unfortunately passed away are all elderly and with underlying health conditions, apart from contracting the Coronavirus. What seems to be the biggest problem for Bulgaria is the fact that more than 2 million of the whole population of 7 million people are pensioners, who, according to health officials, are the most vulnerable group. Elderly citizens are strictly advised not to leave their homes and they have been given special hours to visit the supermarkets, from 8:30 AM to 10:30 AM each day.

The current state of emergency is aimed to last until mid-April, but the government is warning that it could be prolonged, as the peak of the virus is expected in 2-3 weeks. The only open places are pharmacies, banks, grocery stores, insurance companies, and governmental entities. One of the biggest concert arenas in the country are currently being converted into on-the-go hospitals, in case the situation escalates uncontrollably and there are no more beds for patients in state medical institutions. Although many Bulgarians, especially younger ones, are meeting the measures with a great amount of resistance, the country is ready to do anything to prevent an Italy-wise situation.


Arena Armeets, Sofia

In the middle of this health, social & economic crisis, a further dispute is taking place between Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and President Rumen Radev, who just imposed a partial veto on the new emergency state law. Furthermore, in a media briefing today, PM Borissov said Bulgaria is taking no money from the EU to fight Coronavirus, even though just a couple of days ago news emerged that over a billion Euros will be given to the country. PM explained that “Bulgaria and the EU will just redistribute EU funds, initially allocated to other sectors”.

Borissov didn’t save his emotional temper either: “Everybody is speaking for solidarity these days. This European solidarity has burst into pieces. Don’t you see what’s going on? Borders closing everywhere, not letting even European citizens cross over, everybody is saving themselves first. This is a war we are fighting; I’m on the phone all the time with my colleagues.”

The battle with the Coronavirus has been compared to the WW2 mayhem and Europe hasn’t faced such a threat for more than half a century. The global economy is slowly relapsing, many lives are taken, supermarkets are left empty, struggling to provide basic necessities to all panicked customers. Many tourists are stranded in airports, the transport sector is fundamentally damaged, people in the United States are equipping themselves with guns and ammunition. Is this really a war going on?

It is insane to witness how the lives of all of us can change so rapidly and be turned upside down for seconds. My thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected, scared and feeling uncertain about the future. One is for sure – the world we knew will never exist in the same way it did. Once more, humankind will have to adapt to a new pace of life. Let’s hope it will be for good.

Images: Facebook: Boyko Borissov, Bulgarian National Television