When the European sovereign debt crisis hit in 2008, media commentary often focused on the fate of the so-called “PIIGS“. Namely, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain. These were the countries saddled with the largest debt and slowest economic growth, and were the ones — excepting Spain and Italy — that received multi-billion dollar bailouts from the E.U. and International Monetary Fund. These emergency plans, it was said, would keep their economies afloat, but came with a caveat: governments would have to massively reduce spending in an effort to rein in their out-of-control finances.
The move was deeply unpopular. In Greece, austerity measures became associated with public sector layoffs, welfare cuts and later, to the rise of far right and far left political parties. In Ireland, large scale emigration and a collapsed property market dominated the national conversation, while Portugal dealt with mass youth unemployment.
Today, things have changed — at least for some. On paper, Lisbon and Dublin seem to be recovering, with their gradually rising credit ratings. But the situation in Athens often looks like it’s getting worse. Today, it is estimated that close to one million Greeks do not have access to healthcare — which has been linked to a rise in HIV infection, infant mortality and suicide rates — while 40 percent of Greek children live below the poverty line.
It is this Greece that photographer Angelos Tzortzinis set out to capture. Over the course of six years, he has documented the effects of austerity measures in his native country, one he says he no longer recognizes.
The images that have emerged are as powerful as they are shocking. The photographer shows us everything from charged Golden Dawn rallies to women working as prostitutes, and from immigrants seeking shelter to drug addicts in their bedrooms. This is a humbling, often intense, meditation on the fragility of apparent social cohesion and on the very real impact that political and economic policies can have on everyday life.
Angelos Tzortzinis is a photographer based in Athens
Richard Conway is a contributor for TIME LightBox