Category Archives: Athens

The parallax view

We will probably never find out exactly what happened at Syntagma Square on Thursday, when an anti-austerity protest degenerated into an all-out brawl between members of the Communist union PAME and the black block of rioters intent on wreaking havoc.

The unionists argue that they were aware of a plot by the rioters to disrupt the peaceful protest, as they had done a day earlier, and took measures to stop them. Photographs and video footage seem to support the theory that the hooded troublemakers were lurking among groups of other protesters, biding their team before launching an assault on the riot police in front of Parliament.

Continue reading

London calling. Listening, Athens?

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis

On the day London was awarded the 2012 Olympic Games, we played The Clash’s “London Calling” on a radio show I co-hosted in Athens. The song — about a world slipping toward some kind of destruction — was played by a lone guitarist at a recent event to mark the one-year countdown to the English capital hosting the world’s biggest sporting event. A few days later, its lyrics — such as “London calling to the underworld/Come out of the cupboard, you boys and girls” — proved an appropriate soundtrack to possibly the worst civil unrest, rioting and looting the city has ever seen.

It seemed a delicious irony that an e-mail informing me about ticketing arrangements for the 2012 Olympics should arrive in my in-box on Tuesday afternoon, as London and other cities braced for a fourth night of rioting. But there is nothing amusing in seeing the city you were born in being ripped apart a few weeks after the city you live in suffered the same fate. I can feel nothing but sadness at seeing areas I know well, places where friends live and a neighborhood where my father ran a business for more than two decades being decimated by youths who appear to have no comprehension of the damage they are wreaking on communities.

Continue reading

Democracy squared rather than democracy divided

Photo by Stratos Safioleas

If you’ve been having sleepless nights worrying about Greece’s plight, you can rest easy now. As if by magic, the country’s concerns have been dispelled overnight. Only, rather than a magic wand, it was the waving of a police baton that did the trick when officers removed the dregs of the Indignant movement from Syntagma Square early on Saturday, long after the cup had run dry.

Had you been following the media-fueled public debate in Greece over the last couple of weeks, you would have been excused for believing that the few dozen protesters, their sagging tents and scrappy banners, which had been in situ in Syntagma for the last two months, were the country’s most pressing problem. These hippy wannabees were apparently destroying Greece’s tourism industry, driving the capital’s drug trade and creating a burgeoning market for street traders.

Continue reading

All hail the taxi: In defense of Athenian cabbies

The back seat of an Athens taxi has never been my favorite part of the city. In our weekly newspaper, Athens Plus, which sadly closed down last December, we ran a small block of text, a disclaimer if you like, about Athenian cabs, also known by some urbanites as the “Yellow Peril.”

Part of it read: “Athenian cabbies are an eclectic bunch of individuals. From the uncouth chain-smoker to the tourist-friendly chatterbox, the whole gamut can be found inside the yellow taxis that splutter around the city.”

Continue reading

Smells like… the end of an era

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis

After such a momentous day for Greece, it’s difficult to know where to begin in terms of analysing events in Parliament and on the streets outside it.

Given that the world’s attention was focussed on how a handful of PASOK MPs would cast their ballot in the vote on the government’s midterm fiscal plan, it was always going to take something “special” to trump this story. Enter the Greek riot police and the usual bunch of thrill-seekers and hooligans. They never disappoint.

Their running battles through central Athens constituted the worst violence that Greece has seen in over a year and only added to the impression that this country is about to implode. The younger self-styled anarchists and older street warriors reliving past glories could not pass up an opportunity to get their concealed faces on every major news bulletin around the world.

Continue reading

How Greece could go from solidarity to division

Solidarity is probably a word that you would not associate with Greece following the events of the past few days. Love and understanding were in short supply on the streets around Parliament, where protesters and police clashed this week, as well as within the walls of the prominent sand-colored building, where Greece’s politicians failed to strike a deal to form a government of national unity to oversee the latest austerity measures the country has to adopt to qualify for more loans from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

However, solidarity is a very relevant word in terms of Greece’s plight 13 months after the EU and the IMF agreed to bail it out with 110 billion euros ($157 billion) in loans. Firstly, it’s a word that’s on people’s minds because the government said it is introducing a “solidarity tax” that will lead to crisis-fatigued Greeks having between 1 percent and 4 percent of their incomes kept aside to help pay benefits for the rapidly growing number of unemployed.

Continue reading

The paradox of the ‘Indignant’

Photo by Stratos Safioleas

Thousands of protesters packed Syntagma Square in Athens for a third consecutive day on Friday. Those giving up another evening to vent their anger at Greece’s plight continued to display great enthusiasm and persistence. There was something dramatic about their protest, which took place as ominous clouds rolled across the Attica sky and boneshaking thunder boomed throughout the capital. It felt like someone had splashed out on the special effects in preparation for the ultimate battle: the people vs. the political system. The unstoppable force meets the immovable object.

Continue reading