Tag Archives: Athens

Ring of fire

ringoffire“I want my life back, now!” was one of the chants heard at a teachers’ rally on Friday, when they protested against job transfers and sackings in the civil service. It’s been clear over the last three years that our daily comforts, as small as they may have been, are slipping away one by one and being replaced by uncertainty or, even worse, dead ends. To be alarmed by this is only human. We shouldn’t forget, though, that for some Greeks the wish of having their life back is not a slogan but the basis for their epitaph.

The death of three employees at the Stadiou Street branch of Marfin Egnatia Bank in central Athens remains one of the most shocking moments of this crisis. Coming on May 5, 2010, shortly after Greece agreed its first bailout agreement with the troika, the arson attack on the bank and the deaths of Angeliki Papathanasopoulou, 32, Vivi Zoulia, 34, and 36-year-old Nondas Tsakalis serve as one of the bookends for this crisis. When the other will arrive, marking the culmination of this exacting period, nobody can be sure.

In the meantime, Greece has to deal with the fallout from its dire situation and the truth is it hasn’t done that particularly well. The fact that the hooded arsonists who smashed the windows of Marfin Bank during an anti-austerity protest and then set fire to the building are still at large is symptomatic of the country’s failure to deal with some of its most obvious problems. That it is unable to provide justice for three of its young people denotes wider failings in caring for this generation. Bright, hardworking and foreign-educated, Papathanasopoulou, Zoulia and Tsakalis had much to offer but Greece, tragically, missed out. It is missing out in a similar way as more young Greeks with similar qualities and who have the skills to be agents of change abandon the country due to a lack of opportunities and eclipsing faith in decision makers.

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Trying times

It was one of those coincidences that fate conjures up every now and then when you are plugged into music as you make your way through the city.

The first few bars of Roberta Flack’s Tryin’ Times played through my earphones as a dishevelled man boarded the train. There was nothing remarkable about him and it soon became apparent that he was a drug addict – begging for money and spinning a story about a hospitalized child – like many others that trudge through Athens’s trains every day in the hope that they’ll raise enough money for their next fix.

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Greece’s long, painful suicide

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis for Cartoon Movement (http://www.cartoonmovement.com/p/6035)

There are many ways one can look upon Dimitris Christoulas’s decision to end his life in front of Parliament on Wednesday. Each has a different interpretation, each has different implications, but no matter which one you choose, they will all fill you with sorrow.

On a personal level, it is a tragedy that a 77-year-old man should feel so discouraged by what he saw around him, so appalled by his own financial misfortune and the prospect of scrounging from garbage cans to survive, that he should choose to shoot himself in the center of Athens.

One can feel nothing but despair that an active member of his community should feel so alone that he should opt to exit society in such a dramatic way. It tells us of the isolation and hopelessness that many around us feel. Lest we forget, it brings us face to face with the impact of the crisis and the flawed economic polices it has spawned. We see more clearly the people who have lost their jobs, businesses, homes and aspirations. It reminds us that the human cost of the so-called fiscal adjustment makes debates about the political cost irrelevant.

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Greece and the euro: The end of the affair

Graffiti by Absent

A few weeks ago, I was interviewed by a Danish journalist in front of Parliament. He took out a 2-euro coin, flipped it over and showed me the engraving depicting the mythological story of Europa being whisked off by Zeus, who transformed himself into a bull to achieve the task. It’s a scene that is usually known as the seduction, or even abduction, of Europa. “This coin shows the Rape of Europa,” the journalist said. “Do you think Greece is raping Europe or is Europe raping Greece?”

After picking up my jaw from the floor, I gave an inadequate answer about Europe and Greece having a consensual relationship that was going through a rough patch. “We knew all about each other when we climbed into bed together,” was my final repost to his jarring question. Of course, the truth is that seduction only really works when you don’t know all about each other. And, as we’ve discovered over the last few months, Greece knew little about itself, let alone about Europe, before becoming part of the euro.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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