Witnessing the crisis
During times of economic crisis Greeks turn to socialism, immigration, religion and stereotypes.
We live in Kypseli which is one of many places in Athens that has transformed into a ‘charming multicultural neighbourhood’, which means that it is populated by a multitude of immigrants which Greek taxi drivers call ‘not a good area’. But frankly, Athens is one ‘charming multicultural city’ and many are still coming to terms with that.
Multitude of immigrants are minding their business on the streets. Around 90 per cent of illegal immigrants to the European Union use Greece as a gateway to the bloc. There is always someone with a trolley rummaging the trash containers. Many just sit around house entrances or public squares.
Refugees and illegal immigrants face hard and stressful times in Athens. Selling fake brand merchandise, washing car windows at the traffic lights, hiding around town doesn’t make then particularly popular but political scapegoats for failed governmental responsibilities.
You will see police posters of wanted African criminals alongside ‘fuck the police’ and ‘good night white pride’ slogans.
There is a lot of ‘kontra’ thinking in Athens. That goes against many things: the government, police, fascism, imperialism, globalism…
Asking for solidarity with the migrants and expensive marble cleaning. Armed Athena has lost her power.
On the other side of the Athens Academy which is a major sight forming the ‘Athenian trilogy’ (together with the National library and University).
Drug dealing in public.
The junkies are just next door occupying the University of Athens. Designed by Danish architects, the Hansen brothers in the mid 19th century, it features multicoloured frescoes with classical themes decorating the walls behind the columns. The zombies come out in the evening.
I don’t think I have ever seen heroin being administered live, especially not at a popular city sight but then again, in my secluded childhood world I found it distressing to see a dead fly on the windowsill. Watching junkies on the spot was more sensational than shocking (which came afterwards).
The same sight greets in Exarchia, a downtown neighbourhood that governs itself right next to better off and touristy Kolonaki.
Police popularity ratings are on a long time low. Graffiti on its high.
Not only junkies are out on the streets. Call it coincidence but every time we were sightseeing around Athens there were demonstrations of some kind.
Walking against the current. It felt weird to pass thousands of protesters going the other way.
Pupils protest (preferably around class time). Here are teenagers ditching class and parading in our neighbourhood for a better future.
Auntie Magda’s good old friend, a souvenir owner at touristy Plaka was complaining about bad business and wished for the return of Greece’s old currency, the Drachma. One of many, he will close down by the end of the year. You will find many empty store fronts, even in the heart of the major shopping area of Athens.
The older generation used to have a much better life and can show off well nurtured bellies.
The streets were covered with flyers of communist paroles and Russian revolutionist heroes during protests.
Socialist movements sound out tempting paroles.
Add the continuous cuts in public spending, the slicing of salaries, pensions and benefits and who would not want to swing a red flag.
Tomek got a flyer and pretends to read Greek. He can actually! Understanding is the tricky part. But sometimes doable – with over fifty thousand English words derived from the Greek language.
Protests in front of the symbol of capitalism, the Bank of Greece.
Graffiti have to be removed on a daily basis.
‘Strikethrough’ the Bank of Greece.
Another popular gathering place is in front of the Greek Parliament at Syntagma Square.
Greece has come under heavy pressure from the European Union and IMF due to various financial abuses and benefit frauds. It has to crack down in return for its latest 130 milliard Euro bailout.
Therefore those bodies are seen as dictators, particularly Germany. Feisty rhetoric finds an audience.
Once residence of German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, designed by German-Greek architect Ernst Ziller in the late 19th century, the swastikas were a good luck symbol. Today it is the Numismatic Museum on Panepistimiou Street and of course, graffiti canvas.
Greece has been profiting largely from the EU. Virtually all sparkling public buildings, museums, train stations and metros in Athens have a plaque that reads ‘European Union’. But the good times are over and people are made to pay for years of government overspending. Harsh cuts and austerity measures have been imposed on the country.
In return Greeks recall the damage Germany inflicted on Greece during World War II. The popularity of extremist views is rising.
The poster depicts Adolf Hitler and chancellor Angela Merkel and reads ‘Don’t buy German products, resistance against fourth Reich’.
‘No to the Euro’ is a crowd pleaser.
If you want to make good money despite the recession in Athens open up a poster printing business, a frappé-café, souflaki store or sell spray cans.
If you see a poster in Athens it will most likely announce protest.
Some view the church as Greece’s last saviour.
Banners read: “The new world order wants us slaved. The orthodox church wants us free.”
‘Jesus Christ is my only hope’. Good luck with that.
Due to constant protests it was hit and miss with museum visits. Most were closed on the day of protests (that happened a lot).
Checking opening hours on the internet was no use. At many sights self-made stickers proclaimed earlier closing times.
The metro was locked down before and during protests so we ended up walking a lot during our stay in Athens.
Okay, no strolling through the national gardens today either. Let’s join protests then.
If you like to come to Athens to see some leftovers of amazing ancient Greece, you should. If you like to prepare yourself for some charming Greek reality, watch the recent science fiction film ‘Loopers’, cut out the American idea of everyone carrying a rifle and you got yourself an idea of this city. Yes, I am a terrible exaggerator. Coming from Budapest, Athens makes for a remarkable contrast within the EU.
Greece has to lower its costs, fight corruption, streamline government and reduce the power of entrenched interest groups. That is a lot to demand from a country that has been used to living beyond its means. Due to harsh austerity measures, unemployment, poverty and protest is on the rise – so are the doubts if the current government will actually be able to enforce passed laws.
It is irresponsible to demand from Greeks to be Germans. You can’t change a culture over night.
Let’s just hope for the best or as the Germans say: ‘Augen zu und durch.’