The fall of Greece
Greece has come a long way from the prosperous community it once was, to become the debt-saddled country struggling to keep up with commitments – badly needed to guarantee rescue loan payments and long-term Euro membership.
“No society ever reached the heights that were attained by ancient Greece. It was the cradle of culture. It was a happy country. What happened? What made it fall? Historians don’t satisfy me. Wars, politics… Something’s missing, something personal.
I want to walk where Aristotle walked. Socrates… I can’t explain it. I don’t know. I have a feeling I’ll find something.”
(Quote from ‘Never on a Sunday’)
I walked, just like amateur philosopher and American tourist Homer from the great 1960 Greek film ‘Never on a Sunday’.
This is what I saw.
There is a prevalent anarchic element in Athens. It’s about the way the city looks and how things work.
During our two month stay we were faced with Greek mentality that seems to be forming rules as they go along. It’s many small things that made me wonder.
Like the flat owner telling you to screw the middleman when booking, getting offended because you point out the mouldy washing machine, increasing flat rates because you would like to prolong your stay. It’s crossing red lights as if they didn’t exist. It’s the museum cashier letting you in without the ticket because they are about to close. It’s disappointed tourists standing in front of closed sights, which have been closing earlier than they should.
But it gets bigger than that.
It is about having one official job, but doing another on the side, preferably screwing public employment. It’s collecting bills for friends and family so they can save on income tax. Illegally building a big shopping complex in Athens. Paying ‘extra’ to get a doctor’s appointment or for medical treatment.
Tomek’s auntie, a Greek resident gave 350 Euros to the practitioner for an eye operation which is paid by health insurance. She was asked to add a 50 Euros tip for the anaesthesiologist. No receipts. It was amazing to hear about the common practice of bribes and the generally accepted pension abuse.
Screwing the state that does not seem to care is mirrored by the behaviour of its people. Greece is facing a crisis. It is monetary, yes, but it is a moral crisis of a corrupt state just the same.
PUBLIC TRANSPORT, CARS AND TAXI SCAMS
Anarchy is what you get in the city. The bus driver not letting an elderly women board because a parked car blocks doors and he can’t be bothered to drive up to let her in… drivers opening the front door generally as they please which always causes confusion amongst people waiting at the bus stop… buses never running according to schedule.
The taxi driver adding 6 km to the way, only to rip you off one more time by adding 20% extra charges to the amount displayed on the meter. Tourist police telling you to pay what drivers demand and to visit their offices to complain another day. [If you want to stay safe, pick your driver accordingly. We have had very good experiences with the elderly, grey haired honest, calm drivers who are generally not the macho-impulsive-aggressive drivers coming from the frustrated younger generation.]
Car owners have the habit to follow egoistic convenience, parking anywhere in the city. That includes the very middle of the road, on pedestrian crossings or blocking bus stops. If you don’t let a car pass on a pedestrian crosswalk you might get honked at.
A typical scene.
Same here. No one inside the car.
Waiting for the bus, the Athenian way on the road.
Buses stop where they please.
Police are perceived as unpredictable, switching from helpless-passive to overly-agressive.
Police line up for arriving protesters. I love this picture for the laid back lady in red boots sipping her drink before the storm.
Heavy police presence to protect the parliament building.
Crossing red lights doesn’t bother state authority much. Greek police does not have an eye for minor offences like these.
Generally, while patrolling the city, police are confronted with little appreciation.
Many socialist, anarchist, and antifascist groups are accommodated in Exarcheia, a neighbourhood in central Athens (located around the Athens Polytechnic). They plan rallies and demonstrations targeting symbols of authority and capitalism. Generally speaking, they are the main troublemakers in Athens. Exarcheia sort of governs itself, paradoxically not really being controlled by police who stay out for fear of instigating more violence by their presence.
Exarcheia – the symbol of governmental failure, revolution and protest. But also an interesting place to hang out with some organic stores, used books, CDs, records and comic shops, theatrical shows and concerts (and a lot of graffiti, of course).
THE OCCUPIED ATHENS POLYTECHNIC
The so called ‘Athens Polytechnic’ is in Exarcheia. A famous place occupied by a mix of students, older anarchists, immigrants and thrill-seekers protesting everything from police brutality to globalization to American imperialism.
The National Technical University of Athens, as it is officially called, was established in 1836 and is one of Greece’s leading schools. Since the 1980s the main campus is located outside the city centre, leaving its beautiful neoclassical buildings to the whims of protest groups.
The university administration seems to view the squatters as uninvited house guests who overstayed so long ago that they have become part of the system. Unfortunately, squatters mainly hold demonstrations and destroy university property.
The Athens Polytechnic was the site of historical events in 1973 when a student uprising marked the beginning of the fall of the military junta and dictatorship.
Under an asylum law instituted after the police brutally crushed the student rebellion, the Greek police are not allowed on university terrain!
The fence, bulldozed by a military tank in 1973 is now a monument on university grounds.
During our stay, on the 17th November 2012, around 30,000 demonstrators honoured the dozens killed in the 1973 revolt. At the same time voicing disgust at the recent austerity policies imposed on loan-dependent Greece. Banners read “We can topple this new junta” and “No to the fourth Reich” or “Our revolt will become your nightmare”.
An endless line of police buses barricaded the US embassy. 7,000 policemen were on high alert in the city that day. The traditional march began at the campus of the Polytechnic and ended at the embassy.
Protests often vent at the US embassy. The US is not very popular amongst demonstrators as it was backing the military dictatorship in Greece which lasted from 1967 to 1974.
Protests are on every week, during our stay there were demonstrations almost every day.
Yesterday (6th December 2012), students, left-wing groups and anarchists marched to commemorate the fatal shooting of a teenager which led to three weeks of heavy rioting throughout Greece in 2008. A police officer who disobeyed orders to withdraw from the confrontation site, fired warning shots at provoking youths in Exarcheia.
The shots ricocheted and killed 15 year old Alexandros Grigoropoulos. The officer received a life long sentence. The teenager has a plaque on the wall with his picture which has grown to a shrine.
Every year the incident is an occasion for frustrated youth to relieve anger. Recent protests ended with demonstrators throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at the police, shouting “cops, bastards, child killers”, as well as vandalizing and looting nearby stores.
The oldest occupied house in Athens has been in autonomous hands since the 90s.
Police have tried to evacuate squatters three times with no effect.
Athens is the place to find international squatters’ symbols all over town.
Squatting in Athens is commonly seen and tends to be a mixture of anarchist and socialist movements.
Rent free for life. Yeah!
Show me one building in Athens that has not been adorned with graffiti or posters and I will post it. The walls and grounds in Athens reflect the crisis.
View of a typical street in Athens (with unusually few cars).
There are very few examples of great graffiti. Most of it is just crap.
Those ‘girly’ paintings were frequently dispersed around town.
Here are two standing-out examples.
End of the world scenario in Athens, well done artistically.
It’s not just a financial crisis.
Symbols of anger.
Summary of the crisis.
The international monetary fund is not well liked, prompting Greeks to reform their system.
Chain reaction. The effects of government ‘screwing’ its people.
The gods have long left Greece. It is the time of monotheism now.
This place knows what it is dealing with. Greek anarchist protesters are renowned for serious material damage. All stores have roll-down metal security gates which are adorned with graffiti smears.
Removing graffiti from a hotel façade after protests in the centre. Everyone owns a bucket of acetone. In Athens, vandalism is when you try to remove anarchist smears.
Public and private property is suffering at large in Athens.
Children taking apart the wreaths marking the name day of Saint Dimitrios on the 26th October 2012.
Dimitrios is a popular Greek name. I recommend you to watch an authentic Greek low budget movie, called ‘Super Dimitrios’. It’s funny in parts, largely silly but placed in Thessaloniki and makes for a good introduction to Greece.
The younger generation are angry and there is a widespread feeling of frustration about specific economic problems of the country, partly seen as a result of the global economic crisis. The rising unemployment rate and general perception of inefficiency and corruption in Greek state institutions isn’t exactly uplifting.
Crisis meal anyone?
Cafés are filled at all times with young folk.
‘I didn’t go to work today… I don’t think I’ll do tomorrow. Let’s take control of our lives and live for pleasure, not pain’.
A Greek joke goes “Did you know Jesus was a Greek? He believed his mother to be a virgin, she treated him like a god and he didn’t start work until after he was thirty”.
Greece, the birthplace of democracy has turned to ANARCHY and an era of low level political violence. Athens is a city of ancient splendour in ruins.
It’s not all that dramatic. Just watch ‘Never on a Sunday’ with famous Greek actress Melina Mercouri and enjoy some happy Greek culture, food and bouzouki.