A 10 year old boy fights with his 7 year old sister who’s been beating the younger 3 year old girl. They fight around 3 large suitcases presumably their lifelong belongings against the backdrop of the Acropolis, the ancient ruins of an ancient more hopeful Greece.
But here today, in austerity Greece the boy is now the head of what appears to be an abandoned family, he takes charge and claims authority whilst his mother and father are nowhere to be seen, they will probably have left to search for work or for food, I have no idea if they will return. This is not a normal sight but neither, it appears, is it unusual enough for passers-by to stop and offer any help…
Which means I am the only one who has stopped to observe this short episode from the unfolding Greek tragedy, a part of me wants to step in and control the boy, to stop him from hitting the girl, but I know I can’t and so I continue on my way wondering if this is a future coming to us all.
Around the city small Rapid Response teams of riot police relax around their motorbikes enjoying their cigarettes waiting for the call to action. In the Greece of today there is a heightened sense of fear and anger about what I am told is the seemingly uncontrollable flow of immigrants arriving in their hundreds of thousands from Africa and the Middle-East on route to western Europe – and because of the severe economic recession the majority of Greeks now see this influx as a major problem and want a clampdown on illegal immigration – in a recent newspaper poll nearly half of those questioned wanted all immigrants removed from the country.
But EU law prevents these immigrants from moving on into mainland Europe and with no chance of work many of them are forced to turn to crime. In these tense and austere times it is easy for people to believe stories they are told, and therefore rumour is rife and many locals believe rightly or wrongly that knife attacks are on the increase and that Moroccans are to blame.
The Rapid Response teams are part of the governments answer to these fears and tensions, but they don’t always get it right. Recently a Pakistani professor from Athens university was visiting an immigrant dominated area of the city to give a lecture just as the police team was doing a swoop of the same area against illegal immigrants, and before he knew it he was being bundled into the back of a police van. Protesting his innocence, and explaining that he was in fact a respected university professor the police just laughed and locked the door, to them his colour and origin meant he was obviously an illegal immigrant. He was held for a day before the police finally realised their mistake, issued him with an apology for their behaviour, and released him.
Welcome to the new democratic model possibly coming to a country near you, a broken economy with a broken political system.
As a friend explains to me “The people don’t know where to cast their vote because none of them trust their politicians any-more”. We are at the start of an impossible future where the only way forward is to break with the seemingly never ending cycle of corruption and find a clean start, but how to do this takes a revolution (a Greek Spring), and to do nothing provides Greece with no viable future in or out of Europe.
In “Ammonia” square I see more homeless Greeks collecting discarded cans to recycle for money. I pass a couple sipping from a can of beer, the man is crying intensely and the woman is trying hard to comfort him but she cannot stop his tears. It is an unusual sight but no-one else seems concerned no matter how much the man cries.