Tag: Greece

Greece is crying

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.

Athens Tear Gas

I tripped over a syringe yesterday as I walked past a shopping trolley which was half-full of empty cans; recycling other peoples rubbish is a good way of making money in a financial crisis – I flashback to my meetings with the hordes of homeless in Japan – but this shopping trolley is padlocked to a post so precious is it and its contents. Nearby two ‘homeless’ guys sleep slumped together awkwardly. As I make my way home I become aware of an eerie silence permeating the streets and the boarded-up shops.

The silence is broken here and there by moments of quiet action as I pass small groups of people sitting outside still open cafes. Is this the new face of Europe I ask myself as the crisis steamrolls onwards unabated uncontrolled towards an end that no-one really knows.

Here in Athens people still like to live life as much as possible – with a strong emphasis on eating and drinking – it takes ones mind off the bleak harsh reality of life.

Tonight, In the anarchist run square where I am staying a live band entertains a massive happy crowd into the early hours of the morning until a loud boom is heard, and suddenly people start to move. There is a strong stench in air and my eyes quickly become weary and irritated – “It is tear-gas!” someone announces, and the crowd pushes out of the square, groups of once happy party people are forced to cover their faces with handkerchiefs as they head off in the direction of the police who (although they remain outside the quarter) have made it clear that the party has gone on long enough, that now it must end. I decide to return to my room.

As I enter the hotel I joke with the hotel manager that check-in should include a gas mask, he laughs but I am kind of serious. This is nuts. A country at war with itself in a doomsday international economic crisis never seen before in history – but the manager laughs and tells me to wait for tomorrow night “You will get used to it soon” he says bidding me goodnight as I head upstairs to watch the night from my balcony.


I’m writing this quickly during a break in my day-tour of Athens, a 3 hour crash-course Greek history lesson before I head into the night and the bars for some real research – I have arranged a meeting with a great Greek singer called Ghannis who I am hoping has some good contacts and leads for me.

Last night, soon after arriving here, I met a wonderful sculptor called Costa, we talked about Greece, its history, the people, the financial situation, the future, and we shared some great wine to help me acclimatize, but it was while we were eating that it dawned upon me how much I missed the Middle-East.

My Yemen film (The Reluctant Revolutionary) aired on Japanese television last night and Atsushi my best friend in Japan sent me an email “They say we are going to be the next Greek tragedy, you should come and make another film here after Greece”, he wrote. But… I still have my Syria film to finish first – and getting to grips with Greece and the enormity of what is going on here, feels quite daunting.

Following Wednesday’s meeting at the BBC (after successfully getting this film commissioned) Nick Fraser and I were discussing what it would be like if it happened here “Do you think the British ever stop to think what they will do if Britain becomes the next Greece?” he asked me, “No”, I replied, “First, I don’t think most people here have the slightest idea about how bad things really are in Greece for the ordinary people, the television and the papers certainly aren’t telling them, and anyway, this is Britain, it might be bad, but that sort of thing could never happen to us.“