Thursday, 13 May 2010

Athens Portraits: Conspiracy Theorists

As he drives his cab through the city streets, Mitsos will tell you who’s behind the crisis Greece is struggling to come to terms with. It’s THEM.

His friend, Kostas, agrees as he puffs furiously on his cigarette (so much more expensive since recent tax hikes). It’s “the others”, he says, that want to bring a proud people to their knees.

A gaggle of students in brand-name trainers and jeans shout in agreement, and a worried looking housewife nods grimly as she tries to work out if anything will be left of her shrinking civil service salary after the bills are paid.

As for Yiayia (Grandma), she blames the Turks – and the Germans.

You hear it everywhere: in cafeterias, on trains, droning out of radios perched on workshop shelves, buzzing through Greek cyber-space: “They’re out to get us!”

Greeks love a good conspiracy theory. Perhaps it’s only natural for a nation with resistance running through its veins, after 400 years of Ottoman Rule and - more recently - a military dictatorship that squashed resistance with a heavy fist. But since Greece has started being portrayed in international headlines as the wild child of Europe, recklessly spending money it doesn’t have then asking others to bail it out, the conspiracy mill has gone into overdrive.

Though many Greeks accept that the root of the problem lies within, there are plenty who condemn outside forces who want to bring their proud nation down. Maybe it’s Wall Street trying to undermine the Euro? Or Corporate America determined to bash people into more obedient consumerism? Or perhaps Greece is the first stage in the imposition of a New World Order?

Greeks hate being told what to do, so the conditions that come with the EU/IMF rescue package are an anathema to them. They deeply resent being under someone else’s supervision.

Perhaps the biggest conspiracy is the one no-one is talking about. The conspiracy of silence that turned a blind eye to the abuses of the system while society fed on the fruits of capitalism, wearing American sports shoes, driving German cars, and cooled by Japanese air conditioning units.

But Mitsos will certainly tell you: “Den ftaio ego” (“It’s not my fault”).

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Spare a thought...

Spare a thought for the Athenian fire crew that tackled the blaze at Marfin Egnatia Bank in the city centre today.

Like thousands of other Greek public servants, they face the prospect of drastic cuts in their pay and benefits.

They also have to come to terms with the finding the dead bodies of three bank workers they found inside, who had been overcome by smoke after a Molotov Cocktail was thrown into the bank by an angry protestor.

Spare a thought too for the fiance of one of the victims who heard the unthinkable reply when he asked if she was alive - and what had become of their unborn child....

Spare a thought for the family and friends of that young mother-to-be, and those of the two other people who lost their lives with her today. They are most likely simple hard-working people trying their best to make ends meet in difficult times.

Today's victims had chosen - either out of necessity or principle - not to join the general strike and protest outside Parliament against the austerity measures the Greek Government plans to impose in a bid to pay back the massive bail-out to cover the huge National Debt. It was as much their right to work as it was the right of the protestors to make their voices heard.

Greeks have protest woven into their DNA. As a people, they have been through a lot in their recent history including fierce resistance to Nazi occupation during WWII, bitter civil strife after that war ended and a military dictatorship - all in living memory. The right to protest is one they hold dear. A right they exercise often - and loudly.

But Greeks are also a friendly and peace-loving (though noisy) people, and the deaths of three innocent workers as a result of today's disruption has shaken most people to the core.

Among them are the firemen who made their macabre discovery in the burning bank, and the policemen who faced a barrage of rocks, chairs and burning bottles in Syntagma Square.

So, spare a thought for them as they head home to nurse their bruised limbs and battered psyches, having come face-to-face with the human cost of violence, and wonder how they too are going to make ends meet in the months to come....