12/12/2008 Athens was burning
My first two days in Athens felt surreal. Here we are, staying in a posh hotel, attending a congress on media (Global Forum for Media Development) with 450 media people. Meanwhile a few blocks away thousands of Greeks were demonstrating and fighting with the police.
Few people wanted to involve, one of them was Sameer, hub manager at Witness.org. He went out to have a look at the riots in the old city and shoot some video. Afterwards he showed me the material and his Flip camera; magnificent in its simplicity, quality and price.
I went for a walk to the centre on my third day in Athens (Wednesday 10 Dec). First I went to the Parliament building. At 12.30 hr. the demonstration was forced to spread. For this the police mainly used tear gas. Nasty stuff. The demonstrators looked like average citizens (students but also older people, white collars ect). They could well belong to the ‘Generation 700’; well educated people in their twenties and thirties with a monthly income of about 700 euro’s. That might be enough ten years ago but this is definitely not the case any more.
The scene I still remember clearly – without taking a picture – was the young boy crying on the pavement, leaning against a window. Some people were helping him, to get the tear gas out of his face by blowing cigarette smoke in his eyes. The ten year old happened to be on the wrong place when the police starting firing the tear gas.
I continued walking to the Athens Polytech that was taken over by students and other youngsters. It is located about 500 metres from the Parliament. The Polytech has a history regarding uprising. Wednesday the situation at the University looked grim; many black clothes and gas masks, some hollow looking junkies at the entrance and big speakers blasting out loud punk rock music. The surrounding streets were a complete mess; everything that was inflammable – cars, trees and houses – was burned.
What always surprises me in this kind of situations; the way ordinary life continues. Also in Athens men continued doing their shopping, women kept selling cookies even when the police turned up behind their back, lots of people went for a walk in the old city centre during their lunch break. And of course, the taxi driver did not want to drive me back to the hotel (2 km) for less than 20 euro. No way buddy.
The Greek do not trust their government; corruption is said to be wide spread and the investments in the Greek society are insufficient; in health, in welfare and especially on education. Of course, the concept of democracy is never finished and needs constant maintenance. Because times, yes they are changing. But it is ironic to see the country that invented democracy in such a troubled state.
Independent Greek paper Kathimerini; English edition
The Economist; Rioters without Frontiers