Having only arrived in Athens last night, I haven’t had much of a chance to explore, but you don’t have to go far to realise that this isn’t your average European country. From the moment you step out at Syntagma Square station, the poverty can be seen. Homeless men with their cartons for donations sit heads down outside the station, and dot the main streets around the square. The nights are warm, so the blanketed bundles you would see on British streets are more human and less easy to pretend you haven’t seen. Later, the women gather on Halkokondili. What is most remarkable is how ordinary they look. Dressed in jeans and casual clothing, they stand slightly separated among the boarded up shops, and unrepaired buildings, and wait for the cars to come. It is not usually too long before they do.
The men that stand on the street corners, surveying the passing traffic are there for a very different purpose. Police wearing heavy protection stand – an intimidating presence, keeping a watchful eye over the population. Large burly tall men, with shin guards and helmets in hand, they really don’t like being photographed. Really, really, don’t like being photographed. Their base is a fortified bus – the windows covered in metal grills: to watch them come off it is like watching a scene in a sci-fi movie – it has an unreality about it on a warm quiet Athens night, as people walk casually by.
The graffiti around the place is substantial – in some districts there isnt a spare bit of wall that isnt covered in spraypaint. Mostly slogans, and mostly political (as far as I can tell) are everywhere while inbetween odd pieces of urban art inject some life into what would be rather dry propaganda. The posters, pasted to the walls, are everywhere. None more than perhaps a month out of date, the problems of Athens and the proposed solutions are all around you together with instructions of how you can play a part and become involved. The availability of radical material here is far, far greater than in Scotland. With only the wee red bookshop, selling second hand left books and the CCA selling a small collection of new ones, it is not easy to find a good selection of radical literature in Glasgow. Street stalls here, in addition to the mainstream press also carry a selection of the radical press, while within a few hours of arrival we managed to come across a radical bookstore.
Its very strange to be at the places you recognise from youtube videos. Every so often you realise that this was the underground station where the police threw in tear gas canisters as people tried to escape their violence and that you had seen people being beaten on the steps you were standing on. It is strange also to get a whole orientation of Syntagma Square, which you only usually see from one particular angle, and it strikes you the parliament of Athens is in dangerously close proximity to its people.
The causes, reactions and resistance to the problems of Athens are being played out on its streets.