Athens is a really lovely city, small and self-contained, there isnt the same level of corporate chains that seem to be omnipresent in the UK. Little independent shops and cafes proliferate – although it is notable that there are a great many boarded up places. No-matter who you speak to, people are very worried about the situation in Greece – prostitution isn’t confined to nighttime, through the day, the relevant streets are just as busy, and open begging occurs. The hustle has become a way of life, with a proliferation of small traders selling cigarettes, CDs, flowers, foodstuffs and even packets of hankies as they go from cafe to cafe, while in the more affluent areas entertainers approach in the hope that a euro or two may come their way.
Many people here are effectively working for free. One pensioner told me that he and his wife were surviving on his small pension as she had not been paid for six months. When I asked if she was still going to work, he replied “…of course”. I asked if it was because she enjoyed what she did, and he told me that she hated her job, but that it was important to keep a sense of normality in these times, otherwise they would lose all hope. His voice cracking, he spoke of how he hated to see Athens in this state, that although it had never been a rich city, people could survive…and now they can’t.
No-one here has any confidence that the elections will bring any improvement. They are seen very much as an irrelevant and a sideshow, no-one is really very interested – not the men in the cafes, nursing a bottle of beer while smoking thin roll-ups made from tobacco in paper envelopes, who watch the television and shake their heads at all the parties equally, not the activists who pretty much see it as a hurdle to be gotten through so that real work can start. There is a fatalism about the situation, when asked what people think will make things better, ordinary people tend to shrug and say that the situation is too far gone – that if they had stopped them a year ago they had a chance, but now Greece will become a Third World country, as the EU exploits their mineral resources and forces them to sell off their assets.
Immigration is an enormous issue. There is a net influx of approximately 300 people a day coming into Greece, and a detention camp has just been built just outside the city. The main reaction is that it is not enough, more and bigger camps should be built and immigration should be curtailed. Even from the left, there is a recognition that the country cannot support them. The Greek government receives money for allowing them in, yet gives them no support while there, so overcrowded accommodation houses people with no means of support who resort to theft to survive. Occupied London today reports on the opening of the immigrant “hospitality centre”, together with attacks on immigrant workers. People are eager to tell lurid tales of migrants from the third world murdering little old ladies, yet when asked for specifics you are told it happens all the time but the government is hushing it up. It would seem these tales circulate by word of mouth, growing arms and legs in the telling.
Posters from a variety of anarchist organisations and the Communist Party (KKE) are all over the streets, on every lamppost, pillar and boarded up shop. It is notable that in the more lively areas anarchist posters tend to be more common, while in the more run-down areas KKE posters dominate. There is open hostility between the anarchist and communist elements and people are visibly surprised when I tell them that in Scotland, anarchists and socialists work together, before agreeing that is the way that it should be. Both sides consider that the other is infiltrated by the police acting as agent provocateurs and when outside, checking around them before imparting this information. People are scared of the police here, and there is a recognition that there is a fascist element within the police force. At one level it seems like paranoia, yet on the other hand, just because you are paranoid it doesnt mean that they are not out to get you. It appears evident that all may not be exactly what they seem.
Tomorrow is Mayday, and there will be a large gathering in the central square. When you ask people if they are going then they dither. It is clear that they would like to, it is equally clear that they are scared of what may happen. No-one that I have mentioned my plan of going to Mayday in the square to has not warned me extensively to be careful and that it is likely that there will be trouble. They speak of the tear gas and the beatings, and of the “Robocops”. People say that they are not allowed to say what they think openly, that they are not allowed to tell the government that they are sick of it, because the government does not want to hear, and that they will be silenced if they try. The men in the cafes tell me that they are too old now to change anything, and that it is only the young ones that can do anything – most of them are in their 40s and 50s. Apart from the police brutality, other warnings come of the fascists mingling among the crowd and picking people off.
The sanguinity of people when they talk of the fascist presence is disconcerting. To hear the owner of a left-wing bookshop talk matter of factly of his shop twice being attacked by the Golden Dawn and of his fears that it will be bombed is disturbing. From all of the people that I have spoken to, despite many of them being considerably hostile to immigration and indeed immigrants themselves, no-one has any sympathy for the fascists. There is no immediate fear of a military coup, one man told me that he felt that the need for it had passed that the situation in Greece was now so unsavable that there was no need to impose military rule because they could get away with destroying the country and its people through pretending to be a democracy.
With people working for free as it is the only normality that they can cling onto; an increasing culture of immigrant blaming; fears of bombings from the fascists, and beatings from the police; no confidence in the parliamentary process, even among some of the organisations participating in it, in the eyes of ordinary people, hope is slipping away.