The City: Athens

Article excerpt

Byline: Haris Vlavianos

Haris Vlavianos portrays an 'unquiet' people in a time of crisis.

Athens is a city with a famous past but unfortunately an infamous present. As the capital of Greece, she still enjoys the prestige that the Parthenon and other "glorious ruins"--Greek and Roman--bestow on her, but as the seat of the discredited Greek government, she has in the past few months been at the center of a storm. TV channels around the world have been showing, almost on a daily basis, pictures of a city under siege. For most Europeans and Americans, Athens is no longer the sunny place that hosted the Olympic Games a few years back, but the "center of corruption" where shrewd and ruthless politicians, like a group of mafiosi in a Scorsese movie, engage in reckless, irresponsible acts that threaten the stability of the euro, and by extension the entire European economic structure. A city where every day there are demonstrations, strikes, clashes with the police, burnings of public buildings, beatings of innocent civilians--in short, chaos.

The scars of this wounded city are evident everywhere. In all parts, whether rich or poor. If a tourist takes a stroll around the popular, chic neighborhood of Kolonaki, famous for its expensive boutiques and exclusive clubs and restaurants, within a stone's throw from the Maximou--the office of the prime minister--and Constitution Square (the meeting place of the enraged citizens who for months now have been protesting outside Parliament, demanding a change of government and of the country's austere economic policies), he will experience a slight shock. Empty offices, apartments, department stores, and clubs carrying the sign "for rent" on the front entrance, its owners and business managers the first victims of Greece's sudden impoverishment (some would say of its "fake" prosperity); beggars and junkies clustering on street corners asking for money to buy their dosage or a piece of bread; broken windowpanes and marble sidewalks, a reminder of the riots that broke out three years ago, sparked by the killing of a young student, Alexandros Grigoropoulos, by an "overzealous," mindless policeman; and finally no public figure sitting among those who are still enjoying their espresso under the clear skies of Attica. Politicians these days are a very rare breed and are not to be seen anywhere. …