Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Akropolis Now!

Athens at this time of year is guaranteed to be hot. This year, however, the heat goes beyond the soaring temperatures of the current mini heatwave the Greek capital is experiencing.

In Athenian society there is a searing burning resentment for the way - as many see it - their country has sold out in order to protect the euro.

Friday saw pictures of the Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou grinning warmly flanked by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy. A deal had been done; a Greek tragedy averted. Talking to Athenians and Greeks from other reaches of this proud country, there is deep resentment that photo calls with bilious looking politicians will do nothing to dampen.

In the centre of Athens is its symbol: the majestic Akropolis that has stood for thousands of years and seen the birth of democracy, the growth of art and culture, and now the undermining of a proud nation's history. There is even a rumour that the Greek government was willing to put up the Akropolis as collateral in any debt refinancing deal. It goes without saying that resentment runs deep.

The breathing space afforded Greece from the emergency EU summit has also saved the euro zone: a currency that has eroded the Greek standard of living and eradicated its capacity to survive as an independent nation state.

The impact on Greek society has not yet been realised fully but is beginning to show itself. Parliament Square in the centre of Athens is a campsite and home to banners, flags and graffiti on every surface, draped or hung off every lamppost and building. Every taxi driver is on strike, blocking airports and ports in a further attempt to drive home their point. This in turn is inconveniencing tourists trying to travel around the country in stifling temperatures often above 100 degrees.

At the same time the socialist government seems hesitant in modernising the economy through privatisations and prudent spending plans. Greeks tend to retire early on pensions the state cannot afford. It is a country in many ways seemingly in denial at the extent of the crisis it faces.

One local told me that, as it is holiday season, the protests and rioting seen in May and June would return in September. July? It is simply too hot and 'the boys are at the beach chasing the girls'. This truce doesn't prevent a very heavy and unsettling presence of armed and riot police throughout the capital.

Ancient Attica was where the people came together building a society and recognising democracy was beneficial to all. It seems sadly ironic that such an undemocratic institution as the European Union has created such startling cracks in Greece's society today. 

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