Saturday, October 1, 2011

Greece is slipping into the abyss: Civilization is literally breaking down, and the nation shows what's in store for the rest of us

As the economic crisis worsens, the very fabric of society in Athens is being ripped apart as the Greeks lose their good humour and generosity.

Greek grannies are as ubiquitous and iconic as Greek cats. Dressed immaculately in widow’s black, and with their grey hair neatly styled, they are proud figures. They are treated with respect by even the most rebellious youths, and acknowledged by all as the head of the fiercely maternal family groups that bind Greek society together.

The old lady I saw on the street in Athens this week was typical, except in one shocking respect. She was begging. Beggars are normal here these days, but almost all are immigrants or drug users. This was different. The image of this proud woman sitting on a plastic crate outside the supermarket with her hands out has stayed in my mind. If a symbol is needed to illustrate the unravelling of Greek society, then this is it.

The Athens I knew 20 years ago has changed radically. I used to tell British friends that despite its chaos, it was a very civilised city. When I moved here, you didn’t have homeless people sleeping on the streets, there was little crime and the sick and needy were looked after. That civility is vanishing fast. With economic doom becoming ever more likely, it sometimes feels as if the fabric of society is being ripped asunder.

Muggings used to be a rarity; not any more. Walk down the main streets of central Athens at night and you will see people sleeping rough. The other day I had to deal with a young man who had passed out on my doorstep. He may have been drunk, but in these crisis-stricken days, it is just as likely that he was high on crack cocaine, now selling for 5 euros a hit. I wasn’t going to risk disturbing him – I had my children with me.

My area of central Athens is a relatively “bad” location, but there are much worse places. The neighbourhood of Psirri borders the popular tourist attractions. Ten years ago, Psirri was rejuvenated. Bars and cafes opened, old buildings were restored. A live jazz club opened that was an instant hit. The club is gone now, and most of the shops are closed. The area became so dangerous that people simply stopped going there. Now it’s riddled with drugs. People shoot up on the street and accost anyone foolish enough to stray through the area for money. And all of this takes place a short walk from the Acropolis. more