Ecomical crysis in Greece, report from Thessaloninki

Saturday, 17 September 2011



The economic crisis that is sweeping Europe and seems to have crippled the economies of entire countries, almost in a vortex that slowly moves from the periphery toward the center, has found in Greece a turning point for the European consciousness. Although apparently marginal from an economic standpoint, Greece is Europe; and ”Europe” is a Greek idea, a very old one.  This very peculiar historic moment, seen from a city other than Athens, has a very special taste, largely because Thessaloniki is a much smaller city and somewhat condensed.

The diplomatic crisis between Germany and Greece, for example, as I was told by an unemployed 50-year-old former factory worker and handyman, who participated in the occupation of the square on the waterfront. I heard it thanks to a phone call between him and his German wife, currently in Germany, which made its request to send him money reacts with the words of conservative political propaganda, “You Greek want our money!” rather mixing private and public: a clear sign of the times.

Thessaloniki is truly a city full of contradictions, out of easy stereotypes. I went there flying a well-known low-cost airline that has just activated a daily direct route from London, a clear sign of the growing attraction of this tourist destination, even in times of crisis. The thing that can not fail right away, just walking along the seafront, is an impressive sequence of bars, cafes and nightclubs, open late, all filled with people who seem to really live in a parallel reality, perhaps because a large part of university students from all over Greece, or perhaps simply because they live these days in an true Hellenic way.

The slow, pleasant and Levantine pace is a part of this city that is not seen at all in Athens and which reminds me of the Middle East. Somehow this makes me feel like a true European city, in the ancestral sense of the word. The restaurants are always full, not just the weekend, people will not surrender to this way of life reminiscent of Italy 20-30 years ago, at least in the big cities. Besides, you can sit in a bar, order a cafe and then stay for hours, smoking freely everywhere, letting time pass on the also on the worries. It seems to me it is therapeutic.

The choice of the young occupants and demonstrators, however, is different; it seems more like a reaction, a coordinated one for sure, but totally disorganized, in search of a political identity that is not prey to any party, all equally guilty, for these guys: politicians have abandoned the poor and those in need to follow the logic of money and finance. All this obviously reminds the Italian situation.

Among other things, most of these youngsters, but also those in their 50s who lost their jobs, stay home tired and depressed and blame it to the euro who allegedly brought many of the current economic problems. They even ask if they could return to drakme. But obviously they blame the entire political class, a corrupt one, without exception, that govern the country with dictatorial attitude ( and here the memory of the generals is not so faded).


No coincidence that there have been several “spontaneous”attacks in recent years to politicians, from the crowd. The Government’s reaction seems to go towards an escalation of repression. One thing that jumps to the eye even to a newcomer is in fact the look of the police. It does not seem such. This impression is confirmed to me by another protester, a man of fifty years, an unemployed computer technician. The government is turning the police into an army of thugs. It ‘s true, they look like bouncers rather than police officers, all muscles, rough manners, clad in riot gear during the summer. All this is very impressive.

The movement that is now gathering is completely different: democratic in the full sense of the term; inefficient in terms of contemporary society . But they do not appear to mind at all; in the meantime they want to get out , point out a life that has dignity, even without money, never mind having a voice in representation, having distrust in much of the establishment, including media.

Me too: I did not receive a warm welcome at first, until I clarified that my interest was sincere and their problems will not be distorted by propaganda. So they agreed to share some thoughts; to be frank, only the adults, whose knowledge comes from far away, not just the boys, a little ‘lost in composing their song, they explain to me, asking me not to even make noise while recording with a mobile phone, as if that was the Homeric poems in their history, a sentimental song of the ‘other, non-political, a weaving of words and emotions in front of which interviews and pictures do not stand up because they are things that have been shown to be manipulated by propaganda. And how could you disagree?

When the lights of the day go down, a crowd fill the promenade packed with stalls and candy corn; the demonstrators in the square are mixed with the common people, they overlap in a confusing way but finally it feels like these are just the tip of the iceberg, not mob of social centers, as some rude political of ours would surely call them. In the square, the meeting are open. Anyone is free to speak, there are no recognized leaders, ideas must be confronted, all of them. It seems that this exercise of democracy is the real purpose, not so much to develop powerful requests to be submitted to the Government, but just to reclaim the ancient exercise of free speech in this country that founded the European civilization.

Saturday morning, June 4th, the local water company workers demonstrate in protest against the privatization. Not many, they barely fill a quarter of Freedom Square: 200-300 persons. The rally passes the Ote Tower, the tower under which the protesters are camped out. It does not stop even on the waterfront where they keep their free town meetings. It goes straight on, probably not wanting to mingle with those the government considers troublemakers, and then giving up a general dimension to save the bargaining on their particular problem; this is a sign of the times, the “every man for himself” that marks the civil life. A bad sign for sure, but it is something that happens often.

Returning after a few days, from this reality as exemplary,there are still more questions than answers. Being aware to know very little of this land who founded western civilization, whose origins I have studied extensively in the history books, but whose present escapes public attention, because today the value of a nation is measured in GDP and competitiveness with China.

But not here, not in this patch of civilization, behind an ancient tower, among four camping tents that hung a flag of Greece, in a scorching heat and no water…. this little corner in front of the sea, tore away from the barbarity of today consumerism and “hedonism” with which the Establishment washes off the individual consciences , almost taking out a clear plan.

And they are right. You really have to work hard not to see it.


©2012 text and photos Marco Palladino – all rights reserved

Tags: crysis, europe, ages, ancient, antiquity, blue, building, byzantine, city, coast, culture, defense, europe, fort, fortress, greece, greek, historic, history, landscape, macedonia, middle, monument, museum, old, outdoor, people, salonika, sea, sight, sightseeing, sky, stone, structure, thessaloniki, top, tourism, tower, view, waterfront

Contact Form


Email *

Message *