Saturday, April 26, 2014

[travel] Greece: signs of the crisis

Regarding my travels to Greece, a few people asked me if I saw any signs of Greece's economic problems while I was there, and I would have to say that I did not. It did not feel like a country that was falling apart, though obviously I did not have to engage with the country's healthcare system or state apparatus.

The only thing that came close to indicating the country's economic problems was the train system. This has been severely curtailed as a result of the tightening of public spending, to the extent that there are no longer direct train links between Greece and neighbouring countries. If this had not been the case I may have travelled to Greece through the Balkans rather than by getting an overnight ferry from Bari in Italy to Patras. And because the train line to Patras has been shut down, I had to get a bus from there to Athens.

Apart from that I did not see any direct sign of the crisis: no people rooting through rubbish bins for food, no more beggars on the street than you would get in any country, no obvious signs of there being masses of people sleeping rough in Athens (unlike in prosperous Milan where I saw quite a few rough sleepers). The centre of Athens felt like a prosperous enough place and while the city has its seamier bits, so does everywhere. Sparta (the least touristy place I visited) also did not feel like somewhere in the grip of an economic meltdown. I am not saying this to suggest that the Greeks are only pretending to have endured one of the most extreme declines in living standards ever experienced by a developed country, just to say that the effects of this fall off were hidden from me.

I did see a guy protesting outside the Greek Parliament (holding up a sign informing passers by that Wall Street is where he defecates), but I see that kind of thing all the time in Dublin so it was not really much of a novelty. On my last day in Athens there was a big demonstration against austerity. I wondered if it would all kick off with me in the middle of the action, but this proved not to be the case.

One hears a lot about how the far right is on the rise in Greece. I did not see any fascist gobshites parading around, but I did see some instances of graffiti featuring the sunwheel cross, a far right emblem. In most places, any instances of these were defaced, often with an Anarchy sign drawn over or beside them. The only place I can recall seeing an undefaced sunwheel cross was in Sparta. I have read guidebooks saying that Sparta prides itself on being Greece's most rightwing town, which seems appropriate given its ancient history as a centre of slavery and brutal militarism. Apart from that one piece of graffiti, however, modern Sparta did not come across as an obvious hotbed of the far right.

There was a fair amount of graffiti in Athens, some of it political and some of it less so. I do not think you could link the amount of graffiti to the crisis and I suspect that there was as much political graffiti before the crisis as there is now. Possibly my favourite piece of graffiti in Athens was done by someone who wrote "A. MERKEL" in Roman script. I do not know whether the writer was interrupted before finishing his work, or maybe the German chancellor herself was passing by and decided to put down her mark.

Actually no, this is my favourite bit of Greek graffiti:

Cthulhu ftagn!

An account of my travels in Greece: part 1

An account of my travels in Greece: part 2

My Greece pictures

Pictures of Graffiti in Greece

An inuit panda production

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