Is there a single person out there, a citizen of this country, who can honestly say they feel proud of this land? Virtually every Greek citizen feels sadness, shame, disappointment and anger about their homeland, and this is a uniquely disastrous accomplishment. And it encapsulates the surrounding atmosphere, the feeling of degeneration which has color, odor and shape.
An evening stroll around Athens – even around neighborhoods that have not been that severely affected by the lingering financial crisis, such as the area around the Athens Concert Hall, the Truman statue, or the Pangrati district – amounts to a surreal experience as degeneration seems to have engulfed all aspects of public life.
People are suffocating: The flash floods that killed 16 on the western outskirts of Athens, the occupation of the Athens Polytechnic by anti-establishment groups, the helpless state apparatus, the leftist-led government’s controversial distribution of the so-called social dividend, the vulgar outbursts of Alternate Health Minister Pavlos Polakis, the tolerance of each sign of decay and collapse of common decency and respect.
If I can think of one word that captures what people around me feel, it would have to be “suffocation.” Hundreds of thousands of citizens no longer recognize their own country. And it’s hard to disconnect this fact from the government’s dismal record. Sure, this country has never been ideal. But society has never been so deeply immersed in degeneration – a decay that has come to corrode the core of every activity. Greece is at the bottom of all quality-of-life indicators. It is slipping into underdevelopment, as government officials are busy congratulating themselves (along with their cheerleaders who are showering rose petals on the prime minister, if we are to believe the propaganda of state-run news agencies).
Next to all that, there runs a silent river. You can sense it all around. I paid attention to what people were saying as they lined up to vote in last weekend’s election for a leader of the new Greek center-left party; I pay attention to what is said on the ISAP railway; I pay attention to what people say at the local kiosk or the supermarket.
The percentage of people who feel trapped is too big to be contained. No society can withstand a widespread feeling of suffocation for too long. Unless it is ruled by a dictatorship. Greece, however, has a parliamentary democracy – imperfect as this may be due to the damaged institutions. Suffocation may well spill into different forms of protest. But it will eventually converge on common ground where there is no room for tolerance.