The most impressive thing about the thousands of people standing in queues for hours in order to purchase electronic monthly tickets for use on Athens’s public transport network is not that this is yet another display of government carelessness and administrative weakness but that so many people suffer in silence and persist in fulfilling their duty as passengers and as citizens. In the general climate of illegality and impunity, when the “I won’t pay” mentality has become a banner of revolutionary correctness, a silent crowd persists in its wish to pay for public transportation.
These are the people – and the children of the people – who in the golden age of our recent past were up at dawn, in long queues at bus stops, on their way to work when the nightclubs and bouzouki joints were still full of more privileged revelers. These are the people who would pay for permits to build a home or fix the family home in the village, while others would build illegally on public land; the people who made sacrifices in order to raise children, to pay their taxes and loans, to meet all their obligations. The country was built on their labor, while others set up their political and economic confidence tricks. With the workers’ acquiescence others cultivated the belief that anyone could do whatever they liked, with impunity.
When this led to the crisis, the suffering of those who tried to be conscientious was used as an excuse by others who wanted to keep their benefits with no responsibilities. While the many tried to cope with ever-increasing taxes and decreasing incomes, as they fell behind on loan payments and social security dues, as they kept paying for transportation, others refused to pay. Now that more and more people cannot pay, public services are increasingly weakened – just when they are most necessary.
The queues inside metro stations these days are the true resistance of serious citizens against the frivolity and irresponsibility celebrated by a large section of our political system and news media. When parties, movements, celebrities, unions and others call on people not to pay, we must remember the 250,000 Athenians who had monthly cards (before the metro’s adoption of turnstiles), as well as the 167,000 who, despite the difficulty, had acquired the electronic passes by Thursday. These are the people who work and create, who bear the brunt of the crisis, who ignore the cheats, who hope that this difficult time, too, will pass.