Life support needed

An article on Thessaloniki is no pleasant task in the middle of winter, and especially before elections. The climate is heavy, the sidewalks are dirty and very unromantic clouds overhead threaten the light trying to peep through. What’s more, traffic is stalled all the time by people marching because they have lost their jobs. As these numbers rise, the traffic stops far more frequently, buses change their routes and passengers have stopped complaining. Most of them understand that the streets have not been blocked by «some punks» over an issue of soccer or whatever, but by people whose turn it is to experience the rapid financial decline of a city that appears as the «metropolitan center of the Balkans» only in the boasting rhetoric of its prefect and mayor. Regardless of the poetry spouted by its municipal barons, the city of Thessaloniki is aging dangerously and, what’s worse, aging badly – gumming its historical role, applauding grandeurs past and humming the good times that once were. How a city has succeeded in transforming memory into a shadow under which the present suffocates and gazes into the future with fear, is something I suppose other minds will ponder one day. Same as the fact that the city itself, which praises itself for its historically documented multiethnicity, can denounce (through its mayor’s lips) a top student who «dared» carry the Greek flag because he is Albanian. The problem is that by the time we figure out the hows and whys, reality will have its traps laid. The Thessaloniki we encounter every day (far from the bucolic view taken by journalists from out of town) is politically conservative, financially depressed, socially volatile, architecturally mauled and morally petit-bourgeois. It also has a dynamic running under the wires that remains – as yet – untapped. With unemployment rising, vulnerable social groups (from the jobless and migrants to women who are victims of domestic abuse) becoming increasingly marginalized, its culture faltering between the Festival of the Angels and the National Theater of Northern Greece (dramatically in search of an audience and distanced from its role as a public theater), and its legendary romantic air degenerated to tired, bored faces in the mainstream clubs, it is clear that Thessaloniki needs to be put on life support. One must, though, admire the courage (or delusions) of those who dream of a city that will lay claim to a reputation more lasting than that of having «the best food by far,» as touted by the Athens press. (1) Akis Demou is a playwright.

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