Xenophobia takes place of modernism

The party did not last forever. Those who lived this party would see a very different city if they returned five or 10 years later. Through local macho tunes, nationalist insignia and unrestrained localism, the modernist Thessaloniki has had its wings clipped by the popular prefect Panayiotis Psomiadis. Then there’s Thessaloniki Mayor Vassilis Papageorgopoulos, less vocal, but equally localist. They blame Athens. Bishop Anthimos arrived right on time, just after books by Mimis Androulakis had been torched for being blasphemous and the young Albanian student Odysseas Cenai had been prohibited from carrying the Greek flag at the annual student parade in Nea Michaniona. The nationalistic rantings of the bishop at the International Fair last year put the prime minister on the spot, and they were followed by homophobic statements shortly thereafter. Things only got worse for thinking Thessalonians: Right-wing politician Giorgos Karatzaferis announced he would be running for mayor of the northern port in October’s municipal elections. The head of the LAOS party will be heading north, where, according to polls, he enjoys 14 percent popularity – more than anyone else nationwide. What little remains of the good old days is steadily declining. Ladadkia is never talked about any more, except in the context of places to avoid. Mylos, after changing hands twice, has shrunk in size and stature. The entire area where it stands has given way to cheap entertainment, while the clubs that are in vogue are just splinters of their Athenian parents. And, to make matters worse, the Aris soccer squad is struggling for a spot at the top of the second division. In the time that lapsed between these two seemingly diverse periods, the city of Thessaloniki was made European Capital of Culture. This ambitious endeavor injected fresh funds into the city, boosting significant infrastructure projects – mainly cultural ones – but all the noise about the Cultural Capital was unable to marshal the city’s creative forces and the institution degenerated. It became mired in financial scandals, lawsuits and court cases. Paradoxically, Thessaloniki started slipping at a time when it appeared to be at its best. What next? It is quite hard to get a feel for Thessaloniki when you don’t live there, and the press in Athens continues to print the usual cliches. All the talk about how romantic it is has lost its luster, but so many continue to come up with new banal terms to describe the city. The latest megalomaniacal notion is the myth that Thessaloniki is the «capital of the Balkans,» when just a few hundred kilometers further east stands the financial and geopolitical giant called Istanbul. Finally, all the good things people said about Thessaloniki in the 1990s have been overshadowed by the fact that most of what comes out of the city these days has to do with the local barons, denigrating the city’s image even further. Does this mean that today Thessaloniki is the bastion of Greeks’ most conservative and xenophobic reflexes? Has its long tradition in the arts died? Are its most talented children really hopping on the next flight to Athens and just hoping for the best? Kathimerini spoke to some of Thessaloniki’s people – people who love it, people who are part of the city’s intelligentsia. There is one common denominator in what they say – that the city is going through a crisis, and not just in terms of the obvious.

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