Tents pitched in Syntagma Square by protesting farmers, streets strewn with fruit, vegetables, rocks and broken glass, confused motorists trying to avoid road blockades and traffic jams, clashes with police, farmers shaking their crooks, threatening violence, smashing squad cars, shouts of rage and faces distorted by anger.
These are the scenes of “extreme polarization,” as the media described them, which unfolded Friday all around Athens, while in Parliament lawmakers discussed legislation on television licensing, voting the government’s proposal through with 154 votes in the 300-seat House.
“You are choosing the path of authoritarian practices, which alienate the country from the European principles of justice,” opposition New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis said, chiding lawmakers who backed the bill.
Meanwhile, almost every day sees another protest flaring up over the social security overhaul or against the construction of screening centers for migrants and refugees entering Europe through Greece, as the threat of expulsion from the Schengen zone looms, despite government assurances that such a move is not allowed by the treaty.
“Welcome to the new abnormal,” said American economist Nouriel Roubini in a post on Project Syndicate earlier this month. Though Roubini was, of course, referring to growth, inflation and monetary policy, his quote is a perfect description of Greece today.
Greece is not the only country in Europe facing serious domestic challenges, but it is the only one that has not managed to restore some semblance of normality after six years of crisis. Time appeared to stop when the country declared bankruptcy and everything since then has been repetitions of the same, more or less.
The only means of coping – and this was a conscious choice – has been disconnecting from reality, but the more reality insists on making its presence felt, the more anger becomes the only response. Those who feel betrayed by a government they elected for other reasons and now see it doing everything they vowed not to do are its most passionate detractors.
As time does go on, abnormality is becoming the new normality. Contradictory, autocratic, smug and violent, with blurred lines between authority and populism, between protest and bullying. And it is fed by that sense that we will never move forward, that exhausting feeling that a brighter tomorrow will never come.