The trash mountains blighting the Greek capital comprise something of a pet subject for politicians – one that is never really tackled with any great success. The only thing that is achieved with their prevarications is more tolerance for such phenomena. What can we as citizens do? Take the cleanup into our own hands, as Hollywood star Will Smith’s daughter did on the island of Antipaxi? It simply wouldn’t be possible in a city the size of Athens, with the huge number of visitors it receives. It is also unlikely that the majority of citizens will respond to calls from the authorities to keep their trash at home rather than take it down to the street dumpsters until the strike is over. The majority will probably discard their little plastic bags wherever they can, adding to the growing stinking piles that are taking over the capital.
Protest action by municipal sanitation workers is not expected to end before next week, at the earliest. The last time Athens had a major garbage crisis was in 2011, when a strike by the same union lasted 22 days. The same issues that we’re dealing with today have, of course, emerged to a lesser extent in the six years since, but the city was left more or less unmolested by a problem that has such an effect on all the senses. People have changed in the meantime and so has the city – for the worse mostly, in line with the prevailing sense of decadence, debasement and dejection that has become the new lifestyle.
By feeding the fires of populism, the government is, of course, getting what it deserves from the reaction of thousands of fixed-term contract workers at municipal authorities demanding that it fulfill its promise to grant them permanence. That said, there is nothing new about what is happening right now except the fact that the citizens of this city have reached the end of their tether a lot faster than they did in previous years, affected by the increasing pressure they are feeling from stress, debts, shrinking prospects and dwindling escape paths.
The relatively quiet – in terms of trash at least – six-year period that preceded the current crisis had given us a sense of relative normalcy in a city that has a lot of ailments and a municipal authority that is unable to take substantial action. But the explosion of trash over the past few days, the stink, finds us a lot weaker and shouldering a lot more problems than we were in 2011. Garbage collection was one of a handful of city services that had not been stopped or upset by the crisis and now here we are again: looking for relief not in a solution but in the act of not allowing a problem to intensify. The simple fact is that the only good we can hope for is that the worst is averted.