Hollow promises to a city of ghosts

The city has well and truly emptied out. Automatic recorded message services at restaurants wish us happy holidays, street kiosks have rolled down their blinds, and the metro service is unreliable. Athens is on holiday – it too can dream for a few days every year that it is a village. During the past few days, you can hear your footsteps on the sidewalks more clearly, and the sound of your thoughts is more resonant, something that would be inconceivable at any other time of year. There are only two types of citizens left: those who do not believe in holidays and those who are genuinely poor (those whom the government is targeting with its recently announced anti-poverty package). The government has aimed successfully: The really, really poor people are, undoubtedly, still here. And if these disadvantaged citizens have a television – a consumer item that knows no class divisions – then they will have learnt about the government’s plans to make them 70 cents a day richer. On a public relations level, the government has hit the jackpot: It is targeting those who are most likely to be listening right now: the weary and the desperate. Beyond this, I cannot imagine who may have heard about the government’s initiative to hand out benefits, apart from the Church of Greece (which is to benefit from the move, thanks to an agreement signed with the Economy Ministry) and the poor, who can do little except be eternally hopeful. The news of these benefits has been relayed to and fro across the country by friends and acquaintances calling and text messaging each other. Meanwhile, a typical August-time autism prevails with people reluctant to look beyond the here and now and worry about the near future. Current concerns are confined to the price of room rentals on islands, the cost of eating well at a taverna and the correct angle to set up one’s umbrella on the beach. General elections are a hazy thought, right in the back of our minds, as is work. Seen from this point of view, the government’s handouts are directed at the absent television viewer, and hence the absent citizen. Television has become our common state, and the only expression of democracy we have left is that of «information,» as supplied by TV. The empty living rooms that greeted the government’s pre-electoral drive is a fitting metaphor for the current political situation: empty announcements to the ghosts of the Greek public. The prospect of returning to reality, and to the pre-election countdown, in just a few days seems like a bad joke. When the state is here – or tries to convince us that it is – the citizens are away. And when the citizens return, the state is on holiday with no return date set.