Lessons in love and faith from Tirana

The history of Athens is full of major and minor disappointments, of measures that are announced but never implemented. You may remember the ban on vehicles in the historic center. Former Athens Mayor Dimitris Avramopoulos’s removable bollards are still in place, but nearly a decade later cars continue to use the streets unhindered. Much lauded measures are generally implemented in the first few weeks after being announced and are then ignored until we forget they ever existed. One good example is the strict policing of bus lanes or the so-called «zero tolerance» that was to be shown to illegally parked vehicles. As of last Friday, we have a new category of such disappointments: measures announced after mounting pressure from the public that are sabotaged before they can ever be put into effect. The impressive failure of the Transport Ministry to extend metro and electric railway working hours on the first weekend of the initiative is without precedent. The leadership of the ministry may have attributed the fiasco to workers’ threats of work stoppages, but there is a lot more to the debacle. The decision to extend working hours on an experimental basis was the result of pressure from the so-called «civil society,» a response to thousands of Internet users sending e-mails to the ministry requesting an extension of operating hours. The new minister displayed sensitivity toward these demands and after many trials and tribulations the idea of a two-month experimental period was lukewarmly embraced. He was well aware of the fact that he would have to face opposition from metro and electric railway staff, but his mistake was his failure to assent fully to citizens’ demands. The experimental application of extended working hours, which was eventually applied a week later, was not advertised beforehand. The message was not clearly sent that Athenians could travel into the city center at the weekend without having to worry about finding parking or risking a breathalyzer test. Instead, the measure was announced in the most downplayed manner, as though the ministry was hoping it would fail. Would the workers have threatened work stoppages so easily if they had seen thousands of metro users embracing the measure? The day after the fiasco, and completely by coincidence, Kathimerini published the story of Tirana Mayor Edi Rama, who has begun his own revolution to make the Albanian capital a prettier, greener, friendlier place. Rama talks about the power of action (the municipal services have already demolished 2,000 illegally built structures) and the power of change that inspires citizens to rally against central government and the forces of corruption and organized crime. His words express his love for the city and his faith in the future. In Athens, we still lack individuals who have either quality.