Walking the main shopping street Ermou on Saturday was a surreal experience. Kudos to the Mayor of Athens, who despite his general incompetence came out on day 4 or 5 and walked the streets of Athens and encouraged citizens to come to the centre. Some did and found themselves trapped in Syntagma Metro station in between Riot police and Rock throwing protesters. So i wasnt too suprised by the fact that there was only a handful of people on the streets shopping. Of course those buildings that had been gutted by fire were not open, but i was suprised by how many other shops were open. The theatre on Alexandras is also open. Bravo i thought to the shop keepers.
Then i passed the traffic lights, but in actual fact its just a pole, lights smashed, colours missing, hanging down useless connected by a wire. Police zooming by on bikes every 5 minutes. Later on i passed by Exarhia, the suburb at the centre of the violence. Its still a no go area. The burning smell of tear gas still hangs in the air, the blockade of rubbish bins on its main streets are still in place, and glass shards still crunch underfoot. About a block away tired firemen take a break at an empty bus station, the trolleys have stopped running through the centre. They make their final stop behind Zappeion park. And the police are on edge, eyeing everybody that goes passed.
Its not healthy, they dont like the impossible position that they have been thrust into. Officially sanctioned to maintain law and order, but ordered to sit by and watch as firemen get beat up as they go to put out fires.
Also missing on the streets are the Council police. On the council payroll these officers are hired to.... er ... write a parking ticket every now and again (but if you know someone, dont worry, they can write it off) and... basically keep unemployement down. Another example of the corruption that is in every pore of this countries government.
Gone is the christmas cheer - the rioters burned the christmas tree on day two of the riots. And now it turns out that at the same time as the the riots were flaring up, the Minister of the Interior and the Education Minister were out at the Bouzoukia and could not respond to the riots. I am not going to make an analogy to Nero, because he didnt play the pipe while Rome burnt, he actually helped and made sure the people were looked after both during and after the fire. All this shows is that, as will all "revolutions" (as many commentators want to call the rioters) its aways the little guy who foots the bill and suffers.