Athens is commonly known as the home of democracy, the center for philosophy, arts, astronomy and biology. To summarize, Athens was a major powerhouse for ingenuity and creation. Now, with the economic crisis stirring within Greece, it is no surprise that a social and political revolution is starting in Greece’s capitol, Athens.
The revolution was caused by the many austerity measures being passed by the government due to the poor economic situation in Greece. These measures were not well received and brought about some panic among the Greek people, who no longer knew what they could trust in or where to put their faith. This created a divide between the older and the younger generations; while the older generations found their hope in church, the younger generations created anarchy.
The best way to see this divide is to observe by walking through the streets of Athens and riding the metro, two common activities for the Athenian residents. As you people-watch you will immediately notice that the men and women over the ages of fifty are dressed extremely nicely. The men wear nice loafers, khakis, a long sleeved shirt and a suit jacket of some kind. The women either wear nice dresses or a fancy shirt and pants, showing that they are trying to represent themselves well, that they have not given up hope on themselves or on their nation.
While they still have hope, they also have many worries to counterbalance them. This is signified in the worry beads that they habitually swing around their fingers wherever they go. Or, by the cigarettes that never leave their fingertips as they chain-smoke. However, they make sure to add you to their worries and many will come up to you to warn about the threat of pickpocketing in various locations.
The elderly generation is the most heartbreaking, since it is they who have arguably lost the most. Now, they do not know if they will be able to receive the benefits they were expecting, or at what age they will receive them. This has caused some to try and come out of retirement or to put off retirement entirely. The lucky ones who still have their jobs have continued to work at their bakery stands, their little kiosks or in other various locations in the city. At first it surprised me to see men and women continuing to work well past the age that American seniors would retire, but then as this becomes a common sight you become used to it. The unlucky elders who have to come out of retirement must busy themselves with searching for jobs, but since they no longer possess youthful and able bodies, some resort to begging. It is painful to watch an elderly woman who has a wrinkle for every worry that she has wearing a long black dress, a black hair cloth and sensible black shoes peddling a small pack of Kleenex’s.
When the elderly can’t be found in the town, the square or at their jobs, they will be in the church. At any time the churches will be packed, with well dressed and worried seniors. They are deep in prayer, lighting candles, or listening to a sermon. They look to God to help them through these difficult times and hope that He won’t disappoint them as their government has.
The younger generation is completely different. Many of them (and since the university is in Athens, there are many of them) wear jeans, t-shirts and sneakers. Although this is typical attire for the youth, the Athenian youth bring it one step further because their clothes are generally dirty or they possess holes. They act like they don’t care about anything anymore; they want change but they have no hope that this change will come about.
The first thing that you notice as you make your way through Athens is the massive amount of graffiti located everywhere in the city. At first glance, this makes the city look dirty, trashy and almost intimidating. But once you look closer at the pictures and the words, the beauty and the meaning of this rare form of artwork comes to you. It is created by angry youth, who have much to say but feel that the government is not listening to them. While the pictures of the distorted faces of creatures in gas masks and the vulgar language is haunting, it also is deeply touching and at the end of the day remarkable. The murals of graffiti across the entire city of Athens make the metropolis into a beautiful mess. But, there is more to this free artwork than just beauty and appeal. The young artists are just as unsure about the future as the elderly generations, but rather than turning to God and turning to the church, they create their outlet through creative expression and recreational drug use.
Drug use is running rampant through the younger generations. Hoards of the youth can be seen at various times of the day doing their drug of choice. Needles can be clearly seen as they are used to do a heroin injection, and crack pipes are laid out in the open for everyone to see. The mass amounts of well-armed police officers do not really do anything to punish these drug users, and are very lenient towards them. While this is a depressing situation among the younger generation, it is also understandable. While the older adults have faith that things are going to work out, the young adults lack this faith. They have no answers for anything in their life, they might have to leave Greece to seek jobs, since there is a huge shortage of job opportunities. This could be the reason that many of the young people always feel on edge, like they were a lit firecracker that would explode at any moment.
This large amount of angry energy that vibrates through their veins could also be the reason that many protests occur in Athens. These protests occur in the streets of Athens but usually end in front of the parliament building. There are also signs that are posted throughout the city to describe the protestors’ cause. While these protests are more often than not scheduled and organized, some of them can quickly become out of control and inevitably end up on the television.
The youth disgruntlement affects the city by making it dirty; and not a New York or Chicago dirty, but an entirely new definition of filthy. There is litter everywhere, used cigarettes are strewn along the ground. The entire city reeks of urine and waste, while the streets and sidewalks always manage to have unidentified water on them. It seems as though city workers are unable to keep up with the crazy adolescents.
The blatant drug use, the disharmony between the older and younger generations and the protesting resemble the United States in the 1960s, which might interest some travelers. Although this is a scary time for Athens, and for Greece altogether, it is also an excellent time to visit this city. It is an eye opening experience, one that some people will take full advantage of by learning about the Greek people and making observations about how it affects them.
Once Athens navigates its way through this crisis period, the country can again be restored to its old title of a powerhouse country. The city needs to be cleaned, the rift between the younger and older generations needs to be mended and hopefully the economic crisis will be resolved in order to better this country. However, while this chaos and discord is occurring in Athens, the old monuments and ruins are still there strewn amongst the people, reminding them of what their country once was. These ruins give hope to the Athenians that they will survive these hardships and once again rise back as a nation.