On Tuesday December 6th, while we were climbing to the peak of Mount Lycabettus, we didn’t know what was happening on the streets of Athens below us.
We’d noticed a heightened riot police presence as we walked through town to the trail head, but weren’t sure what to make of it. Next time we’ll pay more attention. If we’d been up to speed on our recent Greek political history we would have realized that December 6th was the 3rd anniversary of Athens riots that included the police shooting of a 15 year old boy. The past two years have seen riots on that same date. And Tuesday was also the day that the Greek Parliament was voting on the very unpopular Austerity Measures demanded by the EU.
It was the perfect storm of bad events.
As we were climbing Mount Lycabettus, James remarked that he was hearing loud, megaphoned voices. And when we reached the summit, we could hear sirens wailing below. Since we’ve only been here a week, we assumed this was normal. As it turns out, it wasn’t.
Down below, Athens was burning – literally. All week we’d seen organized, peaceful protests in Syntagma Square (a park in front of Parliament) and other government buildings – mostly well-dressed, middle-aged professionals who oppose salary cuts and tax increases. This was entirely different.
These protesters came to Syntagma Square prepared for a fight – armed with long sticks, gas masks, and hammers. That’s right … hammers! We didn’t realize until yesterday, when we visited the Square, what the hammers were for. The rioters needed ammunition to throw at the police, so they smashed the marble benches and fountains in the park, then moved on to the upscale hotels across the street and demolished the thick marble front steps that lead to their doors. Incredible!
Yesterday, Syntagma Square was trying to get back to normal. We watched old people gaze at broken benches with stricken faces. We talked with the hotel doorman at the King George Hotel who sadly explained what had happened to their steps.
In the park, volunteers were stringing Christmas lights in the bitter orange trees and hanging tin can ornaments made by school kids, while musicians played carols to inspire them and “lotto ladies” sold dreams to passersby.
We wandered the park with mixed emotions – sad for the wanton destruction, yet glad to see people determined to be positive in spite of negative political affairs. We hadn’t experienced this sort of civil strife since our days in Sudan. And living in the US, we’re sheltered from these events – they’re just pictures on TV. But the reality is that democracy is sometimes messy and this was a grim reminder.
Peace … really,
Terri and James
Photo Credits: 1) Ggia via Wikimedia Commons, 2 & 3) Joanna via Wikimedia Commons