We have to fight back

Kathimerini English - - Front Page - BY ALEXIS PAPACHELAS

Solv­ing the coun­try’s eco­nomic prob­lems is not enough for Greece to over­come its sense of na­tional mis­ery. Af­ter spend­ing a cou­ple of days in Athens re­cently, one lead­ing for­eign ex­pert on cri­sis-stricken coun­tries sug­gested that some­thing be done about the hor­ri­ble ug­li­ness of graf­fiti and slo­gans on ev­ery wall, statue and pub­lic build­ing. To cyn­i­cal Greek ears this prob­a­bly sounds like a joke. Our sur­round­ings, how­ever, make a huge dif­fer­ence. The Greek cap­i­tal cur­rently presents an im­age of ma­jor de­cline. It re­minds you of fu­tur­is­tic movies show­ing cities in the ul­ti­mate stages of de­cay. Be­sides the es­thetic pollution, the over­all ug­li­ness cre­ates a broader cli­mate of mis­ery and a neg­a­tive vibe. The van­dal­iza­tion of stat­ues and land­marks should spark anger in so­ci­ety. Some spoiled kids, the prod­ucts of mod­ern Greece’s nou­veau riche and mis­guided era of eu­pho­ria, rightly be­lieve that this so­ci­ety has no rules. They com­pletely dis­re­gard the coun­try’s his­tory, which clearly no one both­ered to teach them. I doubt that those spray-paint­ing the statue of Eleft­he­rios Venize­los know any­thing about the man – even though the cap­i­tal’s air­port is named af­ter him. Bad be­hav­ior has as­sumed dif­fer­ent ide­o­log­i­cal man­tles and will per­sist for as long as there is no re­ac­tion. Mean­while, de­spite ef­forts by the City of Athens, or­ga­ni­za­tions and vol­un­teers, the hooli- gans of ug­li­ness and vi­o­lence have not been de­terred. So, we have reached the point of re­mov­ing stat­ues from pub­lic spa­ces and stor­ing them in ware­houses – some­thing last done when the Nazis en­tered the city in World War II. Now metal sheets pro­tect his­toric build­ings and the bat­tle of clear­ing walls of graf­fiti is won for a few hours be­fore be­ing lost again at day­break. All of this demon­strates what hap­pens to a coun­try when its so­ci­ety and its lead­ers for years gave the im­pres­sion that ev­ery­thing is al­lowed. I was think­ing of the com­par­i­son be­tween the cap­i­tal’s new jewel, the Stavros Niar­chos Foun­da­tion Cul­tural Cen­ter, and one of the city’s old­est build- ings, the his­toric Polytech­nic, the orig­i­nal cam­pus of the Na­tional Tech­ni­cal Univer­sity of Athens. The for­mer ex­udes an air of na­tional con­fi­dence and op­ti­mism. The lat­ter sym­bol­izes all the neg­a­tive as­pects mark­ing our de­cline as well as the state’s in­abil­ity to pro­tect it­self and do what needs to be done. The Polytech­nic pro­duced gen­er­a­tions of Greeks who built and re-built the coun­try. To­day it is host­ing those who want to de­stroy it, just for the fun of it. The worst thing is that con­ver­sa­tions on the Niar­chos park go like this: “Just wait for the state to take it over and you’ll see what it will end up look­ing like.” Mis­ery, cyn­i­cism and in­ac­tion have landed us in a rut. We have to re­act.

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