With the local elections approaching in a couple of weeks (May 18 and 25), Athens is being reminded anew of its problems in the form of political promises and programmatic statements on mayor candidates’ advertising flyers. Issues of housing and of access to public space, of criminality and racism, of traffic and pollution, of homelessness and security – are brought up and present themselves to the citizens as pressing issues that need be resolved. The citizens however, most probably need no reminders of the realities they have been experiencing in their everyday lives over the past few years.
While such issues are probably bound to the very notion of the metropolis, here they seem to be exaggerated into grotesque dimensions, at least when they are juxtaposed to the image of the city ten years ago, when according to the then-governing party the city had reached its goal of becoming a ‘European Metropolis.’
It was 2004, the year of the Olympic Games in Athens, and everybody was rather optimistic about Athens: the metro was finally up and running, the new international airport was winning prizes for being the best one in Europe, development works were to be seen in an unprecedented degree all around Athens, the Olympic Games would ‘come back to where they were born’, the national soccer team had just won the European championship – what could possibly go wrong?
Five years after this hot Olympic summer, the riots that followed the murder of a fifteen years old Alexandros Grigoropoulos by a policeman in Exarchia in December 2008, have signified the end of an illusionary era. The smashed vitrines of downtown commercial stores apparently signified the collapse of the false promises for a competent neoliberal city.
It soon became clear that Greek governments manipulated reports on the country’s dept and the country had to finally encounter its borrowers in Europe. Two years after that, in April 2010, the Greek government signed the first bailout agreements with its borrowers in an attempt to deal with its debt, starting an austerity era which brought previously unimaginable cuts in peoples salaries, a shrinking of the public sector and social welfare and an outrageous rise in police brutality and racist violence.
And this, already unsettling, image is not painted any brighter by the mainstream media; quite on the contrary, in advertising the one-way street of extreme austerity measures, mass media have been nurturing a feeling of an omnipresent apocalypse. Nowhere else are the effects of the crisis and the austerity politics to be seen than in Athens, the (relatively speaking) mega-city of the country, which today is home to almost half of the country’s population.
The CONNECTORS STUDY will converse and collaborate with children born and raised in the Post-Olympic city of Athens. The children we will be working with were born around 2008, and have probably only heard stories of the glamour of the city but have certainly experienced first-hand facets of its decay.
Yet, in our initial ethnographic ventures in the city and discussions with citizens as well as in our discussions with our local advisory group (Thalia Dragona and Nelly Askouni) we have encountered a reality that is not that pessimistic as the paragraphs above imply. Profound creative forces, unconventional political awareness and active engagement in public life, are also aspects of every-day life in the city – and the subject of a future post!
For the time being, you can find below a list of documentaries on the Athens of the Crisis:
Future Suspended: https://vimeo.com/86682631
Athens: Social Meltdown: https://vimeo.com/55968109
Teenage Riot: Athens: http://www.vice.com/vice-news/teenage-riot-athens-full-length