Thursday, 5 May 2011

Athens, May 5, 2010 (Αθήνα, 5 Μαίου, 2010)

If the significance of the date doesn't say much to you, look up the search string: "athens may 5 2010"

Last year on this day, the fifth of May, in the last hour of a bank's daily working hours, three bank employees in central Athens were looking forward to leaving their office to go home. They knew that, at the time, the streets were thronging with protesters demonstrating against new state measures (and that there would be hooded vandalists on the street), they knew that going home would be an ordeal that day (because the public transport system was either on strike or had been thrown into chaos by the planned street demonstrations), and they also knew that they could have been striking themselves on that particular day (since a general strike had been called for that day by that old-fashioned institution called a union, which still exists in Greece). It is believed that they chose (and were not forced) to go to work.

the breakfast table
When we leave the house in the morning after breakfast, we expect to come back home in the afternoon for lunch.

What they did not know was that a fire would break out in their workplace (by molotov cocktails thrown into it through iron gates, by protestors taking part in a street demonstration), they were locked in (so that the protestors wouldn't be able to enter and destroy the building), and their only escape from death was if they could make it to the balcony of the building (if they weren't overcome by the fumes).

On the fifth of May last year, while these people were dying, I was at home cooking the midday meal, completely oblivious to what was happening in my country. I had a good excuse: all the Greek television news reporters were also striking (they belong to a very strong influential union - Greek citizens were left with a tv/radio/internet news blackout for four consecutive days only recently), so I didn't bother to turn the TV on that day. Not that the TV news is the only significant program on TV these days, but it's more interesting than most of the trashy (much of it reality) programs dished out on most Greek channels. I knew that on that day that only re-runs of mediocre Greek serials were going to be shown at that time, and although my computer was on and I could have looked up the foreign websites for my news sources, I was busy in the kitchen (one of the few times when I cannot access a computer is when I cook). While those three victims were dying, my family was all getting ready to have lunch - someone was cooking, someone was getting home, someone was laying the table.

on the 5th of May
A midday meal is usually waiting for us at home; something will be cooking or ready to heat and eat, someone will be thinking about getting home, and everyone will be hungry.

After lunch, I returned to my home computer and looked up the news for the day on the BBC, where I discovered what had happened in my own country. Out of curiosity, I turned on the TV, and discovered that all the main TV channels had 'kindly' interrupted their scheduled unworthy strike-day trash to bring us this news, news which foreign web-based media had already broadcast to the Whole Wide World a whole hour before the average Greek could hear it from a Greek speaker.

The three victims of that day will eventually be forgotten with the passage of time, as will what happened on that day, unless the day is deemed significant enough to turn it into a public holiday, which, of course, it won't. The fact that the day is imprinted in my own mind simply reveals my sensitivity towards the sacred hour that it took place. By 2:30pm, most home cooks will have prepared the midday meal, they would know who's on their way home and they would be expecting to see their loved ones soon.

Some people will have learnt painful lessons about responsibility, even if this is not admitted explicitly. My experience of living in the messy political, social and economic climate that Greece finds itself in tells me that people's attitudes towards constant strikes, vandalism, hooliganism, law-breaking, and all other kinds of anti-social behaviour has changed from the previously permissible level of tolerance. It is no longer a case of laissez-faire. Most people living in Greece have learnt to work their way round strikes. Some of the people involved in the professions that often strike (eg teachers, petrol-tank drivers) don't even go on strike, a fact that is hardly ever reported by the press, which usually makes out that all strikes are of a generic nature and everyone participates. The idea behind this is often stated as an attempt to destablise the government: as if the government needs strikes to destabilise it from its present tottering global position! People are generally sick of strikes because they now realise that striking does not have the results that it once did and it simply reduces thier income, which has already been reduced heavily to date.

To date, no one has been charged with the deaths of the three victims (one of them was pregnant). But some people among us are living with the gnawing grating horror of knowing what our actions led to, which will most likely lead to our psychological ruin.

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