Thanassis Cambanis » Protest

Indignant at Syntagma: Tahrir Comes to Athens

Posted June 12th, 2011 by Thanassis Cambanis and filed in Writing

Inspired by Egyptians and spurred to action by Spaniards, the Greek people have taken over their capital’s central square to demand, simply, an end to corruption, consumerism, and their nation’s long, self-induced economic immolation. Now that Greece has committed hara-kiri, its citizens can point to other culprits, like bureaucrats from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund who erroneously prescribe austerity at the inflection point of a depression.

Set aside the political economy for a moment, and behold the pop culture of protest. Syntagma Square looks like Tahrir with beer, franks, and port-a-potties. And, oh, not nearly so many people.

Yesterday on an evening tour of the tent city I encountered a drumming circle, some stoners playing the guitar; immigrants rights activists; labor organizers planning the nationwide general strike called for this Tuesday; legions of beer salesmen; a pair of dueling end-of-the-world-is-nigh prophets; a row of sausage salesmen without any customers; representative of NGOs for the homeless, the environment, and other worthy causes; and curious passers-by on their way to the metro entrance.

Supporters rally at the Facebook page “Indignant in Syntagma,” and the rest of Athens plans their days by consulting a student-run page which lists all the strikes that disrupt life in the capital.

Banners declare “The quiet citizen is a useless citizen” and “We are peaceful.” Speechifiers spoke of IMF ineptitude, government failure, and the imperative for labor solidarity on the day of the general strike. “The nation must come to a halt,” a said without any inflection over a megaphone.

The popular grievances are legitimate, of course: the tax scofflaws, union maximalists, over-leveraged materialists, and greedy politicians who ruined the country over the course of 37 years probably include only about half the citizenry. The remainder are justifiably upset that their economic prospects have been doomed as well. Of course, it’s unclear which half is represented in Syntagma Square. But it is clear that they’re peaceful, well-fed, and not likely anytime soon to face a shortage of nicely chilled Mythos Beer.

UPDATE: Today organizers are hoping to bring 1 million people out to the center of Athens. The mass protest is meant to start at 6 p.m., by which time I hope to be sailing away from the mainland, so I’ll have to learn from afar how it goes.