21.10.2011

Κοινωνία

Stones on my brother in the name of Democracy

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Stones on my brother in the name of Democracy

These are days of great social unrest. What’s happening in Greece may be the biggest turnout in years, and channels from all over the world follow the events. However, there is an aspect of Greek reality that rarely makes it on TV channels, and it’s one truly in danger: democracy.

One of these mornings, I found myself in a train filled with men traveling in mass to reach Syntagma square. They talked about how they wished to walk in front of the Parliament to state they are tired, that they worry for the future of their families.

As I snapped out of my little worries, there in the train, I became aware I was the only woman among them. I felt slightly intimidated, and grew more and more alert. Imagine my surprise when I saw my next-door neighbour, a senior Greek citizen who owns a small bookshop in Monastiraki, picking out of his pocket a slim parcel, open it in front of his friend, and reveal nicely cut slices of pastourmas. There was a sparkle in his eyes as he uttered: “Just in case we get hungry. You know, up there in Syntagma”.

In front of the innate humanity of this man’s gesture, I relaxed and started to observe the people around me, to listen to them. Behind me, a group of friends was planning to drink a good Greek coffee at the Café before walking to the square; further on, another man was laughing. To the rear, some were literately chanting songs one might hear during pleasant social occasions. I couldn’t but realize that these men were grandfathers, and fathers, and middle aged men, and teenagers with a bright smile. They were all heading for a walk that made them feel important. They looked necked to my eyes, well aware of the other kind of people they might meet in Syntagma.

Busy as one is in order to go along with a normal routine while showered by all the difficulties several strikes force upon us, I soon forgot the morning encounter. In the afternoon, as I travelled on foot from one place to another among the beautiful buildings of Plaka, I met other people. Those whose emotions had transformed into somehow enlisted people;  women and men I surpassed, and were all looking at a point in the distance. They seemed not aware of anything but of the route they followed, mechanically. Hanged on their neck were different models of  gas masks, some of their faces covered in a white paste, and behind them fires and thick black smoke.

As I walked among them, I instinctively moved closer to the building to my right and hunched my shoulders, as a cat does in trying to pass by unseen. Before I knew it, my move revealed itself correct: in front of me there were others. These did not seem to be people; fury and irrationality prevailed, while stones were thrown at what I believe was the police, and more rubbish bins were set on fire. Then, I realized I was wrong. Those stones were not for the police, but for other fellow citizens trying to keep the situation as calm as possible.

As the night set in, those who remained in town were either obliged to work, or in need to give voice to their emotions not peacefully. When I left the office, I found my way out of  Syntagma square. I pushed ahead as fast as I could, I needed to reach the car that was waiting for me in a safe street. I knew that a third kind of crowd had moved down toward Monastiraki, in a feast of violence. I feared them, those under the effects of anarchy’s fumes to whom rationality means nothing.

In front of me, around me, ashes and tear gas still active in the air, disheveled cobblestones and crashed plant vases, burnt rubbish bins and missing iron bars. The thoughts of smashed window’s crystals and the image of my Greek neighbour in the train fused in my mind. The small shop he did not close once in thirty-seven years to go on a holiday might not be there in the morning.

My way to the car was so quiet, such a new experience in a still warm Greek night when people used to be out and about. I went along. Between the buildings only some quick walking figures, citizens like me who tried to go home; most of us lodging far from the centre of the capital. Walking, while my eyes, nose and throat hurt more than I had imagined, there were but questions in mind. What would have those breaking the shop’s windows to say to the shop’s owner? What exactly democratic they see in a night of rage in town, which offers nothing but the annihilation of other people’s hard work? How can a citizen throw a stone to another today, when everybody is in trouble? How can a State be if everybody thinks but for himself?

My day was not over. In the night I had to travel toward Piraeus. There the atmosphere was peaceful and somehow cheerful. The home ground of Olympiacos football team, Karaiskakis Stadium was lit and filled with passionate people. The Champions League match Olympiakos – Dortmund was on. I liked to imagine my next-door friend had eaten his pastourmas in Syntagma, and was watching the match as I passed by; that he was safe, as safe should had been his shop.

Suddenly, a found myself asking what democracy looks like. To me it seemed about the rights to open your own shop, intact; it was on the faces of those smiling proud people walking peacefully, and on those working, no matter what, because democracy is about duties as much as rights. It is also about a policeman I know, who was recently put on reduced pay, and works as a bartender in his spare time; and those who go to teach despite the chaos around them, because young people need to learn that a sense of responsibility starts on the job one does.

Correct me if I am wrong, but pondering over Democracy today, my mind goes to some words of Alexandros Panagoulis I found in a book purchased in my Greek neighbour’s shop.  I am a romantic, and I would like to quote them here: ‘Let us weight every actions we see in life with our intellect, and let thinking be the guide and the spirit of our actions. [...] Let thought lead without passions to create hates.’ (Other will follow. Palermo: Flaccovio Editore, 1972).

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Γράφει η Romana Turina

Romana TurinaRomana Turina is a lecturer in Communication at the University of Indianapolis. She works as screenwriter and research thematics concerning dramaturgy, memory studies, and animation as applied to the divulgation of knowledge.

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