In the Q and A session after Saturday night’s performance of Socrates Now, actor Yannis Simonides urged a student from the USA “Don’t be here just as a visitor… Be active, learn, see what you can do to help. Take back testimony to the States, and if there is something redemptive about us, the Greeks that you learn, tell them…”
Sitting in one of my favourite pavement cafes today, it is difficult to read what is happening right now in Greece, just hours after the Greek Parliament agreed to the 5 July referendum, but it is in places like this around the country that the outcome of the referendum is being decided. As Simonides said, to gauge what is going on you have to get involved, speak to people. But when you do, it also requires effort to translate and express any insight you many have gained to friends in the UK in the context of our media narrative.
There has been discussion on Twitter about photos showing queues at banks, and amusement at images showing journalists and their camera crews waiting for the lines to form. Of course, TV people need pictures to try and describe the mood here, but the idea that Greeks are expressing their anxiety by queuing to get their money out doesn’t come near nailing it.
Nor does the scene in this cafe, where Greek people, along with the tourists, sit, drinking, smoking, talking… Tourists visiting Greece, just like in any other city, could come and go, look at the historic sites, and know nothing about what was going on.
“Tourists come to the monuments, but the stones are silent, we have to give them life, said Simonides when a question was raised about the decision to produce the play in English. “We need to show them life.”
Life is so much more complicated, of course. There are a myriad of perspectives on the current crisis, and people are anxious about what will happen in the next day or so. But the fixed prism of the media seems so inadequate to the task of making sense of it. Photos of bank queues, talk about capital controls aren’t so worrying to people like a friend of mine who says she has “precisely three euros and 20 cents in the bank”, however. The line some in the UK media seem to take, that the recalcitrant Greeks are to blame, doesn’t do justice to the resistance there is to more austerity. Paul Mason puts it well in a blog post today when he discusses the “rupture” as it’s being described by Greeks: “the currency arrangements of Europe no longer fit the democratic wishes of its people”.
Mason predicts “a week of financial pain and chaos” for Greece, adding that as most Greeks have “switched off” from the mainstream media, what’s also up ahead is “a battle of rumour, emotion, mass rallies and iconic speeches”.
Things could get fractious, Mason continues, pointing to how the Yes and No camps appear to be shaping up along old left and right lines.
Last week, when anarchists disrupted the pro-Euro demo, burning the EU’s flag, there was a standoff between them and a largely nouveau riche crowd. The left chanted “EAM, ELAS, Meligalas”.
EAM was the mass resistance movement in World War Two. ELAS was its military wing, led by communists, which beat the Nazis. Meligalas was a village where in 1944 the partisans defeated a battalion of Nazi collaborators, executed some, and failed to prevent others from being lynched by local villagers.
Sitting here, looking at the Acropolis, listening to the voices of those around me, the words of Socrates’ urging that people “think less about money, more about their soul” comes to mind, as well as the words he spoke to the jury, that they should “care for the city, rather than the affairs of the city”.