As I read about the election results in my troubled hometown, my feelings are mixed. I struggle to remember who I voted for the last time round but this memory eludes me at this moment. Perhaps it’s been suppressed by the feeling of disappointment I was experiencing a bit before I left. My once beloved Athens was beginning to feel like a place I didn’t long to be in. It was time to go.
Now, with my feet firmly in a different city, I can’t stop reading about the local government elections in Athens (and Greece in general). A couple of days ago, after having read so many articles and watched so many comedy clips about the candidates (I discovered – to my great surprise – that I can watch Ellinofreneia on SKAI player), I sighed a great sigh and spoke about the Athens I really missed. The Athens I caught a glimpse of on the summer of 2004 that had almost seemed to good to be true. I admit that I wasn’t enthusiastic about the Games originally. I changed my mind on a rather warm night when I arranged to meet a friend near the Thisseion station. As I stepped outside, I was lost amid a sea of people from all over the world. It was impossible to find my friend at first but upon meeting him, we decided to skip the drinks and explore the area as if it was some sort of an unknown land for us.
We walked down the streets with the Parthenon always in vision but this time there was something different in the air. The city was buzzing with excitement, with endless potential, with infinite possibilities. Young people were out meeting other young people who spoke different languages, there were art installations on every corner, events and happenings all around and Athenians were curiously taking in all this buzz creating a newfound way of looking at their city. It felt amazing.
Fast forward a few years later and the (now former) Mayor’s campaign to get re-elected was focused on a short-sighted notion about immigrants. In a city that almost became unrecognisable in the 2 years that I’ve been away, he points the finger at ‘them’; they are the ones to blame, they’re behind everything that’s wrong for Athens and its citizens.
I have to say that I’m really glad that he didn’t get re-elected. And as a farewell gift, I’d like to share with him the following story:
About 3-4 years ago, as I was walking towards Law School in Athens I passed by the small impromptu markets of illegal goods that spring up any day of the week in most commercial parts of the city. There, next to the heaps of fake Luis Vuitton bags and 2 euro bric-a-brac, an African man and an Asian woman where having a disagreement over money. They were speaking in broken English trying to explain to each other what each one thought they owed to the other. They agreed in the end after what must have seen a long time to the African fella, who turned around and raised his arms in the Greekest way possible and exclaimed ‘Panagkia mou!*’
Most of us Athenians – whether we were born there but don’t live there any more or were born elsewhere and live there now- share the same view as one of the most historic citizens of our town:
“I am a citizen, not of Athens or Greece, but of the world”- Socrates (5th century BC)
(*Panayia is the Greek word for Virgin Mary)