Postcard from Attica

Graffiti in Athens, reading 'wake up'

In the sultry Athenian air, this feels like a place holding its breath.

Greeks have always scrawled on walls. But after sunset this troubled summer, masked graffiti agitators have roamed the capital's streets applying their urgent exhortations to every flat surface they can find.

The flotsam of bankruptcy has made their endeavours simpler: the blank windows of dead businesses have become living message-boards for anarchists.

To my untutored eye, one phrase in English leaps out. I keep seeing it, hurriedly sprayed in crude lettering. It says, simply, "WAKE UP".

I wonder if the voice of the street has become the silent scream of a nation.

In Britain, journalists call August the "silly season", when the Westminster story machine slows to idling speed and papers scrabble around for news to fill their pages.

In Greece this August, the press has not been so much ticking over as ticking down to what everyone expects to be a make-or-break few days in the country's history.

Austerity related graffiti in Athens The Troika will assess whether Greece should receive another tranche of aid

The headlines are of political manoeuvring and expectation management ahead of the "verdict of the troika inspectors": publication of a report from the EU, EC and IMF in a month's time on whether Greece's fragile coalition government has taken sufficient steps to justify the release of the next tranche of aid worth some 31bn euros (£24.5bn).

To many Greeks, the very word "inspector" raises hackles, so the idea that a faceless committee of foreign accountants can pick through the country's finances considering whether people are suffering enough is a profound humiliation - especially as austerity already wears a tragic mask in these parts.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras knows there are millions of Greeks who would like nothing better than to tell the troika-inspection panel where they can stuff their verdict. But he fears that were he to lead his country through the EU exit curtain, Greece would find itself tumbling down a precipitous slope.

Perhaps that thought crossed his mind this week as he had dinner with Eurogroup chief Jean-Claude Juncker at the splendid New Acropolis Museum with its view of the floodlit Parthenon atop Athens' cliffs.

The mood music drifting from the dinner had a vaguely optimistic beat. There have been rumours that the troika may reveal itself rather impressed by the determination of the Greek government to introduce painful reforms. A deal may be done on timings, despite uncompromising voices elsewhere.

But outside the sterile security zone of eurozone affairs, the atmosphere in Greece appears thick with foreboding. Beyond the political headlines, I am struck by the daily digest of stories in the papers which suggest a nation on the edge.

Gangs have been very active across the country, seeking out scapegoats for economic hardship. The mayor of Athens, Giorgos Kaminis, has warned that communities must stand up to the thugs. "When fellow human beings are being stabbed on an almost daily basis, society has to be alert," he said.

Wild fires in Greece Areas of Greece have been afflicted by wildfires

Wild fires have swept across Aegean isles, some apparently set by arsonists. From the front page of one national paper, a worried-looking fireman holding a puny hose against a billowing inferno stares out. The metaphor is almost too obvious to draw.

From the fashionable island of Hydra comes a reminder of how this relatively immature nation, not yet 200 years old despite its ancient provenance, lacks faith in and respect for government institutions. When tax inspectors turned up to check the island's books the other day, only the intervention of riot police prevented the officials from being lynched. It is not the first time it has happened. Another island population apparently picked up a taxman sent from Athens and threw him into the sea.

While the EU demands Greece bow to the wisdom of technocrats, the Greek people worship different gods. In a land which has seen so much political instability, life is based on networks of personal friends and influential contacts. Getting one over on the state is regarded almost as a noble Olympic sport.

A commentary in the old Athens broadsheet Kathimerini recently considered the government's efforts to crack down on tax evasion and fraud. "Authorities have published the initials of individuals who have transferred millions of euros to overseas bank accounts and they are investigating how certain people built up wealth that is not justified by their previous declaration of assets," it noted.

"However, the above are nothing but PR stunts. The revelations and the accusations are only designed to demonstrate that the country is inhabited by crooks. Of course, what the political class seems to miss is that the morality of a society is a pure reflection of the morality of its political, economic and academic elite."

Antonis Samaras Do top politicians like Antonis Samaras reflect a changing political culture?

I was thinking about this while chatting to the manager of an exclusive hotel complex in Vougliameni, a seaside bolt-hole for Athens' elite half an hour from the capital. Michael Metaxas took a call as we shared a bowl of olives. Apparently, Prime Minister Samaras was staying the night and arrangements needed to be made.

The resort is used to such visits but Michael said he had noticed a change in tone when dealing with the country's most senior politicians. In the past, the PM's office might have dealt with him directly to ensure special treatment. Mr Samaras, he revealed, had booked himself in through the normal sales department.

"Last week a former prime minister also stayed here," Michael told me. "The following day he took the trouble to contact me personally to check whether his breakfast had been included in his room rate or if he should send payment. I was happy to inform him that his breakfast had been included."

Perhaps the story is a sign of a changing culture among public servants in Greece, a new humility. But trust in political power may not be so easy to change. Athens betrays the hallmarks of quiet rage mixed with despair. Wandering through the traffic I see a man waving a large cardboard placard at passing drivers. "What does it say?" I ask him. "What I'd like to do to Merkel!" he replies. "It is a little rude," he adds, sheepishly.

As to what happens next? Athens is still holding its breath.

Mark Easton Article written by Mark Easton Mark Easton Home editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    The graffiti artists had better work quidkly. It won't be much longer before Greece can't afford to buy spray paint or markers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    A good question is would you like your wage to be paid into a Greek Bank? If the answer is no you know the end is near.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Judging by how Greece has reacted in response to harsh austerity
    I would say it was definitely the wrong move for their country

    Greece would have been better off not taking Germany's money

    Now they owe just as much money+their economy is still tanking

    The problem is all everybody cares about is the money

    What about the Greeks?
    Who cares about them?

    Greed is destroying the world

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    For all Greek’s pride, there's little discussion about what they want, what they dream for, what they will fight for. Never before have I felt such an urgency to provide examples = landless people’s movements of Brazil, health achievements of Cubans, factories with no bosses in Argentina, seed banks of the women in India, the fights against electricity privatization in South Africa…

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    This has all the hallmarks of failed state written across it - the longer the inevitable is put off the worse it gets.
    Greece's remaining honest population can never afford to repay this debt, crushing their economy into the dirt is not going to help.
    The risks of it all unravelling is rapidly increasing, what will trigger it? food price increases?

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    At the same time, there is a great sense that this particular August is like living through a few weeks of respite aware storm clouds of new austerity arrive in Autumn. In a country where so many now have nothing, the next waves of cuts, the imposition of new taxes, means that it is more than likely that the next 6 months are going to be EXPLOSIVE. Who knows what changes will follow?

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Undersurge to "WAKE UP!":
    What Greece needs is revolution - rich & powerful are largely traitors, state is rotten; Greek people could do a whole lot better…& so forth. These have been the lessons taught by the Troika. Absence of debates, resistance is only due to fact most peoples’ energies are now devoted to physical & mental survival.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    The average Greek did nothing wrong.

    The problem sits, as usual, with those earning enough (but failing) to pay higher tax.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    From all BBC programs I've watched lately, I'm compelled to choose one word to describe general atmosphere in Greece: sadness. Greece is slowly dying = cycles of poverty-fueled emigration, leaving behind a growing elderly & vulnerable. Visit a hospital & you will see much of the ‘family’ care of patients is in fact undertaken by immigrants - young & being undocumented, cheap/exploitable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    When your income is cut or evaporates; when tax burden cripples poor & working class; when you see wealthy are left free to plunder with impunity; when you see vaunted bail outs for Greece providing NOTHING FOR THE PEOPLE, EVERYTHING FOR THE BANKS, it's hardly surprising that vast numbers of Greeks come to see that they live under a social & economic system that screams: "WAKE UP!"

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    news headline from august 24 3012
    the people of Greece rejoice as the debt from 2010 bailout,
    the 100 Greeks who still live here celebrated around Ancient monuments with the skull and the remains of the skeleton of the hated German leader Angela Merkel who there ancestors killed in march on Germany 999 years ago. the Greeks now welcome those descendants Greeks slaves to return home and live

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    I feel an intense compassion for the average Greek. This person did nothing, caused no problem, worked & fed his family. He most likely paid taxes.How much more can the average Greek be stretched, asked to sacrifice while tax dodges evade & betray him? Most shamefully his contortions must be measured by the Troika, judged by the Troika.
    Needed: a form of RICO + defined system for tax evasion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Greece cannot be expelled from the EU but perhaps it may have to leave the Eurozone. So please get the reporting correct.

    There is a desparate need for a change in politics both here and in Greece. A situation in which poor people are excluded whilst the richer folk are always in line for something more is unsustainable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    One feels a great deal of sympathy for the Greek people.The fallout from the criminality of the few is being visited upon the many-a breach on natural justice if ever there were. It's made all the worse by a self-righteous Germany that made huge export profits from their friends in the south-with little thought to the consequences-now pulling-up the drawbridge & sticking their tongue out at them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    One day the Greek people might stop blaming everyone else for their problems.

    Whether hundreds of rich Greek people avoid paying millions in taxes or millions of Greeks each avoid paying hundreds, the lost revenue to the government is the same.

    Germany is their latest excuse, so cut them free from the Euro and let them relaise their problems and solutions is in their own hands.



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