For the past five years, Greece has teetered on a precipice, somewhere between the depths of fury and the possibility of hope. Now, in the throes of possible change, Athenians are navigating a new tumult: unnerving optimism in some quarters, exhausted cynicism in others; an existential questioning what comes next, a calculation of how to survive it. But, more than anything, the country’s very public humiliation on the global stage has left its populace angry. Many are quietly bitter, sucked dry by the austerity demanded in return for €240bn in aid, drained by the repeated blows of bad news.
Three million people live on, or below, the poverty line. Over a million have no access to healthcare. Half of all young people are unemployed. Gross domestic product is at Depression-era levels. The residents of its ancient capital have watched the unravelling of their country through their windows, on their streets, and on their walls. They have had to find ways to express their frustration. The portrait of a metropolis at tipping point is now sketched in spray paint and marker pen.
Amid the grandeur of ancient monuments, its residents are demanding change, with little idea of how or when it will come. The birthplace of democracy has been shouting, in spray paint. The defacing of the old – the establishment – with visceral scrawl is no longer sacrilege but a desperate plea for change, an attempt to fight depression with defiance. Inked additions to the urban cityscape are erased, then rewritten. It is a cycle of attempted renewal that will continue as long as the city’s tumultuous debate with itself lasts. On one downtown wall: “You will see a white wall when we see a white day.”