Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Tale of Three Starbucks - Or a day in the life of the Greek economic crisis

On Tuesday I happened to pass by three separate Starbucks here in Thessaloniki and in each case witnessed  scenes that in other times would have been considered unbelievable. In the first case I saw a smart young man come in, case the place and sit down next to somebody's laptop which has been left unattended, I know that this guy was probably up to no good as I regularly saw him do the same thing in another cafe I used to hang out at. Every two, three days he'd, come in, look around and sit down for a few minutes next to any jacket, bag or mobile that seemed to unattended and then leave when he caught me glancing in his direction. I never saw him steal anything but the same suspicious pattern was repeated enough times to leave me with little room for doubt.

This time he saw me looking at him and quickly got up and left.I promptly warned those around me about the incident and made a note to myself to make sure I never leave anything when I use the bathroom. While there has always been petty crime in Greece the amount has risen exponentially over the last few years and is now becoming endemic in some areas. This is no longer a place where you can leave your possessions even for few minutes which is deeply saddening.

Later on while arranging to meet with a friend at another Starbucks near Kamara our conversation was interrupted by a junkie asking for money, when I refused he got nasty and started grabbing at my friend's jacket, only the threat of a phone call to the police seemed to get through to him as he was in such an addled state they I'm not sure he was fully aware of what he was doing. Like crime in general illegal drug use in the centre is on the rise and with the economic crisis hitting hard people are far less likely to give beggars anything making them more insistent in turn as they become more desperate.

Finally, I was covering a protest march by Thessaloniki football fans which turned violent and led to a series of attacks on cafes and other businesses alone the seafront. Amongst those was the White Tower Starbucks which become the target of the fans' fury, however the situation was not helped when some bright spark decided to lock the front doors, leaving customers alone inside. Luckily, a side door remained open and so they found their own way out amidst the chaos inside.

The strangest thing about these riots was the composition and choices of those taking part, in contrast to other such clashes the participants were all ages from kids of no more than ten (who happily covered every surface available in graffiti) to middle aged guys, nor were the targets of their wrath the usual ones such as banks and government buildings but also included a seemingly random assortment of supermarkets, cafes and apartment blocks. The one thing that was sure was that the thousands who took to the street were outraged and their anger once started spiralled out of control, perhaps reflecting deeper frustrations many Greeks feel over how their lives are going. Pummelled by austerity measures and an economy in free fall many people are incensed by what is happening in the country and so looking to lash out.

All of these incidents happened in the space of 12 hours.


Renato said...

A tearfull sociological and financial explanation for hooliganism. Those football fans are very angry with the capitalist system and should de alowed to kick asses and destroy things, that's terapeutical. And, well, this is Greece...

Jay Leonard Schwartz said...

15 years ago, I accidentally left my wallet at a payphone on Tsimiski St. An hour later,someone called my house to report they had found it, money and all. Today, bus drivers have to remind passengers every 5 minutes to watch their stuff. Yes, times have changed and none for the better.

Also, don't confuse 'kicking ass' with childish 'breaking stuff'. Trying Primal Scream Therapy would serve hooligans' interests more than resorting to passive-aggressive behavior aimed at businesses that have nothing to do with why their teams suck in the first place.

teacher dude said...

True, smashing up stuff because your team is being demoted doesn't make much sense but I mentioned the incident as an example of how people's frustrations come out in ways that sometimes absurd. While you can't condone the action, part of you understands where the anger comes from.

BTW Irakilis marched again last night andit was completely peaceful despite needling by the riot police.