Ancient Athens peaking out behind the modern-day protester at Syntagma Square. Photo by Chiara Ficarelli
By Chiara Ficarelli
ATHENS, Greece –– A bee stung Lefteris Stefanis on Syntagma Square Tuesday, at a rally aimed at convincing the Greek prime minister to resign. The sharp pain in the 34-year-old’s right index finger caught him by surprise.
“It is a new tactic of the regime,” said Stefanis, joking that Alexis Tsipras’s government had released bees to discourage his opponents.
Stefanis was sharing a Mythos beer with his friend from college, Petros Papalianos. Vendors sold roasted corn on the square, which was filled with milling crowds. Occasionally someone began chanting or picked up a microphone to demand that Tsipras step down. But mostly, the air was filled with upbeat music.
Police stood on the steps of the Parliament nearby, resembling parents watching children on a playground, indifferent to the unfolding scene.
“Alexis will be laughing until tomorrow,” said Stefanis, referring to the small and quiet turnout.
Three days later, another political rally gathered a few blocks away. This time the site was just outside the Greek Ministry of Migration. The gathering was aimed at encouraging officials to allow refugees to continue living in “squats,” a common term used in Athens for abandoned buildings occupied illegally. The laid-back atmosphere resembled the tone at the earlier rally.
Adults danced to Middle Eastern party music. Refugee children waved handmade flags, some chanting Azadi, Persian for freedom.
“Summertime is not a good time for demonstrations,” said Olga Lafazani, who works with refugees at the City Plaza Hotel, the best-known of Athens’ many squats.
A plastic bottle flew near the entrance to the Ministry, spraying a bit of water. Nearby a police officer sipped his frappe, a popular Greek coffee drink, showing no interest in the scene.
Over previous days, Athens trash collectors had been on strike. Garbage cans around the ministry overflowed with uncollected rubbish. The air hung with a putrid stench. While the rally resembled a tranquil block party with a political twist, the problems facing Greece are serious: an economy in deep recession and thousands of unemployed refugees. The trash seemed to provide a foreboding reminder that things can turn rancid quickly.