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Gerard Papasimakopoulos Headshot

The Confusing Fires of The Athenian Landscape

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There were people congregating there. Milling about, staring solemnly at the blackened walls and the collapsed ceilings that you could just make out behind the metal sheeting that was there more as a deterrent for the homeless than for anything else.

Strangely, some of them, quite a few of them actually, were holding candles, little slithers of flame flickering in the unusually cold February air. Strange being the operative word here, seeing as no one was dead. At least, not yet. It was a wake no less though. Held for one of the oldest movie houses in Athens, the Attikon, one of the 50 or so buildings that felt the full force of Sunday night's eruption of directionless rage, following the Greek parliament's yes-sir-ing of the latest bumper pack of austerity measures handed over by the "evil European overlords".

As is usually the case, the next morning, Greece was firmly split down the middle. One side gesticulating madly and tugging its hair out about another night of destruction, another night of disaster, in and around an already crippled city. The other side, not wanting to fall behind in the gesticulation stakes, doing its best to make anyone not on their patch of grass feel bad about the fact that they may have spent even a second feeling sorry for what they perceived as just a bunch of broken windows and corporate nonsense. The real tragedy, they roared, took place inside the parliament, where our buffooning political suits had just given Greece away to the slave traders from the evil side of the continent.

Ultimately, none of them were right. Neither am I. Or the guy next me, or the woman next to him. Because it seems no one in Greece is right. To be so, would mean being properly informed. To be so, would mean not living in a permanent state of informational confusion, to be so, would mean not being bombarded with another doomsday scenario every five minutes. To be so, would mean managing to successfully navigate through an overflowing skip of dark-forces-have-taken-over-the-country scenarios and climb out of said skip, still holding on to your sanity and your ability to think rationally.

There are easy targets, as there usually are. A completely inept police force, led by the Minister for Civilian Protection (hold your giggles, that is actually his full title) Hristos Papoutsis, who came just short of saying that Athens was destroyed by a small group of shrouded unknowns. We call them ninjas round my way. A mayor of deer-caught-in-headlights fame, who knew next to nothing concerning the chaos in his city, until well into the next morning, upon which time he was informed by journalists interviewing him. And a host of careless and criminally shortsighted parliamentary representatives, quite a few of which were caught watching a football match in the Parliament cafeteria, while Athens discovered new ways to make a name for itself as the barbecuing capital of Europe.

But this isn't a one-off. It wasn't the first incident of pointless destruction and I'm sure it won't be the last. So at some point, the blame and part of the responsibility for what happens within their own country has to fall on the Greek public. Ninjas did not destroy the Attikon. Ninjas did not set fire to nearly 50 buildings around Athens. Ninjas were not the ones asking for money so as not to burn down the Asty cinema house, just a short walk away from the Attikon. These were citizens of Greece. Whether provoked, coerced, brainwashed or otherwise, these were citizens of Greece.

The fact that they were unable to separate their need for reaction and the need to protect elements of their city that represent their culture and ultimately their pool of collective historical presence is at the heart of this entire sad state of affairs. A nation willing to set fire to its entire world, as its only available reaction toward a social or political system that it no longer feels represents it, is a nation in dire need of an educational wake up call. A nation unaware that it needs to keep hold of the historical elements that have served it throughout time, be they architectural or otherwise, is a nation in more danger than a "dark European overlord" could ever provide.

"Yeah, but its just a bunch of concrete. We can rebuild it", was the prevalent opinion making the rounds on the social networking circuit.

No you can't. You can't burn a symbol and expect a knock off to work in its place. Once you burn it, its gone. And you, as a nation, have just lost another rallying point. An image, a banner under which to gather.

And you had precious few of those left to begin with.

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