Athens – update from the front line

My brother lives in Athens and teaches English for the British Council. I thought I publish his recent email in full as it sums up accurately the mood on the streets there today.

Personally we are all fine, although actually I think the whole country – that includes me – is in shock after yesterday’s tragic developments.

Greece has been described today as being ‘on the edge of the abyss’. Given its history in the post-war era in the 20th century you feel very unsure of what may come next. There’s a lot of deteremined feeling that the IMF, in particular, is not wanted here and that people’s lives, obviously, are going to be a lot harder from here on in with the EU & IMF loan and austerity measures. Of course if you have your wages or pension slashed you are going to feel that.

That said, it’s hard to see what else can be done. Re-scheduling the debt instead maybe. But Greece has to be kept in the Eurozone. Or at least if it isn’t then the ‘new drachma’ or whatever is temporarily adopted will be devalued and so everyone will be worse off again.

Personally I’m now worried about my bank account here. Around 3 – 4 yrs. back I moved most of my sterling here. It’s still in sterling, which is proably best right now, but I’m wondering if I should get it out. Certainly if the country goes bankrupt some time those with euros in them are in big trouble.

Have you heard about the rich Greeks in London by the way? They are now the biggest buyers in top property there! Ahead of Arabs. Just cash in hand – don’t even bother to go and see the place, let alone have it surveyed, just buy! Of course they are trying to escape the tax net the govt. here is casting.

Yesterday I wasn’t in the picture when I set off from here to go to work as normal, appx 2.40pm. I just knew it was another strike day and I had enough time – til 4pm – before transport closed down for the day & get to work in central Kolonaki (near Syntagma as perhaps you remember). As soon as I came up the escalator from the platform at Syntagma metro station I could smell smoke, then almost staright away that horrible stinging sensation which I immediately recognised (from other demos) as tear gas. Horrible stuff. They’ve also been using sthg. called ‘pepper spray’, which I don’t know exactly what it is.

Syntagma square was by that time, a scene of destruction and partial desolation. Seeing the riot squad at the top end of the square I headed round another route – backstreets – to reach work. Everywhere people who’d not got away were hurrying along with hankies over mouths etc.

Finally I got to the British Council where the decision had beeen taken – a few minutes earlier – to cancel classes for the rest of the day. And it was only then that I heard about the tragic deaths of three employees in a bank (in Stadiou Street, where I’d just come from) a bit earlier.

We phoned all the students to tell ’em no classes, hung about a bit … and then went to have a beer at a Kolonaki cafe with a colleague!

Later, after a long wait i n a rather deserted central Athen, I finally got a taxi home.

Whether we shall all live happily ever after I rather doubt but I’ll keep you posted..

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