I am stood in the square of Agios Panteleimonas.. reminiscing about the Greece I knew as a six year old girl. I remember playing in a similar plateia next to a decorated church, buying chocolates from the periptero, skipping with my friends, old giagiades looking on. Somehow back then, the breeze carried, along with the summer pollen, an intense notion that you lived in the best place on earth. The scent of jasmine and honeysuckle mixed with the smell of cooling marble instantly brings back memories.
But now off Acharnon street migrant children play ball games on a floor scrawled with graffiti which says “Greece is for Greeks”. Plain clothed policemen arrest and handcuff Somali men on the corner without papers and a one legged man limps past on crutches begging for money. The stone walls beneath the church are stained with the words Chrisi Avgi.. The right wing extremist party Golden Dawn. A mile up the road some more graffiti reads “down with the fascists..”
The Greece from my childhood is nowhere to be seen. And people are fighting to try to reclaim it.
They have to, they say, for the Government has no real plan. It has no positive vision for the future. Just a sea of endless debt.
Greece is in its fifth year of recession. There are no ideas for reconstruction or production. And mistrust of Mps is rife..
It has left a gaping hole in society and the extreme right is slowly starting to fill it.
Golden Dawn’s popularity is increasing. It is increasing dramatically in a world where wages are being cut and cut and cut again.
Taxes are increasing. Youth unemployment is at more than fifty per cent.
There’s been an increase in drug use…depression…prostitution.
At the most extreme people have been filmed foraging for food in bins after dark and schoolchildren are reported to have collapsed from malnutrition.
Hope does not reside here anymore.
What does evokes an image far from the pretty picture displayed on dusty postcards at stalls beneath the acropolis or the all welcoming Greece captured in my family holiday snaps all those years ago.
But Golden Dawn says it can paint us a new picture.. A glowing one of Greece and how it used to be. Specifically how it used to be in ancient times.. prosperous and at the forefront of science and philosophy.
The party, now with 18 seats in parliament, would begin its grand plan by ripping up the memorandum. No more orders from Frau Merkel. It would chuck out all the Immigrants or ’invaders’ as it likes to call them, who caused all the problems in the first place. They’ll be sent back home, be it by air, road or water.
Golden Dawn does not care which. Greece is for Greeks.
Its members see it as their right to take law and order into their own hands. They stab immigrants, wreck their market stalls, beat them up, strip and humiliate women. A quick you tube search will provide you with a visual.
The party is preparing, it says, for ‘civil war’. A civil war with ‘everybody’. It’s not nice but ‘someone’s got to do the hard stuff..’
Golden Dawn’s latest policy – to ‘drag’ migrant kids from kindergartens, to make more room for Greek ones..
The antifascists take to their motorbikes to protest. Video of their feisty parade is edited online to a soundtrack of punk rock. It makes the entire situation feel like a Shakespearean play with two opposing political families fighting. A battle to rule the streets of Athens.
But with figures suggesting that fifty per cent of the police force support Golden Dawn, the anarchists gain little ground.
Although Police HQ deny it happens, some demonstrators claim they’ve been imprisoned and tortured by police, who talk unashamedly in front of them about their far right idols. They openly praise Stalin and Hitler and make sure their strip searched captives leave with the thought in their minds that things ‘have changed here in Greece..It’s not like how it used to be..’
But, many Greeks have long since left the battleground . Gone abroad or to the countryside to bury their heads in village soil where the grass is greener and life is cheaper.
I’ve always wanted to return to Athens but only on this trip have I ever really felt like the Greece I once knew was disappearing before my eyes.
This week Golden Dawn has picked a battle with the cast of the controversial play Corpus Christi. Last Thursday the party’s MPs, their supporters and Christian fanatics managed to shut down their theatre before the show even got started. They glued the locks of the entrance door shut, threw rocks at ticket holders and have continued to threaten the theatre director ever since.
His parents have been told on numerous occasions that their son will be delivered to them in little pieces someday soon. The actors must settle now for a performance shrouded in secrecy and to a small audience.
By night they act, by day they fear for their lives. Freedom of speech is a laughable right.
It seems clear to me, that the land that gave birth to democracy is now struggling to show it is still in possession of it..The acropolis, once proud, towering above its city, appears solemn looking and disappointed. It looks on as citizens on strike fly from tear gas, throw firebombs and scream at police. ‘You are just Golden Dawn dressed up in uniform.. open the roads and let us through, so we can make our voices heard.’
Parliament is barely visible for all the smoke.
My return flight to the UK awaits. I no longer feel sad to be leaving a country that without fail manages to keep a hold on my heart every time I visit it. This time, I am sad about what I’m leaving behind.
I am sceptical about whether I will ever see that Greece again. That Greece, which my six year old self, playing in the plateia, has managed to keep alive in my memory for so long.