Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to Socialism or regression into Barbarism.
- Rosa Luxemburg, "Junius Pamphlet" 1916

Saturday, August 6, 2011

What collapse looks like: the experience of Greece

From The Nation, we have an article describing conditions on the streets in Greece during that country's financial crisis.

The article was published on June 28, prior to the Greek government reaching a deal with international organizations on a debt bailout plan. So the article is dated in that respect. But it's useful for giving a vivid, concrete description of what everyday urban life looks like in a developed country undergoing rapid social and economic collapse.

A sample:

Athens is living through a double nightmare. Unemployment in Greece is officially at 16 percent, up by 40 percent in a year—42 percent among the young. Those with jobs face wage cuts of up to 30 percent, tax and price increases, public services in chaos. The social fabric is tearing. Father Andreas, the young priest running the soup kitchen, calls the situation “desperate,” as more and more families find they can’t support their own. At the same time, there is an uncontainable migration crisis. Tens of thousands of Afghans, Iraqis, Pakistanis, Bengalis, Somalis and North Africans are packed into crumbling buildings owned by slumlords, mostly Greek, who double as traffickers. Around Omonia Square, migrants search in rubbish for bottles, cables, clothing, anything to sell. The charity M├ędecins du Monde has declared a humanitarian emergency; in the lobby of its small clinic young men wait for hours, three deep against the wall.

And also this, about conditions in Athens as government services break down:

As the authorities abdicate from policing parts of the city, the task of “keeping order” is assumed by vigilantes affiliated with the neofascist party Chrysi Avgi, or Golden Dawn, which last year won its first seat on the City Council. Chrysi Avgi patrols large areas of Athens, with the explicit or tacit support of many Greek residents and often of the police, staging pogroms against migrants and pitched battles with bands of anarchists who oppose them; on May 19 more than 200 people rampaged through the center, smashing shop windows and kicking or beating every dark-skinned man they saw while the police stood by. A young sympathizer described the group’s activities to me, proudly lifting his shirt to show a scar on his back inflicted, he said, by an Afghan with a knife. “We go into the basements where they have illegal mosques to check their papers, clear them out. They could be Al Qaeda; they could be anything. It’s not chance that they’re Muslims; they’re coming on purpose to undermine the country. There’s a plan, a secret funding mechanism, and there’s no state to protect us. The police are on the side of the migrants. We had to liberate Attica Square with our fists. The migrants were washing their clothes, their children, in the fountain; they were sleeping and praying in the square. It offends me to see them praying in the square.” This spring a 21-year-old Bengali was stabbed to death in “revenge” for the murder of a Greek expectant father knifed on the street for his camera. Two Afghans have been charged with the killing of the Greek; no one has been arrested for the Bengali’s murder.

Every country is different, but the conditions in Greece might offer a glimpse of the sort of future American cities will enter as peak oil forces global economic contraction in the 2010s and 2020s. We too, will face soaring unemployment, refugee influx, and the unraveling of government services. More so than we do already, that is.

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