Thessaloniki, April 26
After a sudden burst of anger following the reelection of the 88-year old president of the republic, the Italian Revolution fizzled out. The two major parties have embraced each other and will soon form a government that has three major priorities. One, protect the economic and legal interests of Silvio Berlusconi. Two, prevent the other political force from disintegrating as a result of a multi billion dollar scandal involving Italy’s oldest bank, Monte dei Paschi di Siena. And three, make sure that the Five Star Movement is neutralised in any way necessary. The establishment knows they will have to succeed. If they don’t, then sooner or later, they will all go down together.
In the meantime, I made my way down to Greece. I didn’t plan on visiting this country again, but here I am. It has been a year since we marched to Athens. Back then, we came from Italy, and from the looks of it, Greece was definitely in a bad shape. Now, I come from Bulgaria, and things are different. All things are relative, and Greece is doing great.
Circumstances, and custom, make me put my convictions to the test quite often. I try to keep questioning the things that many of us have been taking for granted. And this time, in Thessaloniki, I have come to the conclusion that there is no crisis. At all. You people have been fooled by corporate media and left wing propaganda. Come take a walk through Thessaloniki and marvel at all the tantalizing windows of the luxury shops. See the flashy cars drive by over the boulevards. Observe the dense crowd of fashionable youngsters shooting pictures with their latest model iPhone. Try to find a place on one of the many terraces of the expensive cafes: you will have a hard time, they are full, everywhere. This crisis is a myth, a Greek one.
Or is it? Some people say that the crisis is real. Those people haven’t been to Bulgaria, or to most other parts of the world. They say things used to be so much better in Greece a few years ago. For me, after witnessing the exuberant hedonism of Thessaloniki, it’s hard to imagine.
But let’s hypothesise that it’s true. There is a crisis. Greece is really suffering. And there is a reason for that. Over the last few decades, the Greeks have lived a lifestyle that they couldn’t afford. They have destroyed all their towns and villages and rebuilt them with cheap concrete. They have joined a currency that they never should have joined. And now that it’s payback time, they blame the powerful international institutions and/or the defenceless immigrants. Some of them blame the Germans. Undoubtedly there are some who blame the Turks. Only a few of them, the most courageous ones – and we have met these people, they are the best – acknowledge that the Greeks have only themselves to blame.
Or have they? Let’s hypothesise that this isn’t true either, that the Greeks themselves are not to blame. Let’s drop the guilt question all together, and ask ourselves what the Greeks are doing to solve the problem.
They resist. My god, they resist. And I have to give them credit for it. Many other peoples just abandon themselves to self pity, but the Greeks are always on the barricades. The trouble is that they are all fighting a different war.
Your average Greek is mad because he is not as rich as he was. He feels that the government (or whoever, the corporations, the Germans, the immigrants, the Turks) is looting his wallet, and he just wants to go back to the times when he lived a life that he couldn’t afford. Your nationalist Greek is usually a fascist. He thinks this crisis thing is about more than just money. He is convinced the Greeks are the greatest people on earth because of all the invaluable things that Greece has left the western world. He wants a national awakening, he wants the immigrants out, he wants to pick a fight with the Turks and he dreams of a renaissance of the great Byzantine empire.
Then you have the believers. They say there is only one god, his name is Karl Marx, and Lenin is his prophet. Others believe in the same god, but they say that his prophet is Trotzky, or Mao. Some even say that his prophet is Jozef Stalin. These churches don’t get along. And what’s more, they are split into numerous different sects, who all claim that their own interpretation of the words of the prophet is the only real one. The thing they share is their firm conviction that one day, god will come again to reward his faithful. The true believers will live in the earthly paradise of the workers and the peasants, and the sinners will be sent off to spend eternity in the gulags of Siberia.
Then you have your anarchists. They only believe in freedom. Some of them build a kind of theory around it, but most of them are nihilists. They go rioting whenever the opportunity arises, because it’s the only thing that gives any sense to their existence.
Finally, there are also people who are content with the situation as it is. These are mostly civil servants. Compared to the total population, there are a lot of them, many more than you would need. They have a job with a fixed salary and hardly a chance of ever losing it. They support the government, any government, because they know that a real change, for them, can only be a change for the worse.
All these spirits add up to different forces, pulling the country in opposite directions, with the result that everything is immobile. Maybe the only way to speak about it, the only way to understand it, is to turn it into a myth. A story in which the communists and the fascists and the anarchists and the politicians and the banks and the international institutions are all mythological monsters. A story in which common sense is the true hero. A hero destined to succumb, but nevertheless unyielding, to the bitter end.
There was one thing I saw here in Thessaloniki, which lifted up my spirits. A protest concert at the White Tower square on the seaside. Against the rising prices of utilities. People had photocopied their bills and hung them up as a kind of decoration. There was no big crowd, there was no police, but also, there were no signs of any political party. These were unaffiliated citizens, rocking for a better world.
Day 171-XCVII, from Αλίαρτος to Θήβα, 21 km.
Thebes, April 26
Aliartos is a ribbon town. It used be built along the shore of the Boiotian lake. Now it’s built along the road. When the hills fade away in the dark, it feels a bit like Holland, if only for the murmur of the poplars in the wind.
It’s a dreary place, and so it’s good to move on.
Before we did, I called for a briefing to rally the troops, and because this particular route could harbour an unexpected pitfall.
Today we march on glorious Thebes, city of Seven Gates!
It’ll be a long walk, and a potentially dangerous one. Because, even though it’s not very likely, it’s always possible that today you will encounter a sphinx.
If so, the sphinx will block your way and give you a riddle.
If you give her the right answer she will let you pass.
Should you fail to do so she will devour you in a single gulp.
Now, I don’t know what riddle the sphinx could give you, but I can tell you of a famous one.
Undoubtedly many of you know the answer. Do not utter it until you have found refuge within the sacred walls of Thebes, so that the people who don’t know it have a chance to find out.
This is the riddle.
‘Which creature moves on four legs in the morning, on two legs in the afternoon, and on three legs in the evening?’
Think about it. And if today on the road to Thebes you do encounter the sphinx… then for heaven’s sake give her the right answer! Bon route.”
It was hard. The valley proved that she can be a very hostile place. There was a blistering sun and hardly any shadow along twenty kilometres of national road.
“The worst leg in Greece,” several people agreed. The final entry into the city was all uphill. We suffered, and it was good that we did. It boosts the spirit.
So we made it to Thebes, we took the citadel. The sphinx never showed up.
On the square it turns out we have competition. It’s the communists. They claim the public square, as if it were theirs! They are building a stage for a rally tonight, and their information point is just closing for the siesta. We don’t need an assembly to claim the public square as our own. When the communists return, they find their information point under siege.
It’s an amusing scene. Old worn out tents around a wooden shed with red pamphlets all over it. The communists don’t like it. They don’t want us to put up banners. They threaten to call the police.
Hilarity among us. That would be just fine! We put up a couple of cardboards with symbols of anarchy and direct democracy. We don’t like the communists either.
In practice, we’re just teasing. Our ideology is love, peace and harmony. We soon retreat some of the tents and respect each other’s claim to the public space.
But on the other side there is the church. Our tents are in front of it, and the clerics don’t like it. Police come, they say we have to move. In the meantime the communists, old, young, and in between, start to assemble for the rally. We break part of our camp and occupy strategic positions all around the square. A handful of tents remain to guard the church, the others have surrounded the small crowd of communists in the center.
Loud speakers have been put up. Classic marching music is sounding over the square, complete with recorded applause at the end. Red flags are handed out. They feature the hammer, the sickle and the ‘KKE’.
We dance to their music. A cleric steps out of the church. He notices the ‘666‘ on one of the tents, he raises his arms in horror and quickly turns back inside. In the midst of everything, we enjoy ourselves.
The communists start their ritual. It’s made up of sermons, music and chants. I walk around the square and I wonder who is most ridiculous here. The clerics in their long black robes, the communists with their red flags and marching music, or us with our tents and our slogans on cardboard.
For some reason, I don’t think it’s us.