In Greece of Misery

I have been in Athens over the course of the last week and, as I roam the city, from corner to corner, it is plain to see that there is very little traffic. Athens' onc- legendary vehicular hysteria is a thing of the past.

Moving towards the normally bustling district of Kolonaki, my frustration turns to anguish. Many shops are closed, their storefronts papered over by filthy "for sale" or "for rent" signs, standing out like ghosts of a bygone era. The municipal garbage bins, overflowing with rubbish, attract various individuals, here and there, rummaging for leftovers.

Omonia Square and Patission Avenue are living the ongoing tragedy of the destitute immigrant families who idle and subsist, mainly in the streets and the parks, waiting to transit to some city in Europe. For the overwhelming majority, their dreams have crumbled in Athens but, to everyone's dismay, they continue to arrive by the thousands from Turkey. The Greeks are deeply sympathetic, helping them with what little they have. These pictures of solidarity, of Athenian sympathy and humanity, are very touching amidst the storm that is battering the country from the unsolved problems of the Middle East.

In the Exarchia district, graffiti covers most of the area's wonderful post-war era buildings that stand empty. The sidewalks are full of garbage, cigarette butts and yellowed advertising flyers are everywhere, making this once thriving part of the capital appear deserted.

The city is suffering badly. Only the bitter orange trees that are full of fruits and smell so divine are able, with their heavenly fragrance, to counter the depressed atmosphere of Athens.

My friends are plunged in melancholy. Most are journalists who have been left jobless in their fifties. They mourn the lost booming era of private television and radio. Some of their pension funds are in deficit, having been forced to invest in worthless government paper, while others seem set to be raided anew with the government's upcoming social security bill.

The nation's farmers, continuing their blockade of the major highways, are threatening to bring their tractors into the capital's streets this weekend. Its lawyers and freelance professionals, on strike for their own interests, have begun to hang their ties, in protest, outside the Greek Parliament.
The government is hurriedly putting the final touches on a new pension plan bill that, despite the austere contents, does not appear to meet the demands of its European lenders, even though the plan entails further cuts to the country's already savaged pensions.

The daily drama emanating from Brussels continues unabated as eurozone officials come and go, negotiations drag, and desperately awaited funds from the country's neighbors are nowhere to be seen. Rumors abound that large gaps remain between what the Europeans are asking for and what the Greek government has offered. The lenders, or "institutions," have not made any specific remarks to this effect as they do not have their hands on the actual data but they are at odds with what they hear being leaked from the Greek government regarding "insufficient" increases in taxation and pension cuts.

At the same time, Europe continues to threaten Greece that it will see itself excluded from the Schengen treaty, moving the continent's controlled borders northward, if it does not quickly comply with its partners' refugee influx requirements.

The Greeks are living in martyrdom for a fifth consecutive year. The stock market crashed last week, reaching levels not seen in 26 years, as investors abandon the country. The dreaded "Grexit" has begun to hover again and fears abound that the recapitalization of the country's banks may eventually result in a "haircut" to individual deposits, adding to the recent haircut suffered by bondholders.

The storied land of the Hellenes, with its history, hospitality and creativity, has been wronged and abused by its European allies. Its once proud citizens are crawling between a depressing reality and a bleak future carved by the failed policies of the European Economic Union.

Sadly, the tunnel is dark for several kilometers and the exit appears to be far, far away.