The sea at Katounia is a million shades of blue, ripples and shivers moving, changing all the time, pushed by the tides and currents of the Euboean Gulf. This place is a touchstone: rock and light and water, nothing that isn’t true. But last week it felt as if the sea was full of knives.
The Greek crisis has been a bonanza for journalists like me. Besides the speculation about a Greek exit from the euro, containment and contagion, we’ve had endless stories about corrupt Greeks, lazy Greeks, suffering Greeks and hungry Greeks, heroically resisting Greeks, reckless and feckless Greeks. In these last days before the election that’s supposed to determine the fate not only of Greece but of the whole Eurozone, the media feeding frenzy has reached piranha proportions.
For those who live here, though, the breakdown goes much deeper than the visible currents of economics and politics. What does a country mean for those who belong to it, beyond everyday life and home? Some alchemy, perhaps, of human connection and history; a language and a landscape; things that go without saying. The pain of what’s been happening here touches on all of that. It’s changed people’s connection to the past as well as the present, their intimate relationships, their sense of who they are. It’s taken apart the story they’ve believed about their lives for the last forty years. Rage and betrayal are mixed with a toxic sense of shame.
A woman I’ve known for two decades and always seen in motion sits slumped at the end of the day in front of the TV news. Two clone-like blonde presenters are discussing the latest “plan” to eject Greece from the Eurozone. How does she see the future? She waves her hand around the empty restaurant she runs with her family. “Nothing,” she says. “Nothing.” Her son has a young family and has to go running all over the place to look for a day’s wage. “He’s got a couple of goats back there, you should see how nice he’s made it, so he can slaughter a kid now and then to fill the freezer with.” She looks at me hopefully, as if I might know something: “Who do you think would be better, Tsipras [of the radical left party Syriza] or Samaras [from conservative New Democracy]?” I’m startled to hear her ask: this is a region where Syriza polled first in the May 6 election, where almost all the villages were on the left the civil war. I say, somewhat inanely, “I don’t think any of them are telling the whole truth.” Her eyes light up a little as she answers, slightly shyly, “I want Golden Dawn in Parliament to beat all of them up.”
It’s inconceivable that this woman would ever vote for Golden Dawn, the neo-Nazi party which won almost 7 percent of the vote in May and has since been flexing its muscles, stepping up its violent attacks on immigrants and leftists, unmolested by the police. A week before, the party leader’s daughter had been arrested in Athens with a group beating up Pakistanis and let go without bail; the following day Golden Dawn’s press spokesman, Ilias Kasidiaris, made the international media when he physically attacked two left-wing women MPs on live television. (He has since sued the TV station and the women for “unprovoked defamation.”) The day after that an Israeli photojournalist was beaten up in Athens, almost certainly by Golden Dawn supporters, for taking pictures of men pursuing a group of migrants; the poor man wondered in an interview if telling them he was from Israel might have helped. And the day after that a friend phoned me to say that Golden Dawn were attacking the Panteion University where he teaches, smashing windows and fighting with students while the police again stood by.