Riots in Athens change perspectives
Photos by Lillian Shrock, staff photographer
“This was no suicide, it was a state-perpetrated murder,” the rioters were yelling.
I spent the first week of April walking through history — literally. But, I hadn’t experienced anything like this.
During my short trip to Greece, I not only stood in buildings that were built 2,500 years ago, but I found myself in the midst of history being made.
I am studying at the Collège International de Cannes in Cannes, France. For spring break, I ventured to Athens, Greece to bask in the history of the city and to eat some baklava. What I experienced there meant more to me than I ever imagined.
After seeing the Parthenon, discovering the Temple of Zeus and “ahhh-ing” over the Theatre of Herodes Atticus, my mind was stuck in the past, imagining the ancient Athenians building these marble monstrosities. Meanwhile, the Greeks were battling with a current issue: their economy.
On my way to dinner one evening with friends, we passed through Syntagma Square, the square across from Parliament. The area was loud and packed with people. We were curious as to what was happening, so we skirted by, so as not to be swept up in the crowd. After dinner, we returned to our hostel. There we were told that earlier in the day, a 77-year-old man shot himself in Syntagma Square in an attempt to send a message to the Greek government.
The next evening, we walked to Syntagma Square to see if a memorial had been set up for the man. When we arrived at the square, there was a large line of policemen in front of Parliament. Feeling bold, I took the hand of my friend and we pushed through several policemen, wanting to know what was going on. There were hundreds of people in the square, but all seemed pretty calm. It was not difficult to find the memorial — a large wreath of flowers and hundreds of candles and handwritten letters. The memorial was set up underneath the tree where the man had shot himself the day before during rush hour. He had left a suicide note directed toward the government, explaining how it had left him with nothing.
We began to hear angry rioters chanting in Greek. We heard policemen speaking to us, but we couldn’t understand them through the gas masks they wore. We stood away from the crowd to be able to observe without being pulled into the action.
We jumped when we heard a loud pop and I turned my face away, afraid of what had caused the sound. Fear and curiosity kept us rooted and we realized the pop was not a gunshot, but the sound of marble hitting the policemen’s shields and falling to the ground. The rioters were breaking the marble off the square and throwing it at the policemen. Fires started in the square and the policemen attempted to communicate with us, their words lost in the masks. We decided it was time to return to the safety of our hostel.
As I walked past Zeus’s Temple, my heart wrenched for the Greeks, who are suffering from their poor economy. While observing the protest, I believed the rioters didn’t mean to hurt anyone, but only meant to awaken the government to the horrors they are experiencing.