Contemporary Athens often evokes nothing but violent riots and people struggling to accept and survive a harsh range of austerity measures imposed by the troika lenders (EU–IMF–ECB). Over the last 4 years, the scenes of urban squalor, human rootlessness and outright despair playing out daily in the city’s historic centre would have been simply unimaginable just 5 years ago.
Among an overall homeless population of 13,000, trapped and dispossessed immigrants hustle a formidable existence alongside increasingly HIV-positive prostitutes and heroin addicts who score fixes and clients (often both) around the clock. Nearly a third of all businesses are now closed in central Athens, national unemployment is predicted to reach 29% by 2013 (currently 55% of youth is unemployed), and suicides in the city alone have increased by 25% from 2011. Greece is also the home of 80% of the EU’s detected illegal immigration – all of which is encouraged by authorities to dwell in Athens while awaiting processing – adding further strain to the city’s already dilapidated and underfunded social services.
And yet it can all seem misleading. Along with all the grim faces and endless struggle, Athens life undoubtedly flows on revealing serene pockets of love, empathy and solidarity, and above all, a hope for a finer tomorrow. Enchanted tourists are still wandering about, friends and couples still fall in and out of love, and children are still laughing and playing.