“Will you go…?” The old, thin man is standing at the doorstep of my friend’s shop – two blocks away from the spot where Manolis Kantaris, 44, was stabbed to death by criminals, alledgedly immigrants while he was going to pick up his car and bring his pregnant wife to the hospital to deliver their baby. The old man, must be 80 or something, is one of the residents of the area refusing to leave and go in a more secure neighborhood. “Yes, I will” my friend answers “after I barricade the shop.”
The two men are going to attend the commemorating meeting on Thursday afternoon – right there, two blocks away from Marni street, where the man was stabbed to death. Right there in the middle of the street where the man left his last breath.
My friend is concerned about possible riots that might erupt with the usual stuff: stones, wood sticks, teargas, garbage bins on fire, smashed shop windows. It has happened so often in the last two years. After one morning he found stones stuck on the iron rolls of his shops, my friend went and bought huge tin sheets to secure his property from any attack.
“Look there, look at the dark wall” he says and points to the opposite building. “The bus supervisors’ cabin was set on fire, the windows of the apartment behind were on fire too – they put new windows, but didn’t paint the wall anew. It can happen again, you know?”.
Whether far-left extremists, whether far-right, immigrants, criminals and junkies the area is not safe. Not by day and not by night. As we stand at the door step more men join the chat. My friend and the other shop owners recall daily incidents where they have to defend their lives and their property. They report of a coffee shop owner anda drug junkie who grabbed his son by the neck and was strangulating him. The father jumped on the junkie, knocked him down and started beating him. “Look, we are 60 years old and we have to fight man to man wiht our fists to save our lives”, says someone “That’s the law of jungle, not the law of the capital”.
And another: “We are left alone, and when you call the police they mostly can’t do anything. Instead of helping the citizens, the police is beating demonstrators to death. That’s unacceptable.”
Most shops around are closed and empty. Many businessmen could not afford the absence of customers, the loss of revenues and the daily violence. They moved away, they left en mass the last two years.
Today, my friend and his neighbor shop owners worry that things might get really hot and tough as far-right extremists are going to attend the commemoration meeting as well. They all report of the latest incidents where men on motorcycles chase immigrants.
“It happened 50 meters from here. The motorists cornered them there, got off the bikes, took of the helmets and started beating with them”, recalls somebody.
The old man leaves us content to go to the protest with a friend. An 80-year old and a 50-year-old, in solidarity with a feeling of anger and helplessness, the feeling of being left alone by the state. The others return to their shops.
My friend and I keep talking about the situation in the country in general and in Athens in particular. About the lack of perspective for the future, about the lack of a functioning state, about the lack of functioning politics.
Another neighbor passes by, loaded with super market bags. He stands at the door step too and asks the same question: “Will you go…?” We stand from our chairs and near the man. ” You know, it’s unbelievable, how they killed him… He left his blood traces right there” he says and starts describing the scene. “You know, he managed to reach his car, he leaned on his car… it was covered with plastic… he leaned there and lost all his blood there… he left all his blood, he bleeded to death, right there on his car…”. The man starts nervously shaking his bags, his eyes grow bigger and glow, and abruptly he asks: “Will you go…?”
I’m listening to the description and feeling the hair on my arms standing, an ice cold shower running down my back.
Too much blood, too much pain, too many violent stories define the everyday life of these men, right here in the middle of Athens downtown, a hundred meters away from the National Museum.
PS. They don’t let me join the commemoration out of fear for violent riots outbreak. As I jump on a taxi to return home, the taxi driver starts “Can you imagine? They beat the doemonstrators and they let a family father die in the middle of the street…” With ‘they’ he means ‘the police’. You can imagine the rest of our talk in the following seven kilometers back home.