'Soon we'll die from hunger'
Trouw, 6 May 2010

The Greeks are angry. Angry with their government, angry with the world around them and angry with themselves. Wednesday all over Greece Greeks took to the streets to show their anger. Public institutions stayed closed; hospitals and public transport worked Sunday shifts.

,,Soon we'll die from hunger'', history teacher Maria Christofori said, commenting the government plans to cut spending with another 30 billion euros. Together with several thousands of people she has come to the centre of Thessalonica, Greece's second biggest city. Students, firemen, garbage men, factory workers, pensioners; everybody is there. ,,We have a tradition of protesting'', Christofori explained. ,,We've seen it work in the past and I hope it will work today.''

Like many people around her she would like to see the IMF and Europe cancel the enormous foreign debts of the country. Or that those responsible for them were to pay them. ,,This is the fault of the politicians and the banks. It's not fair to make the working people pay.''

But the anger of the protesters is not solely directed towards Greece's leaders and big business. There is self-criticism as well. ,,We are all guilty'', according to Stas, a student in graphic design. ,,For thirty years they've been stealing in this country. We all witnessed it and even participated, while we could see the downfall of Greece approaching.'' And as if it were to stop that downfall immediately, around him a chorus starts, calling up the Greeks for battle. ,,De streets are the only solution'', Stas said.

But not everybody in Thessalonica is on the streets today. In the bars along the way waitresses walk their legs off to serve the protesters ice coffee and mineral water. ,,You bet this is a good day'', the owner of The Blues Bar said smilingly. Outside the café paper cups and plastic bottles pile up in mounds. For two days already the garbage men are on strike. Trash cans and dumpsters are overflowing with waste.

A few blocks down the road employers of a Starbucks get the shock of their lives. A group of masked youngsters storms out of the crowd and into the café. In less than a minute they completely tear the place up with clubs, until then disguised as flags. ,,They think we are a American company, but we're just a Greek franchise'', one of the waitresses cried, with mortal fear still visible in her eyes.

It's the end of the until that moment peaceful demonstration. Dumpsters are being set to fire or turned upside down in the entrances of banks. The windows of European store chains are smashed. Shopkeepers roll down their shutters, while African vendors quickly grab their merchandise and start running. Until finally the police get to action and clean the streets, using teargas and batons.

One hour later, life has resumed its normal course in Thessalonica. The pavement terraces are as always crowded with people and in the streets the scent of flowers mixes with the stench of exhaust fumes and rubbish. Only on a few corners the sharp smell of teargas still lingers in the air and passers-by suddenly find themselves crying, much to their own surprise.