I picked up a newspaper at a stationery and bookstore in Naoussa, near the harbor. Athens Views is a weekly English-language Greek newspaper. Much of the coverage focused on the Greek economic crisis and the negotiations between the Greek government and the European Union. Even though I only loosely followed this story before we left the U.S., I was much more aware of it there than I was the entire week we spent in Greece. (Honestly, we could not tell that anything was off. We encountered two non-working ATMs but we really had no troubles.)
On our third night in Athens, we went up to the rooftop bar at the hotel. It has an amazing view of the Acropolis and a panorama of the city. We could hear some voices over a loud speaker from a distance. Was it a concert, maybe? We couldn’t tell because it was in Greek. Later, I heard a helicopter overhead. It’s probably only the third or fourth helicopter I’ve heard since leaving home. I forgot about it until I noticed it was circling, and circling near our hotel.
About a year ago, I learned about the power of Twitter in spreading breaking news. I went to it, but of course no one I follow is based in Athens. With some searching I found an English-language news account and its tweets about an anti-austerity rally planned for 7:30 pm in Syntagma Square, several blocks from our hotel and basically under the helicopter’s circle. The rally coincided with an emergency meeting of Greek’s parliament to vote on the economic reforms it needed to adopt in order to receive 86 billion euros from the EU. As I scrolled through feeds of Greek with the occasional English, I didn’t see anything alarming. It all seemed quiet from our rooftop perch, too. The next day, however, I learned that some people had thrown petrol bombs at police during the rally. The news said it was a small disturbance, just a couple dozen anarchists, and that no one was hurt. The newspaper described a similar rally just a week before.
There have been rallies and protests, both peaceful and violent, in the U.S. for close to a year now. I did not feel alarmed by the rally in Athens or the knowledge that it had been dangerous. Public protests against the state have been more common outside the U.S. for most of the last several years, but the past year of actions drawing attention to police brutality, including the very-close-to-home Baltimore uprising have given me a familiarity and context for understanding the language of protest around the world.