Βy Anastassios Retzios
There are not many closed shops in the city center. Very few. However, there has been an amazing transformation. Virtually half of these shops now sell cheap fast food. I was astonished by the number of shops selling “bougatsas” and burgers. Whereas in the past there may be have been one or two in a radius of 4-5 city blocks, now there are dozens. Coffee shops selling cheap “frappe” abound, as well.
The city is grimey and dirty virtually everywhere. The trees have not been pruned (I do remember when they were regularly pruned), the pavements appear not to have been washed for ages, graffiti is everywhere (and the term everywhere is not an exaggeration). But worse of it all is the way the city has grown. Leafy suburbs have been transformed into canyons of cement; traditional buildings have been torn down only to be replaced by shapeless concrete aberrations; new areas have also been covered in concrete. Small city parks have all disappeared. The ones that are not habituated by armies of feral dogs and cats have been transformed into schools; apparently, the state lacking funds to buy land to build schools just took over the parks!!! The catalog of ugliness is hard to describe. This ugliness is also associated with a low quality of life.
In sort, Thessaloniki is no better than Mumbai and it even lacks the architectural marvels and the areas of extreme modernity of that city. It is just a third world city, and continuous sinking into this category faster and faster.
Certain of the locals told me that “there was not a crisis” simply because so many people were up and about the streets and into coffee shops. Which, of course, reminded me again of Mumbai. Thessaloniki of my youth was city aspiring to become a really western European city. It still had an acceptable quality of life, relatively sparse and low-height suburbs, and even a decent amount of green space. Not so the Thessaloniki of today. I think that all hope of making the town much “European” standards has long been abandoned because of the lack of money.
I told those who claimed that there is no crisis to essentially assess the “distance” of Thessaloniki from a typical western European city of the same size. It is more than clear to me, that the “distance” has widened dramatically and it is no longer possible to even dream in that direction. This, by itself, is the evidence for the crisis. It is by no accident that the growth of Greece after its association with the EU was cut in half (approximately 6% prior to joining, less than 2.5% after joining). I am not even referring to clear fall in GDP in the last five years. I think that what is missing most of all is the hope, so prevalent in the Greece of my youth. Now, there is simply a sense of surrender, abandonment of hope, acceptance in living a diminished life in dirty and unpleasant civic centers only partially relieved by the presence of an antiquity or two.
I can say more, but I will stop here.