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16 July 2015

As Greece faces the music, the radio chatter quiets

“I think a popular movement might arise from this to take action and lead to new politics!” thrilled a guest on Athens International Radio.

By Antonia Quirke

Athens International Radio

Atop the hot hill, scaffolding hugs the Parthenon and broken stones bearing ­venerable markings (the suggestion of a marble head, a hint of a youth shouldering a tray) lie in great, untended piles. When Christopher Hitchens wrote about the craftsmen of the Acropolis Restoration Service toiling to ready the site for the viewing public in 2009, he admired their skilled labour, the sound of chisel-tapping punctuated by the “whine of a drill and groan of a crane”. That was then. Nobody toils now; zero funds. Just the racket of the cicadas punctuating my sweltering climb up to the monuments.

In the streets below is an air of profound depression – distinct from the animation of the previous week. “I think a popular movement might arise from this to take action and lead to new politics!” thrilled a guest on Athens International Radio 104.4 FM on the day of the referendum. Another had insisted: “Things are finally getting out of the robot mode. People are talking to each other, and helping, and building things without money.” Others had challenged this utopia fiercely: “I see no excitement, just sadness and despair . . . the queues of pensioners out of banks . . . gah!”

Incidentally, there are fewer panicked pensioners than the media make out. As my 13-year-old American godson travelling with me observed, he’s seen more hysteria at Walmart on Black Friday. Most queues are quiet and dignified. When I joined one for half an hour, the only unusual behaviour – even as the European Central Bank continued brazenly to contravene its own regulations by rationing emergency liquidity assistance – was the well-dressed businessman in front of us, going through a bin.

Some ten days after that broadcast, as Alexis Tsipras is forced to negotiate bridge financing in advance of another (potentially ruinous) deal, there are markedly fewer discussions on local stations. Wherever and whenever I tune in, it’s music, not talk. Is this the calm before the storm?

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Having found themselves so firmly characterised as the lazy people who for too long got the better of the world around them by cunning, the Greeks are sucker-punched. It is hard to decide what delivered the heavier blow. Was it the banks? Or the very schoolyard nationalism that the EU was in part constructed to eradicate?