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What is more shocking than seeing people burn things you love, it is hearing other people undermining the gravity of the action.

The celebrated Attikon cinema on fire

Last Sunday, during the protests, a group of individuals partially burned a very well-known cinema called Attikon housed a 19th century building. The event was heavily covered by the media. At the same time, many social-media users started wondering if the story is worth all this attention from the media, even mocking the importance of the event. The argument correctly suggests that burning buildings is not be the same as laying off people. However, it is also an abusive act that should be condemned. It is understood when people ask if the media pay excessive attention in covering such stories. What should be discussed, though, is what these buildings stand for.

The Greeks have a very twisted relationship with things that don’t belong to them. This relates to three issues intertwined with the Greek physic.

Firstly, the Greeks have developed an unhealthy relation with public property and common space. They do not understand that everything – everything! – from the street lamp to the buses are paid by them through their taxes. Destroying public property is like flushing money down the toilet. This can be easily observed if one goes to any university in Athens and witnesses the walls soiled by graffiti and the various equipments, from projectors to seats, either stolen, broken or locked in cages. The worse part is that this behaviour of a minority is tolerated by the majority, either due to indifference or fear, as there is minimum security within campuses. This issue roots on a discussion on how the liberalisation of society by the socialist party in the aftermath of the reconstruction of democracy in 1974 wasn’t followed by the required social maturity.

Secondly, they also have a problematic understanding of private properties accessible to the public (stores, malls etc.) Their hatred towards capitalism doesn’t allow the citizens to see buildings as functioning sites where employees go to work and people go to enjoy the services. When a bank is burnt, the company owing the branch won’t be really hurt, as all expenses are covered by the insurance policy. When the branch is burnt for the second, third, fourth time, then most likely is going to be shut down. Then the ones that are going to loose their jobs are the people working in the branch, if they are not transferred to another one which may be located far away. So, at the end of the day, burning buildings cause distress to other citizens that are trying to make an honest living, even if their work is capital investment. It also causes distress to clients that could have enjoyed the services offered by these companies and it is difficult to them to go to another branch or try another shop due to personal circumstances (family responsibilities, mobility issues etc.).

Thirdly, the introduction of capitalism to Greece – together with the political changes of the 1970s and 1980s – brought money and a new lifestyle that was more family-centric and individualist. As a consequence, people developed a tendency to care less about their co-citizens and more about the promotion of their individual interests. Therefore, burning a building is an accepted action, as one doesn’t know or doesn’t care to get to know the individuals owning the building or receiving services offered by the offices or stores housed there. In other words, what used to be a functioning space attached to a specific individual has now turned into an impersonal pile of bricks that stands as a symbol of an abstract idea (capitalism, suppression etc.). By attaching, however, a macroscopic meaning to a building, its microscopic significance is lost.

Furthermore, the blasé reaction of many members of the online community towards the burning of a historical art house cinema indicates that the Greeks do not perceive public spaces, such as cinemas or bookstores, as necessary for the intellectual stimulation and exchange of views of the population. This is highly problematic. One of the primary rights that people are trying to preserve in times of turmoil is the right to gathering. It is a fundamental right for the intellectual strengthening of the people and – especially in the pre-internet era – for the circulation of information. This may have changed for a majority due to the arrival of the internet, many though still use it to meet other individuals with similar interests and exchange views face-to-face in real-life time.

Therefore, it is my utmost belief that as important as it is to express outrage for the theft in a museum that preserves the land’s heritage, it is equally essential to stand against those who undermine spaces that contribute to the construction of its unique modern culture. Herostratus, seeking glory, burned down the Temple of Artemis in Ancient Greece. Destruction was his only way to have his name memorized by generations to come. The question is how the current Greek society wants to be remembered: as a creator or as a destroyer?

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