Out of the ashes, Greek businesses hopes to rebuild

18/02/2012

Targets of arsonists during austerity protests, businesses fight to come back.

By Andy Dabilis for Southeast European Times in Athens—18/02/12

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The Attikon cinema would have turned 100 this year. [Andy Dabilis/SETimes]

Standing before the Asty Cinema in downtown Athens -- one of 48 businesses burned during protests -- Kostas Kalyviotis, 30, said he condoned the February 12th arson spree perpetuated by anarchists as more than 100,000 Greeks took to the streets against more pay cuts.

Like more than a million others in Greece, Kalyviotis said he is unemployed, and harbours strong resentment against the government. He said the conflagrations "were giving out a signal that maybe we can take our lives in our own hands," he told SETimes.

It is a minority view in the country where many -- inured to constant protests, riots and strikes -- were struck by the attacks that destroyed the iconic Attikon cinema, which would have turned 100 this year.

Unlike the Asty, saved from destruction because it is underground, the Attikon, housed in an 1870 Neo-classical building, may take a long time to rebuild.

Directly across the street is one of Athens' best-known bookstores, Ianos, where manager Christine Paraskevopoulou, 48, said workers have become almost accustomed to arson and violence. About one-fourth of the stores on the street have closed during the crisis, joining 111,000 others that have shuttered.

It was the worst night of violence in Athens since the riots of 2008 that lasted for days after 15-year-old Alexi Grigoropoulos was killed by two auxiliary police officers. That sparked international outrage and many businesses were burned.

This time, arsonists targeted a Starbucks coffee shop above the Asty, as well as a branch of the Bank of Cyprus in a neo-Classical building near the Monistiraki flea market and Plaka, a popular tourist area.

Kostas Kavouris, 41, whose family has operated the bank for seven years, stood outside the burned remains. "We hope we can bring it back but it's very expensive to do that," he told SETimes. "This is a historic building … we have to make it back."

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The arsonists and anarchists, he said, are unlike peaceful protesters who feel desperate but don't resort to violence. "They hate banks and politicians," he said.

As she walked by the remains of the Attikon, Chrysia Mykoniati said she understood the rage, but not the methods to express it. "Every time we have a problem they burn the downtown," she told SETimes.

Kalyviotis said he feels doomed to hopelessness.

"I'd burn down the Acropolis if it would put me in a better place," he said.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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