At the beginning, the Greek crisis was interesting just for foreign correspondents, economists and political analysts. After the first year of the crisis, I started observing an increasing interest by scholars and post-grad students who would come to Athens for a week and try to speak with as many people involved & influenced as possible.
Activists followed suit. Last February I met a 20-year old anarchist from US who came to Athens and got in touch with local comrades in an attempt to carry ideas back to the Occupy Wall Street movement. In December 2012, while working with a Norwegian team of journalists, we mingled with a rioting in the anarchist Exarchia district of Athens and witnessed tens of “riot tourists”. Some were here indeed out of sincere solidarity, consciously supporting the struggling Greeks but some were obviously kids on a European city escape who, rather than throwing a coin in Rome’s Fontana di Trevi, chose to throw a stone to a Greek policeman. Don’t ask me if they made a wish in advance.
In February 2012, a close relative who is now working in Middle East told me of a Ukrainian guy who visited Athens ahead of a general strike. His aim was to witness the foreseeable riots that usually accompany our strike demos. Right then I started to feel that Athens is slowly becoming a sort of a spectacle in the same way tourists visit Chernobyl for photo opportunities with radioactive plastic dolls, blood-thirsty Italians visited Bosnian trenches during the Yugoslav war or like Toshifumi Fujimoto, a Japanese truck driver who enjoys visiting war zones instead of dreamy beaches.
Tourism in Bosnia kept dealing with the war. Even now, almost 20 years after, one of the major sight-seeings of the capital Sarajevo is the so called War Tunnel. A quick google search will give you several companies organizing walking tours about the civil war there. Funky Tours, to name but one, is organizing the Sarajevo Total Siege Tour.
Soon humanity coined a neologism for this kind of tourism. You can look it up under the self-explicit War Tourism or even Dark Tourism, which involves travel to sites associated with death and tragedy. There is also the synonymous, but less popular in use, Thanatourism, which derives from the Ancient Greek word Thanatos.
Winged youth with a sword, probably Thanatos, personification of death. Detail of a sculptured marble column drum from the Temple of Artemis at Ephesos, ca. 325-300 BC.
Having all these in my mind I knew something like this was coming. Especially after last summer, when I came across the website of Political Tours, a London-based travel agency founded by former New York Times Balkans Correspondent Nicholas Wood. The travel agency’s motto was “Intelligent Travel for Inquiring Minds” and I read that they were organizing tours in North Korea, Libya, Turkey as well as a trip to the US during their elections. So guess what was their latest tour? “Greece and the Euro”, a 8-day phantasmagoria of Greek crisis, misery, unemployment, destruction and poverty. Among speeches with political analysts and journalists, their detailed programme included a “visit to Sydagma Square, where the demonstrations protesting austerity measures have culminated and where many riots have started. We see the damage done by the unrest and then move on to Ermou Street, a place were it was once impossible to find a shop to rent. Now many are empty and pawn shops are prevalent“.
Today I have found a second foreign travel company organizing such a tour. It’s Context. I copy from their website: Context is a network of scholars and specialists—in disciplines including archaeology, art history, cuisine, urban planning, history, environmental science, and classics—who, in addition to our normal work as professors and researchers, design and lead in-depth walking seminars for small groups of intellectually curious travellers. Their new Athens tour, titled Greek Crisis in Context is basically a walk in downtown Athens that ends up in a taverna where the intellectual tourists will fight their thirst with a sip of some Greek wine. This excerpt is from the tour’s description:
Depending on time and how our conversation unfolds we may end the walk in a local wine bar where we can conclude our discussion with the possible solutions and precautions for a brighter future in Greece. As we take a sip from the local Greek wine (not retsina), we will emerge with a much clearer understanding of the Greek economic crisis and its social elements.
The prices for the walking tours are 70 euros per person but there is a possibility to book a private tour for 300 euros.
Which, coincidentally, is a bit less than the much-talked new minimum monthly wage in this country.