Feature: Artists stage anti-lockdown protest in Athens

2021-04-16 15:06:02 GMT2021-04-16 23:06:02(Beijing Time) Xinhua English

ATHENS, April 16 (Xinhua) -- Over a year into the coronavirus pandemic, several artists in Greece say they have reached their limits. The prolonged lockdown is suffocating creativity, argue their representatives, who gathered in front of the country's Ministries of Culture and Labor on Thursday to demand the immediate reopening of culture-related spaces and venues, along with tourism and the food services sector.

Greece has been in its second nationwide lockdown since Nov. 7, 2020, and while schools and certain economic sectors have been gradually reopening -- as they did after the first lockdown in the spring of 2020 -- the restart of the entertainment sector is still low on the government's priority list.

Tens of thousands of artists now depend on a monthly allowance of 534 euros (640 U.S. dollars) provided by the state to employees left jobless during the pandemic. It is far from enough to cover their needs, but the financial strain is not their worst enemy, they told Xinhua.

Isolated from their audiences for months, they said they felt like being in plaster cast where they could not breathe or create. This is a concern for them but also for society as a whole, they stressed. "Culture closed, minds closed," the protesters' banners read.

While hairdressers and retail shops across Greece have reopened, art is still considered a luxury product, which is not a priority, they complained.

"Today the artists seem to be treated like second-class citizens. In 2021 in Greece, the artists are redundant," Athena Geraniou of Greek dancers' union said.

"It is painful for me, and I believe for all my colleagues, to be forced to keep a distance from our art, to essentially be unable to produce anything," she said.

Last year, the country's arts sector opened for about three months under restrictions during the summer, before the second wave of the pandemic kicked in.

"We call for the reopening of cultural venues a year after the outbreak. A reopening with full protection measures for all the artists and technical staff. A reopening of theaters so that people can watch art performances and return to a creative everyday life," Geraniou told Xinhua.

The young dancer lives in a small apartment with her family. There is no space there to rehearse and exercise. Her siblings are also stuck at home, as kindergartens and primary schools are still closed, she said.

Financially, she considers herself rather lucky because her husband is not an artist and he could continue to work throughout the pandemic. This sets her apart from many of her fellow artists.

She fears that in the post-pandemic era it would be difficult to make a living from art and many would be forced to change their careers.

"I believe that art will survive as art," Vassilis Koukalani, an actor and director who also participated in the protest, told Xinhua. "The people who create art are the ones who are in danger today. Nevertheless, I think that we are very stubborn and despite all the difficulties we will get through this pandemic."

"I want to see this thing end so that we don't have to live in constant fear," he added.

For now, however, COVID-19 still has a grip on Greece. The third wave of infections is raging and the number of new cases and deaths remains high.

On Thursday, the National Public Health Organization (EODY) announced 3,833 new infections within 24 hours. The total number of confirmed cases now stands at 308,006. Another 104 patients died on Thursday, bringing the total number of fatalities to 9,239, while 819 patients were on ventilators in hospitals across the country. (1 euro = 1.20 U.S. dollar) Enditem