It is often forgotten that democracy in Ancient Athens was not an instrument for equality but rather one of exclusion. Voting and the associated privileges were reserved for a fraction of the ancient city’s inhabitants; no rights or assistance were provided to those Athenians who had fallen on hard times and were indebted to the state or to the hundreds of thousands of migrant workers and slaves that made up the bulk of the population. Today in the once impressive Omonoia or ‘Unity’ Square, we see that as the buildings and fabric of the city fall further into disrepair, this ancient theme of the state excluding the dispossessed remains as strong as ever.
Omonoia was historically a key meeting place within the city that had a magnetism that drew people to it, especially those new to Athens. As the area has fallen into disrepute and disrepair, Greeks now tend to gather two kilometres away in Syntagama and leave Omonoia for the drug addicts and prostitutes to roam at night. During the day, the lifeless rings of Zongolopous’ Pentaklikon sculpture tower over an ever-dwindling community of South Asian migrant workers. Indeed, the only ‘unity’ that now exists in this square is that of the camaraderie amongst these modern day ‘slaves’ who gather here often just to stare into space, waiting for something to happen or in the hope that an opportunity may come their way.