BERLIN (Reuters) - Photo-journalist Nikos Pilos used to travel the world to cover conflicts, now he only needs to open his front door in Athens.
Pilos’s work, on display this week at Berlin’s Browse Fotofestival, chronicles the violence, anger and despair engulfing Greece as it tries to stave off economic collapse.
“It is ironic. Before the crisis, I used to spend eight months of the year travelling to places like Iraq, Lebanon and Pakistan. Now I don’t need to leave Athens,” Pilos said.
“War has come to Greece,” said Pilos, a prize-winning journalist whose work has appeared in a wide range of publications.
Many of the black-and-white photographs on display are taken on Syntagma Square, before the parliament building in central Athens, scene of countless battles over the past few years between helmeted riot police and anti-austerity protesters.
In one, a large Christmas tree on Syntagma Square is ablaze, in another a hooded youth points a water pistol at police clutching riot shields. In a third, a man wearing a gas mask holds a Greek flag aloft through swirling mists of tear gas.
“I will stay in Greece while the crisis continues. Unfortunately, I expect to have lots of work at home for quite a long time to come,” said Pilos, adding that he had been physically assaulted three times in Greece while doing his job.
“I have been to so many war zones but the only time I have ever been beaten was in Greece, once by anarchists and twice by the police. I spent 100 days embedded in Iraq (in 2004-05) and have worked in Lebanon and in Yugoslavia in the 1990s and always came through without a scratch,” he said.
The Browse Fotofestival, in which some 30 photographers from around the world are taking part, has come in a week that began with an election in Greece and is set to end with a symbolically important soccer match between Greece and Germany in the Euro 2012 tournament in Poland.
Germany has insisted that Greece under its new conservative-led government stick to the tough austerity measures that many Greeks blame for the collapse of their economy and which have triggered the protests that Pilos has been recording.
Pilos, who does not expect Antonis Samaras’s new government to overcome the crisis, said German visitors to the Browse exhibition asked him whether Greeks hated Germans.
“I tell them we have no problems with the German people, they are welcome to visit Greece, there is no danger,” he said.
“Some Germans are afraid because of the provocative articles in the media.”
In typically mischievous mood, Germany’s top-selling German tabloid Bild - a long-time critic of EU bailout packages for Greece that have cost German taxpayers dear - emblazoned Friday’s front page ahead of the soccer showdown with the message “Bye-bye Greeks, today we cannot rescue you!”
Asked about the match on Friday evening in the Polish city of Gdansk, Pilos shrugged: “It’s just a game.”
But noting that German Chancellor Angela Merkel - a hate figure in Greece - would fly to Gdansk, Pilos added: “She probably expects Germany to win and to celebrate yet another victory over Greece.”
Reporting by Gareth Jones