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Young people in Greece are protesting in large numbers after last month's train crash

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

In Greece, protests over the country's deadliest train collision are in their third week. Fifty-seven people died when a passenger and cargo train collided at high speed. Outrage has galvanized Greeks of all ages and especially young people, who see an opening for change in upcoming elections. From Athens, Lydia Emmanouilidou reports.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Chanting in Greek).

LYDIA EMMANOUILIDOU, BYLINE: Seventeen-year-old Stella Dorou would typically be in class on a weekday, but this Thursday morning, she's marching through downtown Athens with her high school classmates. Some are protesting for the first time.

STELLA DOROU: This is the first time I've seen everyone actually want to come out and do it 'cause it's kind of dangerous to protest here in Athens.

EMMANOUILIDOU: Dangerous because of police brutality. Painted on Dorou's cheek in black marker is a phrase that has become a rallying cry since the train crash - text me when you get there.

DOROU: Many people didn't actually get back to their homes safely, which - that's the most heartbreaking part of this whole situation.

EMMANOUILIDOU: Dorou knew one of the 57 people killed in last month's collision. As the students march, they chant, we will become the voice of the dead and, the young generation will not forgive you.

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UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting in Greek).

EMMANOUILIDOU: Since the collision, massive protests, the biggest Greece has seen in more than a decade, have erupted across the country, and people of all ages and backgrounds are showing up. But the rail crash seems to have struck a particular chord with the country's young because many of the victims and passengers on that train were students.

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ALEXIA ATHANASIOU: (Speaking Greek).

EMMANOUILIDOU: "It could have been me on that train," 20-year-old Alexia Athanasiou told Greek media the week of the accident in a video that's making the rounds on TikTok.

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ATHANASIOU: (Speaking Greek).

EMMANOUILIDOU: She explained that she's taken that same evening train from Athens to Thessaloniki for a night out many times and then taken the first train back home in the morning. She said some of the blame should fall on the stationmaster, who apparently failed to switch the train tracks leading to the high-speed collision. He's charged with negligent homicide. But she said "we Greeks are also to blame..."

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ATHANASIOU: (Speaking Greek).

EMMANOUILIDOU: "...For putting in power the same people again and again and again." Researcher Costas Gousis has been watching how those in their teens and 20s are responding to the tragedy.

COSTAS GOUSIS: We are seeing the shaping of a new political generation in Greece.

EMMANOUILIDOU: Gousis is with ETERON, a nonprofit that's been tracking the issues Gen Zers and young millennials care about.

GOUSIS: What really - is really happening here with this huge movement - you could see that it is coming, that this is a generation that at some point will say, this is enough.

EMMANOUILIDOU: He says, even before the train collision, many young Greeks were growing disillusioned. They staged big protests over a plan to place police on university campuses, plans to partially privatize Greek education and in response to a wave of violence against women. More recently, young artists have been in the spotlight, protesting a recent government decree that they say downgrades performance arts degrees to the equivalent of a high school diploma and will affect their salaries, among other things.

THOMAS: The country which is known for creating art is now killing it.

EMMANOUILIDOU: Thomas is a 25-year-old drama student, and he's reading one of the banners hanging outside the National Theatre of Greece in downtown Athens. He asked us to only use his first name. He and dozens of other students and artists have been camping inside the theater for more than a month. He says, to him, that feels more productive than going to the ballot later this year.

THOMAS: I don't believe elections will change something in Greece, whatever party comes in power. They don't work like this in Greece.

EMMANOUILIDOU: Historically, youth turnout in Greek elections has been low. This year, the youngest voters will be those born in 2006 - voters who grew up as the country was in deep economic turmoil. Nick Malkoutzis is with MacroPolis, a political and economic analysis website. He says the message the train disaster sent to young people is that Greece is an inhospitable place.

NICK MALKOUTZIS: I think a lot of those young people will look at that and really wonder if their future lies here or if there is any real possibility of things changing for the better. And that's a really depressing thought, to be honest with you.

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UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting in Greek).

EMMANOUILIDOU: At the protest in downtown Athens, 28-year-old Maria, an urban planner who only wanted us to use her first name, looks out into the crowd, a sea of thousands of people.

MARIA: I think there's hope. Finally, there's hope not only to change the government but our principles as a society.

EMMANOUILIDOU: We've been through a lot, she says. We really need change.

For NPR News, I'm Lydia Emmanouilidou in Athens. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lydia Emmanouilidou