Saturday, 14 January 2012

The way we are: the Greek identity in transition (Όπως είμαστε τώρα)

Since the realisation that the economic crisis was a global one and not just a Greek one, there was a decline in Greek news stories being posted in the major web-dailies. Until something absolutely sensational comes along and puts Greece back into the front-page headlines, like this one:
"Greece's financial crisis has made some families so desperate they are giving up the most precious thing of all - their children." (BBC, 9 January, 2012); mentioned on the news front-page headlines).
I won't argue about the quality of truth in the statement, suffice it to say that this kind of problem is a global one predominant in large urban centres, and it is not confined to Greece. Googling the Greek words 'αφήνουν παιδιά' (= they leave kids) will bring up a few links that originally date back to 4 January, 2012, and they all (including the BBC article) mention the SOS Village, a privately funded refuge for children in abusive relationships. Impoverished Greeks are now asking to leave their children there because they feel they can't take care of them. (SOS prefers not to take them because they are already over the limit in terms of children they can care for, and their existence serves a different purpose.) Such reports follow another article published in the Guardian (28 December, 2011) about a father of ten who wanted to give up four of his children (NB: the current average birth rate in Greece is something like 1.5).

The truth is that reports of this type question what has been believed about the traditional values of Greek society. The recent crisis has fuelled such changes, and provided food for thought about the altering nature of the Greek identity. It's disturbing to think that this situation may turn Greek people into the monsters they are being depicted. But I don't think that will happen.

The crisis is 'supposedly' a transitional phase which the world must eventually get out of in some way, kind of like a war. The crisis is actually a form of WWIII, but few people are prepared to put this into writing. Most people think of war involving weapons and ammunition, which is why references to WWIII mention nuclear war (with Iran and North Korea regarded as leading the way), but the lessons learnt from WWII are enough to ensure that such mass destruction could never be allowed to take place. Imaagine what will happen to most Westerners' food supplies if this were to happen: could they go back to rationing? (And the answer is 'No'.) The current crisis is just like a war: in this one, the weapon is economics and the ammunition is money.

In the previous great war (WWII), Greek people were also forced to question their values. In Crete, they sliced up oranges, sprinkled salt on them and poured a little olive oil over them, and called that salad. They ground up carob pods for flour to make bread. Both practices are now used in artisan-style Western nouveau cuisine. But did Cretans who were probably some of the first regular consumers of such creations adopt them into their food culture? No. As soon as things improved, people went back to their traditional diet. Athenians simply watched their children starve to death:
"... when there was no food available, coupons were useless and so was money. At one point, people were not just hungry; they were starving, a situation which forces the victim to turn his back on civilised behaviour and resort to any means just to stay alive."
Instead of administering to their children's bodies the last rites (ie a burial), many deaths were not announced to the authorities. The relatives of the dead hid their bodies in public cemeteries at night, in order to maintain their food rations. Sometimes they buried them in hastily dug unmarked graves. Eventually the municipal services collected hundreds of anonymous corpses, so that these do not appear in official data. Did this make Greeks question the value or need for religion in their society? No. As soon as things improved, not only did people once again go back to their former practices, but they have remained, to a certain extent, a religiously monocultural nation, where politics is still influcenced by the church and vice-versa.

I'm not arguing that this new situation is not a detrimental sign in Greek society. I'm just saying, this is a transitional phase. Horror stories like the above-mentioned are simply a clear sign that we are in a state of war. Just like with the previous war, nobody knows when it's going to end. And when normality returns, Greeks will remember who they are (not just were), and we're bound to see a return to most things Greeks were well known for.

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