Friday, 6 January 2012

The way we were: EU Greece ('Οπως ήμασταν παλιά: Ελλάδα και ΕΕ)

Thirty-one years ago, on New Year's Day, Greece became the tenth member of the European Communities. Ten years ago, again on New Year's Day, Greece was a founding member of the Eurozone. This New Year's Day, the Greek TV news reports are filled with tales of a possible return to the drachma. They are just scaremongering: a return to the drachma is not even a feasible choice in global terms. Greece is a mere insignificant blimp in the EU, but its demise will signal the demise of the members of her extended family. The drachma days look so picturesque in photos of old-time Greece, but they were the reason why people left Greece in droves. The mass migration of those previous two decades out of the war-ravaged politically turbulent country was finally starting to come to a halt, due to the improving economic situation that came with EU entry. This is not much different from other EU countries: take the UK - more people left Britain in the 1960s and early 1970s than those entering (the UK became a member of the EU - EC back then - in 1973).

Constantinos Karamanlis, the Greek Prime Minister on the day of Greece's entry to the EC, stated in his speech: "As of today, Greece irrevocably accepts this historical challenge and its European destiny while preserving her national identity. We have confidence both in Europe and in Greece. We have decided to all be Europeans, as Churchill would say, and to all remain Greeks, as Shelley would say. For, to quote Isocrates, the Greeks are not those who are born in Greece but those who espouse the Classical spirit."

A handsome Greek man, munching on what looks like a piece of healthy Greek koulouri, helping a handsome tourist in Greece, 1981. All that has changed is the blazer style. The Greek woman in the foreground is still representative of her kind. (Photo: Dillon Kesur, 1981)

Karamanlis knew that Greece didn't begin her Europeanisation back then. Europe (or Europa from Ancient Greece) has her origins as far back as her first known civilisation, Knossos, in Crete. Europe's Greek origins prompted the (possibly misreported) statement by a French politician that Europe without Greece is like a child without a birth certificate. More recently, Franz Josef Wagner, a columnist from the German Das Bild, also argued that 'Greece is where we originate from, no matter how crazy the modern Greeks are'.

During that year of celebration when Greece entered the EU, Dillon Kesur came to Greece as a tourist from Australia, on a two-week stopover, which turned into five months:
"As a visitor to Greece I didn't care about Greece joining the EU or its politics. We just enjoyed its raw goodness, but you couldn't help but notice the politics and the excitement at joining the EU. It was everywhere, not to mention the graffiti."
Ten months after Greece's entry to the EU, the pro-EEC Greek governing party lost power, defeated by Andreas Papandreou's anti-EEC party, PASOK, whose campaign slogan was "ΕΟΚ και ΝΑΤΟ, το ίδιο συνδικάτο", a rhyming chant, whose meaning can be roughly translated to "NATO and the EKK, the same syndi-kett". Andreas Papandreou, George Papandreou's father, was seen as the black sheep of the European family (like father, like son), and to a certain extent, European leaders were afraid of his randomness (that must ring a bell) with his forthright comments claiming Europe was getting into bed with the US.

 One of the first things you do when you arrive to Greece on holiday is go to a taverna. It may be the first time you have artichokes, tzatziki, taramasalata and retsina. (Photo: Dillon Kesur, 1981)

Despite her origins, Greece has never seemed to fit into the stereotypical European picture. Whatever that trait was that kept her out of the general image that people have of Europe, there was still something about Greece that endeared her to her neighbours. In 1981, Greece was known for her good weather, fantastic beaches, glorious ancient history, and good food. She was also considered a poor country. This past image of Greece is not much different to her current image. Greece still has good weather, good beaches, a glorious ancient history and good food. She remains a poor country, albeit in a different way from her past form of poverty. Just lately, Greece may not have looked like a poor country to other Europeans, but that's probably because they had a total lack of understanding of a deeper sense of the new Greek European identity (now they have a good misunderstanding of it due to not knowing anything about the older one).

Lalakis, the "imported" Greek (Λαλάκης ο εισαγώμενος); the ad was made in the mid-80s to emphasise the dangers of foreign imports to Greece (the advice was obviously not heeded).

The stigma of a poor nation always remains with that country; even when they become richer nations, their wealth simply creates a veneer that covers the shabbiness, and it wears off eventually. My parents left a very poor Greece in the 1960s. My mother only made two visits to her homeland after that: one in 1974 (pre-EU), where she found Greece just the way she'd left her - the veneer had not started to be applied - one in 1991 (post-EU) when the veneer was at its slickest. She wasn't around to see it worn off. For those of us who are, it's important to be able to distinguish what needs to be changed and what doesn't need to be changed.

"Gordon and Stuart Eat Greek", A Bit of Fry and Laurie: Series 1, Episode 3, 1989: from the script, we can tell that what people liked about Greeks 30 years ago hasn't really changed much from the present.

You might like to check out Dillon's collection of 200 photos from his 1981 holiday in Greece on facebook. The most interesting aspect of his photo collection is to be able to compare Greece then and now, and to work out what has or hasn't changed.

Clockwise, starting from top left: the “richest” man on the island treats the visitors to lunch, room for rent (50 cents a night), earthquake-risk Plaka (Athens), and a common form of island transport. All these images are gone now, but that was inevitable for a country in the European Union.

Most of the photographs depict timeless images of Greece - but some will also remind us about, not just why Greece changed, but why she had to change. If Greece had not entered the EU, these changes would not have not taken place, leaving Greece looking like another Balkan country. There's no going back now.

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