Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Political correctness (Πολιτική ορθότητα)

Political correctness is often what used to stop me from offering my opinion about an issue. In the NZ that I remember, everything was 'nice', 'lovely' and 'choice'. You never made your darker thoughts public out of fear of offending. And anything goes - if you see a man wearing a petticoat entering a Cuba Mall eaterie, that's none of your business (I did see this a decade ago, and I wondered where he had got the petticoat from - I didn't think women still wore them).

Politically correct thinking in Greece is only just starting to be applied in the laws of the country. I won't say it's catching on, because that would be far from the truth. It's often treated like a joke by most people. In my line of business (academia), I used to hear the odd racist joke being made by high-status people, although I admit that I hear this sort of thing less often nowadays. But some of the stuff I have heard from the mouths of Greek university professors used to shock me in the early days, especially since I came from a country where I would have been reprimanded severely were I to enter such a thought just in my head, let alone utter it.

Somewhere in my reading, I recall hearing about a Greek gay man who lives abroad, saying that Greeks are recist and do not show political correctness because they have never been taught to be politically correct. In other words, they aren't politically correct because no one ever told them that they have to be:
From early on [Greek] youngsters are injected with the conviction that the Greek people are special, that their history has always been great and that the connection of contemporary society with ancient civilization is linear and uninterrupted.
In the context of this dominant culture, testosterone is king, femininity is a must for every woman and homosexuality is divergent behavior.
But political correctness should not be the obsessive compulsion of leftists in Kolonaki.
If we want the young children of today to become the responsible European citizens of tomorrow, the fundamental principles of equal treatment and respect for human rights should be taught together with the alphabet.
It takes years and years and years of cohesive integrative politics and willingness on the part of nations and peoples to instill politically correct attitudes in their countries. It's not something that happens overnight. The British political climate now regards shows that I used to enjoy watching with my parents, like the Black and White Minstrel Show and Love Thy Neighbour, as racist, even though they seemed to be very popular and completely harmless. In the the second decade of the new millennium, Brits are now horrified to learn that there were serial sexomaniacs in high places among them in the 1960s. 

But the Brits can at least now say: "Oh, we were like that then, but we're not like that now." Greeks can only do that a certain extent. They generally show some conservatism towards traditional ideals. Although Greeks have shown signs of slowly adapting under the pressure of politically correct policies, I don't believe it will happen to the extent that this kind of politics will be permanently enshrined in our laws, as it is in other countries. Let's not kid ourselves - Golden Dawn's racist policies are imprinting themselves in Parliament. 

The only time I felt that politcal correctness in Greece may actually have had a chance was when Voula Papachristou was expelled from the 2012 Olympics, after she retweeted what I regard as a typical Greek-style joke, as such comments are often made with complete disregard for the feelings of the people at the butt of such casually made statements, as if those others are not even people, but some kind of lesser being that is not classed as human: With so many Africans in Greece… At least the West Nile mosquitoes will eat home made food!!!” What's more, this peroxide blonde's nonchalance was expected of her - after all, she was heavily involved with the Golden Dawn clan. She probably took it for granted that she is superior to Africans.

It seems only fair that she was expelled from taking part in the Olympic Games as she did not seem to be sporting the Olympic ideals of respect and friendship. I imagine that if she were allowed to compete (whether she tweeted or not), she would have looked on her black counterparts with contempt. Maybe they would not even be visible to her. Let's not forget that she was not the only Greek athlete to make racist jokes against blacks; does anyone remember what the now infamous Kostas Kenteris said when asked about his win in the games? (He'd already won the gold by then.)

Some people say that Voula's expulsion was only symbolic, a kind of facade to show the world that Greece is making progress in the area of human rights, embracing global ideals of respect and tolerance, and that the Greek Olympic committee only decided to expel her because they were put in a difficult position and felt compelled to do it by the IOC. It's not difficult to believe this, since Greece has not shown in any compelling way that she keeps her word. She only makes promises. "Was he badly beaten up?" a man was recently reported to ask about an illegal immigrant who was attacked in Greece. When he heard that the man almost died, he said: "If so, good - he deserved it." Where in Northern Europe would such a statement be tolerated?

To be truly inculcated in the politically correct mindset, you will have to experience "a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety," when you go against political correctness; you will have a susceptibility to feel shame. I see this happening now in terms of economic subjects: shop owners for example feel shame when you remind them to give you a receipt, receiving a disability allowance when you aren't disabled is now taboo, supporting a political party in order to receive perks is also seen in some way as shameful. But I'm not sure if I can say the same thing about Greeks' views on issues like immigrants, smoking and animal rights.

I'm not suggesting that people can't learn to be more politically correct. The responsibility for this however usually rests on a smaller group of tired souls like myself, who've had enough of the wild mob, and we constantly drum it into people who act politically incorrect (only they don't realise it - they think they are some of the most open-minded nicest and most polite people a person can come across). Only two years ago, I recall entering a room clouded with smoke. All the people in it were English teachers (all female). The no-smoking law had recently been passed, there was a sign on the door reminding people not to smoke, and there was another one on one of the desks in the room. Yet these foreign-educated high-status women, most of whom were of Greek origin (they were mainly diaspora Greeks like myself) were all blatantly disrespecting both the law and other people. 

"Why are you all smoking in here?" The irritation in my voice was clear. I couldn't have asked them this question more politely. My voice boomed across the small room, boomeranging across the walls and hitting each one of them in the face. "Can't you see the sign?" 

"Well, everyone else was smoking when I entered," one of them replied very meekly.

"OK," I said, completely unflustered by their behaviour, because I have learnt to encounter rule breakers in all walks of life in Greece. We all work around them, letting them get in our way as little as possible. I had obviously made myself unpopular, but since I didn't want to sit in a stinky room with them, it hardly made any difference. "I'll just sit in the corridor then." Nasty Maria, bad sport, unfriendly person. Who cares what they thought of me, anyway? At least they began to put out their cigarettes (I don't want to go into the details of this - the room had no ashtrays). But I stayed in the corridor until the examination officers arrived and the meeting started. I suppose I could have been really difficult and asked for another room to be made available - but let's think this out more realistically: we are only at the beginning of the politcally correct ladder. One step at a time; in another country, the room would have been changed had I requested it (but a no-smoking room would probably not smell of smoke there in the first place). But this is Greece - at least I wasn't told to mind my own business or fuck off, and that's a step in the right direction.

The next time my colleagues saw me (we were all oral examiners for external English examinations), I really didn't care if they thought of me as Scary Spice. On coming to Greece, they had obviously gone native. At least I had instilled some shame into them, and possibly reminded them of the countries they left behind, which must have felt like a slap in the face, since they were all born/raised/educated in places which practice zero tolerance for people who do not respect each other.

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