Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Δημοκρατία (Democracy)

(This is a true story, in case you think I'm making it up.)

I recently met up with an old family friend whose husband recently passed away. My father was the godfather of her youngest son; my parents were very close to their godchildren's parents. It was actually this woman's name that bought them even closer together. Even the priest must have changed shades as he dunked her into the baptismal font when he heard the name:
... the Priest turns the Sponsor to the East with lowered hands, and asks the following three times:
- Do you join Christ?
The question is answered three times:
- I do join Him.
Again the Priest asks three times:
- Have you joined Christ?
- I have joined Him.
Again the Priest asks:
- And do you believe in Him?
- I believe in Him as King and as God.
After the completion of the Creed, the Priest asks thrice:
- Have you joined Christ?
- I have joined Him.
Then the Priest says:
- Then bow before Him and worship Him.
The Sponsor) bows down, saying:
- I bow down before the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit; Trinity One in Essence and Undivided.
Following the blessing, the Priest asks the Sponsor what the name of the child will be, and the Sponsor says the name loudly and clearly:
- Dimokratia!

The name came as a surprise not just to the priest but also to Dimokratia's parents. But they knew Stavros was a devout communist, and a vow was a vow: they had asked him to become godfather to their child, and they could not go back on their promise. Back in those days, and in those regions, it was the godparent who chose the child's name, and the parents and godparents rarely met up, The parents in fact did not always attend the service, and would only find out the name of their child once the service was over.

My parents met Dimokratia and her husband while both couples were living and working in New Zealand. My mother remembered that when she was a child, not quite a teenager, one of her second cousins, Stavros (son of Efsevios, first cousin of my maternal grandfather), had left the village where both my mother and Stavros lived to become a godparent to a child in another village far away from the mountains where they lived. When he returned a few days later, he proudly announced that he had chosen a beautiful name for the baby - he had called her Dimokratia. Was this Stavros' goddaughter after all? Indeed it was. Here was Dimokratia herself, standing in front of my mother, while they had both transplanted themselves to another country, very far away from their own homeland.

The EAM anthem: 
Only three letters enlighten the Greek people
and show us the bright way to bring freedom
It is our struggle's light and the people follow faithfully,
young, old, all together they shout, hip hip hooray for EAM
EAM saved us from hunger, it will save us again from slavery
and it has congregationalism in its manifesto, hip hip hooray for EAM
It has united all our people, it includes EPON and ELAS,
and it has congregationalism in its manifesto, hip hip hooray for EAM
My mother and Stavros lived through very confusing political times in Greece. During WW2 when democracy was failing Greek citizens and Greece was under Nazi occupation, EAM, the National Liberation Front, was formed, quite obviously encompassing communism and left-wing nationalism, given the musical score that its anthem was set in (the Russian Katyusha theme). No doubt Stavros was one of EAM's strongest supporters, and he would have addressed Alexis Tsipras as 'comrade' if he were still alive now (although he would probably be turning in his grave now). But even for SYRIZA and Mr Tsipras, democracy has taken many turns. It pays to remember what SYRIZA meant to the world way back in December 2014, which isn't too long ago. Democracy has a variety of meanings for everyone, but it rarely encompasses all people: the fragile meaning of democracy has been debated since ancient times.

And what about Stavros, the godfather? Eventually he married, and after seven years, he and his wife gave up trying to have a child as none had come by that time. They decided to adopt instead. But Stavros himself chose the name he would give to his son: 'Eleftherios', from the Greek ελευθερία, 'e-lef-the-RI-a', meaning 'freedom, liberty'. My aunt related to me the day Lefteri (as his name is abbreviated in Greek) came to the village, when he was also baptised. Lefteris' father was so happy to finally have a child of his own, that he invited all the villagers to the baptism, and he composed a mantinada (μαντινάδα) especially for the occasion:
Ευχαριστώ στους χωριανούς - I thank the local villagers
και όλο αυτό τ' ασκέρι - and this great large assembly
που ήρθε κι' αποδέχτηκε - that came and greeted warmly
το Κάτη, το Λευτέρη. - the new Kati*, Lefteri.
(*Kati is the abbreviated surname of 'Katakis')

And that's not the whole story: Two years after Lefteris joined the family, Stavros and his wife brought Kostantinos into the world by natural birth. The moral of the story: everything happens in its own time, patience is a virtue, and hope dies last.

(The video clip is part of a playlist of politically motivated modern Greek music, composed, written and sung by some of the most famous names in Greek music, many of whom are considered heroes of the various Greek Leftist movements.)

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