Saturday, 26 December 2015

2015: the loss of fear

What a year. What a Greek year. A year of Greece making a daily appearance in the headlines on the front (home) page of international newspapers (websites). It made Greeks wonder: "What did we do now?" A year of the fear of not knowing if we were 'in' or 'out': 'Where do we belong?" A year of social upheaval: "What's going to happen next?" As we wondered what the answers were to these questions, we began to fear our multiple losses: the loss of commonly-held beliefs and comforts.

The international press is now blaring out the main news reviews, the stories of the year that made headlines, like they do at the end of every year: Greece still plays a prominent role in them. Stories about the global economy are rife with references to Greece; the world learnt about OXI thanks to Greece; the refugee crisis played out its beginnings in Greece. As it all unfolded in Greece, the world watched on, fearing their own potential losses.

Πώς μας τη φτιάξαν τη ζωή - How they have shaped our lives
μίση πολέμοι και καπνοί - Hatred, wars and smoke
βρωμίζει ο φασισμός τη γη -  The world stinks of fascism 
σαν κότες σφάζονται οι λαοί - Nations are being slaughtered like chickens
κι εμείς στον ύπνο το βαθύ - While we remain deep in our sleep
Ξυπνήστε (Wake up) by Πάνος Τζαβέλας (Panos Tzavelas), 1975

In a country faced with so much upheaval, anything and everything could have gone wrong. Thankfully, it didn't. It didn't go wrong when the hashtagged OXI morphed in such a way that it looked like it meant YES: that made little difference to the way OXI shaped world thought.

OXI: Paris, Berlin, London. 

It hasn't even gone wrong when a left government changed direction and turned right to find the centre: it still refused to be 'tied' up. Not even when a million people whose names you don't know land in your country and beg for your help: not only do you let them in, but they still keep coming.

Syriza's actions a source of derision: this image sums up my reason for voting OXI in the Greek referendum of July 2015. 

The period leading up to the referendum was confusing to say the least - six months later, we can say that we have refound our centre ground. When you realise that your fear of everything going wrong proved to be nothing less than a fear of fear, you stop fearing. Our greatest fear is the fear of unknown difficulties. But life was never easy for most of us, and it continues this way to the present day.

Ενα το χελιδόνι κι η άνοιξη ακριβή - Only one swallow makes spring expensive
για να γυρίσει ο ήλιος θέλει δουλειά πολλή - A lot of work is needed for the sun to turn
Θέλει νεκροί χιλιάδες να 'ναι στους τροχούς - Thousands of dead are needed to turn the wheels
Θέλει κι οι ζωντανοί να δίνουν το αίμα τους. - While the living have to give up their blood.
Ενα το χελιδόνι  (One swallow) by Οδυσσέας Ελύτης (Odiseas Elitis - lyrics) and Μίκης Θεοδωράκης (Mikis theodorakis - music), 1964

For most people, it's hard to see a bright future after six years of economic recession and political stalemate. It's easier to believe that there is no end in sight, that the depression will go on forever. But depressions, recessions and wars do not go on forever. Eventually they stop, and it is necessary to be prepared for their end, otherwise we will be standing among the ruins, not knowing which way to turn. Our main concern during such difficulties is the thought of loss: we count our losses by worrying about the level of impoverishment that we suffer. For Greece, these losses have led to a highly necessary personal and political reappraisal in order to be able to face the hardships to come, which will end the economic and political stagnancy. To see the future more clearly, we need to analyse our losses. 

Most people in Greece will equate the idea of losses with reductions in income. Why did we lose such a great portion of our income? Greed plays a big role in Money's decision to leave Greece. Money stopped coming here, and what little was left of it was taken out of the country. If we want Money to come back, we need to find ways to keep it here, as well as to keep it coming.

Apart from money, we also lost a lot of people. Many people couldn't cope with their losses. Some left for another world, others left for another country. You will often hear people saying: Τί έκανε η χώρα μου για μένα; (What did my country do for me?) Many people think that their country has not done enough to keep them here, that their country has not respected them in some way. Maybe they are asking the wrong question: perhaps they should be asking Τί έκανα εγώ για την χώρα μου; (What did I do for my country?) What do the people themselves do so that their country can keep them here? All wars suffer human losses - the first such losses signal the need for the reappraisal of our values and identity.

 Πάλης ξεκίνημα νέοι αγώνες οδηγοί της ελπίδας οι πρώτοι νεκροί. - The start of a struggle, new battles: the first dead are the leaders of hope 
Όχι άλλα δάκρυα κλείσαν οι τάφοι λευτεριάς λίπασμα οι πρώτοι νεκροί. - No more tears, the tombstones are laid: the first dead become the fertlisers of freedom
Λουλούδι φωτιάς βγαίνει στους τάφους μήνυμα στέλνουν οι πρώτοι νεκροί. - A flower of fire springs forth from their graves: the first dead are sending a message
Απάντηση θα πάρουν ενότητα κι αγώνα για νά `βρουν ανάπαυση οι πρώτοι νεκροί. - For the first dead to rest in peace, they will receive an answer of unity and struggle.
Οι πρώτοι νεκροί (The first dead) by Αλέκος Παναγούλης (Alekos Panagoulis - lyrics) and Μίκης Θεοδωράκης (Mikis theodorakis - music), 1974

This reappraisal of values and identity leads perhaps to the greatest loss that we fear: the loss of dignity. If we can put aside the loss of our personal dignity (for example, buying supermarket own brands instead of branded products), we can look at the higher level of the dignity of our country. The refugee crisis showed Greece to be the most humane country in Europe: having lost everything, the people still found something left to give. 

This is the moment to remember the words of the famous Cretan writer Nikos Kazantzakis, often remembered for the quote: "I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free." The full quote in context is as follows:

Ξερω τωρα,δεν ελπιζω τιποτα,δε φοβουμαι τιποτα,λυτρωθηκα απο το νου κι απο την καρδια,ανεβηκα πιο πανω,ειμαι λευτερος.Αυτο θελω.Δε θελω τιποτα αλλο.Ζητουσα ελευθερια.
Now I know, I hope for nothing, I fear nothing, I was liberated from the mind and the heart, I climbed higher up, I am free. That's what I want. I don't want anything else. I just wanted freedom.
- excerpt from Ascetic, an essay by Nikos Kazantzakis, 1883-1957

What a year it was for Greece. The year Greece stopped fearing. The loss of fear is the highest order of loss. But we have to remember the gains: the Greek Parliament voted in cohabitation agreements for same-sex couples: for a country supposedly ruled by a religious organisation, this kind of move reveals quite the opposite to be true. It can only get better.

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