Today is October 28th, the anniversary of Greece’s refusal to allow Benito Mussolini’s ultimatum to allow Italian troops to enter Greece in 1940. This resulted in the declaration of war between Greece and Italy, and Greece’s entry into the Second World War on the side of the Allied Powers against the Axis.
Today, organised groups of protesters caused the traditional parade which takes place in Thessaloniki to be abandoned. In this city, the parade is synonymous not only with October 28th, but also with October 26th, the name day of St. Demetrius, who is the patron saint of Thessaloniki. The situation was sparked by their insulting of the President of Greece, Karolos Papoulias, by calling him a traitor, as well as by other events.
Similar events occurred at parades all over Greece. Thrown eggs, cries of “traitor”, physical attacks, and in once city, the burning of a German flag took place. In one poignant episode, schoolchildren parading in Athens refused to salute the flag, raising black flags instead. In Florina, the marchers carried a black coffin.
Instead of unifying around a day of Greek history, the country has yet again split itself apart. Apparently ignorant of the sacrifices being made today by the citizens in the Eurozone countries that have granted Greece two emergency loans, these protestors have chosen an apparently mindless “resistance” against the PASOK government and unnamed “foreigners.”
They have done so in such a way which defiles the memory of all Greeks who perished in the Second World War, an event in which it had absolutely no role except to defend its territory, and for which it suffered terribly. By some estimates, over 800,000 Greek deaths occurred during the Axis invasion and occupation, out of a total population of 7.2 million.
No matter how much one can complain against the PASOK government—and I believe I have been pretty critical in these pages—sabotaging a national holiday in this way is unacceptable. It illustrates the depths to which a few political parties or groups have been able to subvert the democratic process and the right to protest. It reminds me nothing less than the events which took place in the winter of 1944, and led to the civil war.
As Skai news reported, there has not been a single arrest made. More on this in a bit.
Changing the subject, today I arrived in Aghios Nikolaos, a small town on the northern shore of eastern Crete, where I am delivering a training programme over the next two days. Aghios Nikolaos is about 10 kilometers from the small village of Kavousi, where I worked as a volunteer at the American School of Classical Studies excavations in the summers of 1987 and 1988. These were among the best times in my life: waking up at 05:30, excavating an early Geometric village and fortress under the cloudless blue skies, seeing history emerge from the dust.
Each weekend I would hike through the mountains, particularly Afentis Christos, the highest peak in NE Crete, from which you can see the Aegean Sea to the north and the Libyan Sea to the south. I spent one Saturday night in July 1988 shivering in a little church at the top of that mountain. I had hiked up to watch the sunrise, alone, and the haunting sound of sheep bells in the distance kept me company in the cold. I remember waiting until around 09:00 or so, and then beginning the long walk down the mountain on Sunday morning, full of resolution and the determination to make my dreams a reality.
These were different times. Back then, consumer goods were much more restricted. Fast food restaurants were practically unknown. Human contact was much more intense. Hiking through small villages up in the mountains, villagers would invite me into their homes for coffee, wanting to know where I was from, what I was doing there, plying me with mountain raki and coffee, and never accepting a single drachma in exchange. The Cretan workers at the dig adopted me as family, inviting me to a series of festivals all summer long. The next step would have been a proxenio, a marriage offer, but thankfully I knew I was leaving for university in the United States the next year.
Today, things are different, as they are everywhere. We have lost much of our humanity and our ability to interact with other humans, as well as with nature. This interaction costs time and honesty, but not money. Instead, we’ve substituted this with an endless search for ephemeral, status-based pleasures—coffee at Starbucks, mindless shopping at The Mall, our latest Facebook post. We are all now double income-earning families. Formerly, we were money rich, time poor. Now we are money poor, time poor. Instead of feeling better about ourselves, we feel that we can never have enough, we feel the insecurity of the unsatiated, unsatiable credit card-wielding consumer. And now, of course, we have the great financial crisis. Was all this consumer frenzy worth it?
But the mountains are the same: craggy ramparts thrusting up into the sky, split by towering ravines, pine forests, and the kalterimnia which criss-cross their flanks. They slumber throughout the day, and seem to glow in the sunrise and sunset. The sea is the same, as is the wind. And I am sure that if we truly wanted to change our situation, we could.
Back to reality: arriving this afternoon to Aghios Nikolaos, as the sun was setting, a unit of 50 riot police were blocking the national highway with two trucks. They were screening cars arriving from Heraklion, no doubt on the lookout for potential demonstrators. Why? Because Greece’s Prime Minister is hosting a meeting of the Socialist International just 5 km down the road, in a luxury hotel.
It’s difficult to think of a more ironic or schizophrenic situation. Greece is falling apart and Europe is heading into an economic crisis, yet the Socialist International is meeting in a yet another luxury hotel, no doubt passing worthy resolutions which like most political resolutions of any ideological slant have little to do with everyday reality.
On October 28th, a day dedicated to democracy and the resistance to facism, Greek police are using facist methods to screen potential protestors. Political face control, if you will. One Fiat Punto with four young people was pulled over: the two women were forced to empty their handbags on the pavement. I didn't see any eggs or hand grenades, but you never know. There was probably no legal basis for this search. And all this to protect a meeting of Socialists in a luxury hotel nowhere near the site of the police block.
Internationally, the latest Italian bond issue cost over 6%, while unemployment in Spain reached nearly 5 million people, or 21.5% of the labour force. Fitch Ratings have termed the Greek haircut a form of default. We are still waiting for specific details from the Eurozone summit—details which have not yet emerged. International analysis and media are increasingly sceptical of the strength of the deal, and I fear that market sentiment will soon follow.
I close this atypical Philip Atticus post with no conclusions, no recommendations, no resolutions. I had promised myself not to work or write today, but the course of events has proved otherwise. Happy October 28th.
© Philip Ammerman, 2011