Monday, August 23, 2004


And the coveted Diatribe runner-up trophy for invective Diatribes goes to His Excellency the President of the Hellenic Republic, Mr Kostis Stephanopoulos. You gotta love the Prez. Who else would invite all of the stuffy heads of the International Olympic Committee to luncheon and instead of being gracious, diplomatic and deceitful as European protocol prescribes, launch into a heated tirade, admonishing the IOC for their disparaging comments about Greece’s capacity to host the Olympic Games for so many years and fuelling countless similar articles hostile to Greece in the world press? Well done I say, for it is common knowledge within Hellenic tradition that one should never insult one’s hosts. Whole wars have been fought over this for Samaranch’s sake. Look at Troy, for instance.
The Diatribe’s runner-up trophy for triumphant Diatribes however goes to none other than Yianna Angelopoulou-Daskalaki, the feisty and redoubtable organiser of the Olympic Games. Hindered at almost every turn by an inept PASOK government, removed from her post by the same ineptitude and reinstated once it was found that there was no one else capable enough to organise the Games, Yianna’s speech at the Opening Ceremony was a giant “I told you so,” not only to Jacques Rogge, the head of the IOC and one of those doubting Thomas’s who mused aloud that it was perhaps a mistake to have awarded the Games to Greece. It was an “I told you so,” to a Greek people who had adopted a cynical and lackadaisical attitude to the Olympics, not believing in their own strengths or spirit, an “I told you so,” to a people who since Euro 2004 are increasingly proud of themselves and aware that they can achieve anything. Either that or Yianna’s “It told you so,” was meant as an “I told you I can make you do whatever I want,” in which case we should all tremble before this iron lady whose designer clothes and over large mouth strike fear into the hearts of the lazy. Maybe she should take over the Ministry of Employment next. These Games though, could safely be said to have been her achievement and it is both moving and interesting that such a scion of an illustrious family continues the tradition of wealthy Greek families of donating and being benefactors of the ethnos. Yianna did not say much. But that she was there, showcasing the triumph of the collective and individual will spoke louder than words ever will.
However, the Diatribe’s champion trophy for subtle, splendid and needs no explanation Diatribes will undoubtedly have to be awarded to the Athens Opening Ceremony. Witnessing 4000 years of the Hellenic contribution to the world was a profound and moving experience. These Games were not about partying, carnivals or ideological battles between nations jostling for temporal power or recognition. In fact the opening ceremony was Spartan, deceptively simple and yet, totally Olympic. It is interesting that the Ceremony commenced with the famous poem by Seferis where he wakes up with a marble bust in his arms and does not know what to do with it. Symbolic of how an illustrious past can become a burden in the present, the ceremony unfolded into a subtle diatribe of dealing with such a past on two levels.
The first was a diatribe directed towards the Greek people and in a sense it took up where Seferis left off. As millennia of Greek tradition uncovered itself, floated throughout the aether or marched past the Greek people to the acclamation of the rest of the world, the message was simple but clear: tradition and history does not have to be a burden given a discursive and celebratory, all-inclusive approach. Seferis’ heavy relic of an ancient petrified past becomes weightless. No longer a dead and stagnant corpse, it becomes pregnant with energy, splitting open to reveal a veritable Babushka doll of endless relevance and comfort to the whole of mankind. If Greek civilisation is burden, then the fact that at the Opening Ceremony the whole world claims it as its own, lightens the load considerably. This level of Diatribe also provides a driving force that negates the ‘dead-weight’ of civilisation that so plagued Seferis, that of Eros, God of Love. For it is Love, whether that be love of knowledge, love of one’s brother, love of the beautiful or love of Life and Love itself that was the driving force of Greek civilisation. And as long as the Greek love affair with simply existing continues, no petrification of Life can ever take place.
The second level of Diatribe was directed towards the entire world and consisted of two sub-levels. The first sub-level was an educative discourse. The world was given to understand the length, diversity and complexity of Greek civilisation, including that of the Minoans, the Mycenaeans, the Geometrical Period, the Classical and Hellenistic Age. Of particular and remarkable importance was the colourful presentation of Byzantine history, a part of our history much maligned or at best dismissed by the western world, as a dialectic of the fight between good and evil, a dialectic which is of particular relevance to these Orwellian times. The national costumes of all parts of the Greek world, including the Pontus, the rembetes and the bouzoukia all melded together to give the viewer a crash course in Greek history.
However, it was much more than that. The tastefully and artfully created fragile paper-boat of hope, conveying the innocence of youth across the lake of destiny, the existence of Eros, of lovers and other lithe, lissome figures, the splitting of the megaliths to reveal human beauty, the sprouting of the immortal Olive Tree, the references to the Greek mythic creation of the Galaxy, the search for knowledge and understanding that culminated in the laser Double-Helix, the indelible blueprint that unites humanity served to bring the Games back to their original spirit: Not just that of showcasing one’s culture or proving that your Olympic Games are better than someone else’s, but a paean to the human existence and a heartfelt prayer that the brotherhood of all mankind is not an unattainable goal. In this respect, the ceremony was typically Hellenic. Sparse, and simple, yet oh so complicated.
The second sub-level of Diatribe addressed to the world was best expressed by Yianna: “This is the new Greece.” Indeed, replicating Ozymandias, king of kings in the famous Victorian poem, Yianna and indeed the whole of Greece calls upon the mighty to “look upon our works and despair.” For Greece the underdog, the country that until so recently formed the butt of so many jokes and which Australian journalists in their manic quest to preserve Sydney’s appellation as the “best Games ever,” from the incompetent, has become the majestic, the nation that is worthy of respect. Once again, the whole world pays homage to Greece, remembering that it is the nation that has given the world so much and has sought so little in return. It is a message that is as effective as no other.
It is a most auspicious time to be Greek. As Kaklamanakis mounted the dais to light the typically Greek in its ambiguity Olympic column/torch/pipe/candle, a beacon of fire was kindled. That beacon of fire is but a son of that original light that emanated from Olympia and Athens, from Dodoni and Delphi, from Ephesus and Philadelphia, Miletus and Trapezous, Constantinople and Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria, Sicily and Samos, Mt Athos and Souli, Calabria and Apulia, Marseilles and Barcelona, the Crimea and Cyrene and all other areas of the Greek world. It is a light that once more pierces the veil of corporate self-interest and political discord at these Olympic Games. And it is a light that though so long ago kindled, will never be diminished.

published in NKEE on 23 August 2004