Monday, November 08, 2004


Since the fall of the Hellenistic Era, where the Ptolemies and the Seleucids inadvertedly spread the Greek language and culture throughout the Middle East, Greek people have been inspired by the universal potential of that culture. How many times have we heard time-worn and tattered sentiments about the ecumenicity of Greek culture being expressed? Especially of late where, in order to make up for our language deficiencies, neo-nationalists have sought to delve back into Hellenistic times and propagate the myth that «Έλληνας είναι όποιος μετέχει της Ελληνικής παιδείας.», or in the most recent English-version: “It doesn’t matter whether you speak Greek or not. A Greek is whoever feels Greek.”
Rubbish. What we really want is for the world to acknowledge that the Greek civilisation is the most superior and that it owes us Greeks an eternal debt of gratitude for providing its troglodyte ancestors with the tools for extricating themselves from the murky swamps of barbarism. We jealously guard our own perception of identity and refuse to share that with anyone. Sum total: Humanity is free to utilise our many accomplishments, but they can never really be us, regardless of the fact that our country has for the past two hundred years at least, been of marginal significance to the world.
While this view may seem to be extreme, it is most definitely borne out of the recent conduct of our Greek cousins. For once again they have by their conduct, exploded not only the myth of the universality of Greek culture but that of Greek φιλοξενία as well. The 28th of October marks as we all know, a great page in our history, the day where small but plucky little Greece had the courage to stand up to the Axis Powers and tell them where to go. The commemoration of this day in Greece, includes a students’ parade, whereby the best student in the class is awarded the unique privilege of bearing the Greek flag. Or at least that was the norm up until now.
All of a sudden, immigrants and their children are after only a few years and as a result of their drive and determination, coming top of their classes. It follows logically that are therefore entitled to bear the Greek flag in the parade. Sadly, this seems to come into conflict with the Greek bourgeois mediocrities and their spawn who protest vehemently at this fall in their prestige and organise student protests, sit-ins and boycotts in order to force their ‘foreign’ classmates to decline their just rewards. The rationale apparently is that ‘foreigners’ are not entitled to bear, or identify with the Greek flag, while presumably, underachieving, slothful and thoroughly malicious little offspring of underachieving, slothful and thoroughly malicious parents are.
This attitude is not surprising and is a mere manifestation of real Hellenism poking between the warp and weft of the cloth of myth we swaddle ourselves in. It is however disgraceful on several levels, historical social and political. In two of three the three cases of foreign students being subjected to extreme pressure by their Greek classmates that have received widespread publicity, the top students have been of Albanian origin. Looking past an understanding that to come from such a poverty-stricken and traumatised country such as Albania, acclimatise to an entirely new world and excel in it in the space of a few years is a superhuman effort indeed, it is worthwhile to note that in disallowing Albanian students the honour of bearing the Greek flag, the Greeks are also displaying a marked ignorance of their own history. For the Albanian peoples’ history is inextricably linked to that of the Greeks since times ancient. Both peoples claim King Pyrrhus of Epirus as their own, while the ancient Molossian kingdom and the subsequent Epirotic Union have formed a source of inspiration for Albanians for years. Both cultures’ sense of identity has also been forged on the anvil of resistance to Turkish occupation. For the most part, this was a joint Albanian-Greek effort. In the fifteenth century, George Kastriotis Skenderbeis led a coalition of Greeks and Albanians to victory against the encroaching Turks and was able to keep them at bay for decades. In the years of the Greek revolution, Christian Albanians fought fervently for the liberation of Greece in the ranks of the bands of such freedom fighters as Kolokotronis and Nikitaras while it is also widely held that the Souliotes were for the most part, Albanian speakers, as were many of our καπεταναίοι, including Markos Botsaris, Kolokotronis, Androutsos and Miaoulis. The uniting bond of liberty was felt so strongly and so inextricably linked to the two peoples that up until the 1870’s and the intervention of the World Powers, a union between Greece and Albania was seriously being discussed. To tell the descendants of Albanian freedom fighters responsible for the liberty of Greece that they are not entitled to hold the flag their ancestors fought for is the height of ingratitude to say the least.
That such attitudes are publicly manifested creates a dangerous social precedent. If anything, such displays of discrimination serve to alienate minorities from mainstream Greek society and hinder their assimilation into it. Isolation and disaffection can lead to crime and violence, as disaffected minorities believe that they are not obtaining their fair share of the pie. Such attitudes, borne of jealousy and hatred also fly in the face of Greece’s recent attempts to re-invent itself as a modern, European and tolerant society. Given that 40% of primary students in Athens alone are immigrants or the children of immigrants and that in some areas the proportion approaches 60%, the irresponsibility of our purveyors of hatred in the guise of Greek pride is apparent. Social discord is a recipe for disaster and if this state of affairs continues, not only will immigrant children not consider carrying the flag of those who denigrate them an honour, but they will come to consider it as an odious burden to be avoided.
Finally, a finger must be pointed, and it is pointed levelly at the Greek Education Department. In a democracy, one cannot stop another from expressing their view but they also cannot stop another from enjoying their lawful entitlements. It is incumbent upon the Education Department to provide a system where all students can be treated equally, learn equally and enjoy equal rewards. In failing to take disciplinary action to stop the interference of bigoted parents and their children in the reward system, the Education Department highlights its own incompetence at the least, or at the worst by its inaction, condones such racist behaviour. This is a savage indictment on EU Greek society. Greece has a moral and social responsibility to treat its new arrivals with dignity, just as it expected that host countries would so treat its own immigrants, half a century ago.
It therefore appears that at no level of Greek society do our adages about universality hold water. Contrast this with the following inscription on the Byzantine castle at Argyrokastro in Northern Epirus: “Illyrians, Albanians, Molossians, Epirots and Greeks – One People.” Yeah right, not if you’re better than me you aren't.
published in NKEE on 8 November 2004