What is so charmingly paradoxical about our own brand of naieve Messianism, is that it flies clear in the face of our national character. Far from accepting leaders and seeking to freely obey them, we despise them, are contemptuous of their power, and constantly seek to undermine them. This is because (and here cue in stereotype number one for today), the Greek, by virtue of his immense love of freedom and overwhelming individualism, is essentially an anarchical figure that cannot willingly tolerate any form of authority over him for any protracted period of time. This after all, is the reason why democracy was invented – it offered to the Athenian Greeks, who could not accept the monarchical rule of tyrants, or the ideology of their superiority, the only acceptable form of compromise government for an individualistic people: one where all citizens would be treated according to their own conception of their self-worth ie. That they were just as important as everyone else and that no one was intrinsically superior to them, thus giving all a stake and a right to determine public affairs in concert. People who tried to seize the reins of power, however gifted, such as Peisistratos, received exceedingly bad press, not because his policies or rule was particularly ineffectual, but rather because he had the temerity to set himself up over his fellow compatriots. Harmodios and Aristogeiton, the lovers who killed Peisistratos’ son Hipparchus in 514BC, were lauded as heroes and immortalised in marble as tyrannicides. As leader-killers, their memories would be invoked in 1906, when Stavros Baretis assassinated the prince of Samos Andreas Kopasis. For this act, he was celebrated as «ο νέος Αριστογείτων.» Even backward, Homeric ancient Greek kingdoms such as Epirus eventually came to realise that leaders, no matter whether they were as charismatic as Alexander the Great’s first cousin Pyrrhus who conquered southern Italy and Sicily and almost extinguished the power of Rome as well, were not suited to their temperament. Thus, in 233BC, they murdered the last descendant of Alexander the Great’s mother’s family, Deidamia and established the Epirotic Federation, along with a parliament. As its secretary, I would love to delude myself into thinking that the Panepirotic Federation of Australia is a direct descendant of this august state yet I know this is not so. It is though perhaps telling, that currently in Australia, there are two like named Federations, as doverse organisations broke from the first, because they did not agree with its leaders’ politics.
The constant and continuous dethronement of emperors during Byzantium, along with the degeneration into civil war in the aftermath of the 1821 Revolution, as disparate power brokers such as the Maniot Mavromihalaioi refused to yield power to the central government of Kapodistrias, merely proves that the inherited prejudice runs deep. Of the Greek kings imposed upon the renascent Greek state by the Foreign Powers, Otto I, was deposed in 1862, his successor, George I was assassinated in 1913, Constantine I was deposed twice, his son Alexander was dispatched in 1920 by a particularly democratic Greek monkey, his brother George II was deposed in 1924, though later recalled, and his grandson, Constantine the II was deposed in 1975. Indeed, of all the modern kings of Grece, only Paul I’s reign passed without incident. This at least hints at the manner in which Greeks view their leaders. If we were to proceed to view the roller-coaster careers of such controversial politicians as Venizelos, Metaxas, Karamanlis x 2 and Papandreou x 3, the rule would be proved rather more evidently.
That is not to say that would be leaders are difficult to find among the Greeks. While we will not tolerate anyone viewing us as their inferior, because our sense of self-worth is so particularly prized, we display no apparent difficulty in having others consider us as superior, fonts of all wisdom and consequently imposing our will upon them. Throughout Greek history, and the microcosm of the organised Greek community, which because it has been run as a small collection of city states, disconcertingly mirrors the historical development of its prototype, there has been no shortage of such leaders. The problem, however, is that there has also been no shortage of other would-be leaders, ready to obstruct the imposition of their opponent’s will upon the populace, in order to impose their own. This summarizes in no small part, the history of Byzantium. The example of Alcibiades the Athenian, who, exiled from Athens, first aided Sparta and then the Persians against his homeland, also illustrates another aspect of the Greek furherprizip, namely, that a thwarted would-be leader, when bested, often turns against the institution he would so lovingly lead, conspiring to achieve its downfall or, galloping off into shadows, there to found a rival organisation that will teach his rivals a lesson or two.
Mature communities or states dispense with the need for charismatic ‘leaders.’ This country has not enjoyed them for some time. Instead, it is adherence to the system, a structure of shared and common values that best guarantees the success and viability of such states or institutions. Greece and the Greek community should be no different. No Greek leader has or will ever have the panacea for all our ills. Yet for generations, Greek people have sat back, abjuring responsibility for governance in their vital interests, expecting others to bear that heavy burden alone and blaming them when they fail or are seen to do so, just as self-appointed community pundits here may criticise the Antipodes Festival, without ever lending a hand or suggesting practical solutions to perceived problems.
Our problem then, is not one of leadership. It is one of general apathy, of irresponsibility and hypocrisy, whereby we either exploit existing structures in order to create strife and further our own egotistical fantasies of domination, or divest ourselves of our stake in our own community, all the while paying lip service to ideals we generally espouse in principle only and not in practice, in the expectation that others will ensure the community’s survival to our satisfaction. Either way, the current situation of both the homeland and our own community have proven the bankruptcy of such an approach. If there is hope of arresting terminal decline, it lies in a broad, grassroots community identification and espousal of the values and aspiration that define it and a commitment to, rather than an abuse of, the structures that have been founded to further these. In short, it is to the equality-loving, individual-empowering model of Athenian democracy, where one’s commitment and service to the state was a pre-requisite of citizenship that we should look, if we truly care about the survival of our current institutions.
That of course takes time and consensus building is difficult. Diatribe on the other hand, has all the answers to any problem you could possibly imagine, delivered to you every Saturday. Submit therefore to its superior authority and watch it set you on the path of righteousness in order to propel you towards a future of grandeur. Do it, for your children, for your community, for your country. Do it, or else....