Saturday, December 20, 2014
It was the Goatboy, an incisive former contributor to the august pages of this publication, who, commenting on the state of Greece a few years ago, observed: "Boyfriend, Hellenism is a superseded discourse."
While we in the diaspora have the luxury of proving our dedication to the fold by demanding the return of the Parthenon Marbles from Britain, our Helladic cousins seem, at least according to the media, to have lost theirs, the current financial crisis being merely symptomatic of a broader psycho-social malaise, one where the vacuum where traditional values and time honoured conventions existed has speedily been filled with discontent and chaos.
How else could one explain not only the seemingly senseless violence that has rocked Athens in recent weeks, supposedly in memory of police victim Alexandros Grigoropoulos and in support of imprisoned armed robber, Nikos Romanos, but also, the even more absurd justifications offered for such anti-social behaviour that has seen municipal, university and union buildings being occupied by anarchist sympathisers, caused injuries, damage to private property and destroyed the livelihoods of quite a few of those who here in Australia are known as 'battlers'. Last time serious riots took place, the Marfin Bank was torched and three bank employees, caught in the inferno, perished. No-one commemorates them.
One would think that this is due to the fact that the anarchists who appear to be the driving force behind Athenian street violence display contempt for the capitalists and their petit bourgeois minions who blindly submit to social repression in exchange for creature comforts. What we learn, however, is that we are, in Greece, still back in the realm of Dostoyesvsky's The Possessed, having to deal with innumerable Verhovenskys, that is, pampered members of the bourgeois who not only appear to be totally divested of a moral compass, which is why they are able to commit acts of violence upon their fellow citizens while being immune to the pricks of conscience, but also are possessed of an inordinate sense of entitlement as well.
The fact that Dostoyevsky penned The Possessed as a protest and a clarion call against the erosion of traditional values and social cohesion (by the conservative establishment) that permitted radical idealists to see no harm in inflicting misery upon the populace as far back as 1872, is indicative of just how far Greece seems to have lagged behind the rest of the world in social advances. Apparently, our French and Russian revolutions are just around the corner ... with pampered and pomaded patrician leading perplexed proletarians ... nowhere.
Convicted bank robber Nikos Romanos, at the tender age of twenty-one, is a case in point. Thousands took to the Athenian streets, screaming his name and tearing up the pavement to support his hunger strike. This strike is not in protest against prison brutality or inhumane prison conditions. He denies himself food not in solidarity with the thousands of Greeks who go hungry daily as a result of the breakdown of the Greek economy and social policy, nor in protest against the racist lunatic fringe of Greek politics that would deny food to those residing in Greece based upon the colour of their skin. Rather, Nikos Romanos, who walked into a bank with a Kalashnikov and proceeded to rob it before the bank's terrified employees, is denying himself food due to his desire to attend university. Apparently, in his distorted view of the world, so convinced is he that he should have the right to leave prison in order to continue his education that he is willing to pay the ultimate price for that right. And what does the anarchist robber of banks and hater of capitalism wish to study? Business administration, of course.
If this were not Monty Pythonesque enough, consider the bizarre attitude of his progenitor: "My son is very angry and very bright and very conscious of what he is doing. What seems absurd gives meaning to people. If the authorities had allowed him to pursue his studies, which is his right, none of this would have happened."
Let us reflect upon the word right. In the moral vacuum of the modern politicised Greek of like ilk, or at least the 6,000 thousand protesters who recently rampaged in the streets of Athens, it is the right of every person who visits violence upon their fellow citizens to not only evade punishment, but also to claim privileges. After all, Nikos Romanos is no ordinary criminal. According to his doting father:
"When he and his anarchist friends robbed the bank they were very polite, telling everyone there, 'we don't have anything against you - our beef is with the state'." This then, makes all the difference. The act is irrelevant and is erased if one's political alignment is the correct one. This appears also to be the reason why SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras saw fit to visit the armed robber in prison, immediately transforming him into a hero. If making Romanos see sense is hard enough, try telling Tsipras that banks are not the state and that indeed, it is mum and dad depositors, toilers who have not shared the privileges enjoyed by him in his sheltered upbringing, who bear the brunt of his irresponsible actions.
It is easy to feel sympathy for Romanos. He is young and silly, and in jail. According to his father, it was the horror of seeing his friend Alexandros Grigoropoulos, an innocent young protester, being shot dead by police six years ago that tipped him over the edge. Yet it would be wrong to cast him as the victim of an authoritarian regime that is determined to quash any semblance of protest. It would be even more incorrect to portray him as a fighter for social justice. As his father admits: "He is more bourgeois than the bourgeoisie, a bon viveur who every year went to Austria to improve his German and who had a talent for the piano ... but he knew what was happening around him. He could see how the corrupt elite had destroyed the social fabric of this country."
We therefore sympathise with Romanos because like others of his generation, he has been brought up in a rarified atmosphere of bourgeois privilege, in which traditional values that build social trust are considered passé, and western materialist aspirations are embraced, coupled with an attachment to mythologised political upheaval, and a complete disregard for social or personal responsibility. In short, he is the victim of his parents' generation, a generation that, in many respects, refused to grow up. Had Romanos' parents taught him respect for others, self-effacement, and the value of knowing when to put the interests of the collective before the impulses of the individual, perhaps he would, through his education and professional life, have been able to make a lasting contribution to the society he has, in his frustration and grief, lashed out upon.
Yet for all the hyperbole surrounding the personage of Nikos Romanos, and the volume of the angry voices and fists supporting him, he and his kind are but a footnote in the margins of Greek society. Instead, the true masses are comprised of the same sullen, resentful, fearful, distrustful and frustrated people who are trapped in the quagmire of a society that has eroded what little social capital it may ever have had soon after liberation. Try as they might, (and they haven't really tried), our Helladic cousins have never been able to build a cohesive society that functions or is seen and widely believed to function for the benefit of all, rather than just the privileged potentates and power broker pashas. In such a society, Nikos Romanos would have found a sense of purpose, and well-meaning citizens would have advised his father to grow up. In the decomposing Hellenic Republic, however, he is but a hungry felon, with pretentions to romance but more besides. For in a volte-face of ridiculous proportions, the Greek parliament has voted to change the law so as to allow Romanos to attend university after all. Sending the message that in the land of teenage-angst-ridden Hellas, you can effect legislative change for selfish reasons if you throw a tantrum, we merely point sadly in the direction of the kindergartens of Athens, whose legal position has been uncertain since a 2002 law divested the state of responsibility for their running and placing this instead temporarily on local councils. The tens of thousands of Greek pre-schoolers, who have not been yet been schooled in the art of the destructive and violent tantrum, had better grow up fast.
First published in NKEE on 20 December 2014