Breaking the Cycle of Decay in Greek Politics
Elections in Greece are over. The Socialists mounted a landslide victory, just as the Conservatives did in 2004. Little has changed in the past 5 ½ years. Voters punished a clientele party for corruption in 2004, and did the same again now. A new prime minister rose to power promising an end to corruption, just as his rival did in 2004. In the meanwhile, cadres in both parties continued to show themselves poor stewards of Hellenic history, language, and culture.
The previous PASOK regime sent a Commissioner to Europe who advocated adopting English as an official language in Greece. Of course, back in the 1982, New Democracy cooperated with PASOK in eradicating accents and diacritics for the Greek language which were in place for centuries.
The previous PASOK government alienated many citizens by removing religion from national identity cards. ND’s former education minister did the same by not pulling controversial history books that minimized the severity of the Asia Minor catastrophe in 1922 and insulted the memory of Greek Revolutionary War heroes. Despite the public outcry, the freshly defeated prime minister refused to sack her. Fortunately, the people took matters into their own hands and voted her out of Parliament during the next elections. He then proceeded to reward her by making her head of his party’s European Parliament ticket this past June!
Both parties have done their fair share of eroding Greece’s last line of defense – its language and culture. Of course, the private television stations that operate under practically zero supervision have done their part as well.
In this election, both major parties defined the economy as the main issue. What they failed to say is that there is a far greater issue at stake: Greece’s (cultural) survival in the 21st century. The only thing separating Hellas from becoming Europe’s version of Disneyland is its sense of unique otherness embodied by the living testimony to its great legacy – the Greek language, Orthodox religion, historical conscience, unique worldview, mode of existence. The sad but true fact is that neither of Greece’s two major parties place any importance on these elements.
We’ve heard endless cliches about tidying up the Greek economy, incorporating “green” environmental policies, etc. What’s to say this rhetoric is nothing more than this election year’s mantra, much like the “reestablishment of the government” in 2004, or the “third road to socialism” in 1980? These famous slogans disappeared along with the forgettable governments that failed to implement them.
Greece is receiving a huge influx of immigrants. Official estimates say about 10 percent of the population are foreigners. This figure could be even larger due to countless illegal immigrants in the country and Greece’s perennial problems keeping statistics. An influx of one to two million immigrants would not pose a problem for large countries like France, Germany, Spain, or Italy because the make-up of the population would not be affected. In Greece, it most certainly is.
If the government placed priority on cultivating Greek culture, there would be a good chance for many of these immigrants to become integrated and eventually Hellenized (Alexander the Great effect). However, with political parties choosing to focus only on materialistic aspects of public policy, this dynamic is not only lost, but Greece now risks succumbing to the melting pot model. Never before has there been such a disrespect for the Greek language exhibited by politicians, TV personalities, etc. Never before has there been such a systematic attempt to eradicate Hellenism in schools. The period of Ottoman occupation might come close, but at least the Greeks reacted by forming “secret schools,” where authentic Greek texts where taught. Of course, the history book propagated by ND’s former education minister denies even that fact.
If it is still being taught in schools, Greeks would do well to read Thucydides. In Pericles’ funeral oration, he writes that “we are rather a pattern to others than imitators ourselves.” The Athenian leader also stresses that “A man may be personally ever so well off, and yet if his country be ruined he must be ruined with it; whereas a flourishing commonwealth always affords chances of salvation to unfortunate individuals. Since, then, a state can support the misfortunes of private citizens, while they cannot support hers, it is surely the duty of everyone to be forward in her defense, and not…give up all thoughts of the common safety.” (2.60)
Without a strong language and all the other elements that accompany a flourishing commonwealth, there can be no safety.
Good luck to the new government. If they embrace even one of these elements with care and treat them as a real “national asset,” they will have done the country a greater service than any economic policy they will choose to implement. Besides, everyone knows that the latter decision goes through EU Money Commissioner Joaquin Almunia anyway.
In an age of globalization, where national fiscal policy is dictated by markets, investors, and credit agencies, not governments, the only real sovereignty still around is utilizing their national resources – tangible and intangible. Giving this capital away is a crime far worse – and much costlier – than the ones committed on Wall Street.