THE MORNING OF THE WORLD
Most people, when they think of Greece, think of Socrates and Pericles. They believe that Greece’s real importance lies in the past. But that conception is wrong. For over 200 years, Greece has been in the nucleus of Europe’s evolution and, although not a superpower, has decisively influenced the continent’s course. All the evidence shows that what is currently happening in Athens today will inevitably clear the way for change once again.
Greece had become a symbol change, freedom and “leventia” ( a Greek word which translates into a combination of bravery, fearlessness, spirit and honor) from as early as the 1820’s when they raised the flag of revolution against the Ottoman Empire and ended 400 years of slavery. Shelley wrote: “In the great morning of the world splendor burst and shone!” This exaltation of independence echoed far and wide reaching the shores of Italy and the plains of Germany, Poland and further yet, to America. These countries rallied around the Greek blue and white for the sake of democracy and within a decade, the country won its freedom.
More than a century later, in the winter of 1940, the Greeks stood tall against the onslaught of fascism and the Axis powers when they declared the famous “No” to the troops of Mussolini while the rest of Europe cheered! The Greek troops fought bravely and pushed the Italian forces as far back as the southern border of Albania, humiliating Mussolini and enraging Hitler who had to send in his German troops to finish what “il duce” could not. Historians believe that this played a decisive role in the outcome of the Second World War, delaying Hitler’s Russian campaign which was his Waterloo.
Today as the euphoria of the 90’s has faded and Europe again contemplates the future amongst a strict austerity regime, it falls upon Greece to challenge the highbrows of the European Union.
It is only natural for many Greeks, whether living in Greece or abroad, to be somber, pensive and skeptical of late. We ask ourselves why should we carry this heavy burden alone, why are we being humiliated, taunted and punished for economic crimes that were not committed by the many but by the few? And why are these medieval measures being imposed upon us by our partners- the leaders of the European Union?
Yes some are rotten but the majority is innocent. And I speak for them and can assure you that they do not want to cheat their neighbors but they believe that the unprecedented harshness of the austerity measures that Europe has imposed upon Greece is impossible to survive. The Greek people simply cannot cope and the recent election results are only a massive cry for help.
Last night I read an email from a good friend who is a winemaker in Northern Greece. He sent me an article written in the New York Times about the current success that Greek red wines were experiencing in the American market. He was optimistic, almost euphoric as he wrote: “we believed in this, we worked hard and now we’re finally getting the recognition we deserve; against unbelievable odds”.
Then I switched on the television to watch the remaining second half of the final Euro league Championship game between the all powerful Russian CSKA and little goliath Olympiakos of Greece. I saw the score and my stomach dropped; the Greek team was trailing behind 19 points and there were less than 10 minutes left in the game. Another humiliation I thought.
But alas, the Greek “leventia” surged through carrying that little basketball again and again into the Olympiakos hoop. A minor miracle was at play before my very eyes, triumphantly ending the game for Olympiakos at 62-61.
Moments before turning off my bedside lamp I thought of how history has shown time and time again that when the Greeks are with their backs against the wall they react and adapt to the situation at hand effectively and in several cases victoriously. In the most challenging times Greece has produced its greatest contributions to civilization, to democracy, to the arts and letters. I realized that although Greece is experiencing its most serious crisis in recent history it is also at the threshold of an excellent opportunity to transform and renew itself and in the process propel Europe to re-emerge as a front runner of democratic, progressive and humanistic policy.