As we walked through central Vienna, I pointed to one of the windows:
“You know”, I explained to an interlocutor who probably knew better than me, “when Greece was formed as a modern country in 1828, the people living in those buildings had several centuries of experience of living in a city with other people.”
I stopped by a water fountain which looked two or three hundred years old:
“This fountain has survived upheaval and waves of military events here. But the people around it found ways to agree despite their differences. In Greece we would probably have destroyed it from some internal bickering.”
I have no idea where you start in order to get over trauma like being held in a basement and raped for many years. But I assume that coming to terms with all that you missed out during those years of captivity is a big part of it. At the start of the economic crisis I used psychological terms to help readers understand the denial symptoms expressed in Greek society. Now I want to point out a huge problem in our national narrative.
Most Greeks are taught a pretty twisted version of history. Ancient Greek wonders, mainly Athenian, a little bit of a vague Byzantine history and then… a huge gap. Like prisoners of some Ottoman Ariel Castro, like a rape victim that doesn’t want to talk about it, 400 years are ignored. During that time the West took off, shook away the obsession with Aristotle and other Greeks and set the stage for the modern world.
Greece got out of its prison in 1828. A country of shepherds and people of little means, were suddenly called upon to become a modern Western country. Athens was little more than a village. Which grew way too quickly with absolutely no associated experience of how to live in a city. Yet we cling to fantasies that are a bit like Superman rushing into a telephone booth to change into a super identity. As if we can instantly turn ourselves into a world leading power based on some magic fairy dust that the location or the DNA of Ancient Athenians have bestowed upon us.
We need to face the facts. To openly express our regret that we missed out on the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution. We need to cry over all the stuff we missed. Retrace the steps we didn’t make with the rest of Europe. I often get accused by nationalists of being a “Greek basher” because I systematically try to get Greeks to let go of their obsession with Ancient Greek wisdom. Maybe if I reposition it as a “rediscovery of the wonders of Europe” it will work better.
Elsewhere in this blog I pinpointed the mistake that European leaders have systematically made in “selling” the European idea to their citizens. Maybe the whole of the Continent and not just Greece could benefit from revisiting those great moments in European history as it led the world for many centuries since the Middle Ages.
Rewriting history is good. It can be fun. And – if you get it right – it is a cathartic experience for all involved. Not as in catharsis of Ancient Greek tragedy. Get over it I said!