Greece 25 years later

Thoughts about Greece July 2015

In 1989 to 1990 I lived ten months on Crete. While this hardly makes me an expert on Greece, some reflections present themselves in the current situation.

This morning I also read about the trial in Thailand in connection with the harrowing murders of two British backpackers, and an image came to mind of what it must be like for the families. They find themselves in a parallel universe where their own ideas about police work, justice, evidence, fair trial etc are suddenly gone, replaced by something similar, but crucially different. What is important “back home”, may be irrelevant “over there”.

And this experience I lived in Greece, a different reality. While I was there, Venus was visible low on the horizon in the morning, very large, shimmering, it seemed to pulsate. It was there day after day. And yet, more than one person spoke of a UFO; people were excited. I found it strange. After all, it was just Venus.

I was part of the black economy, teaching English, while my girlfriend worked in a private school, a “Frontistirio xenon glosson”, where the owner took pride in playing by the book, paying taxes and a proper salary. It was clear to us that this was an exception. My own stay there was illegal, since Norway was not in the EEA at the time, but this was conveniently ignored by the local police, who knew everyone, of course, in the fairly tiny community.

The contrast to northern Europe was quite clear, and it still is.

Seeing Varoufakis, fresh off his motorbike next to Schauble, fresh off his chaffeur-driven Mercedes, is like seeing the grasshopper and the ant. For one, you work to live. For the other, you live to work.

On top of this, Schauble is a descendant of Nazi Germany, whilst Varoufakis is the survivor of the Greek exodus from Anatolia in the early twenties, the brutal and ruthless Nazi occupation, the bloody three-year civil war that followed WWII, and the brutal dictatorship of the colonels. When I walked on Crete in 1990 with my blond hair and blues eyes, old men would invariably challenge me: “Germanos?” “Oxi, Norvigos!”. “Kaló Norvegia!”. In other words, it was better to be Norwegian than German (see also Anogia on this blog).

The point is this: the current events will no doubt look very different from a Greek perspective than they do from ours. Memory runs deep in Greece, and on top of this, basic assumptions about the world are simply different from those of the stereotypical northern European.

Do not forget either that the Greeks are very proud. They regard themselves as immeasurably superior to the Turks, for instance, and as the custodians of a proud heritage of civilization and culture. Not just any culture, but the Hellenic culture, which is the foundation of European culture. Christianity is not a Middle Eastern invention, it springs from Rome and Athens, Athens and Rome.

This pride – however poorly linked to current realities – also informs the Greek reaction to the outside world.

Do “we” owe the Greeks a break? I believe we do.

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