ΕΠΙΚΑΙΡΟΤΗΤΑ 30 Νοε 1999
Greece: Glory and Shame
Stroll down town Athens and ask any of the Greeks strolling along if they are proud
by CapricornerStroll down town Athens and ask any of the Greeks strolling along if they are proud of their country. Yes is how your question is answered. Ask what it is that makes them proud and they gesture towards the Acropolis saying that Greece gave the western world its civilization, its culture. Ask what other contribution Greece has made to the world and they are quick to answer…the 2004 Olympic games, the best ever staged Olympics, they add. Talk to many Greeks of various ages and backgrounds about twenty century achievements and they become thoughtful at first (obviously because they are at a loss to put their finger on something specific) and then you get various answers. The impression you get is that (and that’s interesting) many are proud of Greece’s contribution to the allied effort in WWII. Talk to a number of Greeks about this and the story unfolds as follows: At 6 in the morning of October 28. 1940 The Italians invaded Greece. Although vastly outnumbered and poorly equipped the Greeks pushed back the Italians and advanced in to Albania, then an Italian dominated country, battling the Italians nearly half way to the Albanian border with Italy, prompting Winston Churchill to state in the House of commons that: from now on History will write not that the Greeks fight like heroes but that heroes fight like Greeks: to this day the Greeks talk about : the Albanian Epic : But Hitler became impatient with the failure of the Italian campaign which had delayed his plans for more than five months; he ordered the advance of his armies down through Yugoslavia, which was overrun within three weeks, and through, German ally, Bulgaria. The Greeks thus found themselves defending their country all along its borders with Bulgaria and Yugoslavia, from Thrace to Macedonia and up in to Albania, a battle front stretching hundreds of kilometers and pounded by the Luftwaffe. They were overwhelmed.. But it was not over. The British were in Crete and together with Greeks fought the Germans fiercely, but there too they were overwhelmed by the German superiority in numbers and firepower. The six months delay to Hitler’s plans was of invaluable importance to the Allies. GLORY be to Greece.
A few Greeks remember that long before the war ended there was an attempted mutiny in the Greek fleet stationed in Alexandria, from where it and the remnants of the Greek Air force, one hears, continued the war at the side of the British. The mutiny was of a limited scale and was quickly dealt with. But units of the Greek Army, formed with the hundreds of Greeks that were continuously slipping away from German occupied Greece, also staged a mutiny forcing the British to confine them in barb wired camps. Instead of focusing on the war effort they were swayed by politics. In German occupied Greece two guerilla forces were fighting the German and Italian occupation forces, both supplied by British air droppings. The one was loyal to the Greek Government in exile the other was loyal to its communist supremacy cause. When the allies, including Greek Forces, landed in Italy it was of vital importance to impede the Germans from rushing their army and equipment from Greece, where it had concentrated, to Italy. The most expedient way for the Germans to rush to Italy was by rail through Yugoslavia, but to do this they needed to secure safe passage through Northern Greece. The British had to drop an officer to convince the two guerilla forces to collaborate, not an easy task given that the communist guerilla force had attacked a unit of the loyal to the Greek Government force and put most of who it captured to a tortuous death. Fortunately for the war effort the officer succeeded and parts of the two forces collaborated in the destruction of the only bridge over which the Germans could move, to the detriment of the German defensive of Italy. In the midst of war against the invaders of their country the communists were also warring against fellow Greeks… politics above all else. SHAME for Greece.
By October 1944 the Germans had pulled out of Greece. December 1944, while the war was still going on, a communist offensive started in Athens. They were in a hurry to take control of the country and so a civil war started later which went on for years. While Europe was licking its wounds and reconstructing the Greeks were tearing their country down and savagely treating one another. SHAME for Greece.
Smart, enterprising and industrious, that the Greeks are, they caught up with the rest of Europe, even becoming a member of the Euro zone, but not before going through a 7 years dictatorship of an army junta, which put an end to the political turmoil of that time and created the mess in Cyprus. To its credit, it moved the country forward, economically, (but backwards politically). Again politics had become so contentious and damaging to Greece that it took an army intervention to settle things. SHAME for Greece.
The history of Greece has always been shaped by disunity, rivalries, fractious politics. The GLORY that was Greece was really city-states (Athens-Sparta-Thebes etc) with a common ethnic and religious foundation, language and culture. They united their forces triumphing over a common enemy, but they also fought one another…Athens versus Sparta primarily. Even when Alexander the Great formed an army of all the Greeks to invade Asia, reaching as far as India and creating a huge Empire, the Spartans did not join.
Fiercely independent and cherishing freedom the Greeks, nonetheless, spent 368 years under the Turks before starting their war of independence, enticed and supported by Greeks who had gained distinction and riches in other countries, most in Russia. It seems that indifferent, as they may have been, to others outside their communities they had made their lives tolerable by creating, each community, a working arrangement with the local Turkish lord. It took Greeks of the Diaspora to unite them to a common cause, a revolution. Even after gaining their independence they carried on in their usual ways…divisive politics which makes for substandard governance a malfunctioning state mechanism, no vision, no consensus…problems. In 1893 a short 71 tears after independence Greece declared bankruptcy. SHAME for Greece.
Presently Greece has avoided bankruptcy thanks to its Euro zone membership. How did it get so close to catastrophy? Politics as usual, a corrupt, grossly incompetent public mechanism, yet better paid than the private sector, bad governance unbefitting a member of the EU and the Euro zone, as it became evident lately, acute lack of common sense and party-centered policies. True to form the politicians of Greece continue their nihilistic approach to the task. Polls have clearly indicated the national mood which is lack of faith in politicians and institutions, low credence to the media (!) pessimism and a lack of orientation. If a new breed of politicians can emerge, devoted to the good of the country, knowledgeable, capable, inspiring, motivating, who can set about curing the country’s problems and step by step altering the Greek frame of mind from highly individualistic, that it has always been, to one of consensus and collaboration, then the talents of these gifted people, that they are (witness the success of Greek scientists and academics who thrive in conditions of meritocracy and acclaim of achievement abroad…absent such conditions in Greece to a great extent, also witness the success of Greek ship owners whose activity spans the globe and is not much affected by the state of affairs in Greece and the success of, alas a few, internationally oriented Greeks) these talents will bring a change of face, restore the tarnished reputation of the country and create wonders that will bring again GLORY to Greece.