Greece is at a crucial crossroads. The choices that are made and the policies that are enforced will have a decisive impact on the wellbeing of Greeks. The way forward will not be easy but the problems can be solved, and will be solved, if there is unity, co-operation and consensus. - Lucas Papademos
The dire news from Greece over the last couple of days has caused great consternation amongst the community here. We watched the footage from Athens and felt deeply saddened and dismayed. Greek parliament met to approve a new round of draconian austerity measures despite a long day of street battles between police and protesters. An altercation that left tens of Athens buildings ablaze and the streets in the historic centre of the City in chaos. Despite the 100,000-strong turnout in Athens and Thessaloniki the Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos denounced the violence in the debate leading up to the vote, saying the street battles around the parliament building had no place in a democracy. The result was approval of another round of stringent budget cuts requested by Greece’s international creditors in return for a further $160 billion bailout.
In the meantime, the damage was being done. Although the majority of protesters were peaceful and wanted nothing more than to express their consternation at the impossibility of having to cope with even more reductions in salaries, increases in taxes, deterioration of working conditions and an ever-increasing insecurity of jobs, a small but highly organised element of anarchists were hell-bent on destruction and immolation. These are the “known unknowns” or “hooded ones” who infiltrate the milieu of peaceful demonstrations in order to push their own agenda: Destabilisation of the establishment, destruction of private and public property, looting, demolition of the status quo, ruination of the state, anarchy. To what end? Chaos, disorder, nihilism, the law of the jungle, the downfall of civilised society.
What a terrible thing to befall the Greek people and Athens. We watch it all on TV in disbelief and cannot understand what motivates these small groups of hooligans that burn, destroy, loot and destabilise. It’s all so sad and it is so disappointing. The birthplace of Western civilisation now looks as though it is becoming its deathbed… It is all the more poignant for us of Greek origin who live in faraway lands. We may have created new lives here and our primary loyalty may now be to other states, however, our heart still beats tenderly for the land of our fathers. How very disconsolate we feel, watching it all and not being able to do anything about it.
We hope that somewhere amidst these burning destructive fires there is also another unquenchable flame, that of the Greek spirit that refuses to be extinguished. The spark of the that spirit that gave the world concepts and words with which to think about them: Philosophy, technology, politics, democracy, architecture, drama, comedy, theatre, philology, logic, mathematics, mythology, geometry, ethics, dialectics… And the list goes on and on. I sincerely hope that soon we shall see some resolution one way or another. Greece is a country with endless miseries in its history, yet it always manages to resurrect itself. There is a joy, imagination, creativity and ingenuity in the Greek soul and Greece still has much to give the world.
It is disheartening to see the ruins of Athens, the burned shells of neoclassic buildings, the clashes in the streets where Greek fights with Greek. It is deplorable to watch civilisation being consumed by flames, to witness anarchy looting and destroying that which exemplifies the classic beauty of the blossoming of fine minds. It is lamentable that a proud and resilient people have been reduced to this pitiful state. Thucydides said: “We Greeks are lovers of the beautiful, yet simple in our tastes, and we cultivate the mind without loss of manliness.” It is worth remembering this as inhuman and unmanly acts of cowardice take place. Greece sparked the flames of Western civilisation, Europe was illuminated. Now Europe has returned the flame to Greece, but it is a destructive conflagration. Has modern Greece lost what Thucydides was extolling?
Prometheus springs to mind. The sacred flame is both friend and foe. Fire can warm or burn. Fire can work miracles or it can destroy utterly. Beware the flame, for in evil hands it is a potent enemy. In wise hands, fire can illuminate the darkest parts and warm the frozen places, it can spark wild flights of intellect and lighten the deep recesses of the soul. Greece needs a Hercules that will slay the vulture that consumes Prometheus’s liver. Fire need be tamed, its deliverer liberated and days of prosperity need return. Athens has been in ruins many times before, it will rise from its ashes one more time.