Gordon G Hall
Writer and Neo-Philhellene

Articles about Greece
Nil Desperandum

I suppose it might not have been the very best day to go out and buy curtains. But although overcast it was not raining in Thessaloniki, and my growing realization of the need for privacy in my new apartment had made imperative a visit to the Martiou Laiki on this particular Saturday in search of net white drapery.

I researched my options with Mr. Google and between us we decided that a number 3 or 39 bus should do very nicely. It is but a short walk to the Mitopoleous stop but as usual I had to hurry to be sure of catching a bus in time to meet my friend Chrysoula at Martiou. As I approached the stop I was struck by the singular lack of people waiting. The board confirmed my fears, no buses today. I supposed that the drivers had, once again, not been paid and so were out on strike. There was nothing for it but to take a taxi.

As we sped towards the White Tower I asked my driver about the bus strike.

“Oh no,” he said, “It’s not a strike, it is the opening of the Trade Fair. Samaras is coming to do the honours and every year he uses this occasion to make a speech about the economy.”

“So why the lack of buses?” I said

“Because of the protests. Every year it happens. The politicians give us their version of the truth, and we, as I think you English would say, ‘blow a raspberry’ at them.”

I was struck as much by my driver’s grasp of colloquial English as I was of the need to close off roads and stop public transport just because the Prime Minister was about to make a speech.

Later that afternoon things became rather clearer. Police were out in numbers that would gladden the heart of any second division football club and these white-helmeted human shields were backed up by the military, indeed I was nearly overwhelmed by a detachment of soldiers who were running (yes running!) down Alexandrou Svolou.

Could this really be democracy. These twin bastions of law enforcement were equipped with what looked to my untutored eye like assault rifles, whilst above our heads whirled two or three ‘spotter’ helicopters. Admittedly the chanting of the protesters was vociferous, and their numbers were certainly formidable, but Greece is a democracy. It did not much look that way on Saturday afternoon.

Only two days before I had watched a film showing harrowing account of the Greek Civil War. It is a sad reflection on the rudimentary knowledge of European history that exists within the British Isles that a substantial majority of my compatriots are totally unaware of this terrible event when Greek fought Greek and over 70,000 people were slain. And for what? The outcome was inevitable. Once the Americans took over from the British the resources that became available to the Nationalists were vast, given in the name of the ‘global fight against communism’. Whilst at the same time Stalin had already agreed with the Western Powers that Greece should stay within their sphere of influence.

Nevertheless Greek fought Greek. Families were torn apart and atrocities committed by both sides. Villages were decimated and the economy ground to a halt, and all this at a time when most of Europe was at last managing to pull itself together after the Second World War.

The end came with some of the remnants of the Partisans fleeing across Greece’s northern borders whilst the remainder faced imprisonment, torture and death. And the world knew nothing about this, or wanted not to. There followed a period of right wing government that, when it was challenged by the left, produced the Junta of 1967 to 1974.

So any true sense of democratic government in Greece can only be about 40 years old, and that is such a short time in comparison with the UK, where we had our Civil War over 400 years ago! When you look at it like that it is amazing that Greece is as civilized a democracy as it is. In the past politicians have been assassinated in Thessaloniki and it is surely sensible that their successors should be properly protected. Yes they are corrupt, but that is just a matter of degree. Yes they peddle lies, but again you show me a country where every politician tells the truth on all occasions.

So Greece, I welcome the maturity of this democracy that allows the Prime Minister to travel where he will to make speeches, and allows noisy but well-intentioned protests to take place on the streets. I welcome the fact that Greek leaders think it worth their while to ‘massage the truth’ a little to impress their electorate. I welcome the incredible ability to overcome those awful events that are still in living memory. I know that things are not perfect, but look back and remember just how grim they were. Yes there are threats to be overcome in the future, but I firmly believe that Greece will manage these in a mature way.

As the last few protesters straggled down Tsmiski I was pleased to see from my balcony that the small police unit that had been sheltering from the light drizzle under a shop canopy in Proxenou Koromilla was now leaving. That the helicopters had returned to their base, and that no one had been hurt, let alone killed. In short I, a foreigner, am proud of the evolution of the democratic process that is now extant in Greece, despite all that has been suffered by the people of this wonderful country.

Oh yes, and the new curtains look really good!


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