Gordon G Hall
Writer and Neo-Philhellene

Articles about Greece
Where is Your Glory Now?

The figure, dressed entirely in black, limps across the street, betraying a lifetime of suffering. Her face is lined, desiccated by climate and the vicissitudes of life. Here is a small Macedonian village. It is far both in distance and spirit from the tourist-infested Greece of sand-ringed islands, the gewgaws of the Plaka, and the revellers in Athenos Square. This is Old Greece. There is an honesty about these country areas that have experienced the harshness of poverty and are feeling it once more.

Seduction; that is what it was. Ten years during which the European club wooed this southern outpost of the continent with an abundance of cheap money and the promise of international nirvana. And then, quite suddenly, it was over. Just when the taste of German imports had become irresistibly sweet and when Starbucks and McDonalds had gained a precarious foothold of Americanisation in this real ‘land of the free’. The vanished spending spree left behind a legacy of empty echoing Olympic stadia and National Roads that run out into dirt tracks. Houses and Government buildings stand half-finished, skeletal reminders of what might have been. The money departed whence it had come, sucking with it the salaries, the pensions, the jobs and the houses of these people.

Now it is the aftermath of the betrayal, it is the time of abandonment, and austerity. But what is new in that? This is the story of Greece throughout recent history. It is how Europe, and in particular Britain, has treated this trusting, welcoming, perhaps naïve country down the centuries, in crisis and in war and in the establishment of treaties, and it is happening again today.  There is a dichotomy between the nations of northern Europe and the Mediterranean countries that is well exemplified here. Money was offered, and money was spent, without any great fiscal planning or thought for the consequences. That might seem a feckless approach to living, but in a country where foreign invasion has been frequent and brutal and that is only a generation away from starvation it is the only way to ensure survival. Offer a hungry man a loaf of bread and he will not ask how much he will have to pay for it next year. Thus it was yesterday, and how it is today in Greece.

There is little anger here, despite the newscasts of demonstrations in Syntagma Square with their poster portrayals of Merkel hangings. Instead there is a growing realisation that the country took a wrong turn. It was led away from its true course. Only thirty years ago every yard in Crete boasted a lemon tree, and yet today citrus fruits are imported from the Netherlands. There is a need, a strong hunger even, to return to the Greece of grandparents. There is no animosity towards the Euro, and few people hark back to the Drachma, and its high interest rates, with affection, yet there is a growing realisation that a step backwards is needed. It is accepted that leaving the Euro would plunge the country into two years of financial hell, but there is a brave understanding that such a measure might be preferable to the steady bleed from an unhealed wound that will afflict at least a further generation were Greece to remain in the common currency.

It is clear to most in this country that the northern Euro nations, particularly Germany, have a lot more to gain from Greece staying with the Euro than this country has. It is the corruption of money and politics and power, the banks, the politicians, the global interests. There is a worrying and deep disillusionment with all those who are involved in politics. They are considered inept or corrupt or both. There is also a growing resignation that this could lead to an extreme politic of either left or right. There are few who would subscribe to the ideals of the Golden Dawn party, but fewer who would openly condemn them. Such an attitude is engendered by a feeling of political helplessness, a longing for a clear-cut solution to the woes of this land. Sadly it provides fertile ground for those few shakers and movers who have the fires of the falsehood of extremism burning fiercely within their bellies.

The knowledge that this generation of Greeks are within touching distance of the simpler, more austere, but more honest lives that were led by their mothers and grandmothers is emerging as a more acceptable form of salvation. There is an earnest desire to return to the real Greek way of life, an honest, sustainable future. The earth here is fertile. Not only will this land feed its own people, but it could provide food for much of Europe. It cannot hope to do so amidst the bureaucracy of quotas and export restrictions, but such a dream could become a reality if Greece was re-capitalised with a re-valued Drachma. There will not be a Grand Plan, this country does not work well with such impositions, but this solution could emerge organically, much as does the Greek farmer with his PU full of vegetables at the local Sunday market.

Like that figure in black, Greece is limping, its appearance lined and scarred by experience, but also like that testament to Greek motherhood, there is a pride here, a pride in being Greek, a knowledge that whatever foreign invasion is thrust upon this people, whatever fair-weather allies stab them in the back, whatever false roads they are inveigled into taking, that they are Greek, and that they will survive. That this brave country gave the world true democracy (not the American version) is no coincidence. Nor is it any coincidence that ever since then Greece has been taken advantage of by those who would abuse its openness, its gullibility and its hospitality.


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