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09 April 2008

Comments

Simon Baddeley

Captalism's commodifying simplifications haven't helped. Zorba was a man who Kazantzakis knew and depicted in a novel set in Crete. What is forgotten is that the narrator is also part Greek returning to Crete to claim a legacy. Instead the film - brilliant and successful - turned the novel into a tension between a Greek archetype (played by Anthony Quinn) and an English one (played by Alan Bates)- rather than the Dionysiac-Apollonian tensions of Greek culture. It would be interesting - or perhaps not, to do a film called Charles the Brit,in which a poetic English eccentric is juxtaposed with an uptight Greek visiting London to take up a economics scholarship at LSE. If it worked there'd be minicab companies and pubs and clubs all over the West End called 'Charles the Brit' - and visiting Greek tourists would call everyone sounding English 'Charlie'.
Seriously though I see in the village in Corfu where we're making our second home people who seem to have few doubts about who they are and they do not appear possessed by the existential problems you describe, nor for that matter do any of my hybrid Greek half-siblings seem in any way concerned with identity - while being fiercely but quietly proud of their Anglo-Hellenic origins. But while on the subject of English-Greek discourse, it occurs to me that the reason Greeks and English in cnversation tend, in my experience to knock their own country, is because secretly they feel sorry for the other person for not being of their nationality - but are terribly keen not to show this. How lucky to be from both lands!

Kat

Wow! I was blown away by this post, not just because I agree with what you wrote, but because it was done so well.

Living in the big GR amongst those who blame me and the USA for pretty much everything, I can say that many of those qualities are alive and well in Greeks, but depending on the situation, I don't necessarily see them as negative things. One of the things that initially attracted me to this country was because it was tempestuous, passionate and expressive. People are proud to be corrupt, even brag about it. Many tell me that disorganization is part of being wild and rebellious and free. This is how they describe their country, these are not my words.

If people are victims here, it is at their own hand. We're our own worst enemies many times, and this applies to people of all nationalities worldwide...Greece, the USA, all countries.

Stavros

Simon,

The average person including you neighbors on Odos Dimokratias in Ano Koriakana, is pre-occupied with much more pressing problems such as making ends meet, their families and dealing with their everyday lives. Perhaps I am one of those guys with too much time on my hands, thinking existential thoughts, while Rome burns around me. A friend once referred to me as a schzoid-American, always searching for an identity.

As you point out movies have a tendency to reinforce stereotypes. I am reminded that the characters portrayed in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, despite their endearing Greek and WASPish traits, caused some consternation on the part of some people who were insulted by the what they perceived as a less than becoming depiction of their ethnic group. Perhaps knocking one's own country or even ethnic background is a coefficient of your proximity to it. Nevertheless, we and others see ourselves differently based on a number of different factors. I think your mixed background and your experiences for example, inclines you to be more generous toward Greeks than some of your own countryman who may see them through a different prism.

BTW, I find hybrids to be as good as, if not better than purebreds, in both the canine or human world. I'll stop here before I incur the wrath of the purists.

Stavros

Hi Kat,

Thanks for taking time out from your own busy blog to comment here.

As you probably know, corruption is part of the legacy of our Ottoman past. To a degree it was ingrained in the Greek psyche as a survival mechanism. It's all about doing whatever it takes to overcome the roadblocks and bureaucratic red tape created by the state. For some it is a source of pride to be able to tout that they are more clever than the system which is generally viewed with disgust and disdain. In modern times the Ottoman authorities have been replaced by an equally inept Greek state.

The opposite trait which I regard as quintessentially Greek: philotimo. The Greeks I admire personify this trait.

Most Greeks I know hate disorganization. It is the bane of their existence. Yet, I'm sure that people are always willing to rationalize things by saying it's part of their "rebellious" nature.

Victimhood is very much in vogue here in the United States, as you are aware. We seem to be transforming ourselves from a society of honest, self-reliance to one of grapsing, self-proclaimed victims. It's a contagious disease that does not respect borders.

Hermes

Stavros, it is curious why this the next section was left out of this post which alludes to the victom:

"Another deleterious outcome is the emergence of defence mechanisms by the colonised Greek people in response to these prejudices. These defence mechanisms result in superiority complexes over all things Western or fundamentalist attempts at purifying their culture from the residues of colonialism."

I suppose we read into things what we want to read and are not really interested in the authors intent.

Stavros

Hermes,

I quoted the parts I wanted to discuss. I also linked to the entire article. Obviously I agree with the last paragraph.

Perhaps you misunderstood my intent. I did not write this post to rebut the LEGEIN post, merely to add my own thoughts to it. As you can see there is agreement on many points. I made an attempt to fill in some blanks in the narrative. Trying to explain why. I will even concede that to a degree, some Greeks (diasporan and otherwise) are anxious to shuck off their sense of Greekness in order to assume a different and more palatable, less genuine persona in order to conform to Western sensibilities. It is always dangerous however,to generalize about the Diaspora.

If the author's intent was to get others to "deliberate" then he has succeeded.

Hermes

Point taken. I think we would both agree that many of the issues discussed above can be better understood and worked through by reading more Cavafy and his multivalent Hellenism.

Margaret

"... corruption is part of the legacy of our Ottoman past"

Discuss. Sounds like the victim is alive and well, and unable to behave in an honest fashion ...

Stavros

M:

Touche. I was wondering when someone might call me on this. Seems like I too might be playing the victim card on occasion. In my defense, I am not trying to justify corruption or excuse its existence nor am I blaming it on others, just tracing its origins in the Greek psyche. Really.

Maybe corruption is the wrong term to use since it is prevalent in every society to varying degrees. I'm trying to describe an attitude that evolved over the course of the Ottoman occupation which conditioned Greeks to think in certain ways.

Margaret

I had been biting my tongue, but there was too much blood ...

"Maybe corruption is the wrong term to use since it is prevalent in every society to varying degrees."

Now I'm lost. Kat was talking about corruption as it is commonly understood, i think, which may be present in every society, but the amount does vary enormously. I'm not a customer of British Aerospace, granted, but I've never been asked for a bribe in the UK ever, not to pass a driving test, or have my electricity connected, or to get a planning permission, nor have I been asked to pay money under the table to avoid transfer tax on properties or cars ... we have other faults, of course.

But you seem to be talking about something else. It sounds as if you are suggesting that a period of occupation can almost break a people so that they begin to believe that they cannot control their destiny, and they then think like victims ... that I can understand, though there seem to be some whose spirit is never broken and whose rebellion is a healthy sign, I think, for all that it is uncomfortable for those who seek power over them.

Stavros

M,

First, sorry about my delay in responding. I've been busy and haven't had a chance to sit down at my computer until now.

Corruption, with all that it entails, is reality in every country (including the US). Great Britain is no exception. It's all a matter of degree. I lived in Greece for two years. Never had to pay a bribe. That doesn't tell me anything about the level of corruption there any more than the fact that a Frenchman recently indicted who steals billions from a French corporation is indicative about the level of corruption in France.

The point I was trying to make, rather badly I'm afraid, wasn't that Greeks learned how to be "corrupt" from the Turks. It was that the 5 centuries of Turkish occupation created a mindset among Greeks that emphasized a distrust of the State apparatus. The occupation trained the Greek psyche to behave in a certain way. Dhimmitude cultivated a "dog eat dog" view of the world and a culture where it was essential to bribe officials and use any ruse at your disposal to avoid harsh penalties in order to survive. If you had to use bribery, patronage, favor-swapping, or other "illegal methods" in order to keep your village or family intact that was an acceptable trade-off. A people who are conditioned for generations to function thus don't switch it off like a light switch overnight.

The occupation didn't break the Greek spirit, far from it, but Greeks emerged with a lot of baggage. Greeks were victims in every sense of the word, however, dwelling on their victimhood and using it as a rationale for failure became counter-productive. It's time to move beyond it.


Margaret

"I lived in Greece for two years. Never had to pay a bribe. That doesn't tell me anything about the level of corruption there any more than the fact that a Frenchman recently indicted who steals billions from a French corporation is indicative about the level of corruption in France."

I don't agree with what you say, but do not want to tread on national sensibilities. I've never lived in Greece, only holidayed there, and so my experience is anecdotal only, from Greek friends. You are deeply connected to the country, and have lived there, as you remind me. Equally, you've never lived in the UK.

Nor will I ever shift your view that dhimmitude is responsible for most of the ills of this world, though oddly corruption appears rife in countries which have never been subjected to it.

We probably do, however, agree that personal responsibility (no excuses)is essential if victimhood is to be left behind.

Hermes

Stavros, I think your thesis is not wholly correct. The Greeks did not learn corruption from the Ottomans. The Greeks were in some ways corrupt before the Ottoman occupation. One has only to look at the state apparatus of the Byzantine Empire and before that, the Roman Empire. And let's not forget that much of the Ottoman state apparatus was inherited from Byzantium. We should not overstate the case here (as is fashionable in some globalist circles in Greece today) that Byzantium in and of itself was responsible for corruption. The English too at that time were also very corrupt. Probably more corrupt judging by their immature laws and government that manifested themselves in the massacres at Agincourt.

The issue at hand is that nearly all peoples at that time lived in Empires of some sort and they depended on kinship, patronage and the institution of the Church to orientate themselves. However, as most of Europe participated in the Renaissance, Reformation, Counterreformation, Englightenment and Counter Enlightenment, we the Greeks were almost stuck in a timewarp under Ottoman rule. Only in small pockets, such as the Ionian Islands and Diaspora communities, did the Greeks have the benefit of the new ideas that were spreading through Europe which favoured meritocracy and contractual relationships. We missed out and have been playing catch up ever since.

Stavros

H,

You got here just in time. M's cross-examination skills have been probing for weakness and she may have found a few chinks in my armor.

Thanks for putting Greek history in a much better context than I did, although I didn't say that we learned how to be corrupt from the Turks, only that we refined our skills in that area in the name of survival. The weight of history is a heavy one. It's effects are not dissipated in a generation or two. Your points are spot on.

M,

I don't profess to be infallible on all things Greek and living in Greece for two years doesn't impart wisdom. I did not mean to imply that corruption in the UK exceeds that in other countries like Greece. Only that it exists there as well and I don't think I need to have lived in the UK to surmise such a thing. At the risk of treading on national sensibilities, we Americans and our cousins in Great Britain lament the high level of corruption in others countries while we either ignore or deny its existence in our own. I am not implying parity, simply that corruption exists everywhere. Having grown up in New York City I can tell you from first hand experience that the level of corruption in that city is staggering.

As for dhimmitude, it is not responsible for all the evils in the world, however, it is a historical fact, and it did influence the people that suffered under it in a negative way. Living within Islam shaped Greeks just as the Norman conquest shaped Englishmen. History matters and always will.

Margaret

Stavros,

Sorry, I'll leave the lawyer at home.

I agree that history matters, or, at least, that an understanding of history matters. But, for personal reasons which are probably obvious by now, I choose to believe that we do not have to be shaped by our history. That is what makes us human, that we can (all) choose to respond to our history in a variety of ways, negative and positive. You may call me naive: perhaps I am. I wouldn't want to make parallels, but only to say that a couple of years ago the very ordinary town I live in was, for a while, the site of the most horrible series of murders so that we all felt completely beseiged and prisoners in our own homes. Yet, that evil produced amongst
its inhabitants a sense of togetherness against the enemy, an outpouting of caring for each other, a looking out for each other that is not normally visible. Good things come out of bad, as well as bad things.

I did not understand you as suggesting that the UK had levels of corruption in excess of those in Greece. I know the relative national figures, and my work with a local administration requires me to have the accounts of corrupt local officials as bed-time reading (yawn). Sometimes I think I must live in some corruption-free utopia, but then it's an area of full employment and relatively low living costs and a high quality of life generally. I don't suppose the levels of corruption are very high in Maine either.

Stavros

Margaret,

Leave the lawyer at home? That wouldn't be much fun for you or I. I like the challenge of sparring with the lawyer, though I often limp away a bit bruised and a tad wiser.

I agree that we should not be prisoners of our history. National or personal. Overcoming it is easier said than done. The damage can be long lasting and difficult to repair even when we understand the problem. I think we have talked about this before.

Sorry to hear about the murders in your community. Obviously the community came together and emerged stronger as a result. I just wonder what would have happened if the threat existed for generations. What kind of lasting impact would that have had?

Kat

I acknowledge corruption is in every country, the U.S., the UK, everywhere. However, GR is the only country I've ever been expected to pay one and it was posed to me in a obvious way (not discreet at all!) -- at public sector offices, at the hospital, when renting an apartment, by police, at the courthouse. So Margaret is correct in what she perceived me to be saying.

I have never paid a bribe here in 11 years, however I know my life would be much easier if I had.

Someone on my site, who is well versed on corruption in the UK, Greece and the USA said that the order of those countries regarding corruption goes: GR (rife because the legal system has collapsed), USA (mostly at the federal and local govt. level), UK.

Margaret

"What kind of lasting impact would that have had?"

I don't know; I can only speculate. I guess we cannot all be like Nelson Mandela. And that you would be uncomfortable if I suggested that women across the world have lived with male domination and that some of them still manage to emerge as loving, forgiving individuals and not all are victims ...

I think the victim mentality can be learnt, passed from parent to child. We owe it to our children not to ask them to carry any baggage we might have, so that they can make their own way unencumbered. Which poses a challenge when trying to pass on to them a sense of their national/ethnic/cultural history.

I also thought you might like to read this article in today's Guardian written by a journalist whose family were given the remains of the body of her relative who was one of the Missing in Cyprus.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/apr/15/cyprus

The article mentions a Turkish writer, Sevgul Uludag, and I read around some of her writing. I see demonax mentioned her some time ago on his site: I'd love to get hold of her books.


Hermes

An abundance of remembering of history can result in unmarked graves. Also, an abundance of forgetting history can result in unmarked graves. For example, the growing percentage of northern Europeans who request to be buried in unmarked graves.

Margaret

Kat, my examples were one's told to me by Greek friends. I could have added that when my daughter was very ill with suspected meningitis waiting for admission to Athens children's hospital an extra payment (proposed by the Greek taxi driver who had ferried her and my husband there from distant parts) produced blood tests in half the proposed time ... My husband was not in a position to think about refusing nor would I have been. Which I suppose is partly what Stavros has been saying ... It's sad, though.

Margaret

Oh, and I thought several of you might like to see this:

http://www.vasiamarkides.com/content/portfolio_films.html

It's a link to a preview of a short film made by Vasia Markides (yes, related to Kyriakos Markides - his daughter) about Famagusta ..

Hermes

Oh the usual "nationalism is to blame for everything" claptrap. Why does not anyone make a film that shows that nationalism gave dignity to people all around the world from the early Greek nation state to the Philipines, Vietnamese, Irish, Estonians, Lithuanians and hopefully the Scottish and Welsh in the near term future.

Margaret

Hermes, I do not disagree with you. It's when nationalism (a sense of nationhood)tips over into expansionism that the trouble comes. Shame we cannot see the whole film - it's difficult to judge what message was intended (whether it might simply have been to provoke) from a short clip.

Hermes

"It's when nationalism (a sense of nationhood)tips over into expansionism that the trouble comes."

Yes, I agree; particularly, when the British attempted to hold onto their East Mediterenean "aircraft carrier".

Margaret

Yes, I agree again. The British should have left a long time ago, and let the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots work everything out for themselves without the interference of Greece or Turkey, or America.

Stavros

Kat,

There is no doubt that corruption is a problem in Greece and always will be until there is a sea change in attitudes, i.e. when the vast majority get fed up with it enough to seek solutions. The situation will get worse before it gets better. The political parties are part of the problem I might add, not part of the solution.

Margaret,

Hope you like the Markides interview. It starts out slow but it is worth listening to the entire thing.

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