Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Patriotism in times of crisis - the example of Greece



To describe use of the term 'Patriotism' in Greece going through a severe crisis that became visible ever since the size of the state deficit was revealed at the end of 2009, of interest is that Papademos, a technocrat and Prime Minister by appointment, stated before the crucial vote on still another set of austerity measures in the Greek Parliament on 12.2.2012 the following:

„Patriotisch ist heute nicht, die Waffen zu strecken.Wir müssen stattdessen vereint sein, die Zähne zusammenbeißen und alle schwierigen Entscheidungen für die Rettung des Landes treffen und sie auch in die Tat umsetzen.“

"To be patriotic nowadays means not to lay down the weapons. Rather we have to unite, clinch our teeth and make difficult decisions in need off for the rescue of the country and to make sure they are translated into actions."

Source. FAZ 11.2.2012


Papademos made this speech after his government had reached an agreement with the Troika as to what shall be the next austerity measures, in order to receive the next bailout credit. Since the mood in the country was quite different, with especially the Conservative Party under Samaras calling for elections instead of being willing to sign any agreement. So to jump then ahead in time, elections did come in May, but they proved to be inclusive. Hence new elections had to be held on June 17th which brought finally Samaras to power. By November 6th and 7th he faces a two day general strike while he seeks to pass through parliament new austerity measures to save another 13.5 billion as demanded by the Troika. He may just have sufficient deputies in the 300 seat chamber to pass the bill by the slimmest possible majority i.e. 153.

Important in his statement is the reference to 'Tat' or action / deed, as if there is no longer any meaning in just words if these decisions are not implemented. Since there is a long way to go from forming the political will to an administrative enactment thereof, while it is known most of the laws passed in Greece are repeatedly circumvented, undermined, misinterpreted etc., there has to be something said about the duality in which the world is still kept in. For the terms 'nomos' and 'physis', law and reality indicate a bipolar concept of a cosmos which means both people and universe. In that sense, the problem becomes ever more evident when it follows that fear of something written down is taken to be as absolute as 'nomos' or law. Preferring flexibility, any fixation to something otherwise known as commitment to agreements once made, is avoided at all costs. The belief in maximum flexibility does not allow the working through of any solution as it is never resolved what this solution to the debt crisis could be. Consequently the Memorandum of Understanding is rejected even after signatures were given to signal agreement. That means actions and reflections thereof do not correspond as the rhetoric skill of the politician amounts to obscuring the facts while driving on the interplay between the formal and the informal. It never comes to some basic understanding as to what is really a fact and not just an imposition from the outside.

But back then in February, the Communist Party called for nothing short of a 'social upheaval'. It was clear that the blame game had to continue. To call it patriotism was but a mild form of extracting still more sacrifices from the people. But then the KKE was not exactly clear where it stood with regards to upholding a system in which they had found a niche while opposing it with strong rhetoric. Interestingly enough the two elections in 2012 diminished greatly the role of this party. The New Left Party called Syriza nearly won the elections in June 17th by coming in a strong second. Only two procent seperated it from the Nea Democratia of Samaras. The other appearance shocked more people but was equally an indication for far worse things to come, namely the Fascist party Chrysi Avgi got 7% of the vote and earned therefore 18 seats in Parliament.

The rise of the Fascist party reflects a tendency that extreme Nationalists want to cash in the revolt against not only the EU and the Troika, but fore mostly Germany. There are many old resentments prevailing in a society now full of people with a 'wounded pride' but also real set-backs as far as standard of living and future perspectives especially for their children are concerned.

Altogether the austerity measures recommended by the Troika and agreed upon in the form of the First and Second Memorandum are now dubbed in Greece as a result of German fiscal discipline. Once this has been identified as the real enemy, the next move was to put Chancellor Merkel of Germany into a direct link with Hitler. Altogether it was no longer the World Bank or Europe which was putting pressure on Greece to conform to the demands of the Troika, but solely Germany.

In analogy to Second World War and German occupation, many were inclined to blame only Germany for the worsening of conditions. It is this dark side of the call for Patriotism which needs to be talked about. Evoking an outer enemy but which has, of course, historical roots and many 'unhealed wounds', is naturally a tool to overcome internal disunity and strife. That has always been the case when nations face internal social unrest. It is assumed some unity can be restored by making everyone believe there needs to be faced first of all a common, equally external enemy.

As this can be explained only in terms of a political psychology, care has to be taken not to overlook the fact that there is at work as well some powerful mechanisms in need to be explained further.

With money and debt being largely inconceivable and invisible, this need for a concrete form express hatred and rage for having been humiliated meant invoking something the very European project had sought to overcome, namely a repeat of Nationalism in anguish over loss of sovereignty.

On 12.2.2012 many people gathered in Athens to underline their 'voiceless' protest since the country was brought on the verge of a disorderly default, if the politicians could not decide to uphold commitments worked out with the Troika, in order that the Greek state could receive the second bail-out.

Since during those days Radicalism and Populism competed for headlines, it was interesting to read in an editorial of the Conservative newspaper Kathimerini, 17.2.2012 the following headline that "Not all Patriotism (is) the same":

There are different forms of patriotism and different ways to express it. The most genuine is to fight for change, to struggle for Greece to become a country that does not need to beg for loans in order to cover its deficit, and to be able to contradict those who vehementlich purport that we do not belong in the European Union.

Patriotism expressed through gabbled cries against all 'foreigners' and aimed solely at winning a handful of votes and a few moments of fame on television is populist and destructive.

This latter form of patriotism is, in fact, very similasr to that expressed in Germany or the Netherlands, or any other populist sentiment that hinges on mean-spirited and disparaging stereotypes of the Greek people.

We must all throw ourslves into the battle to get Greece back on its feet. Within Greece the battle is about solving our problems. Outside, it is about convincing our partners that we can be relied upon.

Insults and hammed-up rhetoric will get us nowhere. They serve only to vent frustration and while this may feel liberating for a while, in the long run it will prove catastrophic.

As a first conclusion, some lessons can be drawn on how Patriotism takes on a new meaning in the face of a financial and economic crisis due to the state having accummulated an unsustainable debt.


Following points need to be reinterated to grasp the significance of the observations Habermas makes and out of which he concludes a certain 'normative logic' to prescribe what steps are in need to be undertaken to avoid Nationalism, but still retain the patriotic feelings of the individual for both the state and the community of people all living on this globe.



Picking up some further trends, and after Merkel from Germany had visited Greece, but then the German consulate being attacked in Thessaloniki, while international newspaper report violent attacks on migrants is on the increase, there appeared an editorial with the title 'Citzenship and identity' by Nikos Konstandaras in the English section of the daily newspaper Kathimerini (November 16, 2012). Departing from the controversy around the immigration law set to be repealed as wished for by the current Prime Minister Samaras, and this concerns primarily second generation migrants whose parents came to Greece, but they themselves having been born and grown up in the country would like to be treated as natural citizens, it poses the significant question 'who we are, where we are at'. For to deny citizenship to others means to be intolerant to differences and to forget how many Greeks when living abroad use their talents to integrate themselves and to build their own homes. It is ironic but also puzzling that in a country with countless examples of people having immigrated to other countries in search for a better life, would deny the newcomers a similar opportunity. Surely one explanation for the increase in violence as expression of xenophobia and racism is according to Nikos Konstandaras that "many are looking for a way to return to an imaginary past when only Greeks lived here and the country had no problems." The purification of the Greek identity through a largely national narrative may explain why the desire for a world without any problems rests on over simplified assumptions as to what is conceivable in today's world.

Still, that is merely skimming the surface of the problem. For even Greeks themselves suffer repeatedly under set assumptions which become ingrained in the mind and stereotype the others who are disliked immediately once upsetting the main presumption, namely of being unquestionably the best and the proudest and therefore set apart from the rest. This attempt to distinguish the self from the others in a tightly knit society makes it hard to find a resting place for the own identity. Families tend to hold together, but they do also often hold onto prejudices against outsiders in order to keep up that unity. And besides remarkable achievements go parallel to all kinds of petty skirmishes over rare spaces hardly left within an overcrowded living room with the television set blarring and no one really listening as to what the other has to say. If Greek society is made up of a huge confusion about what the household as prime unit can do and decide, then it might also explain why so far the leading voices within these greater family units have not as of yet addressed this problem of a prejudged life according to popular wisdom. Anthropoligists may find it interesting to explore here further collective memory strains and perhaps explain why it comes repeatedly to over reactions in just one direction. Rather than resolving the issue, problems are compounded by indecision. This hesitation is like a foregone conclusion nothing can be done. The rest of the story is to stay seated on the assumptions even if wrong and in need to be challenged. Repeatedly new generations attempt to get out of this deeper tragic flaw in modern Greek culture, but so far even poets, philosophers, artists, professors have so far failed. There is a reason for that, and many point towards a failed political system since dominated by again family members overriding any open minded approach to what would constitute public interest.

One crucial question posed by a youngster is why cannot everyone become a politician even if 'uneducated'. That is important to note. Uneducated does not mean the said politician has not absolved the usual course of Athens College and then going on to some time abroad, preferable at Harvard or some other prestigious school in the United States. Once having won these credidentials, the rest is a fairy story. Sooner or later the symbolic representation of having been educated beyond the wildest dreams of ordinary Greek citizens means a good paying job at a juncture where politics and business intermesh. That is rule number one for strategic placements of talents trained abroad and brought back to Greece to further the 'system'. It is a convulsive one. No one understands exactly how it works, but it does. Even Papandreou and Samaras shared at one time the same room in the student dormitory while studying in the USA, but they can still fight each other so fiercely that one had to go as Prime Minister while the one now in power seems grim enough in determination to enjoy this period as long as it last. Samaras has now involved his coalition government in this issue over the immigration law. He does so out of a clear calculation, namely to appease members of the Chrysi Avgi movement for the anti-migrant stance amongst many Greeks is spread far beyond those radical advocates of hate of the foreigner, and it does not stop insofar as there is this strong anti German sentiment being kept alive by collective memories as to what Germans did in Greece during Second World War. This means to be educated in a non educated sense is not to go beyond ressentment but to dig in this historical morass in order to spread still further resentment as alternative to any true act towards reconciliation.

Adorno would say redemption is made possible by reaccounting the past in a way it happened. This allows stories being told without mystification or lies. To tell what happened gives those who come after the events a chance to learn out of the mistakes which were made and engulfed in the first place the entire country in war and occupation. So far Greek history is taught in reference of the ancient past as if Homer was never the poet who visited former battle fields to ask the question why. Rather war is glorified in the name of having saved democracy from the Persians and then brought to Europe. Spyros Mercouris wants to have Salaminas the future European Capital of Culture due to its symbolic meaning of having been the place of a famous battle. Such glorification of war, and violence, has reached its zenith with the film about the 100 men from Sparta who stood up to the enemy despite being clearly outnumbered. In such a glorification of heroship is entailed all the messages of Patriotism implying why it is worthwhile to sacrifice your life for the homeland.



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