Modern Greek nation: another moment of the founding myth’s collapse

If the nation is primarily constituted around a spiritual principle as Renan argues, then Greece today finds itself in a quandary. If the nation bares a common past and ascribes in it a temporal consent that has to be indeterminately reproduced, if a nation’s existence is ‘a daily plebiscite’ then today Greece as a nation tries to renegotiate its past through the making of the future, the field of potentiality is widely open. It is just the second time in modern history of Greece that such a process is taking place. This was not usually the case since modern Greece was trying to fix its cultural temporality so as to depict an immemorial past that will be forever reproduced. As a result, the future should always come as no surprise, the living monument of modernity. The first time, since the emergence of modern Greece, that an attempt to make history from below took place led to a remorseless civil war with grave consequences for the country. The result was more than thirty years of authoritarianism and fierce repression of all sorts for democratically minded people. The Communist Greek Party (KKE) was only to be legalized in 1974 after the 21st of April dictatorship relinquished power to C. Karamanlis. Constant molecular repression of everyday life coupled by the coup of 1967 held in check the big transformative forces within society that were under way since the end of WW II and reemerged in the beginning of the sixties. A post-dictatorial contract was to seal the new consent around which things were about to evolve. The system found the point of equilibrium that so much was needed for its survival taming the will of the people. But this social contract with the bankruptcy and the coming of the troika, that is the IMF- EU-ECB, has been irredeemably breached. The needs and desires of Greeks, their wills, all the more are contradicting those of the state, the social realm every day moves further apart from the state apparatus.

The troika of interior that is the new coalition government (ND-PASOK-DIMAR), with its highly authoritarian political rhetoric and a fierce neoliberal economic policy tries to instil sentiments of common endeavour and common suffering to the nation in order to impose duties and a required common effort to ‘rationally minded’ citizens. Nevertheless, the appeal is always made in the name of an abstract nation and is directed towards all of the Greek citizens who are to support ‘the colossal effort’ of the government. The rest must become ‘the silent majority’(Rajoy used this term in order to constitute all those who make use of their right of demonstrating illegitimate before society as a whole. This term has been used by Nixon in the past in order to contrast ‘a silent majority’ who had no problem with the war on Vietnam to a noisy minority that used to take all the media attention). If not, they will be confronted as the internal enemy.

We do have to acknowledge the fact that, a lot of times, in a nation’s history collective memory is to be organized around griefs and regrets. Such bad moments in the history of a nation work as the point of reorganization of national memories and demand a common effort and sacrifices for the future. The constant appeal to the nation as ‘the sacred cow’ that must be preserved untouched no matter what, refers to that imaginaned modern Greece persistently constructed since the emergence of the nation-state. Even more so the version of Greekness in which we are called upon to submit is under the ND led coalition government a new version in the neoliberal era of the Hellas of the Helleno-Christianity. The arrest of ‘Geron Pastitsios’, a facebook user, due to a law against blasphemy who used his page to satire Orthodox Christianity. And, what is more, the security forces’ humiliating treatment and the torturing of the 15 arrested antifascists in contradistinction with the mild treatment and in some cases even complicit attitude towards racist crimes and fascists coupled by the ‘Xenios Dias’ operation all over Greece to imprison indefinitely undocumented immigrants and ‘the silent majority’ argument (in Greece could be interpreted as noikokoiraioi) sketches the picture of the 21st century nationally-minded citizen.

Eurocentric purposes have legitimized the plundering of Greece’s past and now a new version of the same narrative tries to legitimize the actual plundering of the country. Remaining in Europe, this narrative goes, ensures the country’s Hellenic primordial unity and keeps Greece within the imaginative space of the ‘west’ ,while, at the same time gives hope for the preservation of the political apparatus. In fact, this particular political apparatus would have been impossible without western support and dependency. That is what Mr. Dendias, Minister of Public Order, explicitly states when he exclaims that ‘we will either be all saved or none of us’, this is obviously his own ‘existential anxiety’ and of his fellow politicians rather than that of the Greeks in general. What he is really afraid of is his certain political elimination with the ‘supposed’ withdrawal of the country from European Union since his existence is absolutely dependent upon the support of the E.U and U.S.A. After reminding us once more that the boat is ready to sink with us on board he never forgets to blame those who bear responsibility, in this case the shipyard workers, who according to ‘our’ minister are extremists who disrupt the effort done. These are the noisy masses, the lazy ones’ who want no change in their lives, the old usual internal enemy, the left in general because he then goes on to declare his regret for the leftist and communist members of parliament who went to support the workers struggle.

Somebody should remind to those historically ignorant that metaphysical or messianic abstractions do not convince unemployed and hungry. The first messianic irredentist discourse, the ‘Great Idea’, was deployed by Greece in the 19th century and ended up with the forced migration of about a million and a half Minor Asian Greek speaking orthodox populations. While, the second narrative, came as the promise of progress and development that would make us worthy of our history in Europe. Since the nineties, this discourse has been highly influenced by the neoliberal agenda and organized as Hamilakis (2007) has suggested in the pursuit of the other modern ‘Greek Idea’, the 2004 Olympic Athens. But after the current bankruptcy and the troika agreement no one would deliberately make sacrifices based on this modern ‘Great Idea’. The sterile vision of Hellas devoid of any cultural temporality cannot any longer be the base for the country’s reorganization. Symbolic gestures such as the ‘invasion’ of the shipyard workers in the courtyard of the Ministry of Defence, two days ago, in order to demonstrate their repugnance for their pauperization. And, the disruption of the march in Thessaloniki, in 2011, during the celebrations for the IIWW depicts the degree to which these unitary national narratives are not capable of controlling the masses. The vision, if there is any, that the government offers to the people of Greece cannot become the basis for a desire to continue a common life as a nation. That is why Mr. Dendias sounds irrational when he talks as if no crisis exists. When the state has no authority whatsoever, surrendered to international organizations, then it sounds quite nonsensical to expect people to save you while saving themselves –the most probable is that they will prefer not to be saved just to have the pleasure destroying you all the while.

1) Renan, Ernest (1993) What is a nation? in Nation and Narration eds Hommi K. Bhabba Routledge, London and New York 2) Hamilakis, Yannis (2007) The Nation and Its Ruins: Antiquity, Archeology and National Imagination in Greece, Oxford University Press, New York

Ioulia Giovani Phd Candidate at the Centre for Cultural Studies Goldsmiths College University of London