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Thirty-three years of duty!
by Thanos Kalamidas
2006-11-18 10:26:13
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It must be over two years ago, since a known Iranian editor-director in Finland was showing off to some office girls saying that he’s an experienced commander because, during the Iran-Iraq war, he was a captain leading over a thousand soldiers into battle. That day, he lost any respect I had for him; how can you ever respect somebody who brags about something like that?

Looking at this first paragraph, I’m thinking that it should have been the intro for my ‘tolerance’ article, but I used it here because I remembered a relative of mine who has actually been in a war, the big war, WWII. The man was fighting for the survival of his very own country, yet he never talked about it. Every time anybody mentioned the war in front of him, he always changed subject with a comment like, "These were difficult times." Every time anybody asked him anything about his involvement he just said, "My duty." There was never a word about the war, never a word of life or death, just "My duty."

But what is that ‘duty’? Is duty to the country? The family? Beliefs? Religion? And then thinking about that, the word 'obligation' came to mind. Where is the line that separates duty from obligation?

I live in Finland, but I’m not a Finn. I don’t have Finnish citizenship and it never crossed my mind to apply. So, what am I going to do if a country invades Finland? Is it my obligation or my duty to defend the country that hosts me and I love? Somehow even this extreme example doesn’t look like an obligation; it is more of a duty. It's something of which I should be proud.

But then what would I do if Finland was the country that invades another country? Wouldn’t it be my duty to stop and oppose that? Wouldn’t it be my duty to all the things for which I stand to actively oppose an action like that? Furthermore, wouldn’t I do the same about my own country? Despite the shame I would feel, wouldn’t it be my duty to stand against my very own country?

So again, what is duty? When my country suffered seven years of dictatorship, with thousands in exile and hundreds dead, wasn’t it my duty to oppose this dictatorship and do everything possible to bring this regime to an end? Wasn’t it every Greek’s responsibility, obligation and duty to oppose this regime? How could anybody sleep knowing that in the country that gave birth to democracy, there were people dying every minute in the name of this democracy? How could anybody breathe while Greece was under a dictatorship?

It is not my intention to say here who was behind this coup, who profited from it and what happened during these long dark seven years from April 1967 to July 1974 - history will tell and, for the ones that are interested, you can find further details within Wikipedia.

Today, 17th November, is 33 years since the day a tank crashed through the railings of Athens Polytechnic after 03:00 am and under almost complete darkness caused by the forced shutdown of the city lights. Over the three days before, students inside Athens Polytechnic were asking for the simplest thing that nobody could give them: freedom! For three days, hundreds of kids, 20-year-old kids, were asking for freedom and they got death instead. 24 were killed, including a 16-year-old, hundreds were injured for life and they were not only the students. Duty had called from every Athenian corner for everybody to stand.

“We are brothers, we are brothers, don’t shoot us, we are unarmed!” that was all they were saying from the speakers. Michael Mirogiannis, 19, dead! Diomedes Kamenos, 16, dead! The list has another 22 names and there are more lists. The injured over those three days, the ones who were led to torture and exile during the days that followed November 17th; the list of tears for the ones who did their duty.

I have never tried to write anything about this day before and I find it very difficult doing it this moment. It doesn’t matter where I was and what I did that night. I did my duty and, since then, every bloody second of my life I hear the damn tank crashing down that gate. Every November, whenever I close my eyes, I see that boy falling slowly from the gate holding the Greek flag, while the tank crushes them both. Every single November I want to mourn alone, I want to cry alone, because this is my inner duty.

Every single November I am one of the thousands who never thought themselves as something special, the heroes are dead and our duty is to be here not bragging about it, but making sure that it will never happen again. Anywhere! I am determined to fight it wherever it happens, from Iran to Somalia, South America to Africa. Every single day of my life, I say, 'Never again!' Every day of my life I fight for the very same things that these people died for: bread, education and freedom!

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