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Poland's Antigone
by Thanos Kalamidas
2016-05-25 11:23:20
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Every kid in Greek school has to learn ancient Greek. They do so studying ancient scripts and I insure you from personal experience, every single teenager hates it. We do I have to learn a dead language, is a phrase even I have used in my teenage years. Let me learn English or French, not ancient Greek.

pol01_400To help you understand, ancient Greek is Greek alright and we could recognize most of the words in the script but we had no clue what we were reading. The syntax often didn’t make sense and an ending in a word could change the whole meaning of the sentence. Add on that contemporary semantics and what you get is a language as foreign as any other and exercises like “translate those three paragraphs” would become a mental torture that would take time from …real life. Or at least that how you think when you are a teenager.

Of course Homer and Sophocles were the prime writers to read and god knows how much I hated Ulysses (Οδύσσεια). But it was Sophocles’ Antigone that really tested me then. It was not only translating the ancient script into new Greek but I also had to understand and explain all the hidden messages in the lament of a sister to her dead brother. The woman wanted to bury her dead brother and I had to I find the meaning of democracy behind her tears? And the worst part was that points depended on my understanding of the script more than my translating it.

But oddly ancient Greek, Sophocles, Antigone and democracy found an unexpected ally to persuade me not only to translate the script but by example to understand it. And be sure, I was not the exception. Actually thanks to this unexpected motivator, at least two generations learned to love Antigone. The unexpected motivator? The 1967-74 dictatorship in Greece. A regime of fascist that betrayed the birthplace of democracy and established a military dictatorship that tortured, exiled, imprisoned and killed thousands of Greeks.

Acting like barbaric invaders who wanted to eliminate national and historic identity from a nation, the dictators in Greece forbade the study and selling of a series of books and writers as national threat. Their crime was that these writers and books were talking about democracy, freedom of speech, liberties and in the case of Sophocles’ Antigone, civil disobedience to a dictatorial regime. Going against the wishes of dictator Creon not to bury her brother, Antigone not only insists to act following her conscience, believes and ethic but she also calls for disobedience to a ruler who uses his public position to enforce ruthlessly - to the limit of criminal – inhuman and antidemocratic personal agendas and paranoias. Antigone is rebelling, she is the ultimate revolutionary without beard and cigar. And fascist dictators couldn’t have that. Even though this was part of the historic identity they were suppose – always according to them - to guard.

Hundreds of books were forbidden during the same period proving for one more time that fascism and dictators who come in power with machine-guns and tanks fear words. Words terrify them. They don’t know how to beat them and there is absolutely no way to stop them. Hitler found out, Mussolini found out, Saddam found out, Erdogan finds out now. Words are not something you can rule, forbid, and eliminate. When you try, you destroy part of the historic and national identity that identifies a nation.

Imagine if Germans would have eliminated from Germany every single thing in connection with its Nazi past because it doesn’t serve the profile they want to project today. Imagine USA covering slavery and eliminating it from all books, imagine Russia doing the same with Stalin or Greece with the dictatorship. Is unimaginable, isn’t it? It would have taken a big part of people’s conscience. Is beyond talk of something anti-democratic or freedom. And then if you just start “fixing” one thing why not go further and fix more? Create the perfect obedience robots who know only what you like them to know. Where good and evil has nothing to do with ethic but they are result of manipulation. But that’s exactly what Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Amin, Kim Il-sung did. That’s what Estonia, Latvia, Poland do today. All members of the EU, all supposedly democratic. They try to eliminate and rewrite history serving political agendas while murdering historic and national identity.

From the news:

“The Polish parliament recently adopted a de-communization law, giving local governments one year to remove all symbols representing communism from the public space.

pol02_400“As of April 1, the bill, fully titled “On the prohibition of propagation of communism or any other totalitarian system through the names of all public buildings, structures and facilities”, bans public display of names commemorating communism, including “people, organizations, events or dates symbolizing the repressive, authoritarian and non-sovereign regime of 1944-1989 in Poland” and criminalizes any propaganda in their favour.

“The Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), which serves as the historical police for the right-wing Law and Justice Party (PiS) government, has sent out letters to many local authorities with a list of over 1,300 of the “most flagrant examples that glorify the anti-Polish communist ideology” in their cities.

“Among those organizations and individuals included on the IPN’s list of “cursed communists” are the volunteer members of the 13th International Brigade, known as the Dabrowski Brigade, who fought Franco’s fascist forces during the Spanish civil war of 1936-39; members of the revolutionary workers’ organization Proletariat II (1888-1893); the party of Rosa Luxemburg—the Social Democratic Party of Poland and Lithuania (SDKPiL, 1900-1918); the Polish Socialist Party-Left (PPS-L, 1906-1918); the Polish Communist Party and the Left Opposition in Poland (1918-1938); the anti-fascist partisans of the People’s Army (AL) and the People’s Guard (GL); the Polish People’s Armed Forces (AWP); officials of the former USSR and PRL (the Polish People’s Republic 1945-1989) and “leftist” writers including Julian Tuwim, Jan Brzechwa and Władysław Broniewski.

“The list of names makes it clear that the law targets primarily the revolutionary leaders of the Polish socialist workers’ movement and pro-Soviet anti-fascists. To justify the attack on the legacy of the revolutionary Marxist movement in Poland and the Soviet Union, its most honourable leaders are lumped together with those responsible for crimes committed by the Stalinist agents and bureaucrats, as well as fascists and the Nazis.

“Article 13 of Poland’s Constitution of 1997 as well as article 256 of the penal code already bans political parties and organizations that make a reference to totalitarian methods and practices of Nazism, fascism and communism as well as those propagating racial and ethnic hatred or violence. Nazism, fascism, communism and racism are intentionally mentioned in the same breath as if they were synonyms.”

As far the teenage and grown up me, I loved and love Antigone. I also often remind others her words and actions.

The immutable unwritten laws of Heaven.
They were not born today nor yesterday;
they die not; and none knoweth whence they sprang.
I was not like, who feared no mortal's frown,
to disobey these laws and so provoke
the wrath of Heaven. I knew that I must die,
Even hardest thou not proclaimed it; and if death
is thereby hastened, I shall count it gain.
For death is gain to him whose life, like mine,
is full of misery. Thus my lot appears
not sad, but blissful; for had I endured
to leave my mother's son unburied there,
I should have grieved with reason, but not now.
And if in this thou judges me a fool,
Methinks the judge of follies not acquit.
(Antigone 456-470)

Poland, Estonia, Latvia and others challenge history while destroying their national identity. Unfortunately for them the wrath of ethics awaits in history to come.

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Emanuel Paparella2016-05-25 12:29:52
Funny, I had the same experience with Latin. It may be the mother language but it is incomprehensible to the average Italian. Why study Latin and translate Cicero, Marcus Aurelius, Virgil when one could be studying English and make much more money later on the stock market?

How short-sighted that attitude was is made clear by the above article. I too found out eventually why a Mussolini, while fancying himself a Roman emperor on a white horse, could not possibly love Marcus Aurelius “Meditations” which talk of an immutable natural eternal law to which even an emperor owes obedience, and could not possibly love Cicero’s idea of free speech, or Virgil’s idea that to honor one’s country is to honor truth first and foremost even at the risk of losing friends. So Mussolini eliminated free speech. Simple minded solution to a complex problem. It’s what every dictator and authoritarian personality of any epoch or ideology do, on the right and on the left, because often the truth is found inconvenient and frightening… and in the process they end up destroying cultural identities and what is essential for them to survive: the truth. Whenever truth is suppressed or censored dictators and intellectual bullies of all stripes and fanatical ideologies galore will thrive. This too is an inconvenient truth but needs to be told and emphasized by those who love freedom even when it accomplishes nothing but getting it off one's chest.

Gordana Mudri2016-05-25 13:58:55
Unfortunately, this is happening in Croatia. It starts with a request (to comply with the EU requirements) for the removal of totalitarian symbols and salutation, but of course, local initiatives leading to a much more extensive ban. When extremism has a part in the government, nothing is surprising. And without that, with the emergence of the new state, some writers are slowly disappeared in the darkness. Children's writers too. Changing the names of streets and squares were normal. The dispute over the name of one of the capital's square lasted for years (Marshal Tito Square) and rightists seem to finally come into their own with the current government. I'm not getting in the assessment of Tito's dictatorship, I leave it to historians, but the name has endured all charges during the 25 years after the war. Now it will be changed. Growing extremism under the pretext of democracy. With these trends in the neighbourhood, Fahrenheit 451 works as quite a possible solution.
I believe in the new Antigone and her conscience.

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