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Greece from abroad
by Thanos Kalamidas
2009-05-05 08:01:02
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Friends and people I meet for the first time often ask me how I feel about my country after living abroad for so long. The usual answer is schizophrenic and then depending of the person I try to explain the love and hate relationship you build with your home country after living abroad for long. And be careful, I’m referring to the home country and not the home, because these are two completely different things, especially when you have family and most importantly when you have kids.

I belong to the Greek generation of the 60s, which means we grew up strongly politically aware, knowing exactly what the lack of freedom means. Greece suffered under a dictatorship for seven years that nearly destroyed the country, and as a result of the dictator’s pathetic attitude, Turkey occupied part of Cyprus. I grew up in a poor country that was trying to recover from a world war, a Nazi occupation and a civil war, where every single household had somebody either in political exile or in prison, or abroad looking for a better life. I have been privileged to travel a lot, and there is no place I haven’t met a Greek, or at least heard loud Greek music coming out of a Greek restaurant - in the most unexpected places, from South America to the Far East.

During my time abroad, I have met all kinds of Greeks, from intellectuals and artists, to builders and, as I said before, restaurateurs. Most of them have made me proud that we share the same roots and some of them also really embarrassed me, but I try to stay positive. I’m lucky in the sense that wherever I went, people one way or the other was familiar with Greece, her ancient history and especially the mythology, which made me feel welcome. Of course I had to deal with prejudice, even racism sometimes and oddly this happened mainly in the western world, where the Greek civilization put down the foundations. 

Being a Greek abroad, you have to deal with a combination of problems. First of all, you have to make people understand that Greece still exists beyond Sophocles and Pericles, and that Greece is not all about long, sandy beaches and partying all night. There is a Greece that produces art and technology; a Greece that could be an example of political and economic stability in a very tense region, the Balkans. And yes, one way or the other you always feel like an ambassador of your country, somehow obliged to defend and elevate the role of your country on the global scene today.

During the Olympic Games in Athens, I found myself in a very weird position, having to defend Greece with a series of articles for organizing this event; an event that has nothing to do with the original and pure Olympic ideals, but which is a carousel of money, sex and drugs for the most corrupted gang on earth, the Olympic committee.  This event cost Greek taxpayers billions of euros, benefiting only a few selected in Lausanne, who were only interested in their own profits. Still, all Greeks had to fight the prejudice originating from this fact, even in a place like Finland.

The Internet has brought about the ultimate revolution, with information available everywhere. When I remember how things were back in the 70’s, I feel depressed. Back then there were certain places in London you could find yesterday’s newspaper, but only if you were lucky - Olympic Airways brought over a few, but the Greeks living in London were too many. If you were lucky you could read one issue a week, which meant that nothing was news anymore! This meant that when you visited Greece once a year – or sometimes once in two or three years – things had changed. From small details to major things, and of course the people were never the same.

Nowadays things are completely different, you don’t only have the news online; you can compare everything, since all the news agencies are online, plus newspapers, magazines and of course the blogs. You have text and picture; you can watch television and listen to radio. And you get the truth, all of the truth! And this is where trouble starts.

The country, which once made the word hospitality mean something positive – today to be called an Albanian there, is a swear word, and hate crimes are not a surprise. On the contrary, there are politicians and high level civil servants, like the prefect of Salonika, who thinks that immigrants are to blame for everything bad that happened the last twenty years. The Government is in a constant carousel of money and sex scandals, and the Greek Prime Minister has proved that things can be even worse; this is a man who has never held down a normal job in his entire life. His best achievement in life is that he is the nephew of an ex-president and historical figure.

The Socialist opposition has been quiet after twenty years in the Government until 2004. They were the ones who paved the way for the money and sex scandals. The Communists left somewhere between the 60s and 70s, without making clear which century! And yes, there is a populist extreme right party, flagging as an ideology: foreigners should be kicked out of the country, leftists should be in prison and idealists should be shot!
While all of this is going on, the people are trying to escape from poverty, misery and insecurity. On top of this is the international economic situation, conspiring against all these people. These are only a few examples that sadden me.

The picture I just described is probably very dark, but this is the picture I get from the media. Since I don’t live there anymore, and when I talk to my friends, I usually hear comments like: don’t believe everything you read, yes things are not good but they are not any better for people in Germany or in Italy. Still, I cannot stop the influence of the media, and I cannot stop them making me feel that there is something seriously wrong with my country.

Why do I write all of this? First of all, to somehow explain my love and hate relationship to my home country - secondly, I want to take the opportunity of the visit of the Greek President in Finland this week to ask some questions.

I have been wondering what he thinks. How does he excuse all the news coming from Greece? Especially since he is a President who ideologically opposes the current government policies – he has often expressed his disappointment for what’s going on. I’m wondering if he can understand what a lot of us living abroad feel. Is anything is going to change? How the Greek president is going to face the president of the country that is proud to be the less corrupted country in the world and how the industrialists who accompany the Greek president are going to talk to Finns for investments? I know, I know they are going to talk about Parthenon and the return of the Marbles to the newly build museum of Acropolis!

During the Athens Olympic Games the big aim of all in Greece was to show and prove that there is a contemporary Greece, a country of art and technology and to my opinion despite my opposition to the expensive experiment they were successful and really impressed the ones they were targeting; five years after what remains due to all these scandals is to talk again about ancient glories and Parthenon marbles! It's always the same, we end up talking about the good ancient glories!

And finally when it comes to the Greece present abroad, scandals and all – it is us who live abroad that have to live with it, us who have to deal with it and find a way to save our dignity!

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Alan2009-05-05 08:56:22
sadly living abroad you always get the worst of your home country

Emanuel Paparella2009-05-05 09:39:18
Pari passu in Italy, the marnle from the Colosseum shall never ber returned; the ancient Roman glory is gone for good and only a naive fool like Mussolini could have thought that he could resurrect its myth. The wiser option by far is to imitate the amcoemt Romans' virtues and avoid their vices. Actually, there is something that could be helpful in that respect but alas it too has been relegated to places of worship and quite forgotten while its practice is considered mere superstition. Enough to lead one to cynicism and even nihilism while one waits for the marbles to come back to the Coloseum or the Parthenon, as the case may be.

Emanuel Paparella2009-05-05 09:42:41
Errata: marbles, ancient Romans' virtues.

Kiriakos Karipis2009-05-06 16:35:23
I liked the article and the way you narrated the story. Nice work. I have to say that I agree with you in almost everything.

AnastasHs2009-06-09 15:30:47
Thano, this was a good piece. I live in America, very different from Europe (trust me on this) yet when it comes to Greece the same thoughts come to mind. A love-and-hate relationship but let's face it, deeply inside there is a pathological love for what you think Greece is despite the fact that in some ways it is not. Greece must be loved exactly for what it is. And let me take this a bit further, one has to be be a fisrt class idiot to hate the Ancestal Land of Democracy, the culture that gave so much to so many.

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