Thursday, June 14, 2012

Remembering Greece's multicultural heritage

My last post was a bit depressing I must admit. But as I have said before Greece is an addict and has to hit rock bottom so it can admit it has a problem. Once it has admitted its problem, then and only then can it begin to tackle the problems that brought it to this juncture.

Which is why, with everything I see around me I will not let things get me down, and most Greeks (except Unionists and Civil servants) are getting on their feet and are willing to work things over again to make things better... I think these lyrics best sum it up.

"If we have come to the world then we have to live
If our life is poison so we have to drink it
After falling again and again in our troubles we will keep doing it till we get it right"

These lyrics come from the movie Mother India.

My reason for selecting these lyrics of course lies in the fact that I am a sneaky bastard and I wanted to segue onto another subject - racism / nationalism in Greece.

A lot has been said about the Nazi party Golden Dawn which entered parliament in the last election and looks set to enter again. Many are pointing to this as evidence of a rise in racism in Greece. The sad fact is that they don't have a monopoly on this.

The communists (KKE party) in a recent argument said the only difference between Hitler's treatment of the Jews and Stalin's treatment of them is that Stalin was justified in his actions.

People are spreading a fear campaign against SYRIZA - which does have a platform of giving rights/shelter/protection/treating foreigners like human beings for migrants - saying that if they win all the Indian and Pakistani migrants will get Greek citizenship and Greece will change its colour.
At the same time people in SYRIZA blame the crisis on the Jews and its leader Tsipras openly discusses with former New Democracy MP and musician Mikis Theodorakis over the cause of the crisis. Theodorakis has not been shy to say that Jews "are at the root of evil." Or claim that American Jews are behind the crisis.

PASOK included Pirros Dimas - Olympic Athlete born in Albania - at the head of its election ticket. The smear campaign is that if they are elected they will make Albanians Greeks!
At the same time however former PM George Papandreau blames the crisis on those bankers who control the world (you know who they are). His speech writer, Yiannis Varoufakis has been cautioned in Australia for his anti-semitism and also blames the crisis and those people who control the world's economy.

New Democracy, well it just associates itself with former dictators, torturers (Just like the communist party funny enough) and shelters former LAOS parter members - LAOS used to be the acceptable face of the NAZI party. But since racism is on the rise - lets go with the original.

That said... that said I have to remember that it wasn't always like this. Greece, unlike other countries in Europe during WW2 openly opposed Nazi policy towards the Jews. I remember listening to Mark Mazower talk on the subject and reading from his book Inside Hitler's Greece and me finding out that Greeks helped so many Jews from the Nazis that the Allies actually put a quota on how many could leave. Archbishop Damaskinos of Athens along with the Police chief of Athens and the Mayor of Pireaus saved the lives of many Jews in Athens. The Bishop of Zakynthos apparently even sent a letter to his fellow art student, Adolf Hitler and asked him to spare the lives of the Jews on his island. Whatever the truth, no Germans were sent to round up anyone on the island.

Greece, soon after it gained its independence was also one of the first states to give Jewish people equality under the law.

And as for the current fear of Indians and the whole sub-continent in general (Papandreau said that if things continue we would become Indians - apparently he didn't mean it as a compliment. ie that Greece would become a major international player, a BRIC nation, largest democracy, fantastic cricket team, prolific movie studios, and the centre of so many industries I don't have the space to include), well there was a time when everyone in Greece waited eagerly for the next Bollywood film. Musicians would run out and make their own versions of the songs.
In fact so many of Greece's favourite songs have their roots in Bollywood cinema. Songs I thought of as quintessentially Greek are in fact Indian. My father's favourite movies were westerns and Bollywood, in fact they still are. They didn't fear India or Indians back then. It was a place of wealth and wonders, beautiful girls like Mandubhala - a place whose peoples shared the same experiences - throwing of the yoke of imperialism and creating a country from scratch, just like the Greeks from Ottoman rule. A place where, as in all stories, despite the poverty and all the bad things around them, the guy gets the girl - and of course the Bollywood twist is that the country is somehow left better off.

When I see the difference between now and then it confuses me, causes me shame and breaks my heart. But also gives me hope that returning to that state of being welcoming to foreign cultures and people is not that difficult - after all we did it before and we can do it again.

And so I will close on this heart wrenching song -Καρδια μου καημενη - My Poor Heart... sung by Stratos Dionysiou. The Greek version of Duniya Mein Hum Aaye Hain song - Mother India I showed earlier.

PS. The Madhubala song is also a copy of the song Aa Jao Tadapte Hain Armaan - from the movie Awara shown in the link earlier.