Greece, land of pain and joy

By Nick Malkoutzis

There are rare moments when a thread of togetherness winds its way through a country to lift its everyday burdens. Sometimes, these moments are born from political, sporting or other types of victories. But victories tend to bring out the worst as well as the best in people. It?s usually moments of grief or sadness that stoke the purest of emotions, creating a fleeting sense of community before it?s sucked into the morass of daily stresses and strains.

Greece experienced such a moment last Sunday when the death of singer-songwriter and musician Nikos Papazoglou was announced. He was an unassuming man who made rare public appearances and dodged the media spotlight. The reaction to his death was a reflection of people?s love for his pure and passionate music, but it was also a sign of respect for Papazoglou the human being: as an artist he shunned commercialism and stayed true to his values and as a man he remained humble and generous despite his fame.

The reaction to his death was an evanescent moment of hope. Privately and quietly, people honored a man that represented goodness, honesty, devotion and humility ? the opposite of everything modern Greeks are purported to represent. It was a moment for those who hold these qualities dear to let out a cry of frustration at Greece?s plight. Years earlier, Papazoglou had identified the inner turmoil that many Greeks feel about their country in his song ?Ah Ellada? (Oh Greece). It professes a love for a contradictory homeland that ?blackmails me, bothers me, casts me off like a bastard and clings onto me.?

It?s an anthem for those who are torn between love for their country and hate for what it has become. These are the people who live respectable lives, who are aware of Greece?s ills but who have been unable to prevent Greece?s demise. The frustration for these people is that they appear invisible to the outside world. The debt crisis has led to all Greeks being pigeonholed as liars, cheats, tax dodgers and beggars. It?s a one-size-fits-all image promulgated by domestic politicians who want to share the blame with a voiceless accomplice, by an over-zealous local media that wants to atone for its own murky role in the country?s slide into the cesspit and by some international observers who smudge the dividing lines to deliver a neatly-packaged story, so ? as was the case last week ? reports on the dispute over the planned landfill in Keratea are transformed with no regard for objectivity into stories about hardline resistance to the government?s austerity measures.

Facts have been a major casualty in this stereotyping but so has the opportunity for an alternative point of view to be heard. Minds have been made up and judgments have been passed. Even some members of the Greek diaspora have hurled invective against their brethren, displaying self-loathing for a people who have supposedly blackened the name of Greece and sullied the legacy of the ancient Greeks.

It shows how quickly reputations can be ruined. In 2004, the Greeks were earning praise from around the world for being worthy torchbearers of the ideals born in Ancient Olympia. Of course, few people outside Greece then were concerned about what organizing the Athens Olympics cost. It?s only when you?re broke that people become experts on what you should or should not have spent your money on. It also gives them license to address you with all kinds of epithets. So, Greeks were labeled corrupt en masse with no regard for the fact that the serious graft was carried out by a small group of politicians, public officials and businessmen, and that much of it took place with the help of foreigners from countries that today preach to Greece about how it should follow the righteous path.

There was a poignant moment this month when on the same day (April 11) there were significant legal developments in Munich and Washington regarding the payment of kickbacks in Greece. In Germany, two former managers at Ferrostaal were charged with paying bribes of more than 62 million euros to win submarine orders in Greece and Portugal. In the USA, Johnson