Cozy myths

By Pantelis Boukalas

Clearly, we’re not “the most hung-up nation in the world.” There is no safe way to establish this. Such measurements are impossible, even though our hallucinating “patridognosia” (knowledge of our nation) has accustomed us to the idea that we are the best at everything – in fact much better than any other nation.

Reacting to the barrage of snide remarks after Greece’s recent defeat to Colombia at the World Cup in Brazil, Angelos Charisteas, the national squad’s Euro 2004 hero in Portugal, tweeted that Greece is “the world’s most hung-up nation.” The now-retired soccer star was forced to back-pedal in the face of the online backlash. Charisteas erased his controversial tweet, commenting that people did not grasp what he meant to say. A half-truth, of course, is usually no better than a whole lie.

If Charisteas wished to help this country – perhaps more than he did with that match-winning header in the 2004 final against Portugal – he should have been more insistent. Not on his original pronouncement about Greece being the world’s most hung-up nation, but on the underlying idea that we are not an immaculate, irreproachable, ideal people; that, yes, we do have some faults. At the end of the day, the question is not whether we have an inferiority or superiority complex but that these two actually go together.

That said, the two do not cancel each other out, but instead fuel each other. We fluctuate from glee to despair in rapid succession. We are fascinated by something and we hold it in utmost admiration and the next moment we scorn it in an wild, masochistic manner. We erect statues only so we can have the cheap pleasure of knocking them down when we get bored of them or when they stop fulfilling the mission for which they were built.

Charisteas himself, in fact, is a good example. Each time he scored, we would call him an angel, a message from God. But every time he wasted a chance, he was just “garbage.”

If we are trying to identify such things as national traits, here’s one: We tend to love and demean ourselves at the same time. We are always in superlative mode. We compose anthems about our history and our language and then we switch to dirge mode.

We like to say that Greeks are made to fight against their destiny and at the same time we never stop complaining about our fate. Maybe it’s because we never really sit down to learn who we are and what we want from ourselves and other people. We took comfort in the cozy myths of our Greek legacy, of continuity, of the chosen people and so on. We rely on them without realizing that they are conjured-up myths. Using them as your only guide can destroy you.