Self-styled anarchists at the entrance to the historic Athens Polytechnic building.
The generations that grew up during the Cold War era are to some degree unable to understand, or at least adapt to, the immense social and geopolitical changes of recent years. Those who were children at some point between 1950 and 1989 – i.e. a large percentage of the active population – share the growing sense of being overcome by developments.
This new world is leaving behind the fundamentals of the postwar period and, as a result, the ideas of tolerance and democracy as these came to be experienced by the previous generation.
There is great confusion. One feels that Greece is in cultural turmoil. Our cultural self-understanding is reflected in our political and economic mores and, whereas 30 or 40 years ago Greece resembled an inseparable part of Southern, Mediterranean Europe, today it feels like a multispeed, multi-oriented country. It’s hard to explain to a 20-year-old that during the 1970s Greece’s per capita income was much higher than Portugal’s, and almost equal to Spain’s.
Today, in terms of their social beliefs, Greeks are among the West’s most backward people. Our alienation from innovation, creativity, private initiative and complex knowledge has done great damage to everyday life in Greece.
The chasm between Greece and the developed West widens as the cultural shift continues. The rupture also deepens as a result of international developments which play into the hands of anti-systemic protest and and bigoted political groupings.
In a world where the basic rules of open society are brought into question, countries like Greece (meaning countries with loose institutional pillars, widespread lawlessness and a decadent education system) are suffering the consequences of social turmoil. Hierarchies come down, scientific knowledge is scorned, myth and speculation are rife.
The relatively recent postwar years seem extremely distant. For Greece, cultivating polarizing populism, posing false dilemmas and constructing fabricated enemies would be the most dangerous course to take. Unfortunately, it seems to be the government’s strategic policy.