By Maria Katsounaki
Why should Sideris Tasiadis have waved a Greek flag when he stood on the podium after competing under the German flag and taking the silver medal in the canoe slalom at the London Olympics? Afterward he said: “Greece has never given me anything. I have not received a single telephone call from anyone in a position of authority to offer me congratulations on any of my successes. No one helped my family, which had to emigrate in order to give me a proper upbringing. In contrast, Germany discovered me, promoted me and gave me all the tools I needed to develop my skills as an athlete. That is where I live, where I grew up and continue to grow up, where I finished school and where I train every day.”
Should judoka Ilias Iliadis have been waving the Georgian flag along with the Greek one when he took the bronze, giving Greece its first medal at the 2012 Games? He said: “This medal belongs first to God and then to all Greeks, as we are going through difficult times.” He included himself among the crisis-weary Greeks even though he came to the country from Georgia in 2002 at the age of 16. When Jarji Zviadauri -- as his name was before he became naturalized -- won his first medal for the country at the 2004 Athens Olympics, he hardly spoke a work of Greek.
The Olympic Games are a period during which national identity counts a lot even though it corresponds so little to the reality we each experience. People, like ideas, move freely (encountering smaller or bigger obstacles), do well in their lives according to their skills and integrate in what they do the elements and traits of the country in which they’ve lived and to which they’ve been.
Last week, neofacsist Golden Dawn distributed food on Syntagma Square for free, only to people who were “pureblooded Greeks.” Those interested in getting food (and there were quite a few) had to display their identification card to one of the party members in order to prove what was probably in most cases already abundantly clear.
Is it, or is not, dangerous -- amid the confusion, the hate and rivalry that it cultivates -- to evoke national identity, especially in conditions of fair play or in cases where it is used as motive for solidarity and helping one another? If the Olympic Games are hailed as a pillar of sport just as the distribution of free food is seen as a fundamental piece of social coexistence, then actions and role models are easily reversed and poisoned by ill-intentioned ideologies.
How do we perceive Greece as a nation? The crisis of the past few years and all that it has brought to the surface (conspiracy theories, feeling of inferiority, nationalist ramblings, etc.) is deepening and as it does so it prompts various transformations in society. It has not just changed the way we work and spend what money we have, but it has changed our daily lives, our relationships with others, our mood and every constant that we once took for granted, as well as their characteristics. As society loosens at its hinges and the changes in the economic and political world keep coming fast and hard, the need for order and unity become all the more imperative. This explains the idea of the “national community,” which can safeguard unity from fragmentation.
It is this tool that is used by politicians from both sides of the political spectrum to attack a frightened people, with a rhetoric that is demagogic and constantly aimed at reminding us of our grandeur and of the foreign enemy. The common denominator between all the politicians who like to evoke our national identity to prove a point is the emphasis they place on the country’s past and its civilization.
The statement made by canoeist Tasiadis was received with little empathy by Greek bloggers and online commentators. The young athlete struck a nerve because he said what he felt and what he believed. He may have been under emotional stress, his ire sharpened by factors that are unknown to us, but he was certainly stating a fact: It was in Germany that he grew up, received an education, trained and developed his identity as an athlete. Would it or would it have not been hypocritical for him to wax romantic about the Greece that is inside him, the Greece that is in his heart, and so on and so forth? Would he have been instantly embraced as “one of us”?
Iliadis, in contrast, may have been of Georgian nationality until the age of 16 but his Greekness became a part of his identity as an athlete. He carried the Greek flag at the athletes’ parade in the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and in London showed great reverence for the Greek flag sewn onto his uniform, above his heart. His Greek remains stilted, but it doesn’t really matter, because like Tasiadis is thankful to Germany, so Iliadis is thankful to Greece for making him the athlete he is today. The Georgians, in turn, were probably just as upset by their former compatriot’s behavior as the Greeks were of theirs.
Dionysios Solomos, the poet that penned Greece’s national anthem, said in a reversal of the nationalist ideology: “The nation must learn to consider national what is true.” What he means is that the truth always comes before the “national interest,” whether real of fabricated.
Golden Dawn’s solidarity is far from altruistic because it is based on ethnic criteria. Absolutes and discrimination on ethnic lines toward poor people expose the lie of good intentions; it’s like a hate speech in the name of compassion toward card-carrying Greeks. What hypocrisy!
Now that Golden Dawn is in parliament it is taking its revenge from inside the system, by discriminating between the non-Greek and Greek poor.
Before Solomos and his “truth,” Friedrich Schiller has said that every man is a citizen of his time, just as he is a citizen of his state.