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To love your country

By Alexis Papachelas

I bet that over the Easter weekend you heard someone saying: “Was there ever a country as beautiful as this one? No one can take this away from us.” I can’t remember a single Easter going by without me or someone from my group of friends uttering something to that effect. Given the current crisis, however, these words, although trite, bring out a sense of pride for who we are and for all that surrounds us. But they also reveal a profoundly Greek persecution syndrome, because Greeks invariably like to have a foreigner to blame for their own mistakes and sins when the going gets tough.

This, however, is not the entire story. The admiration for our country, for its natural beauty and benevolent sun, hides a certain level of hypocrisy. How can you systematically destroy all that you’ve inherited if you genuinely admire and care for it so much? Who erected thousands of illegal homes and destroyed large, gorgeous areas around the country with rooms to let? Was it Europeans, Americans and multinationals who contributed to this crime? The answer is no. It was us, and we took pride in our schemes and treated our heritage with complete disregard while at the same time Germans and Britons were busy protecting places like Mani, Alonissos and Crete. What does the country we cherish and wish for our children to experience have to do with the nouveau-riche hedonism that has prevailed as the country’s desired lifestyle? Long before being deprived of our material belongings, we raped the country by throwing rubble in its scenic spots and garbage on its streets.

I fully comprehend the need to find peace and balance at some picturesque Greek location, sipping some ouzo, along with friends and family. At the end of the day, the phrase “no one can take this away from us” implies that although they may take away our homes and jobs, we can still stroll down to the beach, sit on a rock and enjoy the light, the sea and the blue sky. I’m afraid, however, that the phrase may also at times contain a complacent rationalization of our inactivity as a nation. In other words, it sounds as though we believe that we don’t really have to make an effort or put up any kind of fight in order to move forward, either because someone owes us or because we can make do with less.

But we have to move on and this will not happen because others owe something to us or because, all of a sudden, we decide that a country which belongs to the world’s 30 most developed nations will regress a few decades to the standard of living of Albania and do so proudly.

We need to learn to love our country again, to re-acquire values that have been buried under the delusion of easy money and a giving state, to set national goals on where we want to be 20 years from now. These are big words, you may say, or as one reader put it: “Pal, we don’t even know if we’re going to make it through the next 20 days.”

I’m not saying it’s easy to set goals regarding the country’s future when everything seems to be crumbling all around. But if we don’t do this, together, we will not find a way out of the crisis and we will not stand on our own two feet. We made plenty of mistakes in the past as well and eventually found our way, while managing to set goals and bring forth leaders who rose to the occasion. As we look around us today we see no pillars for our society, no fundamental principles to guide us and no true leaders. No country, however, survives on laments and inactivity.

As I write these words I think about the scents and sounds of Good Friday, the emotion that emanates from the disorderly and beautiful procession of the bier, with a Greek flag at its helm. It’s a unique emotion that cannot be taken from us, cannot be erased from our memories. But it is also reminder of who we are, of how fortunate we are and of the responsibility that we bear.

ekathimerini.com , Tuesday April 17, 2012 (18:05)  
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