COMMENT

From victims to heroes, and back again

By Xenia Kounalaki

“It was great. There were people jumping up and down,” said the young American journalist, one of an estimated 800 people working for the foreign press who came to Athens to cover Greece’s national election. She was describing the scene when newly elected Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s gave his first speech.

“The Greek prime minister reminds me of [French] economist Thomas Piketty,” said another foreign journalist.

“Tsipras is so popular in New York that Greeks there have set up a Tsipras fan club,” she exclaimed.

I tried to explain to them the difference between a KOV, the local acronym denoting a local party organization, and a fan club, adding that it was rather unlikely that Tsipras would get the Justin Bieber treatment in the Big Apple.

The SYRIZA-bashing across the international press gradually gave way to a paradoxical idealization and uncritical treatment of a party and a cabinet that is in fact full of contradiction. A party that chose to join forces with Independent Greeks, a radical right-wing party; a cabinet which is flirting – among other things – with nationalism and populism; a country that wants to remain in the euro but wants to do so on its own terms.

I am tired of reading (particularly in the US and British media) simplistic comments about the history that started to unfold in Greece, about the revolutionary fever unleashed by SYRIZA’s rise to power, and the unconventional dress code of Tsipras and Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis that will outsmart the tie-wearing bureaucrats in Brussels and Frankfurt.

From foreign correspondents more or less looking for the mark of Satan on the SYRIZA leader’s brow and checking under his jacket for a tail, others go so far as to cast the Tsipras-Varoufakis duo in a saintly mantle, concluding with great surprise that they resemble “normal people.”

The signs of Orientalism are again evident in this journalistic approach. A holier-than-thou idealization, a Western paternalistic – albeit patronizing – look at the small Gaulish village of Europe which takes on Julius Caesar and his empire (call me Angela).

The narrative is nice and cozy.

The foreign press is full of inspired articles that feed our narcissism as we again become the center of attention – this time for good.

But this barely does us any good for it cultivates our immaturity as a nation. We see ourselves reflected in the distorting mirror of the foreign media and we derive pleasure from this. Because in that mirror, we look like tragic victims or beautiful heroes.

But we hardly look like the average European nation.

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