Worshippers pray in front of an icon outside a closed church in Athens on November 8.
One side demands that rallies like those commemorating the 1973 Athens Polytechnic uprising against the junta be allowed but are opposed to church services. The other side, meanwhile, wants churches to stay open, but rallies banned. If there is one thing the two sides can apparently agree on, it’s that the coronavirus becomes inactive when it comes to their claims: Whether at a rally or in a church, each suddenly becomes impervious to Covid-19.
In other words, everyone wants the restrictions to apply to others. If the government – which happens to be conservative and therefore more vulnerable to the semantics of the conversation about prohibitions, regarded with skepticism and stigmatized – agrees to demands to ban such mass events and gatherings, some believe it is because it wants to oppress us: to oppress the people and its memory, the nation and its faith.
That such a ban is an emergency measure of a temporary nature and that – vaccination willing – by next year we will be able to return to some kind of normality, doesn’t appear to matter to either side.
Of course, the Greek Communist Party (KKE) still went ahead with its planned march on November 17 and churches are still open. The latter issue really is taboo, and one that transcends party lines, too, as we all remember the stance toward the Church adopted by leftist SYRIZA back when it was in government: Basically, it didn’t differ much from a right-wing government.
As we get through the second half of the second lockdown, we are seeing a lot that is different compared to the first, but one thing is the same: Churches are open.
I am the last person to denigrate anyone’s faith. People’s relationship to what they hold sacred needs to be respected in a democracy. We do not live in a theocracy, thankfully, nor in some Soviet-style system that shuts down churches for good. It is an indisputable truth, though, that democracy requires fairness – from everyone: the faithful and non-believers, the activists and the clerics as well.
This lack of fairness has unfortunately been observed in the government as well recently. After adopting an admirable stance last spring, the damage to the economy sent it into an (unsurprising) panic. My personal feeling is that we all went “back to normal” after May. The effect is well known: Certain measures were not followed through over the summer, mainly in preparation for the winter, and the government delayed imposing the second lockdown even though many weeks had passed with unbelievable scenes of crowding at cafés, bars and restaurants. And so they were shut down – as were theaters, cinemas and museums, which upheld the safety measures.