Freedom, “ελευθερία” is a most noble value. Since ancient times, more so in the last 200 years since its War of Independence started, it is Greece’s greatest contribution to the European spirit, the spirit of the free world.
In 2008, at the height of the economic crisis, there were those who imagined Greece as a bird, the canary miners used to take with them into the bowels of the earth. Once it stopped singing, they were aware of the imminent danger, the presence of deadly gases. Unfortunately, in recent years, with the rise of populism in various European countries, those “miners” did not listen to the bird and threatening winds started to blow.
In Greece, fortunately, the bird of freedom and the free spirit is alive and well. In spite of many crises and demanding challenges, the bird with unrivaled liveliness shook its wings, raised its head and continued singing about its history and times.
The Greek spirit is expressed in the Greek way of life, philosophy, in the individual and societal virtues and in Greek exuberance. So many songs and poems of Greece’s greatest poets express it. This is beyond taverna music. The magnificent rebetiko and bouzouki music free the spirit and let us spread our wings. Who does not imagine taking off like a bird hearing the songs of Sotiria Bellou or Nikos Xylouris as if in a battle for his life, for his freedom and values.
The wonderful poetry tells the great story of war and blood, wounds and pain, the struggle for independence, for life on one’s land along the wonderful shores and coves of Greece, among the olive and pistachio trees. It is a story of a people, which is the product of the exquisite beauty of the Greek landscape.
Ιt has high mountains eagle shaped
and rows of vines on its volcanoes
And houses very white
for neighboring the blue
(Odysseus Elytis, “Judicious Sun,” translated by Jeffrey Carson and Nikos Sarris)
Or the poetry of longing for the homeland of the seafarers and those who live in the diaspora.
On the secret seashore
white like a pigeon
we thirsted at noon;
but the water was brackish.
(Giorgos Seferis, “Denial,” from his collection “Strophe,” translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard)
Above all, this poetry tells the story of the individual and the strength of the human spirit.
A poetry that calls for a person to strive for splendor and glory and fly on their wings, as the poem by Andreas Kalvos “The Second Ode to Glory” says:
Glory bestows wings
on those who seek it.
to the rough and
difficult path of virtue.
(translated by Edmund Keeley)
How beautiful Greek poetry is, exactly like the Greek people, rooted in its land, its home, in the seas around it – the Aegean and the Ionian. The poetry draws its strength from its simplicity and modesty singing about daily life. It celebrates the happiness of the fortunate, those falling in love, and, on the other hand, pain and sorrow, part of life. It accepts heartbreak and loneliness as part of the cycle of life, even when it sobs and mourns it still sings sweetly and dances into the wee hours of the night. It’s all about love.
There is no other place in the world where poets, and no less the citizens, know how to challenge their country, to fight for the sake of the struggle, to fight for the idea of freedom, because one must fight for freedom and nurture it, get angry at the homeland and still painfully care for it because:
Those fake and grand words
you fed me with your mother’s milk.
(Nikos Gatsos, “My Mother Greece,” translated by Nikos Dimitratos)
And all of this in a love for the homeland, that is beautiful in its modesty. A love that is second to none to the last breath.
In all those songs and great cultural and spiritual creations of Greek artists, the songs about Greek values and heritage, beats the heart of the great spirit of Greece, the spirit of freedom that never surrenders, the one that has been forged through thousands of years.
In the most difficult times in the life of the Greek nation, throughout centuries of oppressive occupation, the aspiration for independence never subsided. An atrocious war and monstrous famine took a heavy toll on the small brave country. Nevertheless, the Greek people waged a determined struggle saying aloud and clearly “όχι” (no). In days of bloody painful civil war, days of a dark regime with foreign intervention, nevertheless, the people’s fierce spirit stood up and liberated itself from the shackles of oppression and yoke of foreign occupation. How noble is the spirit of the people rising to the challenges of the times, giving itself a new life out of crisis and sorrow, through private initiative, giving expression to its capabilities and uncontained love of the country. This is Greece of 2021, 200 years since the War of Independence started. Greece, which survived so many challenges, is now waging a campaign against coronavirus responsibly.
In nature, there are many beautiful birds, big and small. Each bird has its special song. But that of Greece, the cradle of culture, where mythology, democracy and philosophy were born, is so vivid and unique. Its feathers are the wonderful cities, their beauty is the daily life, the bustle of the streets and cafés, the bouzouki singing in tavernas, the pristine islands, each one a world of its own and the sea, the clear wide blue sea, a mirror of tranquility where the mountains and orchards are reflected.
Our Greece may be a delicate bird. But it is also the historic mother of our civilization and culture. Its day of celebration, Independence Day, is also a day of celebration for many outside Greece and for those who love it. Greece with its many islands, is the beacon shining its light on the right path on clear days as well as in stormy dark times. Greece, its unique spirit, heritage and way of life will continue to be the beacon for those seeking the light.
Modern Greeks, like their ancestors, understand themselves by telling stories, poetic myths. In an unbroken continuity from the Archaic era to the Classical age, and then to Byzantium and later to the New Hellenism, we won’t find even a century that the Greek language didn’t produce big poetry, didn’t sing myths pointing to deeper truths.
On this day of celebration for Greece, the wish we make for Greece and ourselves is: Keep singing, bird of freedom, or, as an Israeli poet says, magnificent bird. Keep making your voice heard clearly. Many are those listening to you!
Avirama Golan is a writer and publicist who divides her time between Israel and Greece, and Yossi Amrani is the ambassador of Israel in Greece.