Two hundred years ago, the Greek War of Independence was marred by disease and dissension, its triumph lost in typhus, plague, cholera, chickenpox, malaria and tuberculosis, its vocal messages-signals lost in the noise of division. It took Greece a decade to come together and to coalesce into rebirth and an additional one and a half centuries for Greece to arrive at the status of sister-state, a result of public health development. This year the bicentennial celebration, Greece 2021, was glorious and inspiring even though shadowed by Covid and unending, unresolved political squabbling. It was celebrated with a sense of determination and subdued optimism. While Greece’s initial response to the pandemic was largely effective, the response in the third wave saw the health sector straining at its limits. Too much media, too many voices. One reference to the public health needs of the nation at the time of Covid came from Katerina Sakellaropoulou, president of Greece, and from the Sacred Rock.
My poetical advice is still:
Once again, to Greece I say, do not unlock, stay put,
Lay low, protect the loved ones that you know,
While in the words of a Nobel, noble poet,
Just a little more and we shall see,
Almond trees in blossom,
Marbles shining in the sun.
Don’t frit away the glory there, coronavirus is not fair.
From my vantage and virtual point from Hill of Lykavittos, I followed the exhilarating celebrations on March 25. At sunrise, a 21-gun salute sounded from above me as I drank my Greek coffee. Sometime later the flag-raising ceremony took place on the Acropolis in the presence of the president and prime minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis. The National Anthem was sung a capella by the internationally renowned soprano Anastasia Zannis. The light of Athens buoyed by crisp sunshine beamed out that all’s right with the world.
Nothing could deprive the bicentennial celebrations of their special symbolism and splendor as the blue and white flag was unfurled on the Sacred Rock of the Acropolis, colors that spread out throughout Greece, covered multiple places and draped landmark buildings all around the globe. Nothing can deprive Greece of its historical significance following on from the American and French revolutions; its victory over tyranny, its revival of all things Greek (ours once more) and its rebirth as a nation.
The 1821-2021 celebrations in Greece were inspirational, simple and substantive, informative and exceptionally moving. Three frigates from Britain, France and Russia anchored in the harbor of Piraeus. The renovated and extended National Gallery displayed paintings representing scenes from the 1821 Greek War of Independence. The Prince of Wales said that Greece is the wellspring of Western civilization; its spirit runs through our societies and our democracies. Greece stands for freedom and provides hope. While Navarino should be remembered, it must not be forgotten that predatory loans created a debt crisis.
Paraphrasing the words of the prime minister, to remember is to be human; to educate on events, past and the responsibilities of the present is a given. After the successful celebrations of 1821 what now Hellas takes becomes much more significant; 4,000 years of linguistic history and concentrated philosophical wisdom, two centuries of the modern Greek state and a moving bicentennial that grabbed the world’s attention, painting it blue and white; Greece in its third century and the rejuvenation of Hellenism – a unique, ambitious and significant cultural project (Greece 3.0), the here and now health status of the Greek people – a necessity after the imposition of austerity, the difficult demographic challenge and the search for migration’s solution within the context of the European Union as well as freedom from geopolitical harassment in the Aegean, a life with quality and fulfillment for all Greeks and the divine intervention of Hygeia, goddess of public health – with a push from Classical philosophy.
Greece remains an infinite historical source of knowledge, but with too few readers. While it is still an inspirational flame, there are still too few global citizens. Change will take over if inequality falls and as the newly born enter the world with more possibilities for life with quality better than their parents as well as expanding options for youth. A new national narrative must emerge and with new blood, with discord as an obstacle to future triumph set aside and the several different readings of the 1821 celebrations resolved. Greece has a role to return the world and ensure the principle of panta rhei and the universal status of the earth.
Below and from the sadness of a forlorn bell, we hear the sadness of the world,
A world that walked in beauty through the seasons till its fall,
Apple blossom time will come again, another eternity will pass, olives falling to the grass,
Lilacs will be gathered in the spring, when some go home again…
A splash of red I see above, some poppy bed in radiant bloom,
While buttercups their golden cups reach up towards the warming sun,
Upon the hill; Golgotha and Lykavittos.
Jeffrey Levett is an International Gusi Peace Prize Laureate and a professor of public health and health diplomacy.