‘We wish them misery’

‘We wish them misery’

A good friend who has lived and read history noticed something while reading an old edition of Kathimerini. I confess that I could not believe it, no matter how many times I read it: August 30, 1921. The Greek army is fighting in Asia Minor. On the first page, the first story is about Turkish field marshal – and later statesman – Mustafa Kemal’s Turkish National Movement, “how they are recruited, how they are equipped, how they are governed, how the Turks are fighting.”

Elsewhere there is a paragraph titled “Wishes”: “What we first wrote was officially announced yesterday: [Greek statesman] Eleftherios Venizelos is marrying Miss Helena Schilizzi in some foreign spa town, the day after Thursday. To the well-to-do couple, we wish with all our souls, misery.”

Unbelievable? Nowadays one would expect it. If one is even a little known among the public, it is the wrong time to get married, get sick, or dress casually and sloppily due to fatigue. Even dying is dangerous as it is certain that every nutcase will write whatever comes into their head. But we are talking about 100 years ago. There was no social media, no Donald Trump, no trolling. It was a completely different era. And yet a major newspaper reported on the wedding of an exiled political leader and wished him “misery.”

Obviously, the issue here is not simply Kathimerini’s role, not in the sense of delayed self-criticism. It is of greater value to learn from the mistakes of those who preceded us and to try to be sober and calm in difficult times. The question is how do we reach such a point? Why do we often flirt with the abyss, deeply divided, with hatred for each other? To avoid upsetting Greek academic, political scientist and historian Giorgos Mavrogordatos, I will not write that division and prejudice are in our DNA. But it is part of our history. At the time when the Turkish people and their military officers were rallying around Kemal for their own fight, Greece was a deeply divided country. The army was divided into Venizelists and anti-Venizelists. The appointments of officers at a time of great crisis, when everything was at stake for the nation, were often partisan.

Have we learned from our mistakes? Public debate resembles the Roman Colosseum: There is a lot of hatred, easy slander, passion and violence in the way we express ourselves. As we walk into a tough match, the ropes will fall away from the ring and everything will be allowed. That is scary. It is scary because clouds are gathering again over the country, Europe and – mostly – our neighborhood. Let us realize this and let us draw – at least those who feel the need – some red lines in our own domestic “war.”

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