Are we prepared to face our history without fear or passion? Can we accept that we have avenues named after royalty and that the former summer palace at Tatoi needs to be salvaged because it is a piece of our collective memory? Can we finally be ruthless about the historical truth, while also respecting its monuments, institutions and protagonists?
If the answer to these questions is yes, then this means we have finally matured as a society and are past the phase when it was considered anathema to give voice to any other opinion but the prevailing one. I remember, for example, being hassled when I first interviewed former king Constantine or coup leader Stylianos Pattakos, or the first time that Konstantinos Mitsotakis spoke frankly about the events of 1965 in a television interview. The reactions were fast and furious, like a religious zealot faced with an offensive book that challenges his “truth.”
There was no point in even explaining that the purpose was not to give these people a platform to spout propaganda about their version of events, but to get them to submit, under pressure, their historical testimony. Nor was there any point in explaining that from a journalistic perspective it was just as important as speaking with Greek communist leader Markos Vafeiadis – because history is just that.
The pendulum has swung an enormous distance and it – obviously – takes some time before it can swing back into a more balanced position. We are, indeed, at a good point. Passions still run hot, but that’s reasonable. Hysteria, hyperbole and downright intimidation are seen for what they are: ridiculous and belonging to the past.
All the talk, however, does not necessarily mean that we know our history. One of the worst things in this country is that we tend to become incredibly passionate about events we actually know very little about. It can’t be a coincidence that there are so few serious biographies on the great Greek leaders. Or that the handful of calm and objective studies on the most controversial chapters of the country’s modern history have been written by foreigners.
We have certainly made progress. The two recent historic anniversaries – of the 1821 War of Independence and the 1922 Asia Minor Catastrophe – resulted in a plethora of new publications, exhibitions and events dedicated to those seminal events. Light was shed on dark sides of our history and important books provided us with many solid answers.
Nevertheless, we still have a way to go. For the time being, however, we seem to be a little less intimidated by our history. We may even reach a point where all of us – regardless of ideological beliefs – can take our children and grandchildren to all the historical sites, including the royal tombs at Tatoi, without fear of stirring the demons of the past.