History should not be toyed with. Democratic Left deputy Maria Repousi did so when she tried to play down the mass killings of Asia Minor Greeks at the hands of Ottoman Turks. The writing of a school textbook is not a task that is gotten out of the way as fast as possible in order to cash in the paycheck. Repousi continued to toy with history when she started rambling on about “national myths.”
The attack she came under from various true ignoramuses posing as experts, however, was also over the top. There is nothing more repulsive than the bullying of those peddling hyperbolic nationalism. Nevertheless, Repousi has to answer for her smug behavior, which poured more flames onto the fire that is constantly smoldering away in the Greek conscience.
There are ways to record history without becoming provocative. Many historians have succeeded in doing so, professionally and without stirring a hornets’ nest of controversy. Efforts have also been made to present history in a way that it is understood by all, such as Skai TV’s production “1821” on the Greek War of Independence, and many have been exemplary, irrespective of whether or not they were overshadowed on the one hand by ridiculous debates regarding the personal lives of the protagonists and on the other by aphorisms from people of the church who disagreed with their approach.
Greeks thirst for history, yet we are unfortunately very poor in serious biographies, palatable narratives and good documentaries. The fact is that we do not know our history well. The civil war that nearly jeopardized the revolution against Ottoman rule is normally covered as a footnote, for example. How we came to the devastating events of 1897 are usually glossed over even though knowledge of this chapter could prove very useful today.
It is crucial, on a national level, that we learn our history well. Not as the enemies of enlightenment would have it nor as the champions of multiculturalism.
The reason why behavior such as that displayed by Repousi is infuriating is that it provides fodder for ignorant nationalists, for the champions of hate and conspiracy theories. And inflaming them is not at all difficult at a time when society is being severely tried and scepticism of the European Union grows daily.
We Greeks are a proud nation and do not take kindly to people toying with our national narrative. The mistake made by many who want to “modernize” Greece is that they have neglected to take this sensibility into account. The vision of a more organized and law-abiding society needs to go hand-in-hand with respect for our sense of national identity. Anyone who offends these sensibilities will never be able to reach the average Greek.