OPINION

The Merkel carnival and the Attic salt

Since ancient times in Athens — when drama in the forms of comedy and tragedy first emerged — when the city?s citizens and artists have felt the need to criticize their own politicians or foreign leaders, they have often opted for satire — an advanced form of mockery that includes playful words, irony and fancy dress.

Over time, this has broken free from the rules of stage drama in Greece and turned into a form of public narrative on or off the stage, what with the 20th-century form of political satire (?epitheorisi?) that follows the Western culture of political satire on stage, or more graphically in the annual carnival parades, every February or March, that are aimed more at making people laugh than passing on any message.

The Greek authorities had feared for the worst upon hearing German Chancellor Angela Merkel had suddenly accepted Prime Minister Antonis Samaras?s invitation to visit Greece. Genuine worries of a huge public order problem arose that could even, some said, trigger an uprising of sorts. Their heavy-handed response, in the form of a massive security operation, raised protests against the ?police state,? but largely did its job when it really needed to, not putting the esteemed visitor?s safety at risk at any time. If anything, they seemed to underestimate the maturity of most Greek people and what ancient Athenians called the ?Attic salt,? meaning the local people?s refined sense of humor.

Next to the tens of thousands of ordinary protesters who were demonstrating against the prolonged recession and the new austerity measures, quite a few citizens took the opportunity to stage a kind of a carnival parade. Complete with fancy dress, some chose to show their opposition to the policies followed by the Greek and the German governments through satire of somewhat dubious taste.

As a rally, the Merkel carnival that Athens witnessed on Tuesday afternoon at Syntagma Square was unprecedented in many ways, but it was very much like a carnival parade without the floats. Excluding the customary clashes between a small group of about 100 youths and riot police, the Merkel carnival had plenty to offer.

With the undisputed carnival queen — in the eyes of the protesters — locked in talks a few hundred meters away and unaware of the details of the rally at Syntagma, a handful of men wearing SS uniforms and bearing a swastika flag were parading among amused protesters in the heart of the city, which can?t have gone down well with the German media. They even appeared to make the Nazi salute in the direction of their imagined leader, but their fingers were spread apart to form the Greek demeaning gesture of the ?moutza,? which dates back to the Byzantine era.

The Merkel carnival also had an even better-organized stunt, which even had the Greek armed forces scratching their heads in disbelief: A number of men, some 25 of them, had dressed in Greek army commando uniforms and paraded in perfect military formation behind a Greek flag along Amalias Avenue while shouting, ?Together, together, we will beat the Nazis!?

The carnival even sported a streaker — said to be British — who thought it would be a good idea to run through the demonstration naked, given that the world had set its eyes on Syntagma Square. The cameras could not possibly miss him, and he got the attention he wanted. He can now look forward to the next carnival in Athens. Only this time he had better adopt more imaginative attire, seasoned with the Attica salt.