Importing a sense of self-worth

Whatever you call it – habit or reflex – it happens several times a year. Whatever the occasion (an athletic success, a development in the economy, news from the archaeological front or something pertaining to tourism), we itch to see whether the foreign media has noticed and what they are saying. Then we re-report not what was actually broadcast or written in print but what we had hoped they would have said. Anything that goes against what we want is either hushed up or explained away as an “anti-Greek view.”

This tendency may be associated with the belief that whatever else may be going on in the world, whatever the shifts of power and the games of superpowers, Greece is always the world’s navel, its center, the source if not of all things – as modesty occasionally compels us to admit – then at least of most. This means that we expect every other country in the world to have the eternal obligation to treat Greece with reverence.

The other likely scenario is that we are compelled not by a sense of being at the center of things but by the exact opposite: Because during some crisis of national self-awareness we came to accept that we are not the navel of the world, we feel that we exist through foreign attention. We need to hear a kind word from the lips of others. We need to feel that we have not been lumped together with dozens of other “inglorious” countries. We need something to pluck up our courage, to appreciate our nation, ourselves that is, the selves that embody this nation, not because it deserves it, not because we respect it spontaneously, but because others tell us to.

What it is basically is an effort to enhance Greece’s image through foreign input. Because we have no faith in the self-worth of our country, we import pieces of how it is depicted abroad. We also have a shortage of faith in what we ourselves write about our own country and feel the need to confirm it by citing the BBC or the CNN.

It was inevitable that the same would happen in relation to the excavation of a massive ancient tomb in Amphipolis: before anything had been confirmed, we were going on about how ecstatic foreigners were with the finds so far. It kicked into high gear again with the discovery over the weekend of an impressive mosaic inside the tomb.

On Monday, for example, we read on Greek websites that the BBC said that the excavation “has enthused Greeks and has given rise to a wave of Greek pride and patriotism.” Okay, let’s accept it, albeit with a heavy heart, for the sake of morale or even pride. But, if our sense of patriotism, often over-inflated, needs an archaeological excavation, however important, to rise, then we are in trouble.

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