In a statement on the anniversary of the 1973 student uprising against the junta on Monday, government spokeswoman Sofia Voultepsi appeared confident that “the entirety of the Greek people, irrespective of political beliefs, took part, as one, in the struggle against the dictatorship.” If only this were true. If only reality corresponded with our romantic ideal of a perfect, saintly society. But reality, as remembered by those who were of a mature age during the dismal years of the dictatorship and as has been recorded by a plethora of historical studies, leaves no room to justify the claim that the people rose up as one against the junta.
Casting the creature we call society in a saintly mantle is a practice that has deep and robust roots here in Greece, and not just in politics, but also in literature, film and the visual arts. And it is not just applied in relation to the seven-year dictatorship. Going back a bit, we like to think that every single Greek resisted the German occupation even though this was not the case. Sure, the vast majority did but not everyone. There are always collaborators. Together with all that is good and virtuous that we possibly inherited from our legendary forefathers, some also inherited the talent of adaptability – to put it kindly – and a proclivity for obeying (be it out of cynicism, self-preservation or pure cowardice) the commands of the invader/occupier/despot.
Greece had its fair share of bounders and cowards in 1940 and in 1921, just as it did during every period of tyranny. The truth is that the government spokeswoman is not the only one to claim that every Greek resisted the junta. Even in the early years of the Metapolitefsi, populism (always alive and kicking around here) led to society being given a heroic luster even though a large portion was indifferent to the ills of the junta and many collaborated, driven by ideology or self-interest. When the dictatorship was brought down, however, many – whether those who ignored the violence or those who benefited from it – rushed to assert their defiance and to claim honors for battles they never fought. The biggest proof of the lie is that had there been as many people rising up against the regime as had claimed to have done so after it collapsed, the dictatorship wouldn’t have lasted a year. It would have collapsed in its first month if it had been faced with the entirety of Greek society, determined to bring it down, as the mythology we have woven would have it.
There are few chameleons to be found among Greece’s wildlife today. Scientists say a few still survive on the island of Samos. In society, however, there are plenty of chameleons to be found – though this is much too soft a term for the supporters of tyranny, the cowards and the egoists.