The Pledge and the Parthenon

The Pledge and the Parthenon

Yes, we heard it: a statement that equates the “Pledge to the Nation” – a massive church envisaged by some to mark Greece’s salvation from the Turkish yoke – and the Parthenon: “The construction of this monumental church, as an expression of gratitude to God for our liberation from the Turks, will be visible all over Athens and equal to the Parthenon.”

Let’s not dwell on this statement too long. First, because the issue of the Pledge, which keeps cropping up every so often ever since the 19th century – like bankruptcy in Greece – has been put back on the shelf, and second, because we recently dodged another proposal for the “conquest” of the Parthenon by foreigners. In the first case, 16 lawmakers with New Democracy withdrew their support of a scheme to build the Pledge on the orders of party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis. In the latter, the Central Archaeological Council unanimously rejected a request by the international fashion house Gucci to hold a runway show on the Acropolis.

Therefore, the furor has died down and the thousands upon thousands of words expended on both these issues have now been consigned to the archives, so we can get back to the business of daily life.

However, these two issues that took up so much of our attention last week beg the question of how we deal with this attachment to national symbols (genuine or imaginary) when it makes its appearance as collective psychosis, due to a variety of triggers?

Sure, in the case of the Pledge, most find it hard to stifle their laughter in the face of such psychosis, but the Parthenon is an entirely different matter.

The argument put forward by the Central Archaeological Council to explain why it rejected Gucci’s request – that a runway show would be inappropriate on such a special monument, which is a symbol of global cultural heritage, etc – should go without saying. It is also indicative of the long-term effects of bureaucracy, stale and ineffectual. Sometimes the argument is as suggestive as the decision.

None of the responses on the issue made by political parties could be exempted from the “we agree… but” rule, which effectively boils down to keeping voters happy while also trying not to appear opposed to the need to make use of the country’s cultural capital.

The tone is set by the political system and it is one of hypocrisy and histrionic statements of the “we will never sell out” type. There are few exceptions and these are most often drowned out by the noise about “indelible values.” The problem is that the more we emphasize that our values are indelible, the more we leave them exposed.

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