Grace and victory

The wonderful thing about the Greek soccer team’s victory in the European Soccer Championship in Portugal is that it was widely taken as a metaphor as to how well the Greeks can do when they undertake something with seriousness and method. It was seen, in other words, as a sign of how important it is that we set out our objectives and then work toward them. This can only be of benefit to us all. The worst thing was that, now that the effort was behind us and triumph was in our hands – in the form of the cup held high by members of our team – many of us slipped back into the old cliches about the great Greek spirit that bursts through whenever it gets half a chance, and so on. This brought out all the old cliches and inferiority complexes, culminating in (and this is a cheap shot but unavoidable) Archbishop Christodoulos’s observation of the triumph of a team from an «Orthodox nation.» (Maybe he meant the Russians, who were the only team to beat the Greeks but left after the first round). The victory in Portugal has given Greece a huge boost in the last few weeks leading up to the Athens Olympics. «This is the year of Greece,» Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis proclaimed, perhaps to underline the fact too that his New Democracy party returned to power this year after 11 years in the wilderness. Now, propelled by the unexpected triumph and the pandemic euphoria that it set loose, we hurtle toward the opening of the second Athens Olympiad, which will one day be remembered as one of the seminal events in the Greeks’ long march through history. And, driving home the fact that the Games are well and truly upon us, the Olympic Torch Relay returned to Greece yesterday after an unprecedented international journey across five continents. The Flame, which was lit in Olympia on March 25 and left Athens for Sydney on June 2, was brought to Iraklion from Cyprus. Its last stop on the international leg of its odyssey was hugely symbolic; as Cyprus, an independent state, has a strong Greek heart beating inside it. After the joy that Greek Cypriots felt with the Greek soccer team’s triumph, now came the highly emotional visit of the Olympic Flame to move these proud and wounded people. But the visit of the Flame, whose relay is a living symbol of human unity, also highlighted the persistent division that plagues this lovely island. Initial thoughts to cross the Green Line into the Turkish-Cypriot sector were canceled when the Turkish Cypriots said they would hold an official welcoming ceremony with flags and other symbols. The Greek side said this would entail recognition of a separate state on the island – something that only Turkey claims – and so the idea of uniting people where they really do need uniting was scrapped. There was great joy and emotion on the Greek side, where the relay went ahead as planned, as if there were no Turkish Cypriots in the north in need of the Flame’s touch. The world, full of its own problems, hardly noticed. But it is truly a shame that a symbol as powerful as the torch relay could not break through the symbolism that has plagued the island for so many years, both reflecting its division and continuing it. And it is disappointing that Greece, the keeper of the Flame and ostensibly the driving force behind the idea of reviving the Olympic Truce, should be a party to this. The Olympic Torch Relay’s visit to the whole of Cyprus ought to have been a priority. If difficulties were met, then every effort should have been made to overcome them. At this time, when the prime ministers of Greece and Turkey act as if they are bosom buddies, they could have pressed their people on both sides of the Green Line to find a solution, at least so far as the Olympic Flame was concerned. Perhaps we just did not see it in Athens, excited as we were by the soccer, but it certainly did not look as if any effort was made to solve the problem. Perhaps in the larger scheme of things this meant very little, but there must have been many young school kids in northern Cyprus whose lives (and their thoughts in later life) would have been touched by this symbol of life and tradition that sprang from the sun of Greece. The loss is one of profits lost. The greatest responsibility for this lies with the Greek side, because it is the Greeks who have the Flame and it is they who decide what will be done with it. This reflects the way in which the Greek Cypriots are the ones who are full members of the European Union and have a say in what it does, whereas the Turkish Cypriots, who voted for the island’s reunification, can only sit and hope and wait for some benefits from Cyprus’s EU membership. Here too, Athens and Nicosia have been doing their best to prevent any aid or trade that could imply the de facto recognition of the Turkish-Cypriots’ illegal state. In a corresponding manner, the Turkish Cypriots have been trying to exploit the sympathies of the international community to the full, trying to gain such recognition along with breaking their long isolation. Sadly, both sides appear to have the mentality of the underdog, the victim, who has to ensure that no one tries to cheat them of anything. The Greek Cypriots are the victims of the Turkish invasion and occupation in 1974 – and the Turkish Cypriots are the victims of persecution before that invasion and the victims of international isolation and economic stagnation after it. The Turkish Cypriots leapt at the chance for the island’s reunification because they had so much to gain from EU accession, whereas the Greek Cypriots rejected reunification because they were going to gain from accession anyhow. Both sides feel they have right on their side. And it seems that neither sees the right of the other side. It is the age-old situation, as if we are not living in a new era now that Cyprus is part of the European Union and this can undo the damage of the Turkish invasion. Beware the underdog that gets on top. The Turkish Cypriots pushed as far as they could and the Greek Cypriots turned their backs on them. It is not quite clear who is responsible for what, as the Cypriot government says it had nothing to do with this – but it is clear that neither Nicosia nor Athens did anything to ensure that the Flame would go to the north. The worst thing about all this is that Greece betrayed its own message of peace and unity in the year of its very own Olympiad, and it showed that it has a government that does not try to preempt problems nor to ensure their solution. «This is the year of Greece,» Karamanlis says. But the Greeks have always excelled when they have seen the point of view of the others, not when they have excluded others. It cannot be the year of Greece if it is for Greece alone. We have seen this from the most ancient times to today. The Iliad is as great as it is because Homer, a Greek, portrays Hector, a Trojan, as the epic’s most sympathetic hero. The Athenian tragedians not only presented in the most human terms the destruction of the Trojans, but, the father of them, Aeschylus, even presented the defeated Persian king (against whose army he himself had fought) with great human understanding. But these are the attributes that made the Greeks great, that made them forever question their own nature and actions in light of the implacable, tragic forces that they felt running like dark currents under their feet. They knew that every victory ought to be savored because it would be short. Now that the Greeks are once again on the world’s stage for a brief, shining moment, will they live up to the standard that their ancestors set? Will they cross the bar of their own expectations. On Cyprus, they knocked it down. They have two more jumps.