The tragicomic backlash sparked by the unfortunate plan to rename Athens’ Evangelismos metro station (which serves the hospital of the same name in the downtown Kolonaki district) Pavlos Bakoyannis, after the late conservative politician who was gunned down in the area 30 years ago by the November 17 terrorist group, was not all bad. For it was the widespread protests on social media that forced the officials to rethink the obviously problematic idea, and that was actually a good thing.
The idea was problematic because it would have associated the city’s popular transport system, which is politically and socially neutral, with a political figure from Greece’s modern history.
Names of metro stations must reflect their geographical location. The most practical reason is to facilitate local commuters and foreign visitors who use the metro to get around. But it also helps avoid meaningless skirmishing driven by ideology and politics.
Furthermore, based on what criterion could one generation, with its own particular perspective, decide on the name of a station that is destined to serve many generations to come? The announcement by operator Attiko Metro SA upset many a New Democracy voter able to grasp the symbolic tension caused by the reference to the slain conservative politician.
The annoyance was caused by suspicion that the new Greek government was making use of a trick popularized by the Greek Left, which has a lengthy tradition in renaming streets, avenues, public squares – always with a certain symbolism in mind. Had Attiko Metro gone ahead with plans to rename Evangelismos station, it would have risked opening a Pandora’s box of future name-changes, depending on which party was in power.
The history of Greece may be full of people who gave their lives for democracy, but the metro system is hardly the most fitting place to honor their memory.
Popular reaction was a healthy reflex. And it prompted responsible officials to make the right decision. Social media have been blamed for many ills. Last weekend they showed us that they can actually be quite useful.