Greeks and Serbs’ shared DNA

Whenever I read the news from Serbia, I am saddened. A serious country, with a great history and tradition, has managed to commit international suicide and slide into isolation. And often I ask myself how a country that has so much in common with Greece has managed to fall into such desperate straits. In the DNA of Greeks and Serbs, one finds some classic symptoms. We both believe that we are nations that are both alone and unique and that the rest of the planet owes us much. We both believe very strongly that we are such unique people that everyone else wants to eliminate us lest we spoil things for them. We have a strong tendency to see ourselves as victims, as prey in a centuries-old hunt in which the hunters are Turks, English, Americans and so on. We agree fully on one thing: We never make mistakes, and that whenever things go wrong, it is always someone else’s fault. Serbia lost a war when its then strongman decided to «cleanse» Kosovo and take on the whole of the international community. He miscalculated with regard to the reactions of the great powers; he went to war and he lost. Whether or not this was moral or just is not the point – that is what happened. Today’s Serbia – a country without a vibrant middle class or elite – after the Milosevic storm, is once again falling back on the role of victim. Its politicians are even thinking of sacrificing the country’s efforts to join the European Union or to sever diplomatic relations with the West in order to punish Europe and the United States for what they are doing with regard to Kosovo. But the problem is no one cares. I know that many of my compatriots will be angered by these lines. They admire the Serbs’ guts, the courage of a David taking on a Goliath even if this means he loses everything. They would like Greece to resemble Serbia in this, and live up to the stereotype of being the region’s tough guy. Fortunately, though, the Greek DNA has elements of survival and adaptability which have lead to centuries of looking outward and an eternal spirit of entrepreneurship. Eleftherios Venizelos, returning to power as prime minister after the catastrophic defeat of Greece in Asia Minor in 1922, did not sit sulking in a corner. Instead, he signed a treaty that was difficult in political terms but which turned out to be most valuable. He patched things up with Greece’s traditional allies and set the country on course for reconstruction. Constantine Karamanlis returned to power in 1974 after the collapse of the military dictatorship and after a great military defeat on Cyprus. Public opinion demanded that he follow the Serb model, that he put the country in a corner where Greece could moan about the injustice done to it and follow the proud road of isolation. But he did not do this. Karamanlis looked the average Greek in the eye and told him (whether he liked it or not) that «Greece belongs to the West» and he got Greece into the European Union. So when I look at Serbia today, I thank God that we Greeks have learned to live with our schizophrenia. We are fond of our persecution complex, we like to shout in favor of every underdog and to appear brave in words. In deeds, though, we trust practical leaders to do the job for us, to keep us members of the best clubs and follow realistic policies. This road may not have much glory or create myths, but it is the road that made Greece grow from the time of its establishment and which (still) makes it different from its neighbors.