True culture vultures

When did we get so many traditions? Every big celebration, even more so in the summer, is flashed on our television screens and included in some more general program of events baptized with an ancient Greek-sounding name. The protagonists in all these events date the origins of the dances, songs, masked figures and flashing lights back to ancient Greece and boast of how they survived the Ottoman occupation and constituted a form of resistance. Every corner of Greece appears to have suddenly discovered its ties to traditions that died out a long time ago. But why this revived interest? Why did thousands of cultural centers around the country with the aid of hundreds of municipalities suddenly feel this urge to breathe life into at least one local tradition? The most likely reason is that this was seen as an engine for development by local officials. Tourism is the vision and cultural events the vehicle to realize it. It is a relatively inexpensive endeavor for a municipality to fund a cultural center with a few thousand euros to stage a show that will attract tourists. The mediators in the effort are local TV correspondents. The scarcity of worthy news stories during the summer holidays increases the chances of national coverage and the mayors and cultural center chiefs can feel that they have served their local community’s cultural (and promotional) needs to the best of their ability. All these cultural events are fine, as long as we do not confuse them with real culture. The traditions revived at such displays were once inextricably linked with people’s lives. Now they are nothing more than an echo of a long-lost world. Having such events is fine, as long as we don’t confine ourselves to these. The cultural wealth of any place is not defined by the number of dead rituals it can bring back to life, but by the daily lives of its people, by the natural environment, by its buildings, by the peace you feel when you’re there. And when it comes to these, the municipal authorities, cultural centers and local communities still have a long way to go.