Over at When The Crisis hit the Fan (check out the brilliantly-designed header to the home page) Greek blogger Kostas Kallergis marks the latest lurch down in his country’s crisis with a series of must-read posts, including a link to a somewhat questionable Johnnie Walker commercial designed to cheer people up, and a selection of newspaper front pages from the day after the austerity vote and the riots that accompanied it.
What is lost in the fire may be greater than that which we feared to lose. The neoclassical building that housed the Attikon cinema was one of the most beautiful in Athens, among the very few that reminded us of what our city could have become if we had respected its past, if we cared about its present and its future. Perhaps it was a fitting sacrifice – a symbol of our rush to destroy because we cannot create, an expression of our need to abandon memories and pass into the future, blackened with ashes and rage.
What is lost in the flames may be greater than the incomes that will be reduced, greater than percentages of wages and pensions, greater than deposits lost and hopes abandoned. What is at greatest risk is our identity, our civilization. If we cannot stay in the eurozone, if we find ourselves on Europe’s edge, we will be defeated, humiliated and alone…
Today it is not hugely important whether Parliament passed the agreement for a new loan and debt reduction, nor whether on Wednesday our eurozone partners will decide whether to keep us on the respirator. What matters more is the fact that we cannot seem to escape the weaknesses which trapped us on this course to destruction. On Sunday we again saw our politicians skirmishing in Parliament, as if they still had the luxury of division and false narratives, as if they could keep looking for external threats when that which is killing us is the plague within our walls. Again we saw the popular rage which feeds off the indifference of our leaders, who do not inform citizens, who do not inspire them, who do not make them feel that someone cares for them, that no one will be left behind. Our incompetent state does to citizens what Europe does to Greece – it condemns them to deprivation and insecurity and then sits back and watches them flounder and react and fall into dead ends.
It was an awareness that the interlopers from Europe’s north might be about to give up on Greece that must have caused Kostas Kallergis to turn to Waiting for the Barbarians by Constantine Cavafy (1863-1933), a Greek poet who lived in the sadly vanished cosmopolitan Alexandria of Egypt a century or so ago. The poem, which is set in classical times, describes an ineffective political class reduced to paralysis and empty display by the knowledge that ‘the barbarians are coming’. It concludes, however, like this:
Why this sudden bewilderment, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home lost in thought?
Because night has fallen and the barbarians haven’t come.
And some of our men who have just returned from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.
Now what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
Those people were a kind of solution.