The May 2018 international conference in Cephalonia was brimming with wisdom and smiles. I gave a talk but I also listened and learned. I felt good being Greek, especially from the Ionian islands and, more to the point, Cephalonia, the kingdom of Odysseus, my life-long hero.
Greeks of the Ionian islands from all over the world had come together to tell their stories – of war and peace, of history, archaeology, the environment, tourism, the continuing economic strangulation of Greece, of their crushed dreams in returning home to Ithaca.
The historians painted a picture of oppression and struggle. The Venetians and the British were unprincipled conquerors and colonialists.
The Venetians dominated the Ionian islands for centuries. They grabbed the islands from collapsing medieval Greece, which they (and their German and French allies) had dismembered during the Fourth Crusade of 1204.
Western European countries were ungrateful. Medieval Greece had taken the brunt of perpetual Mongol Turkish attacks alone for centuries, protecting Europe. In addition, Europeans allowed Christian religious bigotry to forget the civilization they had inherited from the Greeks through Rome. Clerical fanaticism had also divided Europe into East and West, the better for the Turks to finish off Greece decimated by Western aggression.
And once the Venetians took over the Ionian islands, they imposed their brutal way of life on the Greeks, including feudalism in the villages and tyranny. This differs little from conditions in Greece in 2018 run by unprincipled European and American agents of banks.
Listening to this medieval history and how outrageous the British were in the sixty or so years they governed the Ionian islands in the nineteenth century, it’s easy to understand today why the Greeks are putting up with the humiliations of foreign-imposed “austerity.”
Experts and the government have convinced the Greeks that any disruption of the present humiliations will bring hunger and chaos. A young urban Greek recounted the terror of going to the bank and not being able to withdraw more than 60 euros per day. Another said he was ashamed he was Greek.
Low self-esteem is always a product of humiliations and ignorance of history.
Of course, saying this from Cephalonia is almost meaningless. This beautiful and green island is in a world of its own, a world fudged by tourism. Tourists drop their coins everywhere in Cephalonia. Those euros keep the local economy of merchants, hotels, taxis, coffee shops and restaurants humming. But underneath the glitter and sleaze of tourism there are black holes of dependency on foreigners whose governments are just as guilty for the ills of Greece as Greek politicians.
Dependency on tourism has all but wiped out “autarkeia,” or self-reliance, especially in food. Cephalonian farmers no longer grow wheat. Imagine abandoning such a vital and civilization-supporting grain like wheat. Importing wheat flour is no solution. What happens in a natural calamity or war? Who is going to feed Cephalonia?
Tourism is also responsible for corruption. A presenter at the conference, Gerasimos Zacharatos, professor, University of Patras, raised the controversial question on what happens to the billions of income and spending from tourism in Greece. He said the growth of tourism in Greece in the last three years equaled to the growth of the last thirty years. So, where is this large infusion of capital and wealth going? Is it staying in Greece or are we seeing a colonial situation of large-scale corruption and exploitation?
Moreover, when tourist euros/dollars are as high as eighty-five percent of the local economy, what happens to philoxenia (hospitality)? In fact, is philoxenia compatible with the aggressive tourism of billions and tourists and other non-Greeks eyeing Greece as real estate on the block of “free” market?
Tourism, like the vast sums earned by Greek museums, probably cover up a more insidious reality in Greece of 2018.
The country is still largely living and behaving as if in the dark ages. It pains me to say this aloud. No matter where in Greece, a high cleric is an expected furniture in any ceremony or public celebration.
A couple of times in the conference in Cephalonia, I found myself sitting next to the bishop in the front row. The bishop was decked in black silk and gold, very much resembling a medieval prince. I ignored him and he did the same. But to my astonishment, I observed high officials and citizens entering the room and going straight to the bishop and kissing his hand.
Kissing the hand of the bishop might look innocent, an old and harmless tradition. In some sense, it is an old habit. But harmless, no.
Christianity replaced Greek polytheistic culture – the Greek gods – in the fourth century, some 1,600 years ago. The replacement was extremely violent and lasted for centuries. One gets an inkling of the violence in looking carefully at the statues in the Greek museums. Most of them are victims of intentional savagery. Some have no heads; some have broken of missing hands and limbs; most document vandalism. Their faces show strikes by swords. The Christians also mutilated the statues of heroes, heroines and female and male gods. They cut off or damaged the breasts of the females and cut off the phalluses of the males.
These atrocities are the tip of the iceberg of the Christian destruction of Greek civilization.
The victorious Christians, especially the high ecclesiastics, became the leaders of the converted Greeks.
Kissing the hand of the bishop draws from this tradition of Christian dominance over Greek “idolaters.” Kissing the hand of the bishop also mirrors the power of the church in present-day Greece. It shows the country is not secular. All clergy, including bishops, are employees of the state.
In a country crushed by foreign interests and domestic servants of those foreign interests, the church remains neutral. Yes, the church feeds thousands of hungry people every day. But where is its leadership on behalf of the country?
Time has come to stop kissing the hand of the bishop. His interests are not the interests of Greece.
Greeks must decide to take their fortunes in their hand, rejecting medieval ideologies of defeat and obedience. Greek intellectuals need also rise above fudged summaries of foreign ideologies, becoming self-reliant in order to face the world and lead their country to independence.
Start with Aristotle. He is a superb guide to understanding the world and the cosmos.
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