#stopmindborders — the New Neo-Greek recovers his conscience

13 Aug

I hate to throw the term “New Neo-Greek” at you readers who have just started to grasp what “Neo-Greek” means.  I should have explained more explicitly earlier, but I think some of you sort of understand.

The “New Neo-Greek” is first and foremost the Greek of the Crisis.  That should explain most of it.  In an old post titled: “Un Verano en Nueva York”  I wrote, about a conversation between me and one of my favorite waiters on earth at Bar Jamón in New York:

“So a Greek and a Spaniard get together,” the joke goes — and of course these days they compare notes on how fucked up their respective countries have become.  I tell José that I think Spain is salvageable but that Greece seems in danger of just slipping off of the face of the earth at some point soon.  He’s not so confident.  He says people in Spain are “learning to be poor again,” getting used to a life with “un plato de alubias” — a plate of beans — a proverbial Spanish expression for just-bare-subsistence poverty.  He’s probably around thirty and he says bluntly that his generation in Spain is destroyed; that they’re going to hit their late thirties and early forties without any job experience and that unless you’ve got family money, your only option is emigration, like “old-time Gallegos” we both say in sync.  (Galicians in Spain are like Epirotes in Greece, the archetypically emigrating region, so much so that in much of Latin America all Spaniards used to be collectively referred to as “Gallegos.”)

My heart goes out to him and I respect his straight-eyed stoicism and I think he’ll be ok because he seems strong.  As hard as I try, though, my heart doesn’t go out to Greeks of his generation nor do I respect them.  I think they’re cry-babies who would be scared shitless – or worse, think it beneath them — to work in a bar in New York the way José does and that they deserve – richly — to relearn the cultural lessons of emigration and being poor again.  Three decades of illusory prosperity created an unbearable type of human being in Greece, a nouveau-riche culture of entitled provincials, cold, petty snobs who are snobs the way only the truly provincial can be – and I’m talking about Athens more than the provinces…

I’m pained by the genuinely poor and the old and the sick and the heroin addicts who are suffering and dying in Greece…

But that urban, middle-to-upper-middle-class, twenty-five to forty-five-year-old demographic in Greece…they can just go back to washing dishes in Chicago again like our grandfathers did as far as I care.  Let ‘em start from scratch; see what kind of culture they can come up with this time.

Well, I have to now admit that I was a little unfair.  The “nouveau-riche culture of entitled provincials, cold, petty snobs who are snobs the way only the truly provincial can be…” still exists, of course, but they have been completely marginalized by a new awareness: of tradition, of “politesse,” of civilized behavior, and of a humanism that I’ll accept the charge of cliché for, but which suddenly seems to have become Greeks’ instinctive birthright again.

As far back as 2015, Roger Cohen wrote in the Times:

Greece has made me think about everything statistics don’t tell you. No European country has been as battered in recent years. No European country has responded with as much consistent humanity to the refugee crisis…

More than 200,000 refugees, mainly from Syria, have arrived in a Greece on the brink this year, almost half of them coming ashore in the island of Lesbos, which lies just six miles from Turkey. They have entered a country with a quarter of its population unemployed. They have found themselves in a state whose per-capita income has fallen by nearly 23 percent since the crisis began, with a tenuous banking system and unstable politics. Greece could serve as a textbook example of a nation with potential for violence against a massive influx of outsiders.

In general, the refugees have been well received. There have been clashes, including on Lesbos, but almost none of the miserable bigotry, petty calculation, schoolyard petulance and amnesiac small-mindedness emanating from European Union countries further north, particularly Hungary.

I might have put off explaining what the “New” Greek is like all at once then, and just kind of refer to it here and there in different posts, because I didn’t feel like there was any one thing that I could hold up as evidence.  Then this #stopmindborders campaign appeared and I thought I had to jump at the opportunity.  I think maybe Greeks would have responded to the migration wave that came into the country in the last few years with decency even if the country weren’t in such a crisis, but it was the waking up from amnesia that Cohen refers too that played the greatest part; Greeks suddenly remembered that they were once one of the planet’s great emigrating peoples.

More at some other time.  Watch all the campaign’s videos though (mercifully subtitled); they’re really moving and worth the time.  Their motto is: “The greatest borders are the ones we build in our minds”

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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