“We’re gon’ party like its your birthday” – 50 Cent
Recently, historian Maria Euthymiou resigned from the 2021 Commemorative Committee, tasked by the Greek government to organise the celebrations that mark the bicentenary of the Greek Revolution.
She did so, citing a prevalence of «ουδετεροπατρία,» among her colleagues on the committee. As a neologism, the term is an interesting one. «Ουδέτερος» conveys connotations of neutrality and dispassion, the absence of emotional investment that allows one to assume a stance of impartiality. When it is adopted as a means of viewing one’s country (πατρίδα), however, Euthymiou appears to imply, this quality is detrimental to the proper exercise of one’s role on a Committee whose function is to commemorate two hundred years of existence.
Euthymiou’s resignation comes, not in protest at the fact that the Committee has done very little by way of actual work, nor because it appears to have largely excluded the voices and perspectives of Greeks Abroad, a strange phenomenon when it is considered that the Revolution the Committee is tasked to celebrate was conceived of, planned and funded by Greek migrants. Instead, it comes in the wake of a series of internet posts on the Committee’s official website, one claiming that the first governor of free Greece, Ioannis Kapodistrias was a dictator, and another, going into great deal about the alleged sexual choices of revolutionary hero Giorgos Karaiskakis’ mother and how he felt about those. To many Greek people, the heroes of the Revolution enjoy iconic status, their personages are sacrosanct and any attempt at offering a new perspective, is tantamount to denigrating one’s country, or worse, treason.
Of course, the role of the historian is to examine all facets of a historical event or personage from a multiplicity of perspectives, no matter how inimical to prevailing ideological overlays. The heroes of the Greek revolution were after all, human, subject to the same foibles as the rest of the populace. Some of the heroes that fought valiantly and nobly against the Ottoman oppressors, also turned on each other in times of crisis, extorted money, committed what in the modern era would be considered to be war crimes and a good many of them, after the Revolution, proved to be a hindrance to the establishment of good governance and the rule of law in the newly liberated Greek kingdom and a drain on the public purse. Although sources are silent on this point, it is quite likely that some of them had quite colourful sex lives as well and an LGBTI history of the Greek Revolution is well overdue. Similarly, further research as to how the Revolution impacted upon ethno-linguistic minorities within the Greek world is also needed.
Just as the Gallipoli myth has been constantly viewed and reviewed over the course of a century, some historians emphasising heroism and mateship, others the emergence of an Australian identity, others still, imperialism, and lately, how it relates to the genocide of the Christians of Anatolia, so too should the Greek Revolution, a complex event with far-reaching ramifications for European and World history lend itself to similar scrutiny and debate, among historians and within the public discourse. The main protagonists in the Greek Revolution all had a different vision of the Greece they wished to create, ranging from a poly-ethnic empire such as Byzantium that preceded subjugation, a Christian version of the Ottoman Empire, to an enlightened European state. It is axiomatic that the attitudes of their modern descendants to this event would also reflect its inherent polyvalency. Consequently, the howls of derision against revising and deconstructing hallowed stereotypes is misconceived. That very process is the task of the historian. It is the hallmark of a progressive and healthy society.
However, this process of inquiry and re-assessment is not the task of the celebration organisers and it is here that the Committee has erred grievously. Its task is to organise events that will allow the nation (or at least what they consider to be the nation – we, the apodimoi seem to be absent from their definition of that loaded term), to come together and celebrate two hundred years of existence. Considering that the existence of the Greek state was imperilled for much of that time, that its sovereignty was consistently violated, that sections of its people were subject to persecution and genocide, that its security is still precarious and that a large proportion of its people have been compelled to live outside its borders, our survival in the face of adversity is no mean achievement and despite the accumulated pain and trauma, it is something definitely worth celebrating.
This need to celebrate, rather than engage in trivial polemics, is something that the 2021 Committee does not seem to appreciate and Maria Euthymiou is therefore right to coin the term «ουδετεροπατρία,» to describe the killjoy mood that seems to pervade our national party liaison, although the term: «ξενέρωτοι» lacking in vital fluids/devoid of eros, appears to be closer to the mark. One could view the bizarre and inappropriate public postings of the 2021 Committee as tantamount to inviting the family to one’s grandmother’s one hundredth birthday and placing comments on the invitation card about her sex life, lack of household management and child-rearing skills. One is necessarily compelled to ask: Why would anyone appoint a group of historians to organise a party anyway? Is it because in Greece, everyone thinks that everyone else is a historian, which is why when they meet each other, they ask: «Τι έγινε;» Anyone that has been to any historian’s party would willingly admit that although admirable in innumerable respects, they are, generally speaking, often lacking in the requisite exuberance that will ensure that a party will, in the popular parlance “go off.”
One cannot be neutral about a party. One must be emotionally invested in its success. It is not an academic paper, a research project or a conference. Furthermore, as the Beastie Boys so eloquently show, it is a moral imperative: “You gotta fight, for your right, to party.” It is about performance, joy and inclusiveness, elements that in modern Greece are more understood by television show hosts, actors and entertainers than stodgy academics and politicians, with their hidden agendas. That is not to say that a debate, however passionate about the quirky, the unknown, the controversial and the disputed facts of the Revolution cannot take place or even rage, concurrently in the media. In the meantime, those who can bring the people together, should be permitted and assisted to do so. After all it was Madonna that observed: “Music makes the people come together/ Music makes the bourgeoisie and the rebel,” and the euphonious proletarians of the C and C Music Factory that emphasised, through a series of Socratic questions, the importance of speed, efficacy and appropriate temperature in celebration: “Y’all want this party started right? Y’ all want this party started quickly right? Y’ all want this party hot?”
Thus far, we Australian-Greeks have been afforded no place in the Helladic celebrations. The advent of the pandemic has shifted our attention away from our own local bicentennial celebrations though stakeholders are giving thought to once again arranging for a visit to our shores by the Presidential Euzones, proving the veracity of Dorothy Parker’s contention that: “If you wear a short enough skirt, the party will come to you.” Perhaps the 2021 Committee would also consider enlisting the assistance of superannuated NUGAS past presidents, with their vast experience of organising mind-blowing celebrations at sundry Conventions and Club nights. There is a vast pool of latent talent here, ripe for exploitation.
As we brace ourselves for more dysfunction and inanity, we offer our fraternal greetings to our beleaguered, celebration-impaired Helladic brethren of the 2021 Committee, preferring a word of advice to all «ουδετεροπατρείς» wheresoever situated: In times of party-quandary, seek the oracular assistance of the divine Kesha. For in her pronouncements she has established the irrevocable fact that: “The party don’t start till I walk in,” in synchronization always with the Titaness Pink, whose cursory warning: “I’m coming up, so you better get this party started,” we would all do well to heed. We pay them due homage with the immortal words of Bill and Ted, of multifarious journeys and adventures: “Party on, Dudes!”