Geographical location, diverse terrain and climate: Three factors that determine the fate and style of Greece since prehistoric times!

A country favoured by gods and in such a strategic position that all kinds of neighbours and predominant powers will not leave it alone for a second. And we modern Greeks have not learned to appreciate it enough and to take proper care of it. This country ought to be the navel of the world, as it was in antiquity. It has all natural qualifications to be so.

But we Greeks, being ignorant and poorly educated, scorn our motherland, while admiring and trying to look like Northern Europeans and many of us are ready to exchange it for some soulless ‘Mercedes’ or ignore it for controversial ideologies. The country that created philosophy, literature, theatre, science, medicine and well being as a whole, instead of becoming now a model for those seeking a balance between matter and spirit, is being seduced and willingly enslaved just to enhance its materialistic ways, leading to the production of countless trash that we do not even decide how to manage!

Who has downgraded Greek public education? Why has no political party raises a comprehensive proposal for a substantive public education? Why does nobody deal with kindergartens and primary education, where children’s personalities are being forged? Why, in the country that invented logic, nothing is taught about how to perform a meaningful and productive dialogue, how to promote teamwork and how to reach a honourable compromise? Why does almost nobody feel that the way he/she lives and works could be used as an example to others for a better or worse tomorrow? Why are true values not discussed on their own merit and independently of any controversial outlandish ideology? Why is this country of ours ‘devouring’ or driving away its children that no longer feel proud of their origins?

Why does this place so vigorously resist any rational change for the better? Is it merely the ‘feel safe and sure’ feeling of those entangled in the system or maybe something deeper that has to do with our psyche? And what is it that created this frame of mind?

If the ancient Greeks were so creative it is due primarily to their free spirit. Moreover, the configuration of Greek territory consisting of semi-isolated small sections or islands did not favour homogeneity and massive numbers of population, but rather antagonisms and civil wars instead. And the bright climate promoted the market rallying and the exaltation of well being (ευ-ζην), which aims to improve the quality of human life in all aspects.

But since then, the Greek land has been effectively under occupation for over 2,000 years since the conquest of divided Greece by the Romans. Then, Byzantium despised everything of Greek origin as being a former cradle of paganism. Then came the Arab pirates, Franks, Venetians, Genovese, Turks and our corrupt politicians obsequious to foreign powers that manage to keep alive the mentality of servility until our days. Perhaps only in modern Greek language has the word for work, ‘ergasia’ (i.e. creation, production, collaboration, power), been replaced by the term ‘douleià’ (i.e. slave work). This was something to be expected, since people were forced to work for a tyrant who gave back nothing in return.

The social environment sets the rules which determine whether good governance and meritocracy will prevail. So many Greeks excelled in cosmopolitan urban centres within and outside the Ottoman state, creating prosperous communities. But the vast majority of common people lived in small towns and villages and were illiterate, poor and subjected to the whims of any unchecked Aga.

Under these conditions developed through the centuries a cultural model which the very poor and illiterate subdued Greeks had to adopt in order to survive. They had to improvise and use any means, and through this they succeeded not only with a lot of effort but also with cunning, individualism, petty fraud, coaxing, bribing and ‘flexibility’ without which they might have assimilated or disappeared altogether. Seeking permanent employment in a government post is but a relief from the insecurity, oppression and poverty that lasted many centuries. The term “individual survival here and now” characterises their attitude. This attitude was incompatible with any long term plans for improvement.

In contrast, aggressive peoples of the north did not experience stranger or heterodox conquerors for long periods of time and so they maintained a sense of independence and self-reliance. This allowed them to make plans for the future. Using their cold rational approach they established educational systems and social values aimed at empowering their communities and their predominance upon others. Their unfavourable climate prompted them to become hardworking and to promote teamwork and anticipation in order to survive. And with the progress of science and technology they moved forward, sometimes using financial means, sometimes with their favourite method of the fist and plunder. (Greeks have a lot of such stories to remember). But to vent their aggression into weak small countries, like ‘sinful’ Greece as they call it, does not honour them at all.

It is therefore obvious that the Germans and the Greeks have, historically, an entirely different way of thinking and this does not allow them to understand one another without some effort and knowledge. And because the cultural DNA of each society does not mutate easily – it takes centuries – they can only come together with mutual efforts and based on logic. The problem of mutual understanding concerns all EU nations, and neither the ‘bons viveurs’ French nor the Mediterranean Spaniards and Italians are willing to adopt German ways. Therefore, the experiential mode of communication at present is excluded and so it is completely futile to try to change each other by pushing to the limit. It takes a long time and requires consent and very suitable training. Otherwise reactions arise with opposite effects. The theory of creative destruction did not occur in the Greek case, on the contrary, the crisis highlighted all weaknesses of the Greek character.

And exhortations like “just do what we Germans do” or “do it the way the Irish did” (in order to cover up the complete failure of the Troika to resolve the Greek crisis for 5 odd years) is lacking historical background and is highly hypocritical since it compares countries with completely different tradition, social structure, economy, problems and culture. With such senseless arguments, the European Union will fail to proceed as a whole. It is understood that globalisation requires high competitiveness and that Germany cannot wait for others to reach its level. But in a multinational union there are always things that each nation is good at doing, although it may need some permanent support.

Besides, is it really desirable to culturally flatten the weakest countries by imposing standards pertinent only to the advanced ones? Is this ultimately the vision of a united Europe? The current crisis has increased the emotional distance among Europeans. Now it will take extra efforts to re-establish understanding, mutual trust, osmosis and possibly integration.