November 11, 2011

Manufacturing History – Euro Style

After ravaging North and South Americas, Europe laid its hands on Inca, Maya gold which financed European conquests across the world. By 19th century, Europe had defeated most military leaderships in the world.

Faced with new standards of barbarity, the newly enslaved and oppressed found new leaders to confront the West. In Haiti, the slaves freed themselves after defeating the French, Spanish and English armies that tried to re-enslave them. In India, wars and battles raged continuously –forcing the British to surrender their American colonies. Soon after the London Expo of 1851, the British had toface a bloody war in Indiawhere hundreds of thousands of Indian soldiers, waged war, led by a determined alliance of leaders.

In the midst of this, ranging from the majestic Mayan achievements and of the Incas in Andes, to the spirit of the Haitians, to the ancient and continuous traditions in India, the Europeans found a barren cultural cupboard at home.

To fill up this cupboard, the West has been on a campaign of cultural dacoity for the last 2 centuries now. One of the first places to start was Greece.

Is Greece a symptom or the effect of Euro-currency problem? (Cartoon by Clay Bennett; from The Chattanooga Times Free Press; source and courtesy - Click for source image.

Is Greece a symptom or the effect of Euro-currency problem? (Cartoon by Clay Bennett; from The Chattanooga Times Free Press; source and courtesy - Click for source image.

Modern Greece has little in common with Pericles or Plato. If anything, it is a failed German project.

The year was 1832, and Greece had just won its independence from the Ottoman Empire. The “Big Powers” of the time — Britain, France and Russia — appointed a Bavarian prince as Greece’s first king – Otto. He arrived in his new kingdom with an entourage of German architects, engineers, doctors and soldiers — and set out to reconfigure the country to the romantic ideal of the times.

The 19th century had seen a resurgence of Europeans’ interest in ancient Greece. Big names such as Goethe, Shelley, Byron, Delacroix and many other artists, poets and musicians sought inspiration in classical beauty. They marveled at the white marble and solemn temples of Hellas, and longed for a lost purity in thought, aesthetics and warm-blooded passion. Revisiting the sensual Greece of Orpheus and Sappho was ballast to the detached coolness of science or the dehumanizing onslaught of the Industrial Revolution.

Otto saw to it that modern Greece lived up to that romantic image. Athens, at that time a small hamlet of a few goatherds, was inaugurated as the new national capital. The architects from Munich designed and built a royal palace, an academy, a library, a university and all the beautiful neoclassical edifices that contemporary Greek anarchists adorn with graffiti. There was no Sparta in Otto’s kingdom, so a new Sparta was constructed from scratch by the banks of the Eurotas River, where brave Lacedemonians used to take their baths. Modern Greece was thus invented as a backdrop to contemporary European art and imagination, a historical precursor of many Disneylands to come.

Despite the Bavarian soldiers who escorted him, King Otto was eventually expelled by a coup. But the foundations of historical misunderstanding had been laid, to haunt Greece and its relations with itself and other European nations forever.

No matter what Otto may have imagined, the truth was that the brave people who started fighting for their freedom against the Turks in 1821, had not been in suspended animation for 2,000 years. Although their bonds with the land, the ruined temples, the living Greek language, the names and the myths were strong and rich, they were not walking around in white cloaks wearing laurels on their heads. They were Christian orthodox, conservative and fiercely antagonistic toward their governing institutions. In other words, they were an embarrassment to all those folks in Berlin, Paris and London who expected resurrected philosophers sacrificing to Zeus. The profound gap between the ancient and the modern had to be bridged somehow, in order to satisfy the romantic expectations that Europe had of Greece. So a historical narrative was put together claiming uninterrupted continuity with the ancient past. With time, this narrative became the central dogma of Greek national policy and identity.

Growing up in Greece in the 1970s, (one) had to learn not one, but three Greek languages. First, it was the parlance of everyday life, the living words people exchanged at the marketplaces and in the streets. But at school, we were taught something different: It was called “katharevousa” — “cleansed” — a language designed by 19th-century intellectuals to purify demotic from the cornucopia of borrowed Turkish, Slavic and Latin words. Finally, we had to study ancient Greek, the language of our classical ancestors, the heroes of Marathon and Thermopylae. We were supposed to learn “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” in the original, by heart, in case some time machine transported us back to Homeric times. As it happened, most of us managed to learn none of the three, ending up mixing them in one grammatically anarchic jargon that communicated mostly the confusion of our age.

Greece – a country designed as a romantic theme park two centuries ago, propped up with loans ever since, and unable to adjust to the crude realities of 21st-century globalization. (via Modern Greece’s real problem? Ancient Greece. – The Washington Post; parts excised for brevity; few link words in brackets supplied).


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