It's been a couple of days since the Olympics began in London, and it has been surprisingly quiet so far: no overcrowding on the tube, no massive crowds in Stratford, no accidents or ridiculous traffic on the roads to east London... Apparently, the Games --fingers crossed-- are running smoothly.
(Which means that I bought this "alternative method of transport" for nothing.)
It's been a huge relief, considering that we were all prepared for and expecting the worst. In fact, I was absolutely certain that August's post would be all about the Olympics, and me bitching about how the city has come to a standstill.
As it turns out, this month's post, coming a couple of days in advance, is inspired by an Olympics-related event, but has nothing to do with the Games themselves.
Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook (lucky bastards!) may have noticed the article I recently posted about a Greek athlete who was expelled from the Greek Olympic team over a racist tweet.
The story is this: last Monday, Voula Papachristou (pictured above), a Greek athlete who was to compete in London 2012, tweeted a racist "joke" targeting African immigrants in Greece. The "joke" was:
("With all these Africans in Greece...
At least the West Nile mosquitoes will be eating food from home!!!")
As a result, the Hellenic Olympic Committee officials announced that Voula Papachristou would be banned from the Olympic team "for statements contrary to the values and ideas of the Olympic movement." (Chris Chase, "Greek Athlete Expelled From Olympics for Racist Tweet", Yahoo! Sports, 25-07-2012)
(I used a reference! I'm becoming a journalist!
It's a reference to Yahoo!, but whatevs.)
Responses to this have been mixed. Some, like the author of the article I linked to above, believe that while the comment she made was tasteless, she shouldn't have been refused the opportunity to compete, since she spent four years preparing for this moment and politics should have nothing to do with it. Others, like myself, think that she was rightfully removed from the team as, despite the questionable application of Olympic values in contemporary times, she still was a public figure representing a nation and by allowing her to compete the Hellenic Olympic Committee would be condoning her behaviour. Then there are those who say that she did nothing wrong and that her expulsion was unjust, unfair and "racism against Greeks".
Let me start by explaining why I firmly belong in the second category, and then I'll get to the point. The people who belong in the first group contend that it was just a joke and that her punishment was too harsh. First of all: was it just a joke? There is photographic documentation that proves Mrs Papachristou has been retweeting posts made by Golden Dawn, Greece's favourite neo-nazi political party. (I don't care what you say, spell-checker, I will not write "nazi" with a capital letter. Fuck you.) Secondly: sometimes I make racist jokes myself. I'm not a racist; that's what makes it funny. But you know what? I don't post these jokes on Facebook, because I have the required IQ to know that would be a tremendously stupid move. People online can't know your intentions; on the internet, you are guilty until proven innocent. Mrs Papachristou seemed to be lacking that common sense. Finally: this might come as a shock to many, but participating in the Olympics is not a right; it's a privilege. There are certain rules to abide by, and if you fail to do that, like Mrs Papachristou so foolishly did, you have no one to blame but yourself. She was stupid and/or racist, and she paid for it. I have no sympathy for her.
(Also, she didn't like my page on Facebook. She was practically begging for it.)
The sad thing is, one of the reasons so many Greek people have been supporting her is because they recognise a part of themselves in her behaviour. Who hasn't cracked a racist joke? So it's wrong now to speak out when immigrants are flooding into your country, raping, killing and stealing your money or jobs? And why is she the only one paying for a silly mistake, when so many Germans have spoken against us Greeks in numerous occasions without any repercussions or consequences? These are few of the excuses I've heard over the past few days from people I know not to be racist, including my friends and my own mother.
Around this time last summer, I was writing my dissertation on the Greek riots of 2008. One of the things I mentioned constantly throughout it was that, and I quote, "the majority of Greeks, regardless of age, class or background, have a notable sense of national identity."
I also asked the following question: "It is a common saying in Greece that while Greeks were coming up with the concept of civilisation, the rest of the world was still hanging from trees like monkeys—and yet, in the past decade, the country has consistently been faced with situations that demean its history, its pride and what Greeks expect it to stand for: democracy. The Hellenic ideals, an inheritance from Greece's rich past, have been betrayed by the present nation. What does it mean for a Greek to be Greek, then, when this inconsistency between the past and the present is taken into consideration?"
Of course, there's nothing wrong with national pride, although you didn't actually have anything to do with where you were born and by which parents, or with what your ancestors achieved, so being proud of your origins, to me, sounds a bit like being proud that I have two feet, two eyes and one nose, or being proud that my neighbour won a medal. (Assuming my neighbour has the same nationality as me, of course.)
(Then my other neighbour, the immigrant, came and raped, killed
my medal-winning neighbour and stole his medal.)
My problem with Greek pride is the way it manifests. There is a fine line between national pride and nationalism, and many Greeks tread on it carelessly. A few examples:
Last month we had the Euro 2012 to keep us busy. One of the matches with the heaviest political undertones in the tournament was, without a doubt, the match between Greece and Germany. They say that football is the opium of the people, and it's true: after Greece's failure to vote for an anti-European (and therefore anti-German) party in June's elections, the country's only way of showing those horrible Germans how we don't bow down before bullies was to kick them out of the Euro.
After we lost 4 to 1, this picture started trending in social media, posted by Greeks:
The message of this is clear: we didn't actually lose against Germans! Germans are so worthless that they have to give their nationality to anyone in order to form a proper team. Ignore the fact that most of these players were actually born in Germany, and the rest moved to the country before they were 10 years old. Ignore the fact that some of them even have one German parent. (And if they didn't, would it really matter since they were raised in the country?)
I understand those Greeks' confusion. In other countries, immigrants actually get a chance to integrate after they move in, instead of instantly being thrown to the brinks of society. In other countries, 5-10 years are more than enough to obtain the nationality -- you don't find yourself in danger of deportation after 21 years in the country because you didn't work enough for a year due to an illness, like Albanian journalist Nikos Ago.
I have a French friend in London, who is originally from Africa. As an immigrant in France, she has faced a good deal of racism over the years. (Yes, other countries aren't perfect either.) Nevertheless, she is a French citizen and many French citizens who have no other origins accept her as such. Her cousin, on the other hand, who lives in Greece, has often reported to her how difficult life is.
Come to think of it, almost all the immigrants I've met in Greece who were well integrated came from European countries or the US, and the only non-white person was a high-school friend of mine, who was half-African and half-Greek. (That half-Greek was what made her acceptable, apparently.)
This is a personal experience, and I'll leave the names out. A Greek couple visited me a couple of months ago in the UK; the wife is a blond girl with incredibly pale skin, while the husband is fairly dark, going far beyond what English people would call "olive-skinned". (Of course, according to how races are perceived in Greece, both are Greek, so they are both "white". But I digress.)
Well, while we were walking, the husband mentioned that not many people in the UK could guess where the two of them came from. (That's not surprising at all, considering that English people seem incapable of believing there might be people from Greece with as white skin as their own.) The husband in particular was troubling for them: some thought he was Spanish, while others assumed he was Pakistani.
Then the wife said with a chuckle: "Of course, he prefers to be considered Spanish."
It was a throwaway comment, and I thought nothing of it at the moment. Then I came home, and it returned to me: why would it be better to be thought Spanish? The answer was obvious, of course: Spaniards are Mediterranean, and European. If Greece considers some countries to be its sibling nations, those would be Cyprus, Italy and, to some extent, Spain. Pakistan, on the other hand, is a source of immigrants for Greece. Why would a Greek person want to be associated with them? Their perception is better than that of Albanians (the aforementioned thieves, killers, rapists), but it's still pretty bad: they "smell", they are "loud", and while most are harmless, some of them are "sexist" and "dangerous". In comparison, Spaniards are European and part of the "western civilisation", and therefore superior.
Of course, I'm not accusing the couple of harbouring such views. That's exactly the problem: this attitude is so ingrained within Greek mentality, it becomes a subconscious response.
This post is getting too long already, so I'll try to cut myself off before I write an essay. My point is, Greek people are and always have been a proud nation. Even now that we are Europe's financial bitch through nobody's fault but ours, many Greeks believe themselves to be superior to people with different nationalities because of our history (even though there's nothing to be proud about after the student revolution of 1974), our beautiful islands and climate (even though modern Athens looks like the bastard child of the city it once was and an abandoned factory, and as if geographical luck is something to be proud of) and... what else? Is there anything else? Let's ask Katerina, the Hellene.
Oh, yeah. We're also Hellene, not Greek. There's this common misconception in Greece that the word "Greek" is an insult; in fact, when I was in sixth form, our Latin teacher informed us that it derived from the Turkish word "Grekos" which meant "slave". (It was years later that I discovered it was actually a Latin word, based on an ancient Greek word Greeks themselves used to describe their origins. You'd think a Latin teacher would know that.) Anyway, many Greeks hope to replace "Greek" with "Hellene", which is the modern Greek word for "Greek" ("Έλλην"). Meanwhile, nobody addresses the fact that we still call the French "Gaulish" in modern Greek. But that's another kettle of fish.
The problem, for me, is not just that Greeks' national pride is severely misplaced; as the rise of Golden Dawn proves, it is also incredibly dangerous. And when we condone or excuse the actions and/or words of people like Voula Papachristou, we become accessories and condemn our country to a modern 1940s version of the country we supposedly hate so much, Germany. If that's not ironic, then I don't know what is.
I sincerely hope that the European Commissioner for Human Rights who plans to investigate Golden Dawn will find it illegal and remove it. Even if that happens, however, it won't also remove the party's mentality from the 500.000 people who voted for it. Therein lies the real problem.