Χαίρετε from Athens,
On the verge of our trip to Istanbul, some reflections on our time in Athens:
I commented a few weeks ago about the nation state. Having travelled through some of the Balkan states, it’s possibly opportune to posit a few ideas on the subject.
loyalty and identity
The closeness of the national borders in Europe means that questions of sovereignty are more alive than they ever are in Australia, where we share no land borders with anyone else. At and around the national borders, it’s common for residents to speak one language and identify with a particular ethnic grouping but to find themselves – by virtue of these artificial lines on maps – in a country that is effectively foreign to them. In the first place it possibly gives rise to questions of loyalty and identity but they probably don’t worry too much about the matter since it doesn’t usually affect their daily lives. It’s when a group do turn it into an issue that it becomes ugly (such as the Balkans War of the early 1990s).
the nation state
The nation state has been around for long enough now to lodge firmly in the consciousness of many and to appear to be fixed mode of organisation. Naturally, it has to be incumbent upon us to occasionally question such precepts. Communities of shared heritage, culture and interests don’t necessarily coincide with the national borders which are negotiated. This is especially important after a carve up caused by war around sovereignty over lands. Happily, most people are decent enough to allow such questions to lapse into lesser importance, and simply to get on with their lives, which includes living peacefully with their neighbours.
strict border controls
During this current period of benign co-existence, the question is rarely posed but it inevitably will raise its ugly head again at some time.
A country like Greece faces stupendous difficulty dealing with the demands of nationhood today. They plough resources into provision of services – including strict border controls – when the economy is sagging under the weight of indolence, poor climate and shortsighted management (not necessarily in that order). During the three days we were in Athens, two days were general strike days in which large sections of the community engaged in protests in the streets of the city. These would have undoubtedly been reported across the world as they erupted into violence at times. On two occasions we walked through the protest’s centre, in an attempt to get a feel for the mood. On the first occasion, we were both affected briefly by residual tear gas in the street outside the parliament building. (This was one of those occasions when M. wondered where I was leading her!!)
Greece’s economy seems to be in dire straits. The debt is said to be 340 billion euros. No matter what bailout packages they have thrown at them, the situation is clearly not sustainable. Both M. and I share a hunch that the hangover from the 2004 Olympic Games is contributing to the crippling economic problems.
The city of Athens is not a wealthy one at all. There are innumerable signs of urban blight here, even in the Central Business District. The whole country’s economy is built on a dubious base. Today, tourism brings in the most revenue for the nation and second is international remittances from expatriates (!!!). Agriculture and manufacturing are a long way down the list, I’d say, along with information services. The gargantuan debt can’t be paid off quickly, if at all. The big economies of the European Union seem to have a vested interest in rescuing Greece and this, in itself, gives rise to doubts about the viability of the economy into the long-term future.
In Athens, we climbed the Acropolis to wonder at the Parthenon and other ancient ruins. We even got the obligatory snap in front of the Parthenon : parodied so mercilessly in that movie “Up In The Air”. On the Acropolis, a mother was overheard saying to her two listless daughters: “What do yous want for dinner?” Guess which nationality! We also did some island hopping on a boat yesterday. We stopped at Poros, Hydra (pronounced Edra) and Egina.
Hydra was promoted to us as an island attractive to celebrities and one on which we would have the opportunity for a spot of ‘people watching’. George is a permanent resident who informed us that Leonard Cohen spends three weeks there every summer and Joan Collins holidays there regularly. Apparently the Kyriacou family – big in shipping – own property there, too.
There is no motorised transport on the island so I was looking forward to traversing the island on a donkey, but the donkey hire entails being pulled around for 10 minutes – by rope – for 10 euros. So the options were people watching, shopping or donkey rides. We opted for a refreshing swim off the rocks.
I’m glad we made it to Athens. The people are generally friendly, the antiquities are something, the food is very good and the eucalypts are very numerous.
The Greeks have an almighty hole from which to extricate themselves. I’m not sure if the nation state is the way into the future for them. Time will tell.