Understanding Greeks/Hellenes: A brief insight into culture and attitude
So that it’s not all Greek to you when it comes to Greek history and logic ;)
What should I know before I try to make heads or tails of the Hellenic topsy-turvy history and politics?
You should know what makes a Greek. Who Greeks are in terms of how they perceive the world and their position in it, and how their vast and lengthy history meshes with current times to produce the upbringing and general set of behaviors that mark someone as Hellenic so decisively and to the point that we Greeks can tell who is a Hellene and who isn’t by sheer body language amidst a crowd of other Europeans.
Ok, then. What defines the Greeks, who are they as a People?
A good friend asked me recently something similar, so I will paste here what I told him he should know about what Greeks are culturally speaking, and what sort of dogma drives them on several levels. If you keep the following facts, traits and attributes in mind about Greeks, you will have an excellent handle on why they react/act for or against governments and other foreign or native forces.
Greeks are a warring culture. That can't be ignored- we are a nation that was forged through several wars and situations of war, siege or being attacked on several levels, and so the culture has evolved around that to a great degree. So Greeks have what the Japanese would call 'bushido'. We have a 'code of honour' that is not only for war, but for every other element in life, from everyday transactions to life decisions.
Therefore, the things Greeks always strive for culturally are:
1. Freedom (of speech, decision making, etc)
2. Democracy (as direct as possible)
3. Humanism/ Human Rights, guaranteed and guarded by the Constitution (there were Human Rights established as Constitutional laws as early as 1822 (a year after the Greek Revolution that founded the modern Greek state in 1833, after about 400 years of Occupation by the Turks in the form of the Ottoman Empire)
4. Equality and State of Justice
5. Christian faith (Greek Orthodox to be exact)
6. Loyalty to the Death to the above 5 when they are in jeopardy
7. Never yield because the odds are against you ("Better be free for one hour than a slave for 40 years" is a general motto)
8. When an outside enemy is upon us, we cast aside our differences and fight as one.
Under these fall principles regarding the family, and honour of men and women, the honour in fighting, how to treat your fellow man, and so on and so forth.
Wow, that sounds really impressive. What’s the catch?
The unfortunate ubiquitous catch when it comes to cultures like our own: It is not adhered to by everyone who claims he/she is a Greek.
There are the real Greeks and then there are the turncoats, the traitors, the 'Efialtes' as we call them (from the classic story of Thermopylae and how Ephialtes sold off Leonidas to the Persians). The ones who betray the rest of us are considered lower than vermin, and fought against with a vengeance. Nobody will dare step up to a Greek at any time and say 'look here, I'm about to go betray the flag and sell Greece to the foreigners' (regardless of who these foreigners are) and expect to have a future in Greece.
[Anyone following Greek current events, and how the PM sold us off to the IMF, forfeiting several of our State’s freedoms, cheating in the elections and through machinations that are too long a story to tell here, will see how the PM is called a traitor and is regularly receiving promises of being ousted from the country if he isn’t tried as a traitor and incarcerated- or worse- first. You got your example right there!]
So what’s the deal, then?
So of course the whole game is played in how those who ARE traitors play their cards to convince the rest of the Greeks that they are acting in good faith and for the good of Greece and the Greek People. And this is where the tragedy of the Greeks lies in several points in history, this current one now being an epitome, but not our discussion. (You can ask in the forum, though!)
Throughout our History, you will find moments of great glory and selflessness and heroism that awe anyone who looks at them- and in the same moment you will also see the height of treason, malice and evil in the face of those who are betraying, or undermining because they are not real Greeks, but rather what we call 'genitsaros' (= a janizary) : a person that is physically descended of Greeks but has been brought up to be against them, their enemy.
One thing that separates Greeks from other warring-forged nations is that they are forged through defensive war, not offensive one or imperialistic one, like for example the case is with the English. With the exception of 1919-22 (for modern times, and even then it's debatable what exactly happened and how it was seen by the Greeks, and how much they had a point in their view) and Alexander the Great (ancient times) and a spell of idiocy in the Peloponnesian Wars in even more ancient times, every other occasion involved defending ourselves from offenders. Offenders who more often than not outnumbered and outclassed us in power or equipment by far, offenders to whom other, bigger nations than us had capitulated to, but we somehow found it shaming to just roll over and capitulate too. Often, we fought hard and well enough that we never had to.
This element has created a great sympathy for the 'underdog' in Greeks, and a great admiration for anyone making a stand against the odds- and an aversion to attacking unprovoked, or going against the weak to beat them down.