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What it means to be Greek

Being Greek is far from being just one thing. It means that you learn to adapt, to overcome, to fight and to survive, no matter what the context. Greece is a feeling, an emotion, a place where the sun shines, a nation where politics gets heated, a land where the economy is under pressure but managing, a place where you look up at the white and blue flag and dream. All of this seems idealistic, of course. No place is perfect, and there is no nation that doesn’t have its problems. But in 2021, being Greek means one more thing: freedom.

On March 25, Greece marked 200 years since the Greeks rose up against Ottoman rule. Feelings of joy and pride reverberated shyly across the country, spreading and culminating in a homogenized emotion of happiness. Greeks united in the face of acknowledging their current state: a land of the free. Challenges will always come and go, some with more long-lasting effects than others, some deeply wounding the Greek population, and others leaving more thoughts than emotions. But at the end of the day, all Greeks thank the uprisings of 1821, which blossomed into a national effort to liberate the country from 400 years of Ottoman rule. 

In the past few years, Greece has experienced crises on multiple fronts. The economy was in free fall, with the markets performing their own kind of Zorba dance, fluctuating out of control and then arriving at some much-needed stability. At the same time, political ideologies have clashed and united, preventing Greece from having one, homogenous, practical and feasible ideological standpoint. And society? Society has been affected the most: The lack of stability and focus have generated a climate of disorientation, which at best disheartens people from looking up at the sky and dreaming.

But the aim of this article isn’t to point the finger at those who are responsible, who criticize or who seek to redefine the existing order of things. Simply, it is to embrace what it means to be Greek.

National identity plays a tricky game, reminding us of who we are and serving as our awakening call when we least expect it. All countries have their challenges, all nations face domestic and foreign pressures, some things making even the most patriotic cover their faces with their hands or deny their heritage. But this doesn’t mean that we detach ourselves from our countries, or that we turn the other way whenever we hear mention of them. 

This is what the 200 years since the Revolution teaches young people, in this writer’s humble opinion: It is to realize that, despite the challenges, the links that make us introduce ourselves by our nationalities remain true. That whenever we find ourselves smiling, proudly replying, “Yes, I’m Greek,” we know what that means for us. 

It means that our history matters to us: Greece has one of the richest, most intricate, most complex and most vividly told historical narratives of all countries. With ancient Greece serving as a pillar of international culture, art and literature, we take pride in thinking that somehow, the great sophists’ and poets’ texts, like those of Sophocles and Aristotle, can be applied in the present.

It means that we are proud of our adaptability: Greece has experienced several intense crises, with the crisis of the Greek default being the most well known of all. Despite the impact this has had on the functioning of the economy, and on national morale, and even though the results took time to become as good as tangible, Greece’s economy is growing, and markets are recovering. 

It means we are blessed to live in a country as beautiful as this: It is no secret that Greece is a Mediterranean jewel, with its beautiful scenery and its picturesque islands. No wonder that it is one of the most beloved destinations for international tourists.

It means we are proud of our traditions: Across the globe, Greeks have managed to uphold their traditions for generations. Even though some have been distilled and altered, changing with the passage of time, their essence and importance remain the same. Remembering November 17, 1973 or October 28, 1940 may be different depending on the context, but the underlying messages of self-determination, liberty, freedom, rightfulness and lawfulness define every national celebration. 

And lastly, it means we make Greece what it is now: No matter the distance, the framework and the conditions, Greeks have their own unique way of showing they are part of their country. It doesn’t have to be something bold, and it certainly doesn’t have to be something daring. Each of us shows our connection with the place we call home in a different way. 

This is why the 200th anniversary of the beginning of the Greek War of Independence is significant: not because of the politics of it, definitely not because of the economic aspect of it, and certainly not because of the different institutions that have tried to politicize this day. It is because on this day each of us sees something of themselves reflected in the word “freedom.” It is important because it represents self-determination, national conscience and unity, values which are contemporary and which will always remain important, valued and significant. 

Greek Independence Day commemorates the formation of the independent Greek state, the establishment of the Greek Constitution and the solidification of the principles of democracy, justice, liberty and equality. It is a day during which we don’t simply celebrate our country or the values of the Greek land, it is a day when Greeks worldwide look at the white and blue flag, recognize the efforts of our predecessors and pay tribute to the centuries-long history. It is a day when we celebrate Greece, no matter the distance. 

Maybe this approach seems too naive to some, too apolitical to others, and too simplified to the rest. This article isn’t meant to criticize, however, but was drafted rather as food for thought. You’ll be the judges as to whether it achieved its purpose.

Image Source: https://unsplash.com/photos/c9hZcXDkBnM?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditShareLink

Originally written for Kathimerini at https://www.ekathimerini.com/society/1173789/what-it-means-to-be-greek/

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Last modified: November 19, 2022