Sixty-three years ago, on October 28, 1940, an Italian fascist dictator (Mussolini) attacked Greece, which at the time was under another fascist dictator (Metaxas). Metaxas, although a German educated military officer, was controlled by the British through a King related to the British throne.
What about the Italian and the Greek populations? The Italian soldiers were rather reluctant invaders. The Greek soldiers fought with all their might to defend themselves and their families and they succeeded to stop the invaders and even push them back quite deeply into Albania. (The Italians attacked from Albania which they occupied at the time). This repelling of the Italian invaders lasted for six months. Then Hitler came to the rescue of Mussolini in April 1941 and in a couple of weeks the Nazis were in Athens. Three years later the Nazis were to massacre the Italian soldiers (their allies) all over occupied Greece.
(Note: The Greek soldiers fought the Nazis as best as they could, but, as expected, they were defeated and started their sorrowful trek from the frontier back to their home towns and their families on foot. Some of them carried their rifles, etc, back home intending to resist the Nazis as guerillas. At the time, I was living in Athens close to an abandoned limestone quarry.
One day, as I was doing my usual rounds on my "turf" at the top of the quarry I discovered a Bren machine gun wrapped in burlap and hidden in a deep crack in the limestone outcrop. The machine gun was in excellent condition. I was twelve years old. The machine gun ended up in the hands of the local clandestine Resistance elements of my neighborhood in Athens. I feel that the courageous Greek soldier who carried the gun, weighing almost 30 pounds, all the way from Albania to Athens, did not survive to offer it to the Resistance himself.
This morning, November 3, the German magazine "Der Spiegel", just out [No.45/2003], mentions that 2 trunks and 21 boxes full of documents of the Nuremberg Tribunal were found in the possession of a second-hand dealer in Philadelphia! They originally were located in Landsdowne, Pennsylvania. Among them was a very important War Diary Number 1, in which there are new data about "Operation Barbarossa", against the Soviet Union and "Operation Marita" against Greece.)
The Resistance of the Greek population against the Nazis was arguably the strongest and most effective in Europe; obviously at a heavy blood price for the Greeks. However, this resulted in the British losing control of the country, as the Greek population now was armed and in a mood of social revolution and national independence. Thus, when (in late 1944) the Nazis left Greece, the British were obliged to revert to violence to "pacify" the Greeks and drive them back to the Anglo-Saxon camp, now called the "free world". When in 1947 the British announced the bankruptcy of their empire, the US stepped in to impose their empire and to continue the task of pacifying the Greeks through torture, killing, and concentration camps.
So the Greeks had two very important historical events to celebrate: The October 28 resistance against the Italian invaders and the Resistance against the Nazis. The first was established as a "National Holiday", as it belonged to "nationalism" approved by the British and the Americans. The second, the Resistance against the Nazis, not only went down the memory hole and did not deserve the dedication of a national holiday, but became a dangerous background for one to have, as it meant struggle for social justice and against any Empire. Ideas not approved by the British and the Americans.
All these decades since the liberation from the Nazis, in 1944, the Greeks have being celebrating the October 28 National Holiday every year. But, how do they celebrate? Simple, on October 27, the eve of the main event, there is a rather silly parade of high school pupils marching in military formation down the main street in all Greek cities, towns, and villages.
The next day the military hardware (tanks, artillery, etc) are paraded in Athens or Salonica. Hardware mostly sold or donated to the Greeks by the US and ultimately paid by the US taxpayers. One might wonder what is there to be proud of or to enjoy seeing this repulsive hardware designed and produced by the scientific and economic "elite" of the world? Anyway, the military parade is intrinsically uninteresting. What is interesting is the parade of the high school pupils.
As is customary all over the world at the head of a National Holiday parade there is (usually) a tall guy holding the flag of the country. In the case of the Greek high school pupils, the rule is that the flag should be held by the pupil that is scholastically at the top of his or her class. The last few years at the top of the class in various Greek towns were the children of Albanian economic guest workers (similar to the notorious German Gastarbeiter) living in Greece with their families. And that is where the "fun" of the October 28 Greek National Holiday begins. But first, what is a flag?
We are told that the flag is a symbol. A symbol of what? If it is the (practical) symbol of a geographical entity, then it is okay. And it seems that historically flags were used to denote, in a practical way, the geographical origin of ships. But if it is a symbol of the culture, religion, patriotism, etc for a country, things become a bit messy. Take Constantine of Byzantium who in AD 312 saw a sign of the cross in the sky and the words "in this sign thou shalt conquer" ("en touto nika" in Greek, "nika" being the root for the trade mark of "nike" shoes) and promptly put it on his flag (or labarum).
Or, take "the Danish King Valdemar II (1170-1241) [who] had a vision on the eve of the Battle of Lyndanisse of a white crucifix in the darkening sky; this he interpreted to mean that Christ wished him to triumph in slaughtering the unfortunate Estonians, which he duly did. Thus was born the Scandinavian Cross, seen also in the flags of Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden." (Eve Devereux, "Flags of the World", 1992). Do people really believe this kind of shit? I think that (being rational) they have to pretend they "believe", otherwise they will be in (economic and social) trouble in Christian or Muslim societies. As a matter of fact in many countries there are heavy penalties for desecrating the flag.
A few years ago a group of around 500 young people were protesting in the Athens Polytechnic on the occasion of the anniversary of the November 17, 1973 uprising by the students against the dictatorship. A group of about ten people were outside the gate of the campus and were burning a Greek flag. The police attacked them and chased one of them, a frail 15-year-old, for about a 100 yards and caught him. A burly policeman held him by the neck close to his body with his left hand and as he was directing him towards a police van every other step he was hitting him in the face with a gas mask that he was holding in his right hand.
Then a young security policeman, in civilian cloths, approaches the two from behind and as they were walking pushes his right hand from the rear between the thighs of the kid and crushes his testicles. The kid faints. Two stretcher-bearers approach and put him into an ambulance.
We, the Greek citizens, watched this scene on our TV screens recorded through a TV-channel camera from the balcony of the upper floors of a building. Then the camera follows the kid to the hospital where he was taken. What was painfully obvious was the fear in the eyes of the kid and the eyes of his mother that had already arrived at the hospital.
Did the Greek judicial system arrest and condemn the policeman for this hideous act that probably permanently injured the reproductive organs of a youth? No! What the Greek judicial system did was to initiate a long trial for the "defiling of the flag." The sadistic security policeman by now probably is on his way up the hierarchy ladder.
In the more than two hundred flags of the world the most predominant themes are religion and the red color (for blood). The Christian cross is the favorite. Actually, the British were not satisfied with one cross, so they superimposed four: two white and two red ones of St George, St Andrew, and St Patrick (the diagonal one). "The red-white-red stripes of the Austrian flag, certainly one of the world's oldest, had their origin during the Third Crusade of 1189-92 when Duke Leopold V of Austria,... fought so bloodily at the Battle of Acre that the only part of his costume to remain white was a band round his middle where his belt has been." (Devereux).
The Greek flag, of course has the (Orthodox) Christian cross. After all, the Christian God wrote the maxim "in this sign thou shalt conquer" in the sky in the Greek language! Ironically, the Greeks of the classical era, of whom the modern Greeks are so proud of did not have flags!
So with this glorious background of the flag as a religious and patriotic symbol let us return to the parade of the Greek high school pupils on the October 28 National Holiday. Three years ago, at Nea Michaniona, a small town on the outskirts of Salonica, Odhise (Ulysses) Qena the 15-year-old son of Albanian guest workers was at the top of his junior high school. So according to an existing directive he had the right to carry the flag during the October 28 National Holiday parade. The Greeks of Michaniona (in their majority) forced the Albanian kid to surrender his right to carry the Greek flag.
Now, three years later, Odhise Qena was once more at the top of his class; this time in the senior high school. The Greeks of Michaniona once more performed their patriotic duty and forced the Albanian youth to abdicate his right to be a flagbearer.
It is interesting to search a bit deeper this story. Odhise Qena came to Greece with his family 7 years ago, in 1966. He was 11 years old. To help him survive in a Greek Orthodox Christian society his parents were obliged to have him baptized a Christian. Odhise managed to learn Greek and be at the top of his class. Something the majority of the Greeks at Michaniona could not stomach. So the mayor of the town, the teachers, the parents, and (unfortunately) the fellow pupils of Odhise initiated a hysterical campaign to stop the Albanian from bearing the sacred Greek flag.
For almost two weeks the entire country was in turmoil. The media, politicians, intellectuals, a former president of the republic, the religious hierarchy, innumerable talking heads, etc, were discussing the earthshaking problem of the flag and the Albanian pupil. As expected three were the dominant elements in these discussions: hypocrisy, racism, and "patriotism".
All the Greeks that commented on the matter began their talk by congratulating the Albanian pupil on his scholastic achievement and in the next breath they added a "but". The most painful case in this regard was the reaction of the fellow pupils of Odhise. They staged a sit-in that lasted for days up to the point that Odhise succumbed. After that the patriotic Greek pupils announced that "they still love their fellow pupil", but according to the graffiti sprayed by them on the walls of their school they advised the Greeks that the "flag belongs to them".
However the most blatant case of hypocrisy was that of a rather young extreme rightist Greek politician who, as a member of a panel of intellectuals, politicians, journalists, etc on a TV show, repeatedly congratulated the Albanian for his success as a pupil but each time followed his praise by declaring that being an adult (that is a couple of months older than his classmates) he was more "mature", hence it was not that the Greek pupils were not that clever, simply they were not adults yet so that was why they were not at the top of their class.
Another (loudly) Orthodox Christian politician, who is the prefect of the Salonica area, declared that:"You are born a Greek, you cannot be turned into a Greek!" Fortunately, both men got the proper answer from a member of the Greek left, Tasos Kourakis: "Today it is (the Albanian) Qena, tomorrow it is going to be the Auschwitz".
The Greeks belong to the white race, they are European, they are the fathers of the Western civilization, they are Orthodox Christians, etc, etc, but they are not racists. Let us test this:
- Thermi is a small town (again) close to Salonica. The local mayor decreed that all foreign guest workers (especially the Albanians) are not allowed to ride the local buses in the town, not even in the back of the bus as practiced of yore in the more progressive American South.
- Beau Fils is black. He comes from the Belgian Congo. He is 16 and has being living in Athens for 10 years. To the question if he had any problems because of his color he says: "Yes, I had problems but only in the...(Orthodox) churches. Many ladies were staring at me in a strange way and asked me if I believe in Satan or if I am an heretic, because of my color. The same and worse I underwent at an-orthodox- religious summer camp from which I was expelled!" He goes on with evident anger in his face: "Yes, the police treat me with cruelty... even if I walk down the street with a girlfriend". (Eleftherotypia, 10/25/03, p.54).
- The mayor of another Greek small town imposed an 8 pm to 7 am curfew for the foreign guest workers. And so on, and on. Why should the white Greeks differ from the other civilized white people of the world? They too belong to the chosen race. Of course there are exceptions. For example, on the island of Mytilini, a fourth grade kid from Manila, Theodore Labanar, was a flagbearer at the parade because he was at the top of his class.
"Patriotism" (accompanied mostly by religion) has been utilized by the powerful to spill the blood of the weak. I have to confess that the incentive to write this Commentary was the revolting scene in a town meeting of two rather young Greek women, mothers of pupils in the Michaniona case of Odhise Qena, held to discuss the "problem" of the flagbearer. The two ladies stood up at the meeting and started shouting with all their might: "I will not let an Albanian touch MY FLAG or sing MY NATIONAL anthem!!!"
The aim of the two women was to terrorize every one in the room. They succeeded. What was their motive? Did they really believe in the flag, etc? Of course not. They are rational humans. Why then? For the same reasons that people pretend to "believe" in God, etc. But this is not the place to analyze those reasons. However the fact remains that "patriots" terrorize ordinary citizens and offer the powerful the base for aggressive wars. Was not the post 9/11 flag waving part of the American people that gave support to Bush the Second to attack Iraq?
So, it seems that the flag, a mere symbolic piece of cloth is insignificant, but flag waving is very significant as an instrument of terrorizing any given population.
Finally, is a mature non-flag waving world possible? Yes. It seems that humans historically were headed towards survival. In contrast, none of the Empires of the aggressors in history survived.