Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Eleni Glykatzi-Ahrweiler: When Greece is being wronged, it is a disgrace to keep quiet

Above is a wide-ranging interview from Greek TV given last October with the formidable Eleni Glykatzi-Ahrweiler, the renowned Byzantinologist and pedagogue, former president of Sorbonne university in Paris, in which she talks about the crisis affecting Greece and, like Georgios Babiniotis in the previous post, insists that the roots of it are not economic but political and cultural, the perennial Greek predilection for discord and division and the degeneration of paideia in the country.

Glykatzi says there has never been a time in Greek history when one half of the population has not hated the other half and she tells the following joke: when a Frenchman is asked what he wants most of all in the world, he says: the loveliest woman. A German asked the same question, answers: the finest gun; the Englishman, the best football, while the Greek, when he is asked what he desires most in the world, replies: that my neighbour’s donkey should die.

Glykatzi continues to bemoan this apparent Greek inability to act collectively or in solidarity with one another, drawing on many examples of discord in Greek history, including the cleavage, at the end of the Byzantine Empire, between religious purists who refused at any cost union with the Roman Catholic church and those – Westernisers or Europeanisers, in today’s terms – who were prepared to sacrifice a certain amount of ideology and identity to preserve a Greek state. (Throughout the interview, Glykatzi is quite scathing of the Greek church, and calls for church-state separation).

Greeks, Glykatzi says, are know-it-alls, who believe they are the best at everything, the bravest and most intelligent, the true and only heirs of Odysseus, Achilles, Miltiades, Leonidas, Plato, Aristotle and Pericles. When fortune has turned against them and they were subject to foreign rule, Greeks never considered themselves slaves, only hostages. In contemporary Greece, this egoism and sense of always being right has taken on a destructive pattern, in which one section of society acts without any consideration for the consequences of their actions on other parts of society. Glykatzi says this kind of selfish behaviour is not only anti-social, but also against civilised living.

Glykatzi goes on to draw parallels between later Byzantine emperors traipsing around the courts of Europe, like mendicants, asking for financial and military aid to preserve the last vestiges of the empire against the Turks, and today’s Greek politicians; and recalls that, in times of crisis, Byzantine governments would tackle financial difficulties by tapping into church wealth and ensuring any tax shortfalls caused by the inability of poorer citizens to pay their dues was made up by richer members of the community.

The most substantial part of the interview concerns the state of education in Greece, which Glykatzi suggests has degenerated to such an extent that it threatens to propel Greece towards barbarism. The major national issue facing Greece, Glykatzi says, isn’t the question of the territorial waters between Greece and Turkey, but paideia, education in its widest sense.

Glykatzi makes a distinction between παιδεία and εκπαίδευση. Ekpaideusis is education in the narrow sense, that which is taught at schools and universities. whereas paideia is the cultivation of the individual and involves the way a society forms and shapes individuals from the beginning of their lives. Paideia, Glykatzi insists, begins at home and the small rules we learn from our parents.

Glykatzi says that without paideia, there can be no society, and if there is no society, then soon enough there will be no Greek nation.

The interview continues with Glykatzi detecting a rising neo-Fallmerayerism in Europe, which questions the continuity of Greek identity, the links between modern and ancient Greece. She also disputes the well-known dictum that Greeks in the diaspora tend to love Greece more than the Greeks of Greece. Glykatzi urges Greeks who live abroad never to forget that they are Greeks and, above all, to learn Greek. If Greeks in the diaspora truly love Greece, then their first task should be to learn to speak Greek, she says.

Glykatzi concludes the interview as she began it, by quoting Demosthenes, from one of his orations against Philip of Macedon and his threat to subjugate the Greek city-states: Αισχρόν έστι σιγάν, της Ελλάδος πάσης αδικουμένης – When Greece is being wronged, it is a disgrace to keep quiet.