THE BLOG

Greece, Youth and the Phoenix

"The day that Youth had died,
There came to his grave-side,
In decent mourning, from the country's ends,
Those scatter'd friends
Who had lived the boon companions of his prime,
And laughed with him and sung with him and wasted,
In feast and wine and many-crown'd carouse,
The days and nights and dawnings of the time
When Youth kept open house.............'

"The Funeral of Youth: Threnody" -- Rupert Brooke

Always it has been a sense of identity, a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose that has provided a state of self-worth and emotional balance to all people, especially those on the threshold of their lives. Greece at the moment is no different but its crisis has pushed the people, especially its young people over the threshold. Not the threshold of creating, planning and visioning for their country but to migrating... this seems to be their only alternative to better their lives, at least, for a significant number of them. Unable to find support they must fulfill their dreams elsewhere. Of course this is not new for the Greeks. Dysfunctional, parochial governance has often, in Greek history, created such conditions. At the core the problem is not really money but an absence of a genuine democratic system. A centuries-old policy of self-aggrandizement in political, religious and social systems that heavily penalizes those who do not comply has been the norm even till today.

The real crisis is and has been an existential one. People do not know how or in what way to exist contentedly. Of course, this is not peculiar to the Greeks. However, at the moment, the Greeks seem to have center stage and their frustration in terms of identity, belonging and purpose are issues for them and particularly their youth.

In Greece there has always been tumultuous fumbling in terms of survival and identity but it has now evolved into a desperation which is so clouded by fear and doubt that solutions are neither believed in nor aimed for. Youth have ideals, dreams, hopes, enthusiasm and optimism to create the best but it is clear that at the moment Hellenic youth have not been considered.

The government's frenetic frenzy to survive and to keep the country buoyant has overshadowed the great necessity to open windows for real opportunity and creativity. It is hopelessly short sighted but the inability to see long term consequences does tend to be a national characteristic. So what other alternative do the young people have except to migrate to warmer and kinder climates? The future is built on the young adults of today. If they go, Greece will go.

We are hearing about the tragic increase in suicides, strange extremes in political groupings, further strikes, and on Sunday, Feb. 12 the biggest outburst of violence and frustration in the streets of Athens were witnessed since this whole austerity and bankruptcy scenario emerged.

The scorched buildings reflect their burnt hopes and trust. Hooded and hidden, violent protesters were depicted as the young and the angry. However many see these hooded protesters as agents of either the police force or government. The truth of these often quoted assumptions cannot be verified but obviously many people believe the extreme violence is a set-up, something else is lurking underneath. People speak of influences and agendas that are in place, intent on disabling their country.

In this protest the hoods took the limelight but they certainly do not represent the vast majority of young people who search for other ways to find viable solutions. New demonstrations are now planned because, though the new bailout was passed, many doubt that the draconian measures that must be implemented can be or even should be. Whom will we see again? The hoods? Rigged police action?

It is so well known that the dinosaur public administration of the country is completely dysfunctional not only because of its extreme outdated-ness but the unjust way it has dealt with the Greek people. For decades the "clientele consciousness" of giving jobs and securing allegiance to political groups where pandering and bribery were and are the norm bred social elitism. Its inevitable collapse is what we are witnessing now. Such systems cannibalize; they are parasitical -- not open and humane to allow a free flow of new perspectives and inputs. The blind leading the blind, the decrepit clenching the decrepit until all the sycophants topple and crash together in a hollering heap. Such is politics!

Is it a wonder that the people have lost faith in their leaders and their systems or rather any system including the IMF and EU? However, worse than that they have lost faith in themselves. Many of the Greeks I have spoken to do realize they have recklessly spent beyond their means, that they had no idea of the meaning of accountability or taking responsibility. Dependent on the traditional "savior consciousness," that someone out there will do everything for them they have negated their own sense of creative responsibility. So they accuse and blame very eloquently those who have betrayed them! Politically and socially they invested in the wrong people and now are faced with the reality that they themselves can only save themselves. On the one hand a very liberating position on the other hand very daunting. Some are even willing for a degree of austerity if it really helps the country. However they cannot stomach the blatant inequalities as the richer, including their own ministers, escape their financial accountability simply because they have the connections and means!

Democracy may have been born in Greece but it seems also to have died here. All of what is happening shows that something absolutely clean and transparent is needed. Things could not go on as they were. Neither young nor old could exist with dignity in such a system.

The majority of the young people are bright, hardworking and willing to try. Of course there is a significant minority spoilt by indulgent parents providing for their every whim and have not learnt the basic human skill of responsible living. You can still find them in abundance hanging around in the coffee shops, talking and smoking for hours. However what is to become of the enterprising ones? What is to become of their energy? Many are leaving or hope to, but on the other hand many, for one reason or another, are staying. They wish to conquer their quiet despair and still hope. Another positive horizon may open they say, as from the ashes of the legendary phoenix bird a young one resurrected for a new cycle of life. The same can happen now to the society no matter how bleak things appear, they keep saying. Some pointed out to me that the phoenix bird was the symbol of the Greek War of Independence.

The noble-hearted Ioannis Kapodistrias, in 1827, was elected the first head of state of an independent Greece. He used the phoenix bird as a symbol of his new provisional government. The symbol was abandoned many, many decades later when the despotic junta also used it. The bird migrated into oblivion. Now it seems it could have a revival as a symbol of spiritual resurrection.

The more reflective youth I have spoken to who cannot or will not migrate feel that neither anarchy nor violent revolution can change people and structures. They believe an inner change in mentality will bring back the moral and creative elements to their society. With a change in thinking and systems the phoenix can fly again out of its self-made funeral pyre of ashes into a better cycle of prosperity. Is this idea too far-fetched? Is it all really, after all, just a myth?

Those of us who have been young, and who still young are at heart, know how ideals do not always translate into practical day to day living so easily but it is said "where there is a will there is a way." All things are possible. And what was at the very, very bottom of Pandora's box? Hope!

Youth always hopes and is willing to venture. Youth has always had this idealist energy. They were and are willing to experiment, to migrate, to stay, to dare, to change, even to sacrifice.

One such young idealist was buried in Greece in 1915 at the age of 27 on the far flung island of Skyros. Young Rupert Brooke was a poet who lived and studied in Cambridge. Brooke, like his more famous predecessor Lord Byron, who was also a poet and Cambridge man , who also idealistically participated in the Greeks' War for Independence about 100 years before, also believed in the great ideal of liberty. Together with his comrades, Brooke sailed to fight in Gallipoli. They felt like the crew of a new Jason and Argonauts expedition eager to recover the Golden Fleece of freedom. Brooke cherished what most Europeans have and still cherish about Greece, a nostalgia for a country and a culture that has shared its superlative heritage with Europe. Actually even helped create and define it. Where has this spirit gone? Will it return?

The phoenix never dies. It is an immortal bird that rejuvenates itself over and over again. Not to go back to the past. The past is the past. It can be appreciated and admired but any nationalistic nostalgia is of no use at the present time. However to rekindle the creative spirit that can again arise and face the challenges of the present is both a possibility and a necessity. A consciousness that can integrate and adapt to the modern reality but with a different compass than the one used by older generations.

The young Brooke found a meaningful direction as expressed in his poem "Peace" (strange title for a young recruit about to enter a war but it most probably expresses that having found his purpose he was at peace with himself):

" Now God be thanked Who has matched us with His
Hour,
And caught our youth, and wakened us from
Sleeping,
With hand made sure, clear eye, and sharpened power.
To turn, as swimmers into cleanness leaping,
Glad from a world grown old and cold and weary...."

I remember visiting his solitary grave made of white marble surrounded by the turquoise silence of the sea and by a grove of ancient olives that had watched his burial 97 years before. Standing there I felt how another group of youth at the turn of the early 20th century were given a sense of purpose, even of identity through this war for liberation. In hindsight we know that no activity which uses violence as a means can ever liberate. Violence creates enemies and repeating cycles of violence that periodically explode with long suppressed resentments and vengeance. Only when people emerge who have the consciousness to reconcile differences with compassion and heart-felt acceptance does peace and well-being become long lasting.

Brooke became a national icon; even Winston Churchill eulogized his death and sacrifice. The point in later years is that he, like all the young men that died in Gallipoli, did not have to be sacrificed. Mismanagement and inept leaders created propaganda and youth was deceived. Lies are the best things governments are good at and often the truth is discovered many years later, although these days because of the impact of social media "you cannot fool all the people all the time," as easily as in the past. This is a very healthy thing.

As a 19-year-old Brooke had written in "Seaside":

".........I stray alone
Here on the edge of silence, half afraid,
Waiting for a sign.........
"

What's the sign? Is a debacle a sign? Is it a disguised opportunity for more authentic things to come? Can we hope, can we have the confidence for something better and for a moment leave the" how" and "why" of it and just keep trust as we watch the ashes still glowing?

As one young person earnestly pleaded, "Now we must no longer wait but create!"

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