Friday, February 17, 2012

The corruption of words



I “hang out” on the metro more than I do at cafés. I feel as if it is my retreat - especially these days. Every time I descend into the station, it’s as if I am in a shelter which protects me from the prevailing feeling of melancholy which persists above ground. The people waiting on the clean platforms have more relaxed expressions on their faces. But at the same time, their expressions are more vacant. It’s as if they’ve put on a temporary mask.
Once you ascend to the surface, the mask falls. You walk along the streets of Athens, “collecting” various images – broken storefronts, glum faces, burnt buildings and nearby the scorched remains, homeless people. We are living in a vicious cycle – with our nerves on edge, with conspiracy theories, with the homeless, beggars and unemployment, rage and fear, with the constant threat of catastrophe, loads of teargas and disastrous mania.
Distortions usually begin with the corruption of words:  when, in the name of “Citizens’ Protection,” you devastate the citizen who peacefully protests; when you destroy the city in the name of “revolution;” when trying to preserve your own self-serving interests you call it “saving the country;” when you call the country going bankrupt “resistance;” when you call your own ramblings “popular will;” when you slay the immigrant in the name of “saving the nation;”  when you call bigotry “a fight in favor of our countrymen;” when you call democracy “junta.” The corruption of words is naturally not just a Greek monopoly.
However, I do not know of any other society, in Europe at least, that believes that for years, its cities have been burned and destroyed according to an organized plan of the Police! But alas, this is practically a “popular belief” in Greece. I think that such “popular beliefs” only produce paranoid cities, paranoid “laws” and a paranoid police force. It is the expression of a gap – a gap which puts fear between citizens and reality on one side, and institutions on the other. Citizens have become used to interpreting reality through the eyes of conspiracy and “anti-authoritarianism.” Institutions are either incapable or do not care about the protection of citizens.
Manos Hadjidakis once said that “Greece moves forward thanks to the efforts of the few and the exceptions.”  Usually, societies move forward due to the “active minority” which breaks away from the self-serving notions of the authority, from those who abuse authority, and from “anti-authoritarianism.” Let us hope that Hadjidakis’ aphorism will ring true once again. This time, for Greece’s sake and for all of Europe’s sake too…
P.S. Recently an angry friend wrote to me. He said that he thought the candlelight vigil which was held in front of the charred remains of the Attikon theater burned last Sunday in Athens was sappy. Personally, I much prefer sentimental civility over sentimental violence…

(Translated & edited by Gigi Papoulias)

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