Unknown Magazine and cannonballs at Battery Rodgers, Alexandria 1863
I hardly ever go out in the morning, the first 7-8 hours of every single day are taken up by reading and writing. But today I did, to feel the mood in the city. Not sure I got it, though. Everything’s quiet. It may not help that I’m staying smack in the middle of the Acropolis tourist area (still haven’t figured out why 90% of them are American).
Not sure if many Greeks even really understand what is going on, and who can blame them, they have every reason to be scared more than anything else.
And I’m still trying to wrap my head around the trouble just about everyone seems to have with the simplest and most basic exercise in direct democracy that’s taking place right now. The referendum here today has been called manipulative, opaque, some say there’s not enough time, others claim Tsipras is merely trying to save face in the face of defeat, courts have been called in to rule on its legality.
But this place here is where democracy started. And votes were held just like the one today, all the time. To be rid of despot rule, to let the people decide. And sure, in the beginning it wasn’t all the people, just the alleged wise men, but it was a start. So why do we now find this simplicity so hard to stomach?
Put another way: is this because for Americans the 4th of July is these days more about stuffing your faces surrounded by your equally overweight families than it is about honoring the Founding Fathers? It’s quite possible, that our troubles with processing and absorbing direct democracy are somehow linked to that.
That Americans and Europeans have precious little understanding and appreciation left of what happened that led to the US celebrating, commemorating, its Independence Day in the first place. And therefore can’t see how and why it couldn’t have been accomplished without the example set right here in Greece many many years earlier.
Maybe that’s why a thousand pundits feel free to question the very principle of democracy. Or to at least try and hang all sorts of conditions and reservations on it. But it’s not that hard really: a government asks its people what they think about a certain issue.
That’s a democratically elected government’s prerogative. It couldn’t really get any more basic than that. And of all the freedoms we have, maybe the one that makes us question the very principle those very freedoms are derived from, is not the best choice. Maybe there are better and more productive freedoms to occupy ourselves with.
And it can’t be that the unfolding Greek drama hasn’t given us enough material to hold against the light of democratic principles. The Troika machinations, culminating in the oppression of data vital to the negotiations, from those same negotiations, is just one example. A damning one, though, but still.
For democracy to function, it must first of all be allowed to function. That requires revealing all relevant information. It also requires all parties who are not party to a vote to keep their mouths shut. If you look at it from that point of view, Brussels and Berlin seem to have little understanding and respect for what democracy is. For them it seems to be something to be manipulated with impunity.
And that does matter: democracy, to function, needs to be respected. Mere lip service doesn’t cut it.
Whatever the result of the vote is today, Greece is in for more hard times. A No vote would lead the little, little people in Brussels to engage in more strong arm tactics. And I see no reason to doubt that voting Yes is tantamount to sticking one’s head in a noose.
Who would want to live at the mercy of an institution populated by little people who actively try to keep vital numbers behind in a discussion held against the backdrop of hunger, suicide and despair in a country whose interests it is supposed to serve? But that’s just me. And I don’t have a vote.
If you look through Greek history, the country could claim an entire calendar full of Independence Days. The US has just the one, and it owes it to the ancient Greeks. Maybe that’s something to ponder when waking up from those glucose-induced stupors this morning.
That like it or not, this is where the democracy was born that allowed for America to become a nation of free people. The same democracy celebrated from sea to shining sea every Fourth of July. And also the same democracy that is under threat, in Greece, in Europe as a whole, and very much in the US too.
It looks to me that we’ve all become quite far removed from what Independence Day is about, in Brussels, Berlin and Washington. And we should feel lucky if Athens today can give us back some of what has been lost in the translation and erosion of history.
Democracy is a fragile child. It needs to be fed and nurtured and caressed around the clock. Or it will wither away before our very eyes. The Greeks taught us all a valuable lesson before. Here’s hoping they can again.
And at the same time add yet another Independence Day to their long and rich calendar.