Greece: Culture vs virus

I was certain that the Greek eco-centered tradition will effectively guide the public through the looming adversities to care for themselves and for each other.

MEZZO SOPRANO Anita Rachvelishvili performs at the ancient Roman Agora in Athens during a Greek National Opera concert last month following the easing of COVID-19 measures. (photo credit: ALKIS KONSTANTINIDIS / REUTERS)
MEZZO SOPRANO Anita Rachvelishvili performs at the ancient Roman Agora in Athens during a Greek National Opera concert last month following the easing of COVID-19 measures.
It was a bright spring day in Athens, when Greece emerged as a winner over the coronavirus.
The serene beauty of the Mt. Hymettus pine forest, right next to us, appeared inviting.
Following weeks of confinement, we were thrilled to leave our house. As we began our first post-quarantine family walk, our next-door neighbor greeted us with a broad smile:
“We did it; plaudits are coming from everywhere.” Immediately, a number of other neighbors emerged through their doors and windows: “Yeah, we did so well!” “Bravo!…”
During the quarantine days, we routinely followed the government’s daily TV reports. On one such live occasion, a asked the government officials regarding focusing on younger patients, due to projected medical shortages. 
I vividly recall the angry response from the epidemiologist in charge: “What do you mean? That is unthinkable. We live for these older people, as they live and have lived for us.
They are our grandparents and our parents. They belong to the care of our home. We cannot discriminate in this effort, otherwise it loses its moral basis.”
I noticed tears in Dr. Sotiris Tsiodras’s eyes as an angry expression clouded his customary composure. Humble despite his scientific distinctions, he and Nikos Hardalias, the crisis management minister, exposed a world of classical values that remained sturdy despite the onslaught of global cultural deconstruction.
At that instant, I was certain that the Greek eco-centered tradition, opposite the post-modern “homeless mind” will effectively guide the public through the looming adversities to care for themselves and for each other.
Home (in Greek “oikos,” where the word “ecology” comes from) and honor (“timi”) are for the Greeks pivotal concepts rooted in their Homeric past and transferred from generation to generation.
They’re characteristic traits of their identity, similar in their permanence to the resilience of the Aegean Islands, the eternal Blue Flag of Hellenism, with their enduring beauty, exceptional philoxenia (hospitality), and health-sustaining environment.
“Filotimo,” the love for “timi,” the epic yearning for honor, is a characteristic and transparent attribute of Greek culture. It follows an ancient oracle that bestows honor to those who care for their home, their polis, their country, for themselves and particularly for the elders.
For the perceptive observer, it is perfectly plain that this was the ubiquitous force that underpinned the anti-virus care effort.
Under the divine order of “Xenios” Zeus, the almighty father of the Gods and protector of strangers (“xenos”), this care is particularly extended to the visiting others.
When one considers that at least 40% of the coronavirus deaths in several major countries were connected to old people’s homes, it becomes clear that the classical pair of honor and oikos provided the tipping force for the Greek effort over the pandemic.
It was no surprise that this cultural background and an environment that sustains vigor outlined the framework that inspired the country’s vigilant prime minister and his government in their effective fight against COVID-19.
Their strategy did not succeed based on a set of austerity measures, but on the inexhaustible strength of a compelling heritage. Even the deputy minister of homeland security, Eleftherios Oikonomou, was not announcing a series of police orders, but explaining the moral value of civic duties. 
Let me add here that for similar reasons Israel was among the clear winners over the pandemic’s first wave.
Both of these historic countries and close friends maintain as a cornerstone legacy the traditional obligation “to care for one’s own” and in particular to respect and care for their elders.
Thus, grounding their collective effort in a rich cultural heritage that began many centuries ago, the corresponding officials in charge projected a steadfast vista for action that made the difference.
One should recall at this point Winston Churchill’s astute remarks that “the further back you look, the further ahead you can see.”
He also pointed out the commonalities between the Greek and Jewish cultures and their contributions to Western civilization, as they comprise its two main pillars.
Churchill’s poignant remarks are verified by the growing relations between the two countries that have fully understood the potential rewards of such a historic alliance.
Respectively, Greeks and Jews the world over have welcomed the encouraging news and are currently involved in joint initiatives of understanding and planning for a truly cooperative future.
Human beings crave positive judgments about their worth or dignity. Recognition that comes from within us or the society around us.
According to the Greeks, “thymos” is the third part of the soul and the seat of judgments of worth.
As Francis Fukuyama notes in his book Identity, thymos is the seat of today’s identity politics. Through the years, the word thymos acquired for the Greeks additional nuances and reached today’s use that includes the meaning of “wrath”. 
It was with such a notion of thymos, conveying a sense of embitterment and anger in the face of unfairness, that a few years ago, during their economic crisis, the Greeks went through a humiliating experience.
On June 14, 2015, in the midst of the crisis, the German newspaper Die Welt was referring to the Greek people not as Greeks but a “Turkish-molded mixture of Slavs, Byzantines, and Albanians.”
To be fair, such demeaning propaganda didn’t reflect the views of the vast majority of the German people, who are well aware of how defining is the cultural influence of Greek thought upon their major intellectuals and the general public.
Such influence has been, after all, accurately detailed in E.M. Butler’s The Tyranny of Greece over Germany. 
The Die Welt slur echoed, however, the racist theories of the pseudo-historian Jakob Fallmerayer and his “Aryan” followers of years long past.
This 2015 reiteration was clearly meant as support to the German economic policymakers (especially the indescribable Wolfgang Schäuble) in their excessive and incessant pressures against Greece.
It seems history as well as cultural preferences keep repeating themselves through differing expressions
Two years later, a number of scientific journals, announced the findings of an international research team (Harvard, Max Planck Institute, et al) that compared ancient (Mycenaean and Minoan) to modern Greek DNA material.
The results were stunning: most of the genetic material was the same.
The August 2, 2017 issue of the prestigious AAAS Science magazine, featured an article titled “The Greeks Really Do Have Near Mythical Origins, Ancient DNA Reveals.”
While the Greek people didn’t brag about it, and the Greek press barely covered these interesting discoveries, they were waiting for a sincere apology from their German EU partners. It never came…
Within such a context, our neighbor’s broad smile referred me to the celebrated Greek laughter (see Greek Laughter by Stephen Halliwell).
The laughter of the Homeric Gods that keeps rejuvenating Greek society as a recurring ritual toward the renewal of life. This time again, Greece’s trademark tradition managed to have the last laugh.
The writer is a researcher in the area of artificial intelligence and technology policy. He heads the “Predictive Intelligence Cluster” in Athens.