Saturday, November 9, 2019

When Will We Ever Learn?


After a week in Dallas, sharing a spectacular Bouchercon experience with so many old friends and new, I returned to New York and began to catch up on the news in Greece.  What immediately caught my attention was a feature story in the newspaper Protothema reporting on events seemingly lifted straight from the pages of my latest novel, The Mykonos Mob.   

The lead to that article—titled the “Godfathers War with 5+1 Executions”—reads,  “How the financial crisis became the cause for the Mafia to spread its tentacles to smuggling, cocaine, prostitution, and Mykonos circles—How Kalishnikovs changed the map.”

That is all I shall say about that here. 

photo by Dimitris Popotas

 No, not (so much) out of concern for my personal safety but because of an article I later read in a different Greek newspaper, Kathimerini.  The author, Nikos Konstandaras is the newspaper’s managing editor, and he writes about how the electoral losses of Greece’s Nazi party, Golden Dawn, and its leaders facing criminal trials, should not lead one to “believe that our society has been freed of the danger of bigotry and violence.”

Though he writes about what Greece faces, much of what Mr. Konstandaras describes is chillingly relevant to the rest of Western civilization.  Here are his words, under the title, “The tide of anger”:

The greatest defeats don’t always come in the greatest battle; they may come gradually, with successive, small defeats, until suddenly the whole battlefield is under the enemy’s boot. In our country, the battlefield is the space of civilized political exchange, of democracy; its enemies are those who see this rivalry as a demand to destroy the enemy.

Close to 200 years after the start of the Greek War of Independence and we have still not harnessed our national energy to the service of the greatest national priority – survival and prosperity.
If the times were not so dangerous, with our region and the world in a state of flux, if Greece had no hopes of succeeding, these thoughts would have no meaning: On the one hand, they would be hyperbole and misplaced (after all, despite endless divisions Greece has come so far); on the other, if the war was already lost there would be no reason to hope that a change of mentality would be of any benefit. And yet, we continue to undermine ourselves. There are capable people in many parties but they are overshadowed by the loudmouths.

In the streets, on the airwaves and in social networks, threats and violence (verbal and physical) set the tone.

Most citizens hope for stability, for cooperation and progress. Our public debate, though, aims not at solutions but at eliminating or humiliating our rivals. Of course, we ought to be concerned about migration, about Turkey, about erratic America and sleepwalking Europe, about the exodus of our youth and our demographic decline. But we also ought to hope that with the crisis ending, we have the resources to improve our lot.

However, when the main parties reproduce the vocabulary and behaviors of the past, they themselves crush the space between them – and anyone who advocates consensus and cooperation.
When the sole target is political domination, then the most extreme citizens take things to extremes, believing that they have the right to replace political and judicial power; that only they can express what the nation ought to want.

Whether through “anarchists” who beat up a student or through “fascists” who knife an immigrant, the tide of anger reaches everywhere. The only possible solution would be from above – from responsible political leaders setting a good example, placing the interests of the nation above their own.

Well, said.  Now what?


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