Myths, sym­bols and delu­sions

Kathimerini English - - Front Page - BY NIKOS KONSTANDARAS

The gov­ern­ment has made ma­jor con­struc­tion projects its own, in­au­gu­rat­ing them and giv­ing them names of its choos­ing. This is no sur­prise. In this way, SYRIZA stresses not only that it is in power but also that it’s chang­ing the coun­try’s re­la­tion­ship with its past and its fu­ture. Giv­ing names to places and projects is a dec­la­ra­tion of dom­i­nance, how­ever tran­si­tory this may be. Colo­nial pow­ers im­posed names on coun­tries, cities and sites that had noth­ing to do with the names the na­tives had used – and the lat­ter, af­ter their lib­er­a­tion, has­tened to change them again, de­ter­min­ing their world anew. All over Greece we find names honor­ing myths and his­tory - from old bat­tles to the He­roes of the Poly- tech­nic; Pi­raeus’s Peace and Friend­ship Sta­dium re­calls the hey­day of so­cial­ism in the 1980s. Across the globe cities are named af­ter cities else­where – New York, Nea Smyrni in Athens, Edessa in Me­sopotamia. Names change all the time: The cap­i­tal of Rhode­sia, named af­ter the old English city of Sal­is­bury, is now Zim­babwe’s cap­i­tal Harare. Two years ago, Barack Obama signed a de­cree chang­ing Mount McKin­ley’s name back to De­nali (mean­ing Tall or High One in the lan­guage of the area’s indige­nous peo­ple), mark­ing a rad­i­cal change of think­ing with re­gard to the past. Names, as we know from our tur­bu­lent re­gion, are a se­ri­ous is­sue. We need only re­mem­ber Mace­do­nia, where neigh­bors’ use of the name im­plies ex­pan­sion­ist claims, while the use of dif­fer­ent names (as in Imia and Kar­dak) im­plies the same. When Tur­key in­vaded and oc­cu­pied north­ern Cyprus, it changed Greek vil­lages’ and sites’ names to Turk­ish ones in a bid to erase the past. Last year, Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan named a new bridge over the Bosporus af­ter a Sul­tan who had slaugh­tered Alaw­ite Mus­lims – a clear and chill­ing mes­sage to the coun­try’s Alaw­ite mi­nor­ity. By nam­ing some tun­nels on the new Corinth-Pa­tra high­way af­ter he­roes of the Left, the SYRIZA-led gov­ern­ment has made clear that it wants to leave its mark on the coun­try. It en­cour­ages its sup­port­ers, show­ing that de­spite bad polls and a col­laps­ing econ­omy it is in charge and con­fi­dent. It pro­claims that it is the part of the Left (as op­posed to the Com­mu­nist Party) which can play a de­ci­sive role, which can carry high the sym­bols of the Left, whether through the prime min­is­ter’s visit to the site of a WWII mas­sacre, or the in­au­gu­ra­tion of a museum honor­ing a Com­mu­nist ex­e­cuted by a right-wing gov­ern­ment, or through shap­ing its own ver­sion of the past and the present. SYRIZA’s per­sis­tence with sym­bols is not strange. The prob­lem is that when the gov­ern­ment con­jures up a par­al­lel uni­verse it runs the risk of be­liev­ing it is real, that it need do noth­ing else.

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