Berga: Catalans and Greeks - Two Cultures of the Mediterranean

Speech held in Berga at the celebration of the European Day 2014, organized by Omnium Cultural

CATALONIA, GREECE AND THE NATIONAL PRIDE

yorgos bergaCatalonia and Greece are both contemplating the Mediterranean Sea from different points of view.

They share a large quantity of common characteristics, as they do with many other countries of the Mediterranean. A place where we’re all conditioned by a climate that benefits us with certain agricultural products and that defines our eating habits.

Olive oil, wheat and grapes...we do share the same heritage from our ancestors, the Egypt, Greek, Roman and Arab civilizations. They sure left a deep footprint in our languages, our common habits and our way of being that might sometimes not be so obvious at the first glance, but it surely exists.

But apart from our common genetic heritage that we share amongst the Mediterranean countries, both of our countries –Greece and Catalonia- are sharing a lot more, even if there is a distance of 2000km between them and even if we know little about these common points.

Having a look back in history, we will see that there were times when both countries had cultural interchange, not only in ancient, but also in more recent history and in modern times. Thanks to dedicated people, there is information available. Dedicated people as Mr. Farguell, our host here today in Berga, who keeps on studying all these quite unknown historical topics shared by both of our countries, such as:

The Catalan town of Roses and the Greek island of Rhodos, the ancient Greek settlement of Empórion close to Figueres, or spots of Catalan Culture in Greece: Mount Athos, Neopàtria, Athens and Ipati.

There’s still a lot more to be discovered and saved from oblivion:

Who mentions the patron of Barcelona and patron of several churches in the Berguedà County, Saint Madrona should also know that she was born in my hometown, Thessaloniki.

Who remembers those Greeks who volunteered fighting within the Spanish republican army and against the fascist coup d’état in the 30’s? Most of them were killed in the battle at the Aragon Front, far away from their homes in Greece fighting in defence of quite universal values.

Do the Athenians know that there is a street in their city named after Ramón Berenguer, do they know that Catalan singers as Lluís Llach and Maria del Mar Bonet sing poems from Kavafis?

What do we really know from each others? What do we know about Ithaca and Icaria, islands with a special meaning in Catalan culture?

What makes us knowing certain things an ignoring others? Memory is also a political practise, its interpretation or lost is not innocent or neutral. And both of our countries have suffered the loss of part of their historical memories.

This loss was sometimes induced, sometimes self-motivated but always very real, a fact that leads us to a certain mutual ignorance and to the impossibility of seeing what’s on the other side of each one’s nacionalcentric point of view.

Let’s face now new times of change and leave behind us excuses that are not valid anymore.

In this very moment, it’s our opportunity to become real Mediterranean and European citizens. Instead of watching just our own concerns, we should dare to think differently. Why not admit that all countries are beautiful, brave and –yes-, role models?...well in fact they are not always, but often.

Ours is not the best country in the world, but it is the best we know! Let’s leave behind this way of thinking, because it is segregative thinking. We shouldn’t be proud of being Greeks or Catalans or Swedish. To be proud of your own nationality means to give less value to others.

But who am I to tell the Catalan society to not be proud of them? Me, who’s Greek, citizen of an independent European state, a person who at the same time is Catalan and wants to get an independent state here? It’s okay to be happy to be a Catalan and to be in love with our country. But we only should be proud of things we did on our own; such as culture, knowledge or skills, and never of something that has been more likely a genetic accident: To be tall, fairy-haired or to be born as Catalans.

And why is it that I stress on that point so much?

Because my home country is actually facing a deep crisis related to its national aplomb: In Greece, there is an ultra-national party that’s openly racist, xenophobic and that’s taking advantage of the economic difficulties that Greeks are facing actually. They blame the foreigners of being the catalyst of the big crisis that our country is facing, and they can do so, because there is a broad ideological basis in society that allows it. Because the way we are taught history at school, doesn’t consider the negative part of our history at all, quite the contrary, it just focuses on the heroic days of our past. School’s history lessons just focus on facts that empower our national pride!

That’s the operative point: Whilst constructing a new country we do have to lower the role of national myths, avoid subjective reading of historical facts and new arbitrary inventions.

“We should only consider ‘national’ what’s true, and not what we consider useful”, as the Greek poet Dionísios Solomós said in the 19th century. We have to be brave and tell the truth about history, we shall celebrate diversity as a true fundament of our culture and be different from traditional national states in the sense that we have to admit errors and wrongdoings in the name of the fatherland that happened in the past. That’s the only way we will be able to build a new country, capable of constant learning out of the past, a state that doesn’t fear to have a look into a mirror. And by doing that, I am sure that we will build a country that faces the future with success.

 

logo yorgos konstantinou

 BARCELONA / BERLIN / ΘΕΣΣΑΛΟΝΙΚΗ

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