WW2 Relevance

|   3 May 2010

Athens: a warning?

This is Athens as we want it to be.

This is the new reality

Over the years I’ve met a large number of people who lived through the extraordinary transformation in the fortunes of the Nazi party between 1928 and 1933. In the elections of 1928 the Nazis gained less than 3% of the vote – they seemed an irrelevance in German politics. Yet by January 1933 they were the biggest party in Germany and Hitler was Chancellor.

‘You just can’t imagine how quick things can change,’ many of these Germans said to me. ‘One moment it seemed that everything was stable, certain, and the next the banks had crashed, the middle-class had lost their savings, there was mass unemployment, and the whole fabric of our culture seemed to be unraveling. You couldn’t even walk through the parks – it just wasn’t safe anymore. There was so much crime. And Hitler offered us salvation from all of that disorder.’

I thought of those sentiments on a recent visit to Athens.

Now, let me make it clear that I’m not such a determinist that I think history is capable of repeating itself exactly. It can’t, because times – and people – change. And I don’t think that what I witnessed of life in the Greek capital in the midst of their horrific debt crisis is identical to the situation in Germany eighty years ago. But so many of the things I saw struck a chord with the reminiscences of those Germans. There was the sight of two shop-keepers coming to blows when one accused the other of ‘stealing’ a customer; there was the hideous graffiti that was almost everywhere, even on the walls of the National Museum; worst of all, there was the bitterness that was so apparent on so many people’s faces.

The city had changed hugely since I last visited a few years ago. There was almost a sense that the social cohesion that had seemed such a part of Greek culture was beginning to slip. I don’t know where this will end – I don’t think anyone does. Maybe the recent loan to the Greeks will sort matters out. Maybe it won’t. Just maybe, there’s worse to come.

And whilst history doesn’t, I don’t believe, offer any hard and fast lessons, it does offer warnings. And one of the biggest warnings of all is contained in the history of Hitler’s sudden rise from obscurity to power. Because without a massive economic crisis, it could never have happened.

5 Responses to “Athens: a warning?”

  1. orangejuice says:

    I recently went to athens and experienced the same thing. The graffiti was incredible..

  2. captainjack says:

    Saw the riots on tv last night. There’s trouble ahead for sure – and not just for the Greeks.

  3. susienell says:

    I love Athens and I am really sorry to hear about the trouble they are in. I do hope that this is not going to mean even worse things happen. I also think the Greeks have a less critical attitude to things like graffiti – think of all the stray dogs and the cats. They’re just a warm lovely people.

  4. lagerlout says:

    I’ve seen graffiti in London. Does that mean we’re going the same way? Everyone’s facing a time of austerity, it doesn’t mean we have to let go of our standards.

  5. anne-marie says:

    I don’t think it started in Athens – for once we had extrem right-wing politicians in Italy – Austria winning elections, Le Pen of France won local elections in the early 1990s. But back then they were seen for what they were – nationalist biggots who reminded us of what had gone wrong in Germany with Hitler. Then in the mid-1990s the mood in the US changed with movies of Mel Gibson celebrating nationalist heroes. President Bush and C° won elections and the EU asked the Americans on numerous occations to take down those ‘Whate Power’ webpages infecting the youngster in Europe. Since that period we no longer called the right wing nationalist biggots but heroes who stood up for thier peoples and culture and freedom. It was that what helped the grow of those nationalist groups all over Europe. Look a the former Russian run countries – a few years back our Flemish nationalist were upset when the mayor of Antwerp offered his excuses to the Jews because the city didn’t do enough to stop their deportation during the war saying it’s ancient history and we should stop nagging about it and finally accept to pardon all those brave Flemish nationalist who served in the German army to liberate Flanders of the Belgian state. Last summer in Norway about 70 young people where killed by a nationalist who felt he had to defend his culture and land. You know that the parents of those victims are constantly harrashed right wing nationalists saying they should stop making the murderer of thier chidren a monster as he is in fact a hero who stood up for Norway and its freedom! In Hongary the Nationalist have won the elections – they are now pestering the Jews and gays have been arrested for illigal actions. The EU has told Hongary if they don’t change those laws it won’t get any money any more – but so far there has been no outcry at all in the press. It seems with so many goverments having nationalist in thier midst they feel reluctant to comment on other countries. You know even the very liberal Netherlands a party of nationalist is getting attention of the voters – they even believe we should no longer see Hitler as a villian but a hero and if he had won the war Europe would haven any problems at all it is having today! This mood is growing with the fear of the dawnfall of the Euro – and the famous Tea Party in America and Fox TV beating up their campaign to put their man into he White House next November we should indeed be wary and watchful. Athens is just another ‘black spot’ of an already dark map of Europe and the US!