Saturday, March 24, 2012

For whom the drum beats…

This Sunday, March 25 is Independence Day. A day which marks the anniversary of the beginning of the War of Independence against the Ottomans in 1821. Across the country, in each town and city, small and large, school children (from elementary to high school) participate in parades. In downtown Athens, a grand military parade is held, with all branches of the armed forces participating. 

The last national holiday which was celebrated with a military parade was October 28 (“Oxi Day”), in Thessaloniki.  Or at least an attempt was made to celebrate this holiday last October, which commemorates the day in 1940 when the Greek Prime Minister rejected an ultimatum made by Mussolini to allow Axis forces to enter Greece. At this parade, protesters stormed the street, disrupting the parade, causing the Greek President and most of the officials present to depart and for the parade to be cancelled. Similar incidents played out at parades all over Greece that day. I spent most of the day like most Greeks - glued to the TV, clicking from one channel to the next, as news reports and footage of protesters storming the parade routes in Rhodes, Crete, Patras, Trikala and other cities flashed before our eyes.

In an effort to prevent this from happening all over again, the government is preparing for this weekend’s parades in advance. On Saturday, school children will parade through Syndagma Square. This weekend in downtown Athens 4,000 police officers will be on duty around the parade route, which has already been lined with metal barricades.  Streets surrounding the parade will be closed to traffic. Three metro stations in the downtown area will also remain closed.

And so the country waits to see what will happen. People talk about it with a sense of nervous anticipation. For the past week, almost every afternoon I can hear students in a nearby schoolyard practicing for the parade – marching to the sound of a beating drum, trying to synchronize their steps, keeping time to the rhythm. I watched them closely one day from my balcony, marching in circles with two drummers leading the way.  Many students have already said that when they march past the platform where government officials will be sitting, they will turn their backs, look the other way – a deliberate sign of disrespect and disgust.
Many Greeks feel that politicians and the government are responsible for the current sorry state of the country. Others say that our ancestors fought for freedom while current leaders have willingly enslaved the country via EU policies and austerity measures. Anger, rage, and disregard for authority – these feelings have trickled down to even the school children in Greece.

This year the true meaning of this national holiday seems to have been forgotten.  The country is not in a celebratory mood. Every day this week I listened to the ominous sound of beating drums and instead of conjuring joyful images of commemorative processions, the sound brought to mind the image of criminals being led to the gallows…

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