Posted by: MYPLACE FP7 | April 24, 2013

Difficult past and difficult present: Young people and memory in Greece

The MYPLACE project has just completed its first major public deliverable: “Country based reports on historical discourse production as manifested in sites of memory.” These reports are available here.

Here the MYPLACE team at Panteion University of Social Sciences in Athens summarise the Greek report.

Contemporary Social History Archives (ASKI)  is the public institution we collaborated with in order to study the discourses regarding Greece’s difficult past. The ASKI is a non-profit organization and is interwoven with historical research, developed by a group of historians,

ASKI, The visitor’s room

ASKI, The visitor’s room

political scientists and former politicians. The ASKI inherited a huge stock of party records (5,000,000 pages). Of particular interest is the archive of the Communist Party (1940-1974), because this was an archive that for many years was not open to the researchers and because the communist party was illegal until 1974. Also, there are collections for other political parties and institutions, youth, trade and social organizations, associations of resistance, political prisoners, student associations, active in Greece and abroad during the dictatorship, women, and many personal collections of individuals. Special collections are home to the illegal partisan press, leaflets, and posters.

ASKI - the archives

ASKI – the archives

Book fair

The book fair

The book fair

We conducted five focus groups and five interviews with experts, all of which took place in ASKI. In the focus groups participated 24 young boys and girls (13 girls and 11 boys) aged between 17 and 25 years old all of them living in the region of Athens. All the focus groups were conducted from February to June 2012. The participants were university students, school students, university students who were also part-time employees, unemployed.

     Additionally, we used some photographs and documents from the archive of the ASKI from the two of the main traumatic periods, the civil war and the military junta and the uprising of the Polytechnic School. What was really interesting was that many young people could not identify the places and the time of the events in the photos we show them and this of course is related to the lack of the historical knowledge. (See some of these photos below).

block of 6 pictures

The first and most clear outcome is that the Civil War (1946-1949) is the most traumatic historical period of the Greek history, along with the period of the German occupation (1941-1944) which in that sense is two times traumatic, because it leads to the Civil War. On the other hand the military junta of 1967-1974 is less traumatic or to be more exact following our respondents’ replies it is dramatic, since no one characterized this time as traumatic. Greece blog lack of discourse quoteThe Civil War divides society into two main parties and influences social structures dividing entire villages and even families. During the dictatorship there is a sense that people are united against a common enemy and somehow there is an overcome of the Civil War mainly through the celebrations about the uprising of the Polytechnic School (November 1973). As far as the people who took part in this struggle against the military regime are concerned, young people today maintain an ambivalent stance and opinion. Even though they admire them, maybe because they see themselves in them, and they consider their fight as positive and idealistic, they are also very critical against them from the moment many of them turned to people of power and ruled Greece for more than thirty years as MP’s and Ministers. That means that the generation of the Polytechnic School as is called is demystified from the moment it comes to power and is accused of what now is taking place in Greece, with the current social, political and financial crisis. In that sense the present is influencing the way young people see the past and some of them take the present as an obstacle in their effort to know and understand their past in a way is very difficult to learn your past in all detail.

  Greece blog Golden Dawn quote  Another crucial remark is about oblivion and forgetting. It is true that in the public domain the main trend was to forget and avoid discuss issues related to the Civil War. This is quite evident in schools where silence over this period is dominant and young people as they massively underlined do not learn many things about that traumatic time. They are mainly taught about Greece’s glorious past, e.g. Ancient Greece, Alexander the Great and the Revolution of 1821 against the Turks, but little if nothing concerning the Civil War. In that sense they do not learn about difficult and traumatic historical moments of the Greek history, i.e. ideologically charged, which are actually concealed and hidden. Not to mention that according to them history is taken as a class of low importance. What we can understand is that this kind of forgetting is selective and conscious and is an outcome of a political and ideological stance.

    However, apart from this official and mainstream discourse there are also alternative narrations which are basically found in social media and the internet, in movies and in books. Furthermore, family narrations also contribute into that direction. All these, can of course form a kind of collective memory through the production of knowledge, but young people are very discontented with this lack of public discourse regarding the traumatic moments of our history. The oral testimony within the family is of profound importance, because it contributes to formation of young people’s identity. The wounds, which on several occasions were real (injuries in the prisons, tortures, etc.), activate the excitement and emotion. The identification with narrow faces of family environment enhances the tragic impact. But there is a difference of opinion, and often the question arises: how objective is the oral storytelling? The same question arises with regard to the written history, since as supporting the young of our focus groups “history is written by the victors”.

    The last remark is related with the connection between past and present. First of all, as we mentioned above young people are criticizing the generation of the Polytechnic School through the present and the current events of the Greece blog history written by victors quotecrisis. Obviously, they are not thinking clear and are influenced by the contemporary social conditions, which are used as disfiguring glasses in order to interpret the past. The past is also influencing the present through the rise of ultra-extremism in Greece and more precisely of the neo-Nazi group ‘Golden Dawn’. It is not the place here to analyze its emergence, but via their social and political presence the ‘hidden’ trauma of the Civil War is back again or maybe as a new trauma. These people are systematically opposed to the Left and they organize commemoration festivals not only about ancient Greek victories, but also about the victory of the Civil War, or to be more exact about remembering the Left’s defeat. Their public discourse is absolutely dividing (e.g., we against all others) and they seem to seek this kind of clash and division. What is interesting, though, is that young people are quite attractive by them and the form of their organization, they seem to neglect the fact that they are pro-Nazi and this is also related to the fact that young people do not seem to know what Nazism was, because this is another missing part of the school system, which is either not taught or not given the proper attention. As a consequence, past and present are interrelated and past influences the present and vice versa. Memory seems to be a substantial element in the quest of both the individual and the collective identity within the anxiety, the confusion and the needs of the present, because at the end history is totally related with the present and is influenced by it in the way it collects, classifies and put together the events of the past.

[The research leading to these findings has received funding from the European Union Seventh Framework Programme ([FP7/2007-2013] [FP7/2007-2011]) under Grant Agreement number FP7-266831).]

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