Introduction: Greece is Burning

From the Series: Greece is Burning

Photo by murplejane, licensed under CC BY SA.

Greece is constantly in the news these days—and for good reason. A debtor nation deeply dependent on external aid since its inception in the first third of the nineteenth century, Greece joined the European Union in 1981. In the decade afterward, it benefited from an infusion of funds from the Union, which facilitated a great number of projects of infrastructural restoration and development. With the subsequent expansion of the Union, funding began to flow elsewhere, and many of the projects premised on a continued infusion of Union funds never came to full fruition. Greek politicians and the broader Greek public vigorously sought to bring the Olympics to their turf—an enterprise that many citizens conceived as both a sound economic investment and a symbolic recognition and validation of their country’s status as the historical birthplace of Europe. Greece won the privilege of hosting the Summer Games in 2004. Many analysts have pointed to the national deficit that Greece incurred in preparing for the Games—the economic soundness of which has since proved chimerical—as the beginning of a downward spiral resulting in an economic crisis that has left the country incapable of servicing its debts, sustaining the operations of its governmental sector, or maintaining its longstanding institutions of civic welfare. Consequently, Greece has become so economically vulnerable that its participation in the monetary system of the Union is a matter of ongoing and contentious debate. Germany—since the 1960s the primary financier of the Union—remains at best an ambivalent supporter of a country that it is not alone in judging as corrupt, not merely in the political sphere but also in the civic sphere. The issues of patron-client relationships and gamesmanship loom large among critics of the former sphere; the issues of tax evasion and complacency loom large among critics of the latter.

Critique is, in short, the order of the day. On the one hand, we hear—not merely from foreigners—of a naughty Greece, which finally has to pay for its social, cultural, and fiscal sins. On the other, we follow in our papers and watch on our television screens a large segment of the Greek populace engaging in protest against the terms that it cannot but accept as conditions for remaining within the Union. These protests have at times literally left key Greek city centers in flames—and on at least one occasion, in the flames of self-immolation.

Greece has burned, has been burned, and is burning. Because of the myriad overlapping dimensions of the country’s current tumult—international, transnational, economic, political, ideological, pedagogical, ethical, and aesthetic, among others—we have resisted imposing specific themes of discussion on the contributors to this Hot Spots series. Instead, we have invited scholars within and outside of anthropology to offer us their reflections on the relation of the past and the present to the future of Greece—and what, if anything, such relations bode for the future of the European Union itself.