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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 12 August 2017
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 12 AUGUST 2017 25 COMMENT tival is generally celebrated 14 weeks after Easter, so that it too, like its Armenian counterpart falls in the Northern Hemisphere's midsummer. The festival of Vardavar also dates back to pagan times. It is traditionally associated with the goddess Astghik, who was for the ancient Armenians, the goddess of water, beauty, love and fertility. The festivities associated with this religious observance of Astghik were named ‘Vartavar’ because Armenians offered her roses as a celebration and in Armenian, ‘vart’ means ‘rose’ and var means ‘rise.’ While we, situated in the West consider a sunrise romantic, nothing can be more calculated to make one swoon that a rose-rise, cou- pled with a ritual drenching. In this, the Armenians truly can be said to be the architects of fecundity. Armenian-organised and collective splashing assumes means that are more technologically advanced than their Assyrian brethren. In California, where large expatriate communities of them thrive, it is not unknown for the more enterprising among them to hire fire trucks and turn their hoses upon a gleeful populace, in celebration of Vardavar. It is at times like these, that even though the theory is that Armenians are our closest linguistic relatives, that I am not counted among them. Sadly, and as valiantly as I tried, I could not justify my paroxysm of fury, on the basis of being violated by precedents unknown. For, as it turns out, our own people do not exist independently of water sprinkling proclivities. Thus, I was incensed to learn that traditionally in Kastellorizo, and on the Asia Minor coast of Lycia prior to 1922, in preparation for the feast of St Elias (20 July so largely contemporaneous with the Armenian and Assyrian water festivals), a protracted amount of reciprocal drenching would take place. For days before St Elias' feast, local children would roam the streets, dragging each other into the sea, or drenching each other with buckets while yelling: «Τ᾽άϊ Λιά!» Scholars speculate that the custom, known in modern Greek as «μπουγέλωμα,» enacted on Kastellorizo even now, is a remnant of a pagan rain-making ritual, considering that Saint Elias, at least in the popular consciousness, was widely held to have power over rain. The knowledge that our aquatic customs are equally enshrined in hallowed antiquity, in my spouse's casuistic argument, (for whom Nusardel is a reminder of better, kinder, more peaceful times before she was forced to leave her homeland) precludes me from exhibiting any symptoms of apoplexy. At the root of all these festivals are pagan rain-making or fertility rituals and it is amazing that they are celebrated, with differing justifications, at roughly the same time by the three native cultures of Anatolia. Nonetheless, as I towel off and attend to making myself a garlic tea, for my inadvertent participation in Nusardel and «του Άϊ λιος» has resulted in a rather severe case of the flu, I marvel at how tied to place and time many of our customs are, and how disjointed and strange they appear when removed from their original context and aped in the Antipodes. Just as we can never hope to truly appreciate the aesthetics of the resurrection of nature accompanying the resurrection of Christ, unless we spend a springtime Easter in Greece, or relish in the carnality of a Spring Mardi Gras, amidst the lushness of an awakening landscape, at a time when our own is darkening and becoming ever more frigid, the idea of drenching each other in the middle of winter, when rain is plentiful, and water translates to pain, is inexplicable as it is untenable. And herein, lies the paradox, of our Antipodean existence. Long, hot, Greek summer NIKOS FOTAKIS When Umberto Eco first phrased the now-cliche aphorism that "there is no news in August", he certainly didn't have Greece in mind. Not that Italy is that dif- ferent, in terms of August activity, from our motherland. The influential philosopher and cultural analyst's observation was rather a reflection of the image of any Italian city during 'Ferragosto' - closed shops, no business activity, few souls walking in the heat-stricken, sun-drenched street, most people opting to head to the seaside to spend these days of heat. Yes, the cliche wants Greece to be immersed in a monthly long-siesta during August. Which began in the most ruthless way this year, with a persistent heatwave, bringing people's brain cells and blood to boiling poimt. While usually Greeks are in a constant 'simmering' state. Add to that the mandatory fires burning down the islands of Kithira and Kea, among other formerly beautiful areas of the country and you get the idea. August is far from eventless in Greece. If it looks this way, it's only because June and July had been more than eventful. It's only been a few weeks, for instance, since a public debate erupted between the government and the judiciary, threatening political stability in Greece. The Greek Association of Judges and Public Prosecutors along with the Greek Association of Administrative Judges even issued a statement accusing the government of trying to meddle with justice, orchestrating libellous stories being printed in the media about judges and other example of "degradation of public morals", which bring to mind "the methods used by fascist regimes". This, of course, had come after a court had rejected an appeal by a 29-year-old PhD student who was convicted of being a member of the Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire, the urban guer- rilla group known for carrying out a series of letter bomb attacks. This, despite a wave of public support and the fact that she had been convicted with very little evidence (partial DNA, which experts in court had dismissed and which has since 'disappeared' from police laboratories, making re-examination impossible). The prosecutors even agued that she's guilty of terrorism, because she had travelled to Barcelona, which is "well-known for such activity". Greek justice everybody. And yet, this government-judiciary brawl, with all its implications, is not even the most heated area of debate in Greece. No, this would have to be education. First, we had the association of Greek private schools label a recent law calling for the inclusion of disabled students as "Soviet". Let that sink in a little. Private schools expressing public outrage for the idea of inclusion; labelling diversity in classroom as ‘Soviet’. Ok, now move on. Because the real heat towards Education Minister Kostas Gavgorglou came when his latest education reform bill was presented, including a suggestion that, during school parades on National Day, the flagbearers would not be appointed according to their grades, but after a draw. The Opposition saw this as an opportunity to attack the government for promoting mediocrity, instead of meritocracy and excellence. ‘Excellence’ has become the Opposition’s favourite keyword as of late, taking centre stage to political debate. A political debate which has led to a character assassination of the Education Minister, on grounds that he did not serve in the army, opting to buy out his obligation. The government-friendly media retaliated reminding that neither Evangelos Venizelos, former leader of PASOK, nor Antonis Samaras, former PM and ND leader had served. All this led to the Speaker of the House Nikos Voutsis publicly criticising the Opposition for employing the old rightwing mantra of countryreligion-family (i.e. the dictatorship triptych of ideals), which in its turn created another backlash of his opponents accusing him of denigrating the Church. Even Defence Minister, leader of the farright Independent Greeks who are part of the coalition government, lashed out against the Speaker. Instead of simmering down, all this flag-waving debate on patriotism, religion and excellence, continued to soar, in true Greek fashion, leading to another public debate between Euro Parliament Member for Syriza Dimitris Papadimoulis and former PASOK MP and Olympic Champion Pyrros Dimas, who said that Syriza's policies against the Weightlifting Federation urged him to leave the country. Papadimoulis (and other critics of the Olympian) implied that Dimas had just found more lucrative employment in the US and that he was brought into the debate by the Opposition, which either promised him an MP seat, or just plainly deceived him. Meanwhile, pole vaulter Katerina Stefanidi won a gold medal at the IAAF World Championships in London, thus becoming a flag-bearer for the Greek team and inadvertently, a symbol for the 'Excellence' camp who were glaring through media - social and traditional: "if Syriza had its way, Stefanidi would not be bearing the Greek flag, it would be someone else, decided by draw". In fact, it was a draw that decided that Stefanidi would be the flag-bearer among her equals, but nobody savoured the irony. Speaking of excellence and the Olympic spirit and all these Ancient Greek ideals, Greece was once again trolled by German media, when Die Welt wrote that the Greek government should use its power within the EU to withhold approval of an easy Brexit, lest the UK agrees to give back the Parthenon Marbles. And it's not yet mid-August.
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