Will Greece be able to link its past and present into a coherent vision of the country’s path towards modernity?

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Since 1974 and the fall of the junta and particularly since the 1989 landslide changes that altered Europe, Greek governments have been attempting to undertake reforms considered necessary for the country to ‘catch up,’ actively participate in the ‘modern West,’ and respond to the competitive pressures of globalization. This has led to increasingly fiery protests and wide public contestation to a neoliberal model of modernization based on market-oriented values as this appears to be ‘imposed’ by the EU.

In order to examine the dimensions of this conflict, Gropas, Kouki and Triandafyllidou researched state discourses on Greek identity in the framework of ‘Europeanising’ national education (i.e. participating in the Bologna Process) and through the state’s cultural diplomacy policy (through promoting Greek culture and modern Greek studies abroad).

The analysis of Greece’s participation in and discourses over the Bologna process reveals the tensions that characterize modern Greek identity. On one hand, the related discourses of different Education ministers underline the pressing need to converge towards European higher education standards – a priority modernization project that the country must follow so as to improve the quality of its domestic institutions and its citizens’ ability to participate in increasingly globalised labour markets. On the other hand, they recognized the problems and embarrassments posed by persistent catching up efforts – that never completely materialize. When addressing domestic audiences, the state actors adopt a nationalistic narrative that present European developments as desirable (to achieve ‘progress’) and Greece as the ‘carrier’ of ‘true’ education and knowledge due to its historical heritage of Greek classicism. Thus, education reforms have been presented as a way to boost national pride and reestablish trust in the celebrated classical heritage of the country that ought to serve as a paradigm to the rest.

 

The analysis of cultural diplomacy policies of the Greek state showed its inability to shape a coherent policy in this domain. We argue that this can probably be attributed to the state’s inability to critically reflect on national identity and on the modern vs. past achievements of the Greek nation (and nation-state). Indeed, the cultural diplomacy policy of the Greek state has been hampered by national stereotypes over a glorious past. However, there have been no attempt to conceptualize and promote modern achievements and European developments that actually form an integral part of the current national identity. As a result, any state attempts of cultural promotion remain decontextualized from Greek society that has experienced the impacts of post 1975 democratization, the information technology revolution, European exchanges, immigration and multicultural cities, and other significant modernization changes.

State attempts at cultural diplomacy seem to dismiss contemporary cultural achievements and all too easily refer almost exclusively to the very distant past to showcase the country’s cultural capital. This testifies to a lack of a coherent vision on behalf of the governments that would critically compose experiences of the Greek state in the 20th century, not self critical as an exception to the rule, but as an exemplary case of European countries leading their own, individual path towards modernity and approaching modernity through multiple paths.
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