Counter-celebrations and critical takes on the bicentenary of Greek independence


Text by Kiriakos Spirou

If you're based outside of Greece, you probably have been spared the nationalist hysteria that has been unfolding over the past year, leading up to today's celebrations of 200 years of Greek independence. The 25th of March is a national holiday in Greece, commemorating the 1821 uprising against the Ottomans which eventually led to the creation of the Greek state (under a Bavarian king) a few years later.

A special committee was appointed to organise the festivities, chaired by one of the wealthiest Greeks, and even a new logo was designed by a leading Greek branding agency. In a video presenting the new logo, published in February 2020, the president of Greece 2021 called for national unity under this new banner, echoing the Greek prime minister's statement that the bicentenary is an opportunity for the Greek nation "to be reacquainted with its collective self". In the preamble of the celebrations, a dance video was produced and released by the Greece 2021 committee — redolent with similar messages of national cohesion, through an unconditional embrace of kitsch and an all-white Greek identity that checks all its stereotype boxes.

The celebrations culminate with the reopening of the National Gallery and the "renovation" of the archaeological site of the Acropolis (both advertised as funded by private cultural foundations) and a grand military parade attended by the Prince of Wales and the Russian prime minister, which took place under a strict police-enforced curfew across the entire city centre. In other words, the anniversary of the 200 years since the Greek war of independence was an opportunity for a far-right government to affirm its neoliberal doctrine and celebrate the forces that have kept local elites and foreign powers in absolute control throughout the history of the modern Greek state.

Thankfully, critical voices have emerged to counter the Greek state's narrative of national unity and nationalist pride. Artists and scholars have undertaken serious efforts — through exhibitions, publishing of texts, public talks, performances and more — to highlight Greece's thinly-veiled racism and deconstruct the notion of a unified Greek nation that applauds its own neoliberal exploitation bearing a lobotomised smile.

These projects bring a necessary perspective into play that is absent from mainstream media and state-funded cultural organisations. From the underground and the margins of Greek contemporary culture (both within and without the country) rises a refreshing — and at times, sobering — wave of critique, satire and historicultural analysis that articulates a much-needed response to the overwhelming placidity and unjustifiable joy of this bicentenary celebration.

200 Years of Greece (are far too many), screenshot by the author

200 Years of Greece (are far too many) by Loukas Kalliantasis

Dark Plateaus is the YouTube channel of visual artist and composer Loukas Kalliantasis, where he posts long-form commentary of politics, history and more. His tribute to the bicentenary of the Greek revolution revisits events of extreme nationalist violence, starting from last year's attacks on refugees along the Greek border and going back to the Srebrenica genocide in 1995, the Balkan Wars in the 1910s and the Tripolitsa massacre of 1821. It is, as the artist concludes, a grievous synopsis of "200 years of genocides, ethnic cleansings, anti-refugee mania, antisemitism and antimuslimism, of propaganda and conspiracy theories, in the name of an imaginary freedom and a glorious past." The video is 55 minutes long, and is currently available in Greek without subtitles. Watch it here.

Photo from the Greek Studies Now website

Dream Nation; 200 Years On by Greek Studies Now

Greek Studies Now is a cultural analysis network that examines Greek culture, history and society in relation to global theoretical, cultural and political debate. It was initiated in 2019 through a partnership between the University of Oxford and the University of Amsterdam, and publishes texts and videos on its new website. The most recent event organised by the network was held on 22 March and was dedicated to Dream Nation: Enlightenment, Colonization, and the Institution of Modern Greece, a seminal book on Greek national identity by Stathis Gourgouris published in 1996. The two-hour-long discussion was held in English and you can watch it here.

Aponenoimeno Syntagma (Desperate Constitution) by Samson Rakas

More than a year ago, poet Samson Rakas initiated Aponenoimeno Syntagma, an independent project that began with the excruciating process of collecting suicide notes from Greek newspapers of the past 200 years. This was followed by an open call to other artists who would be interested to create new works in response to these suicide notes. As a result, two hundred artworks have been created or are in progress. The project is already publishing some of its results on this Facebook page and will culminate with a group exhibition at Automatic Transmission in Athens in July.

Kangela Tromokratisch & Κατερίνα Παρασκεύα, Kangelina Tromokratisch

200 Years of Suffocation by FYTA

Greek art duo FYTA have been working on the issue of Greek nationalism and contemporary Greek national identity for years, often through satire, camp aesthetics and a process that has led them to master the art of overidentification. In their usual extravagance, they have curated "the biggest online exhibition against Greek reality", with the participation of more than 40 artists. Organised in three online "rooms", the exhibition consists mostly of videos — some performative, others more documentary in their approach — as well as photography, painting, books and more. The works are richly annotated in Greek and English, providing a deeper insight into the curators' approach and the works' context. You can access the exhibition only until 31 March here. An equally delicious teaser video that was released in January (and which the official Greece 2021 committee had temporarily banned) can be viewed here.

Fin by Honey-Suckle Company and 3 137

On the occasion of the bicentenary, artist-run space 3 137 has invited Berlin-based collective Honey-Suckle Company to reimagine, comment and renegotiate the discourse around Greek national identity. Honey-Suckle Company will transform the 3 137 exhibition space into an avant-garde, high-fashion couture window and catwalk inspired by Greek folk costumes of the 1821 era. Leading up to the project, Honey-Suckle Company is taking over 3 137's Instagram account, starting 25 March.

Performer Ingrid Hideki, participating in Drag Sabbat vol. VI

Drag Sabbat vol. VI

Drag Sabbat is a collective of drag artists that was created in the early days of the 2020 lockdowns in Greece. For their sixth online event that is taking place tonight at 21:00, they comment, "with satire and shame" as they say, on the 200-year anniversary of Greek nationalist pride. "Time is relative but 200 years is far too long when it is full of class marginalization, police violence and unjust government measures." Young Greek queers are as woke as they come. The performance will have Greek and English subtitles. More information and tickets here.