Greece: The Welcoming ceremony for the European football champions

This report from Athens shows how the Greek bosses tried to exploit to their advantage the victory of the Greek football team in the European Cup. The main speaker in the official celebrations was the head of the Greek Orthodox Church who gave a very nationalist speech. He was widely hissed and many people abandoned the stadium. It gives an idea of what is to come in Greece.

Hundreds of thousands of people came out onto the streets to celebrate the huge success of the Greek national football team in the Euro 2004 championship and to welcome the players and the team manager as heroes. The majority of those present were common people, workers and youth. Undoubtedly among them there were many unemployed workers and many immigrants that have come to live in Greece these last few years.

For all these people the victory in the European Cup was a great opportunity to escape from the stress and problems of everyday life, but it was also seen as striking a blow against the powerful European countries, whose teams the Greek underdogs managed to beat. The slogans, the songs and the celebrations were naturally not only about the players and the manager, but also about the colours and the symbols of the national team giving rise to a generalised atmosphere of "national" pride.

Naturally, the Greek bourgeoisie could not let this chance go by without exploiting it to their own ends. From the very first day of the team's victories, they started to whip up nationalist sentiment and to invest politically in the achievements of these 15 very well paid Greek football players. Through the state and private media, hundreds of journalists, members of the government, politicians, petit bourgeois intellectuals, "celebrities" and "worthless sociologists" made it their job to spread and defend a series of classical national bourgeois ideas and slogans, such as "This is what we Greeks can achieve when we are united", "at last, we can talk again in the name of our fatherland", "at last we have seen the national flag in the hands of our youth again", "we Greeks should take this as an example and stand united", and so on and so forth. All this has a common feature, the supposed need for "national unity and a common spirit".

The myth of a national common spirit

One small event from EURO 2004 is enough to demonstrate what this bourgeoisie means by "national common spirit". The day of the final in Lisbon, a few hundreds of these "well known" lovers of the "common spirit" did not hesitate to use their relations with the officials of the Greek Football Federation to keep out of the stadium hundreds of common, "man-in-the-street" Greeks that had travelled thousands of kilometres from every part of the world with a promise of getting a ticket. Thus while ordinary Greeks had been kept out these "official" Greeks (singers, politicians, journalists, capitalists) were able at the last moment to get seats in the stadium and to pose "full of joy" in front of the cameras.

The "national unity and common spirit" that we have heard so much about in these last few days is being spread by the media in the name of this "national success" in EURO 2004. In reality it is precisely what the bourgeoisie needs, in order to oppress all the remaining creative powers of the Greek people, and to increase their profits in a period of international economic stagnation. Nothing good can come out of this "unity" for the vast majority of the people that took part in the celebrations. This unity and common spirit with the capitalists, presupposes that the working class and the poor layers of society will give up on their own needs and demands for the good of the "nation" and "the national economy", which in reality means for the interests of their exploiters. This kind of unity and common spirit that is being spread by the capitalists through the media, their hacks and their servile pen pushers who wear hats with national symbols and wave the national flag, cannot be accepted and will not be accepted by the workers and the youth.

The fiasco of the welcoming ceremony

The reactionary attempt to exploit this football event was also expressed to a small degree with the attempt to whip up national chauvinist sentiment on the part of well known ultra-right wingers, mostly by the LAOS party and its TV channel, and through the activities of ultra-right wing hooligans during the celebrations that became visible with the appearance of fascist symbols, fascist salutes and racist slogans.

Nevertheless, the most glaring example of this attempt to exploit the success of the national team for reactionary purposes was the main welcoming ceremony in the Kallimarmaro Olympic stadium in Athens with the presence of tens of thousands of people. This ceremony reflected in all its glory the reactionary nature of the Greek bourgeoisie and its state. It even ignored elementary bourgeois protocol for such ceremonies and the way it was organised would have suited perfectly any openly reactionary and theocratic regime. In the place of the President or the Prime Minister, who are at least the elected "representatives" of the nation within the framework of bourgeois democracy, we had Christodoulos, the leader of the Greek Orthodox Church, who took the central role. After he gave one of his more inflamed nationalist speeches, like the ones he is used to giving from the pulpit, talking about the "victory of the nation and the Orthodox faith", the organisers had the football players and the team manager file by one by one and kiss his hand, and then to recieve crosses from him!

After this big "show" of Christodoulos, came the Minister of Sports and the Mayor of Athens, playing minor roles. Again they gave out prizes and once more gave speeches about the need for a "national common spirit". All this until the patience of the people started to dry up. An instinctive silence spread throughout the stadium and an impulsive tendency to abandon the place was clear to all, especially among the youth.

It was as if thousands of young people were thinking the same thing: "What do our football players, that gave us some great moments of joy, have to do with the priests, with these empty words and these officials? We are fed up with all these officials. They all make promises about the nation, but they themselves are rich. They don't have anything to do with us, and we don't want them in our celebration".

This explains why the ceremony ended in a fiasco. The chanting of slogans and the cheering stopped suddenly when it became apparent what was being done. But it went further than that. When the president of the Greek Football Federation appeared on the scene, a very loud and unprecedented hissing could be heard all around the stadium. Many of those taking part became exasperated when they saw the person who is the head of what is regarded as a dirty and corrupt sports organisation, which is well known for its connections with big capitalist sharks that exploit Greek football, such as Socratis Kokkalis and Vardis Vardinogiannis.

The masses did not respond once with any enthusiasm or applause throughout the speeches of Christodoulos and of the other "officials". And as if this were not enough, twenty minutes into Christodoulos' speech we witnessed people starting to leave the stadium, because they felt uncomfortable and they refused to be part of a ceremony that was trying take advantage of their presence. It is worth noting that these were the same people that before the ceremony had started, had stood outside waiting for three to four hours for the ceremony to start. Even well known journalists and TV presenters, who were reporting the ceremony for the big TV channels, could feel the disappointment of the people and tried to cover this up by saying there were some "technical problems in the ceremony that had dampened the enthusiasm" (e.g. the presenters of the biggest Greek private TV channel, "MEGA CHANNEL").

This instinctive reaction of the people, and especially of the youth, against the bourgeois "officials" and Christodoulos, was an indirect warning of what is going to come in Greek society in the near future. After the all night celebrations of the Greek workers are already coming back to their everyday nightmare of mass unemployment, economic decline, marginalisation, and increasing poverty, where the moments for celebration and joy are only small intervals within the misery of the everyday struggle for existence.

In these conditions the "national common spirit" and "national unity" are going to end up where they deserve to be. They will remain an unfulfilled dream of the bourgeoisie. In place of the celebrations with the blue and white flags, we will soon see the return of strikes and demonstrations against the programme of pauperisation, privatisations and cuts that the New Democracy want to impose.

In the place of national pride will come class conflict which will be constantly fed by the ranks of the mass unemployed that are going to appear after the end of the construction works for the Olympic games and of the other works financed by the EU. In the place of the national celebrations that "gather all of us together" will come the class struggle. Then Christodoulos and the bourgeois politicians, the government and their full-time journalists, the celebrities and the right wing intellectuals will be relegated to their natural positions. They will once more be on the "other side", defending their reactionary class against the Greek working class and the youth.