Friday, 16 October 2009

Of heroes and democracy

This morning over breakfast I decided that I needed to read the historical part of my guidebook to Greece and I'm glad I did. I had commented to a travelling companion last night that I was woefully ignorant about modern Greek history and politics.
Almost 28 years ago to the day, on the eve of PASOK's historic win in the Greek elections, I went to a special screening at Berlin's alliance française of Costa Gravas' film "Z" it made an enormous impression on me. I was in tears and deeply shocked at the end of the film. Only now do I realise that writing the book that inspired it was a real act of creative imagination, about resurrection in a very powerful way. "Z" means "he lives" - the Greek colonels banned much in the way of civil society after they came to power, according to the final credits of the film they also banned the letter Z because it symbolised resistance.
Thinking about all of this made me realise once more how much we take democracy for granted, it is not at all so long ago that this country was having to come out of the pain of military rule. Building up civil society is not easy, so much easier to destroy than to construct, to stifle rather than encourage dialogue and discussion.
As I'm also reading a bit about the Greek gods and heroes while on my short holiday here I've also been thnking about our human need to see virtue embodied in a single individual rather than in groups and collective values - of course we do all need exceptional individuals to look up to but any individual will have faults, will be human. It strikes me that in looking for heroic qualities in leaders we hope that they will do the hard work for us. I can see this in politics, the churches and many organisaitons.
Perhaps in the end a truly heroic leader will share power by motivating others, encouraging responsibility of each for the whole and building up civil society - which even means opposition to such values ...