Letter from Athens – How Greece and Scotland are remaking Europe


By Theoni Papasimacopoulou
On Sunday June 17, Antonis Samaras, leader of the center-right New Democracy Party, scored politically against the Germans in the Greek general election. Greeks of all persuasions are hoping this proves a good omen for when their country takes on Germany in the Euro 2012 quarter-finals, fronted by Glasgow Celtic’s striker, Giorgios Samaras.

Samaras (the footballer) and his teammates have already provided a lift to their troubled nation by stealing a surprise 1-0 victory over highly fancied Russia.

“After the game against Russia, people were partying in the streets with Greek flags. They have a smile on their faces and we feel proud.

“We don’t play for ourselves or for the money. We play for the national team, we play for history and for the 11 million people back home,” said Samaras.

He is not alone. Long-time German coach “King” Otto Rehhagel, the man who led Greece to Euro-Cup Glory in 2004, has warned his fellow countrymen: “Don’t underestimate the Greeks”.

When it comes to politics though, it is Antonis Samaras and his pro-European New Democracy Party who have triumphed, with 30 per cent of the vote and 129 seats, in the second Greek election in six weeks. However, New Democracy was only slightly ahead of the radical left Syriza party, which took 27 per cent of the vote and 72 seats.

One reason why many Greek voters turned to Syriza, which opposes the EU’s demand for austerity, was because they wanted to punish the previous socialist government of PASOK, which is held responsible for creating the mess in the first place. PASOK collapsed to 12 per cent of the voted and only 32 seats not for the austerity measures per se, but for its failure to negotiate better terms, accepting them practically “blindfolded”. 

When the PASOK government signed the original bailout deal, it was a recipe for disaster, and by definition, an act of political suicide. True, with the Bundestag and the IMF breathing down its neck, PASOK had a tough job. But it was their job, and they had to do it. If I don’t do my job properly, I’ll get sacked. Well, that’s exactly what happened to PASOK. 

Yet, according to reports, Germany still expects the Greek government to stick to the terms of the original bailout agreement. That’ll be right!

What has it to do with the referendum on Scottish Independence?

A nation’s right to self-determination is the pillar, the source of its future. That is true for Scotland and Greece, and Europe should take note.

No-one wants to feel threatened or stripped from their rights and decency. But the EU Memorandum for Austerity dictated by Angela Merkel does exactly that. As we say here in Greece, if you remove the seed from the apricot, no fruit can blossom. Place it in a pot of mud, and maybe one day, that seed will grow into a beautiful tree.

An independent Athens exists within the heart and mind of a United Europe.  In-dependence, in itself, means freedom. Inter-dependence is very different. History has proven that you can have both. Yet how can you build the latter, without the former?

Scotland and Greece, in their long fight for freedom, have more in common than meets the eye. For one, our flags are similar. Both bear the white and blue cross – the colours of the sky and the sea. Legend has it, that Saint Andrew, patron saint of Scotland and Greece, was crucified on an X -shaped cross at Patras in Achaea. The Saltire depicts that same cross – the symbol of freedom for both countries.

The Greek Flag is based on nine equal horizontal stripes of blue alternating with white. There is a blue canton in the upper corner bearing a white cross. This symbolizes Eastern Orthodox Christianity, the established religion of the Greek people. According to popular tradition, the nine stripes represent the nine syllables of the phrase “Freedom or Death”, (” E-lef-the-ri-a i Tha-na-tos”), the five blue stripes for the syllables “E-lef-the-ri-a” (Freedom) and the four white stripes “i- Tha-na-tos” (or Death).

Moreover, some believe our hanging earlobes mean that we are not of Anglo-Saxon origin, but both connected to Celtic tribes. Far-fetched? One has only to read the “Acts of St. Cadroe”, a Scottish monk in the 900s. This contains the legend that the Scots were Greeks “from the town of Chorischon upon the river Pactolus, which separates Choria from Lydia”. Having obtained ships, they were driven through the Columns of Hercules, finally to land at Cruachan Feli in Ireland.

When the Greek fought against The Ottoman Empire in the War of independence of 1821 (“Elliniki Epanastasi”).  George Gordon, otherwise known as the poet Lord Byron, died helping the Greek cause. He was not the first. In 1453, Grant the Scot fought for the Byzantine Greeks during the siege of Constantinople. Does this sound like a possible blockbuster? Funnily enough, there’s a strong Scottish-Greek connection, even in Hollywood. Witness Gerard Butler playing King Leonidas of Sparta in the movie “300”.

A Europe without Greece is like a child without a birth certificate. Greece is just the face of Europe’s long-boiling problems. The kettle is simmering and soon the lid will explode. The new coalition government has to re-negotiate the terms of the memo. And yes there can be independence in Europe.

The SNP is not proposing to leave the sterling zone and insists that Scotland would keep the pound until there could be a referendum on joining the euro. Greece is neither leaving the Euro nor Europe. Its future lies within Europe, not outside it. On June 17, the Greek electorate cast its vote, proving that despite exceptionally harsh measures, it has no intention of leaving its European Family. And neither does Scotland. 

The legacy of the Scottish Enlightenment is the modern basis for democracy and opposition to tyranny and oppression, as Greek thinking was a light to classical civilizations. Preparations for the latest battle for freedom have started, in both Scotland and Greece. In Thoreau’s words, “Live your beliefs and you can turn the world around”.


Theoni Papasimacopoulou lives and works in Athens. She has degrees from Napier University and the University of Edinburgh.