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Saturday, February 12, 2005 

Viewing Democracy Through Opaque Glasses

"What we need is to bring back the military junta. There was no crime then, everyone was safe and we all had jobs."

I heard that comment again from one of our Greek clients. I'd like to say that his view is an isolated one but amazingly enough, he's one of many people from whom I've heard the same sentiment over the years. Many Greeks share the same view although they don't outrightly express support for the junta. Usually, they tone it down a bit ... along the lines of "the junta wasn't all that bad..." and then they will provide you with a shopping list of all that was 'right' with the junta...from safer streets, more jobs and better infrastructure.

"Is this just an opinion shared only by Greeks?", I questioned myself. No, it wasn't as I've heard the same comments from Poles, Ukrainians and Russians over the years as well regarding the communist regime. They would tell me of a time when people had money, had jobs and life was better then than it is now. They feel that the collapse of communism was the beginning of a societal and economic downward spiral.

Being a Canadian and only ever having lived in the USA and Canada, and never having had anything but a democratic modern background, I'd never even given credence to the belief that there might be anything worthwhile other than democracy and that to say otherwise is tantamount to sacrilege. I naively believed that 100% of the global population would naturally WANT a democratic society. To think otherwise would be looking at life not through rose-coloured glasses but opaque ones.

If I had only heard support for a non-democratic society once, I'd dismiss it as an aberration of thought. To hear it continually over several years from people of different countries, I started to give it some consideration.

What makes people believe that communism or dictatorship is better than democracy?
The people I talked to told me all had the same answers: everyone had a job, crime was lower and for the most part, their quality of life was better. These views weren't expressed just by uneducated people either...all of them held had finished high school and most of them were university educated. So the support for a non-democratic lifestyle wasn't because of ignorance or was it?

Querying them further, I realized that they all shared another commonality...they had all been raised during or in the immediate aftermath of communism or dictatorship. Most Greeks grew up on junta-written educational curriculum. The communist-raised people had been indoctrinated with the communist idealogy so it stands to reason that it would take a lot more than 15 years from the demise of communism to undo a lifetime of such brainwashing...devoid of alternate opinions and ideas.

When free press doesn't exist, there are only 'approved' reading materials and your only source of information comes from the government, freedom of thought is punished, then it only stands to reason that such governments DO appear to a good alternative to democracy.

If the government tells you there is no crime and in the absence of media freedom, you believe it.

If the government builds your homes for you and you all pay the same rent for them, but no one tells you what effect that has on your economy, you live in ignorance.

When you are guaranteed a job regardless of your qualifications, education or performance and now you actually have to prove your worth in a capitalist, democractic society. Of course, it's more difficult.

When everyone has a post-secondary education and the higher educational facilities lower admission standards, in effect, your 'degree' becomes a worthless piece of paper anywhere else.

When you are told that a high school dropout who collects garbage for a living is worth of the same salary as a brain surgeon, and you believe that, then you are lying to yourself. Human desire for higher achievement is subsequently rendered obsolete.

It is my belief that these people have a softer view of non-democratic governments because they never had the choice of living or learning about any other way of life. Life IS easier when you don't have to actually work hard to get it.

Democracy isn't flawless. We can still be misled by government propaganda but at least we have opportunity to live with it, the freedom to question it, and the ability to reform it.

As usual, Winston Churchill summarized it better..."It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

An excellent post, Sea. I cannot really find anything to significantly disagree with, though it can vary by individuals as to their knowledge experiences living under multiple governmental systems.

I think this comes down to selfishness. What is, or was, easiest is best. Even if the crime rates were higher, so long as the areas that were most effected did not effect them, supporters of a system will want it resumed once they have to endure too much hardship in the new system. People make idealised presumptions which are either amazingly stupid or are the result of deceptions or exaggerations. They will over look the evils of the old ways to avoid living in what they see as the evils of their new lives.

I have to admit, this thread amazes me. I've heard people say things to this effect also but have never payed any attention and dismissed it as someone talking absolute cr*p. I come to the conclusion that these people don't have a clue what they are talking about. Democracy was restored in Greece in 1974 so that means that anyone aged 31 and below won't have any memory of the junta. It also meanns people aged 41 and under won't really have any idea as they were only a child at the time so they won't remember the reality either. However upon reading this blog, I realized that we're constantly being exposed to junta propaganda even now. Every week, they show 'classic movies' on TV. Black and white films from that era. They are mainly comedys and in each and every movie, everyone lives happily ever after and life is great. I'll be honest and say I've looked at these films and thought 'I wish I'd lived in that era', it's a pretty sad thought I suppose but in these films, everyone's happy, they sing, they dance, they fall in love and they live happily ever after. It's only now that I realize that these films were and are junta propaganda. Aliki Vougiouklaki was one of the main stars of the time and she made several movies per year. So yeah anyone of my generation looking back, sees that impression of life. They didn't see people being arrested, imprisoned or even killed. If the junta was so great, why did so many people risk everything to overthrow it and give us democracy. Comments like this are an insult.

As I'm sure your aware Sea, last night while we were chatting about this, I mentioned to a Spaniad that he must know what we mean because of all the years Spain was ruled by General Franco but this guy immediately hit back and talked about how great the economy was. So it shows people only remember what they want to remember.

Another dictatorship that's been in the news recently was the US backed Pinochet regime in Chile in the 1970s. The regime was brutal, thousands of people were picked up by the death squads and tortured and executed. However even when faced with this reality, there are people in Chile who remember how Pinochet improved the economy and so on. So unfortunately it shows, if people in Chile can have selective memory when faced with the evidence then people in Greece have got no chance.

You're right about the part that pop culture plays in all of this. I had mentioned that very thing to my husband a couple of years back when the TV had nothing on but old black & white movies...I said that you'd never know there was a junta and that 10,000 people arrested within the first few days with all the comedies they show from that era. They serve to distract people's attention from the reality surrounding them. And how many times I've heard practically all greeks say that 30 years ago, there was no crime at all. So what if Greeks were being imprisoned by their fellow citizens, newspapers forced to close and civil liberties repealed. That all doesn't matter because we're all now on the lookout for that one evil criminal purse snatcher aren't we? LOL
And your comment about Spain and General Franco struck a chord with me as well. When I was in Spain last July, I asked our friends there how life was during Franco's rule and they all said it was much better than it is today. It's almost as if people like having someone think for them, talk for them so all they have to do is breathe...very quietly.

I do not know about 30-40 years ago in Greece (that is not that long ago), but I would think, that in times earlier or in places of little to no opportunity, there could be a kind of romaticising of the coping mechanisms of people.

Songs sung, board games played, and stories read would have helped a nation deal with the dispiriting policies of their governments.

Such imagery might be used as propoganda. Just looking at the story a Christmas Carol, one can see an idealised image of the loving family that seems so pleased to have a turkey at their table. What rights people might not have had respected, what hardships they endured, they seemed more close, more loving and in a greater bond than anythinmg most modern societies of today seem capable of.

The Walton's mystique is a powerful lure.

or is it waltons'? whichever.

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