At what price independence?

Scotland’s referendum is close to Greece’s heart

By Omaira Gill (Debate)

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Published: Fri 19 Sep 2014, 9:53 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 9:41 PM

There are many parallels that can be drawn between the Greeks and the Scottish. I’ve often heard Greek friends say that on visits to the United Kingdom, the only place they could understand the accent of the spoken English is in Scotland.

In books and CDs to teach yourself Greek, I’d often see instructions to pronounce one of the trickiest Greek letters for foreigners, chi¸ as the sound made at the end of the Scottish word Loch.

The Scots have the kilt, the Greeks have the fustanella which can still be seen worn by the elite guards at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in front of the parliament.

Living in Greece as a foreigner is always a challenge, but somehow the Scots manage it a little better than others. The fiery tempers, zest for life, family ties, love of children and sense of pride are all familiar to them. Just the climates are different.

On a separate issue, the two populations also know what it feels like to be persecuted. The Greeks of today have not lived the hardships of the generations that came before them. They haven’t shed blood in their fight or gone through famine.

They didn’t watch the dance of Zalongo, where several mothers and children trapped by the advancing troops of Ali Pasha in 1803 chose to sing and dance themselves and their children off the steep cliffs of Zalongo in Epirus to their deaths rather than be captured.

The Greeks of today have not seen all of this, but they remember. Greek culture has a very strong history of remembering. Linguists and historians often point to Greece as an example of a remarkably resilient culture that came through a 400 year foreign occupation with their language, religion and culture entirely intact.

The stories of the hardships, the suffering and the fight for freedom have been passed down from generation to generation so vividly that you might as well have been there. These stories have woven their way into the DNA of the population. In moments when they feel particularly morose, the Greeks refer to their land as a bunch of rocks and pebbles drenched in blood.

It’s an exaggeration in some ways, and an understatement in others. The fight for Greece’s independence was a brutal one. It wasn’t until 1948 that the final Greek territory of the Dodecanese islands officially joined the country and the movement for independence was completed.

A history like that gives the Greeks an instinctive sympathy for any country that has been occupied by an outside force. For them, the fine line between the Yes and No vote in Scotland is baffling. As far as they are concerned, when you are being given your freedom on a plate, nothing less than an 80% vote in the direction of Yes is acceptable. Anything less would be a betrayal of the ancestors that died fighting for that freedom.

These, of course, are debates that could rage forever, and by the time this goes to press, Scotland’s future will already have been decided. From Greece to Catalonia and beyond, occupied or formerly occupied territories are watching the news and doing the math.

It’s never easy going it alone as any newly born nation will tell you. The economy will suffer for sure. The world will take its time to recognise you. You have to go it alone without the benefit of a powerful backer.

All of this is true, and all of it is worth considering and planning for. But if you ask the Greeks, you can’t put a price on freedom.

Omaira Gill is a freelance journalist based in Athens

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