It’s appropriate few days after marking the Greek War of Independence to revisit the notions of patriotism and citizenship in a modern state. In historical terms, the state as we understand it today is, well, modern. After the Roman empire where the term citizenship held a meaning similar to ours, statehood, patriotism and nationalism were not notions that concerned people. Human societies had a narrow and very local organization—even in the territory of big empires who claimed vast land areas. It took lots of violence and benefits from the state’s central power for people to surrender their local allegiances and transfer them to a greater entity, the modern state.

In the 17th century bigger collections of local fiefdoms began to emerge, but it was with the dawn of the nineteenth century when statehood became much more important. Gradually, nationalism began to motivate people as a value to have, protect and enhance. Sensible patriotism, a feel of common interest and values can be a positive impetus. Unfortunately, extremism has often accompanied blind nationalism. It doesn’t have to be fascism with its extreme nationalism but fostering hatred of “the others” is indeed equally destructive.

Furthermore, it’s not appropriate for a tolerant democracy that considers itself enlightened to promote or even ignore serious demonstrations of hatred within it. Of course, there are extremist elements in every society, but the key test is how society reacts to extremism.

During the parade to mark Greece’s Independence, a group of the country’s special forces shouted very inappropriate remarks while marching! The official state authorities have condemned such a gross violation of duty and conduct. They are now taking further action against those who want to Turks and Albanians and wear their skins as clothes, and who believe that Albanians are pigs to be slaughtered.

I understand that many Greeks are offended by these utterances and don’t subscribe to this extreme ideology. How many Greeks applaud this conduct may be in dispute, but there is a political party represented in Parliament today that has this kind of ideology. This hateful event during a national celebration must be dealt immediately, appropriately, and not only by the authorities. Every Greek should think what this means to them and to the country and take a stance.

Let’s not forget that the targets of the slurs are human beings. Since this is Pascha week, it’s appropriate to remember Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The others are the kind of human beings, I assume, Jesus would not exclude on the basis of their economic status and ethnic origin. Apparently the accident of birth in a particular country & culture can never be “washed away” according to those who hate “the others.” In other words, the individual person’s character and deeds have no bearing as to how this person should be judged! This is ridiculous, plain and simple.

The parade incident is about hatred—this much is clear. It is about a narrow nationalistic view that wants racial and religious purity above all else regardless of an individual’s character, contributions, and conduct. It is about a statement that “others” are less than human. I don’t know if hatred makes for a better soldier. I don’t know if it’s part of their training—I hope not. These soldiers, however, don’t exist in a vacuum; they’re members of Greek society, and, during their service, they represent the country not their own biases. The question is not how few rotten individuals behave but how the society at-large responds to them. It’s how the citizens respond to crises collectively and individually.

Extremism and hatred are traits of people who lack confidence and maturity. When people give up rational thinking and surrender to destructive emotions, they can be easily manipulated and distracted. It’s no secret crises alter behavior and it’s no accident that through a crisis behavior can be directed.

A self-described Athenian, works and lives in the NYC metropolitan area. Interested in the world of ideas, the human condition & history, and how public policy can foster a progressive culture of life.