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Sunday, 7 August 2016

On the Greek National Character, Sir Harold Nicolson (The Spectator, 1952)

From The Spectator Archive -  MARGINAL COMMENT, 21 March 1952:

"No, I am certain that I could not really like anybody who did not really like the Greeks",

"There is, however, one natural element in Greece which always surprises me with its immutability : the Greek national character. No nation on earth has, within the last half century, endured such terrible calamities. Since 1897 the Greeks have experienced six major wars, four foreign invasions, two civil wars—the first distracting, the second fiercely destructive—all manner of coups d'etat and pronunciamientos, several revolts, three serious revolutions, and a succession of economic catastrophes such as would have shattered any weaker breed. Their villages have been burnt and their children kidnapped; the most frightful murders have been committed; yet here they are, their railways working splendidly, their roads repaired, their merchant navy almost restored to its pre-war prosperity, starting to argue passionately again whether more might not be done with American aid to canalise the waters of the Vardar. We all know that the Greeks are very brave; we all know that they are highly intelligent; but it is their astonishing resilience that, more than any other quality, compels my deep respect. Along the line that runs from Salonika to Athens a few block-houses and military posts still remain from the civil war. The soldiers have amused them- selves in their spare moments by marking out in white-washed stones the battle-honours of their regiments. Victories against the Bulgarians in Macedonia, victories against the Turks in Thrace, victories against the Albanians in Illyria, victories against the Italians in Northern Epirus; but these lists, scarring the mountain-side with the motto     "Long Live the King !", always begin with three lapidary names —" Marathon," "Salamis","Plataea". No, I am certain that I could not really like anybody who did not really like the Greeks".

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