Coronavirus Lockdown Busts Myth of Unruly Greeks

Monastiraki Square during lockdown: File photo

It was the beginning of March when the first cases of Covid-19 in Greece began to multiply. Springtime was smiling shyly and Greeks were already shedding their winter clothes and preparing for Easter, which was a month or so away.

It was March 11 when the government decided to shut down schools in certain areas, a measure that included all schools across the country just a few days later, when the coronavirus scare started spreading in earnest.

Only days before, it was announced that the crucial March 15 soccer game between Olympiacos and PAOK would be postponed indefinitely. It was also announced that the March 11 Europa League match between the British Wolves and Olympiacos in Piraeus would be played behind closed gates.

Soccer fans were fuming. They bombarded social media with colorful curses against the government, which was accused of being everything from a cruel dictatorship to a fascist regime.

Then, on March 22, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced that an even more draconian total lockdown would go into effect the following day.

Greeks were required to inform authorities if they left their own home, either by text message or, if stopped by police, with a signed form. They were allowed to leave only for work, to visit a doctor or pharmacy, to shop for food, walk a pet or exercise outdoors — briefly. These draconian measures still apply, but some of them will be lifted as of May 4.

Once the measures were enforced, some angry Greeks joined the previous voices of soccer fans in protest and condemnation. Social media became the ground where the Greeks’ rebellious spirit revolted against the authorities.

Yet that rebellious spirit somehow remained confined to computer and tablet screens. Some citizens did threaten that once covid-19 disappeared, they will have a “showdown” with the government for keeping them home.

Sadly, some of these “threats” came from members of the main opposition party.

Then it was the turn for religious Greeks to rebel. The lockdown applied to church services as well, and it was Easter time, the greatest religious feast of the entire year and the most revered Greek tradition of all. Additionally, travel outside one’s prefecture of residence was banned

Again, there was religious rage in social media, while some fanatics equalled the government to the Antichrist. But, again, the rebellion fortunately was exhausted on the keyboards of computers throughout the land.

There were also cases of schizophrenia, when the same person would accuse Boris Johnson of not taking preventive measures in Britain but at the same time complain that PM Mitsotakis was keeping them a prisoner in their own home.

However, to this day, the vast majority of Greeks did  indeed stay home, washed their hands, wore masks and gloves when needed —and when not needed — and religiously watched the official head of the coronavirus watch, Sotiris Tsiodras, in his daily coronavirus update at 6 PM every evening.

In fact, polls show that the epidemiologist is the most popular person in Greece at the moment. Not to mention that the current prime minister leads polls by a huge margin over his main political opponent, Alexis Tsipras.

Who would have thought that the stubborn, unruly Greeks would be so compliant with the government-imposed lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

It was as if the pandemic instantly transformed Greeks into law-abiding, health-conscious, socially responsible citizens. Far from the stereotype of the Zorba-like let’s-enjoy-today-who-cares-about-tomorrow attitude or that of the careless, naive person that only cares about spending borrowed money on lavish vacations on Mykonos (before the economic crisis.)

Social media was also an educational platform for Greeks. Other than the odd wild conspiracy theory encountered here and there, they became informed, they learned about viruses — and they witnessed the horror stories of the disease from other countries.

At the same time Greeks became inventive, productive, some more social than when they were free to go out, some learned how to cook, others enjoyed books and movies they would have no time to watch afterward.

More importantly, families grew closer together, fathers had more time to play with their sons, couples had more time together, bonds tightened in the face of the slow torture the whole world is going through.

It seems that a new type of Greek will likely emerge from the quarantine: more aware, more inventive, more compassionate.

Less stubborn, less selfish, less vain.

More compliant, more realistic, more open minded, knowing how to read between the lines, how to evaluate what they read.

And by now, almost all Greek citizens have realized that by the time the lockdown is lifted, life will be different. And they seem to be accepting of that fact.

So the pandemic proved that the myth of the unruly, rebellious Greeks is just that. Greeks had already proved during the economic crisis, that when times get hard, they persevere.

They survived that crisis, and now they seem to be surviving the Covid-19 crisis as well — better than most.