War and peace in the history museum

This week my colleague and I had to visit the history museum in order to photograph a weapons  collection. Our contact in the museum was a very helpful guy, who offered to give us a tour of the museum after we were done with the photo shoot. While we were admiring the decoration on some old pistols and the paintings of battles that took place during the Turkish occupation, a middle-aged man came to stand right behind me to join into the impromptu guided tour. Soon he decided to pitch in to proclaim that acts of violence such as beheading were commonplace in Greece not so long ago, and that they still happened in other cultures.

Naturally, all three of us were quick to condemn that fact and to express our relief that as a culture we had evolved past that point. However, according to that guy we were all missing the point. ‘ You can’t even stomach a cat being killed;your generation has become too soft’ he told my colleague. That was in his opinion, the reason the country has gone downhill since…I don’t know, I guess since the last beheading took place. I smiled and went on to look at the hatchets. We have indeed become softer, I admit it;  I wasn’t raised in the countryside and I am not cool with the thought of having to behead a chicken or skin a goat or something. If someone left me in a forest and drove off, I’d probably die before the end of the week. I don’t know how to shoot people and I have never been eager to learn.

Say that I was raised into a more violent culture, what would the difference be? Would that make me more of a fighter? no. Would I be more invested in what’s happening around me? not likely. Would I have more empathy towards a fellow human being, therefore feeling the need to stand up for them and their rights? nah. Would I tolerate oppression any less? nope.

Therefore I am failing to see how inaction could ever be cured through the cultivation of violent tendencies within the population. Historically, there were times where violence was necessary, and when that time came, feeling lightheaded at the sight of blood was never an issue.

Later on we moved to the second floor to visit a temporary exhibition about the  history of the Balkans. We stopped at some point where a tv screen was projecting images of folk singers, accompanied be the sound of  traditional songs being sang in different languages: Turkish, Greek, Serbian, Albanian etc. The tune was always the same, the language and the delivery differed- a musical reminder of our common roots and the culture we share.

‘We concern ourselves with meaningless quarrels’, our guide said, ‘ who does baclava belong to? who played this song first? Instead of looking at the unifying elements, we focus on what divides us, what we can claim for ourselves’. Other than a person’s upbringing, it’s usually lack of contact with people from another culture that creates that rift, the way I see it. When having a conversation with a stranger, the first thing that usually happens is an attempt to find a common link; the classic-and most ridiculous example is something like this :

-Where in Greece are you from?


-Oh I have a friend who lives in Athens. He’s called George. .


In the same manner, when engaging in conversation with a person from another country, what’s most likely to happen is that both parties attempt to find shared cultural traits; what’s least likely to happen- and usually only happens in youtube comments- is that they have fisticuffs over who makes the best syrup sweets.

We toured around the museum a lot, saw collections of swords, medieval armor, traditional costumes, furniture and several other archaeological treasures. I have to admit I am not big on museums- I love archaeological sites but seeing the items on display, so disengaged from their original place and purpose does very little for me. I did like the pistols though-the pistols were cool.



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