Sunday, 18 October 2020

Why did the Athens junta overthrow Makarios? Was Enosis the objective?

Since Greece and Cyprus have been in the news lately, here's a thread on an assertion regarding Turkey’s 1974 invasion of Cyprus that always bugs me when I come across it.

It's that the 15 July 1974 coup that ousted President Makarios (and was followed five days later by Turkey's invasion) was aimed at bringing about Enosis – union of Cyprus with Greece. This is totally wrong:

The aim of the coup wasn't Enosis but the assassination of Makarios. Not only did Makarios oppose the junta’s policy on Cyprus – double enosis/partition (some sort of variation of the 1964 Acheson plan); but he also provided succour to democratic opponents of the regime. 
Moreover, Makarios had many enemies in the US security and foreign policy establishment – the 'Castro in the Mediterranean' crowd; who were the same circles that supported the junta and to whom the junta thought, by getting rid of Makarios, it was doing a favour. 
The point of getting rid of Makarios wasn’t to replace him with Nikos Sampson but with a respected, conservative figure, like Glafcos Clerides. But Makarios survived assassination and no one from legitimate Cypriot political circles would step in to become president. 
Only as an afterthought did the junta scrape the bottom of the barrel and come up with Nikos Sampson and his EOKA-B gangsters. It's a matter of dispute as to how much Sampson knew about the coup though, certainly, he had no idea he would be called on to be its frontman. 
Any move to Enosis was bound to provoke a Turkish military response; yet the junta had no plan to deal with a Turkish attack. The fact that when Turkey invaded Cyprus, the junta resigned, shows it wasn't considering the consequences of Enosis, because Enosis wasn't its aim. 
The junta's aim – beyond killing Makarios – was to start negotiations with Turkey for double enosis/partition. The junta reassured Turkey in this regard, but the Turks preferred to implement partition on their terms rather than on the junta's terms. 
It’s Turkish propaganda and lazy commentators who plug the myth that the coup's aim was Enosis. It's used to justify the invasion and exonerate Turkey. The narrative is: 'Greece tried to seize the island, Turkey stepped in to prevent this. There's no right or wrong here.' 
The coup/Enosis myth has become tied to another falsehood perpetuated by lazy journalists/academics and that is that the coup was a 'Greek Cypriot coup'. Though elements of the National Guard were involved in the coup, this was led by Greek officers loyal to the junta. 
Moreover, there was no popular support for the coup. Makarios was a democratically elected and overwhelmingly popular president. Greek Cypriots rejected and died resisting the coup. Thus, Greek Cypriots were targets and victims of the coup, not its perpetrators. 
Even if we were to concede the absurd and say the coup's aim was Enosis, we'd still point out that the second, more devastating, phase of Turkey's invasion took place three weeks after Sampson and the junta had fallen and the threat of Enosis, if it ever existed, had ended.

Monday, 28 September 2020

Coups, kings and apostates

'Cyprus lies at heart of the tragic political developments that have led to the death of democracy in Greece.' (Andreas Papandreou)

Hopefully, by now, we all understand how certain Greek politicians and military leaders for the sake of their own careers, enslaved by their own petty paranoias and even pettier visions of what Greece should be, sacrificed Cyprus, like Iphigenia at Aulis.

They did this by seeking to impose partition on Cyprus, which was not in the national interests of Greece or Hellenism, but would have satisfied Turkey, Britain and America – America having devised, through the Acheson plan, the details of how this partition would come about.

Because Cypriots were naturally horrified by the prospect of their country being partitioned, American foreign policy looked to 'friendly circles' in Greece to persuade the Cypriots, one way or the other, to accept the dismemberment of the island.

It is at this point that this article by Victor Netas takes up the story and relates it to the palace coup that overthrew the Centre Union government of prime minister Giorgios Papandreou on 15 July 1965 and set in motion the events that led to the junta seizing power in 1967 and the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974.

Netas claims that the constitutional coup that overthrew the Centre Union government is directly linked to a visit to Washington Papandreou made in June 1964 and his refusal to succumb to the pressure exerted on him by US President Lyndon Johnson to accept the Acheson plan, which not only envisaged the partitioning of Cyprus between Greece and Turkey but also the ceding of Kastellorizo to Turkey.

Coming out of his ill-tempered meeting with Johnson, Papandreou confided to colleagues: 'We're finished. Great powers don't forgive such things.'

After Papandreou left America, Johnson called in Greece's ambassador to Washington, Alexandros Matsas, and insisted that Greece accept the Acheson plan. Matsas said that 'no Greek parliament would never accept such a plan' and that 'the Greek constitution does not permit for any Greek government to hand over a Greek island'.

Then came the following exchange:

Johnson: Then listen to me, Mr Ambassador. Fuck your parliament and fuck your constitution. America is an elephant. Cyprus is a flea. And Greece is a flea. If these two fleas continue itching the elephant, they may just get whacked by the elephant's trunk, whacked good…

Matsas: I'll pass on your views to the prime minister, but I'm certain of what Greece's response will be. Greece is a democracy, and the prime minister cannot override parliament's wishes.

Johnson: I'll tell you what response I'll give if I get back such a reply from your prime minister. Who does he think he is? I can't have a second De Gaulle on my plate. We pay a lot of good American dollars to the Greeks, Mr. Ambassador. If your prime minister gives me talk about democracy, parliament and constitutions, he, his parliament and his constitution may not last very long.

Netas says that President Johnson's threats and Giorgios Papandreou's fear that he would be overthrown were realised when, the following year, the palace, with the support of Centre Union defectors [the so-called 'apostates' – see my post on the role of the leading 'apostate' Konstantinos Mitsotakis], dismissed his government and installed a pro-palace administration, which would also be more deferential to American demands.

Netas goes on to suggest that America, at this time, far from acting as a restraining influence on Turkey – as Christopher Hitchens suggests America was doing, in his book, Cyprus: Hostage to History – was in fact actively encouraging the Turks to invade Cyprus to impose partition and that what was really stopping Turkey was its military unpreparedness.

Netas quotes Nihat Erim, in charge of Turkey's Cyprus policy since the 1950s, who writes in his book, Cyprus, that on 8 February 1964: 'The American journalist Lawrence Moore… visited my home and left me a book on Cyprus and a letter, in which he suggested that it is only fair and just that a Turkish Cypriot state should be created in Cyprus… [while on] 22 February 1964 I left for New York [to take part in the UN debate on Cyprus]. The Security Council's Resolution of 4 March was a victory for Turkey. At the same time, it became known at the UN that the Turkish government had decided to invade Cyprus if Makarios did not comply [with the UNSC resolution]. On 11 March, [Turkey's prime minister] Ismet Inonu called me in, and asked for my impressions from America. I told him: 'America is on our side, but doesn't wish to see a war with Greece. America is thinking of NATO. But America is open to persuasion'… Inonu replied: 'We are not in a position to send our army to Cyprus. We discuss it with our generals three times a day.'

Netas goes on to suggest that during the period of the 'apostasy' that brought down Papandreou, 'many strange things occurred', and refers to an article in the Turkish daily Milliyet on 27 January 1976 – Some confidential recollections on Turkish-Greek relations – in which Suat Hayri Urguplu, who served as Turkey's ambassador to Washington and his country's prime minister in 1965, claims that senior Greek officials, to the astonishment of the Turkish government, had suggested that the two countries 'settle their differences like Ataturk and Venizelos. The Greeks offered us 2-3 nearby islands and suggested that the Ecumenical Patriarchy and Halki Theological School, which have remained in Turkey without meaning and wound our national sensitivities, be transferred to Greece.'

Netas wonders who exactly made the offer to Turkey. It couldn't have come from the Papandreou government, and must have been made, he suggests, by 'apostate' circles who formed the pro-American administration installed with the collusion of the palace.

NOTE: Netas doesn't make clear what these 'senior Greek officials' were asking in return for the ceding of 2-3 Greek islands and the transfer of the patriarchate; presumably, for such significant 'concessions', the union of all of Cyprus with Greece.

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Kazantzakis: ‘here we were shamed, here glorified’

Travels in Greece has always been one of my favourite Nikos Kazantzakis’ books, in which the Cretan writer takes the opportunity of a journey through the Peloponnese to meditate on Greek past and present. It’s a melancholy work, written in the 1930s, heavily influenced by Ion Dragoumis – whose spirit, Kazantzakis says, accompanied him on the journey – and echoes  Seferis’ ‘wherever I go, Greece wounds me’. No doubt, in contemporary Greece, this Dragoumian view of the Greek self as inseparable from the travails of the Greek nation, is anathema.

Some excerpts from the opening chapter of Travels in Greece:

‘The face of Greece is a palimpsest bearing twelve successive inscriptions: Contemporary; the period of 1821; the Turkish yoke; the Frankish sway; the Byzantine; the Roman; the Hellenistic epoch; the Classic; the Dorian middle ages; the Mycenaean; the Aegean; and the Stone Age.

‘Pause on a patch of Greek earth and anguish overcomes you. It is a deep, twelve-levelled tomb, from which voices rise up calling to you. Which voice should you choose? Every voice, every spirit longs for its body; your heart is shaken, and cannot decide.

‘For a Greek, the journey through Greece is a fascinating, exhausting ordeal… For a foreigner the pilgrimage to Greece is simple, it happens without any great convulsions… But for a Greek, this pilgrimage is fraught with hopes and fears, with distress and painful comparison. Never does a clear and unencumbered thought arise, never a bloodless impression.

‘A Greek landscape does not give us… an innocent tremor of beauty. The landscape has a name, it is bound up with a memory – here we were shamed, here glorified; blood or sacred statues rise up from the soil, and all at once the landscape is transformed into rich, all-encompassing History, and the Greek pilgrim’s whole spirit is thrown into confusion.

‘Merciless questions arise to lash our brains. How were so many wonders created, and what are we ourselves doing? Why has the race become debased? How can we carry on once more?’

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Dragoumis, and Kazantzakis

‘I am free because I create everything’

Ion Dragoumis – born 129 years ago today – was the most important theorist and exponent of Hellenism in the modern era.

In essays and books – such as Hellenic Civilisation, Those Who Are Alive, The Footpath, Samothrace and My Hellenism and the Greeks – and through direct engagement as a soldier and diplomat in the struggle to liberate Macedonia and advance the cause of Greeks in Constantinople and elsewhere, Dragoumis informed the views and deeds of a generation of Greek intellectuals and men and women of action who managed to double the size and population of Greece.

Dragoumis belonged to the generation of Greeks appalled by Greece’s defeat to the Turks in the war of 1897 and the despondency that followed it. He denounced Greek society, which he described as listless and mediocre, blindly imitating Europe – which he associated with enervating materialism, cosmopolitanism and socialism – and urged Greeks to look inwards, to their own culture and history, to find the solutions to national revival. An ardent demoticist, Dragoumis argued that the Greek state had become a burden to Hellenism – which he described as ‘family of Greek communities’ – and advocated local self-reliance to reverse the trend of emigration and rural depopulation and promoted an education system that went beyond ‘the false worship of the Ancient Greeks’ and expressed and taught instead the living culture of the Greeks (which would include learning the meaning of ‘danger’ and ‘war’).

Dragoumis’s nationalism also possessed a strong Nietzschean streak, in which devotion to the nation and its advancement is the realm where the will to power becomes possible, the means by which the individual can overcome himself – become ‘better than myself’, as Dragoumis puts it in Samothrace – and ascend to the status of an yperanthropos (superman).

Dragoumis is one of Nikos Kazantzakis’s ‘pale shadows’, men who accompanied and influenced the Cretan personally and intellectually throughout his life. Radical voluntarism, the rejection of bourgeois and liberal society, the creation of a new Greek civilisation, the identification of Hellenism as a fast current ready to overcome the ‘tubercular’ Turks, were all beliefs and attitudes Kazantzakis learned from (his friend) Dragoumis.

Writing in 1936 – 16 years after Dragoumis’ assassination – Kazantzakis refers to Dragoumis as a ‘brilliant man full of contradictory forces and lofty anxieties’; who, in 1937, Kazantzakis says, Greeks should admire most if they still aspired to create a new Hellenic civilisation’; while, in 1940, Kazantzakis refers to Dragoumis (along with the poet Petros Vlastos) as one of ‘the two people I have most respected and loved in my life’.

In his manifesto For Our Youth, a patriotic call to arms written in 1910, two years before the Balkan wars, Kazantzakis reveals the crux of Dragoumian nationalism and how much at the time he was under its sway:

'The more fanatically patriotism manifests itself, the more completely and quickly does it serve humanity. For if it destroys its neighbour-nation, is not that destruction, when viewed in perspective, a benefaction to mankind? It is proper for all those who are old and tired to vanish — all who have already fulfilled their destiny and given to thought and action what they could. In this way they relinquish their place to other nations that are young and vigorous… nations that will vanish in their turn as soon as they fulfil their destiny. Then they, too, will grow tired, will preach cosmopolitan ideas, will consider patriotism a leftover relic from barbaric times, and will die. That is how it always happens: cosmopolitanism and patriotism are the results and not the cause of a nation’s withering or vitality… As soon as cosmopolitan ideas, philanthropy, tolerance, and Christianity begin to prevail, that moment is an infallible symptom of fatigue and death.’

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Cassavetes and The Blue Angel

Josef von Sternberg’s film The Blue Angel (1930), with Marlene Dietrich, is an extraordinary depiction of loneliness and humiliation, hubris and tragedy. (See the English-language version of the film in its entirety above).

Writing in Cassavetes on Cassavetes, Ray Carney reveals the influence of The Blue Angel on John Cassavetes.

Carney says of Gena Rowlands (John Cassavetes’ wife and star in many of his films):

‘It’s indicative… of many of her enduring attitudes that, after she saw The Blue Angel, Marlene Dietrich became her idol as an actress. Rowlands was fascinated with Dietrich’s blend of feminine sexual allure and almost masculine toughness and swagger. She watched the film over and over again… and even adopted a few of Dietrich’s gestures and mannerisms (sitting backward on a chair and such).’

Carney also tells us how The Blue Angel inspired Cassavetes in relation to his The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1975):

‘Cassavetes and Rowlands were both fans of Sternberg’s The Blue Angel. Rowlands loved the toughness and unsentimentalilty of Dietrich’s performance. Cassavetes liked the film for a different reason – because it was about an artist-surrogate who creates an artificial, artful world in which to live. (The filmmaker once asked me to give him a rare photograph I had from it, as well as a photograph showing the set of Yen’s palace in [Frank Capra’s] The Bitter Tea of General Yen, another film with the same subject). It’s not accidental that there is a photograph of Dietrich visible on the mirror of the strippers’ dressing room in the first version of [The Killing of a Chinese Bookie]. Although none of Cassavetes’ interviewers picked up on the allusion, in several post-release statements, Cassavetes wryly implied that he had modelled the character of Mr Sophistication [picture above] on Professor Rath.

‘Another reason Cassavetes was fascinated by The Blue Angel was that the film focused on the situation of a scorned, humiliated stage performer, an emotional event that spoke to Cassavetes for personal reasons. Notwithstanding the macho-man image he so diligently cultivated (or perhaps because of it), he often thought of his own life as a series of public humiliations – from his grade-school, high-school, college and drama-school days; to his years of unemployment and unsuccessful audition experiences – like the time he was jeered off stage as an MC at a burlesque house (an event dramatized in Shadows in Hugh’s nightclub debacle); to the various and sundry fiascos associated with his appearances at screenings and on television shows; to his run-ins with directors when he was acting (some of which are dramatized with the character of Myrtle in Opening Night).’

Monday, 15 June 2020

The revenge of the slave class

‘And now we should not conceal from ourselves what lies hidden in the womb of this Socratic culture! An optimism that thinks itself all powerful! Well, people should not be surprised when the fruits of this optimism ripen, when a society that has been thoroughly leavened with this kind of culture, right down to the lowest levels, gradually trembles with an extravagant turmoil of desires, when the belief in earthly happiness for everyone and in the possibility of such a universal knowledge culture, gradually changes into the threatening demand for such an Alexandrian utopia and into the plea for a Euripidean deus ex machina!

‘People should take note: Alexandrian culture requires a slave class in order to be able to exist over time, but with its optimistic view of existence, it denies the necessity for such a class and thus, when the effect of its beautiful words of seduction and reassurance about the “dignity of human beings” and the “dignity of work” has worn off, it gradually moves towards a horrific destruction. There is nothing more frightening than a barbarian slave class which has learned to think of its existence as an injustice and is preparing to take revenge, not only for itself, but for all generations.’

Friday, 29 May 2020

Theophilos Paleologos

This is the last year, this the last
of the Greek emperors. And, alas,
how sadly those around him talk.
Kyr Theophilos Paleologos
in his grief, in his despair, says:
“I would rather die than live.”

Ah, Kyr Theophilos Paleologos,
how much of the pathos, the yearning of our race,
how much weariness
(such exhaustion from injustice and persecution)
your six tragic words contained.

(Constantine Cavafy)

* Theophilos Paleologos, a kinsman of the emperor, shouted out “I would rather die than live” as the Turks penetrated the City's walls and he charged into them, sword in hand.

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Why I like Castoriadis: politics and philosophy from ancient Greece to our age of ‘insignificance’

Postscript on Insignificance is a useful addition to the Cornelius Castoriadis oeuvre available in English, consisting of a series of interviews in which the Greek philosopher introduces us to some of his main intellectual preoccupations  – in ontology, political theory, art, psychoanalysis, mathematics, the philosophy of science, the state of modern society, and so on.

Here are some of the ideas that you will find in the book and are most attractive to me:

Castoriadis’ assertion that ‘being is creation’ amounts to a fundamental
rejection of any kind of determinism (religious, historical, scientific) and places politics – collective activity aimed at establishing the rules of society – at the heart of human endeavour and, indeed, of human existence, which is always social. ‘Being is creation’ provides flesh to the bones of Protagoras’ ‘man is the measure of all things’ and Aristotle’s ‘man is a political animal’, as well as his, ‘he who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god’.

Even if we accept that societies always create themselves, this does not necessarily tell us anything about the form this creation will take; if, indeed, a society will overcome the pretense that extrinsic forces (gods, tradition, physis, etc) are responsible for shaping its laws and precepts. In fact, most human societies are what Castoriadis calls ‘heteronomous’, enthral and reliant on extrasocial explanations and sources for their laws and rules. Very few societies in human history have made the breakthrough that allows them to recognise that their laws and rules can be made and re-made by themselves.

The first societies that consciously took over from the gods, physis and so on, the role of instituting  laws and social precepts, were in classical Greece, and it is no coincidence that this is where philosophy and politics emerge.

Politics and philosophy go hand in hand. If philosophy is about questioning the existing representation of the world; then politics is about questioning and altering the existing representation of society. When philosophy challenges religious and other heteronomous explanations of the cosmos, when it removes the artificial limits on what is thinkable, it reveals a vacuum that, in terms of the ordering of society, politics steps in to try and fill.

If religion and the supernatural cannot explain the cosmos, then they cannot explain society or purport to be the foundation for its laws either. In this scenario, laws are not immutable, the impeccable will of the gods or of a God, to apply for all time and in all circumstances, never to be challenged or changed; but the responsibility of humans, who now must judge and choose for themselves the laws by which to govern their relations in society.

The more a society understands that it and it alone can affect its laws and rules, deciding what is a good and bad law; the more a society interrogates itself and overcomes heteronomous restrictions on what it can and cannot say and do about itself; the more implicated citizens are in shaping their society’s laws; the more citizens feel ownership of their society’s laws; then the more Castoriadis is inclined to identify such a society as ‘autonomous’. The creation of autonomous society is the project that Castoriadis, the radical social and political theorist, seeks to explain and is committed to.

However, this project of autonomy begun 2,500 years ago in Greece (revived in the ‘first Renaissance’ in 11th century Europe and, again, in 17th century England, followed by the American and French revolutions, the Enlightenment, the workers’ movement and by Modernism and the avant-garde, which prevailed in Europe from the 1870s to the 1950s) is now in crisis. And this is not because contemporary society is threatened by a return to a belief in gods and tradition, or the veneration of nature (although there has been a growth in religious fundamentalism, regressive forms of nationalism and anti-modern, back-to-nature ideologies – as in aspects of the Green movement); but, more profoundly, the project of autonomy is under threat from trends that want to transform citizens into consumers; that induce apathy and conformism; and reduce politics from a democratic endeavour of the many to a preserve and activity of the few, a liberal elite, comprised of professional politicians and pseudo political experts.

For Castoriadis, the term that captures this nihilistic spirit in contemporary politics, art and philosophy is ‘insignificance’; and, indeed, even if Castoriadis was describing the world as he saw it in the 1980s and 1990s (Castoriadis died in 1997), the lacklustre, ineffectual response to the post-2008 crisis from radical politics – we’re thinking of the feeble occupy and indignant movements – shows there is nothing to suggest that such a pessimistic characterisation would not be applicable to today’s politics and society.