Saturday, 29 September 2007

Tassos makes it in New York

President Tassos Papadopoulos has been in New York this week, attending the opening of the 62nd session of the UN General Assembly, where he told a virtually empty auditorium that Turkey’s aim in Cyprus remained political and military control of the island.

While in New York, Tassos also had the chance to meet – for 20 minutes – with the UN secretary general, Ban Ki Moon, who since succeeding Kofi Annan has shown little interest in becoming involved in the Cyprus issue – no sign that he is readying a Moon Plan to supersede the discredited Annan Plan.

Tassos also met with the Greek and Russian foreign ministers Dora Bakoyiannis and Sergei Lavrov as well as Nicholas Burns, US undersecretary for political affairs – who surprised Tassos by insisting that the USA was pressing the UN to appoint a special envoy to Cyprus to speed up ‘the process for peace’ on the island. Why the sudden American interest in a settlement – especially when there appears to be no Turkish will to settle and there are presidential elections in Cyprus in five months? Bemusement all round.

Back in Cyprus, and staying with the presidential elections, an opinion poll for RIK on Wednesday showed Tassos’ support slipping while the communist leader, Comrade Demetris Christofias, has moved into second place and is now only one percentage point behind the incumbent. Indeed, Tassos’ critics, who claim his policies are leading the island to permanent partition, have had plenty of ammunition this week with which to attack him.

First, there have been problems with our friends and neighbours, the Syrians – who appear to have struck a deal with the occupation regime to operate a ferry service between Latakia in Syria and the occupied port of Famagusta in Cyprus, which the Cyprus government has declared a ‘closed access point’. The Turkish occupation regime made a song and dance after last weekend’s first sailing, proclaiming their ‘isolation’ was ending and the sovereignty of the so-called ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ was being recognised. Our friends, the Syrians, are playing innocent and have told Nicosia they don’t know what’s going on and they’re investigating.

Second, there has been increasing anxiety that the European Court of Human Rights is about to wash its hands of the hundreds of Greek Cypriot refugee property claims before it and refer the cases to the occupation regime’s ‘Property Compensation Commission’.

This appalling scenario has arisen because refugee Mike Tymvios, having initially won his case against Turkey at the ECHR in 2003, has accepted an offer by the ‘property commission’ to swap his land in the occupied village of Tymvou with Turkish Cypriot property in Larnaca, plus additional compensation of $1.2m.

The ECHR is indicating that it will regard this as a ‘friendly settlement’, thereby accepting the Turks’ ‘property commission’ as an effective remedy for Greek Cypriot refugees – i.e. the European court will refer the victims of crime to the criminal to seek restitution and justice – and simultaneously throwing into doubt the legality of the Guardian of Turkish Cypriot properties, established by the Cyprus government after the Turkish invasion in 1974 to manage Turkish Cypriot land and houses left abandoned in the free areas of the island with the intention of returning the property once an overall Cyprus solution is reached.

Third, Turgay Avci, the Turkish Cypriots’ so-called ‘deputy prime minister and foreign minister’ has been in Rome to meet MPs from the Transnational Radical Party – part of Italy’s governing coalition.

Following discussions with Emma Bonino (Italy’s minister for international trade and European affairs), Maurizio Turco and Marco Perduca, it was agreed that the TRP’s 2008 general assembly will be held in occupied Cyprus while Turco and Perduca, having previously expressed their desire to become TRNC ‘citizens’, were presented with TRNC ‘passports’.

At the press conference where he received his ‘passport’ and called on the European Union to end the ‘trade embargo’ on the Turkish Cypriots, Turco said Greek Cypriot claims that there was an occupation in Cyprus were false.

‘During our recent visit to the TRNC,’ Turco said, ‘we witnessed a democratic state with democratic institutions. The EU must keep its promises to the Turkish Cypriot people,’ he added.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

From the Life of the Marionettes

Full of astonishment I look back on our lives, on our former reality and think it was all a dream. It was a game. Lord knows what the hell we were doing. This is true reality and it’s unbearable. I talk, answer, think, put on my clothes, sleep and eat. It’s a daily compulsion. A strange, hard surface. But under the surface, I’m crying. I’m crying for myself… because I can no longer be the way I was. What was, can never be again. It’s been destroyed. It’s gone… like a dream.’ (Katarina, From the Life of the Marionettes).

Philemon and Baucis, an old married couple, poor but devoted and therefore content, are the only ones in their town in Phrygia who show hospitality to two bedraggled strangers – who it transpires are Hermes and Zeus. The gods spare the couple as they destroy the town that repudiated them and offer them a wish; they choose to be together forever and that when one of them dies the other should die at the same time. Their wish is granted and when they die they are changed into intertwining trees.

A myth about the sacredness of hospitality, honouring the gods, global hubris, how poverty of circumstance need not lead to poverty of heart, fidelity, love and so on.

The idea of two people who have become inseparable, who have got to know and depend on each other so much that they have almost become one person, is an aspect of the Philemon and Baucis myth that appealed to Ingmar Bergman when he made From the Life of the Marionettes (1980) – except that in Bergman, Peter and Katarina’s inseparability and intertwining have bred hate, humiliation, torture, loneliness, perversion and a fervent desire to kill each other – repressed rage which the smallest detail – ‘a word, a gesture, a tone of voice’ – could release, and is eventually released, leading to shocking violence, to a murder or, as Bergman repeatedly refers to it in the film, to a ‘catastrophe’.

From the Life of the Marionettes – which I saw yesterday – is a dark and brutal film about being trapped – by our childhoods, families, lovers, desires, dreams, society, time and so on – about how, as Peter repeatedly states, ‘there is no way out’ – from the past, present and future; but it is not a depressing film, and this is because the film presents the truth – of our own vulnerabilities, suffering and chaotic existence – and the truth is always uplifting.

* (The above clip is the only one I could find of From the Life of the Marionettes. It is a montage put together by a Youtube user, with music added not belonging to the film. The clip has some female nudity in it, so Americans should be careful before they click play).

Monday, 24 September 2007

Anoyia: Cretan village of heroes and poets

The post below regarding the fabled Cretan mountain village of Anoyia originally appeared on the late, lamented Phylax blog. I’m reprinting it here because it gives me the opportunity to share a clip (above) of the musician Antonis Xylouris, a.k.a. Psarantonis (brother of the legendary Nikos Xylouris – see Stavros’ post at My Greek Odyssey), who interprets Cretan music as a form of ecstatic experience and is from Anoyia.

‘In this April 2006 interview with General Nikolaos Ntouvas, the former Greek Land Forces Commander reflects on the extraordinary bravery of the 300 Greek commandos sent to Cyprus from Crete as part of Operation ‘Niki’ following the Turkish invasion in 1974.

These 300 were the only Greek troops sent in response to ‘Attila’ in what has been described as a ‘suicide mission’ and resulted in one of the most heroic episodes in the Cyprus war, the defence of Nicosia airport.

Ntouvas, serving as a lieutenant in ‘Niki’, is so convinced by the virtues of his comrades and the generally superior quality of the Greek over the Turkish warrior, that he states: ‘Πιστεύω, ακόμα και σήμερα, ότι παρά τα λάθη που είχαν γίνει, ότι αν τότε εκείνο το πρωί βρισκόταν κάποιος που να μπορούσε να συντονίσει τα πράγματα, η Κύπρος θα γινόταν ο τάφος των Τούρκων και θα γινόταν αιτία, για πενήντα χρόνια να μην ξανασηκώσουν κεφάλι.’
('I believe even today that despite the mistakes that were made, if on that morning [when the commandos landed in Cyprus] there had been [leadership] to coordinate matters, Cyprus would have become a grave[yard] for the Turks and they wouldn’t have raised their heads for another 50 years').

Ntouvas stresses the roles of Major Vassilios Manouras and Giorgis Chroniaris in the exploits of the 300 commandos. Ntouvas recalls Manouras being confronted by a UN officer from Austria who demanded he surrender Nicosia airport to the UN and told him, indeed, that these were the instructions of Efstathios Lagakos, the junta’s ambassador in Cyprus. Manouras replied to the Austrian: ‘Ποιος Λαγάκος, ταγματάρχης Μανουράς εδώ.’ ('What Lagakos, Major Manouras is here').

Both Manouras and Chroniaris were from the mountain village of Anoyia, near Rethymnon, and last month (July 2006) an event to commemorate these two heroes was held in the village attended by Ntouvas, other dignitaries and more than 2,000 locals.

Anoyia is also one of the most celebrated WWII Cretan resistance villages and features in the General Kreipe kidnap story, immortalised in the film and book, Ill Met by Moonlight. Anoyia’s incessant resistance eventually earned it the full wrath of the Nazis who massacred 500 men from the village, which they subsequently burned to the ground. See the German order here.

Anoyia also has a rich cultural tradition and can boast in recent times of having produced three outstanding musicians: Nikos Xylouris, Psarantonis and Loudovikos ton Anoyion.

After the so-called earthquake diplomacy of 1999, there was a rush among Greek villages and towns to twin with Turkish equivalents. Anoyia ignored the trend and chose instead to twin with the once-prosperous coastal village of Yialousa in occupied Cyprus.

Among the many Anoyian attributes remarked on by the refugees from Yialousa who were part of the delegation attending the twinning ceremony in Anoyia in September 2004, these two were mentioned most:
1 Every male in Anoyia – including Father Andreas Kefaloyiannis – carried a gun and in moments of high spiritedness liked to fire their weapon in the air.
2 The overwhelming philoxenia of the Anoyiotes, which greatly humbled the Yialousites, who could only promise to reciprocate the hospitality shown them once Yialousa is liberated.’

Saturday, 22 September 2007

‘Don’t vote for the infidel’

Here’s an interesting video, shot at a pre-election rally in Xanthi, northern Greece. It shows candidates and other luminaries from the 100,000-strong Muslim minority of Thrace arguing that ‘Turks must vote for other Turks’ and suggesting beatings for those who ‘dare vote for the infidel’.

This is a summarised translation of what the speakers said:

Cetin Mandaci, Pasok candidate, former president of the Turkish Union of Xanthi: ‘I want to stress that whatever the outcome [of the national elections] at least one Turkish MP must be elected.’

Orhan Haciibram, New Democracy candidate: ‘I’ve been involved in Turkish minority issues for 24 years and [most recently] have been fighting for recognition of the Turkish Union of Rodopi Women, representing the women and the Turkish Union of Xanthi at the European Court of Human Rights.’

Ahmet Mete, unofficial mufti of Xanthi: ‘I’ll tell you something that pains me. In Komotini today, a Western Thrace official told me we’re never going to elect a Turkish MP. It pains me that we have become so predictable. It’s not enough that the giaours (infidels) have figured us out, but even our own are making fun of us. We must stop supporting Christian candidates. Vote for a Turk even if he’s the worst candidate available. Don’t deride other Turkish candidates. [Ask yourself] what has the real enemy ever done for you – the Christian candidate? What you must keep in mind is that a Turk has no friend other than a Turk.’

Orhan Ahmetoglou, president of the Turkish Union of Xanthi: ‘I’d like to close with this one phrase, which must become our banner: A Turkish vote to a Turk.’

Abdularif Dede, journalist, broadcaster: ‘In 2004, we [the Muslims] gave 12,000 of our 33,000 votes to our minority candidates. We gave 21,000 votes to the Romious (Greeks). For 30 years, we’ve been doing the same thing. [Calling for] a Turkish vote to a Turk, but when we go to vote, we vote for a giaour… For years we’ve been voting for Romious and, indeed, to whom have we been giving our votes? To [Pasok MP Panagiotis] Sgouridis, who was involved in the protection of Turkey’s biggest enemy, PKK leader [Abdullah] Ocalan. Damn the Turk who votes for a Christian… I admire the PKK. You know why? Because it sets itself an aim and pursues it faithfully, and when a [PKK] member steps out of line, they give him a beating. In our villages, we know who votes for the giaours, so why don’t we isolate them socially to see if they’ll dare speak about Sgouridis, [New Democracy MP Alexandros] Kontos or their mother’s c----.‘

Saif Husseinoglu, member of the Turkish Union of Xanthi: ‘We are all one. How happy I am to say I am a Turk.’

For the record, two minority candidates were elected to the national parliament in last Sunday’s poll, both from Pasok; the aforementioned Cetin Mandaci for Xanthi, and Ahmet Hacıosman for Rodopi.

Friday, 21 September 2007

Anorthosis Famagusta: a footballing miracle

Anorthosis Famagusta was in London last night to play Tottenham Hotspur in the first round of the UEFA cup, one of European football’s top club competitions.

Anorthosis is one of the smallest clubs in the tournament, while Tottenham is one of England’s most illustrious teams and a favourite to win the competition outright. Anorthosis got thrashed 6-1 in the first leg, an irretrievable scoreline, rendering the return tie in Cyprus a formality. Never mind.

When Tottenham does go to Cyprus in two weeks, the match will be played at the Antonis Papadopoulos stadium in Larnaca and not at the GSE stadium in Famagusta because, of course, Famagusta – including the GSE – has been under Turkish occupation for the last 33 years.

This means that not only is Anorthosis a club in exile, but that the majority of its supporters – who come from the city of Famagusta, its satellite towns and villages and the Karpas peninsula – are refugees, which, naturally enough, encourages an even more intense relationship between the fans and their club, whose stories since the Turkish invasion of survival, renewal and determination to return, coincide.

Anorthosis was founded in 1911 and its greatest achievement occurred in 2005 when it knocked out Turkish champions Trabzonspor in a second round UEFA Champions League qualifying match (see video above).

When the two teams were drawn, Anorthosis was given no chance against one of Turkey’s biggest and richest clubs, but somehow Anorthosis did it, beating Trabzonspor 3-1 in Cyprus, losing 1-0 in Turkey, and going through 3-2 on aggregate.

The symbolism of the tie and Anorthosis’ victory was not lost on anyone. It was the sweetest and proudest moment in the club’s history. And what made it even sweeter – and more symbolic – was that the team they defeated was from another Turkish-occupied Greek coastal city, Trabezounta.

Trabezounta, until the Pontian genocide (1915-23), was a bastion of Black Sea Hellenism from which it was able to exert a wide influence on Greek cultural and political life for over 2,700 years. The city played a particularly important role during the Komnenian restoration (1081-1180), which halted the decline of the Byzantine empire, and, later, after the fall of Constantinople to the Crusaders in 1204, as the capital of the Empire of Trapezounta, in partially restoring Greek fortunes and resisting continuing Crusader and Turkish aggression.

For centuries, Pontic Hellenism’s most important religious shrine was the Monastery of the Panagia Soumela, founded in the fourth century and situated on Mt. Mela, 50km outside Trabezounta.

The monastery was destroyed in 1922 by Kemalist troops and the last remaining monks fled in 1923, though not before hiding the miracle-working icon of the Panagia – after which the monastery is named – said to have been painted by Saint Luke – among rocks in the mountains, from where it was retrieved in 1930 and taken to exile in Greece, to the newly-built, by Pontian refugees, Panagia of Soumela monastery in Kastania, Macedonia.

And it is to the intercession of the miracle-working icon of the Panagia Soumela that the Cypriot commentators in the video clip above attribute Anorthosis’ victory over Trabzonspor, suspecting divine intervention when a Turkish goal in the last seconds of the game – which would have seen Trabzonspor win 2-0 and eliminate Anorthosis (on away goals) – is ruled out.

It must have been the Panagia Soumela who illuminated the eyes of the linesman to make him see the offside and the Panagia who put strength in his arm to make him raise his flag and disallow the goal.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

My Greek revolutionary friends: part two

My dialogue with Greek revolutionaries over at Castoriadis blog continues. We got sidetracked by the Cyprus issue for a while – during which my Greek revolutionary friends showed how revolutionary they were by adopting the Turkish nationalist position on the occupation of the island, suggesting that the Greek Cypriot refugees don’t really want to return to the towns and villages from which they were ethnically cleansed, and arguing that Greek Cypriots are so full of nationalist hate for the Turkish Cypriots that they can’t countenance the idea of coexisting with the minority, which is why Greek Cypriots, according to my Greek revolutionary friends, rejected the equitable Annan plan; before, thankfully, we returned to the subject of Castoriadis and Greek nationalism – or, in more specifically Castoriadian terms, the Greek national imaginary.

My Greek revolutionary friends insisted that Castoriadis in a lecture he gave at Tripotamos in Tinos in 1994 explains how regressive and reactionary the Greek national imaginary is and how it must be replaced by a more democratic and internationalist vision.

I’d not come across the Tripotamos lecture, so asked my Greek revolutionary friends for more details. They said I could find it in the archives of Eleftherotypia (20/8/94) and listen to an audio clip of the lecture here. Unfortunately, the Eleftherotypia archives don’t go back to 1994, but I did listen to the audio clip and found other references to the lecture, which is called “Οι μύθοι της παράδοσής μας” (The myths of our tradition).

Anyway, here’s my comment on the Tripotamos lecture as posted on the Castoriadis blog:

'Regarding Castoriadis’s Tripotamos lecture, I couldn’t find the Eleftherotypia article you refer to, but did listen to the audio clip and found references to the lecture and its thesis in these places:

1. An article by Teta Papadopoulou, The legacy of Castoriadis.
2. An article by Giorgos Oikonomou, Christian Byzantium against the Greeks.
3. An article by Takis Fotopoulos, The ahistorical relationship between religion and democracy.

Now, I have problems with all three articles, particularly Oikonomou’s, which falls into the category of ‘not letting the facts get in the way of a good story’; nevertheless, regarding Castoriadis, Papadopoulou sums up his assault on Greek national mythology as follows:

‘Πρώτον, καυτηρίαζε την “αντιφατική και ψυχοπαθολογική σχέση μας με τον ευρωπαϊκό πολιτισμό και με τη Δύση γενικότερα”. Δεύτερον, τόνιζε με ιδιαίτερη έμφαση - το έκανε και εδώ στην Τήνο στην ομιλία του στον Τριπόταμο, το 1994 - “τη θεμελιώδη αντινομία της ταυτόχρονης επίκλησης στην αρχαία Ελλάδα και το Βυζάντιο, δύο παραδόσεων τελείως ασυμβίβαστων μεταξύ τους”. Τρίτον, στηλίτευε τη βολική και δημοφιλή αντίληψη σύμφωνα με την οποία “για όλα τα δεινά στην Ελλάδα φταίνε οι άλλοι”.’

‘First, he is scathing of “our [i.e. the Greeks’ – my emphasis, in order to draw attention to the tradition Castoriadis sees himself belonging to] contradictory and psychopathic relationship with European civilisation and the West generally”. Second, he stresses “the fundamental antinomy present in the contemporary invocation of ancient Greece and Byzantium, two totally incompatible traditions”. Third, he condemns the convenient and popular perception according to which “it is the others who are responsible for the suffering of Greece”.’

My reaction: Is this it? Is this the remorseless assault on Greek nationalism, on the Greek national imaginary, you’ve been going on about?

To be honest, anyone – left, right, nationalist, communist, anarchist, liberal, Greek, non-Greek – with half a brain, could agree with Castoriadis’s views in this instance, which do not amount to a brilliant epiphany – unless the level of debate and intellectual life in Greece is at such a low level that perfectly fair, reasonable and long-standing criticisms of the Greek national imaginary are construed as political and philosophical dynamite.

Point 2 – regarding the distinction between the democratic Greeks and the theocratic Byzantines – is important and should be pursued, diminishing the role of the priests in Greek society is a worthy cause; but Points 1 and 3 could just as easily apply to the left in Greece as to the right – probably even more so – while it is quite possible to accept all of Castoriadis’s criticism of the Greek national imaginary and still emerge from it an ellinolatris – in fact, there is nothing there to stop you from emerging as a raving, foaming-at-the-mouth nationalist.

Indeed, variations of Castoriadis’s criticisms have been made by virtually every Greek intellectual of note for more than a hundred years.

‘I am sorry that teaching in our country has distorted and disfigured so many values, thus preventing the formation of a steady, robust and free didactic style which could very well be the foundation stones for an enduring modern Greek tradition.’

Castoriadis could have written this, but it was actually written by Seferis in 1938 (Dialogue on Poetry: What is meant by Hellenism?).

In fact, Castoriadis’ criticisms are even reminiscent of the criticisms made of Greece by the 1897 generation of Greek nationalist intellectuals – Dragoumis, Giannopoulos, et al; that is, opposition to artificial and imposed cultural forms – such as katharevousa; a plea for Greek self-reliance, Greeks taking responsibility for their own actions and for the state of the country; and a hope for a new or renewed Greek tradition, overcoming the burden of association with Byzantium and Ancient Greece. See my piece on Dragoumis.

Castoriadis’s repudiation of certain aspects of the Greek national imaginary is hardly revolutionary and it makes me wonder whether this wave of antinationalism in Greece at the moment amounts to anything more substantial than a Dadaist pose, Johnny Rotten on stage singing ‘Anarchy in the UK’ or ‘God save the Queen, her fascist regime’, snarling and spitting at the audience. I’m all for teenage rebellion, but in the realm of ideas I don’t take children seriously.

I’m all for rewriting and reinterpreting history to make it more complete – for example, noting that Greek life in certain parts of the Ottoman empire – Constantinople, Smyrna, Alexandria – particularly after the Tanzimat Reforms in 1839 – could be described as thriving, contradicting the view that Greek existence under the Ottomans was simply and always 400 years of slavery; but it doesn’t seem at the moment that Greece has reached this state of maturity, neither on the right or the left, who – represented by the clowns Alavanos and Karatzaferis – deserve each other, need each other. Poor Hellas. Poor, poor Hellas. Thankfully, there is the diaspora.'

Monday, 17 September 2007

Lessons in philotimo: the enclaved

Those who have had to face most directly and intensely the Turkish occupation of Cyprus are the enclaved; the Greeks who after the 1974 invasion did not leave their homes and villages in and around Rizokarpaso, Ayia Triada and Yialousa in the remote northeast Karpas peninsula.

Their status and right to stay on their land was supposed to have been regulated by the Third Vienna Agreement of 1975, signed by Denktash and Clerides, and at which time the Karpas Greeks numbered 12,000. But the Turks never honoured this agreement and continued to expel and pressurise – through violent and bureaucratic means – the Greeks to leave, so that now the Karpas Greeks total some 230, mainly elderly people, in Ayia Triada and Rizokarpaso.

Even now, the Turkish occupation regime’s policy is to make the lives of the Karpas Greeks intolerable.

Both Ayia Triada and Rizokarpaso – until 1974 exclusively Greek villages – have been colonised with thousands of Turks and Kurds from Turkey and the human rights of the Karpas Greeks continue to be systematically violated.

Last October, British Labour MP, Andrew Dismore, visited the enclaved and wrote the following in a letter to Terry Davies, secretary-general of the Council of Europe:

‘I was horrified by the conditions in which [the Karpas Greeks] are forced to live, and the downright oppression from which they suffer.

‘It is clear that Turkey is doing all it can to force the remaining few residents of the Karpas to leave, so that the area can be settled entirely by Turks from mainland Turkey.

‘There is a breach of virtually every article of the European Convention on Human Rights, as far as the enclaved are concerned.

‘When a crime is committed by a Turk against a Greek Cypriot, the “police” (exclusively in that area Turks from Turkey under military control), find ways of harassing Greek Cypriots.

‘Greek Cypriots are not allowed to follow any occupation except agriculture, nor are allowed to upgrade, modernise or expand their homes.

‘As for education, schoolbooks randomly have pages excised, and the teachers have nowhere to live, so they have to commute from the free areas each day, two hours each way.

‘The diet of the Greek Cypriots is controlled by religion: they are not allowed to breed pigs, so have no pork unless someone brings it from the free areas.

‘The Greek Cypriots are dependent on financial handouts and weekly [UN-organised] food distribution from the free areas.’ (see photo).

Despite all this, the remaining Karpas Greeks refuse to leave, and, indeed, carry out, whenever they can, small acts of resistance, painting shutters and window frames blue, swearing at the muezzin when he calls the usurpers to prayer and so on. Last week, I read this inspiring report in Politis newspaper:

‘For most enclaved residents of Ayia Triada and Rizokarpaso, the monthly state allowance [from the Cyprus government] is their only source of income; but as soon as they received their allowance for August, they used it to bolster funds for the fire-victims in Greece.

‘They collected an amount in line with their means and yesterday [7 September] presented the sum to the Greek ambassador in Nicosia.

Savvas Liasis, having crossed into the free areas from Ayia Triada and representing the Karpas enclaved, gave to Ambassador Dimitrios Rallis a cash amount of CY£1,090 ($2,600) from collections made by villagers in Ayia Triada and Rizokarpaso.

‘“We were waiting impatiently,” Mr Liasis said, “for the state allowance, paid on the first Thursday of each month, so that we could contribute as much money as possible. The Greek Cypriot enclaved followed with anxiety everyday on our television screens the tragedy unfolding in Greece.”’

Friday, 14 September 2007

My Greek revolutionary friends

Over at Castoriadis blog, Hermes and I have been debating with two Greek revolutionaries, Thanassis and Nick, regarding the Greek philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis and his relationship to Hellenism/nationalism.

Thanassis and Nick were adamant that Castoriadis was a stringent anti-nationalist and committed internationalist. Thanassis pointed out Castoriadis’s formative relationship during the Axis occupation of Greece with Aghis Stinas and his Trotskyist internationalist group – ‘the only political organization in Europe which remained faithful to the ideas of internationalism during WW2’– while Nick referred to Castoriadis’s repeated condemnation of Greek nationalism and modern Greek culture, which Nick calls ‘sterile, sick and outrageously narcissistic’.

Both Hermes and I accepted that, of course, while Castoriadis was no Greek nationalist, the privileged status he affords Greco-Western civilisation – his consistent assertion that the Greek tradition is the history of freedom – makes us feel that his internationalism is somewhat hollow, particularly in these days when internationalism has become associated with cultural relativism, which has as one of its main targets the Greco-Western tradition.

Hermes said that Castoriadis realised that ‘one must place the Greco-Western tradition above others because the whole process of questioning traditions was a Greco-Western one. He is very clear on this.’

(Indeed, taking Hermes' argument a step further, it could be said that Castoriadis’s insistence on the uniqueness of the Greek tradition corresponds – and gives new meaning – to the assertion of Greek national ideology that Greek culture is transcendent and reflects the enduring potential of the people who created and bear that culture).

I also pointed out that while Castoriadis insists that nationalism and the nation are mystifications, in Pericles’s Funeral Oration – which Castoriadis calls ‘the most important political monument of political thought I have ever read’ – and in which the mission of Athens is revealed as, according to Castoriadis, ‘the creation of human beings living with beauty, living with wisdom and loving the common good’ – in other parts of the Funeral Oration, Pericles defines Athenian exceptionalism in terms we could identify as extolling the virtues of the Athenian ‘state’ and ‘nation’. I wrote:

‘The Athenian polis is not some anarchist commune and Pericles in the funeral oration as well as advocating living with beauty and wisdom also boasts about the power of the Athenian state – and its empire – and the valour, honour and the military prowess and endeavours of Athenians. Indeed, the Parthenon – built on Pericles’ instruction – is not just a monument to the Athenian pursuit of beauty, wisdom and the common good, but also to Athenian national assertiveness, to its glory and unity.

‘Is Pericles an Athenian nationalist? Sounds like it to me. If Pericles is an Athenian nationalist, then why does this not prevent him from simultaneously postulating Athens as a society geared towards beauty and wisdom, from describing a collectivity that satisfies the criterion for the project of autonomy, in terms Castoriadis would accept?’

In short, I am saying that the pursuit of beauty, wisdom and the common good are compatible with – and maybe even dependent on – devotion to the nation.

On a more general point, I have always found the persistence of a revolutionary fringe culture in Greece perplexing. I suppose it could be argued its durability is testament to the vibrancy, in its country of origin, of the Greek tradition – in which everything is open to radical questioning; but, unfortunately, I don’t find these revolutionaries that radical and their continued influence in Greece has probably less exalted explanations.

One of these explanations is that these revolutionaries still believe they’re opposing the junta – or, more correctly, are trying to compensate for the fact that between 1967-74 there was very little outward opposition to the junta.

In fact, apart from the funerals of Seferis and George Papandreou and the Polytechnic demonstration in 1973, the junta had a fairly pliant Greek population to deal with. Indeed, to cover up the lack of resistance to the junta, a mythology has developed around the Polytechnic demonstration, which credits students and youth with bringing down the junta, justifying a politics which directly confronts the ‘state’ and posits students and youth as the vanguard of radical politics and defenders of democracy.

Of course, the notion that the Polytechnic demonstration brought down the junta is patently false. The truth is that the Polytechnic demonstration brought down the idiot Papadopoulos and ushered in the gangster Ioannidis. What brought down the junta in 1974 was not the rebellious or revolutionary qualities of the Greek people, but the Turkish army and its invasion of Cyprus, indicating that it is Cypriots who paid, and continue to pay, for the restoration of democracy in Greece.

Monday, 10 September 2007

The Vengeance of Hell Boils in My Heart

Mozart, Bergman, Castoriadis

Ingmar Bergman’s films are not normally associated with optimism and joyfulness, yet his version (1975) of Mozart’s The Magic Flute is, on one level, a rapturous tribute to love, a fervent affirmation of life, which endorses Mozart’s Enlightenment imbued repudiation of darkness, superstition and tyranny.

On another level, however, the film of The Magic Flute clearly incorporates Bergman’s more recognisable themes – despair, death, suicide, madness, family dysfunction, the absence of meaning in a world devoid of God and hope, and the centrepiece remains the bloodcurdling and exhilarating aria (above video) – The Vengeance of Hell Boils in My Heart – in which the Queen of the Night urges her daughter Pamina, to murder her father, Sarastro, the queen’s estranged husband.

The vengeance of Hell boils in my heart,
Death and despair flame about me!
If Sarastro does not through you feel
The pain of death,
Then you will be my daughter nevermore.
Disowned may you be forever,
Abandoned may you be forever,
Destroyed be forever
All the bonds of nature,
If not through you
Sarastro becomes pale! (as death)
Hear, Gods of Revenge,
Hear a mother's oath!

A world without the solace of God and hope is the Greek vision of human life too, says Cornelius Castoriadis in his essay The Greek Polis and the Creation of Democracy.

Hope, in this sense, according to Castoriadis, corresponds to that ‘central human wish and delusion that there be some essential correspondence… between our desires and decisions, on the one hand, and the world, the nature of being, on the other. Hope is the ontological, cosmological, and ethical assumption that the world is not just something out there, but cosmos in the archaic and proper sense, [i.e.] a total order which includes us, our wishes, and our strivings as its organic and central components. The philosophical translation of this assumption is that being is ultimately good. As is well known, the first one who dared to proclaim this philosophical monstrosity was Plato…’ (For more on Castoriadis’ confrontation with Plato see here).

At the core of the Greek imaginary, then, according to Castoriadis, is not being as good but being as chaos, the world rooted not in cosmos but in void and nothingness. The absence of order in the world also, necessarily, permeates human experience and human endeavour, which Castoriadis characterises as ‘the lack of positive correspondence between human intentions and actions, on one hand, and their result and outcome, on the other’.

Humans striving for knowledge and meaning, in a vain effort to unite thoughts, desires, decisions and actions, in which self-awareness proves elusive or catastrophic, resulting in despair and self-destruction, as the chaos we sought to confront, obscure or deny ends up overwhelming us, is more like the Bergman we know and love, the Bergman of Scenes from a Marriage, Hour of the Wolf, From the Life of the Marionettes and so on.

All of which might suggest that the excessive joyfulness and optimism of The Magic Flute is an aberration for Bergman. But this is not the case.

For just as Greek creativity was predicated on an awareness of the latent and not so latent ubiquity of chaos – an awareness producing, at its most accomplished, at its most creative – in the instance of the Athenian polis – not only Athenian tragedy but also Pericles’ Funeral Oration – in which Pericles defines Greek creativity as the creation of human beings and Athenian citizens who can live with and practice beauty and wisdom and love the common good – so in Bergman’s The Magic Flute, creativity, the creative possibilities he offers Tamina and Pamina, remain circumscribed by a world which is chaos.

Certainly, Bergman allows the young, tormented lovers, Princess Pamina and Prince Tamina, to emerge in triumph from the House of Trials, having overcome ‘death and despair’, ready to take their place as guardians of the Temple of Wisdom in preparation to rule, after Sarastro’s abdication, over a kingdom, as Tamina puts it, based on ‘art, wisdom and beauty’; but there is no way Bergman is suggesting that their victory is complete or everlasting.

We know this not only because we have Marianne and Johann in Scenes from a Marriage and Peter and Katarina in From the Life of the Marionettes – who no doubt had moments of joy before their unions and lives disintegrated into brutality and humiliation, before joy gave way to catastrophe – to refer to, but also because in The Magic Flute Bergman is careful to remind us of the ever-present possibility – indeed, the certainty – that in any contest between beauty and wisdom, on the one hand, and strife and chaos, on the other, strife and chaos will always have the upper hand, by having the Queen of the Night, at the end of the film, as she and her followers retreat from a failed attempt to seize control of the Temple of Wisdom, and having declared ‘our power is shattered, our might destroyed’, then smile contemptuously at Sarastro, who returns her mocking glance with one of fear and recognition – recognition that the Queen of the Night is not done yet, that she’ll be returning to the fray shortly, proving that for Bergman, like Castoriadis and the Greeks, the essence of being can never be good, but is always chaos.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Time up for Tassos?

Returning to the presidential palace in Nicosia after three and a half hours of talks at the residence of Michael Moeller, the UN’s Cyprus special representative, President Tassos Papadopoulos, in declaring to reporters that he and Mehmet Ali Talat, the Turkish Cypriot leader, had not found a way forward to revivify the so-called Gambari process paving the way for a Cyprus settlement, looked tired, frustrated and out of ideas.

For Tassos, the Gambari process (agreed on 8 July 2006 through the mediation of the UN’s Ibrahim Gambari) was a deathblow to the Annan plan and thus a significant step forward for the Greek Cypriot side. It anticipated the creation of a series of technical committees to work in detail on the various aspects of the Cyprus problem leading to a comprehensive settlement. However, because of the Turkish side’s stalling tactics, disguising a preference for a strategy aimed at achieving recognition of the occupation regime, the process never took off and no committees have ever formed, let alone met.

Wednesday’s meeting between Tassos and Talat amounted to a last-ditch effort to save Gambari but, with Talat putting forward ideas for a completely new process involving direct talks between the two leaders, without prior detailed committee work, with the aim of reaching a solution as quickly as possible, the talks failed and Gambari now looks doomed.

(Tassos argued that Talat’s proposals for ‘express negotiations’, without proper preparation, were designed to reintroduce the Annan plan, which would inevitably lead negotiations to breakdown, allowing the Turkish side to charge that solving the Cyprus issue was impossible and the only alternative was recognition of the occupation regime and partition).

All of which begs the question why Tassos, having steadfastly refused for over a year to meet with Talat – not until the Gambari process is up and running, Tassos insisted – and usually so cautious and methodical – stressing his hostility to meeting Talat for the sake of it, without anything of substance to discuss or the likelihood of achieving progress – expressed, via a letter to Moeller on 9 July, his preparedness to meet with the Turkish Cypriot leader in the first place?

The answer reflects badly on Tassos and has to do with the difficulties he is facing in the presidential election this February.

It so happens that the day on which Tassos’s office made public the president’s letter to Moeller offering talks with Talat was the same day on which Demetris Christofias, leader of left-wing AKEL, the largest party in Cyprus, announced he was withdrawing his party’s support from the government coalition and declaring his intention to run against Tassos in next year’s presidential elections.

Wednesday’s events, then, it could be argued, were less a reflection of Tassos’s conviction that the time was ripe to try again with Talat, and more a reflection of internal Greek Cypriot political machinations, a barefaced effort by Tassos to upstage Christofias and undermine the communist chief’s argument for abandoning him – which was that Tassos had shown a lack of flexibility and imagination in handling the Cyprus issue and was allowing the island to drift towards partition.

Indeed, it is hard to believe that in circumstances in which his government’s main coalition partner had only recently ditched him, diminishing his mandate, and with a tight election contest looming after which either Demetris Christofias or Ioannis Cassoulides could be the new president of Cyprus and Greek Cypriot negotiator, Tassos really expected the Turkish side to start earnest negotiations with him? Surely, Tassos didn’t think the Turks too stupid to realise the weakness of his position or not expect them to wait five months to see who would win the Cypriot presidential elections?

But while Wednesday afternoon at Mr Moeller’s may have been an exercise in futility for Greek Cypriots, it did allow Talat once again to appear ready for immediate talks and permitted him the opportunity of humiliating the president of the Cyprus Republic by forcing him to listen to the raising of bogus issues – such as joint oil exploration and the lifting of the so-called ‘embargo’ against the Turkish Cypriots – ‘issues’ Tassos was never going to discuss – and ended with Tassos appealing to Talat to meet him for further talks to try and break the Gambari impasse, an invitaton which Talat declined.

Tassos has only himself to blame for this debacle. Greek Cypriot society is the most divided it’s been since 1974, the rupture that appeared between the Turkish Cypriots and the occupation regime prior to Cyprus joining the EU in 2004 has gone unexploited, and Turkey has largely been exonerated of the invasion and occupation. Tassos’s strategy of improving Cyprus’s negotiating position by using the country’s EU membership to pressure Turkey has been a resounding failure, and the occupied area has enjoyed rapid economic development – as a result of the massive exploitation of usurped Greek Cypriot property and land – and found new political support internationally.

But here’s the really depressing part: compared to Cassoulides – who backed the atrocious Annan plan – and Christofias – the communist, who still loves to talk about scientific socialism and historical materialism and pines for the Soviet Union and who was only a hair’s breadth from endorsing Annan – Tassos Papadopoulos remains Cyprus’s only sensible option for president.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Turkish Cypriot minority rights: a reply

An anonymous commenter wrote in response to my post ‘Turkey’s guardian angel’, the following:

‘Minority rights ... isn't that what it all comes down to, respect for and protection of the minority? Plans for "enosis" understandably threatened a Muslim minority in Cyprus which risked becoming a negligible part of a country committed to homogeneity and with a very poor record of minority rights protection. Are there any safeguards that can realistically ensure the protection, in a reunited Cyprus, of what would still be a minority population? Are the warring parents going to be able to sit on their hands and stay out of it? Is it ever likely that Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots would be able sit at the same table and draw a line under past resentments? If there are no realistic safeguards then partition is a forward step away from the present stalemate and legal uncertainties. I would be interested in your views. You mention respect for human rights ... you need an effective enforcement mechanism too. The European Court of Human Rights is hopelessly overloaded with a back log of 90,000 cases, so practical international supervision is unlikely. You would need a strong independent judiciary before anything else. If that can be guaranteed, the rest should follow.’

Thanks, anonymous, for your comment and bringing up some issues, which I’d like to respond to.

1. Minority rights. No, minority rights is not what the Cyprus issue ‘comes down to’. What about the rights of Greek Cypriots – 80% of the population and who, for 800 years, endured foreign occupation and rule? Reducing Cyprus to the rights of the TCs is the equivalent of reducing South Africa to the rights of the white minority or Ireland to the rights of the Protestant minority. Both these post-colonial minorities tried to impose partition/apartheid on the majority and the injustice has been addressed or is being addressed with democracy; democracy being what the Cyprus issue should ‘come down to’. What do the TCs have to fear from democracy? Anyhow, the relationship between Greeks and Turks is not the main problem on the island; the main problem is Turkey, the invasion and occupation.

2. I do not accept that enosis would have ended the human rights of the TCs and that taksim/partition was a legitimate response to GC ambitions. Before the 1950s, there was no significant history of ethnic conflict on Cyprus – excepting, of course, the institutionalised repression of Cypriot Greeks as subjects of the Ottoman Empire and the massacres committed against Cypriot Greeks in 1821 – and it is entirely likely that had enosis been achieved, TCs would have remained on the island, unmolested, with their lives and rights in tact, able to play their part in the future of the island. Enosis was directed at British colonial rule, not at the Turkish Cypriots. Taksim, on the other hand, was aimed at Greek Cypriots, demanded violence against them, was predicated on ethnic cleansing. How else was partition to be achieved? Anyway, enosis is hardly the issue today, is it?

3. Nor do I accept with regards to the Turks/Muslims in Thrace and the Dodecanese, that Greece has a ‘poor record’. All things considered and compared to the rest of the Balkans (and Turkey), Greece has a reasonable record regarding its Turkish/Muslim minority. Discrimination was a result of Greece’s fears that its Turks/Muslim would follow the TC lead and demand partition/secession in Thrace. TC dread of Greece was unwarranted, an artifice designed to legitimise nationalist calls for partition.

4. Minority protection. GCs have never been interested in interfering with the identity/cultural/religious/educational rights of the TCs. GC hostility to the TCs in the 1960s was not a result of ethnic or religious intolerance, but a reaction to the militant and concerted TC campaign to partition the island. If all the TCs were after was protection of their minority rights, then there would be no Cyprus problem.

5. Warring parents. This question should be addressed to Turkey, not Greece, which has virtually abandoned interest in Cyprus since 1974. Besides, a united, independent Cyprus in the EU should reduce dependence on the ‘mother countries’. GCs have largely outgrown their dependence on Greece whereas the TCs still cannot envision a future for themselves or the island free of Turkey’s overweening influence.

6. Past resentments. This is a problem, but not an insurmountable one. I don’t believe ethnic hatred on the island is dangerously deep – the peaceful Green Line crossings would suggest this – and is certainly not on the Yugoslavian scale – but I would have no problem with a truth and reconcilliation commission to address bitterness. The best antidote to bitterness is justice.

7. On human rights and an independent judiciary, I agree, and would add that human rights for GCs means the right of return for the refugees and the right to move and live freely anywhere on the island. A united Cyprus, in the EU, without the appalling Annan derogations, would ensure this.

Turkey's guardian angel

The Guardian has made a habit of publishing articles in its Comment is Free section putting forward Turkey’s case on Cyprus and ridiculing and slurring Greek resistance to the invasion and occupation of the island. The UK newspaper has insisted that Cyprus be sacrificed for the sake of Turkey’s EU accession process, called for recognition of the occupation regime in the north and, on one occasion, even referred to the Republic of Cyprus as the ‘Greek pseudo-state in the south’.

Yesterday, it continued its campaign against Cyprus and published a piece by James Ker-Lindsay, a self-appointed Cyprus ‘specialist’, in which he argued for the de jure partition of the island, a two-state solution, i.e. the fulfilment of Turkey’s long-term ambitions for the island.
Ker-Lindsay claims his outburst was prompted by comments made last week by the clumsy, highly-strung Cypriot MEP, Marios Matsakis, who in trying to say that the Annan plan was perverse and unjust – partition with bells on it, making the Turks masters in the north and partners in the south – gave the impression that he was arguing for partition as the optimal solution for the island. (Matsakis, a forensic pathologist by training, always up for a publicity stunt, managed in 2005 to pull down a Turkish flag from a Turkish sentry post in the buffer zone – see photo).

Anyway, here’s the comment I made to Ker-Lindsay’s piece:

‘What Matsakis said was that a two-state solution was preferable to the Annan plan, because the Annan plan offered the dissolution of the Republic of Cyprus, an independent Turkish Cypriot state in the north and a Turkish and Turkish Cypriot say in the south. Matsakis was just trying to illustrate the absurdities and injustice of the Annan plan.

'As for partition – which has been British, American and Turkish policy and practice on the island for 50 years – the Greeks will resist it, as they have always resisted it, because it is preconditioned on ethnic cleansing – which is one step from genocide. A pity people are putting forward "solutions" that appease the most brutal and immoral forms of political and state conduct. I thought the kind of cynicism revealed by the author had had its day, but it seems he subscribes to the old Thucydidean addage that the "strong do as they can and the weak suffer what they must".

'I hope one day The Guardian will allow someone to put forward the case for a united, independent Cyprus, free of Turkish occupation troops and settlers, in which refugees are allowed to return to their homes and human rights more generally are the primary concern in any solution.’

Sunday, 2 September 2007

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.’

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Greek Fire

Greece will repair itself and a better country will emerge from last week's devastating fires in the Peloponnese and Evia. The pride of villagers and the heroism of firefighters was moving and this whole episode has prompted us to love and appreciate Hellas even more. Cypriot firefighters and civil defence volunteers were active on all fronts and were credited with saving lives and property with their endeavour and devotion to duty. Their determination to play their part also revealed the underlying and undying Cypriot commitment to Hellenic unity.
The first Greeks to settle in Cyprus 3,500 years ago were from Arcadia in the central Peloponnese, and it was one of those inspiring ironies which only Greeks with our long and complex history can produce and understand that directed that the descendants of these Mycenaean colonists were now called back to fight for and preserve the land of their ancestors.

The photo above shows Cypriot firefighters tackling the Andritsena blaze.

Here's Victor Davis Hanson's take on the fires.