Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Will Greece default on its debt?

Above is a report I heard this morning on BBC World Service radio asking if Greece will default on its debt and what the consequences would be for the country and for the euro if it did. The report includes an interview with Greece’s finance minister, Giorgos Papaconstantinou.

Monday, 28 March 2011

The Bible’s Buried Secrets; or exposing Jewish cultural imperialism

Above are the first two episodes of a documentary series, The Bible’s Buried Secrets, presented by Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou, currently being shown over here on the BBC. The first show is about the alleged united Jewish kingdom of David, while the second is about monotheism.

Not being that interested in Jewish history or the Old Testament, I was skeptical about watching the series, thinking it might just be just another guilt-ridden Western excuse to promote Jewish history and culture as universal; but in fact the programmes have so far been the opposite, implying that the Old Testament is just Jewish nationalist propaganda and challenging and exposing (as much as a TV series can challenge and expose) a whole host of Jewish myths; Jewish myths, which, unfortunately, Greeks adopted when they accepted Christianity and in the process repudiated key facets of Hellenism.

In fact, in the second show on monotheism, the hostility of Judaism to Hellenism is clearly articulated by Rabbi Ken Spiro who says of polytheism: ‘In essence, it’s a lie. Just look at the morality of the ancient world which is polytheistic and you see the radical contrast between the Jewish idea on the one hand and what came out of the pagan world on the other and it’s very, very clear.’

Indeed, rabbi, the contrast with what came out of the ‘pagan’ world and what came out of the Jewish world is radical and I know which world is more interesting, sophisticated, liberating, progressive and moral.

Another aspect of the series I liked was its effort to rehabilitate those peoples in the Old Testament, such as the Canaanites and Philistines, maligned by the Jews. The Philistines we are reminded were probably proto-Greeks, who came to the Near East via the Aegean and/or Cyprus.

* See here for third and final episode on the Garden of Eden.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Turks charge entrance fee to visit Monastery of Apostolos Andreas

Above is a report (with English subtitles) from yesterday’s RIK evening news on the imposition by the occupation regime of an entrance fee for those wishing to visit Cyprus’ foremost religious shrine, the Monastery of Apostolos Andreas, located at the tip of the Karpasia pensinular, which has been occupied by Turkey since 1974.

The Turks are saying the money raised from the one euro ticket will be put towards protecting Karpasia’s wild donkeys. Of course, the move is spiteful, intended to humiliate believers and, indeed, discourage them from visiting the shrine, which the Turks are deliberately allowing to crumble.

For those who don’t know, there are a couple of hundred Greeks who still live in the occupied areas – in the Karpasia villages of Agia Triada and Rizokarpaso. Also, since 2003, when the Turks made it easier for Greeks to cross over into the occupied areas, some do so in order to visit homes, churches and so on. Since the pilgrimage to Apostolos Andreas was always the most popular of its type for Cypriots before 1974, many believers have tried to revive the tradition, a fact that is obviously not to the liking of the occupation regime since it is a reminder to them of the Greekness of Cyprus, all of Cyprus.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Theodoros Kolokotronis: ‘one of the leaders of our race’

One of my favourite parts in one of my favourite Nikos Kazantzakis’ books is the following from Travels in Greece: Journey to the Morea, in which the Cretan author reflects on the character of perhaps the foremost hero of the Greek War of Independence, Theodoros Kolokotronis, the Old Man of the Morea. I’ve always liked Kazantzakis’ description of Kolokotronis, which has him, for 50 years, patiently preparing for the fight against the Turks, for the moment when his life would begin and take meaning.

The Old Man of the Morea
Today as I sit in Tripolitan coffeehouse watching the people and listening to their talk, I sense that if I were a young man living in Tripolis, I would concentrate – in order to save myself – upon the rich, aggressive and valiant soul of Kolokotronis. Here in Tripolis, air and mountain are still filled with his ample breath. From the days he spent as a merchant in Zakynthos, gazing at the mountains of Morea across the way, sighing:

I see the spreading sea, and afar the Morea,
Grief has seized me, and great yearning…

until his censure by the land that he liberated, and those final serene moments when Charon found him, Kolokotronis’ life was a dramatic, characteristic unfolding of a rich modern Greek soul: faith, optimism, tenacity, valour, a certain, practical mind, deceptive versatility, like Odysseus.

When the penpushers all lost their bearings, or the tin-soldier generals bickered among themselves, Kolokotronis would see the simplest, most effective solution. Gentle and softhearted when it served the great purpose, harsh and savage when necessary. Harsh and savage most of all with himself. When he served as a corsair on the ‘black ships’ he once found himself without tobacco. He opened his pipe and scraped it in order to get some burned tobacco to make a cigarette. But at the same instant he started to smoke, he felt ashamed. ‘Here’s a man for you,’ he muttered to himself with scorn. ‘Here’s a man who wants to save his country, and can’t even save himself from an inconsequential habit.’ And he flung the cigarette away.

Thus he conditioned and hardened himself, in order to be prepared. For years in foreign armies he studied the art of war, the ‘manual of arms’; aboard ship he learned the risalto, the assault; he made himself ready. And when the revolution burst out he was primed, fifty years old by then, organised from top to toe. Armed to the teeth. He had amassed knowledge by the quintal, cunning, bravery, wide experience; he wrought songs to relieve his ‘yearning’; by contributing an axiom at a crucial moment he would silence the unorganised chatter. Our modern Greek problems have not yet found more profound, humorous and epigrammatic expression.

He had both impulse and restraint, he knew how to retreat so that he could advance; hemmed in by enemies, Greeks and Turks, he was forced to mobilise all his bravery and wile so that the Race would not be lost. Often all would desert him, he would be left alone in the mountains, and then burst out weeping. He sobbed like the Homeric heroes, with his long hair and helmet; he sobbed and was refreshed. He regained his fortitude, formulated new schemes in his mind, sent off messages, involved the elders once more, mocked the Turks, conciliated the Greeks; and the struggle began again.

Kolokotronis, with all his faults and virtues, is one of the leaders of our race. Here in Tripolis, which he took with mind and sword, his scent still lingers dissipated in the air; with patience and concentration a youth should be able to reconstruct, as model and guide, the peerless Old Man. And thus, with a struggle now invisible and spiritual, to reconquer and ravish Tripolis.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Wikileaks: shining a light on Paulina Lampsa

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry reading the Wikileaks document that reports a December 2009 conversation between Paulina Lampsa – Pasok’s international secretary and special foreign policy adviser to Greek PM Giorgos Papandreou – and unnamed officials from the US embassy in Athens. The conversation largely relates Lampsa’s impressions of the state of play of the Cyprus negotiations following a recent visit to the island.

First, it should be said that Lampsa comes across as a big mouth who gives opinions on sensitive matters which she should be more guarded about. I don’t know if her willingness to open her heart to the Americans is connected to the Americans’ description of her as ‘a regular contact of the political section at Embassy Athens’.

Second, her views regarding Cyprus are ignorant. Lampsa clearly doesn’t have a clue about the Cyprus issue or about internal Cypriot politics.

For example, the Americans report that Lampsa told them that ‘a carefully crafted media and communication strategy is sorely needed [in Cyprus], in order to pave the way for public support for a solution.’

This is an astonishing assessment by a senior Greek official, who is not telling the Americans about the justice of the Cyprus cause and so on, but is arguing instead for a propaganda campaign to convince Cypriots, who she clearly thinks are sheep, to accept another Annan-type plan.

Lampsa then goes on to say, according to the Americans, that: ‘certain media and economic personalities in Greece are also opposed to a solution. In particular, Lampsa sees the Bobolos media group, including newspapers Ethnos, Protothemis [sic], Parent [sic], Makedonia (in Thessaloniki) and the Mega Channel on television as working against the process. On the other side, Lampsa said the Lambrakis media group (which includes Ta Nea, To Vima and the influential website INGR) and certain elements associated with Kathermerini are willing to support resolution of the Cyprus conflict.’

I don’t know since when the Greek media has taken much of an interest in Cyprus or has the role Lampsa says it has; a fact even the Americans (who seem to have a better knowledge of Cyprus than Lampsa) are aware of when they note: ‘In our estimation, the Greek newspapers referenced above are not necessarily as influential as the newspapers in Cyprus itself. Television stations in Cyprus may be somewhat anti-Annan plan but are not necessarily anti-solution.’

The heart of Turkness

Thanks to Hermes for drawing attention to this interesting article on Turkey by David P. Goldman a.k.a. Spengler, originally posted here, which seeks to burst the neo-Ottoman bubble and point out the potential for Turkey to implode. I’m not entirely convinced by Goldman’s thesis – particularly his prediction that simple demographics will mean a Kurdish take-over of Anatolia (the Kurds have a funny habit of finding an accommodation with the Turks) – but his argument that Turkish hegemony in regions of interest to Hellenism is not inevitable should be of interest to Greeks, particularly the more faint-hearted variety.

The heart of Turkness
Why does Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan jump around so much? The answer is that he’s trying to keep from rolling off a log. Erdogan’s sudden policy shifts and outlandish utterances, to be sure, reflect the Turkish leader’s own labile temperament.

When he stormed out of a panel discussion with Israeli President Shimon Peres in 2009, and denounced the Israelis as “pirates” and “criminals” after the Mavi Marmara Free Gaza flotilla incident in 2010, and warned that Kurdish rebels would “drown in their own blood”, the real Erdogan surfaced. Some of his unpredictability is calculated, to be sure, an Anatolian approach to haggling. But there is a deeper source of Erdogan’s volatility, and that is the precarious condition of Turkey itself.

“The ‘Turkish model’ emerges as nations face transformation,” ran a March 3 headline by the Chinese state news agency Xinhua. That is a tale told most eagerly by the Turkish government. “Turkey could be an example for its political, socio-cultural and economic progress achieved in recent years, Atilla Sandikli, president of the Istanbul-based Wise Men Center for Strategic Research (BILGESAM),” told Xinhua on the occasion of a visit to Egypt that week by Turkish President Abdullah Gul.

Soberer heads in Turkey look at this in askance. The online Hurriyet Daily News on March 15 tried to catalogue the innumerable mentions of the ‘Turkish model’ for ‘entertainment value’, and cited the following:

A headline from the Jerusalem Post: "A Turkish model for Egypt?" Or the essay in America's National Journal: "What is the Turkish model?" The Daily Star in Cairo phrased the question differently in its headline: "Is there a Turkish model?" The Wilson Center in Washington DC apparently thinks there is. On that think-tank's website you can find the tome: "Egypt and the Middle East: The Turkish Model". At the Brookings Institution, a think-tank a few blocks away, there appeared less certainty: "An Uneven Fit? The Turkish Model and the Arab World" is that outfit's contribution. With typical German conciseness, a think-tank there offered us simply, "The Turkish Model".

All the talk about the "Turkish model" would seem less vapid if only the world could make sense of what Erdogan is up to. He was among the first world leaders to demand the departure of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. He first denounced the thought of military intervention against Libya's Muammar Gaddafi regime, and then – after it became a fait accompli – insisted that he had advised Gaddafi to step down all along.

When Saudi Arabia sent troops and tanks to quell Shi'ite protests in Bahrain, in an apparent proxy battle with Iran, Erdogan warned against a new "Battle of Karbala", the 680 CE conflict at which the Umayid Caliph killed Husain ibn Ali, the martyr of Shi'ite Islam.

Returning from a visit to Russia, Erdogan said that his remarks had been misinterpreted, and that he was not speaking about the Sunni-Shi'ite conflict in Bahrain at all, but rather about the loss of life in Libya.

Erdogan has left Arabs in particular deeply confused. The simplest explanation of Erdogan's unseemly haste in denouncing Mubarak is financial. Turkey is the most immediate beneficiary of Egyptian instability. In short, Erdogan is not a hegemon but a spoiler.

According to the Turkish Zaman news site on March 6:

Recent uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East are having a major impact on tourist destinations in those areas, while also having a beneficial effect on the Turkish tourism sector, with Turkish travel agencies already receiving a higher-than-usual volume of calls from European countries ... Turkey is among the top 10 tourist destinations in the world, currently sitting in eighth place. In 2010 about 27 million tourists visited the country, and the tourism sector contributed around $21 billion to the national income... Naturally, as the tourism industry is sensitive to violence and security concerns, the recent uprisings from Tunisia to Yemen have already led to a reshuffling of major tourist destinations.
Zaman added, "Recent events have caused many tourists to cancel their reservations in countries where there is unrest in favor of alternative destinations such as Turkey... by the substitution effect, the number of tourists expected to visit Turkey in 2011 should be higher than preceding years due to the violence in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya ... about 35 percent of the 1.5 million French and 1 million Italian tourists that were supposed to go to Tunisia are heading towards Turkey. A similar proportion applies to the Egyptian case as well."

Turkey stands to gain perhaps $15 billion in tourist revenue - about three months' worth of the country's enormous current account deficit, or half the country's annual oil bill. That might be the difference between another year of tolerable success and a major crisis; that is, between Erdogan's political success and abject failure. As the Zaman report commented, "As the trade deficit is being held accountable for such a huge current account deficit, the extra tourism revenue will play a vital role in the current account balance in Turkey."

Writing in the pan-Arab daily Asharq Alawsat on March 15, the site's Saudi editor Tariq Alhomayed argued:

Those who believe that Erdogan is acting in this regard according to Turkey's commercial interests are wrong. Erdogan is defending Gaddafi despite all the crimes that the Libyan leader has committed against his own people, whilst he was previously one of the first world leaders to criticize the Hosni Mubarak regime during the 25 January revolution in Egypt. However he did not take either of these positions for commercial reasons. Erdogan has responded in a different manner to the events in Libya and Egypt because he is searching for leadership, namely neo-Ottoman leadership.

But even Turkish observers cannot make sense of what a "neo-Ottoman policy" might look like. Turkish President Gul turned up in Egypt to lecture locals during the first week in March, to be sure.

A former Turkish official who has traveled with Erdogan and other top Turkish officials, though, told me, "None of this makes any sense. Erdogan goes in to see a foreign head of state and brings businessmen with him, and pushes them forward and says, 'Do business with this guy'. Of course, you have to be a political supporter of Erdogan to be part of the delegation. Otherwise, Turkey has nothing on the ground. The embassies have no staff, there are no political people monitoring the situation, there's no follow-through of any kind."

Contrary to the wishful thinking in the Western media, there is nothing moderate about Erdogan's Islamism. His government has arrested or charged about 4,300 individuals with complicity in an amorphous coup plot called "Ergenekon", including hundreds of senior military officers, journalists and academics.

Critics denounce the "Ergenekon" case as a pretext for an Islamist coup against Turkey's secular constitution. "Ergenekon has become a larger project in which the investigation is being used as a tool to sweep across civic society and cleanse Turkey of all secular opponents. As such, the country's democracy, its rule of law and its freedom of expression are at stake," a former justice minister told the New York Times.

Some analysts, like Gareth Jenkins of Johns Hopkins University, have denounced the case as a politically motivated hoax from the beginning; others allowed that there might have been a military coup in preparation. But the arrests of independent Turkish journalists of unblemished reputation this year finished off Erdogan's credibility.

Even the US administration could not quite stomach the arrests. Last month, America's ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone told a press conference: "On the one hand there exists a stated policy of support for a free press. On the other hand, journalists are put under detention. We are trying to make sense of this."

Hurriyet columnist Mustafa Aykal wrote on March 4, "This is just too much... what I said to myself two mornings ago, on the new wave of Ergenekon arrests, involving almost a dozen journalists. One of them was Nedim Sener, a meticulous reporter I barely know yet genuinely respect, for his exposure of the 'deep state' in the infamous Hrant Dink murder case. Another was Ahmet Sik, who is also known for his brave journalism on the criminals within Turkish security forces."

To the extent that Erdogan advances his Islamist agenda, he risks a disaster for Turkey's fragile economy. Bilgi University Professor Asaf Savas Akat, a Turkish television commentator and a long-time official of Turkey's largest secular political party, told me in February, "Some worry that Erdogan will be not another [Iran revolution leader Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini, but an [Iran President Mahmud] Ahmadinejad. Will he go in that direction? I don't know. "

"It's important to keep in mind that Turkey is a resource-poor country," Akat observed. He added:
A Turkish politician can't count on foreign exchange from resources. We have to earn it. Let's assume the current government decides to turn Turkey into Iran. The first thing is that $30 billion of foreign exchange from tourism will disappear - directly and indirectly, that's what Turkey gets from tourism. How are we going to buy oil? If foreigners don't want to come to Turkey, how are we going to sell shirts?

Iran's oil is pumped out of the ground and piped out of the country by foreigners. Ahmadinejad just has to sit there and collect the money. We have to make the yarn, and then make shirts out of the yarn, and then sell them overseas. That's a very big constraint on us. We have a big current account deficit as it is. We are a net importer of food. We rely on the confidence of financial markets.
Erdogan's Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) remains a minority, and its ability to govern rests on the capacity of his government to deliver higher consumption to Turks who - when they are employed - are barely getting by. Unemployment by fair measure is closer to 25% than the official rate of 10%: only 22% of Turkish women sought employment in 2009, down from over 34% in 1988, despite better female education and a sharp drop in fertility, that is, better qualifications and greater opportunity.

By contrast, 54% of South Korean women work. Adjusting for the absence of women in the workforce, unemployment is catastrophically high. As smallholding agricultural shrinks, women who no longer can work on the family farm simply sit at home. Almost half of Turkish workers, moreover, find employment in the so-called informal economy.

Turkey's only resource is human capital. Unlike the diploma mills of the Arab Middle East that grind out graduates qualified to do little more than stamp each other's papers, many Turkish universities uphold international standards.

Turkey's elite educational venues, though, are a bastion of secularism. They are the most Western of the country's institutions. And they are the goose that lays golden eggs for the Turkish economy. Privately, many Western-educated Turkish professionals have told me that they will emigrate if Erdogan tries to impose Islamic law.

Many already have left. According to one study, "The last few years have witnessed an increase in the number of highly qualified professionals and university graduates moving to Europe or the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] countries. Today, it is estimated that there are approximately 3.6 million Turkish nationals living abroad, of whom about 3.2 million are in European countries, a substantial increase from 600,000 in 1972.''

Turkey is holding its own, but just barely. It has made inroads in the lower end of the manufacturing spectrum, but largely abandoned earlier hopes of competing with the Asians in high-tech industries. Turkish construction companies are prominent in Russia, and Turks or their Turkic cousins from Central Asia make up most of the 11 million foreign workers in Russia. Erdogan, the former businessmen, travels with Turkish executives in tow and puts them in front of foreign leaders when they bid for construction work (those businessmen who support him politically, that is).

But Turkey's economic profile in no way resembles the Asian success stories. Its overall birth rate is below replacement and its population is aging extremely quickly. A country with a fast-aging population is supposed to save more; individuals do this by foregoing consumption, and countries do this by exporting and saving the proceeds.

Unlike China and the East Asians with their enormous export surpluses and savings rates, Turkey still runs a current account deficit at a dangerous 7%-10% of gross domestic product (GDP) , and depends on short-term money markets to finance it. The current account deficit is matched by an enormous deficit in the state social security system, whose annual shortfall is about 5% of GDP. The social security problem reflects outlandishly generous terms to retirees offered by previous governments.

Time is not on Turkey's side. Educated Turks in the more developed West have a fertility rate of about 1.5, the same as Western Europe; the Kurds in the country's impoverished east have four or five children. Kurds, whose independence movement has cost tens of thousands of dead over the past 30 years, may become the majority within two generations. If Turkey holds together at all, it will be quite a different place.

Erdogan's most apocalyptic utterances refer to Turkey's own future, and to problems that are neither imaginary nor exaggerated. "They want to eradicate the Turkish nation," he alleged in 2008. "That's exactly what they want to do!"

The "they" to whom Erdogan referred in his speech, to a women's audience in the provincial town of Usak, refers to whoever is persuading Turkish women to stop bearing children. Turkey is in a demographic trap. Its birth rate has fallen, and its population is aging almost as fast as Iran's. Erdogan sees nothing less than a conspiracy to destroy the Turkish nation behind the fertility data. "If we continue the existing trend, 2038 will mark disaster for us," Erdogan repeated in May 2010.

In the long run, we are all dead, but the Turks are all old, and the Kurds may inherit Anatolia. In some ways Erdogan's impassioned Islamism responds to the danger that Turkey will turn gray and decline like the nations of Western Europe. But every attempt to advance the Islamist agenda runs into land mines. That is why Erdogan's tone suppurates with desperation.

The Turkish model is fragile in the short run, and unsalvageable in the long run. Turkey may be the envy of the Muslim Middle East, but that says more about the misery of the others than the happiness of Turkey itself.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Wikileaks: Understanding who runs Greece

Kathimerini is publishing a load of Wikileaks documents (see here [click Διαβάστε αναλυτικά for original documents in English] and here) that relate to Cyprus and Greece. Mostly the documents report conversations between US diplomats in Athens and Nicosia with local political figures and reflections by these diplomats on how machinations in Cyprus and Greece will affect US interests. There are a number of interesting documents – Pangalos’ view that the Skopjans should be able to call themselves whatever they want; Cypriot distrust of Dora Bakoyiannis (well founded, it seems, since Bakoyiannis is recorded as telling the Americans post-Annan to work only for cosmetic changes to the UN plan); Molyviatis’ exasperation at the hardline Papadopoulos is taking on Turkey’s EU accession start – but the one I’m publishing an extract from below concerns a 2006 US analysis of how the Greek media works, in fact how Greek society works, because it mentions Christos Lambrakis and follows on from my last post about the man identified as being intimately involved with the junta and the Cyprus disaster. (Read document in full here).


1. SUMMARY. At first glance, the Greek media may resemble the media in the U.S., with a mixture of broadsheets and tabloids, national and local television and radio stations, and constitutional guarantees guarding the freedom of the press. Closer inspection reveals a Greek media industry controlled by business tycoons whose other successful businesses enable them to subsidize their loss-making media operations. These media operations in turn enable them to exercise political and economic influence. The result is that the media often provides an image of national and international events that is almost uniform but for its division along party lines. Similarly, a uniform anti-Americanism is injected into nearly every issue, but has little effect on the bilateral relationship. END SUMMARY.

The History of the Greek Media, from Homer to the Home Page
2. Homer reported on the Trojan War a few hundred years after it happened, and used the facts of the war to create a poetic tale of battles among gods, with men as pawns. Current Greek media uses the same blend of fact and fiction, with an equally judicious dose of deus ex machina (outside forces) that controls events. The first modern day Greek-language newspapers were established in Vienna and Paris in the 18th century and were an important factor in the Greek fight for independence from the Ottomans. With the founding of the modern Greek state, the tradition was established of blaming an outside power (first the Great Powers and then the U.S.) for all ills that befell Greece.

3. Greece currently has about 160 newspapers, 180 television stations, 800 radio stations, 3,500 magazines, and just 10 million people. (Portugal, with the same population, has 35 newspapers, 62 television stations, and 221 radio stations, according to the “World Factbook” of 2004). How can all these media outlets operate profitably? They don’t. They are subsidized by their owners who, while they would welcome any income from media sales, use the media primarily to exercise political and economic influence, and therefore care marginally less about turning a profit from their media operations. Because there are no subscriptions or home deliveries in Greece, newspapers have to sell themselves from newsstands by grabbing the attention of the casual passerby. This means that even the occasional calm and partially accurate story will have a misleading or untrue headline that often has nothing to do with the story. Still, the media utilize sensationalist headlines and stories to capture readers and the all-important television ratings that determine the distribution of advertising revenue. Newspapers also use such tools as DVD and book giveaways.

4. The same media companies that own newspapers and broadcasting stations have established internet news portals, but they have not taken off. The most popular, in.gr, has abolished its news desk and just runs articles from its parent company´s newspapers. There are no “Salons” or “Drudge Reports.”

Who Watches/Reads What?
5. Greeks get most of their information from television, but newspapers are the main source of analysis. Morning “news” shows consist of an oral recitation of those same, deliberately sensationalist newspaper headlines. Athens media dominate nationally, with 80 percent of the nation’s viewership and readership, and with provincial radio stations rebroadcasting Athens radio programs. The state-owned radio and television stations have a smaller audience than their private counterparts. Only 6 percent of Greeks get their news from the internet. While the public’s trust in the media has been steadily falling over the last two decades, it’s still quite common to hear “but I read it in the paper” or “I saw it on television” when we try to correct false news stories. An October 2005 poll showed that 71 percent of Greeks consider the media too sensationalist, yet the sensationalist newspapers generally sell the most copies.

6. A Greek political columnist described the situation as a moussaka with many layers baked together. The Greek public, he said, doesn’t pay attention to the media. The public opinion polls, however, reflect high levels of anti-Americanism (or, as he pointed out, anti-government or anti-establishment or anti-anything sentiments), because people like to vent their frustrations. Once you dig little deeper into the moussaka, he continued, you will find that the public is generally content with the decisions the government makes, even those where Greece and the U.S. are allied.

7. The Greek media increasingly devote more column inches and minutes to the daily problems of the average Greek, the private lives of politicians, entertainment, and sports than to foreign issues. Greece´s membership in the U.N. Security Council has received limited coverage, while analysis of European Union decisions is scarce. Major international events get extensive coverage but only via international networks and wire services. The reasons for the sparse coverage of major global developments include Greek ethnocentricity, the unwillingness of media owners to promote the current government´s achievements, and the lack of robust Greek leadership in the international arena.

Who are the Media?
8. The private media outlets in Athens are owned by a small group of people who have made or inherited fortunes in shipping, banking, telecommunications, sports, oil, insurance, etc. and who are or have been related by blood, marriage, or adultery to political and government officials and/or other media and business magnates. For example, ship-owner and Mega Channel investor Vardis Vardinogiannis is the best friend of Christos Lambrakis, publisher of “To Vima,” “Ta Nea,” “Athens News,” and the “in.gr” news portal, and Lambrakis has government construction contracts. Vardinoyannis’s two children married into the Goulandris and Nomikos ship-owning families. His sister Eleni is married to ND MP Yannis Kefaloyannis who serves as special advisor to PM Karamanlis.

9. The Greek term “interwoven interests” refers specifically and exclusively to the web of relationships among the media, business, and government. The current Minister of the Merchant Marine commented recently that the government is a puppet that performs at the whim of the interwoven interests. (His comment amused neither the press magnates nor the Prime Minister, but he has somehow held onto his job.) The relationships are more complicated and incestuous than those among the gods, the demigods, and the human beings of Greek myth. (Note: post can email a simplified one-page chart on the media and their ownership to anyone who would like to have it.)

10. As for the journalists themselves, they are an underpaid bunch usually holding multiple jobs in order to pay their bills. It’s not unusual for a journalist to work in a ministry press office, even while covering the beat that includes that ministry. They’re very conscious of their multiple masters. One long-time Mega Channel reporter says she only recalls one instance where any of Mega’s five owners was criticized on that station. It’s also acceptable for journalists to take gifts or even money from those on whom they report. The 2004 Olympics organizing committee was notorious for paying journalists for favorable stories.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Christos Lambrakis accused of being ‘mastermind’ behind Makarios coup

This extraordinary story is being reported in the Cyprus version of Kathimerini.

It refers to an accusation made by DIKO MP Zaharias Koulias that the late Christos Lambrakis, Greece’s most well-known media tycoon, owner of the Lambrakis Press Group, one of the most influential political and cultural figures in post-1974 Greece, publisher of To Vima and Ta Nea, as well as 20-plus other weekly and monthly publications, with a large interest in Mega TV, a man with a symbiotic connection to PASOK governments and leading lights throughout the 1980s and 1990s, whose media outlets became bastions of the febrile leftism that plagues Greek politics and society, who, in 1994, was touted as a possible president of Greece, was in fact a close associate of the Greek military junta and, indeed, according to Koulias, was the mastermind behind the coup against Makarios on 15 July, 1974.

Koulias, a member of the parliamentary committee investigating the 1974 events that led to the partition of Cyprus, told the Cypriot parliament today that a document presented to his committee by Haris Vovidis, Makarios’ former personal secretary, revealed that three days before the coup, a meeting of the leaders of the plot against the Cyprus president took place at Christos Lambrakis’ villa on the island of Poros.

Apart from Lambrakis, other attendees were the dictator Demetris Ioannides, his staff officers, the shipowner Giorgos Potamianos (previously accused of funnelling money from Turkish secret services to EOKA B) and, from Cyprus, Nikos Sampson, the EOKA B stalwart, who assumed the presidency of Cyprus after Makarios was toppled.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Cyprus crisis: conspiracies, cock-ups and political agendas

Manthos pointed me in the direction of the talk above by Andreas Constandinos on the junta’s coup against Makarios and the subsequent Turkish invasion of Cyprus. The talk emerges from Constandinos’ PhD thesis, published in book form as America, Britain and the Cyprus Crisis of 1974: Calculated Conspiracy or Foreign Policy Failure? which seeks to disprove the so-called conspiracy theories that predominate in the discourse on the events of 1974 – i.e. that America and the UK conspired with Turkey and Greece to bring about the downfall of the Republic of Cyprus as a prelude to partition of the island; and instead assert the cock-up theory – i.e. that the US and UK were largely caught unaware by the coup and the invasion and responded as they did not out of malice or careful calculation but because they failed to read Greek and Turkish intentions correctly. All in all, Constandinos says that, as far as the US and UK were concerned, the coup and invasion were far from a conspiracy to destroy the Republic of Cyprus but rather a foreign policy failure.

Constandinos’ thesis is flawed and implausible. In fact, it’s so flawed and implausible that it’s reasonable to conclude that he’s pushing a dubious political agenda. I’ll just make a few points, mostly about his attempts to exonerate the US from blame in the coup and invasion. I won’t go into his equally dubious effort to whitewash the UK’s role in the partition of Cyprus.

1. There is no Cyprus conspiracy theory in the way Constandinos thinks there is. Christopher Hitchens, who Constandinos accuses of being one of the main exponents of the conspiracy theory, prefers in his book Cyprus: Hostage to History to use the word  ‘collusion’ and not ‘conspiracy’. At no point does Hitchens argue that Kissinger or the British gave explicit instructions to the Greeks to overthrow Makarios or to the Turks to invade the island. Rather, Hitchens, as well as insisting on ‘collusion’, characterises US and UK policy as ‘careless’, ‘arrogant’, ‘cynical’ and infused with ‘imperial caprice’.

2. Asserting as Constandinos does that Kissinger was unaware of Greece’s coup plot and Turkey’s determination to invade is naively generous to the US secretary of state. The fact is that it was an open secret that Greece, for years, going back to 1964, had been considering a coup against Makarios and that Ioannides was more committed than his predecessors to bringing this plan to fruition. It was just as much an open secret that Turkey was itching to invade Cyprus and had nearly done so in 1964 and 1967, only stopping, not as Constandinos says – in another attempt to exonerate the US in Cyprus – because of pressure from Washington, but because the Turkish armed forces were not ready to launch such a major operation. It’s worth pointing out that in 1964, some American officials were actually urging the Turks to invade and assuring them that they would not face US censure. (See here for discussion of the Acheson plans and the US encouraging Turkey to invade Cyprus).

3. Despite the well-known role of the US and UK in the 1960s in destabilising the Republic of Cyprus in an effort to bring closer the implementation of the Acheson Plan, i.e. the partition of Cyprus, giving one part of the island to Greece and the other to Turkey, thus securing the whole for Nato and reconciling Greece and Turkey, Constandinos insists that with the Nixon administration this paranoid cold war mentality dissipated and that America and Cyprus had developed a modus vivendi – as exemplified by Makarios acquiescing in America’s use of the UK bases on the island for its U-2 missions in the Middle East. The earlier plans for a coup, invasion and partition had, according to Constandinos, apparently been forgotten by the Americans, by Kissinger et al.

This is not credible. There is no evidence that from 1968 the Americans were now favourably disposed to Makarios or that they had ceased to regard an independent and essentially non-aligned Cyprus, with its large and slavishly pro-Moscow communist party, which routinely opposed the presence of British and US military bases and listening posts on Cyprus, as a continuing threat to Western security interests. Nor would any supposed US rapprochement with Makarios have deflected the Americans from their more substantial interest of mollifying Turkey and Greece. In the case of Greece, this mollification involved  preserving the Greek junta in power and to this end, since Makarios was an affront to the junta, the Americans were more than happy to go along with Athens’ plans to do away with the ‘red priest’. It’s also worth stressing that EOKA B, the paramilitary group established on Cyprus in 1971 to further the junta’s goals on the island, was supported not just by Athens, as Constandinos says, but by the CIA.

4. We also know that the Americans viewed the coup against Makarios with sympathy not only because they did not see fit to condemn it but, in fact, the US began the process of recognising the new government and state of affairs created in Cyprus by Ioannides. It matters little whether Kissinger gave direct orders for the removal of Makarios – Constandinos’ anti-conspiracy theory heavily relies on his failure to find documents in the US archives that show Kissinger giving such orders; because we prefer to judge Kissinger and America’s role in the 1974 events not by what was said but by what was done – and whether what was done was in line with long-standing and known US policy, which it was, i.e. all American efforts in 1974 paved the way for the coup, the invasion and partition – and as such were the culmination of a policy initiated by the US State Department (with the support of the British) in 1964. Thus, we can say with certainty that despite knowing that the junta was in the final stages of plotting to oust Makarios, the US did not urge them to abandon their plans – which they would have done if, as Constandinos says, the Nixon administration was well disposed to Makarios. We also know that the coup having failed, with Makarios alive and able to claim to be the legitimate Cypriot head of state, the Americans, still determined to see through the dissolution of the Republic of Cyprus, decided to back Turkey, implicitly and explicitly, in its ambition to partition the island. So even though Constandinos wants us to believe that the Americans were caught unaware by the Turkish invasion, thought the threat of invasion was only a bluff, we know not only that US efforts to dissuade the Turks from invading were, at best, half-hearted, but that at the Geneva talks that followed the first invasion on 20 July, Kissinger spoke openly about Turkey’s legitimate interest in ‘protecting’ the Turkish Cypriots who, Kissinger helpfully added, deserved more ‘autonomy’. As such, the US did not condemn the second Turkish invasion on 14 August and, in fact, expended most of its diplomatic energy during this period urging Greece not to respond to Turkey’s advances on the island.

What then are we to make of an analysis like Constandinos’ that seeks to exonerate the US and UK from the events of 1974 and his efforts to heap all the responsibility for the tragedy onto the Greek junta – which he portrays as acting on its own or, Constandinos does concede (without, for some reason, it affecting for him his overall thesis), in collaboration with trusted Greek-American CIA agents? What we make of such an analysis is that it is part of a trend in certain British academic circles that busy themselves with Cyprus to portray Britain, in particular, as having a benign or neutral role in Cyprus, show America as a blundering imperial power manqué and trace all Cyprus’ woes to Greece, Greeks and Greek nationalism.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Manolis Rasoulis: Ο μάγκας δεν υπάρχει πια

Very sad news coming out about Manolis Rasoulis

“Νεκρός βρέθηκε σήμερα το πρωί από φίλους του ο καλλιτέχνης Μανώλης Ρασούλης, στο σπίτι του στη Θεσσαλονίκη. Σύμφωνα με τα πρώτα στοιχεία του ιατροδικαστή ο θάνατός του είχε προέλθει πριν από τέσσερις ημέρες.”

“Manolis Rasoulis was found dead by friends this morning at his home in Thessaloniki. According to the medical examiner, first indications are that Rasoulis died about four days ago.”

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

What’s happening in our neighbourhood

A quick note on some articles (in Greek) I read today that aroused my interest.

First, there was this article on the Greek minority in Lebanon – which according to the author amounts to some seven percent of the Lebanese population. The author claims that of all the ethnic groups in Lebanon, the Greeks are the worst organised and the most prone to Arabisation, to Arab propaganda that they are not Greeks but Syrians, proto-Arabs or pre-Islamic Arabs. The author makes a plea for Greeks in Lebanon to establish their own political party and protect their ethnicity and identity, which goes back to Hellenistic and Byzantine times.

The story is further proof of Hellenism’s retreat and Greece’s indifference to those Greeks beyond the borders of the Greek state. It’s also worth pointing out that Greeks from Cyprus should feel a special affinity for the Lebanese Greeks because many Cypriots are descended from the Greek communities of the Levant, which fled the Arab invasions and found refuge in Cyprus.

Secondly, I read Kathimerini editor Alexis Papachelas’ interview with Ahmet Davoutoglu, on the eve of the Turkish foreign minister’s visit to Greece. The interview covers the Aegean – including Davoutoglu’s assertion that Kastellorizo is not an Aegean but a Mediterranean issue – Turkey’s vision for itself and energy and economic co-operation between Greece and Turkey.

You’ll have to wait until the last paragraph to find Papachelas asking Davoutoglu something about Greece’s so-called number one foreign policy issue, i.e. Cyprus, and then Cyprus is only mentioned in relation to the Turkish Cypriot protests against Ankara, giving Davoutoglu the opportunity to reassure Papachelas that there is no rift between Turkey and the TRNC – the ‘TRNC’ is referred to in the piece without caveats, as if it were a de jure entity.

I note that Kathimerini, Papachelas and Skai TV are from the same stable and the underlying servility of the interview provides us with clear proof as to what Skai’s infamous series on the 1821 revolution is driving at: Greece sacrificing its national interests and watering down its national identity in order to achieve ‘reconciliation’ with Turkey.

And, finally, I read this piece in the Cyprus edition of Kathimerini. It refers to contacts and briefings Cypriot journalists have been given by senior Israeli officials in light of President Christofias’ upcoming official visit to the Jewish state. (The fact that the communist Christofias is even making such a visit is extraordinary and tells us the extent of the changes in strategic relations taking place in the Eastern Mediterranean).

The article reveals Israeli fears that the neighbourhood is becoming more threatening and their hopes for stronger relations with Greece and Cyprus, especially in the energy field given the significant hydrocarbon finds in the Israeli and Cypriot EEZs. The article also says that not all Israeli officials have given up hopes for rapprochement with Turkey, but there are others not so optimistic, believing that Turkey, under Erdogan, has set itself firmly on an Islamic course:

‘Regarding Turkey’s European accession process, it is believed in Israel that Turkey is not serious about entering the EU. Instead, Erdogan and his party are using the European card to weaken the military and the Kemalist elite…

‘After the [June] elections in Turkey, and if Erdogan emerges completely victorious, then Turkey will make a significant turn towards a clear Islamic outlook, which will take Turkey further away from Europe. Such a turn might also lead to Turkey adopting a stance on Cyprus outside of the parameters the UN has set for a Cyprus solution.’

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Two films from Nikos Papatakis

Nikos Papatakis is an interesting character (1918-2010). Born in Addis Ababa, he lived in Ethiopia, Lebanon, Greece and France – where, after the Second World War, he moved in Parisian avant guarde circles and became most notably associated with Jean Genet. In 1957, he went to New York, where he befriended John Cassavetes and was financier/producer on Cassavetes’ first film, Shadows. Also, in the 1960s and still in New York, Papatakis got to know the singer/model Christa Päffgen –  aka Nico, of ‘The Velvet Underground and Nico’ fame – who, indeed, was nicknamed after Papatakis.

Anyway, in between all this, Papatakis was a film-maker in his own right, starting off in 1963 with Les Abysses, an adaptation of Genet’s The Maids. Papatakis then, in 1967, made a film in Greek, Οι Βοσκοί  – aka The Shepherd’s Calamity or Thanos and Despina. It’s very difficult to get hold of Papatakis’ films, I’ve not seen Les Abysses and only managed to find Οι Βοσκοί the other day and I have to say it’s one of the most remarkable films I’ve ever seen, heavily influenced by Genet, with themes of outcasts, social repression and rebellion and the ineluctable road to catastrophe. Papatakis followed in 1976 with a French film, Gloria Mundi, which I haven’t seen, and then in 1986 he made The Photograph, another brilliant Greek-language film, set in Paris and Kastoria, and the Papatakis work I’ve known about and seen the most.

Papatakis’ last film was Les Equilibristes, from 1992, which is about Genet’s doomed relationship with an Algerian circus performer. I saw this film a while ago in Athens and, again, thought it was superb.

Now, I’ve uploaded both Papatakis’ strange, disturbing and occasionally hilarious Greek films – The Shepherds and The Photograph, and even managed to get English subtitles for The Photograph. No subs, unfortunately, for The Shepherds.