Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Kazantzakis: ‘here we were shamed, here glorified’

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

Some excerpts from the opening chapter of Travels in Greece:

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Casseroled kolokasi recipe

Since my post on kolokasi, from four years ago, is, by five-to-one, the most popular I’ve written – who cares about Cyprus, Thucydides, Castoriadis? – I’m providing the classic recipe for one of the signature dishes of Cypriot cuisine. Kolokasi is a root vegetable, similar to the potato in texture and taste, and known as taro in English.

Serves 4-6

One large kolokasi, peeled, then cleaned with a damp paper or kitchen towel and cut into large chunks
One medium-large onion, chopped
Two tablespoons tomato puree
Three stalks of celery, chopped
Juice of one to one and a half lemons
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
750g-1kg pork neck, shoulder or cutlets, cubed. (Meat is optional).

Do all this in a large saucepan or casserole pot.

I prefer kolokasi without meat, but pork or chicken can be added to the dish. For pork, you need, for the purposes of this recipe, approximately 750g to one kilo of pork shoulder or neck – pork cutlets are even better. Cut the pork into cubes, fry in two tablespoons of olive oil till brown, set aside.

1. If you’ve just fried your pork/chicken, then use the same olive oil to cook the onion. Otherwise, heat two tablespoons of olive oil, soften the onion.

2. Add the celery, followed by the tomato puree. Cook for 1-2 minutes.

3. Throw in the chunky pieces of kolokasi.

4. Shake pot, so that sauce coats the kolokasi. Do not stir. (If you’re adding pork/chicken, add it now). Cook for further 7-8 minutes, shaking pot another 2-3 times.

5. Add plenty of salt and pepper. Shake pot again to make sure kolokasi is well coated with the tomato sauce.

6. Add enough hot water to cover the kolokasi, and bring to the boil.

7. Add juice of one to one and a half lemons, depending on taste.

8. Cover pot, cook for one hour or until sauce thickens, stirring occasionally.

You can serve kolokasi as a side or main dish. I recently had kolokasi with stewed hare, which my uncle shot in Scotland, and carrot tzatziki.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Sorceress or scapegoat? Christa Wolf’s Medea

Of all the seductive, sinister and transgressive women who have haunted the Western imagination, none has a reputation more lurid than Medea’s. (Margaret Atwood)

The city is founded on a monstrous deed. (Medea)

East German writer Christa Wolf’s Medea is a harrowing novel that seeks to retell the story of the Colchian princess and rehabilitate her from evil, barbarian witch to knowing foreigner and immigrant who can see the hypocrisy, lies and violence on which Corinth (the city she is exiled in with her feeble husband Jason) is organised and ruled. Such a woman, who has learned the dirty secrets of Corinth’s power elite, which is now struggling with political unrest and natural disaster, is dangerous and has to be discredited and destroyed, and this, Wolf suggests, is the process by which Medea is turned into a scapegoat and comes to be falsely accused of killing her children and murdering Glauce, the Corinthian princess Jason has abandoned her for.

The novel is written as a series of voices, as each protagonist feints, plots and manoeuvres as the crisis engulfing Corinthian society unfolds, and below is an excerpt from one of Medea’s monologues:

‘So this is how it is: either I’m out of my mind, or their city is founded on a crime. No, believe me, I’m quite clear on this point, what I say or think about it is quite clear to me, for I’ve found the proof, yes, I’ve touched it with my own hands. Oh, it’s not arrogance that threatens to undo me now. The woman – I simply followed her. Perhaps I just wanted to teach Jason a lesson, since he’d stood by and let them seat me at the end of the table among the servants, that’s it, I didn’t dream that, that was yesterday. At least they’re the highest-ranking servants, he said pathetically, don’t cause a scandal, Medea, please, not today, you know what’s at stake, the King can’t lose face in front of all his foreign guests. Ah, Jason, save your breath. He still hasn’t understood that King Creon can’t grieve me anymore, but that’s not what I’m talking about, I have to clear my head. I have to promise myself never to speak about my discovery to a living soul. The best thing would be to do what Chalciope and I used to do with secrets when we were children, do you know what that was, Mother? We’d wrap our secret up tight in a leaf and eat it up while staring into one another’s eyes. Our childhood – or rather everything in Colchis – was full of dark secrets, and when I arrived here, a refugee in King Creon’s gleaming city-state of Corinth, I had an envious thought: these people have no secrets. And that’s what they think too, that’s what makes them so convincing; with every look, with every one of their measured movements, they’re drumming it into you: Here’s one place in the world where a person can be happy. It was only later that I realized how much they hold it against you if you express doubts about their happiness. But that’s not what I’m talking about either, what’s the matter with my head? It’s buzzing with a whole swarm of thoughts, why is it so hard for me to reach into the swarm and snatch out the one thought I need?’

(Read the rest of the excerpt here. Read Margaret Atwood’s introduction to the novel here. And read Christa Wolf’s essay on Medea and Cassandra, another character from Greek literature she has based a novel on, here).

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

The origins of Marseille and the end of Phocaea

It’s good to be reminded me of the scope and magnitude of Hellenism, the fact that, as Henry Maine put it: ‘Except for the blind forces of Nature, nothing moves in this world which is not Greek in its origins.’

France’s second largest city Marseille is Greek in its origins and the supporters of its football club commemorate this fact not only in the name of the club, Olympique de Marseille, and in the azure and white colours of the team’s kit, but also in the waving of Greek flags at home matches.

Indeed, in the recent Europa League game between Marseille and Fenerbache, from another city with Greek origins (Byzantium/Constantinople), the fans of the Turkish team were so incensed by the Hellenic national symbols, which they took to be a provocation, that they began to riot in the stadium – smashing seats, attacking Marseille fans – prompting the French police to require the home fans to put away their Greek flags.

Three days later, in the league match against Lille, the Marseille fans reiterated their esteem for the Greek flag by forming, as the video above shows, a giant human version of it, beneath which a banner read: ‘NE RENIONS PAS L’ORIGINE DE NOTRE VILLE’. (We do not deny the origin of our city).

As to the origins of Marseille/Μασσαλία, the city was founded by Ionian Greeks from Phocaea in Asia Minor in 600 BC, themselves colonists from Phocis in central Greece – Olympique de Marseille’s original name was US Phocéenne.

Phocaea was destroyed by the Ottoman Turks in 1914, an event recounted in George Horton’s The Blight of Asia. Horton, who was US consul general in Smyrna at the time, states that the fate of the Phocaeans would have been worse had it not been for the intervention of a group of resident Frenchmen, who felt a bond and obligation towards Phocaea because of its status as the ‘Mother of Marseille’.

Below are a few passages from The Blight of Asia describing the massacre and destruction of Phocaea.

‘The complete and documentary account of the ferocious persecutions of the Christian population of the Smyrna region, which occurred in 1914, is not difficult to obtain; but it will suffice, by way of illustration, to give only some extracts from a report by the French eye-witness, Manciet, concerning the massacre and pillage of Phocea, a town of eight thousand Greek inhabitants and about four hundred Turks, situated on the sea a short distance from Smyrna. The destruction of Phocea excited great interest in Marseilles, as colonists of the very ancient Greek town founded the French city. Phocea is the mother of Marseilles. Monsieur Manciet was present at the massacre and pillage of Phocea, and, together with three other Frenchman, Messieurs Sartiaux, Carlier and Dandria, saved hundreds of lives by courage and presence of mind.

‘The report begins with the appearance on the hills behind the town of armed bands and the firing of shots, causing a panic. Those four gentlemen were living together, but when the panic commenced they separated and each installed himself in a house. They demanded of the Kaimakam gendarmes for their protection, and each obtained one. They kept the doors open and gave refuge to all who came. They improvised four French flags out of cloth and flew one from each house. But, to continue the recital in Monsieur Manciet’s own words, translated from the French:

“During the night the organized bands continued the pillage of the town. At the break of dawn there was continual ‘tres nourrie’ firing before the houses. Going out immediately, we four, we saw the most atrocious spectacle of which it is possible to dream. This horde, which had entered the town, was armed with Gras rifles and cavalry muskets. A house was in flames. From all directions the Christians were rushing to the quays seeking boats to get away in, but since the night there were none left. Cries of terror mingled with the sound of firing. The panic was so great that a woman with her child was drowned in sixty centimeters of water.”

‘This extract is given from Monsieur Manciet’s description of the sack of Phocea in 1914, of which he was an eye-witness, for several reasons. It is necessary to the complete and substantiated picture the gradual ferocious extermination of the Christians which had been going on in Asia Minor and the Turkish Empire for the past several years, finally culminating in the horror of Smyrna; it is a peculiarly graphic recital, bringing out the unchanging nature of the Turk and his character as a creature of savage passions, living still in the times of Tamerlane or Attila, the Hun;— for the Turk is an anachronism; still looting, killing and raping and carrying off his spoil on camels; it is peculiarly significant, also, as it tells a story strongly resembling some of the exploits of Mohammed himself.

‘Monsieur Manciet says [in his account]:

“We found an old woman lying in the street, who had been nearly paralyzed by blows. She had two great wounds on the head made by the butts of muskets; her hands were cut, her face swollen.

“A young girl, who had given all the money she possessed, had been thanked by knife stabs, one in the arm and the other in the region of the kidneys. A weak old man had received such a blow with a gun that the fingers of his left hand had been carried away.

“From all directions during the day that followed families arrived that had been hidden in the mountains. All had been attacked. Among them was a woman who had seen killed, before her eyes, her husband, her brother and her three children.

“We learned at this moment an atrocious detail. An old paralytic, who had been lying helpless on his bed at the moment the pillagers entered, had been murdered.

“Smyrna sent us soldiers to establish order. As these soldiers circulated in the streets, we had a spectacle of the kind of order which they established; they continued, personally, the sacking of the town.

“We made a tour of inspection through the city. The pillage was complete; doors were broken down and that which the robbers had not been able to carry away they had destroyed. Phocea, which had been a place of great activity, was now a dead city.

“A woman was brought to us dying; she had been violated by seventeen Turks. They had also carried off into the mountains a girl of sixteen, having murdered her father and mother before her eyes. We had seen, therefore, as in the most barbarous times, the five characteristics of the sacking of a city; theft, pillage, fire, murder and rape.”

(Read the whole of Horton’s chapter on the Massacre of Phocaea here).

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Cyprus prepares for elections under the shadow of a bankrupt economy

An update on what’s happening in Cyprus. Two issues are dominating: the bailout deal the government has agreed with the EU, European Central Bank and the IMF to shore up Cyprus’ bankrupt economy and the presidential elections due in February next year.

Despite his proclivity for dithering and pathological predisposition to denial, President Demetris Christofias – under pressure from his finance minister and the chairman of the Cyprus Central Bank (and the threat made by opposition leader Nikos Anastasiades to bring charges of criminal negligence against him, should he not sign a bailout deal) – eventually capitulated to the Troika and agreed to the austerity measures demanded of his government in exchange for an estimated €17.5bn for the recapitalisation of Cyprus’ banks and to cover the government deficit.

Already experiencing recession and unprecedented levels of unemployment at 12 percent, the new measures involving increased taxes, cuts to pensions and public sector pay, as well as privatisations and economic liberalisation, will disconcert a society that has, for 30 years, become used to a buoyant economy characterised by full employment, steady growth and ever-increasing levels of disposable income.

Now, why Cyprus has not been able to withstand the shocks to its economy is a matter of debate, with the island’s communist president insisting that global capitalism and the island’s greedy and over-ambitious banks are to blame, with the latter being accused of negligently exposing the Cypriot economy to Greece’s debt.

On the other hand, Christofias’ critics argue that he has been too slow to react to the looming crisis; unwilling, for ideological reasons, to pre-empt the Troika by reforming the economy or constrain soaring public expenditure, choosing instead to maintain the pretence that the Cypriot economy could withstand the buffeting it was taking, by pursuing loans from Russia and China. Charges of economic illiteracy and incompetence have also been levelled at Christofias and his government by Athanasios Orphanides, former Cyprus Central Bank chairman, who has repeatedly accused Christofias of ignoring his advice in October 2011 to argue against a haircut of Greek bonds for fear of the massive losses such a markdown would have on Cypriot banks holding Greek debt. (The fact that Christofias has decided against standing for re-election in February tells you who Cypriots blame for the country’s economic crisis).

Naturally, there have been rumblings of discontent from trade unions about the austerity and reform package, and although we can never underestimate people’s reactions to losing pay, privileges and, indeed, their jobs, I doubt these will amount to much. The main trade unions in Cyprus are not only affiliated to the ruling communist AKEL party, and thus will be discouraged by their political masters from making the government look even more ridiculous by, essentially, calling for strikes against itself; but, also, the strength of the Cypriot economy has meant there is no recent tradition on the island of significant labour unrest. Similarly, although we shouldn’t ignore AKEL’s natural inclination to exploit fear and stoke class resentment, Cyprus does not suffer from the vicious political and ideological discord, which we associate with Greece, while, to continue the Greece analogy and suggest why Cyprus’ difficulties will not lead to a Greece-style social collapse, the Cypriot state continues to function and command the respect of its citizens. It’s also apparent that the discourse that the post-1974 economic model Cyprus has become stale and unsustainable is widely articulated and accepted on the island.

Another factor that will help avert the turning of economic disaster into political crisis is the presidential election due in February, campaigning for which is well underway. The election will have a cathartic effect, since there is a sense that once the ridiculed and despised Christofias leaves office, the island will breathe a sigh of relief and get a fresh start.

It seems to me a foregone conclusion that Nikos Anastasiades, of centre-right DISY, will be Cyprus’ next president. Anastasiades is an unconvincing figure who inspires skepticism and mistrust, forever tainted by his vehement support for the Annan plan in 2004. However, it is an indication of the priorities in Cypriot society at the moment that his views on the Cyprus problem appear less important than his commitment to managing and reforming the economy. Indeed, even DIKO – former premier Tassos Papadopoulos’ centrist party, many of whose supporters regard Anastasiades as a hate figure – is now backing Anastasiades’ candidacy.

Anastasiades’ support for Annan in 2004 does not mean he will, as president, be more amenable to Turkish demands on the Cyprus issue. For a start, Turkey’s policy since 2004 has hardened and its vision for a ‘solution’ is now way beyond what Anastasiades is prepared to accept. Indeed, because Turkey is not, and never has been, prepared to countenance a solution that isn’t, in one way or another, partition, and because Turkey’s neo-Ottoman, ‘no problems with neighbours’, foreign policy is collapsing all around it, it’s hard to imagine that the Turkish government will do further harm to its imperial aspirations and fantasies by loosening its grip on Cyprus. Having DIKO as governing partner – and the more nationalist Antonis Samaras as prime minister in Greece – will also ensure Anastasiades’ perception that Cyprus needs a solution as a matter of urgency to prevent de jure partition and the irreversible Turkification of the occupied areas, will not lead him to make concessions that will achieve precisely what he says he wants to avoid.

With a Cyprus solution not on the horizon, Anastasiades has been talking in his campaign less about what the nitty-gritty of a settlement might look like, and more about the changes to Cypriot foreign policy he envisages – increasing the involvement of the EU in the UN-sponsored negotiations on a settlement; improving relations with Israel and the USA; applying for membership of Nato’s Partnership for Peace programme – all of which Anastasiades anticipates will bolster Cyprus’ international credibility, thwart Ankara’s efforts to upgrade the pseudo-state and make sure Turkey continues having to expend valuable diplomatic capital to maintain its occupation of 37 percent of the island.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Tough Cypriots and incompetent Turks: or pinpointing the roles of the UK and USA in the downfall of Cyprus

The dynamic duo: Kissinger and Callaghan
Thanks to the Hellenic Antidote reader for referring me to this paper by George Kazamias that uses official government documents to reveal UK and US policy towards Cyprus as the crisis of 1974 unfolded, first with the Athens junta’s coup against Makarios and then Turkey’s two-phased invasion of the island, with the first landing taking place on 20 July 1974 and the second assault on 14 August.

I’ll refer only briefly to Kazamias’ argument – which is that the evidence as to who brought about the downfall of the Republic of Cyprus does not point to a ‘conspiracy’, involving the UK, USA, Greece and Turkey, as described, most notably, by Christopher Hitchens in his Cyprus: Hostage to History. I’ve written before (here and here) about these efforts to disprove so-called Cyprus conspiracy theories, insisting they are not credible. For a start, no one suggests secret pre-invasion deals were done between Greece, Turkey, the USA and UK to partition Cyprus. Hitchens talks of ‘collusion’ not conspiracy and he characterises US and UK policy on the island as resulting not from meticulous and consistent plotting but carelessness, cynicism, arrogance and imperial caprice.

And, secondly, any attempt to diminish the role of the UK and USA or lessen the guilt of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and the CIA in bringing about the partition of Cyprus demands an incredulously benign interpretation of American and British motives and machinations on the island and, as such, offers a wholly inaccurate portrayal of which actors and factors brought about partition and why.

In fact, if anything, the documentary evidence Kazamias presents corroborates Hitchens’ collusion, cynicism and caprice theory, which is that the UK and, particularly, the USA, knew about an impending coup against Makarios, knew that this would likely be followed by a Turkish invasion, knew that the Turkish invasion would take the form of a land grab; and that nothing was done to preserve legitimacy in Cyprus – and that this inaction cannot be taken to reflect indifference, incompetence or neutrality but amounted to approval, both explicit and tacit, and this was because, ultimately, the outcome – the removal of Makarios and the partition of Cyprus – suited both the Americans and the British and, in fact, were options for Cyprus they had been harbouring and promoting, in various ways and to varying degrees, in the decade (and more, in the British case) leading up to 1974.

So, putting aside Kazamias’ misinterpretation of the evidence and the interest he has in wanting to disprove a theory or version of events that does not exist, let’s look at some of the documents he presents us with in his paper:

To start with, Kazamias reveals a number of reports compiled by the British intelligence services and presented to the UK government on the eve of Turkey’s first invasion (20 July 1974) which discuss the preparedness and objectives of a Turkish military assault on Cyprus. Thus, on 19 July, the Joint Intelligence Committee is confident that given the imbalance in effectiveness and numbers between the Greek armed forces, the Cypriot National Guard and the Turkish military, any Turkish invasion of Cyprus would very quickly obtain its goals, which the British believed to be the seizure of the northern third of the island:
‘We cannot make any firm prediction as to how long it would take the Turks to achieve their military objectives, but we think that most would have been achieved within 24-48 hours of landing.’
Kazamias then presents a document sent by Australian diplomats in London to Canberra on 21 July, i.e. a day after the first Turkish landings on Cyprus, reporting a meeting the Australians had had at the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to gauge British reaction to the events unfolding on the island. The Australians say:
‘Commenting privately to us on the situation on 20 July a senior FCO official said that Britain secretly would not object if Turkish military forces occupied about 1/3 of the island before agreeing to a ceasefire. (Please protect). Such a position would need to be reached by 21 July if peace prospects were not to be endangered further. In the meantime, Britain continued to support publicly appeals for an immediate ceasefire.’
Kazamias rightly draws attention to the three most important elements in the British statement:

1. Britain’s willingness to accept a Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus.
2. Britain’s concern that Turkey should complete its seizure within 48 hours of the invasion.
3. That Britain had no doubts as to precisely what Turkey’s intentions were and is certain of how much of Cyprus – one-third – Turkey wanted to take.

Kazamias then asserts that the Americans are equally sanguine about the Turkish invasion. The USA is aware and understanding of Turkey’s aim to dismember the island and, like Britain, is mainly concerned, once the Turks have landed, that they seize the third of Cyprus they want as quickly as possible and that Greece should be persuaded not to respond to Turkey’s assault with any escalation of the conflict. This is the exchange between Kissinger and CIA Director William Colby on 19 July – or 20 July in Cyprus – as news of the Turkish invasion broke:

K[issinger]: But what do you think they’re after? They’re not after the whole island are they?
C[olby]: No, no. What they would be after would be Famagusta and Kyrenia and kind of a line between the two.
K: That kind of a quadrangle in the northeast.
C: Yeah. Well, call it almost the (inaudible) from roughly Baranaka [sic] on up and then just assert themselves and give themselves a position to bargain with.
K: Do you have any good ideas what we should do?
C: Well, I think the biggest thing is to get the Greeks not to fight. To say all right, let’s negotiate and discuss what ought to be done.
K: OK.

What complicated matters for the UK and the USA, however, is the fact that Turkey’s 20 July invasion did not go to plan, with the Cypriot National Guard and the small contingent from Greece on the island resisting more successfully than anticipated while the Turkish armed forces performed much worse than the British and Americans expected.

Thus, by the time a US-brokered ceasefire came into force on 22 July, i.e. following the 48 hours the British seemed content to allow Turkey to complete its aim of conquering a third of Cyprus, the Turks had only managed to take control of the corridor linking Kyrenia to Nicosia, i.e. four percent of the island.

According to a report presented to the British Cabinet meeting on 22 July, ‘the Turks […] badly misjudged the potential extent of National Guard resistance… must be disappointed at the meagre success of their armed intervention… [and] there is no question now of a quick victory’.

Kazamias says that the Americans were even more unimpressed by Turkey’s military prowess. At a meeting of the Washington Special Actions Group (WSAG) on 22 July, the following exchange is recorded, with Kissinger appearing to doubt whether Turkey would be ultimately victorious on the island:

Secretary Kissinger: Why were the Turks so incompetent?
Gen. Walters: Well, I think that one-to-five ratio was a big factor. They [the Turks] couldn’t even take Nicosia airport.
Gen. Brown: I think history will show that they were rather inept in the whole operation. I think analysis will show that their whole situation was amateurish. Their air support was ineffective.
Secretary Kissinger: How is it that they are so incompetent? Are they [the Turks] really that strong on the island then?
Gen. Walters: Well, I don’t know.

It was at this stage, Kazamias suggests – correctly, in my opinion – with Turkey’s initial failure evident, with the ceasefire in place and, also, with the fall of both the junta in Athens and its puppet regime in Nicosia, that British and US policies towards the Cyprus crisis diverged. Britain, according to Kazamias, believed that Turkey had blown its chance to take a third of Cyprus and that now was the time for diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis. In this context, Britain was even prepared to contemplate the use of its own forces on the island to prevent any further Turkish advance.

The Americans, on the other hand, did not regard the Turks’ failure as the end of the military option to bring about their optimal Cyprus policy aim [i.e. partition] and provided only nominal support to British endeavours in the Geneva talks between the UK, Greece, Turkey and the two communities in Cyprus, which had been in process since 25 July. Indeed, it is clear that the Americans shared the Turks’ view of the negotiations, which was that they were a useful cover that allowed the Turks to reinforce their Kyrenia bridgehead from which they would soon be able to launch another attack to achieve what they had failed to achieve on 20 July.

Thus, the Americans, by encouraging the Turks to reinforce their presence on Cyprus and begin a second assault to fulfill their territorial objectives, were not only making a mockery of Britain’s efforts to arrive at a diplomatic solution to the crisis: but they were also making it clear to the British that the USA would not favour any attempt by the British to deploy their military on Cyprus to warn off or thwart a Turkish advance – disapproval which the British meekly deferred to.

At the same time as playing the British for ‘dummies’ (as the UK foreign secretary, James Callaghan, was later to admit); the Americans also sought to convince the new civilian Greek government, headed by Konstantinos Karamanlis, despite the evidence on the ground, that Turkey was not planning further military action in Cyprus and that Greece should not escalate matters by responding to Turkey’s build-up on the island by sending reinforcements or with a build-up of its own. Again, these reassurances were enough for the credulous and pusillanimous Karamanlis.

The American plan of using the ceasefire it had brokered on 22 July to allow Turkey to strengthen its position on the island and mislead Greece into staying its hand is revealed in this exchange at the WSAG meeting on 21 July:

Secretary Kissinger
: […] Our major effort now is to achieve a ceasefire; the talks can get started any time. If the Turks hold – what is the state of play on the island now?
Mr. Colby: Well, it’s unclear, but they do have a foothold.
Secretary Kissinger: It seems to me they haven’t done as well militarily as they have politically.
Mr. Colby: You’re right, they haven’t done very well militarily.
Secretary Kissinger: Then the Greeks are fighting better than we thought they would.
Secretary Kissinger
: I’m trying to understand what the balance of forces would be when negotiations start so that we can chart a course.
Mr. Colby: If there is a ceasefire, it would seem to me that the Turkish effort failed. They wanted to seize a substantial area – more than they have now – and they have failed.

The discussion goes on:

Secretary Kissinger
: […] Seems to me that [Turkish PM] Ecevit is not doing well militarily. They are doing lousy militarily. […] What is going to be the balance of forces if we get a ceasefire?
Mr. Colby: The National Guard is doing quite well, they have some 40,000 troops.
Secretary Schlesinger: I don’t think we can get an accurate picture of the balance of forces because the only thing we have is a ceasefire. They can bring in more troops under a ceasefire, reinforce here and there. That would change the whole picture.
Secretary Kissinger: It is against our interests to have the Greeks in there. A strong Turkish presence would be highly desirable. What went wrong, anyway?
Mr. Colby: They have turned out to be tough.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Spot the obnoxious fascist… and other reflections on Greek politics

Above is a discussion between Syriza’s Petros Tatsopoulos and Golden Dawn’s Ilias Panagiotaros, regarding Golden Dawn’s recent picketing of the play, Corpus Christi, which apparently depicts Jesus and his disciples as homosexual swingers. If you can follow Greek, then I’ll leave it to you to decide who is the obnoxious fascist here.

More generally, there is still not much hope for Greece, as it slides inexorably towards the political abyss. Latest opinion polls still show Syriza in front, at 26 percent, four percent or so ahead of centre-right New Democracy, which is currently the lead party in the governing coalition. Syriza, an agglomeration of romantic but worryingly sincere anarchists and Marxists, has been boosted by ex-supporters and stalwarts of the almost-defunct socialist party Pasok, many of whom are still hankering for the good old days of clientelism and trade union/public sector tyranny.

Nationalist, anti-immigrant Golden Dawn is third in the polls, on 13.5 percent; although this probably underestimates its real support as some Greeks no doubt feel it somewhat taboo to express sympathy for a party still, by and large, ostracised and demonised by the mainstream media.

At the elections in June, opinion polls showed Golden Dawn’s support at around four percent, but it eventually got around seven percent of the vote. This suggests that Golden Dawn’s current electoral support may be nearer 20 percent. Nevertheless, it still remains unlikely that such a radical and shunned party will get close to government any time soon, although it says itself that its primary aim is not to take power in Greece, but to change the nature of the debate in the country, to bring the issues that matter to it most – immigration, national identity, national sovereignty – to the top of the political agenda. Golden Dawn’s politics will remain grassroots and street level, eschewing the niceties or complexities of the bureaucratic or parliamentary game.

Immediately above is a video of Shiites celebrating Ashura in Piraeus. It’s a grotesque spectacle, so grotesque that the video appears on youtube with this caution: ‘The following content has been identified… as being potentially offensive or inappropriate. Viewer discretion is advised’, while the Chicago Tribune advises: ’WARNING: Graphic Video.’

In London, Shiites commemorate the day with a peaceful march, with the occasional beating of chests to express mourning for the death of Hussein, a founding father of their branch of Islam. There is no way UK police or authorities, normally so indulgent of these things, would have allowed the shocking display that took place in Greece to have occurred here. Greece, it seems, has no idea of how to deal with immigrants. It doesn’t know whether to beat them up, round them up and send them home or let them do what they want, without restriction or limits.

The video was produced by Euronews and the title it gives to the video is: ‘Greek Shiites Mark the Day of Ashura’. Greek Shiites? I don’t think so.

As you can see, I’ve had a couple of exchanges with Yanis Varoufakis on twitter. I like Varoufakis. He’s charismatic, has a nice turn of phrase, his Global Minotaur thesis is compelling and, so far, his gloomy predictions and scathing criticisms of the way the Eurozone crisis has been handled and affected Greece have proved accurate. (And there is no reason to doubt his withering assessment, in the second exchange, of last night’s attempt by Greece’s creditors to definitively deal with the crisis).

My problem with Varoufakis is that he is part of that nihilistic, permissive intellectual elite that, after 1974, took over Greek mass media, education and culture and significantly contributed to the breakdown Greece is currently enduring.

In many ways, Golden Dawn (and LAOS before it) is challenging the hegemony of this intellectual elite and the bitterness and ferocity of the debate between Tatsopoulos and Panagiotaros reflect this cultural war. It is no coincidence that a lot of Golden Dawn’s senior members (and no doubt many of its supporters) are people whose experiences and views were shaped by service in the armed forces, where the values of Greek nationalism (and Greek machismo [λεβεντιά and παλικαρισμός] – a key component of Golden Dawn’s makeup and attraction) remain entrenched.

Regarding my first tweet, Varoufakis takes my provocation with politeness and good humour, even if his response is unsatisfactory, inasmuch as, even though, of course, he has a perfect right to have a Swiss bank account, the fact that he has one (and appears to think nothing of it) points to a massive gap in lifestyle and experiences between Greece’s elite and the rest of the population.

Of course, such a gap exists everywhere, not just in Greece, but in Greece it takes the particular form of a cosmopolitan class that feels Greece is too small and suffocating for its talents and looks elsewhere for its influences and inspiration. I doubt many of this cosmopolitan class knows Greece or Greeks that well. Indeed, based on my own experiences of Greece and Greeks – which have been, essentially, that of an outsider – it was obvious to me from ages ago that attempts to turn Greece into a ‘multicultural’ society, hosting mass immigration, would be resisted by many Greeks, who would not meekly surrender their homogeneity and way of life. The notion that Greeks, because of their experience as immigrants and foreign oppression, would or should welcome with open arms hundreds of thousands of refugees and economic migrants, was utterly fanciful, disdainful and ignorant of Greek history and national self-perception.

Friday, 23 November 2012

On Steven Runciman’s 1453: The Fall of Constantinople

1453: The Fall of Constantinople, by Steven Runciman (ISBN: 9781107604698). Paperback: £10.99.

I’m not sure if there’s much consolation in being a tragic hero – better to prevail than be transfigured – but tragic heroes is precisely how Steven Runciman describes the Greeks in his essential account of the siege and fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, which has recently been reissued by Canto Classics.

Beleaguered, outnumbered 10 to one, waiting in vain for the Western aid they had been promised for agreeing to church union, the Greek defenders (and a small group of Genoan and Venetian confederates) refused the besieging sultan’s offer to surrender Constantinople or convert to Islam, and chose instead to trust in their own bravery, the righteousness of their cause and divine intervention to preserve one of the last vestiges of Greek liberty.

But after two months of relentless siege and assault, the Turkish
warlord, Sultan Mehmet, frustrated by the resistance of the Greeks, ignoring the advice of some of his commanders to lift the siege and avert further humiliation, decided to make one, final overwhelming attack to take the city.

The speeches made by the Greek and Turkish leaders on the eve of the decisive assault reveal what the two sides believed they were fighting for.

The Byzantine emperor Constantine Palaiologos tells his soldiers that a man should always be prepared to die for his faith or country, his family or sovereign; but now, he says, we are being asked to give up our lives for all four; while Mehmet’s words to his forces are in stark contrast to the heroism and dignity of the Greek emperor. Mehmet urges his troops on by reminding them of the three days of looting they will be allowed should they capture the city, and he inspires his commanders not only with the promise of booty, but also by stressing their sacred duty as Muslims to vanquish this famous Christian capital.

And indeed, once Constantinople is taken, the story of the city becomes one of plunder and depredation.

Runciman describes the pillaging of private homes, churches, businesses; the massacres of men, women and children, the ‘rivers of blood running down the streets’; a slaughter that only abated when the Turkish soldiers realised that keeping the Christians alive and selling them as slaves was a better idea, not that this spared the elderly, infirm and infants who could bring no profit, and were consequently killed on the spot.

As commander in chief, Mehmet was entitled to the greatest share of the loot, which he had paraded before him so he could decide precisely what he wanted. Then the sultan selected 1200 Greek children to be sent as slaves, 400 each, to the three most important Muslim rulers of the time, the sultan of Egypt, the king of Tunis and the king of Grenada; while, from the most prominent Byzantine families, Mehmet had his pick of youths, girls and boys, for his personal seraglio, with those resisting a life of sexual slavery being put to death, as Runciman illustrates with the case of the Grand Duke Lucas Notaras and his son and son-in-law:
‘Five days after the fall of the city [Mehmet] gave a banquet. In the course of it, when he was well flushed with wine, someone whispered to him that Notaras’s fourteen-year-old son was a boy of exceptional beauty. The Sultan at once sent a eunuch to the house of the [Grand Duke] to demand that the boy be sent to him for his pleasure. Notaras, whose elder sons had been killed fighting, refused to sacrifice the boy to such a fate. Police were then sent to bring Notaras with his son and his young son-in-law, the son of the Grand Domestic Andronicus Cantacuzenus, into the Sultan’s presence. When Notaras still defied the Sultan, orders were given for him and the two boys to be decapitated on the spot. Notaras merely asked that they should be slain before him, lest the sight of his death should make them waver. When they had both perished he bared his neck to the executioner. The following day, nine other Greek notables were arrested and sent to the scaffold.’
But even if Runciman does not flinch from describing the Turkish capture of Constantinople as being a ‘ghastly story of pillage’ and is not prepared to cover up Mehmet’s ‘savageries’; he is not a crude Orientalist, out to demonise the Turks and Islam and portray Byzantium’s demise in terms of a heroic West versus a barbaric East.

For not only would associating Byzantium with the West be problematic, but it is also clear that, for Runciman, the external agents most responsible for the downfall of Byzantium were not the Turks, but the Franks and Latins, with the disaster of 1453 overshadowed by the catastrophe of the Fourth Crusade in 1204, during which Western Crusaders seized and devastated Constantinople and dismembered and irreparably weakened the Greek empire.

In the third volume of his history of the Crusades, Runciman famously says that ‘there was never a greater crime against humanity than the Fourth Crusade’, and describes the sacking of Constantinople in 1204 as an act of ‘barbarous brutality’, ‘unparalleled in history’, committed by ‘Frenchmen and Flemings… filled with a lust for destruction’.

Thus, the powerful, wealthy and magnificent city seized and sacked by Crusaders in 1204 (and which the West held until 1261, before Greek restoration), was not the city the Turks captured in 1453, which Runciman describes as dying and melancholy, poverty-stricken and sparsely populated.

For Runciman, the Turkish seizure of Constantinople in 1453 did not destroy Byzantium, it merely provided the coup de grâce to a doomed city.

Indeed, memories of 1204 and experience of repressive Western rule in places like Crete, Cyprus and the Peloponnese, provided evidence to many Greeks that the pursuit of church union with Rome in exchange for military support to fight the Turks was both a religious abomination and politically misguided. Not only was there no difference in terms of brutality between Western and Muslim rule – indeed, many Greeks believed the Franks and Latins to be less civilised than the Turks and Muslims; and not only did the policy of church union overestimate the ability and willingness of the West to aid Byzantium against an assertive and powerful Turkish empire; but there was also a case for maintaining the integrity of the Greek church and Greek culture, avoiding the bitter division bound to follow any attempt to enforce religious subordination to Rome, and accepting a period of Turkish subjugation as the most effective way of preserving the Greek nation and offering the best chance for its long-term revival.

Nevertheless, Runciman’s reluctance to demonise the Turks does, in places, lead him to express an undeservedly generous assessment of their ascent to power and rule, which is matched by an excessive willingness to pin the blame for Byzantium’s tragedy on the West.

Thus, after Byzantine defeat at the Battle of Manzikert (1071), Runciman is keen to stress the ‘orderly and tolerant state’ established in Anatolia and Asia Minor by the Seljuk Turks. He describes their government as ‘wise and able’ and argues that ‘the transition of Anatolia from a mainly Christian to a mainly Moslem country was achieved so smoothly that no one troubled to record the details’. Similarly, Runciman praises Osman, the founder of the Ottoman dynasty, as a ‘leader of genius’, while his son, Orhan, is described as a ‘great ruler’, whose administration was so reasonable that many of his Christian subjects preferred it to that of the Byzantines. There were no forced conversions, Runciman declares, and apostasy only occurred when Christians followed a natural inclination to join the religion of the ruling class. As for Mehmet, Runciman says, despite his savageries and the destruction in the immediate aftermath of conquest, under his rule, Constantinople was rebuilt and soon became a thriving city of commerce and finance. ‘Long before his death in 1481,’ Runciman writes:
‘Sultan Mehmet could look with pride on the new Constantinople… Since the conquest its population [of Turks, Greeks, Jews and Armenians] had increased fourfold; within a century it would number more than half a million. He had destroyed the old crumbling metropolis of the Byzantine Emperors, and in its place he had created a new and splendid metropolis in which he intended his subjects of all creeds and all races to live together in order, prosperity and peace.’
However, the ‘details’ that Runciman said do not exist to record the Islamisation of Anatolia and Asia Minor are, in fact, painstakingly chronicled by Spyros Vryonis in his The Decline of Medieval Hellenism in Asia Minor and the Process of Islamization from the Eleventh through the Fifteenth Century, in which the author describes a period of savage conquest, a succession of raids and annexations characterised by pillaging, massacre, enslavement and forced conversion of the Byzantine population. Thus the four centuries it took the Turks, from 1071 to 1453, to subjugate Anatolia, Asia Minor and Thrace, did not involve, as Runciman suggests, a ‘smooth’ evolution but was accomplished in a way that amounted to a holocaust for the vanquished.

As for Mehmet’s alleged vision of a tolerant, harmonious empire, this never materialised and could never materialise, given the nature of the Ottoman state, in which religious discrimination and persecution were ingrained. Order was maintained through terror and repression and peace dependent on the whims of the sultan or his pashas or beys who, at any moment, could decide that their Christian subjects, their culture, shrines and very lives, were an affront to Muslim ascendancy and should be suppressed if not extinguished.

Moreover, just as there were Greeks who believed, prior to the fall of Constantinople, ‘better the sultan’s turban than the cardinal’s hat’*, many others, from the political and intellectual elite, admired the West and believed church union would bring about a rich fusion of Greek and particularly Italian humanist culture. Indeed, something of this fusion occurred in Crete and the Ionian islands, on the periphery of the Greek world, where Turkish rule was delayed or never penetrated, with Venetian sway eventually contributing to a cultural breathing space and even flowering for Greeks that was never possible under the Turks. As Runciman himself acknowledges, the Ottomans’ narrow-mindedness, informed by fear and loathing of their Christian subjects, ensured that Greek learning, art and letters were discouraged and ceased to exist for the duration of the Turkish empire.

* Ironically, this statement is attributed to Lucas Notaras, who, as noted above, was executed for refusing to give up his son to become the sultan’s sexual slave.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Makarios and the junta

I was reading again Oriana Fallaci’s November 1974 interview with Makarios, which hints at the personality of the archbishop and reveals some interesting details about the Athens-inspired coup and Turkish invasion that shattered Cyprus. (Read full interview here).

Following on from my previous post on Stylianos Pattakos and the junta, it’s worth drawing attention to the disdain Makarios expresses for the regime that ran Greece from 1967-74. Responding to Fallaci’s question as to whether he preferred Giorgios Papadopoulos, junta leader from 1967-1973, to Dimitris Ioannides, who ousted Papadopoulos and, eventually, ordered the coup against Makarios on 15 July 1974, Makarios says:
‘If I had to choose between Papadopoulos and Ioannides, I’d choose Papadopoulos. At least he’s more intelligent, or, if you prefer, less stupid. I met him for the first time when he came to Cyprus, shortly after his coup, as minister for the presidency, and no one can say that at that time I was paying him any great consideration. But I saw him again a couple of times in Athens, when I went there to discuss the problem of Cyprus, and I must say that on those occasions he seemed to me much smarter. In any case, supplied with common sense. Well, Papadopoulos was suffering from megalomania, and besides I don’t know what he really thought about Cyprus. On the other hand, he was capable of controlling many situations, simultaneously, and he was head and shoulders above his collaborators. I don’t even think he hated me, in the beginning. He started hating me later, in the last two years. And maybe only in the last year.’
This hatred Papadopoulos felt for Makarios was no doubt partly informed by Papadopoulos’ perception that Cyprus was a hive of anti-junta activity. The attempt by Alexandros Panagoulis to assassinate Papadopoulos in 1968 was organised from Cyprus, where Panagoulis was in self-exile, and involved senior members of the Cypriot government, such as Polykarpos Giorgiadis, who was himself murdered, in 1970, probably by agents of the junta, partly as revenge for Giorgiadis’ involvement in the attempt to kill Papadopoulos and partly because Giorgiadis was suspected of having warned Makarios about the junta’s attempts to assassinate him. (It’s worth noting that Panagoulis and Fallaci were lovers, and the Italian journalist wrote a bestselling book, A Man, on Panagoulis, who was killed, many say assassinated, in a car crash in 1976).

Regarding the Athens junta’s professed nationalism and patriotism, which Pattakos makes much of, it’s useful to bear in mind Christopher Hitchens’ view, as expressed in his book Cyprus: Hostage to History, that the junta was ‘fundamentally unpatriotic, and engaged in a furtive mortgaging of Greek interests to outsiders. The nationalist trumpetings were for mass consumption only.’

Of course, for Hitchens, the prime example of the junta’s fake patriotism was Cyprus and he draws attention to the meeting in September 1967 between junta leader Giorgios Papadopoulos and the Turkish prime minister, Suleyman Demirel, at which Papadopoulos, eager for a national success to provide credibility to his regime, tried to persuade Demirel to accept enosis in return for the granting to Turkey of a military base on the island, an offer the Turks contemptuously dismissed, though they did come away with something from the two-day meeting, which was that Greece was prepared to accept in principle the partitioning of the island and that they were dealing with incompetents.

Finally, on Fallaci’s claim that Makarios was having affairs with two women while archbishop, this is no doubt nonsense. There were many attempts, particularly by the British secret services, which used UK newspapers to publish stories about Makarios’ alleged penchant for young boys, to smear Makarios, and no doubt the womanising rumour was part of this defamation. Not that senior Greek clergy were immune from sexual peccadilloes. For example, we know perfectly well that Damaskinos, archbishop of Athens and All Greece during the Nazi occupation, and regarded by many as a heroic figure, had a long-term intimate liaison with Ioanna Tsatsou, sister of the poet Giorgios Seferis.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Rehabilitating the Greek junta: Stylianos Pattakos has his say

The re-emergence of the far right in Greece in the last decade, first with LAOS and now with Golden Dawn, was inevitably going to involve an attempt to rehabilitate the junta that ruled the country between 1967-74, particularly its first incarnation, i.e. the junta of Nikolaos Markarezos, Stylianos Pattakos and Giorgios Papadopoulos. There has been less interest in rehabilitating the dictatorship of Dimitris Ioannides, who deposed Papadopoulos in November 1973 and led Greece to humiliating adventure in Cyprus in July 1974 that resulted in Turkey invading and seizing 37 percent of the island.

Apologists of the 1967-73 junta seek to portray it as a relatively benign regime that offered stability, economic progress and law and order; achievements they compare to what they perceive to be the corruption, permissiveness and national degradation that came after 1974 and eventually led to the political and economic crisis affecting Greece today.

Coup leader Papadopoulos died in jail in 1999, Markarezos under house arrest in 2009, but Pattakos, released from prison in 1990, celebrated his 100th birthday last week, and above is an interview the Cretan gave to SKAI TV in 2007 in which he justifies the seizure of power on 21 April 1967 and extols the rule of the junta.

Below is a summary of what he says.

By the mid-1960s, Greece seemed to be experiencing political meltdown caused by the inability of politicians to form stable governments. Pattakos blames journalists for adding fuel to the crisis by proclaiming that Greece couldn’t take any more and pressing for the military to intervene to save the country. He even suggests that when Markarezos approached prime minister Stephanos Stephanopoulos [in 1966] urging him to find a way out of the impasse, Stephanopoulos told him: ‘Come and seize all 300 MPs and throw us into the sea. We’re not fit to run the country.’

Pattakos also explains that Andreas Papandreou had stated that if the Centre Union party, headed by his father, Giorgios Papandreou, won elections slated for May 1967, then this would be regarded as a repudiation of King Constantine, who had engineered the fall of Centre Union government in 1965, and that a new government would refuse to be sworn in by the monarch. Pattakos argues this would have amounted to tearing up the constitution and proclaiming a revolution.

To reiterate his view that Greece’s politicians were driving the country off a cliff, Pattakos quotes former prime minister Konstantinos Karamanlis who, in an interview with Le Monde, in November 1967, said that democracy in Greece was destroyed by its incompetent politicians and that the junta simply gave it the coup de grâce. In fact, Pattakos says, it wasn’t the coup de grâce we gave democracy, but the kiss of life. Pattakos adds that it’s false to consider Karamanlis a right-wing figure. He calls Karamanlis a liar and describes him as more left than the left.

Asked what the junta believed it was saving the country from when it carried out the coup, Pattakos replies: ‘communism’.

As for the reaction of foreign powers to the coup, Pattakos says initially they sought to isolate and keep their distance from the junta, though only Sweden went so far as to break off diplomatic relations with Greece. The Russians [the Soviet Union] couldn’t have been friendlier, Pattakos says, while it’s a lie that the Americans encouraged us to carry out the coup. He says on the day of the coup the Americans were scrambling to find out who exactly was behind it and what they represented. Pattakos claims that when the US ambassador eventually tracked him down and asked whether the coupists were leftists or rightists, Pattakos says he replied: ‘We are Greeks, no more no less. We are in favour of Nato, the West, the free countries. However, we oppose subordination of our country. We are supporters of the ‘NO’ of Ioannis Metaxas. Whatever you tell us to do, we will say: “No, leave us alone”.’

Pattakos reiterates that it’s a lie that it was the Americans who were behind the coup and the regime of the junta and he blames Greek leftist propaganda for perpetuating this myth. In fact, Pattakos suggests, it was the junta’s independence from Washington – and particular its refusal to allow Greek facilities to be used by the USA to support Israel in the Yom Kippur war in October 1973 – that prompted the Americans to plot the junta’s overthrow, which occurred in November 1973, when Brigadier Dimitris Ioannides deposed Papadopoulos. Pattakos says that it was US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger who encouraged Ioannides to oust Papadopoulos, with the promise that he would be dictator for 30 years and we’ll make sure you get Cyprus for good measure. And, Pattakos says, Ioannides fell into this American trap.

Pattakos then lists his achievements in government, in which he served as interior minister, claiming he brought to every Greek household running water and electricity. He also takes credit for the expansion of telecommunications and the building of roads. ‘We enriched the country. We imposed the rule of law. We came up with a new constitution. Everything was going like clockwork.’

Pattakos blames the student disturbances at the Athens Polytechnic in November 1973 on Papadopoulos’ premature attempts to liberalise and civilianise the regime, which a month earlier had seen Spyros Markezinis become prime minister and Pattakos leave government.

On Cyprus, asked why the junta took the decision in 1967 to recall the 5,000 Greek troops stationed on the island (leaving Cyprus defenceless), Pattakos says they did this after being persuaded by the Americans that otherwise Turkey would invade and seize the whole island. Pattakos argues that if the Turks did invade Cyprus, Greece was not in a position, given the diminished state of its armed forces, to respond effectively.

Pattakos insists on the distinction between the regime that held power from 21 April 1967 to 8 October 1973, i.e. the regime he served in, and what followed, first with Papadopoulos’ tentative attempts at liberalisation and civilianisation, and then the dictatorship of Ioannides, who on 25 November 1973 overthrew Markezinis and Papadopoulos and seized power.

Pattakos then talks a bit about the reluctance of King Constantine on 21 April 1967 to swear in the junta as the new government and the five-six attempts he says the king made in the first year of the military regime to overthrow it.

Finally, Pattakos recalls, that two-three months after seizing power he returned to Crete, where he was confronted by his mother, who said to him: ‘Who put you up to this evil, my child?’

The journalist asks: ‘And why didn’t you listen to your mother?’

‘Because I wasn’t doing evil. She thought I was doing evil, but why was it evil? Because she got running water; because she got electricity; because I built the road from Rethymnon to the village, which never, never would have built otherwise?’

Pattakos goes on:

‘And I ask what did the “resistance” do on the day of the coup, from five in the morning [when the tanks came out onto the streets] till six in the evening, when we sworn in as the government? Where were they to topple us?’

The journalist asks: ‘And what would have happened if people had come out to protest on that day?’

‘We would have left. If the people had come out on to streets and said “go to hell, get out of here”, we would have gone.’

In a fuller version of this interview, see here, the journalist then asks:

‘Wouldn’t you then have started killing with the tanks?’

‘Maybe. Maybe there would have been a massacre.’

*Another, longer interview Pattakos gave to Giorgos Karatzaferis, leader of LAOS, can be seen here.

Monday, 12 November 2012

When nationalists fall out: what distinguishes LAOS from Golden Dawn

I’ve previously suggested that radical nationalist, anti-immigrant discourse has had resonance in Greece for a while now, as demonstrated by the emergence of LAOS (Popular Orthodox Rally) from 2000; that LAOS’s recent dramatic decline has coincided with the rise of Golden Dawn; and that it’s superficial to unduly connect the rise of the far-right in Greece to the country’s economic collapse that began in 2009. Of course, LAOS and Golden Dawn aren’t identical – Golden Dawn has openly flirted with Nazism, has had a more ambivalent attitude towards Christianity and describes itself as anti-capitalist whereas LAOS has generally played by the rules of parliamentary democracy, would regard itself as upholding Greek Orthodoxy and even though speaks out against globalisation has no real anti-capitalist agenda. Nevertheless, the two parties do share many characteristics and it was only LAOS’s disastrous decision to back the first austerity bailout that led to it’s decimation at the May and June elections and the abdication of the far-right populist space to Golden Dawn.

In fact, if you watch the above (often comical) debate, aired just before this year’s June election on the appropriately named Kontra channel, between Golden Dawn’s Ilias Kassidiaris and LAOS’s Kostas Plevris, it becomes clear, despite the vitriol of both men, that the differences between LAOS and Golden Dawn are marginal, coming down, according to Plevris, to violence and nepotism, and, in Kassidiaris’ view, to ideological consistency and collaboration with the existing political system.

Indeed, it’s worth pointing out that Kostas Plevris is regarded as a leading ideologue of the particular form of far-right nationalism common to LAOS and Golden Dawn. His most notable work is Jews: the whole truth, a tract for which he was tried for inciting racial violence. Despite being acquitted of the charge, it’s fair to say that Plevris is a Holocaust denier and proponent of the theory that there exists a Jewish conspiracy aimed at bringing down Western civilisation as revealed by the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Below is a summary of the debate between Plevris and Kassidiaris.

It starts off with Plevris accusing Kassidiaris of assaulting a number of LAOS luminaries – publisher Dimitris Zaphiropoulos and former MPs Adonis Georgiadis and Thanassis Plevris – using a knuckle-duster and pepper spray; a charge Kassidiaris denies, saying if he were so tough he wouldn’t be in Greece but in Hollywood, starring in karate films alongside Chuck Norris. Plevris then presses the button he knows will upset Kassidiaris most, and this relates to the criminal charges Kassidiaris faces of assault and robbery, charges Kassidiaris strenuously denies and insists he’s being framed for by the false testimony of Syriza ‘pimps’, who he accuses Plevris of now supporting by repeating the allegations.

Plevris returns to his claim that Kassidiaris assaulted various senior members of LAOS and takes out his mobile to phone one of Kassidiaris’ alleged victims, Adonis Georgiadis, to confirm the incident. Plevris repeats the accusation that Kassidiaris assaulted Dimitris Zaphiropoulos with pepper spray and a knuckle-duster, in the presence of Zaphiropoulos’ pregnant wife, leaving Zaphiropoulos needing six stitches to his head.

There then follows an exchange on financial propriety, with Kassidiaris accusing LAOS of lashing out at Golden Dawn because LAOS, since it lost its parliamentary representation (in the May elections) and the funding that goes with it, is now in serious financial straits and desperately needs to pick up Golden Dawn votes to return to parliament. Kassidiaris adds that, unlike LAOS, Golden Dawn will use the money it’s entitled to as a parliamentary force not to enrich itself but for social programmes to benefit the hard up in society – a claim Plevris laughs at.

Kassidiaris then accuses Plevris of proclaiming he’s an anti-Zionist while at the same time being a member of a party that supported prime minister Lucas Papademos – the Jews’ point-man in Greece, according to Kassidiaris – whose government negotiated the second bailout memorandum.

One of the panel of journalists then asks Plevris, given he is a Holocaust denier and regarded as a leading theoretician of nationalism, why he is not drawn to joining Golden Dawn. Why are you in LAOS and not Golden Dawn?

Plevris: I disagree with certain political tactics and actions associated with Golden Dawn. I don’t believe you tackle the immigration issue by going out and assaulting some wretched immigrant. Furthermore, I consider such actions cowardly, which don’t correspond to the spirit or ethics of nationalism. For five or six men to go out and attack some wretched Pakistani does not provide a solution to the immigration problem, nor is it ethical when one man is beaten my many.

Plevris goes on that nationalism is incompatible with nepotism and he accuses Golden Dawn leader Nikos Michaloliakos of placing his wife on the party’s list of parliamentary candidates and smoothing the way for her to becoming an MP.

Kassidiaris responds by bringing up the subject of Plevris’ son, Thanassis, a post-room boy, according to Kassidiaris, who only became a prominent LAOS MP because of his father’s reputation and influence. Plevris denies he had anything to do with promoting his son’s career in LAOS.

The sniping continues for a bit, until Plevris suggests that he wouldn’t be surprised if, backstage, Kassidiaris were to assault him just like he assaulted other LAOS stalwarts. Except, Plevris says to Kassidiaris, unlike Georgiadis, who didn’t fight back, if you touch me I’ll lay you out flat. Plevris challenges Kassidiaris to step outside and show what kind of a man he is. Kassidiaris laughs this off and calls Plevris an ‘old man’ and a ‘little man’.

Kassidiaris then suggests that Plevris is an entrenched part of the political system that brought Greece to  its knees and again accuses Plevris of only pretending to be an anti-Zionist, saying he foisted Jews on the country by supporting the bailout memorandums and the government of Lucas Papademos, who, Kassidiaris says, has served on the shadowy Trilateral Commission, established by David Rockefeller. All of which prompts Plevris to offer an ironic round of applause.

A journalist on the panel then asks Plevris how he feels about his aforementioned son, Thanassis, leaving LAOS to join the mainstream conservative party New Democracy. Plevris denies any family rift, then engages in a monologue regarding Greece’s debt, wanting to know where all the money that contributed to the exorbitant debt was spent and saying he has launched a legal complaint against former prime minister, Giorgos Papandreou, to find out the truth.

Returning to Kassidiaris, Plevris expresses regret that they had such an unpleasant argument and says that for 50 years he’s been writing and educating young people about Greek nationalism and in return he only ever asked for one thing: respect.

In this spirit of reconciliation, Kassidiaris says his confrontation with Plevris was political, not personal, only for Plevris to remind Kassidiaris that he called him a ‘little man’ and Kassidiaris to accuse Plevris of calling  him a ‘thug’. Kassidiaris says: ‘I’m not a thug. I’m the spokesman for a political party that sits in parliament.’

Plevris then attempts to defend LAOS’s decision to vote in parliament for the first bailout memorandum and argues about this with Panagiotis Melas of the conservative Independent Greeks party, which is anti-memorandum.

Plevris is again asked about his son, who defected from LAOS to New Democracy, whether he regards him as a ‘traitor’ and he says he doesn’t. Plevris then repeats his accusation that Golden Dawn is nepotistic and says that the wife of party leader Nikos Michaloliakos was placed on the party’s parliamentary candidate list at the behest of her husband; something Kassidiaris vehemently denies, arguing it was a question of fulfilling the law on women’s quotas and that, in any case, she was put forward independently, under her own name, Eleni Zaroulia, not as the party leader’s spouse. Kassidiaris ends the debate by accusing Plevris of being a liar, ridiculous and hard of hearing.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Turkey’s accumulating problems

Some good pieces I’ve read this week on where Turkey is, with regards to that country’s  relations with Israel and Cyprus; the increasing tension between President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan over Turkey’s constitution; and the ever-deteriorating Kurdish political and security situation.

In this piece, Andrew Finkel suggests that the current trial in absentia of the four Israeli military chiefs Turkey believes responsible for the Mavi Marmara raid that left 10 Turks dead is a ‘show trial’, which indicates Turkey is not yet ready to mend fences with Israel and that, indeed, the breach will continue for the foreseeable future. Finkel makes no mention of the burgeoning relationship between Greece, Israel and Cyprus over gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean, which will make it even harder for a rapprochement between Ankara and Tel Aviv. Yesterday, for example, as reported here, ministers from Greece, Cyprus and Israel met for talks on creating an energy corridor linking the three countries. We also note that Egypt’s foreign minister was in Cyprus last week to talk about energy projects between the two countries, which would seem to suggest that Egypt is not going to bow to Turkish pressure to shun Cyprus or tear up the Exclusive Economic Zone agreement it has with the island. Also interesting was this article in Lebanon’s Daily Star, which heaps praise on the way the Cypriot government has handled the gas exploration issue, referring to Cyprus ‘showing the way’, ‘punching above its weight’, its ‘forward-looking diplomacy’, ‘openness’, ‘determination’ and so on. Lebanon is another country Turkey has been leaning on to snub Cypriot energy and EEZ overtures.

On the tension between Gul and Erdogan, it’s worth reading this piece by Gareth Jenkins, which explains how the latter’s desire to transform Turkey into an elected presidential system, with Erdogan as president, is being resisted by the country’s current head of state, Abdullah Gul, who, it appears, according to opinion polls, would defeat Erdogan if the two went head-to-head in a popular contest for the presidency.

Finally, this piece by Bill Parks presents a very disturbing picture for Turkey of its continuing inability to address the Kurdish issue. Parks argues that the security situation is deteriorating in Turkish Kurdistan, while the tentative opening made by Erdogan to find a political solution to Kurdish demands is dead. Parks also observes that apart from enduring violence in the south-east of the country, there is increasing tension between Kurds and Turks in large cities across Turkey, where Kurds suffer ghettoisation, discrimination and poverty. Parks adds that also working against Turkey is demographics, pointing to a study that shows there are currently 22m Kurds in Turkey, amounting to 30 percent of the country’s population, and goes on:
‘[T]he Kurdish birthrate in Turkey is reckoned to be at least twice that of ethnic Turks. Although these figures are fuzzy around the edges, they suggest that within a couple of generations, Kurds could well make up the majority of Turkey’s population. True, many are already assimilated; but can the government really believe that the current campaign of political repression and marginalisation, and violence rather than dialogue, stands any chance of assimilating the remainder of them – ever, let alone before such time as Kurds outnumber Turks?’

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Once Again for Thucydides

Some Thucydides resources I’ve come across.

First, I’ve been having another look at Peter Handke’s Once Again for Thucydides, which consists of a series of ‘micro-epics’ in which the Austrian writer (following the technique of Thucydides) with painstaking precision, anchored to time and place, observes the minutiae of human and natural life and ascribes epic meaning to them. These are intense pieces, parts of a travel journal taking in the Balkans, Spain and Japan, which invite you to (literally) see the world differently, more vividly, with the eyes of a painter, a good painter dedicated to detail and the pursuit of essence. (Read some of the 17 pieces here).

The classical historian Neville Morley has written this essay on the influence of Thucydides on
Handke, which I haven’t been able to access fully, but the abstract reads:
Noch einmal für Thukydides, a collection of prose pieces by the Austrian writer Peter Handke, invites reflection on the history of his engagement with this classical author. In Kindergeschichte [Child Story], he draws on a reading of Thucydides as a war narrative in order to solve the problems he experienced in telling the story of the relationship between a father and daughter, interpreting the History of the Peloponnesian War as an account not of violence but of decisive moments and the developing characters of two peoples. In this book as elsewhere, Handke is commonly read as repudiating all history in favour of myth and mysticism, but in fact he draws upon Thucydides’ approach to history as a means of describing, understanding and exorcizing the past. This theme is pursued further in Noch einmal, where he also combines critique and homage in an exploration of Thucydides’ style and the theme of ‘realism’ (and its limits) in the depiction of events. His reading of Thucydides differs significantly from the prevailing modern traditions of reception; and, unlike those who revere the ancient author solely as an analyst and critic, Handke explores what it might mean to write as a modern Thucydides.’

On the recent unveiling of a monument in London to RAF Bomber Command, Morley also had this piece published on Thucydides. It pays particular attention to Pericles’ funeral speech (i.e. the speech the Athenian statesman gave on the internment of those Athenian soldiers who fell in the early part of the war against Sparta). Morley describes the funeral speech as a ‘masterpiece of rhetoric’ deployed down the years to justify the sacrifices demanded of a population at war. It is striking, Morley says ‘how far the oration subordinates individuals to the collective good’ and how Pericles’ sentiments ‘reflect a thoroughly un-modern conception of the relationship between the citizen and his community. One might suppose that, at least within the portion of the ideological spectrum that is suspicious of state power, they would raise doubts about Pericles’ political tendencies.’

Morley adds:
‘the oration is extremely (and deliberately) vague about the actual machinery of the Athenian state. Its grand statements about the power of the people, equality before the law, and emphasis on ability rather than class can be co-opted by any nation that chooses to call itself a democracy.’
Now, anyone who’s read my post on Robin Lane Fox’s analysis of Pericles’ funeral speech – which Lane Fox says projects a laudable balance between individual freedom and collective responsibility – and my presentation (and critique) of the even more penetrating interpretation of the oration put forward by Cornelius Castoriadis – in which the Greek philosopher portrays Pericles as describing an entwined city and citizenry that aims to create human beings living with beauty, living with wisdom and loving the common good – will realise that Morley’s depiction of the speech as patriotic tub-thumping or a rationale for totalitarianism is banal, superficial and inept, utterly failing to grasp the power of Pericles’ oration and what it reveals about Athens, its state, citizens and democracy.

In fact, I have to say, that if people are going to write about Thucydides and Pericles’ funeral speech, then they should at least take the trouble to research extensively and read widely. Castoriadis is obscure, but not unknown; while Hellenic Antidote – with its well-crafted and accessible posts on Pericles, Thucydides, Castoriadis and so on – is available to anyone who knows how to use Google.

Finally, the video above is a BBC production from 1991 of John Barton’s The War that Never Ends, an adaptation/dramatisation of Thucydides’ account of the Peloponnesian War, with some Plato thrown in. It is quite good.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Greece, between ultra-nationalism and radical internationalism; plus some thoughts on Isocrates, Cavafy, Alexander the Great and Odysseus

Below is a piece I’ve translated from Greek that illustrates how issues over Greek national identity and direction are becoming increasingly polarised, with the extreme left, represented by Syriza, proposing a radical revision of Greek history and identity while the far-right Golden Dawn insists on the exclusivity of Greek culture and experience.

The author, Theodoros Spanelis, who I don’t know anything about, wants a Hellenism somewhere in the middle, patriotic but ecumenical and draws on Isocrates and Alexander the Great to make his case. He argues that Isocrates defined as Greek anyone, regardless of race, who shared in Greek education and culture (paideia) and he notes that Alexander established a vast Greek empire based on racial and cultural fusion and actively encouraged his soldiers to take Persian brides as part of this supranational vision.

Regarding Isocrates, I’ve written before that it is a complete misinterpretation to propose Isocrates as a precursor to the modern virtues of racial tolerance and integration based on shared values. Nothing could be further from the truth. Isocrates was making the case for pan-Hellenism, arguing that Greeks – and only Greeks – were united by a shared culture and that for the greater good of the Greek race they should put aside regional, tribal and political differences.

As for Alexander, his ‘fusion’ of cultures was politically motivated, designed to facilitate the better operation of his new empire (in which, in any case, Hellenism would dominate) and, indeed, this met with a good deal of hostility and resentment among Greeks, unwilling to accept barbarian culture on equal terms. Mixed-raced marriages were, again, mainly motivated by the politics of managing the spear-won territories – the offspring of such marriages were intended to create a Greek-oriented cultural and military elite – and, in fact, we know those Macedonians encouraged to wed their Persian concubines divorced them after Alexander’s death.

Also, it’s best not to take too seriously Mr Spanelis’ last paragraph, where he gets caught up in a rhetorical flourish about Hellenism without borders and distinctions and suggests a patriotism based on Cavafy’s Ithaka – in which Odysseus is a Bronze Age Marco Polo and the poet seems to suggest that engaging with alien cultures broadens the human experience.

Cavafy famously travelled very little, rarely leaving Alexandria, so we invest his poem (which should also be compared with The City) with the irony it deserves; while it’s difficult to regard Odysseus, back in Ithaca, after all he’s been through, as an enlightened cosmopolitan. Rather, as he sets about clearing the suitors from his palace, he is the same cunning brute and ruthless king he was the day he left his homeland.

Thus, Odysseus is many things, but not a paradigm for Hellenic patriotism. Actually, thinking about it, off the top of my head, none of the Greeks in Homer display patriotic virtues. Maybe the Trojans, but not the Greeks. However, this is another story.

The tailors of nationalism and internationalism
Since, at this time in Greece, Golden Dawn is the party of extreme nationalism and Syriza the party that expresses the spirit of internationalism, one has to ask, as a citizen who doesn’t identify with either side, is there another path one can take?

Thus, I was genuinely shocked by Golden Dawn MP Ilias Panagiotaros when he said that he does not consider Greece’s international basketball star Sophocles Schortsanitis [whose mother is Cameroonian] to be a Greek, as if Sophocles is a common name in Africa; and by the article in Avgi newspaper by Nassos Theodoridis, a member of Syriza and the Anti-nationalist Movement, who suggested that Greece should have allowed the Italians to occupy the country in 1940 and because of our ‘stubbornness we became mixed up in an imperialist war’?

In the case of Golden Dawn disputing Schortsanitis’ Greekness, it ignores Isocrates’ famous phrase that a Greek is whoever shares in Greek education and culture (paideia), a view that enabled Hellenism to establish a global empire, transcending borders, peoples and transient kingdoms. It further ignores Alexander the Great’s promotion of mixed marriages, encouraging his soldiers to take Eastern brides and, indeed, he himself married Roxanne, who today would be regarded as an Afghan!

As for the Syriza’s internationalism, it forgets that in 1940, despite the fact that Greece’s prime minister was a dictator (an enlightened one, as it transpired) sympathetic to Germany, he chose to lead a heroic anit-fascist struggle in the name of freedom. For Syriza, no doubt, even Leonidas at Thermopylae was a nationalist and a futile one at that, since he should have, presumably, let the Persians pass and prevented the massacre of the 300 Spartans.

Golden Dawn-type nationalism wants to make us a ‘suit’, which has, historically, for those who possess Greek education and culture, been too tight, taking an outward-looking Hellenism and transforming it into a miserable, poor and subordinated nation-state.

Alternatively, Syriza’s ‘suit’ is too loose and would reduce Hellenism to an odourless, tasteless mush, which, ironically, would coincide with the aspirations of Greece’s political elite – in favour of a Greece internationalised and globalised, without identity and form.

But for those of us who are sensitive to and immersed in Greek letters, we still proudly declare ourselves Greek and raise high the flag of Ecumenical Hellenism, which retains a distinctive identity, has no borders and makes no distinctions on the basis of colour or gender, paralleling Odysseus, who went everywhere and returned in rags to his homeland, but wealthier for all he saw and experienced. To put it more simply, we are patriots.

*See original piece here.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Castoriadis on Plato, the Greeks and living without hope

In a previous post, I looked at Plato’s disavowal of Hesiod’s depiction of a universe underpinned by chaos in favour of a view of the world permeated by goodness and noted the far-reaching ontological and philosophical implications this had, especially in the formation of Christianity.

Cornelius Castoriadis  is also interested in Plato’s break with the classical Greek vision of the world. For Castoriadis, the Greek perception of Being as Chaos – at the heart of which is the tragic imaginary showing that ‘not only [are] we not masters of the consequences of our actions, but we are not even masters of their meaning’ – is substituted by Plato with a religious or quasi-religious ontology in which Being equals the Good equals Wisdom equals the Beautiful. Thus, Plato, Castoriadis says, rejects the ‘nucleus of the Greek imaginary’ – in which there is an absence of order for man – and replaces it with a theological and unitary ontology that presumes an underlying harmony and rationality in the world.

Castoriadis describes Plato’s innovation as a ‘philosophical monstrosity’ and argues that it has parallels with other theological and unitary ontologies, such as Hebraico-Christianity (with its belief in the Promised Land, resurrections, messiahs and the afterlife), and liberalism and Marxism, with their belief in progress and human perfectibility.

Castoriadis illustrates Plato’s rupture with the classical Greek vision of the world by looking at how the latter would have addressed Kant’s three fundamental questions of philosophy: What can I know? What should I do? and What am I allowed to hope?

On the first two questions, Castoriadis says, the Greeks initiated an illimitable discussion that precluded ever arriving at a categorical ‘Greek answer’. However, on the third question, What am I allowed to hope? the Greeks did provide ’a definite and clear answer, and this is a massive and resounding nothing’.

Castoriadis goes on that hope
‘is not to be taken here in the everyday trivial sense – that the sun will again shine tomorrow, or that a child will be born alive. The hope to which Kant refers is the hope of the Christian or religious tradition, the hope corresponding to that central human wish and delusion that there be some essential correspondence, some consonance, some adequatio, 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, 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 clearly was Plato – after the classical period had ended’.
As for the pre-classical and classical Greeks, Castoriadis says, their denunciation of hope and robust belief that the world can never be fully ordered (that the only order that exists is the order Anaximander describes, which is order through catastrophe, Being as creation and destruction), has profound implications for the way they did politics and philosophy:
‘For Hesiod, hope is forever imprisoned in Pandora’s box. In pre-classical and classical Greece, there is no hope for an afterlife: either there is no afterlife, or if there is one, it is worse than the worst life on earth – as Achilles reveals to Odysseus in the Land of the Dead. Having nothing to hope from an afterlife or from a caring and benevolent God, man is liberated for action and thought in this world.’