Saturday, 4 February 2012

Seferis, Leigh Fermor and the Cyprus crisis

Thanks to Hermes for pointing out the above programme from Greek TV in 1972; an episode of This is Your Life involving the British writer Patrick Leigh Fermor, known as much for his books on the Mani and Roumeli as for his exploits in Nazi-occupied Crete, where as an SOE officer he executed with the Cretan resistance the kidnap  of the island’s senior German commander, General Heinrich Kreipe, an incident captured in the 1957 Powell & Pressburger film Ill Met By Moonlight, in which Leigh Fermor is portrayed by Dirk Bogarde.

In the moving and almost surreal TV show, Leigh Fermor is reunited not only with two of the Cretan fighters involved in the kidnap, Manolis Paterakis and Giorgos Tyrakis, but with the unfortunate Kreipe himself!

I've been thinking a bit about Leigh Fermor recently. I’ve never read any of his books on Greece, but he does crop up as part of the Katsimbalis circle, the group of Greek, British and American writers brought together by the literary critic and publisher, Giorgos Katsimbalis, the eponymous Colossus of Maroussi as depicted by Henry Miller.

Katsimbalis was responsible in the 1930s for launching the literary careers of, among others, Giorgos Seferis, Odysseas Elytis and Giorgos Theotokas, though his idol was the poet of the Megali Idea, an Idea Katsimbalis shared, Kostis Palamas. The American and British writers and intellectuals involved in the Katsimbalis circle included Steven Runciman, Lawrence Durrell, Henry Miller, the translator Rex Warner, Osbert Lancaster, Leigh Fermor, Philip Sherrard – all of whom, through their intimacy with Katsimbalis and the Greek poets in his circle, developed a passion for and knowledge of Greece, which they converted into literature that inspired a generation of Britons and Americans sympathetic to Hellenism.

However, this Anglo-Greek circle was ruptured by the Cyprus crisis in the 1950s, which pitted Greek against British nationalism.

Seferis, in particular, was deeply involved in the struggle of Cypriot Hellenism. The poet and diplomat was an ardent admirer of Makarios and strong supporter of Grivas and the armed revolt he led – regarding it as pure and just as the Cretan resistance to Germany Leigh Fermor participated in – and as such Seferis cut off all contact with Britons he knew during this period.

I’ve not been able to find any explicit details regarding Leigh Fermor and Cyprus – whether he supported Greek demands or British imperialism – but he was one of the Britons Seferis broke with; although, unlike with Durrell – who not only moved to Cyprus during the EOKA revolt, but was also recruited into the colonial administration’s Information Office (Seferis refers to Durrell as assuming the role of a gauleiter) from where he argued for the virtues of continuing British rule in Cyprus and, indeed, that the Cypriots were not Greeks and their demands for Enosis illegitimate – relations with Leigh Fermor were later resumed.

Nevertheless, the bitterness of the rupture was sincere, particularly on the side of the Greeks, who felt their British friends, who they had embraced, trusted and guided, were little more than parasites and hypocrites.

On 18 April, 1955 – two weeks after EOKA began its armed struggle to unite Cyprus to Greece – Katismbalis, the Venizelist and veteran of the Macedonian campaign, the attempt to liberate Ionia and the Albanian epos, wrote to Seferis:

»Είμαι μπαρουτιασμένος με τους φίλους μας τους Άγγλους… Είναι όλλοι τους πούστηδες και καθίκια (και δεν εξαιρώ κανέναν εκτός από το Ρεξ και τον Όσπμερτ – ίσως).»


Hermes said...

John, I have not been able to find Leigh Fermor’s thoughts on the struggle in Cyprus; and although, he really immersed himself in Hellenism compared to the odious Durrell, when it comes to making a choice between the so called “British Hellenes”, of which Leigh Fermor was a part, and the ideology, the fighters, the leaders and simple folk, of the struggle in Cyprus, then the latter wins hands down. At the level of literature, although I really like Fermor’s book on Mani, Pallikarides or Montis are far superior.

The other thing we should realise, is that these "Philhellenes" are only lovers of Hellenism and Romiosyni as long they do not comprimise the objectives of their own ethnos. This is only natural. Therefore, we should always be wary of American, English, Russian, French, German flatterers.

Anonymous said...

A wonderful post.

There is also footage floating about in Cyber space of Fermer speaking effusively in Greek about Katsimbalis.

My favourite story about Katsimbalis is how at the funeral of his friend Kostis Palamos on 28/2/43 he sang a whole verse of the banned greek national anthem within earshot of German soldiers before the other mourners,no doubt shamed by their silence,joined him in a rousing completion of the anthem.

Miller's Collosus of Maroussi is a truly great book and it is as much a rapturous homily to his hero Katsimbalis as it is a celebration of Greece and its eternal wonder.

John Akritas said...

The footage with Fermor speaking of Katsimbalis is from this ERT documentary on Katsimbalis:

I haven't read Miller's book for a while. I remember him being scathing about the English – 'not worth the dirt between a Greek's toes' – and saying that the only Greek he ever met in Greece he didn't like was some Cypriot pimp.

Durrell did try to redeem himself later – after 1974, when it was too late – by tracing Cyprus' partition back to British policies in the 1950s, which he faithfully implemented; and by writing in his preface to his book on the Greek islands, in which Cyprus was not included, that Cyprus was the most Greek of the Greek islands – even though 20 years earlier he'd been happy to tell the world that there was nothing Greek about Cyprus and the Cypriots weren't even Greeks.

Anonymous said...

Yes I remember reading something by Durrell in which he stated that if Britain had recognised the Greek nature of Cyprus from the outset Cyprus would not have descended into crises and war.

The other redeeming bit of information about Durrell as told by Miller is that after war was declared in Greece Durrell was seriously intent on joining the Greek army. Although Miller and others persuaded him against this, Miller observed that he could see why he would prefer to fight for a nation that had been led into battle by the great bouboulina than to fight for a nation that was being led into battle by effete oxbridge graduates.

Hermes said...

The discussion about Israeli requests to station aircraft at Cypriot bases is worrying. Of course, nothing has been confirmed as yet but we could be seeing Cyprus becoming a protectorate of Israel. And a target for anti-Israeli attacks. Worrying signs.

John Akritas said...

I'll be surprised if Cyprus would agree to such a request; but if Israeli gas is to be transported through Cyprus to Crete and so on, then, inevitably securing the facilities is an issue. After all, we're talking massive amounts of money both for Israel and Cyprus, which will transform their economies and their ability to assert their sovereignty – both matters of life and death for Israel and Cyprus.

Hermes said...

I am surprised how cavalier you are regarding this issue - if it comes to fruition. I would have thought the EU and even perhaps Greece, in healthier days, would have more than sufficient strength in securing gas supplies to Europe. And there is asymetry in this relationship as Israel can also, and is planning to, export some of its gas to China. European defence of gas supplies would also avoid getting entangled in Israeli shenanigans.

Also, Israeli and Turkish ties have improved recently and Israel has invited Turkey to military exercises next year. I am still not convinced that Turkish and Israeli ties have been irreparably damaged.

John Akritas said...

If, H… if it comes to fruition. Big if. Maybe the Israelis will ask to station a few planes at Andreas Papandreou, maybe they won't. Besides which, I'd be amazed if Cyprus agrees. Naturally, I agree Israel and Turkey might make it up; but I also think that there's no way the Israelis would trust the Turks with their gas given what's happened between them so that it will almost certainly go through Cyprus and Greece. That really precludes, I think, the revival of the previous close relationship between Turkey and Israel and provides us with some opportunities to assert ourselves in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Hermes said...

By the way, I have been watching and listening to Stelios Ramfos lately. You can find some of his videos on his site, and for those with average Greek, some of them have English subtitles. He covers many things that he finds problematic about the modern Greek, ethnicity, kin, family and the State, knowledge of the self and God, Greek education, memory and history and lots of other things. He seems to be considered a Westerniser in Greek intellectual circles. Although, a few of his ideas seem pedestrian, and the discussions sometimes seem like intellectual masturbation, occasionally he has some insight.

Several of his books have also been translated into English.

Anonymous said...

I can understand Hermes'concern regarding a development of a one sided relationship of dependency between Cyprus and Israel, however that is a long way off happening at present.

As for a possible rapproachment between Turkey and Israel, I don't see it happening as long as Turkey pursues its pan islamist/neo ottaminist strategy in the eastern medditeranean and in the near and middle east. Those policies put Turkey on a collision course with Israel.

The US for its own strategic interests is pushing hard for a rapproachment between Israel and Turkey. The task of Greek and Cypriot diplomacy is to prevent this from happening. Military cooperation between Cyprus and Israel is a step in that direction.

In the present economic and security climate a rapproachment between Israel and Turkey would be disastrous for Greece and Cyprus.

We should have no illusions about European resolve in the face of Turkish aggression against Cyuprus or Greece.

John Akritas said...

Yes, I agree, Anon. We've got to be fairly cold-blooded about all of this.
There is a concern, however, that this 'military co-operation' you mention between Cyprus and Israel is bound to be uneven since Cyprus has no real military to speak of – it's its strategic location that makes it such a military asset – and, of course, we don't want to end up an Israeli satellite; but I don't think this will happen. We mustn't overestimate the Israelis or underestimate ourselves. Besides, I think the power which is going to get the upper hand in Cyprus will probably be Russia. It's insinuated itself into the Cypriot economy – today I read it was looking to take part ownership of Cyprus Airways – and earned a lot of brownie points last week when it put out a very strong statement supporting the Cypriot government position on the talks with the Turks. Christofias favours the Russians; Anastasiades – who may well succeed him next year – much, much less so; though he will do, I suspect, what Samaras tells him to do.

Hermes said...

Anonymous, I think it is quite clear Turkey is not pursuing a Pan-Islamist policy. Recent developments strongly suggest it has thrown its lot in with the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia regarding Syria and with the installation of the US/NATO radar/missile system directed at Iran. It appears to be a more Pan-Sunni policy. I don't think Turkey is there yet, but these states have always maintained friendly relations, either overtly or covertly through diplomatic back
channels, with Israel.

I am not sure how you see military cooperation happening between Cyprus and Israel when Cyprus barely has an airforce or navy and Israel has both, a hardened military, nuclear weapons and is backed by the United States.

And how would prostrate Greece and Cyprus stop the US push for Israel and Turkey to kiss and make up? Obama apparently talks to Turkey more than weekly because of the Syrian crisis and we all know the relationship between the US and Israel.

John, I know that Russia has a strong influence in Cyprus, but do you really think that Russia will militarily defend the transportation of gas from Cyprus when it helps to reduce European reliance on Gazprom?

John Akritas said...

Gazprom wants a piece of the natural gas action in Cyprus and will bid for exploration rights in one or more of the remaining EEZ blocks. Cyprus is looking – or Christofias is looking – to implicate Russia in the island's gas and Russia is already involved with Israel in its gas production and transportation endeavours.

Anonymous said...

H, by using the expression "pan islamist" I intended to describe Turkey's eforts to carve out a leadership role in the islamic (shia,sunni and wahabbi) middle east by promoting anti western and anti-israeli policies.

At the same time as doing this, Turkey has also tried to promote itself to the US and the west in general,as a broker and its fixer in the region.

This duplicitous and fanciful"bow and arrow" strategy(bending the bow to the east to move to the west)has been an unmitigated disaster for Turkey.

It has led to the rupturing of relations with Israel and only succeeded in proving to the Iranians and the front line Arab peoples in general that Turkey is still ultimately controlled by the US and not to be trusted.

Nevertheless Turkey persists in its anti Israel rhetoric and actions and whilst it does so it will be at odds with Israel.

I wasn't ofcourse suggesting that Cyprus was in a position to offer any more cooperation than it is capable of providing.

Finally neither Greece nor Cyprus is "prostrate" or at least not so "prostrate" that they cannot conduct meaningful diplomacy. If Turkey and Israel were just puppets of the US they would have "kissed and made up" a long time ago.

Hermes said...

Perhaps we consider joining the Eurasian Union. The common economic space went into effect Jan1, 2012. There has also been suggestions of Bulgaria and Serbia joining.

John Akritas said...

Do you think they'll let us in?
We could always try the African Union.