Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Liberty, democracy, thalassocracy

John R. Hale’s Lords of the Sea is a good read on the interconnected rise of the Athenian navy, democracy and empire, drawing on Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon and Plutarch to construct a coherent narrative of Athens’ history from 483 BC to 322 BC.

Hale starts with the remarkable career of Themistocles – the visionary who realised that a Persian attempt to invade and subjugate Greece was inevitable and that Athens had to develop sea power to counter this threat – and ends not with Athens’ defeat and surrender to Sparta in the Peloponnesian war (404 BC) but with Athens’ capitulation to Macedonia some 80 years later. For Hale, Athens’ Golden Age is interrupted, not terminated, by Sparta, and once the Lacedaemonians’ short-lived empire ignominiously collapses, Athens revives and is able to continue its glorious trajectory well into the 4th century, before being definitively scuppered by Alexander the Great and his successors.

Hale argues that Athens, in the process of establishing itself as a maritime power, became absorbed by the sea and that the navy seeped into the fabric of everyday Athenian life – influencing language, science, art and culture. Historians, politicians, artists, poets, dramatists all incorporated maritime metaphors and naval themes into their work. The Athenian government became a ‘ship of state’, its leaders ‘steersmen’. Maritime references abound in Athenian comedy and tragedy, and Athenians showed their commitment to their navy by naming their children Naubios, Naukrates, Naumache or Nausinike. For Hale, Athens’ maritime empire opened the city to international trade and contact and fostered a spirit of tolerance, open-mindedness and free enquiry, while the demands of naval warfare placed a new emphasis on technique and cunning, which supplanted the previous virtues of raw courage and brute force associated with cavalry and hoplite fighting and undermined, in the process, the upper class supposed to embody them.

Hale stresses, then, that the navy became the emblem of Athenian liberty and democracy. The ethos of the trireme, manned by free Athenian males, where distinctions of class and wealth were thrown overboard in favour of collective spirit and mutual endeavour, inevitably translated into the political field and shaped the radical demos that Athens became. The common man who risked his life at sea for Athens and brought wealth and security to the city now wanted to take part in the Assembly and affect decisions on matters of war, defence and foreign policy.

But if the navy provided the power and prestige for democratic values and institutions to hold sway in Athens, then, inevitably, critics of Athenian democracy blamed Athens’ maritime obsessions for what they saw as the degeneration of society.

Aristotle disparagingly described the Athenian constitution as ‘democracy based on triremes’, and argued that the exoticism and heterogeneity of outward-looking maritime empires were antithetical to the functioning of an orderly state. Plato was an equally ardent critic of the Athenian thalassocracy and its architects – who he identified as Themistocles, Cimon and Pericles:

‘Yes, they say these men made our city great. They never realise that it is now swollen and infected because of these statesmen of former days, who paid no heed to discipline and justice. Instead, they filled our city with harbors and navy yards and walls and tribute and such-like trash.’

But if these navy yards were trash for Plato, Hale suggests for democratic Athenians they were the city’s pride and joy:

‘The glories of the Acropolis dominate our modern view of Athens. Ancient Athenians saw their city differently. In terms of civic pride, the temples of the gods were eclipsed by the vast complex of installations for the navy. Near Zea Harbor at the Piraeus stood the largest roofed building in Athens, indeed in all of Greece. It was a naval arsenal, four hundred feet in length. The Athenian architect Philo designed it to house the linen sails, rigging and other “hanging gear” of the fleet. Philo was so proud of his storehouse or skeuotheke that he wrote a book about it, and the Assembly voted to inscribe its specifications on a marble stele. The Parthenon received no such attention at the time of its construction.’

Thursday, 12 April 2012

The Armenian genocide, implications for today’s Turkey

Above is another good documentary from Al Jazeera, this time on the Armenian genocide – Grandma’s Tattoos –  made by Suzanne Khardalian, who ventures to understand the causes of her grandmother’s difficult personality – who she recalls as a cold, bitter woman, a ‘living corpse’– and in so doing is confronted by the revolting ordeal endured by Christians, particularly Christian women, as Turks took the opportunity of a collapsing Ottoman empire to implement their very own Final Solution. 

It’s worth stressing that the question of the Armenian genocide is not just a matter of historical accuracy. I strongly maintain that the mentality that encouraged Turks (and Kurds) to dehumanise and attempt to exterminate Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians in Anatolia continues to exist in Turkey. We know this not only because of the wealth tax (varlik vergisi) and forced labour camps of the 1930s and 1940s; the Constantinople pogrom in 1955; the ethnic cleansing of Imvros and Tenedos; and the Turkish invasion and occupation of Cyprus; but because Turkey refuses to broach these issues honestly, make amends or criticise itself over these outrages. Indeed, what is the denial of the Armenian genocide if not a continuation of that very same genocide? Genocide is not just about the physical extermination of a people, it’s an attempt to wipe out its history and collective memory – which is, of course, what Turkey – today’s Turkey – is attempting to do by lying about the events of 1915.

Essentially, what I’m saying is this – and this is a guiding principle of this blog – is that Turkey is a fascist country – the so-called liberalisation and democratisation of the last decade is a hoax – and that Greece and Cyprus need to accept this truth and develop suitable policies in response.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Greeks of Egypt: the other homeland

Impressive documentary above from Al Jazeera on the long history of the Greek community in Egypt, from the Minoans to Nasser; but concentrating on the modern community, which began to form in the late 1700s and at its height amounted to 200,000 people. Lots of fascinating characters and detail, including the fact that Greek Egyptians felt so committed to Egypt that they joined up to fight against the Anglo-French invasion of the country in 1956. 

One can only hope that Greece can take advantage of these ties to countries like Egypt to promote its geostrategic interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey aspires to yoke Egypt to its neo-Ottoman project and, in this way, achieve its aim of driving out Hellenism – particularly in the form of the Republic of Cyprus – from the Eastern Mediterranean. What Turkey is conniving at is an agreement with Egypt that links their Exclusive Economic Zones, as if Cyprus (and Kastellorizo) simply did not exist. Greece’s goal, of course, should be to cultivate Egypt and thwart Turkish expansionism. This shouldn’t be beyond Greece, especially since there is no evidence to suggest that Egypt – which has aspirations of its own to be a leading power in North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean – wants to be part of Turkey’s grandiose plans or shares Turkish nostalgia for the Ottoman empire. Turkey might believe its own propaganda about how tolerant and enlightened the Ottoman empire was – and they may have found enough apologists and stooges from Western Europe and the USA to encourage them in their delusions – but so far Turkey has made little real headway in its efforts to establish regional hegemony.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Turkey drifting towards Islamic fascism

Above is a report from BBC World Service radio on Turkey’s drift towards authoritarianism, repression, ultra-nationalism and Islamism. The report is wishy-washy, but raises a number of issues. For example, we note, as we have always noted, that Turkey’s dalliance with democracy and liberalism was never serious, but rather a device adopted by Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan and the AK party to corner the Kemalist deep state and give Erdogan the space to Islamise Turkish society.

We also note that Foreign Minister Ahmed Davoutoglu’s neo-Ottomanism has turned out to be nothing more than an aggressive form of Turkish nationalism; while the ‘zero problem’ policy with neighbours has not so much collapsed, but been revised, to exclude Iran, Syria, Israel, Cyprus and Greece. The deteriorating relationship with Iran and Syria would seem to provide a window of opportunity for a Turkey-Israel rapprochement – but it is doubtful whether an Islamic nationalist Turkey can accommodate reconciliation with Israel and whether Israel could trust this new Turkey, particularly when it comes to transportation of Israel’s natural gas resources, with a more reliable conduit appearing to be Cyprus and Greece.

And just like Turkey’s supposed turn to democracy and liberalism was superficial, so was Turkey’s attempt to join the European Union, in which case this represents a failure of Greece’s policy of détente with Turkey. Greece had bet that a Turkey committed to European standards and norms would become defanged and no longer pose an existential threat. Cyprus, too, had hoped that Turkey would choose to settle the Cyprus problem in order to remove one of the main obstacles to its EU accession. Turkey now has no incentive to reverse its Cyprus policy and will deepen its presence in northern Cyprus, which it has no intention of loosening its grip on.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Giorgos Lillikas to stand for Cyprus presidency

Cypriot media was reporting yesterday evening that Giorgos Lillikas will announce on Friday that he is to be a candidate in next February’s Cyprus presidential elections. Lillikas was a strong opponent of the 2004 Annan Plan, which he described as a ‘catastrophe’ that would lead to Cyprus becoming Turkey’s protectorate. In Tassos Papadopoulos’ government (2003-2008), Lillikas was, first, minister for commerce and industry before, in 2006, taking over as foreign minister. Lillikas was originally elected to parliament with left-wing AKEL, but broke off relations with the party when he refused to support its candidate for the presidency in 2008, Dimitris Christofias, insisting that Tassos Papadopoulos, to whom Lillikas had become close, was the candidate he regarded as most capable of promoting Cyprus’ fight against the Turkish occupation.

Lillikas will say that he is to stand as an independent, but it is expected that in the next few weeks he will receive the support of the four parties that supported Tassos Papadopoulos in 2008, namely, DIKO, EDEK, EVROKO and the Greens. Of course, in 2008, these four parties were not able to muster enough votes to secure for Papadopoulos a place in the second round of the elections – Papadopoulos finished third behind AKEL’s Dimitris Christofias and DISY’s Yiannakis Cassoulides; but Lillikas stands a very good chance of finishing in the top two next year and qualifying for the second round because of the unpopularity of incumbent Christofias, who is expected to seek re-election.

Nikos Anastasiades from conservative DISY – who supported the Annan Plan – announced his candidacy for the presidential elections last month. He is likely to finish top in the first round of voting, but his best chance of winning is if he faces a run-off with Christofias, not with Lillikas. This is because however much AKEL’s leadership despise Lillikas for doing what communist parties hate the most – which is not towing the party line – they despise Anastasiades and centre-right DISY twice as much, for the usual ideological reasons, and it is inconceivable that AKEL would recommend its supporters back Anastasiades in any run off with Lillikas. However, if Lillikas were not to make the second round, then Anastasiades would probably pick up enough support from anti-Christofias voters from DIKO and EVROKO to secure the presidency. A more likely scenario is that Anastasiades and Lillikas go through to a second round of voting, with Lillikas garnering sufficient support from AKEL to be the victor and new president of Cyprus.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Psarantonis and the end of mythologised Greek singers

Last month, concert-goers in Athens threw yogurt and water over singer Giorgos Dalaras half way through a performance. They also shouted abuse at him, called him a traitor, a Pasok lackey and apologist, and branded him a prime representative of the system that has dragged Greece down to where it is at the moment. 

Now, the Greek yogurt and water throwing people are, of course, Syriza hooligans, who have been responsible for all sorts of violence and vandalism for decades and have significantly contributed to and exacerbated Greece’s decline. But I'm not interested in Syriza, even if their yogurt and water throwers may have a point about Dalaras, not so much that he is a Pasok lackey – he may well be (I, for one, however, greatly admired Dalaras’ efforts in the 1980s and 1990s to boost the morale of Greeks in Cyprus with some wonderful concerts and records) – but he was undoubtedly at the forefront of the tawdry cultural phenomenon in Greece in which singers were unnecessarily revered or ‘mythologised’.

In fact, this notion of ‘mythologised’ singers is not mine, but something I heard Photini Darra – a very talented singer of a new generation – refer to on NET news the other evening. Darra was saying that she hoped the era of the ‘mythologised’ singer in Greece was over. Anyway, this is just a preamble, which I wasn’t expecting to make, because what this post really wanted to draw attention to was a remarkable version of the demotic song Σαράντα παλικάρια, sung by Psarantonis, I came across recently; and what I wanted to point out is that Psarantonis is the antithesis of Dalaras (at his worst) and the mythologised Greek singers and no one would ever throw yogurt or water over him.

(Above is Psarantonis singing Σαράντα παλικάρια live, while below is an mp3 version with better sound).

Σαράντα παλικάρια, από την Λειβαδιά

Καλά και αρματωμένα, να πάνε στην κλεψιά

Στο δρόμο που πήγαιναν, γέροντα απαντούν

Ώρα καλή σου γέρο, καλώ στα τα παιδιά 

Που πατέ παλικάρια, που πατέ ορέ παιδιά 

Θα ΄ρθεις καημένε γέρο, να πάμε στην κλεψιά

Δεν ημπορώ παιδιά μου, γιατί είχω γεραθειά

Sunday, 1 April 2012

A song for Grigoris Afxentiou

Χαλάλιν της Πατρίδος μου
ο γιος μου η ζωή μου
τζι αφού εν επαραδόθηκεν
τζι έμεινεν τζιαι σκοτώθηκεν
ας έσιει την ευτζιήν μου

My country is welcome to him
my son, my life
And since he never surrendered
And held true and was slain
Then he has my blessing

Above is a song (Ξύπνα Γληόρη) for Grigoris Afxentiou, with words by the hero’s mother, music by Giorgos Theophanous; and sung by Marinella. Afxentiou was the pre-eminent EOKA hero in the struggle that began on 1 April 1955 to end British colonial rule in Cyprus and unite the island with Greece. He was killed in his hideout near Macheras monastery in March 1957 after a 10-hour battle against overwhelming British forces, who couldn't dislodge the hero and resorted to pouring gasoline into the cave he was holed up in and burning Afxentiou alive. It’s worth stressing that EOKA’s aim wasn’t just to liberate Cyprus for the benefit of Cyprus and Cypriots but also for the benefit of Greece, to expand Greece’s frontiers and horizons, make it a greater country with a presence and influence in the Eastern Mediterranean. Another thing worth remembering, which is perhaps slightly tangential but strikes me as important nonetheless, is that the acronym EOKA stands for Εθνική Οργάνωσις Κυπρίων Αγωνιστών (National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters), i.e. there was no need to call the movement, for example, the National Organisation of Greek fighters of Cyprus or the National Organisation of Greek Cypriot fighters, because, by definition, to be a Cypriot meant to be a Greek, as it always has done and always will. Indeed, the term Greek Cypriot (and Turkish Cypriot) is a neologism, concocted by the British as part of a strategy to elevate the status of the Muslim minority on the island and introduce Turkey as a player in Cyprus’ politics.

Below is a video of the hero’s mother, Antonou Afxentiou, reciting words she composed on the sacrifice of her son; and below is a drama-documentary (in Greek) – The Eagle of Macheras – from 1973 on Grigoris Afxentiou’s life and death in EOKA.