Saturday, 26 January 2013

Challenging neo-Ottoman histories of Thessaloniki


Infognomon Politika  reported a worthwhile event that took place in Thessaloniki last night at which Yiannis Tachopoulos presented his book (in Greek) Thessaloniki, Mazower and the Ghosts of Ottomanism. Tachopoulos wants to repudiate Mark Mazower’s 2006 book, Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews 1430-1950, which depicts the Turkish occupation of one of the great Greek cities as a model of multiculturalism, lamenting the end of heterogenous Thessaloniki after liberation in 1912 and its incorporation into Greece.

The Infognomon Politika article says Tachopoulos’ book challenges Mazower’s thesis that has come to dominate academic and intellectual debates around Thessaloniki, and in which (my translation): ‘Thessaloniki is portrayed not as a Greek city, brutally dehellenised in 1430 after the Turkish conquest and again with the slaughter of 1821, [but] an Ottoman city, rehellenised after its liberation in 1912, destroying in the process a multicultural city that had lasted five centuries. According to Mazower, Thessaloniki ceases to be a Greek city 2,300 years old, and is transformed into a city of Ottoman ghosts.

‘Tachopoulos’ book is a tribute to mark the 100 years anniversary of the liberation of the Thessaloniki at a time when there is a systematic campaign to de-emphasise the city’s Greek identity in preparation for its post-national, neo-Ottoman future.’

In the brief video above, Mazower speaks about the Greek economic crisis; the state of history teaching in Greece; and his latest book on international governance.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

A Letter to Elia: Scorsese’s tribute to Kazan

Above is clip from A Letter to Elia, Martin Scorsese’s tribute to Greek-American film-maker Elia Kazan, most known for Panic in the Streets, Viva Zapata!, On the Waterfront, East of Eden and America, America; the latter being a reincarnation of his family’s journey from Anatolia to America, a journey that Kazan mythologises as one taken from slavery to freedom. Kazan’s espousal of this central myth of America, that it is a land of liberty and progress whereas the ‘Old World’ is a place of oppression stifled by tradition, is problematic and, in his work, only really affects America, America and, I suppose, to some extent, On the Waterfront; and, indeed, it’s difficult to know the degree to which Kazan believed in American ideology – in the documentary Kazan says criticism of America makes him ‘bristle’ – or whether he adopted it in order to justify, to himself as much as anyone else, his notorious decision to name names during the McCarthy communist witch hunts. For all its noisy championing of individual liberty, America places a higher value than Europe on conformism and a lesser one on dissidence and radical critique, which you would have thought a country as weird and destructive as America badly needs, especially from its thinking film-makers. 

See entire film here.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Lillikas plays Annan card, but it still won’t be enough


Above is a short video of Nikos Lygeros speaking in Cyprus on the importance of Greece and Cyprus delineating contiguous Exclusive Economic Zones and stressing how the Annan plan was precisely designed to diminish Cyprus’ sovereignty in order to prevent it controlling the exploitation of its hydrocarbon resources. 

Lygeros remarks can be interpreted as support for Giorgos Lillikas (former foreign minister under Tassos Papadopoulos) who is making quite a lot of the fact that of the three main candidates for president – the other two are AKEL-backed Stavros Malas and the centre-right’s Nikos Anastasiades – he is the only one who voted against Annan in 2004. 

Depicting Anastasiades and Malas as the Annan plan candidates is a strong card for Lillikas and, it seems, he is picking up enough support from Tassos Papadopoulos loyalists to challenge Malas for second place and be the person to face Anastasiades in any run off. (Currently, polls indicate that Anastasiades will not get close to the 50 percent support he needs to win in the first round of voting). 

I still find it hard to believe that anyone other than Anastasiades will become Cyprus’ next president and, in fact, the only scenario in which he loses is if Lillikas finishes second after round one and, then, somehow, AKEL decides to throw all its weight behind Lillikas in round two. AKEL would do this in order to thwart Anastasiades – who, in AKEL’s terms, is the candidate of bourgeoise interests in Cyprus, interests that have, according to AKEL, conspired to undermine and discredit the government of Dimitris Christofias – and also because AKEL supporting Lillikas would mean a significant place for the communists in any government he might form. 

However, if AKEL were seen to strongly back Lillikas – who it should be stressed is despised by the communist party, for which Lillikas was an MP and government minister from 1996-2007, abandoning it to support Tassos Papadopoulos against Dimitris Christofias in 2008 – then this would alienate some of Lillikas’ more right-wing supporters, who would not want to see AKEL continue in government after five years of disastrous rule.  

In other words, it will be this inability of Lillikas to construct a viable coalition between his left-wing and right-wing supporters that will guarantee Anastasiades’ easy victory in February.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Feast of the Circumcision; or how the Greeks saved us from genital mutilation

I posted a few years back on the Feast of Circumcision, which Christians commemorate today, marking Jesus’ genital mutilation, which he, as a Jewish man, had performed eight days after his birth. Below is an edited version of the post, which emphasises how Greek revulsion at this Hebrew practice prevented it from penetrating Christian ritual and culture. As to the meaning of the Covenant of Circumcision, senior Jewish cleric Shraga Simmons says it’s designed to suppress carnal pleasure and human sexuality for the sake of more ‘spiritual’ endeavours:

‘It is a foundation of Judaism that we are to control our animal desires and direct them into spiritual pursuits. Nowhere does a person have more potential for expressing “barbaric” behavior than in the sex drive. That's why the Bris [covenant of the circumcision] is done on this specific organ. If we bring holiness into our life there, then all other areas will follow.’

Feast of the Circumcision
Today is the Feast of the Circumcision, commemorating Jesus’ circumcision, the first occasion on which he shed his blood for humanity, performed, according to Jewish law, when a boy was eight days old.

Of course, circumcision did not catch on among early Christians, and for this we must thank the Greeks – first targets of the Jewish apostles and evangelisers – who regarded the ritual as barbaric, something akin to castration.

Indeed, following the conquests of Alexander the Great, when the Greek Seleucid and Ptolemaic empires flourished in Egypt, Syria and Palestine, circumcision became one of the symbolic issues which split the Jews, between the so-called Jewish Hellenisers – those Jews attracted to and influenced by the more prestigious and hegemonic culture of the Greeks – and the Jewish nationalists, resisters of the Greek way of life.

One of the most important components of Greek culture (which the Greeks took with them to the colonies and conquered territories) was the gymnasium, an open-air public arena that combined physical and intellectual training and, in later manifestations, came to resemble a gentleman’s or country club, where city elites gathered to relax, socialise and discuss politics and business.

During physical training, the Greeks, as is well known, liked to exercise gymnos (nude). As such, male gymnasts valued their foreskins – a long, tapered foreskin was regarded as the most attractive – and regarded exposure of the glans as obscene. Greeks, therefore, were offended or amused when Jewish gymnasts turned up in the gymnasium and exercised with their glans on display.

Ambitious Jews, to make their presence more acceptable in Greek gymnasia, would often undergo an epispasm, a surgical procedure that stretched the foreskin to cover the glans, a circumcision in reverse; proof to fundamentalist Jews of the erosion of adherence to Jewish law and the penetration of Greek cultural standards. Jewish reactionaries were also scandalised by the brazen nudity on show at Greek gymnasia, which they regarded as immoral and shameful.

The tension among Jews prompted by contact with Greek culture reflected Jewish class conflict, between a Jewish urban elite – more attracted and susceptible to syncreticism and Greek culture – and the more fanatical anti-Greek Jewish masses and rural population.

Eventually, increasing resentment and agitation among the Jewish lower classes prompted a crackdown by the Seleucid emperor Antiochus IV Epiphanes, which led to even fiercer Jewish resistance to Hellenism and the Maccabean war – which has gone down in Jewish history as a triumph of Jewish purists over Jewish Hellenisers and is the basis of the annual Hanukah festival.

Anyway, in the early years of Christianity, this Greek aversion to circumcision – reflecting residual Greek sensuality and love of the human form, horror at bodily mutilation and concern that the practice was too Jewish – meant that some of the worst Jewish prejudices did not find their way into Christian ritual and thinking – if circumcision was an act of ritual cleansing, as the Jews maintained, then, according to Christian propagandists, such as St Paul, it is the heart not the penis or any other bodily appendage that should be circumcised/cleansed – of pride, vanity and all the rest of it.

Nevertheless, six centuries later, Jewish doctrine and practice found more fertile ground in the Arabian desert, among Mohammed and his followers, who accepted with a vengeance the Jewish repulsion for the human body and fear of human sexuality.