UNDISCLOSED LOCATION, 1 April 2017. Greek fugitive from justice Artemis Sorras has promised his followers that he will return “within three days, give or take a few, Zeus Almighty and the Twelve Gods of Olympus willing, if you pay me a just a modest administrative fee.” The bearded self-proclaimed financial alchemist has been on the run since a warrant was issued for his arrest, following his conviction for minor fraud earlier this month. From his secret hiding place, Sorras has issued numerous proclamations to his followers, including lengthy a YouTube video, and an interview with the prestigious Foreign Policy magazine.
Sorras is believed to have built a following of over 12,000 faithful in his organisation, Assembly of Greeks, based on the promise of settling their personal debts, as well as the national debt of Greece and Cyprus with bonds issued against his massive fortune, which he estimates at several trillion Euros. Members of the Assembly of Greeks are thought to have contributed several hundred Euros each to the organisation in joining fees, membership dues and administrative costs. Now, Sorras is calling them to march on the Greek parliament in his support.
Sorras attributes his prosecution to a vast global establishment (viz. Jewish) conspiracy against him and the Greek people. His rapid ascent since he first appeared on the scene in 2010 has certainly made him some powerful enemies. Father Lamogios, a monk in a remote monastery in the Peloponnese, spoke of the frustration of many in the Greek Orthodox church at was is seen as unfair competition from Assembly of Greeks. “Just the other day I was sitting down with a devout widow, who was poised to sign over her late husband’s estate to our humble institution – for what good are a few hectares of seafront property in this world, compared to eternal salvation for the departed’s soul?” The transaction came to an abrupt halt, according to the monk, when the widow asked him if the church would be covering her arrears to the electricity board and paying her back taxes. “I said of course not, my child, we are as poor as church mice… – at which point she said she had had a better offer from Sorras and walked out. Just like that.” The story has repeated itself across Greece with alarming frequency in recent years, according to church representatives, who admit they are seriously concerned about the impact on their flock’s souls, as well as their own property portfolio. The church has excoriated the apocryphal rituals of Sorras’s organisation, which include reciting a “warrior’s oath” pledging lifelong faith to the “benevolent Prince of Light” and imbibing a shot of “holy water”. “Only the blood of our Saviour drawn from the holy demijohn behind the altar has the power of salvation. We invite you to join us this month in celebrating His resurrection following His persecution by the Jews.”
There is also growing consternation in political circles, particularly since Sorras has been open about his political ambitions. “The man is a ruthless populist and a charlatan, he has no integrity,” said a senior member of the government under anonymity. “He is making all sorts of outrageous promises that he clearly cannot keep, and people are lapping it up. He has no place in politics.”
As rumours rage about the whereabout of the fugitive Sorras, one intriguing scenario is beginning to circulate among the Greek diaspora. A number of witnesses claim to have seen a mysterious bearded figure among the VIP guests at President Trump’s White House reception to mark Greek Independence Day. The event, which was described by some participants as the Biggest Fattest Greek Wedding Ever, included a statement from Trump in which he repeatedly and enthusiastically proclaimed his love and admiration for “the Greeks”. Many are now attributing greater significance to the statements, which were perhaps naively interpreted at first as a transparent grab for the Astoria/Greektown vote. “My cousin’s girlfriend’s kouniados works in catering and he swears on his mother’s honour that when he was delivering the spanakopitta to the White House he saw Sorras meeting Trump in the basement,” we were told by one regular at Chicago’s White Tower Grill (“Saganaki opa! a specialty”). “He saw Trump bow down to kiss his hand and swear an oath to Hermes Trismegistus, I kid you not.”
In other news, President Trump is poised to break ground on the border wall with Mexico – a key campaign promise which has lacked funding ever since “the Mexicans” refused to underwrite the project – after an “anonymous patriot” is said to have offered to sponsor it “for a modest administrative fee.”
ΔΙΣΚΛΑΙΜΕΡ: While this story is a fabrication, the truth is much stranger. Click on any of the genuine links in the text and prepare to be amazed. If you read Greek, I also recommend this infiltration account.
Today, 2 December 2016, GreekiLeaks™ publishes a partial transcript of a phone call between President-elect of the United States Donald Trump [PEOTUS] and the Prime Minister of Greece, Alexis Tsipras [AT], obtained through a confidential source. On 23 November, Tsipras spoke with Trump to congratulate him on his victory in the U.S. presidential elections. Trump is speaking from his private headquarters in Trump Tower. Only one end of the conversation was recorded. Its authenticity has been verified by comparison to official records of recent communications with world leaders.
PEOTUS: Thank you, Alexis, I am truly honoured. You are a terrific guy. You have a beautiful country and very very talented people. The Greeks are one of the most intelligent people. First thing I said to my campaign team, look at these guys! Look how they said a proud “NO” to the elites in Europe, drained the swamp, and made their country great again. They have a world-leading truther industry. And this guy, this guy took on the lying, corrupt media and won, right?
PEOTUS: We will have a beautiful relationship. You know why? Because we both keep our word.
PEOTUS: Forget that guy. What was he doing walking around that building site in his casuals? Guy has no class. Before I go there, it’s gotta be finished. We need to add a few beautiful statues and some hot hostesses and at least one fountain. And don’t hold back on the gold leaf. It’s gonna be amazing. It’s gonna be the best temple to democracy on the planet. Then we need to clear a few acres around it and create an amazing golf course. It’s gonna be the biggest, most amazing golf course you have ever seen.
PEOTUS: I’m not interested in infrastructure. I’m only into beautiful things. Hotels, resorts, casinos, beauty pageants. The Chinese can keep the ugly stuff as long as they don’t think they’re running the show.
PEOTUS: Some very good friends of mine got killed buying your banks. I mean, they’re incredibly successful guys, they didn’t get killed, but they don’t like losing money. But I trust you Alexis, you have a great reputation, and I’m sure we can negotiate one hell of a deal to make them happy.
PEOTUS: Forget her, great leader but I’d give her a 2, maximum. She makes Hillary look like a 6. And the French one? Legs are a 10 but no one likes a ballbreaker. Such nasty women. The worst.
PEOTUS: Don’t talk to me about debt. Debt is for losers. Listen, Alexis. I am a businessman, a very successful one, and you need to learn to talk like a businessman too. We call it leverage. And don’t worry about paying it back, believe me. That’s what Chapter 11 is for. I’ve done it four times, and look at me. Don’t I look like a successful businessman?
PEOTUS: Yeah, just make sure you write “Alexi’s Greece” in big gold letters on everything. And keep the penthouse for yourself. Invite Hello magazine to do a spread with your beautiful wife and your beautiful, amazing, talented kids. Trust me, you’ll come out ahead. I’ll give you the name of my tax guy, you won’t pay a dime, cent, whatever, in taxes, the rest of your life. Doesn’t make you a loser – it makes you smart.
PEOTUS: Alexis, I guarantee you I will negotiate a deal on Cyprus and those other islands like you won’t believe. Tayyip is a great guy, great leader. Big in property. We speak the same language, we both have terrific taste. We’re gonna negotiate an amazing deal, I guarantee you. It would be an honour and I will personally do it.
PEOTUS: Just kidding, you’re not hired. Unless you want to be our man in Havana. Terrific development potential, just need someone who speaks Commie.
A lost Platonic dialogue has shed light on the puzzling historical episode known as ΒΡΕΞΙΤ, in which the citizens of the city-state Athens in the European south, known to many today as the “cradle of democracy”, voted in favour of withdrawing from the Hellenic world. Extracts of the dialogue attributed to the Classical philosopher Plato (circa 428-348 BC) were found among the crumpled newspaper cushioning a “Macedonian” gold wreath reportedly found under a pensioner’s bed in Somerset, which recently sold at auction for £14,000 (at the time equivalent to just over $20,000, now worth approximately a couple of good laying chickens of no specific breed, and rapidly depreciating). The authenticity of the wreath has been questioned, however the Plato fragment is said to “bear all the hallmarks” of a lost work. Extracts are published for the first time below:
“Some have said that it was a mistake to give a voice to the people on matters of serious consequence, because they lack the judgement to make correct decisions. This is not my quarrel. To the contrary, I hold that it is good and just for well-born Athenians to resolve their petty disputes and pursue to their personal ambitions by calling on the unenlightened hoi polloito take on the burden of responsibility. For in addition to removing from the wise the labour of having to do the “hard shit”, this allows for the flourishing of the art of demagoguery [lit. that of leading the people], which will be counted as one of the great gifts of this glorious city of ours to the world.
In future generations, true followers for my political vision will rightly make this primitive practice of consulting the people directly obsolete, such that they will need to invent new names for it in their own tongue, and exercise it only in exceptional circumstances. For now, we call it “democracy”.
My quarrel with our system of democracy is that for too long we have been too soft on our women, our slaves and our metics [resident aliens], so that they no longer know their place, while the rightful citizens of Athens, male and Athenian born, feel threatened in their own polis.
For too long we have delegated decisions on serious matters of state to untransparent and undemocratic processes like the Oracle of Delphi and the machinations of the faceless priesthood in the distant Delian League.
For too long we have allowed the riches of our silver mines to be used to undertake foolish wars and build costly temples, roads and bridges in foreign lands, in cities which arrogantly refuse to pay us our rightful tribute.
The citizens who have cast their vote for ΒΡΕΞΙΤ have simply acknowledged that they need to be led by decent chaps (καλὸς κἀγαθός types), fine graduates of my Academy, classical scholars with the wisdom to make this city great again, and never to be enticed by delusions of empire into disastrous and costly foreign expeditions, like their predecessors.
I believe that those in favour of ΒΡΕΞΙΤ are right to propose an Antipodean-style points system for metics, combined with a Hyperborean trading model. I also hold that it would be a mistake to put a limit on the number of slaves. Slaves and metics, along with the unpaid labour of women, are what make it possible for our citizens to keep their fingernails clean by not engaging in manual labour, and to devote themselves directly to matters of state, in between travelling to support the Athenian sporting prowess in their noble defeats in the numerous Panhellenic Games.”
“Those citizens who etched “Metics Go Home” on the metope of the Temple of Xenios Zeus [Hospitable Zeus, patron of hospitality and guests and avenger of wrongs done to strangers] were merely adapting the customary and legitimate practice of ostracism writ large, voting to expel those who have abused our hospitality, without trial or debate.”
For more nuanced discussions of the fallacy of the “too much democracy” argument in response to the UK’s EU referendum, we direct you to Matt Taibi’s article about Brexit in Rolling Stone Magazine. More on the uses and abuses of Plato in contemporary political analysis can be found in the recent debate about the ascendancy of Donal Trump an others in the Los Angeles Review of Books. For a direct insight into the realities of the first democracy, red in tooth and claw, you can read our earlier post on the evidence of lynchings and mass executions in the early days of Athens. It is not clear which campaign, Brexit or Bremain, Plato would actually side with. Being the original reactionary, he would probably be happy with either, given that they were both led by what we would now call “elites”. I suspect he would have a soft spot for Boris Johnson given his veneration for the Classics.
IMAGES: “The School of Athens” by Raphael; Ostrakon (voting sherd) bearing the name of Kimon, son of Miltiades, a fifth century BC Athenian general, victor of the Battle of Salamis and commander of the Delian League forces, who was exiled (ostracised) from Athens for ten years (via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 2.5).
It’s that time of year again, when our elected leaders kick the ball into the stands, and ask the “sovereign people” to get them out of a pickle by posing a “once in a generation” EU-related question. Last year it was Greece, this year it’s the UK. Are you having trouble telling your Brexit from your Grexit, your Greferendum from your Breferendum? Or do you still think they are halitosis remedies? We have put together a handy disambiguator for the confused.
Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?
(or, if you are Welsh, “A ddylai’r Deyrnas Unedig aros yn aelod o’r Undeb Ewropeaidd neu adael yr Undeb Ewropeaidd?”).
Ah, but it’s really about…
Austerity, national currency, national dignity, the European Project, the Establishment, the Germans.
Self-determination, trade agreements, national security, the Establishment, the Germans, but mainly IMMIGRATION (Polish plumbers, Syrian refugees, ISIS terrorists and everything in between – excluding Russian and Chinese oligarchs, and global kleptocrat property investors).
Ah but it’s really, REALLY about..
Ingenue politician’s (in)ability to lead own party.
Ingenue politician’s (in)ability to lead own party.
Any wider consequences of Grexit/Brexit I should be concerned about?
The first step towards the end of the world as we know it. Allegedly.
The first step towards the end of the world as we know it. Allegedly.
The Government Line
How much time do I have to decide?
How long does it take to print ballot papers? Referendum announced 1am on 27 June 2015; referendum held 5 July 2015.
Since Maggie was ousted. But officially… Referendum pledged January 2013; polling date and question announced February 2016: official campaigning started April 2016; referendum to be held 23 June 2016.
How would a Marxist firebrand/Keynsian economist vote?
OXI: Alexis Tsipras and Yianis Varoufakis, supported by US-based Nobel prize winning economists Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, and promoted by UK-based embedded cheerleader Paul Mason.
REMAIN: all named in left hand column; readers are advised not to attempt new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s “RELUCTANTLY REMAIN” acrobatics in the polling booth, as it will almost certainly be counted as a spoiled ballot.
How would an ordoliberal German Finance Minister vote?
We hope this has been helpful. Those of us entitled to a vote have cast it, and may our British friends make the right decision. No pressure. As the summer solstice aligns with a full moon, we’re absolutely confident nothing can go wrong!
The paper presents the results of an archaeological survey of the the Aegean region, which combined systematic pedestrian and underwater survey with extensive use of remote sensing techniques (including satellite imaging and ground penetrating radar) to document patterns of human activity in the coastal zones during the Middle Athropocene era (late 2nd to early 3rd millennium AD). The authors also refer to contemporary documentary, epigraphic and iconographic evidence in order to reconstruct the social and historical context of the survey findings. It is argued that the spatio-temporal patterning of the findings represents cycles of politico-religious activity in which the power of “being” was embodied in the sacred landscape. Ultimately, the cycles of creation and destruction, the appropriation and de-appropriation of land and resources represented in these usage patterns inscribe on the landscape the contestation of public and private spaces characteristic of a “weak” polity struggling to establish public rights over the assertion of private “wants”.
The survey findings
Our survey has documented a range of structures and material evidence relating to the human occupation of the coastal zones of the Aegean basin during the Middle Anthropocene (late 2nd-early 3rd millennium AD). We divide these structures into two broad types and posit different, specialised uses for each. Type 1, which will be the focus of this study, consists of structures of perishable natural materials found in close proximity to the ancient coastline. Type 2 are more permanent structures, predominantly of reinforced concrete, sometimes found on the coast, but also further inland. Elsewhere we have demonstrated that this latter type structures exhibit the full range of domestic activities, and can therefore be safely described as habitations. We will therefore concentrate on the former, more enigmatic structures.
We used a combination of underwater exploration and surface survey to conduct a detailed examination of a number of Type 1 structures and collect materials for study. The configuration of the coast changed dramatically over the period covered in this study, as glacial melt due to anthropogenic climate change caused sea levels to rise in excess of 1 metre over a period of 100 years in the early 3rd millennium, and shorelines to retreat between by about 400 and 6,500 metres. The inundation of the coastal zone had beneficial effects for the preservation of organic construction materials (primarily wood and reeds), which has enabled us to reconstruct Type 1 structures in some detail.
Through a combination of satellite imaging techniques we have been able to document and date quite precisely the evolution of the coastal landscape, which shows an accelerating pattern of infill in the latter part 20th century AD and into the 21st century.
In the case of Type 1 structures specifically, our excavations have been able to determine that their usage was strictly seasonal, with pollen analysis showing that they were in use almost exclusively in the summer months. Moreover, artefact-rich layers are often interspersed with barren sandy strata and burnt horizons. The stratigraphic record thus shows a longer term cycle of what appears to be deliberate destruction (razing) by mechanical means and sometimes burning, followed by periods of abandonment and reconstruction. We attempt to explain the significance of this pattern in conjunction with epigraphic evidence at the end of the paper.
By far the most common find associated with Type 1 structures is the “domed kylix“, a lightweight drinking vessel with a domed protective cover bearing an aperture for a drinking kalamaki (straw), based upon the high percentage of domed kylikes found containing complete or partial kalamaki. Residue analysis of the interior of the kylikes revealed in most cases traces of the berry of the plant Coffea arabica, a shrub native to the Arabian peninsula, known for its mild stimulant properties. The use of the cup suggests that it was imbibed in liquid form, while the straw is reminiscent of the earliest Mesopotamian depictions of beer drinking, suggesting that the drink was surmounted by a foamy “head”. The purpose of the protective dome is unclear due to the varied and often disturbed contexts within which the kylikes have been found; intriguingly many such domed kylikes are found in stratigraphic association with carbonised Nicotiana tabacum (see discussion infra); it is possible that the dome may have been intended to keep ash from settling in the liquid (sacramental beverage?) contained within the kylix; insufficient evidence exists to render this supposition conclusive.
The cups themselves commonly bear a manufacturer’s stamp on the base with the legend “Made in China”. Samples of the sandy earth which typically surrounds the structures show a high content of ash, also containing carbonised remains of the leaves of the plant Nicotiana tabacum, native to the Americas. This also a mild psychotropic, and it is believed to have been consumed by inhalation. This evidence attests to a far-flung trading network, bringing exotic substances and consumption habits to the users of these seasonally utilised structures. It is notable that the seasonal users do not appear to have made use of any of the marine resources available within the catchment area, but instead plastic food packaging was found in abundance, suggesting that they were entirely dependent on imported, high-value, processed foodstuffs.
Another artefact type commonly associated with the Type 1 structure is the wooden maniform pallet. Similar in form to a pizzaiolo dough paddle, their small size and the absence of association with fournoi suggests that the pallets were deployed for some purpose other than panifacture. Often found in matching pairs and with distinctive wear patterns in the centre, the use of the paddles is unknown, and many scholars have suggested that they fulfilled a ritual function.
As students of this period are well aware, the contemporary documentary record is fragmentary. Although this was a society characterised by a high degree of literacy, records were preserved overwhelmingly in digital form, and were therefore largely erased by the Great Solar Storms of the mid-3rd millennium AD. We therefore rely heavily on the epigraphic and iconographic record.
A group of photographic images preserved on paper are thought to show events taking place at Type 1 structures, the best known of which is the so-called “Mykonos fragment” shown above. The photographs show crowds of predominantly young people of both sexes engaged in what appears to be an ecstatic ritual, often led by lightly clad priestesses (or anthropomorphic deities?) shown here dancing on an elevated platform.
Epigraphic evidence from the sites themselves comes primarily in the form of painted plaques, which support the idea that Type 1 structures were associated with rituals of a seasonal nature. The text contains brief exhortations (“LOVE”, “RELAX”, “ENJOY”) inviting celebrants to situate themselves outside the routine of secular life (in a state of “ecstasy”, from the Greek ek+stasis, stand outside), while others seem to promise rewards in the form of a mystical afterlife (“WELCOME TO OUR PIECE OF PARADISE”).
It is tempting to link these structures to fragmentary epigraphic evidence surviving from the time. A votive envelope typical of the period, uncovered in a religious/administrative complex in the Middle Anthropocene phase of the city of Thebes, contained a bundle of Euro notes, accompanied by fragments of paperwork bearing the heading “TAKT[O]ΠΟΙ[Σ]Η ΑΥΘΑΙ[ΡΕ]ΤΟΥ” (translated as “Regularisation of Unlicensed [Construction]”). Such finds have been interpreted as offerings made with the intention of regularising (i.e. preserving) an irregular structure such as those documented here. Collectively, they suggest a preoccupation on the part of the keepers of Type 1 and Type 2 structures with safeguarding private ownership and attesting to the legality of their activities within the official religious-administrative apparatus. It suggests that the boundaries between public and private land, and the right to build on it, were fluid and open to ongoing contestation, requiring repeated appeasement of the deities (authorities) on the part of their claimants. This ties in well with the stratigraphic evidence showing cycles of destruction and rebuilding (death and rebirth?), which can perhaps be seen as the physical manifestation of this contestation.
This provides an illuminating counterpoint to what we know about the society of this period, and suggests that the archaeological record can evidence an alternative “being”, or “practice” in Bourdieu’s sense, which challenges the “official” ideations of the relationship between space and power. We commonly think of the Greek polity of the period as being a highly centralised state society (“hydrocephalous” to use the terminology of some scholars). We know, for example that the Greek state was centrally administered by a powerful priestly caste, which at times comprised almost a quarter of the working population. This caste, defined by ties of real or fictive kinship, was able to mobilise and redistribute resources through a complex network of formal and informal exchange systems. This highly structured, centralised system of control contrasts sharply with the material record revealed through archaeological inquiry, which shows greater instability, a fluidity of public and private ownership, uncertainty and insecurity within the population, and ultimately evidence of a weak central state effectively contested by private “wants”.
As of the early 21st century AD, building on forest land and the coastal zone are prohibited by the Greek constitution, however in practice they are systematically built on illegally. Beach bars (“Type 1 structures”) and seaside tavernas are a particularly visible form of encroachment, and holiday homes in forested areas (“Type 2 structures”) are another. Repeated “regularisation” (amnesty) programmes by government and a record of selective political intervention aimed at cultivating a local client base, have tacitly encouraged this illegal building activity, while official land designations (like forestry maps) are regularly contested, either through legal challenges and legislative amendments, or by illegal activities such as building and burning, or encroachment by grazing.
Historical reviews and selected statistics on these subjects can be found (in Greek) here and here. The first linked article quotes an account by a popular Greek composer of a visit in the 1960s to then Prime Minister Georgios Papandreou (the Elder) to discuss an application by a group of artists to build a residential community in a forested area outside Athens; in the account Papandreou hugs them, picks up the phone to the Agriculture Minister and instructs him to get the area zoned for building within a month. The community (“Καλλιτεχνουπολη”) now even has an official sign on the highway. The latter article notes that in 2001, the Municipality of Keratea in East Attica recorded 6,000 illegally built homes compared to 8,500 legal ones.
A newspaper article from last year (also in Greek) describes vividly the political interventions which prevented the enforcement of land zoning in Attica. When the demolition crews arrived to take down illegal homes which had been standing for 30 years and were declared illegal by the courts as far back as 1994, the local MP led emotional demonstrations by residents, the Interior Minister personally intervened to halt the demolition, and the regional authority warned that any more scheduled demolitions would be met by further public demonstrations. In other instances, MPs of all parties tabled amendments to legislation in order to prevent scheduled demolitions in their constituencies, one even legalising a number illegal cemeteries (another form of encroachment).
In recent years, central government has repeatedly overriden the rulings of the constitutional court intended to protect the coastal zones, including those included in the European Natura 2000 programme, by allowing municipalities to set up beachside facilities. Under the most recent legislative amendment, these facilities have been exempted from inspection, raising concerns for protected wildlife species and sensitive ecosystems.
Buried in a 7,500 page emergency omnibus bill of measures linked to completing the latest bailout review is a seemingly unrelated amendment which environmental group WWF warns could further undermine the current land classification scheme and result in the legalisation of large swathes of illegal build. [POSTSCRIPT: This amendment was removed from the final bill following criticism (according to Skai TV Eco News, 28 May 2016; however, the new law leaves considerable uncertainty around the status of forest maps, allowing plenty of potential for future abuse].
DISCLAIMER: The absence of several pages of citations will have alerted you to the fact that this is not a genuine academic article. The final section is factual, and hyperlinks throughout lead to genuine sources.
Michael Herzfeld’s “Welcome to Greece (but not to Europe)” is a case of “great article, lousy editing”. When I read the strapline, “Europe’s efforts to exclude Athens aren’t about migration or debt, they’re about the continent’s deep-seated racism toward its southern frontier state,” a tabloid version instinctively flashed before my eyes: “Harvard prof says, racist Europeans are bullying the Greeks (again)”.
Despite my gut reaction, the article is well worth reading. But reading it set me on a stream-of-consciousness journey through recent cultural experiences, which I’d like to take you on to illustrate a real phenomenon: well-meaning attempts to sway European opinion in favour of Greece are unintentionally cultivating their own version of this “racism” outside Greece, while arming a strand of political rhetoric within Greece that is un-European in its values, anti-European in its orientation and profoundly disempowering. If this worldview is allowed to prevail (and arguably it is too late to stop it) it could bring about its own dire results for Greece without “Europe” having to dirty its hands.
But let’s start by restoring to the Foreign Policy article its original intent. Herzfeld, a Professor of Anthropology, argues that the EU countries might be tempted to exclude Greece from the Schengen free movement zone because historically they have never considered Greeks to be fully European. Herzfeld’s argument is directed primarily at the readers in the European “core”, urging them to overcome this bias and keep Greece “in” for everyone’s benefit.
Herzfeld’s scholarly writing is rich and nuanced, informed by years of study and anthropological fieldwork in Greece, and this short opinion piece does not really do it justice. While his main is thrust is to “call out” the Europeans on their “racism”, he knows enough about how Greece works not to treat the Greeks like helpless victims. It is a question of emphasis, but one that is easily missed in a hasty reading.
So how did I get from this to the imaginary tabloid version?
When I read the article I was reminded of a BBC travel programme that I had watched just a few days before. The premise of “Greece with Simon Reeve” is that an “avuncular herbert” (as the host is aptly described in one review) goes on a gap-year-style exploration of Greece, “one of the most beautiful and troubled countries in Europe”. You get the idea: spectacular scenery, picturesque locals, with a smattering of current affairs and a social conscience. Entertaining, but perhaps more enjoyable if you’re not that familiar with the subject matter.
In one memorable segment, a group of bearded gun-toting Cretan shepherds
are emboldened after a stint of target shooting and a few shots of raki to expound on their belief that “what (the Germans) didn’t achieve by killing millions of people in World War II, they’re trying to achieve now by financial warfare”. Those crazy Cretans, eh! The voiceover has already informed us that due to the island’s strategic position in the Mediterranean the Cretan worldview has been shaped by centuries of conflict against would-be invaders. Maybe the hirsute noble savages were speaking truth to power? So the script left us thinking, at any rate, as their statements were left hanging in the air.
“Greece with… ” has not yet been broadcast in Greece. But coincidentally, within a couple of days of watching it, I also happened to witness on Greek TV Lakis Lazopoulos, a popular comedian and self-proclaimed “modern Aristophanes”, walk his audience through a very similar scenario to that espoused by the Cretan mountain men. With the aid of a Fox-News-style 3-D rendering of Greece as a concentration camp overseen by Kommandant (German Finance Minister) Schäuble and his local Quislings, Lazopoulos proceeded to tell us that he knew for a fact from “two well informed sources” that Germany had threatened to cut off Greece’s water supplies during the fraught bailout negotiations in July 2015 “just like they did to the prisoners in the camps”. The programme attracted 40% of the TV audience on the evening it was broadcast – the episode generated plenty of complaints, but not about that segment.
So there we go – from the sublime to the ridiculous in two easy steps.
I found myself wondering, as I watched “Greece with…”, whether those Cretan noble savages were in any way related to the fierce rebels who, when European farming subsidies were flowing plentiful, were filing applications for fictional olive groves, that, if real, would have stretched across the wine-dark sea all the way to Santorini? Or those who were ploughing the same subsidies into building narco-cartels in the uplands and stockpiling the extraordinary numbers of unlicensed guns described in the programme (modern AK-47s in this case, rather than the heirloom Luger that the Cretan host claimed was taken from the fleeing WWII occupiers)? Would they say the Germans were trying to destroy them then too, I wondered? Would they ever question the flow of money and patronage from Europe via the local political grandees – or were they just happy to be compliant and complicit political clients?
None of this entered into the script, where the bearded mountain men along with the other colourful character vignettes went largely unchallenged in their assertions. One was left with an image of the Greek people as latter-day Zorbas, lovable rogues perhaps, but fleeced by their corrupt elites and embattled by the austerity-loving Europeans. Now, Michael Herzfeld literally wrote the book on Cretan mountain men (The Poetics of Manhood: Contest and Identity in a Cretan Mountain Village), and the issues of complicity and patronage in EU-Greek relations are precisely the ones he raises his article, albeit focussing on the European side of the equation. (Our comedian friend of course, asks only the kind of leading questions that advance him along his conspiratorial narrative – “Coincidence?”).
I swing between the sublime and the ridiculous to illustrate a number of points. First, that the “racism” described in the Foreign Policy article is a much more subtle beast than the one that we can comfortably disown by associating it with a swastika tattoo on a snarling skinhead. The image of Greece at home and abroad is shaped as much by seemingly benign and well-intentioned popular entertainment products as it is by any European politician’s pronouncements – and arguably more so. I would hazard a guess that many more people watched “Greece with Simon Reeve” and talked about it round the watercooler than are ever likely to read the article in Foreign Policy beyond the strapline – even influential people. When the BBC informs us through the grinning floppy haired medium of Simon Reeve (or the husky Home Counties empathy of Joanna Lumley a couple of years ago) that Greece is a land of impulsive naïfs humiliated by the oppression of the phlegmatic Eurocrats and/or the Ottoman corruption of their own political masters, we tend to take it on authority – especially when it comes garnished with a smattering of quotable statistics on youth unemployment, road casualties and pollution.
Second, this is a two-way street. Out of this surreal array of representations, I can state pretty categorically that many more Greek people will have watched the idiot’s version of Greco-German relations than are likely to consume either Herzfeld or Reeve without some form of mediation (translation, abridgement or most likely paraphrase – and I am only focusing on the English-language media, if my German were better I’m sure I would be having a field day). But foreign commentary does not go unnoticed in Greece; it is monitored obsessively and is often used in the media to stir up popular sentiment, so it doesn’t take much of a logical leap to arrive at my imaginary tabloid headline. It is not unusual to find statements originating in Greece returning like a mangled boomerang through the crisis porn news cycle (remember “sex for a tyropita”?). A gently paternalistic view of Greece informs a defensive self-image, while the Greek sense of persecution feeds back into “racist” stereotypes of the Greeks.
The motif of national humiliation and victimhood, that idea that Greece is prevented for achieving its rightful destiny by malicious foreign interference (“we are special, that’s why they hate us”) is not new, nor is it the preserve of fringe groups like the Golden Dawn party. It is a dark aspect of our modern historical identity to which Greeks turn reflexively, regardless of individual political beliefs, particularly in times of crisis (a rich topic in itself, deserving of a separate discussion). A recent survey suggested that “competitive victimhood” (“my suffering is bigger than yours”) explains why casual anti-Semitism is so widespread – hence, using the Holocaust as a prop in a heavy-handed “satire” to illustrate the persecution of the Greeks is broadly tolerated. Lazopoulos himself is not just a household name, he is a friend of the government: he was personally introduced to François Hollande on a state visit to Athens, and half the cabinet attended the premiere of his last stage show in December.
In the political mainstream, consider the emotive language used by Alexis Tsipras in his referendum address last July: “the aim of some of our Partners and the Institutions… is, perhaps, the humiliation of an entire people” through “punishing and humiliating austerity”; and his right-wing nationalist coalition partner Panos Kammenos in the aftermath of the negotiations which followed, describing the result in terms of a “coup” by Germany and its allies, and repeated and persistent “blackmail” (which we observed at the time sounds in Greek very much like “rape”); or of Yanis Varoufakis’s favourite trope, “fiscal waterboarding” – the Greek people always at the sharp end of a transitive verb. Then reflect on how this sense of victimhood was fuelled by the Keynsian sympathy of Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz (example: “Greece, the Sacificial Lamb”), and the “imported” social media meme of #thisisacoup.
Now, as Greece finds itself once again threatened with exclusion from Europe, this time with more than 20,000 people (and counting) corralled within its borders in truly desperate conditions, the victim reflex re-engages. The Prime Minister rallied the domestic audience with the same familiar motif: “[w]e cannot have any responsibility-shirking bureaucrat or xenophobic government wagging the finger at us. No attack will be left unanswered and no action will be without consequences”. It’s a great populist message, because it deflects attention onto Europe’s failings and away from our own government’s mishandling and political manoeuvring. But it is also self-limiting: the best outcome we can expect from this narrative is a poor compromise after an “honest struggle”; and worse outcomes are also possible. Push us, and we may be “driven to act unilaterally,” our Immigration Minister warned. Whatever that is intended to mean, it does not sound pleasant, and given the realities of the situation it is hard to imagine Greece coming out the winner.
Let’s be clear: pointing out the dangers in our own national discourse in no way absolves anyone in Europe of their own un-European parochialism. Nor does it mean that Greece could or should be expected to contain a human migration on such a historical scale from encroaching on its neighbours’ manicured backyards. But once you start to ask the difficult questions, you realise that there are not always clear victims and perpetrators, and no one owns to moral high ground, not even the “birthplace of democracy”. Herzfeld again:
“If Greece remains solidly within EU structures, it can more easily probe that history. It can ask disturbing questions [about its treatment by the Europeans]. Inside Schengen, moreover, Greece can directly answer charges that it is not doing enough to stem the refugee tide, rather than be treated as a lost cause.”
This is why it is worth reading his article in full and being wary of some of the more misty-eyed portrayals of Greece. European “racism” does not give Greece a free pass, but nor will staying “in” be an easy option. But we (Greeks, Europeans) must resist the temptation to let a politically expedient notion of victimhood become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Carnival is almost upon us. Should you find yourself in the countryside between now and the beginning of Lent in mid-March you might experience something resembling a traditional Greek carnival celebration, complete with phallic implements, cross-dressing and animal-themed bawdy. If, like me, you grew up in a city, your experience will be much tamer, “westernised” and child-oriented: key elements include plastic clubs, streamers and confetti, and flammable store-bought costumes (actually ours were homemade, which I’d like to think were the envy of our friends!). Whatever the theme, carnival is a release-valve from the everyday, an opportunity to subvert the norm, and, engage in a Bakhtinian (if you’re pretentious) party before lent sets in.
If you’re planning to dress up and join in the transgressive fun, you had better start preparing your costume now. Why not take some tips from those who have been playing dress-up all year?
BOYS – “Military” Collection
This year’s surprise hit. Armchair war-gaming enthusiast Defence Minister Panos Kammenos did his best to squeeze into army fatigues at every opportunity, while PM Alexis Tsipras “pulled rank” to defeat him at “Armed Forces bingo”. Pick your wing-man and try your hand “up there with the best of the best”!
BOYS – “Farmer” Collection
The men of the moment, the farmers are taking the country by storm with their inventive and versatile looks, politically incorrect PR stunts and imaginative accessories/weapons. Are you an “anarchist” farmer kitted out for full biochemical warfare, or a “hipster” farmer direct from Brooklyn to audition for a modelling contract? There’s loads to choose from!
BOYS – “Establishment” Collection
While the PM and his posse go ostentatiously tie-less, the “establishment” appreciates that the necktie is one of the few means of expression remaining to the oppressed male minority. The “budget” costume option, can also be worn to weddings, funerals, court hearings etc.
GIRLS – “Role Models” Collection
Fed up with princesses and Little Red Riding Hoods? Try a modern girl’s costume. You don’t have to lose your femininity to go into (and out of) politics – just ask shape-shifting revolutionary Rachel Makri. You too can don the iconic red glove in solidarity with the darlings of the revolution, reinstated Finance Ministry cleaners turned court clerks, just like platinum-selling popular songbird Haroula Alexiou. Or you can play at being PM for a month, like Supreme Court President Vassiliki Thanou, and issue writs to anyone who disses you. And there is alway the perennial favourite for grown-up girls – the sexy key worker – this year’s model comes without drugs due to shortages.
UNISEX – “Humanitarian” Collection – NEW BIGGER RANGE!!
Fancy yourself a humanitarian for a day? Take your tips from these veterans in the cause of (posing with) the refugees, and bask in the warm glow of praise for the hard work of others. Outfits come in formal, beachwear and “off-duty celebrity” editions. Grannies and small brown children NOT supplied. No actual volunteering or crisis management experience required. Prior record of threatening to “flood Europe with jihadis” no disqualification. Celebrities by prior arrangement with media only. WARNING: Life vests may not function as advertised.
Main image of reveller dressed as politician with the sign “I voted for the memorandum” pelting himself with yoghurt, Kozani 2012, via rizosm.wordpress.com. Μασκαράς (maskarás, lit. carnivalist, denoting both disguise and lack of seriousness) is an insult that politicians are intimately familiar with.