By George Koumoullis
‘Anti-Greek’ was a term of abuse the Greek Junta hurled at its critics in Greece and it still reverberates today.
RECENTLY I wrote on my Facebook page about the blatantly clear infiltration of extreme right elements into a widely supported nationalist sports club. My intention was not to disparage in any way the supporters of the club, many of whom I count as personal friends, but to criticise the people running the club because their tolerance is a form of encouragement of the extreme right.
I was pleasantly surprised that a big number of the club’s supporters agreed, via Facebook, with my analysis while those who disagreed expressed their views within the bounds of civility. There was, however, an unpleasant surprise. A former minister labelled me anti-Greek (anthellinas) because he disagreed with my analysis and attributed ulterior motives to me.
To be precise, during the 1967-74 dictatorship I was labelled anti-Greek many times by the supporters of the Greek Junta because I was writing articles in the only anti-junta newspaper of the time Ta Nea. I would never have believed, however, that such a label could be used in 2016 in Cyprus at a time when – according to political observers – democracy is at its peak (or are they mistaken?), while the Cyprus issue is on its deathbed, bleeding continuously for the entertainment, incidentally, of power-hungry show-offs.
The term ‘anti-Greek’ was very much in vogue during the dictatorship in Greece. The fascist government brandished the ‘anti-Greek’ label to justify the persecution of dissidents, leftists and their fellow-travellers. The impudent reaction of the former minister was not coincidental. It is a domestic product, 50 years old, sowed by the Junta and still cultivated by the local, extreme right.
‘Anti-Greek,’ according to the Junta, was the top Greek poet, Giorgos Seferis who, together with Odysseas Elitis, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. In 1969 Seferis spoke publicly for the first time against the Greek junta on BBC radio. The Junta immediately accused him of “anti-national” propaganda and took away his title of honorary ambassador. The Junta press attacked him mercilessly, using the most offensive epithets including “anti-Greek” and “worthless nobody”. What a paradox, what an absurdity, what insolence – the worthless dwarves, intellectually impotent, brain-damaged nonentities of fascism dismissing an intellectual giant as “a worthless nobody”! This was the colossal ingratitude and folly shown by the super-patriotic Greeks to the poet who had brought such honour to Greece.
Greece’s most famous composer, Mikis Theodorakis, was of course also an “anti-Greek”. Theodorakis, who among other things wrote the music for Seferis’ poem ‘Epiphania’, won international recognition for the music score of Zorba the Greek, directed by Michalis Cacoyiannis. With the imposition of the dictatorship in April 1967, he went on the run but was arrested in August. He was imprisoned and then deported to the Oropos military camp. While deported, he was vilified by the Junta press with the paper Eleftheros Kosmos declaring him one of the greatest “anti-Greeks”.
Greece’s top actress of all time, Melina Merkouri, was also inducted into the “anti-Greek” hall of fame. Her activities against the dictatorship pushed the Junta into taking away her Greek citizenship. Despite this, when she passed away, she was given a funeral of a head of state and her coffin was wrapped in the Greek flag, while the theatres of Broadway remained closed on the day of her funeral as a mark of respect. Strange as it may seem, anti-Greeks like Melina raise Hellenism to unprecedented heights.
The paranoid military dictatorship also banned the works of foreign “anti-Greek” writers, intellectuals and philosophers – in order to prevent them from poisoning Greek minds – such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Bertrand Russel, Roger Garaudy, Leo Tolstoy, Honore de Balzac, Vladimir Mayakovsky and Simone de Beauvoir to mention a few.
This tragic-comedy had a more tragic continuation in Cyprus during the dictatorship. By exploiting the back-tracking and fecklessness of the Cyprus government, the small-minded ‘nationalists’ – and the football clubs (both of the Right and Left) – the Junta managed to instil in the Greek Cypriot masses its world-view, that whoever disagreed with it was anti-Greek and a traitor. Education, the only force that could form an obstacle to the whirlwind of fascism, had been taken over by the Junta gangsters.
The dictatorship in Greece did not only cause the Cyprus tragedy and national humiliation. It also dealt a long-term blow to the democratic process, as the former minister’s reaction proves. A significant proportion of Cypriots, who studied in Greek universities during the dictatorship, had their thinking changed by the Junta’s propaganda, in the same way that the thinking of Germans was changed by Goebbels in Nazi Germany. We see the results of this brain-washing even today – whoever disagrees with them is christened immediately “clueless”, “stupid” or “anti-Greek”. As the French poet Paul Valery said, “Fascism starts with the premise that all others are idiots.”
As a parting shot, I would like to thank the former minister for placing me in the company of Seferis, Theodorakis, Merkouri, Sartre, Russel and Balzac. I must confess that when his faction declares me an “anti-Greek”, I take this as excessive praise that I do not really deserve. It nevertheless boosts my ego immeasurably.
George Koumoullis is an economist and social scientist