Visit the blog
announces a new imprint

Search Articles

Search Authors

Advanced Search

Join our Mailing List
Wednesday, July 30, 2003


Diplomatic Rape

One of the shallowest, if most persistent, accusations against Greeks over the last two generations has, of course, been their alleged “anti-Americanism.” Because most Greeks have consistently disagreed (would that most Americans did) with salient aspects of US foreign policy over the last 35 years (counting conservatively), they are castigated as anti-American. It is irrelevant in this judgment against them that Greeks are essentially no different in their dissent from, say, Italians or Swedes (not to mention the French), Indians or Filipinos (not to mention South Koreans), South Africans or Angolans (not to mention the Sudanese), Brazilians, Chileans, or Argentineans, not to mention our closest neighbors, who, because of that unique sufferance, know us best, the Canadians and Mexicans (“Poor Mexico,” to echo the famously cynical but piercingly honest lament of that Marquezian patriarch, Porfirio Díaz, “so far from God and so close to the United States”). Year after year, however, Greeks are lambasted in the US media, whether by Fox News idiots or Pulitzer Prize-winners from the newspaper of record, for their anti-Americanism. It is more than a little revealing, therefore, to witness this “anti-Americanism” in action — or not.

But first, a question for the reader: What is the one thing that Belize, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burma, the Dominican Republic, Georgia, Haiti, Kazakhstan, Liberia, Sudan, Suriname, Uzbekistan, Turkey — and, oh yes, the two usual suspects from the axis of evil, Cuba and North Korea — have in common with Greece? (Hint: It’s not the fact that Cubans and Greeks usually make the top of the annual World Health Organization’s list of worst smokers.) Perplexed? Mystified? Confused? You can’t for the life of you begin to imagine what in the world Belize or Haiti or Kazakhstan or Liberia or Sudan or Uzbekistan or, of course, those evil axials, Cuba and North Korea, or any of the14 countries named above might have in common with Greece? (Balkan correspondences in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Turkey are, admittedly, easier to imagine.) It’s OK; I could never have figured it out myself. The answer is that, according to that immaculate wellspring of flawless intelligence and disinterested virtue, the United States Department of State — and its local legate in Athens, Ambassador Thomas Miller — Greece is a “Tier 3” offender in the international trade in human beings (which includes sexual slavery). In case you can’t translate the bureaucratese, what that means is that it is the only member of the European Union (indeed, with the exceptions of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Turkey, the only European nation) to be included in the category of worst offenders in this repellent and criminal practice.

Needless to say, I was pretty much dumbfounded when I read about the state department announcement in Kathimerini and the AP in early June. A long time ago (before the Soviet Union’s collapse), my wife had clued me in to the reality of sex trafficking in Greece, and to the fact that it was much more deeply rooted than even many Greeks have ever understood, when she had come back from one of her many treks into the country’s untraveled interior. In Xanthê, she came across a hotel occupied mostly by Dominican “bar girls” who had been lured to Greece by the promise of domestic employment. I would never in a million years have imagined Greece being the terminal in sex trafficking with Caribbean victims if she had not told me about it, and the fact that my American wife had discovered a side to Greek society, and to the exploitation and oppression therein, about which I was stupidly oblivious made me realize at the time that the only intelligent (and honorable) stance to follow in regard to any country — but especially one’s own — is to assume the worst, and then be pleasantly surprised if that is in fact not the case (although it often is).

Nevertheless, I know how difficult it is to suppress the sex trade in any country (I’m a New Yorker, after all); more important, I know that Greeks have (finally) taken this suppression seriously during the last few years. Which is why I was astonished to be told that Greece was either so incorrigible in its misconduct, or (in a sense, even worse) so complacent about its international (and moral) obligations, that it was on the same level with countries such as Belize, Burma (!), Georgia, Kazakhstan, Liberia (!!!), Sudan, or Uzbekistan, in which the concepts of both law and order are still so notional as to be meaningless. I mean, look at the list: remorseless dictatorship, civil war, social chaos, endemic political violence, and sheer, unmitigated brutality. I’m sorry, Greece (Simitis’s Greece, no less) might not be Switzerland, but Burma or Liberia?

And so, I waited anxiously for the next day’s papers (I’ve been living in Greece since May) for, first of all, further clarification of the story, and, secondly, for what I expected to be an explosion of outraged commentary and righteous indignation at what seemed, on the face of it at least, to be a highly implausible — not to say scandalous — accusation. In the event, the next day came and went, as did the day after, and the day after that, and the weeks following; and, in this country of supposedly reflexive, ubiquitous, quasi-mystical, and more or less innate anti-Americanism, the actual reaction to this story was…the silence of the lambs. Sure, there was some huffing and puffing, and the classic “yes, but…” kind of spineless journalistic commentary, but that was it. (I’ll get to the government’s reaction later.) Frankly, I was baffled. And since silence is more often than not the sign of culpability, this behavior was self-incriminating. Was I the only person who found this charge, at the very least, incongruous, and who wanted more — in fact, actual — proof? Wasn’t there any newspaper in Greece — or star TV journalist — to do its/her/his normal professional duty and investigate both the original report and the charges themselves? The answer, of course, is: What was I thinking? This was Greece, after all, with everything that entailed, including what passes as “journalism” here. As for kneejerk “anti-Americanism,” I guess it’s impossible when the Americans have already kneecapped you, and you just want to crawl away as quietly and inconspicuously as you can.

Nonetheless, US mastery at disinformation (not to mention out-and-out mendacity and institutionalized deception) being what it is, I suspected that what we faced here was the functional equivalent of Iraq’s notoriously immaterial weapons of mass destruction. (In the current edition of Harper’s, Lewis Lapham refers to “our secretaries of state and defense” as “dissembling mountebanks”; he means it, and I take it, as a literal description.) So, I decided to go right to the (presumptive) evidence offered by the prosecution: the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report, June 2003 (TIPR 2003), which is available from the department’s Website, You have to read it to believe it. (Everybody who’s interested should do so, but for those of you who have better things to do with your time than trawl the acid waters of state department hypocrisy, I’ll try to help.)

Just to get a sense of the enormity of the charge against Greece by the world’s self-appointed guardian of human rights and civic decency, Tier 1 — i.e., the nations that, according to the report, “fully comply” with the [US 2000 Trafficking Victims Protection] Act’s minimum standards” — includes Benin, Colombia, Ghana, Lithuania, Macedonia, Mauritius, Morocco, Poland, Taiwan, and, yes, the United Arab Emirates. Regarding this latter bastion of public morality and righteousness, I assume that the proconsular advantages of the American imperium in the Persian Gulf apparently include papal-like indulgences. As for Taiwan (!), the teeming back pages of sexual solicitations in New York’s Village Voice, and the city’s exploding Asian sex trade, leave me unconvinced indeed.

Colombia is a special case. It has, of course, been embroiled for many years in a combined narco- and civil war that has led to the mass exodus of its middle class because of the government’s patent inability to protect life and limb. That fact alone should normally make one skeptical about state department claims regarding its presumably exemplary performance on human trafficking. More to the point, however, Colombia brings to the fore one of the fundamental issues related to the worldwide trafficking in human beings: the continual global erosion of the rights won by workers over the last 150 years. The day before the state department announced its report, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions released its own annual survey on trade unionism worldwide (see the Financial Times, “Colombia tops danger list for trade union activity,” June 10). Although this issue is, by general acknowledgment, not high on the Bush administration’s list of priorities, even TIPR2003 cites the International Labor Organization’s assessment that human trafficking is the “underside of globalization” (p. 5). In fact, TIPR2003 states that: “Traffickers exploit impoverished and vulnerable individuals….In countries with chronic unemployment, widespread poverty or a lack of economic opportunities, traffickers use promises of higher wages and good working conditions in foreign countries to lure individuals….” ( p. 7). In other words, when (and where) labor legislation is weak, or merely offers formal and ostensible sanctions, without a dynamic structure of independent, self-generated, self-governing, and aggressive labor unions to act as countervailing economic agents and, even more important, as a substantive social resistance to the depredations of the “free market,” the free market degenerates into what it has been for most of human history: a slave bazaar.

À propos, the ICFTU reported that Colombia was the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists and union organizers last year (and for quite some time), with 184 assassinated, a gruesome tally that accounted for a staggering 86 percent of the global total of 213 murdered. Common sense tells us that a nation that cannot even protect its trade unionists can hardly be “fully compliant” with any kind of reasonably strict standards on human trafficking — although a recently elected right-wing president probably went a long way in making Colombia pure Tier 1 material in Washington’s eyes. (By the way, only the partisans of a peculiarly perverse, and contemptible, social vision would describe one of the consequences of sexual slavery or forced labor as “depriv[ing] countries of human capital” and exercising a “negative impact on…labor markets,” as TIPR2003 does on p. 10.)

I can’t make any judgments on the African nations in Tier 1, but I have no reason to doubt they’re doing whatever they can to contend with yet another of the social disasters that are wreaking havoc on that frightfully abused continent. Closer to home, however, I can, again, be skeptical about Lithuania, Poland, and, especially, Macedonia. As the problem of the sexual slave trade took on epidemic proportions in Europe following the collapse of the communist bloc, I, for one, am astounded that Lithuania and, in particular, Poland find themselves with a cleaner bill of health than France and Germany — unless, again, Lithuania and Poland’s recent rallying around the American flag’s planting in Iraq in opposition to the old Europeans bestows readymade (in the USA) virtue on their respective commonwealths. (I don’t buy it, however. There have been enough Polish emigrants in Greece during the last decade for me to assume that Poland has not been immune from the awful social disruptions, and sheer criminality, that such emigration always entails.)

As for Macedonia, it is apparently a uniquely heroic example of a tiny nation that has managed (somehow, in some way) to contend with a massive social calamity that has plagued the rest of the Balkans, and that no other Balkan nation has been able to control, let alone eradicate. But how is it, if I might ask, that this miniscule Balkan state, riven with profound ethnic divisions and, for that reason, incapable of exercising either the wide or the deep policing of its territory that suppression of human trafficking absolutely requires, has, according to the state department, been more effective than such Tier 2 countries as Finland and Canada?! (Yes, that’s right: according to Colin Powell, Macedonia has done more to suppress sexual slavery than Finland or Canada. We are obviously in cloud-cuckooland at this point.) Forgive me for posing such a ridiculously basic question, but how has a nation that is still today (unfortunately) a shotgun blast away from civil war — and is currently patrolled by the first EU peacekeeping force ever dispatched on such assignment — managed to deal so successfully with what is, by general agreement of every specialist on the subject, a particularly sophisticated criminal enterprise based, just like the drug trade in fact, on global networks of logistical support and, even worse, civic corruption?

#2, but trying harder
It gets worse. The Tier 2 countries that are all making “significant efforts” (according to the state department), and are therefore considerably more enlightened on this issue than Greece, are (in alphabetical order): Albania, Angola, Armenia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bolivia, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Cote d’Ivoire, Croatia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, Gabon, The Gambia, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Israel, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Kuwait, the Kyrgyz republic, Laos, Latvia, Lebanon, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Mexico, Moldova, Mozambique, Nepal, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia and Montenegro, Sierra Leone, the Slovak republic, Slovenia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Togo, Uganda, Ukraine, Venezuela, Vietnam, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. I list them all to give the full effect of what is being perpetrated here.

One needs to be a master interpreter of arcana (or, more simply, a state department casuist) to decode the various messages, threats, agendas, and sheer mystifications embedded in the list above. A few obvious questions/points stand out, however.

  • How can Thailand, which has become synonymous with sexual slavery throughout the world, and has virtually declared a state of siege, with death-squad-like police units operating throughout the country because of this crisis in its social constitution, not be included in Tier 3, let alone in a category with, again, Canada and Finland?

  • And since we’re on the subject, what can nations such as Canada and Finland, or Israel and Japan — or, for that matter, even Hungary, Brazil, Mexico, and South Africa — have in common with Albania, Belarus, China, the Kyrgyz republic, Moldova, Rwanda (!), Serbia and Montenegro, Sierra Leone, Tajikistan, and Zimbabwe?

  • On the subject of Serbia and Montenegro, how can Serbia, whose prime minister was recently assassinated by criminal gangs that effectively control the police and security organs of the state, and Montenegro, which is notorious as a transit- and origination-point for Balkan smuggling and various other illegal activities, be considered to be making “significant efforts” to comply with any standards of civic legality and criminal justice? (I will ignore the ugly fact that the precedents set by Serbia within the last decade regarding the abuse of women are as repulsive as they are, still, impossible to forget.) Moreover, regarding Montenegro, I quote from a recent article in The Economist (July 19, and appropriately entitled “Something Rotten”): “…Montenegro’s biggest scandal, which has convulsed the country since last November, concerns a woman from Moldova…who claims she fled from a Montenegrin brothel where she had been kept and abused, among others by top Montenegrin officials. The deputy state prosecutor was arrested on charges of involvement in sex trafficking. Officials admit that their country has been a conduit for traffickers but say they have taken robust measures to stop the trade. They also say that the Moldovan scandal has been manipulated, or even created, by the government’s enemies. But last month’s decision by the judiciary to drop the whole case has led to howls of protest, at home and abroad” (all italics are mine). Let me repeat: “…Montenegro’s biggest scandal, which has convulsed the country since last November” and has involved “top…officials,” including the country’s deputy prosecutor. Yet Montenegro, according to Colin Powell, is more conscientious than Greece in fighting sexual slavery and is indeed making “significant efforts” to become a Balkan oasis of civic rectitude. Obviously, the state department is among those who believe that the Montenegrin government’s “enemies” have “created” this scandal.

  • As for the on-again-off-again civil wars (and general mayhem) in Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or Sierra Leone, is further comment necessary? And does anyone seriously believe that the “legal” illegality in which the so-called governments of countries as varied as Belarus, Cambodia, Ukraine, and Zimbabwe function allow them to conscientiously “mak[e] significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance” with US legislation on human trafficking when they are still incapable of compliance with the basic provisions of our Bill of Rights?

  • And since we’re on the subject of so-called governments, does the state department think that everybody in the world is so congenitally stupid as to believe that the governments of Angola, Armenia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bolivia, Brunei, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, China, Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gabon, The Gambia, Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia, Jamaica, Kenya, Kuwait, the Kyrgyz republic, Laos, Lebanon, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Moldova, Mozambique, Nepal, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia and Montenegro, Sierra Leone, the Slovak republic, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Togo, Uganda, Ukraine, Venezuela, Vietnam, Zambia, Zimbabwe, are more conscientious in their obligations to their citizens and in their international responsibilities than the government of Greece?

Keeping up with the neighbors
Finally, there is the matter of the state department’s “assessment” of the specific regional context: Albania, Bulgaria, and Romania have all been placed in Tier 2, while Greece — that great evildoer — is a Tier 3 reprobate. I’m not about to pass judgment on Greece’s Balkan neighbors, who have had a hard enough time during the last decade and a half in their respective transitions from terror to normality. I can’t help but point out some facts about each, however, which, in any case, are common knowledge to anybody who’s read a newspaper in the last year.

Albania undoubtedly belongs in Tier 2. It has tried consistently over the last decade to establish a viable democratic framework for its political future, while at the same time radically reorganizing an inherited autarkic (and, therefore, shambolic) economy. Albanians are still contending with the consequences of Enver Hodja’s lunatic regime. Under the circumstances, they’ve done as well as can be expected; indeed, they’ve been impressive in their renovative persistence. They will need many more years, decades in fact, to finish the tasks before them, but who would begrudge them the time? What is relevant here is that, as with all the countries of formally existing socialism, the US has pressed its hegemonic case on Albania doggedly and unabashedly. It’s clear that the US has determined that the most susceptible — and therefore most pliant — nations on the Old Continent are those that were once Moscow’s captives and, for that very reason, can now easily be transformed into Washington’s hostages.

Earlier this year, and about 510 years after Columbus, Bulgaria (the former centuries-old, self-described younger “sibling” of Russia) discovered America (about the time that Colin Powell was counting votes in the Security Council and putting together his posse comitatus to ride into the Iraqi badlands). And just like Columbus, the Bulgarians proved to be thoroughly disoriented about where they had in fact landed. George Bush has sworn on a stack of bibles that they’ve actually reached the Promised Land; at the very least, they’re in Tier 2. It’ll take them a while longer, I suspect, before they’ve figured out that they’re on the far side of paradise, but what can you say about a country who’s current, democratically elected prime minister is its (former?) pretender to its (former?) throne?

As for Romania, still being bounced back and forth between Margaret Thatcher’s acolytes and Nicolae Ceausescu’s epigones, the spectacle is singularly nasty. How can you have anything but compassion for a country that was obviously so devastated by the United States’s favorite communist that it is still, literally, just trying to stand on its feet. The US has gone after Romania with particular calculation — and in a uniquely repulsive manner — and Romania has responded, although in doing so it has seriously threatened its much more basic, substantive, and innate links to the European Union. Desperation will do that to people. So, while they might not have a coherent economy or a democratic polity to speak of, or the social consensus needed to build both, Romanians can at least point with pride to their membership in Tier 2. It has, however, come at a high — and ugly — cost, demanded by the US. I’ll explain.

In 2001, after repeated criticism from the EU that the mass adoptions of its orphans verged on state-sponsored (or, at least, state-tolerated) child-trafficking, the Romanian government imposed a ban on international adoptions, which was due to end in June. The EU remained skeptical; it wanted Romania to prove that it was capable of ensuring not only the integrity of the adoption process — that is, the actual welfare of the children being adopted — but the fundamental institutional reform of that process, and of the entire system of child welfare in Romania. Romania has certainly made some significant progress, and recently passed new legislation, on both matters (but especially on the first, cracking down on what in fact had become an adoption market, worth roughly $100 million, in which children were literally sold over the Internet). Nevertheless, there is still much to be done.

There were two countries, however — Israel and, in particular, the United States — that were indignant at the original 2001 ban on international adoptions, and had consistently pressured Romania to lift it. During the last year and a half, US pressure has been unrelenting. Indeed, as recently as this April, Senators Larry Craig (R-Idaho) and Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana), co-chairs of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption, were in Bucharest, to show the flag, as it were, in support of a definitive end to the moratorium. As Senator Landrieu put it in her inimitably grotesque way, in a press conference held in Romania’s capital on April 15: “We think that the moratorium is not fair to children. Because what happens is, it limits their opportunities. We hope that…many children who are abandoned or…need…a home find a home in Romania. But I don’t think there’s any country that can adopt all of its children. So we want to leave opportunities for children to find a place somewhere in the world” (see report by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, April18). I can’t help but remark that only an American would refer to adoption — that is, the reconstitution of the fundamental human bond between child and parent — as an “opportunity.”

In the end, Romania capitulated to the land of opportunity. Although the EU’s representative in Bucharest warned the country not to lift the ban until it was certain that it had the administrative capacity to enforce its new child-welfare laws, the moratorium was officially lifted on June 1. A few days later, the state department came out with TIPR2003, in which Romania was praised for “making significant efforts to bring [itself] into compliance with [US] standards” on human trafficking.

Greek drama
Which leaves us with Greece and Tier 3. Here is what TIPR2003 has to say, in toto, about the relation of the former to the latter. I’ve put my comments and queries in italics and within brackets.

GREECE (Tier 3)
Greece is a destination and transit country for women and children trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. According to a government source, as many as 18,000 people were trafficked to Greece in 2002. Major countries of origin include Albania, Bulgaria, Moldova, Romania, Russia, and Ukraine [all of which, strangely enough, are Tier 2 countries]. Women from Asia, Africa and other countries are also trafficked to Greece, and in some cases are reportedly trafficked on to Cyprus, Turkey, and the Middle East. Child trafficking is a problem. While sources in Greece find that child trafficking has decreased, the problem persists and Albanian children are known to make up the majority of children trafficked for forced labor, begging, and stealing. Children from the Greek Roma community are also trafficked for labor.

[If child-trafficking has decreased, doesn’t that mean that the Greek government has done something right, even if only tangentially or accidentally? More to the point, doesn’t it mean that — if nothing else — Greece is “making significant efforts to bring {itself} into compliance” with Tier 2-level standards? Finally, doesn’t the fact that the report itself states that it is “Albanian children {who} make up the majority of children trafficked” indicate a need for increased protection of these children by the Albanian authorities as well as those of Greece?]

The Government of Greece does not fully comply with minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. The government showed a shift in political will to address trafficking through its recent comprehensive legislation on sex trafficking. However, the government has not yet effectively enforced the law. Victim assistance mechanisms have not yet been implemented and NGO cooperation remains weak. Moreover, trafficked children are reportedly treated by Greek authorities as either criminals or illegal aliens. One report claims that trafficked children are summarily arrested, deported and then dropped off and abandoned along the Albania-Greece border.

[Let me get this straight: “The Government of Greece does not fully comply with minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so” although it has “show{n} a shift in political will to address trafficking through its recent comprehensive legislation on sex trafficking”! Apparently — because, frankly, with this specious and purposely equivocal logic, I can’t tell — the problem is that “the government has not yet effectively enforced the law.” Except that, if this is indeed “recent…legislation,” what are the “benchmarks” (as Colin Powell would say) for judging “effective enforcement”? As for “NGO cooperation remain{ing} weak,”what can the government do about that? After all, “NGO” stands for “nongovernmental organization”! NGOs are, by definition, private agencies independent of government. And as for those McCarthyite “reportedly treated…” and “One report claims…,”they strategically beg the question, Reported by whom? Why doesn’t the state department name its sources? How can anyone check the veracity of — or contest — an anonymous report? (Anonymous accusation is, however, the fundament of arbitrary justice.)]

The Government of Greece did not conduct widespread [what is the definition of “widespread”]prevention campaigns. It did allow public space for a six week-long anti-slavery poster exhibition to raise awareness, and an anti-trafficking campaign on state-owned television. The government also funded a public service announcement which ran on seven Greek radio stations to educate the public about the problem, and funded one NGO in the amount of US $125,000 to create an anti-TIP campaign. The government did not sponsor prevention activities in source countries during the reporting period. The government’s new anti-trafficking legislation offers preventive strategies, but they are broad and at present, neither developed nor implemented. The government increased the number of border control agents.

[Only a schizoid can make sense of this section. Greece did not conduct “widespread” campaigns against human trafficking — but, according to the very next line, it did “allow public space for a six week-long anti-slavery poster exhibition to raise awareness….”(Why “allow,” by the way? Why not use the correct verb, “give”?) It also funded an anti-slavery campaign on public television. It also sponsored a series of public-service announcements on multiple radio outlets and, finally, it also gave $125,000 (a substantial grant in Greece) to an NGO to fund a campaign against human trafficking. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen any government-sponsored campaign in the United States — let alone any that’s comparable to the Greek one(s) — so I’m hopelessly confused as to how the state department can so shamelessly accuse Greece of dereliction of a duty that I haven’t seen the US perform.

And what does it mean that the Greek government did not sponsor prevention activities in source countries “during the reporting period.” Did it do so at some other time? Is there a reason it didn’t? Meanwhile, of course, we are told that Greece’s “new anti-trafficking legislation offers preventive strategies, but they are broad and at present, neither developed nor implemented.” Again, what does “broad” mean — and how can they be “developed or implemented” if they stem from “new…legislation.” Finally, what is one to make of the monumental non sequitur that, in “the reporting period,” Greece has “increased the number of border control agents”?!]

In October of 2002, the government passed new anti-trafficking legislation to criminalize and punish traffickers, as well as develop victim support, but there is no provision for labor trafficking. There have not been any prosecutions or convictions under the law’s criminal provisions, which became immediately effective upon passage last October. There were approximately 140 trafficking-related arrests under the new law, but there is [sic] no data yet on convictions. Lack of progress on arrests limits the ability to measure overall effectiveness of the new law. Prosecution of traffickers is limited due to a slow and inefficient judicial system. A training module on trafficking is given to new police recruits as part of their introductory training, while more senior police attend a five-day seminar on trafficking issues. Some NGOs report that local police are still often complicit and bribed by sex club owners. The Pan Hellenic Confederation of Police Officers publicly acknowledged the involvement of the police in networks that traffic women. To date, there are no convictions of police officers complicit in human trafficking. With the exception of regional working groups, bilateral engagement to date is poor with source countries such as Bulgaria, Albania and Moldova.

[While Greece’s “slow and inefficient judicial system” is a fact, and a cause of much grief to many Greeks for many decades, it is, for those reasons, utterly unrelated to any purported lack of commitment to fighting human trafficking. Greece’s judicial system is an institutional issue related to a fundamental administrative weakness of the Greek state, which has obviously plagued Greeks more than anybody else. As for the training and improbity of the Greek police, its inadequacy (in the former case) and reality (in the latter) are, again, symptoms of considerably deeper problems and issues that, actually, have been confronted systematically over the last couple of years, but, in any event, have nothing to do with human trafficking — as the decades-long saga of November 17 confirms.]

The provisions of the new anti-trafficking law outlining victim protection and assistance await a presidential decree, which is expected to be signed by the necessary ministers and published in June 2003. Minors trafficked into Greece for the purpose of forced labor and sexual exploitation are often detained by police as criminals. Those under 12 years old are placed in reception centers, while those as young as 13 have been put in jail for begging or illegal immigration. According to one NGO, the Greek government detains and deports children in groups and returns them to the Albanian border without ensuring their reception by Albanian authorities, nor their protection from re-trafficking. Child authorities in Thessaloniki reported the assisted repatriation of 191 trafficked children — between the ages of 5-17 years; however, few cases were reportedly conducted with advance notice to prepare the families and transport them safely. Some reports say that children were deported with less than 24 hours notice and without sufficient coordination on both sides of the border. To date, there are neither referral systems for victim assistance nor shelters for trafficked victims. The government reported that 62 victims were liberated from traffickers, and some of them were placed in battered women’s shelters. In general, temporary residence is legally allowed to victims who agree to testify against their traffickers, but only at the discretion of the prosecutor. Illegal aliens are deported, regardless of trafficking victim status. The government’s financial commitment to develop and implement the provisions of the new anti-trafficking law on victim support, such as shelters, medical and psychological assistance and protections from police detention and immediate deportation, awaits the presidential decree.

[Again, what can I say? Contradiction, inconsistency, and acidly bad faith. A “new anti-trafficking law outlining victim protection and assistance” has been passed but it “await[s] a presidential decree…to be signed [last month].” Yes, Greece is bureaucratic — but is that a sign of criminal indifference? “Minors trafficked into Greece…are often detained by police as criminals.” Bad coordination or lack of clarity in internal procedures perhaps? “Those under 12 years old are placed in reception centers, while those as young as 13 have been put in jail for begging or illegal immigration.” Coming from the only “civilized” nation in the world that’s abolished the distinction between minor and adult in its criminal proceedings, and put children at risk of execution, this accusation is breathtaking in its presumption. “According to one NGO, the Greek government detains and deports children in groups and returns them to the Albanian border without ensuring their reception by Albanian authorities, nor their protection from re-trafficking.” Which NGO? And is it true? Is it policy? Is it a matter, perhaps, of local authorities acting without prior consultation since, in the very next sentence, we are told that, “Child authorities in Thessaloniki reported the assisted repatriation of 191 trafficked children…,” although, again, this is immediately twisted into just a “few cases…reportedly conducted with advance notice to prepare…families and transport {children} safely.” And again: “Some reports say…”; “To date, there are neither…nor…”; “In general, temporary residence is legally allowed…but only at the discretion of….” And, of course, “The government’s financial commitment…awaits the presidential decree.” If there is any indisputable and consistent evidence in this “report” of a government that does “not fully comply with…minimum standards” on human trafficking, in addition to — because this is what seemingly defines Tier 3 culpability — “not making significant efforts to do so,” I’d appreciate being shown it.]

I hope the reader has forgiven me for what might seem scholasticism or pedantry, or just my thin skin, on this matter. As somebody who’s been publicly critical of Greek governments of every stripe and democratic inclination (or lack thereof) for roughly three decades, however, I take the accusations against Greece on this issue very seriously, since, directly or indirectly, they reflect on each Greek — and they certainly reflect on the integrity, reputation, and, yes, dignity of the country. There is actually much more I could have written about this report, and the shameless rationale behind it. As I said, however, readers can go through it themselves; I have no doubt they’ll be able to pick apart its transparent cynicism even better than I can. In the event, I have some concluding comments about this bald slander by the United States and its Athens embassy.

The indictment. If the UN, EU, Interpol, or any credible international NGO had issued this report, I would have been the first to pile on and batter the Greek government with it. Having been issued by George Bush’s state department, however, it is about as credible as…the man himself. I, for one, do not believe anything that originates from the US administration, which has proven before the world to be a morass of deceit and disinformation.

The perpetrators. The spread of this deceit (and, quite literally, vilification) has, as far as Greece is concerned, been the specific assignment of the US embassy in Athens, of course. I used to think the current US ambassador, Thomas Miller, was simply, as we say in Greek, grafikos (benign translation: eccentric) — someone comparable, say, to “King” Constantine — and I could never understand why Greeks took anything he said seriously. I stand corrected. This latest incident was obviously perpetrated with his active collusion. I was always extremely critical of Andreas Papandreou, but, on occasions like this, he is sorely missed. If nothing else, the late prime minister could have been counted on to give as good as he got from any US ambassador. Clearly, Mr. Miller has decided to define his mission in Greece according to the repugnant precedent of a certain John Peurifoy. Nobody, Greek or American, should allow such cavalier condescension to stand unchallenged.

One other thing: Mr. Miller’s spouse has been actively involved in combating what she sees as Greek forbearance of all kinds of social ills, from battered women to human trafficking. As I said at the outset of this article, I’ve gained tremendous insights into the country of my birth from my American wife, and so I can’t help but thoroughly endorse the advantages of an intelligent spouse. I suspect, however, that there is one, enormous, difference here between intelligent spouses: My wife is as critical (actually, much more so) of her native country as she is of the one she considers to be her adopted one. So, while I’m sure all Greeks sincerely thank Ms. Miller for her heartfelt concern for poor, benighted Hellas, I would suggest that this particular physician — Dr. Miller is a psychologist — heal herself first, or, more precisely, her own nation, which, under the administration her husband serves so loyally (and arrogantly), is on the verge of disemboweling any residual federal commitment to social progress, decency, equity, and justice achieved in the many years from FDR to LBJ.

The accomplices. It has been clear for quite some time now — specifically, since Bill Clinton used NATO to further “human rights” in Kosovo — that the international human-rights movement has been cynically and (as Iraq has shown) ruthlessly coopted by the United States. It is in fact a scandal, and a major issue, among human-rights activists and NGOs throughout the world. In the US, David Rieff — who supported armed Western intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo — has written perceptively about this fundamental incompatibility between justice, human rights, and (US-led) war in his most recent book, A Bed for the Night, as has New York Times reporter Chris Hedges, in his eloquent and moving War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. Last month, in a front-page essay in Le monde diplomatique’s English-language edition, the eminent British historian Eric Hobsbawm referred to this phenomenon as “an imperialism of human rights” (see “United States: Wider Still and Wider,” LMD, June 2003). The global human-rights movement cannot allow the US to appropriate its agenda after decades of struggle to make Washington accept that agenda. Washington is not — and cannot be — the arbiter of human rights in the world. That is why the UN and so many other international bodies exist, including the newly created International Criminal Court — which the US has mercilessly tried to destroy even before its founding. To allow the US to claim the mantle of chief international spokesperson for human rights is to guarantee, as surely as injustice follows empire, that human rights will be trampled upon anywhere, anytime, the US cares to ignore them — or “define” them according to its own purposes.

The victims. The Greek government, through its foreign minister, George Papandreou, was of course, “shocked, shocked” at the US report. “We are on the other side of the river, not where the report places us,” Mr. Papandreou said. “We have an obligation to improve our efforts to solve the problem, not because of this report or because some countries advise us to, but because we have a special responsibility toward these people. But under no circumstances do we accept being put in the category that the report places us” (Kathimerini, June 13). And what did the Greek government do to show its dismay, or anger, or offense? Nothing, of course. How could it, since it was to a real degree responsible for this outrage? (“Rather than focusing on the messenger, let’s focus on the problem itself,” Mr. Miller commented with mind-numbing chutzpah. Excuse me? The messenger is the problem.)

As everybody knows, Mr. Papandreou is the chief architect of Costas Simitis’s flagrantly pro-American policy. I think I know what Mr. Papandreou has gotten (and will get) out of it (which, actually, isn’t all that much), but I haven’t been able to figure out yet what Greece has gotten out of this thoroughly one-sided affair (which, yes, is decidedly looking more like rape than love). One thing is certain: on the eve of the European Union’s closing summit last month, which was meant to highlight — and celebrate — Greece’s presidency, the country was humiliated by its “best friend and ally.” With friends like this, who needs gunboats?

Which is, finally, why no one should be shocked if, through the machina of the American Deus, Greece ends up in Tier 2 next year. This was just a shot across the bow, to keep the locals from exceeding their fishing grounds, and to make sure they still understand — pretensions of European presidencies notwithstanding — who rules the seas: Poor Greece, so far from America and yet so close to the United States.

Peter Pappas is co-founder of
Page 1 of 1 pages