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Thursday, November 01, 2001


Strange Bedfellows: The Anti-American Alliance of Communists and Christians in Greece

No sooner had the major fires been extinguished from what was left of the World Trade Center towers in New York last month than the followers of the Greek communist party were out in full force in the streets of Athens protesting against “the US murderers” and “the terrorist Bush.” They did so because, according to the Communist Party of Greece, the September 11 attacks were the result of US global policies.

The view that the September 11 attacks were not a ruthless act committed by cold-blooded murderers was also echoed in statements made by Archbishop Christodoulos, primate of the Orthodox church in Greece. In a sermon delivered a few days after the tragic events, he interpreted these terrorist acts as a consequence of the inequality and injustice prevailing in the world.

The similarity of the views expressed by the Orthodox church of Greece and the communist party (KKE) concerning the attack against the WTC was one more sign of the gradual ideological convergence of the two organizations. Indeed, the rapprochement between the party and the Church constitutes one of the most remarkable political developments in Greece during the last decade. This ideological convergence encompasses issues such as globalization and the nature of the capitalist system, but above all it centers on the common dislike both groups feel for the West, and especially the United States.

The event that acted as a catalyst in bringing about this rapprochement was without a doubt the war in the former Yugoslavia. Throughout the 1990s, both organizations passionately supported Slobodan Milosevic’s policies in Bosnia and later Kosovo, while at the same time very strongly opposing NATO and US interference in the region.

The Greek communist party was one of the most vocal opponents of NATO’s actions during both the Bosnia and Kosovo wars, allegedly because they violated Serbian sovereignty and aimed to undermine Milosevic. The party also played a prominent role in organizing mass rallies and open-air concerts and meetings in which US-led “aggression” against Yugoslavia was denounced in the strongest terms. One of the party’s most noteworthy actions in this respect was the creation in November 2000 of a Balkan Anti-NATO Center in Thessaloniki whose aim was to coordinate anti-NATO activities in the region. The party was also one of Milosevic’s staunchest supporters, and, in January 2001, when Milosevic’s other political friends in Greece began to distance themselves from him, its general secretary, Aleka Papariga, visited him in Belgrade to show her party’s solidarity.

Equally strong was the identification of the Greek Orthodox church with Milosevic’s policies. For almost a decade, the Greek church provided the ideological legitimacy for war crimes in Bosnia. The Church even invited Radovan Karadzic, who has been indicted by the international tribunal at the Hague for war crimes, to visit Athens in the summer of 1993 to be honored at a rally in Piraeus. During the war in Bosnia, Greek Orthodox priests traveled regularly to the ravaged country to provide spiritual succor to the Bosnian Serb army in Sarajevo, Zvornik, and other areas.

Moreover, during the war in Kosovo, the US and its president were frequently denounced by Christodoulos and other Church dignitaries as “Demon” or “Satan,” and New York City as “the Whore of Babylon.” The archbishop saw the Western intervention in Kosovo as an attempt to eliminate Orthodoxy from every corner of Europe. The NATO attacks were thus, according to this line of argument, motivated by hatred against Orthodoxy and had as their aim the elimination of Orthodox religious monuments in the region!

If the love affair between Greek communists and the Orthodox church started with the war in the former Yugoslavia, it certainly did not end there. On the contrary, it extended to other issues. This was stressed by the Greek archbishop when, in an interview to the Sunday Vima early this year, he said that he finds the Communist Party of Greece’s geopolitical views on issues such as globalization, Kosovo, and US foreign policy, to be much closer to those of his Church than those of many other political parties.

At the same time, Archbishop Christodoulos has increasingly adopted left-wing concepts and the vocabulary of the left. In one of his most noteworthy speeches recently, he compared the US to Nazi Germany. In January 2000, during a speech to a fundamentalist group, he said that he was frightened by the expression, “new world order,” to describe the dominant US role in the world because, as he put it, the Nazis had used the same term. In the same speech, he accused former president Bill Clinton of being responsible for the mass slaughter of innocents, saying that he had blood on his hands. His comparison of the US with Nazi Germany was made more explicit a few days later when, during a sermon in Thessaloniki, he called Clinton an insidious fascist. The archbishop’s comments, of course, provoked strong protests by the US ambassador to Athens, Nicholas Burns.

The convergence of the Church’s positions with those of the communists may not simply be an opportunistic alliance reflecting a specific political conjuncture. Some very influential thinkers in the Church have recently argued that Orthodoxy represents the only true form of communism. Included in their ranks is Father George Metallinos, a theology professor at the University of Athens and frequent guest on television talk shows. According to this view, the persecution by the Bolsheviks of the Orthodox church in Russia was not an attempt to impose a secular order by violent means. Rather, it was an attempt by the German kaiser’s “agent,” Vladimir Lenin, to impose false communism on the country by destroying the true communism of the Orthodox church.

However, one of the most important elements fueling the Greek church’s strong anti-Western posture – and thus indirectly its ideological rapprochement with the equally anti-Western communist party – has been the appearance of a group of influential Neo-Orthodox thinkers who have revived and brought into focus the antagonism that existed between the Orthodox East and the Latin West during the Middle Ages. What these thinkers have done is to recast traditional religious conflicts in the contemporary idiom of world politics and to use them as the basis for advocating policy positions whose ultimate aim is the total separation of Greece from the West.

According to the Neo-Orthodox, Greece has nothing to gain from its contacts with the West. For them, just as for Muslim fundamentalists, the West is inferior, corrupt, and dominated by extreme political amoralism. Moreover, the West continues to perpetuate the legacy of hatred for the Orthodox church that started with the Great Schism and the filioque dispute, and culminated in the sacking of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204.

Thus, according to this view, Western hatred is primarily directed toward the Greeks, not only because of their religious beliefs but also because Greeks are the “inheritors” of the Byzantine empire. The West, particularly the United States, has been trying continuously to undermine Greek interests by helping Greece’s enemies, including Turkey, the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, the Bosnian Muslims, and the Albanians. Greece has been subjected to the ultimate degradation of having to rely on the West for its continued existence by pleading for Western protection against the Turks. All the misfortunes that have befallen Greeks during their recent history – from the Asia Minor catastrophe in 1922 to the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, and the resulting division of the island – have thus been due presumably to Greece’s failed attempt to imitate the West. The Greeks’ decline will not end, therefore, until they recognize their superiority as members of the Orthodox church.

More recently, in a column in Kathimerini, the newspaper of record for Greek conservatives, one of the more distinguished members of the movement, Professor Christos Gianaras, condoned the terrorist attacks against Washington and New York, and compared them to similar acts committed by the Greek fighters of the War of Independence of 1821! It is also of interest to note that, in some instances, relations between the communist party and Orthodoxy are not restricted to ideology but also extend to politics. Thus, one prominent member of the Neo-Orthodox movement, Kostas Zouraris, was included in the list of parliamentary candidates that the Greek communist party filed in the last elections.

According to both the Neo-Orthodox and the communist party, the rot in Greece will stop only when Greeks substitute the “servility” that characterizes their relationship with the West with the spirit of resistance against the latter’s immoral barbarism. Herein lies Greece’s path to salvation and moral rejuvenation. That day, unfortunately, may come much sooner than they think – with consequences, however, that no one can predict at the moment.

Takis Michas writes for the Greek daily Eleftherotypia and is a frequent contributor to The Wall Street Journal Europe. His book, The Unholy Alliance: Greece and Milosevic’s Serbia during the 1990s, will be published next year by Texas A&M University Press.
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