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Thursday, August 15, 2002


The Historic Success of Costas Simitis (and the Strange Refusal of Greeks to Acknowledge It)

Part 3: You Can Go Home Again: Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus

Costas Simitis does not fit the profile of the average Greek politician, or, for that matter, of most Western politicians. For most who followed his career after the reestablishment of democracy in Greece in 1974, he was either a cipher or a contradictory (indeed, Janus-like) figure. On the one hand, he was emblematic of the fundamentally progressive, constructive, reformative, modernizing, and, most of all, civic virtues inherent in his party. On the other hand – and more often than not – he symbolized the sheer futility of trying to survive in, let alone contest the terrain of, an apparently Third World-like, mass organization that was quintessentially populist, authoritarian, reflexively anti-Western (and, of course, anti-American), beholden to all kinds of guild and corporatist (as opposed to authentic class) interests, and, worst (and most irreducible) of all, the personal vehicle created by, and for the political aggrandizement of, one man: Andreas Papandreou. Greek parties have a sad history of serving as personal political vehicles, from Venizelos’s Liberals, to George Papandreou’s Center Union, to Karamanlis’s National Radical Union (and, to a certain extent, New Democracy). Rarely was a parliamentary (and therefore democratic) party so clearly and thoroughly the invention and continuing articulation of one man, however, as PASOK (Panellinio Sosialistiko Kinima, Panhellenic Socialist Movement) was during all the time that Andreas Papandreou led it – that is, was alive. Whenever Greek friends and I would gather in a cafe in Athens or in a restaurant in New York, or in a living-room in either city, and the conversation turned to Simitis, the question would almost immediately arise: “Ti thelei autos o anthropos s’auto to komma”? (What is this man doing in this party?) 

Dissent in power
Waiting for a chance, apparently. There were millions of stories of wonderment, I’m sure, the morning that Greeks around the world woke up to Simitis sitting in the prime minister’s chair (which had occasionally been a throne in the past); here is mine. I was in my office in New York, working at the Foundation for Hellenic Culture. Some time before, then-Prime Minister Papandreou had been rushed to the hospital. It became clear relatively soon that it was the end for “Andreas,” and so we all began waiting (many of us in increasingly depressive mood) for his “anointment” of a successor. I got a phone call; it was from Paris, from a friend and a well-known Greek writer, who told me that Papandreou – to the astonishment, I’m sure, of most in his party – had chosen Simitis. It might have been Andreas’s greatest gift to his people. My response to the news was genuine: “Einai i kuvernisi ton oneiron mas” (It’s the government of our dreams).

Not quite (but you can’t blame a man for dreaming). Politics, after all, is the art of the possible, and Simitis had been chosen by Papandreou to succeed him, in his party, his movement. So much for dreams. Nevertheless, Simitis survived the concerted efforts to oust him, took over PASOK’s leadership, and then – without the triumphalist fanfare that defines the esthetic of all victorious Greek politicians – did something unheard of: he quietly got down to work. Eight years later, the record of achievement is, by any objective definition, unusually impressive.

Simitis’s past has clearly determined his current actions and will undoubtedly continue to do so. For that reason, I want to recapitulate some points of his political life (since the word “career” is not only inapposite in his case but insulting); I have no intention of offering up a detailed biography. The man’s measure can be taken, in any event, by a few salient aspects.

Simitis, first of all – and, to my mind, centrally – is a legal academic who’s the son of a legal academic, which is to say that Simitis pere et fils were both professors of law before the younger one turned to electoral politics. This is not, to say the least, the conventional family portrait of a Greek prime minister or party leader. In addition, Simitis’s father and mother (according to many, the latter even more so) were highly committed left-wing activists (which also, by the way, does not conform to precedent). His father was head of the Piraeus bar for many years, while his mother was a steadfast feminist who led the (EAM-inspired) Panhellenic Union of Women for a time. It was no accident, therefore, when Simitis became one of the founders and secretary in 1965 of the Papanastasiou Society, arguably the most seminal initiative by the intellectual left in the postwar period (albeit short-lived because of events that overtook it). Put succinctly, the Papanastasiou Society (named after Alexandros Papanastasiou, the socialist head of government in the first Greek republic established in the aftermath of the Asia Minor Disaster) was an organization whose goal was a wide-ranging analysis of Greek society from the perspective of an independent left, not affiliated with the communist party and therefore not ideologically beholden to it. As I indicated, however, it was doomed to a brief existence since, within two years, the military overthrew the constitutional regime and imposed a dictatorship.

Following the colonels’ coup of April 21, 1967, the Papanastasiou Society transformed itself into Dimokratiki Amyna (Democratic Defense), the resistance organization distinguished by the sheer intellectual weight of its membership. This is not the place to enter into an analysis of the resistance against the military junta. Suffice it to say that Dimokratiki Amyna played a critical role in provoking an elemental ethical alienation of many Greeks from the dictatorship precisely because of the gravity attached to its members.

Composed entirely of intellectuals and academics – in virtually every case, therefore,
(pre)eminently bourgeois (the Greek word, astika, is actually much more precise in this case) elements of society – it directly gave the lie to the colonels’ claims that they had abolished democracy to “save” the “middle classes” from Bolshevism and an imminent proletarian dictatorship. Indeed, the poignancy felt by – and the stark moral dilemma brought home to – observers when the organization’s members were put on trial for a variety of charges (most of which today would be subsumed under the rubric of “terrorism”) were exactly those of bearing witness to former professors and “anthropoi tou pneumatos,” as the untranslatable Greek expression (which does not mean “people of spirit”) has it, resorting to making bombs because they felt so desperately that Greek society had reached a dead-end that was not only complete but unbreachable except by armed struggle. If there had been many doubters before, after the trial of Dimokratiki Amyna, it was clear to many (perhaps even a majority of) Greeks, especially of the liberal middle classes, that the junta had to be gotten rid of, one way or another. Whatever you thought of them, neither Costas Simitis nor any of his comrades looked, talked, or acted like Josef Stalin – or even Vladimir Lenin. The worst you could say about them, in fact, was that they reminded one of…Alexandros Papanastasiou.

In the event, Simitis escaped from Greece before being convicted of arson and use of explosives. In Germany, where he had studied (in addition to the London School of Economics), he became a professor of law; as soon as the junta collapsed, however, he returned to Greece, where he became a founder of PASOK (co-authoring its charter) and a member of its first central committee and executive bureau.

Within a year of its founding – officially as a merging of Dimokratiki Amyna into Andreas Papandreou’s PAK (Panellinio Apeleutherotiko Kinima, Panhellenic Liberation Movement) – virtually all of PASOK’s founding members from Dimokratiki Amyna were purged (and, in effect, never heard from again in Greek politics). Welcome to PASOK! That initial “cleansing” (to be followed by many others) erased any doubts in anyone’s mind – in case anybody had any – as to how PASOK was going to be run and (the only thing that mattered, really) who ran it. PASOK’s rank and file might have believed that the party was founded to undertake the socialist transformation of Greece, but its fundamental reason for being was to elect Andreas Papandreou the country’s prime minister. Indeed, PASOK’s misfortune under Papandreou was to confuse the latter with the former.

There were, are, and will always be many extremely intelligent and supremely idealistic people in PASOK. Looking back on the Eighties, I realize now that that was the answer to the oft-asked question of my friends and myself as to what a nice (read: not only genuinely left-wing but also decent) guy like Simitis was doing in a place like PASOK. It seems that reform is very much like revolution in one way: they both demand patience. Simitis – in addition to other colleagues in PASOK, notably Thodoros Pangalos and Vasso Papandreou (no relation to the late prime minister) – withstood the slings and arrows of the outrageous insults hurled against him, both inside and outside his party, because, for some reason, somehow, in some way, which the rest of us not only could not see but could not even imagine, he thought that, yes, power is possible even for those who do not believe in it.

Dissent is an extremely potent weapon when it’s reinforced by an unshakeable resolve that truth must not only continually speak to power, but that power itself can ultimately be gained by speaking the truth. Before becoming prime minister, and then head of his party, Simitis was most famous – notorious, to many – in his role as PASOK’s supreme dissenter. He resigned from PASOK’s executive bureau in 1979 and, for that reason, was excluded from the candidates’ list in the 1981 election that brought the party to power. Indeed, although PASOK was electing candidates from the 1974 elections onward, Simitis did not finally gain a parliamentary seat until 1985. Moreover, on the eve of his rise to prime minister, in 1995, Simitis actually resigned the dual portfolios of the ministries of industry and commerce he was holding at the time. In all cases in which he chose to separate himself from the party’s prevailing position(s), his disagreement was directly with Andreas Papandreou.

Yet, he never walked away. Some people called it cynicism. Anyone who has observed Simitis for more than a few minutes knows how absurd, even malicious, such an accusation is. It was simply faith, and a very peculiar left-wing faith at that, in a process, in the knowledge that history might or might not have its own reason, but that it must always be contested, that you do not walk away from political responsibility if political responsibility has been your whole life.

Finally – and this must be said, because nothing so became his life as the extraordinarily beneficent way in which it ended – Simitis obviously had an enormous amount of faith in Papandreou. He not only respected Papandreou’s razor-sharp intelligence, but, in the end, had also clearly plumbed the depths of Papandreou’s profound concern for Greece. He clearly felt that, when the time came, Andreas would sacrifice neither his name nor his party – nor, most important, his country – to a successor that was incapable of bearing the weight with which he would be burdened. Simitis’s belief in Papandreou speaks eloquent volumes about the latter and his devotion to the continuing project to ensure Greece’s ongoing democratization.

Now that we’ve built the house, let’s go meet some neighbors
The most remarkable thing about peace is that it doesn’t require much effort. Pace the politicians, peace thrives on lethargy – and also, obviously, on confidence in oneself that translates into an indifference to, and even contempt for, proving the importance of one’s own existence. It’s no accident, after all, that the term used by the “conflict-resolution” wonks to describe the process of reconciliation – or even initiation of a mere approach between two foes – is “confidence-building measures.”

Confidence precludes complexes of both inferiority and superiority. It speaks to a serenity and composure that defines lucid thought, rational deliberation, and judicious action. It defines the entity that has no need to come to its senses because it is in fact in its senses. For all these reasons, of course, and many others, it is a rarer phenomenon in the affairs of nations than in those of individuals.

There’s not much to say about the relations among Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus that hasn’t been said already. One fact is inescapable: almost 30 years after Cyprus’s invasion by Turkey because of an attempted (and bloody) coup by Greece whose intent was to destroy Cypriot democracy, these relations are the political equivalent of a dog’s breakfast. What is genuinely tragic for the three countries is that the major reasons for the continuation of this untenable situation (and it is fundamentally untenable for neighboring nations to have essentially no relations) are no longer valid – with the self-evident exception of the continuing occupation of roughly 40 percent of Cyprus by Turkish troops.

The problem with dictatorships, however, even those masquerading in “constitutional” garb, as far as international relations are concerned – and as the United States is now learning in Pakistan – is that they are always running scared. Precisely because they have no popular mandate, they are frozen in place, incapable of moving forward on any critical issue requiring “compromise” with another nation. Indeed, a military dictatorship is, in that sense, even worse than a “civilian” one since the military is, by definition, considered in every country to be the guardian of national “honor” and “sovereignty,” and so cannot be seen to be failing in this, its most irreducible responsibility. It’s no accident that disastrous foreign adventures lead to the collapse of military dictatorships more often than internal opposition: it took about a year from defeat in the Falklands war to the collapse of Argentina’s junta; it took just a few days from the (first) Turkish invasion of Cyprus to the Greek dictatorship’s implosion. Rightly or wrongly (mostly the latter), most people look on soldiers as paragons of national integrity; when they fail in that role, they have failed utterly, in every role.

By that admittedly strained and impoverished standard of governance, Turkey’s military is a “success” – or, more precisely, not a failure. Beauty, of course, is in the eyes of the beholder. I will confess to my prejudices at the outset. As opposed to its breathless admirers in the US state department and, even more, department of defense, not to mention those academics who should really know better (Bernard Lewis, most famously), I’ve never been enamored of the Kemalist model. Indeed, I believe that Mustafa Kemal bequeathed his country a sorry legacy that must surely be overcome some day. It is all well and good to create a secular and “Western” society (I think most readers of this series know by now how I feel about that), but doing so at gunpoint simply represses and postpones the inevitable conflict, it does not settle it. Indeed, repression guarantees that the issue will come back, either to haunt you (Algeria, Egypt, Palestine, and, of course, Afghanistan) or destroy you (Iran). For the last decade, Turkey’s military – that is, its real – rulers have been banning one Islamic party after another, and yet Islamism itself cannot be banned, just as no idea or definition of society can as long as there are human beings who will cling to it with every ounce of their resistance. (This, by the way, is also something that George W. Bush apparently has a hard time understanding.) Secularism is never a permanent option outside a democratic framework; the most secular societies in the world are also the most democratic. (I anticipate the objection of “actually existing socialism” – whether in its Cuban or, infinitely more grotesque, North Korean variant – by arguing that, as with so many other social issues, the authentic depth of secularism in those countries cannot be judged under conditions of repression, even if inconstant.)

Which, of course, leads to the fatal flaw of the Kemalist “constitution”: the notion that secularism, feminism, “Westernization,” or, most absurdly of all, “freedom” and “democracy” can be adjudicated or, more accurately, “presided over” by generals. I don’t think I need to spend much time on this transparent fraud and conspicuous contradiction. Most people nowadays know that the notion of “guided democracy” is about as close to genuine democracy as a guide dog is to authentic human sight. In the event, the rationale used by Kemalists that Turkey has not gone through the civil wars or dictatorships (or both) that ravaged those “other” (once-) underdeveloped European nations – Spain, Portugal, and Greece – is as specious as it is pathetic.

Yes, Spain and Greece went through brutal civil wars (much more brutal in the former case) and all three Mediterranean nations had to contend with decades of dictatorship (at least in Iberia), but that is actually the point. There is always a price to be paid for resolving inherent social conflict and contradiction. Spain, Portugal, and Greece paid that price and moved on a generation ago. Turkey has never stopped paying that price – from an elected prime minister hanged in 1960 to the street battles between fascist Grey Wolves and their leftist opponents in the Seventies to the Kurdish insurgency (which, of course, is not a “civil war” but a matter of “internal security”) in the Nineties, and through all the coups, semi-coups, and quasi-coups of the Turkish general staff in between and since the time Mustafa Kemal was laid out in his Lenin-like mausoleum. The fact is that Turkey remains, over 80 years after the dissolution of the Ottoman empire and the founding of the republic, an incompletely democratic state – which is to say a failed one. Put another way, Costas Simitis was elected to govern Greece; does anybody have the slightest doubt that Turkey’s real governors remain self-elected?

My intention is not to bury Turkey, however. On the contrary, I believe that it has reached a critical stage – and it is in Greece’s most basic national interest to assist Turkey in any way it can to move on, democratically and peacefully, to become a fully representative state, whose government is, to use the American expression, one of laws and not of men (or women, as in the case of the execrable Tansu Ciller). Nonetheless, one must be realistic about one’s interlocutor – and, yes, I will say it: I do not consider Turkey to be an “enemy” of Greece anymore (if it ever really was), but, at the most, a kind of “challenger,” whose “challenge,” however, says more about its own lack of psychological confidence than it does about any real threat that it poses to Greece. Indeed, one of the most astute aspects of Costas Simitis’s policy – developed with the assistance, first, of Thodoros Pangalos and, later, George Papandreou – toward Turkey is precisely that it is not handicapped by hoary (and, for that reason, disabling) notions of the country as a “traditional enemy” or, even worse, as an eternal one.

Pragmatism, however, demands that we recognize that Turkey is not Switzerland, and that as Greece proceeds to a full reconciliation with its erstwhile adversary, it will be dealing with a continually fluid, and more than occasionally volatile, situation, which it will have to negotiate with consummate skill and (here’s that word again) confidence in its own strength and resiliency as a society. I genuinely believe that there is nothing to be afraid of from Turkey anymore, but that does not mean that, in this as in so many other cases of inter-state diplomacy, you do not anticipate every possible scenario – even the most horrific.

The point is not to dwell on the horror, especially when it is more unlikely than any other alternative; the point is also not to be paralyzed by the horror – either future or past. Ever since Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus, the one word that has defined the Greek-Turkish-Cypriot discourse has been “Attila.” Well, the time comes when even language has to be consigned to the dustbin of history – or, at least, to history’s archives. When certain words and phrases – Cold War, “Are you now or have you ever been…,” dominoes, Evil Empire, Axis of Evil, or, in the Greek case, Megali Idea (Great Idea, i.e., the notion of a territorially “Greater Greece”), “pali me chronia me kairous…,” chamenes patrides (lost homelands), Attila – govern, indeed rule, at the exclusion of all other words and phrases, and ideas and truths and facts and possibilities, societies become prisons (or madhouses). Freedom of speech is meaningless without the freedom from certain kinds of speech, as well as the freedom of different kinds of speech. In Greece, the Attila discourse, if I may call it that, has reached a cul-de-sac. It has led nowhere and can lead nowhere, except into an increasingly irrational, and ultimately psychotic, introversion and delusions of (unending) persecution and martyrdom. (I will let the reader draw her/his own conclusions from the comparison with that other well-known Balkan martyrology – of the Serbs this time – called the Kosovo or “Field of Blackbirds” discourse.)

Besides, the sad thing about martyrs is that you find them on every side of every battle. If there was an Attila – and there was – it was only because he had Greek collaborators; indeed, it was the Greeks who paved the road on which he trod unswervingly to Cyprus. It’s natural that Greeks as a whole quickly forgot, or elided, their own complicity in Cyprus’s devastation and, in a classic example of bad faith, threw all the weight of that destruction on Turkey. Most countries are good at forgetting; it’s a commonplace that the notion of nationhood requires amnesia (of acts perpetrated against others) as much as memory (of acts perpetrated against oneself). So, there’s nothing unusual in Greeks’ psychic self-defense; I would only suggest that, at this point, it would help everyone – but especially Cyprus – if Greek amnesia on the subject of 1974 was as generous to Turks as it is to Greeks.

If for no other reason than it allows one to reimagine another world in the part of the world in which the three countries find themselves. I began this series by citing, and repeated above, the verse, “pali me chronia me kairous, pali dika mas tha’nai” (“again, with the passing of years and time, it will all be ours again”). To the non-Greek who doesn’t understand its meaning, this verse speaks to a presumptively “divine” promise that, one day, Istanbul (nee Constantinople nee Byzantium) as well as, implicitly at least, all of Turkey (nee Ottoman empire nee Byzantium nee Alexander’s Hellenistic oikoumene nee Ionia and points east) will once again revert to “Greece” (nee Byzantium nee Alexander’s Hellenistic oikoumene nee the classical light of the world and womb of Western culture). The reader, I hope, will now understand why I initially referred to this “augury” as a sadly lunatic incantation; in its very recitation lurks a schizophrenia beyond remedy (and, of course, a malign nationalism beyond reason).

I would propose an emendation, however, that is not only feasible, but might help us bring some of those who believe in the original verse back to lucidity and the real world: “pali me chronia me kairous, pali olonon tha einai.” This simple replacement of “dika mas” (ours) with “olonon” (everyone’s) not only heralds a different vision of Greek-Turkish-Cypriot relations, but points directly to the one institution that will in fact make this “dream” a reality: the European Union (EU).

For good or ill, ideology can never withstand reality. We are living through the twilight of the tourkofagous (Turk-eaters). The world has its own logic. Turkey will join the European Union, sooner rather than later; indeed, Turkey should join the European Union, and Greece should do everything it can to ensure that it does – within, of course, the basic framework and rules of what is a transparent community of fully democratic nations, moving unceasingly to more and more complete integration. There’s only one legitimate and viable option for a united and free Cyprus, in which all of its citizens can move freely about their own island; only one hope for the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of Greek refugees from Istanbul and Izmir and Bursa to actually return to and live, if the spirit moves them, in their ancestral lands; only one possibility for the descendants of Turkish refugees from Crete and Salonika and Epirus to come back to and settle, if they so desire, in the birthplaces of their ancestors. This is not a dream; it is the irrefutable logic and uncontrollable dynamic of European integration.

Fortunately, not only for Greece, but for Cyprus and Turkey, Costas Simitis is at the helm of the Greek government at the moment. His domestic achievements will not outlive him, however, if he does not seize this rare opportunity to finally bridge what has become an irrational and debilitating chasm between Turkey and Greece. A few years after the Asia Minor Disaster, Kemal and Venizelos attempted a rapprochement between the two formerly warring nations; it did not lead to any permanent reconciliation, for a variety of reasons (the era was not propitious in any case). It is now long past time that this historical chapter between these two fundamentally related nations is closed, and that a new, and infinitely more natural, one is opened. There is in fact no other foreign-policy issue that is so central to the country’s welfare and future that the generation of the Sixties now in power in Greece must resolve.

Simitis is basking in the glow of an international respect not enjoyed by a Greek since the glory days of Constantine Karamanlis. He is taken seriously, and he is listened to. It would be folly for him to be timid on this matter. Indeed, if there is one criticism that can fairly be made of Simitis, it is precisely his timidity (on matters ranging from Olympic Airways to PASOK’s apparatchiks to the Bush administration), although he must know full well that he has a vast consensus of the Greek electorate supporting him on all these issues. I have no doubt in fact that it will support him on this one as well (despite the mobilizations of the Church or sundry other nationalist “irreconcilables”).

In 20 years, Greeks will mark the hundredth anniversary of the Asia Minor Disaster; it will be followed a year later by the centenary of that Treaty of Lausanne that legitimized ethnic cleansing throughout the Balkans. Both of my parents’ families, along with millions of other human beings, lost their homelands following that Westphalian “treaty,” of which it can truly be said that they made a desert and called it peace. I genuinely believe that, 20 years from now, Greeks and Turks and Cypriots will be able to reverse the road to prosfygia (refugee existence) taken by their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Not only will they be able to go home again, but some of them actually will – and not to “reclaim” any chamenes patrides, but simply to affirm that they were never lost, but were just waiting for more decent times to welcome back those who had been indecently cast out.

Peter Pappas is co-founder of
Thursday, August 01, 2002


The Historic Success of Costas Simitis (and the Strange Refusal of Greeks to Acknowledge It)

Part 2: The Ayatollahization of Greece

The struggle against American aggression, greed, plans and policies will be counted as a jihad, and anybody who is killed on that path is a martyr.
– Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme religious leader

Between the time I began writing the first part of this series and the composition of this second part, several names that were unknown to Greeks have now become the subject of conversation in practically every home in the country; two names, especially – and the family, and broader, histories they represent – have focused everyone’s obsessive attention: Xiros and Yiotopoulos. Indeed, the invocation of these two names and, more important, their pairing – which is to say, the ideological, social, and, in the end, criminal and homicidal migration from one to the other, and back again – encapsulate, not simply an extraordinary and profoundly tragic tale (chiefly for most of the victims of this coupling), but a summation of much that has gone wrong in Greek society in the last quarter of a century.

From the Fourth International to the Second Coming
The family name, Xiros, first came into notoriety, of course, at the end of June attached to the first name, Savas. Almost three weeks later, as if in some Biblical recitation, Savas led to Christodoulos, who led to Vasilis, and, together, the brothers Xiros (all sons of Triantafyllos), along with their confederates, led to the genuinely Dostoevskian (self-) creation that answered (if only covertly for many years) to the name, Alexandros Yiotopoulos, aka Michalis Economou, son of Dimitris, aka “Witte.” Just when it seemed that Greece was on the threshold of the new millennium, about to join the vanguard of European modernity and enlightenment, there broke the story of the year (which, in turn, will undoubtedly lead to “the trial of the twentieth century”) that reminded us all of how fundamentally rooted this nation still is in a reality that makes the nineteenth-century Russian novel read as if it were yesterday’s Athenian press. Fathers and sons, indeed!

When I began this series, I had no intention of discussing November 17. The apparent penetration (and, if current police developments continue apace, destruction) of the terrorist group after 27 years is, in any case, a thoroughly separate issue from those that concern me here – not to mention that November 17, as a whole, is a subject that requires its own analysis and sober study. There is, however, one salient aspect about the revelations that have poured forth from Athens police headquarters in the last month that correspond almost preternaturally (and frighteningly) to this series’ overarching argument: namely, religion’s responsibility in fostering a climate that has subverted and deformed the democratic nature of political and civic discourse in Greece over the last two decades.

When Savas Xiros was arrested, there was a kind of collective gasp in this country (followed by conspicuous disbelief) when the police informed the public that this alleged terrorist was an iconographer and son of an Orthodox priest. When the arrest of Savas was followed by the arrest, and subsequent indictments, of his brothers, Christodoulos and Vasilis, for multiple acts of murder, attempted murder, robbery, and other crimes going back 17 years, the unspoken but obvious question was (and remains): What kind of moral upbringing were these three sons of an Orthodox priest given that would have allowed them to contemplate, let alone execute, such cold-blooded and, with the obvious exception of the robberies, fundamentally pointless and gratuitous crimes? (The Xiroses have not been implicated in the first two November 17 murders – of CIA Athens station chief Richard Welch and the junta’s police torturer, Evangelos Mallios – which, as most objective observers agree, were perceived by many, if not most, Greeks at the time as acts of moral retribution for other crimes – of state terrorism – that had gone unpunished.) Following the revelation, however, on the same day that Christodoulos and Vasilis Xiros (as well as Dionysis Georgiades) were indicted, that the police had arrested November 17’s leader and “kathodiyiti” – a heavily freighted term in the history of Greek leftist practice that can be (poorly) translated as “instructor” – Alexandros Yiotopoulos, the Xiros brothers’ involvement in the organization suddenly became even more bizarre. It is in fact harder to imagine two more different family backgrounds than those bearing the names of Xiros and Yiotopoulos.

The Xiroses are three of 10 siblings, all the children of Father Triantafyllos Xiros. It is a relatively humble family and, in the general parlance of friends, neighbors, and acquaintances, a “good” and “quiet” one – without any indication ever given, apparently, of the murderous activities of the three brothers. There is really not much more to say. Alexandros Yiotopoulos, however, is decidedly another story – and, in a sense, the one so many of us expected to hear when (and if) the truth of November 17’s operational and ideological details were ever revealed to the world.

As I indicated before, Alexandros is the radical scion of Dimitris Yiotopoulos, a preeminent figure, if not quite a legend, of the Greek left, who, during the height of his revolutionary activities in the Thirties and Forties, not only in Greece but throughout the world, was known as Witte. Leader of the archeiomarxistes (the “archival Marxists,” who antedated the official formation and became profoundly critical of the Communist Party of Greece), Spanish Civil War veteran, follower and collaborator for a time of Leon Trotsky, and renowned left-wing opponent of the Soviet-led Greek communists (to the point that he sided with the government in the Greek Civil War), Yiotopoulos died in 1965, bestowing a family legacy to his child that stands at polar opposites from the one bequeathed to his sons by patir Triantafyllos Xiros.

Alexandros himself had a conspicuous, if not necessarily compelling, political profile during his student days in the Sixties in Paris, where he was born in 1944. At one point, he was apparently vice-president of the association of Greek university students of Paris, the organization founded by no less a historical figure than Adamantios Korais! He also “participated” (did anyone not participate at that time?) in the revolt of May ’68 and was tried in absentia by the Greek junta for antidictatorial activities (under the name of Yiatropoulos). After the Greek dictatorship fell in 1974, however, Yiotopoulos apparently disappeared into the ideological woodwork.

What is noteworthy in all of this is that the only other person arrested for alleged membership in November 17 who had a comparable – and in many ways much more serious – history of political militancy is Theologos Psaradellis, a well-known Greek Trotskyist who was a political prisoner during the colonels’ regime. Psaradellis has only been charged with taking part in two robberies, however (and has admitted participation in just one). What makes his case strange is that Psaradellis was known during the dictatorship for his opposition to the faction in his own group of so-called “bombers,” that is, members who advocated terrorist activities against the junta. Generally speaking, opposition to terrorism – going back, of course, to the famous dispute between Marx and Bakunin, which ultimately led to the latter’s expulsion from the First International (for this and other reasons), along with the subsequent, almost ritual, denunciation of anarchism by the Marxist left – is a canonical principle shared by all orthodox Marxists, whether doctrinaire CPers, Trotskysists, Maoists, or Fidelistas.

I suspect, however, that this is precisely the key to November 17. The opposition to terrorism by orthodox Marxists (and most leftists, in fact) gave birth to a terrorist organization that was rhetorically “left-wing” but could embrace within its intellectual perception of the world (such as it was) another kind of orthodox ideological practice – a radically different kind of fundamentalism.

A personal parenthesis

The conflict between liberal democracy and Marxism-Leninism was between ideologies which, despite their major differences, ostensibly shared ultimate goals of freedom, equality and prosperity….A Western democrat could carry on an intellectual debate with a Soviet Marxist.
– Samuel P. Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations,” Foreign Affairs, summer 1993, 72.3, p. 48.

I’ve never taken the work of Samuel Huntington very seriously. Indeed, in the fall of 1993, a few months after the notorious article from which I’ve quoted first came out, I found myself trying to put it in some kind of context at a meeting in Athens. I had recently been appointed director of the “North American” branch of the newly established Foundation for Hellenic Culture. The directors of the several branches had been brought together (for the first and last time, such being the planning genius of the then-heads of said Foundation) before we were all to be sent out into the world to convert the nations. In fact, our evangelizing mission was taken so seriously that, as I only found out that day – in addition to departments of planning, international relations, publications, and so on – we also had a department of religion (no, not comparative, but purely Orthodox). It was the head of this department (I forget now whether he was a theologian or a priest, but I think it was the former) who prompted my intervention.

A soft-spoken man, he was nevertheless upset by the “image” of Orthodoxy in America. The war in Bosnia was raging at the time, as was the increasingly rabid nationalist campaign against the republic of Macedonia (which, in my opinion, was actually the reason for the Foundation’s creation – but that’s another story). He pointed to Huntington’s article as proof that “oi amerikanoi mas theoroun varvarous” (“the Americans think we’re barbarians”). I was momentarily nonplussed by the (various leaps of) logic by which Huntington’s thesis led to the general(izing) notion that “the Americans” thought of Greeks as uncivilized. Nevertheless, I responded to everybody present (including the Foundation’s head at the time, a distinguished Greek historian who, however, I am not at all certain knew who Huntington was) that for people of my generation, who came of age in the Sixties, as well as for many academics, Samuel Huntington would forever be identified with his role as an adviser to Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam War – whose “advice,” it goes without saying, was part and parcel of that lunatic disaster. I mentioned in that context the less-than-complimentary epithet by which Huntington had been known (and which I will not repeat here) in political and intellectual circles around the world since that time (but which, by the looks of astonishment on the faces around the table that day, apparently never made it to Greece); my point was that Huntington certainly did not speak for the United States, either on a popular level or as the voice of its elites.

More relevantly, I told them that Americans have never been known for their profound knowledge of – or interest in – foreign affairs, different cultures, or history as a whole. It’s not that they considered Orthodoxy to be “barbaric,” but, rather, that they didn’t consider it at all – since they considered very few things that did not affect them directly (which made them no different from most other people). As a Greek American kid in the States, in Chicago and New York, my experience had been that other kids just didn’t know what an “Orthodox” was, and the ones who had ever heard the word associated it more often with Judaism than with Christianity – and the truth was that most of my Greek American peers knew as little about their own religion as their non-Greek American pals.

In the end, what dismayed me were the defensiveness, profound ignorance, and transparent and indecently inflated notion of (a paradoxical) cultural superiority that defined that pathetic “discussion” (in all its incoherence). As the get-together broke up, I was disturbed by the thought that we were trying to promote Greek culture not within any affirmative – and modern – framework of exchange and interaction with other cultures of equal valence and integrity, but in a blindly reactive manner (as the Foundation never possessed a “strategy”), compromised by ignorance and imagining all kinds of slights and hostility against which we had to “struggle.” It was all too clear that jihad was not limited to the Islamic world – or paranoia to the clinical one. What was not clear to me then but has since become so is that some of Huntington’s fundamental propositions were actually correct, in particular concerning the “Enlightenment consensus,” if I can call it that, shared by liberals and communists for 200 years, despite their continuous war over the precise meaning – or, rather, the realization – of that consensus.

I’ve come not to bring peace but the sword…
The perversion of any system of belief – whether confessional or secular – is a road that men and women have now trod infinitely over the last many millennia. One does not get from Jesus to the Inquisition, from Spinoza to Sharon, from the Sufis to Osama bin Laden – or from Marx to Kolyma and Pol Pot – without grotesque cynicism and pathological detestation of one’s fellow human beings. Although this is self-evident, I have to say it at the outset because I don’t want what follows to be misconstrued in any way.

Gilles Kepel, the specialist on Islam who teaches at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris, coined the phrase, “la revanche de Dieu” (the revenge of God) to describe fundamentalist revivalism in the part of the world he studies. It is as apposite, however, in New Delhi, Moscow, Tel Aviv, Washington, DC, and, of course, Athens, as in Riyadh or Islamabad. The fact of the matter is that, regardless of our respective confessional cultures, we are all living through what George Weigel has described as the “unsecularization” of the world. As a Catholic theologian, Weigel is heartened by the phenomenon; I don’t think the rest of us should be.

November 17, in all its bizarre (un)reality in which it developed following the initial assassinations, is the grotesque spawn of an ideological miscegenation that has occurred in Greece over the last generation. Let me be clear. The Xiros brothers could as easily have been the sons of a baker, a construction worker, a merchant-mariner, or a banker. And the fact that they were sons of a priest does not mean that either their father, or their father’s faith, contributed to their subsequent actions. What it does mean, however, is that being sons of a priest – of an Orthodox priest, to be exact – did not in any way keep them from the road they chose to follow. If nothing else, that betrays a profound failure of the moral education that Orthodoxy is supposed to provide. In fact, I am sure that being “children of the Church” made it easier, in a fundamental way, for the Xiros brothers to do what they did.

Savas Xiros is an iconographer – and, of course, a terrorist. That is not a coincidence – and anyone who argues that it is persists in a peculiar and destructive blindness and deafness to the development of Greek society during the Eighties and Nineties. In the first article in this series, I mentioned the ideological conjunction over the last 20 years of the extreme right – specifically, the more reactionary and volatile elements of the Church – with the Communist Party of Greece. It is not a particularly Greek phenomenon. The worst example of such ideological perversion was, unfortunately for that country, the decision by the Tudeh (the Iranian communist party) to align itself with the reactionary clergy under Ayatollah Khomeini even after the shah’s overthrow. In yet another example of the singular cynicism of bureaucratic communism (to use a “Trotskyist” term), Tudeh thought that this convenient – and temporary – alliance would allow it to rid itself of rivals on the left before taking on the mullahs in a final confrontation in which Tudeh would (of course) triumph. In the event, Tudeh was too clever by half – and the rest, including its own annihilation, is, as they say, history.

A more recent, but equally dispiriting, example is, of course, the appropriation by (or, more accurately, degeneration into) Islamic fundamentalism of the Palestinian national movement, which, until recently, was firmly secular and (ostensibly) socialist. Nonetheless, in the case of Palestine, there is a clear and basic reason for this phenomenon. The PLO, and Yasir Arafat specifically, have proven incapable for 30 years of delivering freedom and nationhood to the Palestinian people. It was inevitable that Palestinians would eventually turn to those who they believed could give them both. Would Palestinians want to live under a Hamas regime? Of course not. Might they ultimately find themselves in that horrible condition? Of course. As such is always the bloody consequence of religion’s entanglement with politics and, even worse, state power.

Tell me who the scapegoat is and I’ll tell you what you believe
I confessed earlier to carelessly discounting in toto Samuel Huntington’s theses regarding the “clash of civilizations.” I continue to believe, however, that his basic notion is mistaken. I think that what we are obviously seeing in the world is not at all a clash of civilizations, but the universal extension of what Huntington himself refers to in his article as the “civil wars” of the West. It’s actually still the same old story, from Casablanca to Kansas: the Enlightenment opposed by the anti-Enlightenment (or what Voltaire referred to as the “infamy,” that is, the Church). Within that context, Huntington’s most astute observation is that there is an “indigenization of elites” occurring in many non-Western countries. I quote:

In the past, the elites of non-Western societies were usually the people who were most involved with the West, had been educated at Oxford, the Sorbonne or Sandhurst, and had absorbed Western attitudes and values. At the same time, the populace in non-Western countries often remained deeply imbued with the indigenous culture. Now, however, these relationships are being reversed. A de-Westernization and indigenization of elites is occurring in many non-Western countries at the same time that Western, usually American, cultures, styles and habits become more popular among the mass of the people. (p.26)

Of course, what Huntington doesn’t see is that this “indigenization of elites” is also occurring in the West – which is precisely what the anti-“globalization” movement is all about. There is in fact nothing anti-global about the anti-globalizationists; most of them are paradigmatic representatives of conscientious internationalism and progressive transnational governance – which is exactly the point. What they oppose is the imperial imposition – not simply in the “non-Western” world but in the heart of France and Italy and Germany and the Netherlands and Greece and, yes, even the United States – of one nation’s socioeconomic system, which is as manifestly anti-democratic as any religious fundamentalism. What separates irrational anti-Americanism (whether of the right or left) from a rational and informed critique of “globalization” (which is about as “global” a vision as that of Osama bin Laden) is, in the end, precisely this ability to separate the systemic causes of social dysfunction from ethnocentric, reactionary, and, ultimately, racist demands to “defend” one’s own “culture” (which, more often than not, is as artificial and specious as that of the “oppressor”).

Democracy in a time of cholera
Which finally brings us to Costas Simitis. If politics is the art of the possible, doing the impossible apparently does not guarantee esteem, or even reelection, in Greece’s admittedly overheated political culture. I will say it baldly: Costas Simitis has already proven to be among the finest (in every meaning of the word) heads of government that Greece has had in the postwar period and, in a very specific sense, regarding the actual administration of government, perhaps the most effective one.

The most extraordinary achievement, of course, is the reform and turnaround of the Greek economy under conditions of normal parliamentary democracy to a degree, it can be argued, not seen (for many reasons, admittedly) since Charilaos Trikoupis’s declaration of national bankruptcy in the early 1890s. Indeed, who ever thought even a few years ago that we’d see the day when the Greek economy would be a candidate, as it is this year, to outperform all other economies in the European Union (EU) – or that a Greek serving a socialist government, Lucas Papademos, would be chosen vice-president of the European Central Bank? The salient point to Simitis’s approach to the Greek economy, however, is that it is based on a fundamental restructuring, and not on cyclical recovery or opportunistic enhancements – let alone the kind of largesse that Andreas Papandreou dispensed to Greeks because the EU was paying for it, but which ended up in squandering a unique and irreplaceable opportunity. There is still much to do, of course (pension reform, most obviously), but, frankly, Simitis is the only viable alternative on the Greek political horizon with the intellectual stamina to complete the task.

A conservative government could have reorganized the economy, of course (although, personally, I doubt it, for a variety of reasons). What Simitis has done that no conservative prime minister – and certainly none of his populist rivals in PASOK – could have done is to attempt to thoroughly reform the nature of Greek political discourse, and to genuinely allow civil society to function independently and in restraint of government. The emblematic innovation in this regard was the establishment in October 1998 of the office of ombudsman, and the appointment to it of an internationally respected scholar. Again, while the ombudsman’s powers are limited, they are legally sanctioned and, more important, given independent administrative authority. What that means is that the office can be further empowered and augmented as it develops its own constituency.

It is indeed this attempt to reform the intellectual – and moral – assumptions of Greek political life that Costas Simitis represents above all. He is clearly the most decent human being to hold the position of Greek prime minister in many people’s lifetimes. Lest this notion be considered naïve or romantic, I should add that in an age when the very mention of politics engenders disgust and loathing in most human beings, the image of a political leader of fundamental and irreducible civic morality – who is not a figure of historic rarity and stature, such as Nelson Mandela – is absolutely bracing, if not downright inspiring.

Which is finally why so many people, especially the minions of organized Orthodoxy in this country, hate him with a royal passion. Simitis represents the independence and integrity of civil society in its most vital and humane civic stance. He represents 200 years of Western secular virtue and democratic struggle against all arbitrary authority, including that of the Church. When Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Christodoulos rallied millions of people against Simitis’s plans to reform Greece’s ID system, he didn’t do so because of one minor category that was amended on a Greek ID. He did it because he knew the reform itself pointed to Simitis’s broader perspective – which, it should be said, is shared by others in his government, including, most conspicuously, George Papandreou – that citizenship in a democracy means the right to individual self-identification, without any other arbitrary impositions of identity. Citizenship in a democratic republic means exactly that: citizenship in a democratic republic, not in an ethnic group or religious sect or national(ist) enclave. The Church of Greece’s sympathies – along, apparently, with those of November 17 – for Milosevic, Karadzic, and Mladic were neither coincidental nor opportunistic, but based on a profound convergence of visions of the world. Apparently, the Church of Greece despises the very notion of individual freedom, since it claims the absolute right to determine Greek identity for all Greeks. It is a stance familiar to most Greeks, however, seeing that it was the ideological motivation of the country’s last dictatorship – which means, of course, that it is infinitely closer to fascism than to any authentic notions of Christianity.

Next and Last Part: You Can Go Home Again: Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus

Peter Pappas is co-founder of
Monday, July 15, 2002


The Historic Success of Costas Simitis (and the Strange Refusal of Greeks to Acknowledge It)

Part 1: “In the Name of the Holy and Consubstantial and Indivisible Trinity…”

Parochialism is not just a state of mind, but a social structure.
– Tom Nairn, After Britain

It is a commonplace that love of country sometimes (often?) requires a suspension of disbelief – or, more accurately, a suspension of belief in other, perhaps conflicting, principles, such as the commonality of the human condition, political democracy, and, above all, the notion of the nation as constitutionally defined and articulated by human reason as opposed to (innately vague and continually shifting) sentiments of ethnic unity. Basically, there have been two competing theories of the “nation” for the last couple of centuries. The conservative variant is most famously exemplified by Edmund Burke’s insistence on “organic,” deeply rooted and enmeshed “communities” of sentiment, institutional awe, and “custom” that are fundamentally ritualistic, not to say tribal, in their ideological articulation. The liberal nation, best represented by the French Revolution or the arguments of The Federalist Papers in the United States, is defined as and by a commonwealth of citizens, in which nationality is determined, simply and unequivocally, by allegiance to constitutional procedure and, invariably, a republican identity.

Allegiance to constitutional procedure – not to a flag. This is very important. Not that liberals don’t believe in flags, or other emblems of nationhood; it’s just that flags aren’t part of a liberal polity’s constitutional procedure – whereas it is precisely the notion of symbolic power, the “institutional awe” I mentioned above, that is so central to the conservative definition of a nation’s “constitution.” Which is why it is not at all coincidental that liberal nationalism is strongly republican, whereas conservative nationalism – even to this day – tends to monarchical forms (not to mention fascist or quasi-fascist movements).

Which way to my identity?
Greece has had its own specific – if not at all exceptional – version of this fundamental conflict in nation-building and national identity. It has most notably been coded as the clash between those looking to the “West” for their political and social models (the perennial “modernizers,” regardless of historical guise) and those seeking to “keep faith” with putatively “Eastern” and “traditional” modes of Greek communal (self-) definition. In the last 20 years, this second tendency has uniquely (and bizarrely) joined the extreme right with members of the extreme left, most notoriously, partisans of the KKE (Kommounistiko Komma Elladas, Communist Party of Greece).

At the outset, I will insist that this formulaic dichotomy – which has become the mantra of every ignorant journalist and Western policymaker seeking to “explain,” not only Greece but the Balkans as a whole (and of which the most egregious and notorious example is Robert Kaplan’s Balkan Ghosts) – is about as trustworthy and helpful a “hermeneutic” tool as the term, “people’s republic,” is in trying to understand China today. While there are definitely Greek historical figures about whom one can comfortably say that they represented the “West” (and in its most enlightened form) – Adamantios Korais and Righas Velestinlis immediately, and obviously, come to mind – I think that, generally, the distinctions between “East” and “West” are not only difficult but specious.

Was Konstantinos Paparrigopoulos an ideologist of the “East” because he stressed the continuity of Greek history – and, therefore, the relevance of Byzantium to modern Greece? Was Nietszche’s influence on Ion Dragoumis – or, for that matter, Nikos Kazantzakis – any less “Western” than Eliot’s influence on George Seferis? In the political realm, why is Eleftherios Venizelos’s manifest anglo- and francophilia any more “Western” than King Constantine’s – or, even more relevantly, Ioannis Metaxas’s – germanophilia? These are all aspects of a potted “analysis” of a pathetic and dismal kind – which is why it has engulfed anyone who has tried to negotiate it in a conceptual swamp.

The fact is that each nation has its cultural marks of identity – and, invariably, its distinctive dichotomies, most often regarding “north” and “south,” which, by the way, is another Greek cultural bifurcation – but, in the end, it still comes down to a political opposition. And that opposition, put simply, is between those who believe in citizenship as the determining factor in nationality and those who believe, more or less, in “ethnicity.” When one has stripped away all the ideological camouflage (and the willful and strategic distortion) from the “Orthodox” (or neo-Orthodox) opponents of the “Europeanists” in Greece, for example, one is left with an almost classic Burkean justification of essentialist nationhood.

Just my nation under God
It should be said here that “organic” nationalism is always just a step (and a cannonade) away from an anything-but-organic imperialism and (neo-) colonialism. We saw that unmistakably even in Greece in the early Nineties, when the inane campaign against the Republic of Macedonia’s incipient nationhood occasionally took on strident and, in fact, dangerous tones. If the governments of Constantine Mitsotakis and, later, Andreas Papandreou had not carefully monitored the situation at the time – or had cynically exploited it as, most notoriously, Andonis Samaras did – it could have taken a very different turn. (On this question, as on so many others, Greeks should be thankful for the rationality and foresight of their current prime minister, who effectively defused the issue. He would do his fellow citizens – and his country’s prestige – a further enormous service if he finally took the last step and definitively resolved the matter through a legal, and international, recognition of the nation forced to hide behind the transparent masquerade called “FYROM.”)

In another example of unbridled “organic” nationalism, I was shocked recently, when on the evening news here in Greece (where I am spending the summer), I heard Archbishop Christodoulos, in a sermon following the liturgy to mark the feast of the Trinity, referring – in what was a particularly inapposite, inept, and, in fact, incoherent remark – to the fall of Constantinople in 1453, and then “inspiring” the congregants in Athens’s cathedral by declaiming the by-now sadly lunatic incantation that “pali me chronia me kairous, pali dika mas tha’nai” (“again, with the passing of years and time, it will all be ours again”).

Clearly, “culture wars” are never about culture and always about politics – more precisely, about competing visions of the polity and society. The resurgence of the right throughout Europe just a few years after social democracy seemed to have established itself as the continent’s natural order has, of course, been trumpeted as a defense of “European identity” and “way of life,” but it has quickly slid down the slippery slope to issues of “security,” “crime,” and, invariably, “illegal immigration” – which, ineluctably, ends up transformed into the mother of all issues, legal immigration.

The reality of immigration has in fact crystallized the malaise of the European nation-state at the turn of the new century. It is particularly critical for Greece in that it encapsulates the two fundamental issues that remain to be solved if the Greek “nation” is ever to progress beyond wretched fantasies of “redeeming” chamenes patrides (“lost homelands”) or battling (eternally) against the machinations, conspiracies, and active malevolence of “the Franks.” Indeed, the more important of the two issues is actually the only major constitutional one left since the consolidation of the Greek republic during the last generation – and the one that has been consistently “postponed” at every crucial moment in the articulation of the modern Greek state since its founding in 1830.

The constitutional principle that dares not speak its name
The modern Greek state has struggled for more than 170 years with the fundamental issue that has bedeviled most democratic and parliamentary constitutions since the English Civil War and, more to the point, the “Great” French Revolution, which was, in so many ways, the intellectual model for Greek constitutionalism (of the nineteenth century, at least). It took 145 years for a definitive (and unimpeachably democratic) resolution regarding the nature of the polity itself, and the establishment of the current republican constitution. In all probability, even that would never have occurred, however, had it not been for the manifest institutional complicity of the monarchy as a whole (as well as the specific complicity of the former monarch, Constantine) in the military coup of April 1967 – which overthrew the parliamentary regime at that time – and the dictatorship that ensued.

During the constitutional proceedings on the 1975 charter immediately following the military junta’s fall in 1974, an extraordinary opportunity was lost for the reform of the other profound anomaly of Greek constitutional reality. Although it was, in fact, the best time in many a generation to realize the desperately needed, and long overdue, separation of Church and state, it never happened, to a great degree because of the craven decision by most of the liberal and left-wing parties at the time “to spare” the Greek people the “divisive” debate on disestablishment.

It would have been nice (and democratic?), of course, if somebody had bothered to ask the Greek people. Democratic decisionmaking, however, has always been a difficult row to hoe for the Greek left. What made the pusillanimous stance of the “progressive” forces in Greece at the time particularly obnoxious was their argument that following the plebiscite on the monarchy, the then-fragile Greek democracy could not afford another wrenching dispute on another major constitutional issue. The problem with that position, of course, was that the “debate” on the monarchy was hardly that; it was, in fact, a social consensus, pure and simple, of extraordinary depth and breadth, crossing all political boundaries from right to left. In the plebiscite that had just taken place, after all – under the most scrupulous democratic conditions (a first for this issue) – more than two out of three Greeks voted for a republic.

This is not to say that there would not have been a debate on disestablishment, or that it would not have been divisive – or, at least, more contentious than what was the non-issue of the monarchy. At the time, however, the Church of Greece (and the Greek Orthodox Church in general, with the singular and heroic exception of Cyprus’s Archbishop Makarios) was also perceived to be deeply complicitous, not only in the military regime (whose self-appellation was the “Greece of Greek Christians”), but in the events that had led it to power during the years before the coup. (I am referring, naturally, to an era before left-wing “neo-Orthodoxy” and religion as the cultural fashion statement of the intellectually – and morally – exhausted former antistasiakoi.)

In other words, the stance of the Orthodox church in Greece cannot be compared to that of the Catholic church in Latin America during the years of military rule on that continent. There was no Orthodox movement comparable to “liberation theology” or the “option of the poor.” There was no organized Orthodox defense of human rights or constitutional procedure. Nor could there be. Orthodoxy is, by definition, structurally and innately entangled with political power, whether in the colonels’ Greece, the former Soviet Union (or czarist Russia), Milosevic’s Serbia (until it became too grotesque to maintain that stance) – or, finally, as Korais never ceased to warn his fellow Greeks, in the Ottoman empire. Orthodoxy’s much-vaunted oikonomia has always had a clearly political dimension – and application: a political oikonomia.

The time of the debates concerning the 1975 constitution was thus the ideal moment for Greek society to discuss, rationally and coolly, the continuing cost on political freedom, social identity, and civil initiative of the state’s identification with – and privileging of – one church above all other faiths. The left, however, as so often in Greek history, betrayed its most fundamental principles by refusing, not only to lead the discussion, but to participate at all. In the event, we are all now compelled to follow – on public television – as the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece invokes Holy Providence to assure all and sundry that “pali me chronia me kairous, pali dika mas tha’nai.” If His Eminence genuinely believes what he says, then he is more of a threat to his fellow Greeks – and indeed to the entire Balkans – than I care to contemplate. The fact, I fear, is that he not only does believe everything he says – including that New York deserved the mass murder and destruction that was visited upon it on September 11, 2001 – but that, if it were up to him, the Greek constitution would be closer to that of Iran than to those of France or the United States.

Constitutional disorder
Lest I be accused of skirting – actually, falling over – the edge of hyperbole, I want to give the picture of the Greek constitution regarding Church and state relations, compared to those two other charters, the American and French, which are most famous (rightly or wrongly) for their respective definitions of liberal order, democratic rights, and enlightened governance. Here are the preambles of each constitution (the French is from the last fundamental revision, that of the Fifth Republic’s establishment in 1958):

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The French people solemnly proclaim their attachment to the Rights of Man and the principles of national sovereignty as defined by the Declaration of 1789, confirmed and complemented by the Preamble to the Constitution of 1946.

By virtue of these principles and that of the self-determination of peoples, the Republic offers to the overseas territories that express the will to adhere to them new institutions founded on the common ideal of liberty, equality and fraternity and conceived with a view to their democratic development.

In the name of the Holy and Consubstantial and Indivisible Trinity, the Fifth Revisionary Parliament of the Hellenes resolves….

As the preamble to the French constitution refers to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, the full introductory text to the Declaration follows below:

The representatives of the French People, formed into a National Assembly, considering ignorance, forgetfulness or contempt of the rights of man to be the only causes of public misfortunes and the corruption of Governments, have resolved to set forth, in a solemn Declaration, the natural, unalienable and sacred rights of man, to the end that this Declaration, constantly present to all members of the body politic, may remind them unceasingly of their rights and their duties; to the end that the acts of the legislative power and those of the executive power, since they may be continually compared with the aim of every political institution, may thereby be the more respected; to the end that the demands of the citizens, founded henceforth on simple and incontestable principles, may always be directed toward the maintenance of the Constitution and the happiness of all.

In consequence whereof, the National Assembly recognizes and declares, in the presence and under the auspices of the Supreme Being, the following Rights of Man and of the Citizen.

It is clear, at the very outset of the respective national charters, that the Greek one veers radically from the precedent set by its European and American predecessors. Neither the American nor French constitutions invoke religion – not to mention God – in their introductory justifications, while the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen is asserted “in the presence and under the auspices of the Supreme Being.” The theological specificity of the Greek constitutional preamble, by contrast, is almost theocratic in its formulation: “In the name of the Holy and Consubstantial and Indivisible Trinity, the Fifth Revisionary Parliament of the Hellenes resolves….”

So far, so Orthodox. It gets worse – much worse – when we enter the actual bodies of the respective constitutional texts. The American constitution actually does not mention religion at all in its original articles – but even that utter lack of reference did not satisfy its critics at the time. Indeed, to ensure that no attempt would ever be made by government to invest any religious body with any official sanction whatsoever (and also to guarantee a number of other fundamental rights and freedoms), they famously demanded – and got – as the price of the constitution’s ratification, the immediate addition of ten amendments, the Bill of Rights, the first article of which, just as famously, states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

As for the French constitution, Article 1 states baldly that: “France shall be an indivisible, secular, democratic and social Republic. It shall ensure the equality of all citizens before the law, without distinction of origin, race or religion. It shall respect all beliefs.” Secular. Without distinction of religion. Respecting all beliefs. Very clear, and exceedingly simple. There is only one mention in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen of religion, by the way; Article 10 guarantees that, “No one may be disturbed on account of his opinions, even religious ones, as long as the manifestation of such opinions does not interfere with the established Law and Order.” Article 11 reinforces the previous article, in a sense, by averring that, “The free communication of ideas and of opinions is one of the most precious rights of man,” and, therefore, “Any citizen may…speak, write and publish freely, except what is tantamount to the abuse of this liberty in the cases determined by Law.” Article 6, in any case, had already made it clear that:

The Law is the expression of the general will. All citizens have the right to take part, personally or through their representatives, in its making. It must be the same for all, whether it protects or punishes. All citizens, being equal in its eyes, shall be equally eligible to all high offices, public positions and employments, according to their ability, and without other distinction than that of their virtues and talents.

Now, depressingly, we come to Greece. At first reading, the Greek constitution of 1975 – certainly the most liberal ever promulgated – is actually shocking in its contradictions and thorough incompatibility with some of the most fundamental principles of democratic citizenship and government. Let me start at the beginning; Article 3 has in any case become notorious among international human rights groups for its formulation. I quote it in full:

  1. The prevailing religion in Greece is that of the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ. The Orthodox Church of Greece, acknowledging our Lord Jesus Christ as its head, is inseparably united in doctrine with the Great Church of Christ in Constantinople and with every other Church of Christ of the same doctrine, observing unwaveringly, as they do, the holy apostolic and synodal canons and sacred traditions. It is autocephalous and is administered by the Holy Synod of serving Bishops and the Permanent Holy Synod originating thereof and assembled as specified by the Statutory Charter of the Church in compliance with the provisions of the Patriarchal Tome of June 29, 1850 and the Synodal Act of September 4, 1928.

  2. The ecclesiastical regime existing in certain districts of the State shall not be deemed contrary to the provisions of the preceding paragraph.

  3. The text of the Holy Scripture shall be maintained unaltered. Official translation of the text into any other form of language, without prior sanction by the Autocephalous Church of Greece and the Great Church of Christ in Constantinople, is prohibited.

Free to be you and…you
Nevertheless, Article 13 does guarantee freedom of confession – albeit in a most peculiar way. I quote again in full.

  1. Freedom of religious conscience is inviolable. The enjoyment of civil rights and liberties does not depend on the individual’s religious beliefs.

  2. All known religions shall be free and their rites of worship shall be performed unhindered and under the protection of the law. The practice of rites of worship is not allowed to offend public order or the good usages. Proselytism is prohibited.

  3. The ministers of all known religions shall be subject to the same supervision by the State and to the same obligations toward it as those of the prevailing religion.

  4. No person shall be exempt from discharging his obligations to the State or may refuse to comply with the laws by reason of his religious convictions.

  5. No oath shall be imposed or administered except as specified by law and in the form determined by law.

The reader does not need my guidance to detect the extraordinarily restrictive nature of Article 13’s guarantee of the “inviolability” of the “freedom of religious conscience.” A religion has to be “known” (which begs the question, “Known to whom?,” of course); the “rites of worship shall be performed unhindered and under the protection of the law,” but they are “not allowed to offend public order or the good usages”! And, naturally – because “[t]he prevailing religion in Greece is that of the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ” – “proselytism” is banned. Furthermore, the state “supervises” all clergy (the assertion of Orthodoxy’s political traditions in all their Byzantine glory!) and, more important, “No person shall be exempt from discharging his obligations to the State or may refuse to comply with the laws by reason of his religious convictions” – so much for conscientious objection! Last – and undoubtedly most bizarre – no oath can be sworn without the express approval of state authorities!

As incredible as it might seem, it gets even worse. I quote from the first three paragraphs of Article 14:

  1. Every person may express and propagate his thoughts orally, in writing and through the press in compliance with the laws of the State.

  2. The press is free. Censorship and all other preventive measures are prohibited.

  3. The seizure of newspapers and other publications before or after circulation is prohibited. Seizure by order of the public prosecutor shall be allowed exceptionally after circulation and in case of:

    1. an offense against the Christian or any other known religion.
    2. an insult against the person of the President of the Republic.
    3. a publication which discloses information on the composition, equipment and set-up of the armed forces or the fortifications of the country, or which aims at the violent overthrow of the regime or is directed against the territorial integrity of the State.
    4. an obscene publication which is obviously offensive to public decency, in the cases stipulated by law.

The contradictions here are so blatant as to be provocative. All guarantees of a “free” press and against censorship “and all other preventive measures,” as well as against seizure of publications, are effectively nullified in the same article in the case of “exceptional” circumstances, which are apparently four but are actually almost infinite in number!

To top it all off, Article 15 stipulates that: “…The protective provisions for the press in the preceding article shall not [my emphasis] be applicable to films, sound recordings, radio, television or any other similar medium for the transmission of speech or images…[and]…[r]adio and television shall be under the immediate control of the State and shall aim at the objective transmission, on equal terms, of information and news reports as well as works of literature and art; the qualitative level of programs shall be assured in consideration of their social mission and the cultural development of the country.”

As for Article 16, which concerns education, there are both implicit and explicit restrictions of commonly accepted notions – and norms – of academic freedom, and of freedom of thought and expression. Specifically, Paragraph 1 states that “Academic freedom and freedom of teaching shall not [my emphasis] exempt anyone from his duty of allegiance to the Constitution” (explicit sanction), while Paragraph 2 stipulates that “Education constitutes a basic mission for the State and shall aim at the moral, intellectual, professional and physical training of Greeks, the development of national and religious consciousness and at their formation as free and responsible [all italics are mine] citizens” (implicit sanctions). Is it any wonder that Greece’s education minister is actually “minister of education and religious affairs”?

And, in case anyone is interested, yes, the Greek constitution does specifically stipulate that both the president of the republic and members of parliament do “swear in the name of the Holy and Consubstantial and Indivisible Trinity” to “safeguard the Constitution and the laws [and] to care for the faithful observance thereof” in the president’s case, and to “obedience to the Constitution and the laws” in the case of MPs. The latter, it should be noted, have the right, if they “are of a different religion or creed [to] take the same oath according to the form of their own religion or creed.”

The confessional constitution
Some of Greece’s constitutional anarchy has been made right by later political developments or related legal requirements, the most important of which, of course, was accession to the then-European Economic Community and its legal regime. (Article 14’s “protective provisions for the press,” for example, now do apply to the electronic media, which were deregulated a decade ago.) Nevertheless, the fact is that the 1975 constitution is, in certain salient respects, incoherent and fundamentally at odds with the contemporary consensus on what constitutes a tolerant and democratic political system.

What is even more injurious to civil society, and the political discourse that continually determines and redefines it, however, is that this inexorable constitutional privileging of the Church – and, let us at least be honest with ourselves, that is precisely what it is – creates an intellectual and social barrier that obstructs clear-headed discussion on so many issues. Put another way, any number of questions today in Greece – immigration, European Union relations and policies, culture, defense, taxation, foreign policy, and, of course, national self-definition – are immediately (and, invariably, negatively) affected by the constitution’s concessions to and overt partiality toward the Orthodox church.

The reader has the right to ask at this point what anything I’ve written heretofore has to do with this essay’s title, “The Historic Success of Costas Simitis (and the Strange Refusal of Greeks to Acknowledge It).” I hope to make everything clear in Part 2. In the event, Part 1 has been an extensive constitutional prolegomenon, as it were, to set the stage for the political discussion. Indeed, the reason I’ve given such a detailed recitation of the many ways in which Orthodoxy is enmeshed in, and favored by, the current constitutional arrangement is precisely so as to clarify the extent to which this dispensation can and does define everyday political discourse and action. For, at the end of the day, behind most reactions to Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s policies lies a church that is fearful that any genuine democratization, modernization, and liberalization of Greek society – and, by definition, of the Greek constitution – threatens its domination and, it goes without saying, its social (and, frankly, economic) privileges.

Next: From the Reconquest of Constantinople to the Rejection of Brussels: The Ayatollahization of Greece

Peter Pappas is co-founder of
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