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Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Book Reviews

“United Like A Fist!” - Part 2

Unholy Alliance: Greece and Milosevic’s Serbia by Takis Michas. College Station, Texas, Texas A&M University Press, 2002, xv and 176 pages, $29.95.

Part 2

My wife and I lived in Athens from 1992-1994, and so I witnessed first-hand many of the events – especially regarding Bosnia and the mobilizations on Macedonia – that Michas describes in his book. Indeed, it was while living in Greece that I first came across his name. Like many Greeks, I read several newspapers, just to be able to figure out what was actually happening at any given moment, Greek journalism being not only unashamedly biased but often incompetent and even incoherent. In my case, I read Kathimerini (conservative newspaper of record), Eleftherotypia (leftist newspaper of record), the Financial Times (relatively objective reporting on the rest of the world), and the International Herald Tribune (American spin on any given story, as well as a check on the Knicks, Yankees, Mets – in that order, at least at that time – and David Barry) every day, supplemented by The Economist (real news and analysis) on Fridays and Vima (Greece’s intellectual elite writing for each other in a pale imitation – or, as they would say, simulacrum – of The New York Review of Books) on Sundays. I still remember picking up the daily papers one day and putting on the television that night and reading and hearing nothing but the name of Takis Michas. He – I had no idea who he was – had apparently written somewhere that Alexander the Great was a “sfageas ton laon,” which means, in inelegant English that ruins the pithiness of the Greek, a “slaughterer of the peoples.”

This was in the middle of Greece’s (post-) modern Macedonian struggle. As I found out quickly enough, he was a journalist – he was mostly described as a financial reporter at the time – and former aide to erstwhile New Democracy minister Andreas Andrianopoulos. Within a day or two, I finally got a chance to see him on one of those late-night talk shows that pass as public-affairs programming in Greece. He was, in every way, a serious interlocutor for the show’s host. Too serious, it seemed to me.

One of the things I had loved about the remark was how over the top it was; I thought it was a joke, and a sly way of lampooning the entire Macedonian misadventure. After all, for me, the most perspicacious comment by far on Greece’s Macedonian idiocies was a graffito daubed on a wall in Athens’s “anarchist hotbed,” Exarcheia, that my wife and I came across one day that read, simply, I Makedonia einai kineziki, Macedonia is Chinese. I had thought that Michas had described that insanely overdetermined Greek cultural icon (in the most religious sense of the term), Alexander the Great, in the same “Chinese” spirit of provocative parody laced with political lucidity. Apparently, I was wrong.

That night on TV, Michas defended his comments with the sobriety, and moral earnestness, of a missionary – which, in my opinion, just got him into trouble, at least as far as being an effective dissident was concerned, as a little irony would have gone a long way. Alexander the Great’s butcheries are indisputable, after all, but also, unfortunately, irrelevant to the degree that they are stripped of historical context. All “Greats,” “Conquerors,” “Magnificents,” and “Sun Kings” were butchers and mass murderers; some, however, also built libraries while some only burned them to the ground. It is a silly kind of anachronistic, ex-post-facto, and politically correct thinking that seriously contends otherwise.

Especially because journalism is one thing and historiography quite another, as all of us know who have ever attempted the former and humbly avoided the latter. Journalism might (or might not) be history’s first draft, even under the best of circumstances, but it is a draft rife with error, misjudgment, profound lack of information (not to mention knowledge), and prejudice (one’s own) multiplied by compromise (the pressures of arbitrary deadlines and the inevitable capitulations – political, social, ethical – to one’s bosses). It is a draft, in other words, that screams out to be rewritten (actually, rethought and reconsidered) – and then rewritten some more.

Sweetheart, get me rewrite! is the Hollywood cliché that immediately comes to mind whenever I read another journalistic account of the Balkans in the Nineties. To be fair to Michas, his book is both judicious and modest, looking at one particular aspect – the Greek-Serb relationship – of the wider Balkan conflicts, and doing so effectively, and to the reader’s great profit. Indeed, that’s my point: Michas is an exemplary journalist; it is only when he tries to “historicize” or, worse, theorize that he courts unnecessary trouble. (He should also have spared his reader that recycled reader’s guide to “ethnonationalism”; those of us interested in Balkan nationalism who haven’t read Anderson, Geertz, Gellner, Hobsbawm, Nairn et al by the time we’ve gotten to Michas’s book are to be pitied, not enlightened.)

Who, what, where…
My first serious dissent from Michas’s litany of accusation is not of the type that has normally been registered in regard to it: I think he’s generally much too kind, as I’ve indicated above in discussing the Church. In the third paragraph of his acknowledgments, Michas lists over two dozen academics, writers, and intellectuals who he wants to thank for “sharing…their knowledge, ideas, and views regarding Greece and the Balkans” with him. As I said, I lived in Greece during many of the events he describes; when I left Greece in 1994, it was as a salaried (if disguised) employee of its foreign ministry to establish and run the Foundation for Hellenic Culture in New York, for which I worked until early 2000, following my resignation.

In other words, while I was no longer living in Greece after 1994, I followed its foreign policy intimately since I was part of the ministry responsible for implementing it; indeed, I was a paid propagandist for Greece during that time. As such, I know, or carefully followed the activities of, many of the people Michas thanks. I’m not interested here in either summary judgments or collective guilt, but I must insist that the most apposite – and accurate – phrase to describe the stance of Greece’s “public intellectuals” during the height of the Macedonian campaign, the war in Bosnia, and the conflict in Kosovo is “deafening silence.”

Not in all cases – but in most of them. I will not name names; they know who they are in any event. I cannot begin to imagine (or understand) what kind of “knowledge, ideas, and views regarding Greece and the Balkans” Michas would need to cull from any of these masters of equivocation and craven self-preservation. Michas is a paragon of courage and professional and personal virtue compared to most of them; I have no idea why he would need to thank them for anything. As someone who came of intellectual and political age in the United States during the Vietnam War, I can only say that the role of Greek intellectuals during the Balkan crises of the Nineties was, simply, shameless and despicable.

Which is why I cannot fathom the argument made by Michas at the very beginning of his book:

[T]he phenomena described and analyzed in this book were, from what I can judge at least, neither government led nor media initiated. The phenomenon of…supporting…Pale and Belgrade while at the same time turning a blind eye to the crimes…in Bosnia and Kosovo was…a folk phenomenon. It was a bottom-up and not top-down event. It was, as the economists would put it, “demand led.” Most media people and politicians simply gave in to this overpowering popular demand.

I am fully aware that this statement flies in the face of much of the contemporary scholarship….Nor can I substantiate it. Let us therefore simply say that it reflects the particular experiences of the author.

While I concur with those who argue that the Greek media did an extremely poor and one-sided job of covering the war in Yugoslavia, I would hasten to add that the reasons must, to a large extent, be sought in the public’s response. The issue here was not the media manipulating public opinion, but rather the public forcing the media to provide coverage of what it wanted to see or read about. The overwhelming majority of Greece’s quality journalists…had informed and balanced views. (pp. 5-6)

This is absurd. What’s more, Michas knows it – which is why he admits that he can’t “substantiate” his theory. Of course he can’t. My own “particular experiences” are the exact opposite of his. I had to resign from a Greek American newspaper that I had founded because my dissent on Macedonia was not acceptable even as a signed opinion. (Michas himself now writes for a Greek American newspaper that was proud of its nationalist Greek stance on Macedonia at the time – and even now, probably.) I was also the producer for an Athens television station of a documentary series on the former Yugoslavia, and I can personally attest to the “top-down” manipulation, and pure distortion, that was a daily reality in Greek journalism at the time – and still is, by the way. (Can anyone who has ever watched “news” on Mega and, most egregiously, Antenna seriously argue for the “bottom-up” nature of disinformation in Greece? Has Michas already forgotten the “4,000 Jews” who were reported on Mega – which is where I heard it first because I happened to be in Greece at the time – to have survived the attack on the World Trade Center because they were “forewarned” by the Mossad?!)

One person that Michas thanks, and even quotes, in his book is the Financial Times’s Kerin Hope, who is truly, and by far, the finest foreign correspondent in Greece (and whose first name is, for some reason, misspelled as Karin throughout). Has he ever asked her about the “informed and balanced views” of her Greek colleagues on these and other issues? Or, even better, has he addressed that question to the Greek journalist to whom he dedicated his book, Richardos Someritis, who was literally a voice crying in the wilderness in the early Nineties on these matters? I have no doubt what both of these honest reporters would honestly report. I just have no idea why Michas felt the need to absolve his colleagues of intellectual crimes and misdemeanors of which he is not only consistently and steadfastly innocent, but an articulate and even eloquent critic – unless it was a matter of professional survival. (And one more thing: I, too, knew a lot of people in Greece who “had informed and balanced views” on these issues – and many of them were some of the same academics that Michas thanks in his acknowledgments, except that they kept those views to themselves, afraid to defend them in public).

…and why?
An even larger issue is the analytical framework of Michas’s book, which is where it is most vulnerable and deficient. My primary disagreement is twofold. First of all, although he states at the beginning, as I cited above, that “the phenomena described” were not “government led,” and then goes on to add that the book “should not be seen as an analysis of…Greek foreign policy (p. 6),” that is what his work effectively becomes. This is not necessarily wrong; it is just disorienting if one does not fundamentally distinguish between the policies of Constantine Mitsotakis – and those of his foreign ministers, Andonis Samaras and Michalis Papakonstantinou – Andreas Papandreou, and Costas Simitis. In a strange way, in fact, it seems that the latter – who has done more to redirect Greek foreign policy in the last few years than any of his predecessors combined – is almost targeted by Michas for particular criticism. To wit:

Some had hoped that Kostas [sic] Simitis’s rise to power in 1996 would mean a radical break with the policies of his predecessor. It was expected that the new government would reveal the shady deals of its predecessor and make public the names of Greek businessmen and politicians who had made millions during the war in Bosnia. Alas, nothing happened. Indeed the new prime minister – at least during the first year of his premiership – continued to follow faithfully in his predecessor’s steps and promoted a number of Greek-Serb/Bosnian Serb agreements of a questionable nature. (pp. 71-72)

And again:

The official policy of Andreas Papandreou’s PASOK government, whose ideological-political legacy Prime Minister Kostas Simitis inherited, constituted an explicit endorsement of Slobodan Milosevic’s repression in Kosovo. (p. 88)

And again, on – of all things – a fundamental constitutional issue for Greece:

Kostas Simitis’s PASOK government, like those before it, has stated that it does not intend to tamper with the principle of nonseparation [of Church and state]. (p. 112)

I don’t understand any of this.

Michas’s book was published this year, while Simitis’s first year in office ended in 1997, five years ago. What does it mean, then, to criticize Simitis for doing “nothing…at least during the first year of his premiership”? Michas knows (better than any of his American readers, unfortunately) that the only thing Simitis could do for his first year in office was to fend off the attacks from all sides within his own party (including from most of his senior ministers) who had never thought they’d live to see the day that Simitis would succeed “Andreas” as PASOK’s chief and, even worse, Greece’s head of government. As for the accusation that Simitis’s “official policy” was the “endorsement of Slobodan Milosevic’s repression in Kosovo,” this is truly unworthy of a journalist of Michas’s integrity, and certainly undeserving of any serious response.

I am also curious as to the reason for the singular noun, “predecessor,” in the sentence, “Some had hoped that…Simitis’s rise to power in 1996 would mean a radical break with the policies of his predecessor.” Simitis had at least two predecessors on issues relating to the Balkans; why is the discussion of his alleged “ideological-political” inheritance limited just to the obvious ideological connection to PASOK, but not extended to include the (equally obvious) institutional and political continuity with previous policies of Constantine Mitsotakis’s conservative New Democracy government? The point to Michas’s book, after all, is to prove the existence of and illustrate an overwhelming popular, national, and transideological consensus in Greece on Balkan issues – which it does thoroughly. So why is Simitis hoist on Papandreou’s petard? Why dissolve the inescapable connection between Simitis’s government and that of Mitsotakis? The latter, if nothing else, actually established most of the policies on the Balkans that subsequent Greek governments followed, amended, or rejected.

As for why Simitis doesn’t take on the Church and call for a complete separation of it from the state, as someone who wrote on this subject recently for – and whose opinion on it is therefore known to this site’s readers – again, I can only repeat that this cannot possibly be a serious question. Constitutional reform in any democratic society is not, as Michas knows, determined by governments but by national mobilizations based on profound consensus. While Republicans are definitely to blame for the fact that the Equal Rights Amendment was never passed in this country, it would be preposterous to blame any single Republican administration – or, for that matter, to blame the Democrats’ lack of ardor for the amendment any less than the Republicans’ active hostility.

Serious political analysis demands a serious understanding of what democratic and constitutional politics can achieve – which, in fact, is not much more than, to echo the cliché, the possible, given the constraints of such politics. I happen to agree with Michas that anyone connected with dirty deals or, for that matter, merely aiding and abetting Milosevic, Karadzic, and Mladic – especially those Greek volunteers who went to fight on their side in Bosnia – should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. If it were up to me, I would also prosecute the Orthodox Church in Greece (as well as disestablish it totally and definitively) – but it’s not up to me, nor to Michas, which is the problem.

Another problem is that Michas forgets one elephantine detail: Slobodan Milosevic was the man flown by the United States to Ohio in 1995 to negotiate and sign the Dayton accords. He was, in other words, the man who was validated in his position as head of Yugoslavia/Serbia even by those who later conveniently claimed that their intention was always to isolate, and prosecute, him as a war criminal and pariah of the “international community.” No sight is as lucid as hindsight. I quote from Richard Holbrooke’s journal at the time he first went to Bosnia, even before Bill Clinton’s election, as a member of a fact-finding mission for the International Rescue Committee:

August 16 [1992]: Zagreb. Dinner is again at the buffet of the Inter-Continental, where we are joined by Steve Engelberg, an impressive New York Times correspondent. He offers some opinions: those who might replace Milosevic would probably be worse; Vance did a terrific job stopping the Croatian- Serbian war; there is a serious danger of a European Islamic radical movement if this war is not stopped soon. (Quoted in To End A War by Richard Holbrooke, pp. 38-39)

What stands out in Holbrooke’s entry, of course, is the sense that both he and the “impressive…correspondent” for the “Free World’s” newspaper of record believed that anyone “who might replace Milosevic would probably be worse.” I can’t help but comment that none of Stephen Engelberg’s opinions would have sounded dissonant in the Plateia Kolonakiou or at the now-defunct (but much-lamented) Apotsos or at Tzimi’s off Voukourestiou Street in the summer of 1992. In his book, by the way, Holbrooke also quotes Warren Zimmerman, the last US ambassador to Yugoslavia, on the notorious Milosevic “charm”: “Milosevic makes a stunning first impression on those who do not have the information to refute his often erroneous assertions. Many is the U.S. senator or congressman who has reeled out of his office exclaiming, ‘Why, he’s not nearly as bad as I expected!’” (Quoted in To End A War, p. 4)

It is this issue of perceptions and, more significantly, of honest and honorable dissent honestly and honorably arrived at, that leads to my second and, I think, most critical difference with Michas. Once again, like Michas, I will revert to personal experience.

Them and us
I was in Greece within a couple of weeks of the attack on the World Trade Center and, of course, like so many other Greek New Yorkers (and other Greek Americans), I was disgusted and sickened by the Greek reaction to what had happened in New York. I was particularly upset because as a man of the left, I’ve never understood how presumptively “progressive” politics can ever be exploited to undermine solidarity and human empathy and compassion (which is also one of the reasons I’ve come to despise the KKE). In any case, when I returned to New York, I resumed the language lessons I had been taking for several months at the Spanish Institute. My teacher, a Mexican woman from an upper middle-class background, basically had the same story to tell about her experiences in Mexico, where she had gone to get away from New York immediately following the events of September 11. She, too, was appalled and, she told me, physically and psychologically distressed at the reactions of friends and even family – all highly educated – who repeated that the United States had “gotten what it deserved” and now knew what the rest of the world had learned a long time ago: what it feels like to be innocently victimized because somebody, somewhere, for some reason, has decided that you’re the “enemy.”

What bothers me most about Takis Michas’s book is in fact his inability to make tiny but crucial distinctions. I always supported the territorial and multiethnic integrity of Yugoslavia just as, I suspect, a lot of now-defunct “Yugoslavs” did (and do). Like most people in the West, however, when it was clear that the Yugoslav center would not hold, my sympathies almost naturally flowed to the Bosnians – although I never felt particularly comfortable about the Islamist past of Alija Izetbegovic (or about his provocatively dogmatic declaration of February 27, 1991, to Bosnia’s legislature, more than a full year before hostilities began, that “I would sacrifice peace for a sovereign Bosnia-Herzegovina but for that peace…I would not sacrifice sovereignty”). As for Croatia and, especially, Franjo Tudjman, I could never see – and still don’t – much difference between what they were doing in Bosnia-Herzegovina and what the Serbs and Milosevic were doing. In fact, all the evidence I’ve ever seen has convinced me that the Bosnian tragedy was the result of a Hitler-Stalin-like pact made by Milosevic and Tudjman to divide the republic between them.

Regarding Macedonia, although I believed that its “imagined community” was even more specious than that of most other nations, I was adamantly opposed to Greece’s hostility to it for reasons of Greek national interest. As for Kosovo – again, like most people in the West – I supported Ibrahim Rugova, was appalled by the Serbs (who have a way of being generally appalling), was equally appalled by the UCK (Kosovo Liberation Army), and was most appalled by the notion that a “humanitarian war” led by NATO, of all things, would be used as the excuse to enhance the power of the one and only imperium that now bestrides the globe.

Life, in other words, really is complex. And foolish consistency is indeed a hobgoblin, not only of little minds, but of dangerous ones. What’s frustrating about reading his book is that Michas knows that. I quote from the beginning of his penultimate chapter, “The Logic of Ethnic Nationalism”:

“The blind solidarity which Greeks feel toward the Serbs is totally incomprehensible,” asserted French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut in 1994….

Yet what, precisely, was “incomprehensible” in the Greek reactions to what was happening in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo?…It was certainly not incomprehensible to oppose the hasty dissolution of Yugoslavia or the exclusive demonization of the Serbs….Nor was it incomprehensible to believe that bombing Serbia would not necessarily solve the Kosovo problem. Finally, it was by no means incomprehensible to oppose the embargo imposed on Serbia by the international community. One could disagree with those views…but they were rational views that could be supported…. Moreover, they were by no means restricted to the Greeks. (p. 120)

And yet, whenever it falls upon him to try to explain Greece’s apparently “incomprehensible” behavior (French intellectuals seem to be particularly thickheaded), Michas not only does not do so, but in fact makes it seem even more incomprehensible – and, of course, culpable. Following is the first of two examples.

“The Greek state’s [sic] approach to the deliberations of the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague,” Michas asserts strangely, confusing the constitutional with the administrative, “can at best be characterized as dismissive” (p. 40). He then adds:

…PASOK government spokesman Evangelos Venizelos said: “The problem of Bosnia can only be solved by political means. It would be an unforgivable legalism to try to solve the problem with judicial means.” The Greek government’s attitude toward the…Tribunal found its clearest expression in a statement by Theodore Pangalos, who at the time was acting foreign minister of the PASOK government in power [sic]….He argued that…“it would be irrational to condemn Mr. Karadzic without looking for the corresponding leaders that have tolerated or promoted analogous acts. It is essential that we should stop demonizing only one side if we want peace and fairness.” (p. 40)

Michas goes on to comment:

This marked the first time the foreign minister of an EU or NATO member country made a statement challenging the impartiality of the UN War Crimes Tribunal. Moreover, the statement lent legitimacy to similar arguments used by Bosnian Serbs [sic] war criminals to justify their lack of cooperation with the tribunal. (p. 40)

Michas knows – everybody does – that it is not only history that’s written by the victors, but criminal verdicts. That is not, by definition, an evil truth, just a cautionary one. It is in fact exactly what Pangalos was warning the UN about. “We,” – i.e., the West or, even more problematically, the “international community” – Pangalos was saying, must ensure two crucial points: first, that our war crimes tribunal acts in support of “peace and fairness” (and, I would add, justice) and, two, that it is perceived as doing so.

I do not understand how this self-evident position – which, by the way, is also that of the war crimes tribunal itself – can be interpreted, other than cynically, as lending “legitimacy” to Serb war criminals. Also, although Michas has strung their statements together, there is actually a world of difference between Pangalos’s explicit acceptance of the tribunal at The Hague – his admonition implies the court’s continuing, and effective, functioning – and Venizelos’s (apparent) opposition to “judicial means.” To be fair even to the latter, however, his stress on a “political” solution to the war in Bosnia happened to be identical to that of European Union envoys Lord Carrington and Lord Owen, UN negotiator Cyrus Vance, and, most significantly, Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke. Regardless of what one thinks of the motivations and obfuscations behind Venizelos’s comments, we have an obligation at least to take them at face value and then investigate (and, if we so choose, dissent from) their assumptions; why must we automatically, however, in kneejerk fashion, attack Greek officials – simply because they’re Greek – for adopting the same policy as any other Western officials?

And, oh yes, if Pangalos’s contention “marked the first time” a Western foreign minister challenged “the impartiality of the UN War Crimes Tribunal,” well, then, so much the worse for the West. It behooves the West to ensure that the instruments and structures of international justice that it creates – mostly because of precedents in the Balkans – will be impartial, universal, and transparent. And – just for the record – the recently established international criminal court has been endorsed by Greece (ratified by the Simitis government, to be exact), but cynically, brazenly, and self-interestedly sabotaged by the United States (someone’s got to protect Henry Kissinger).

There’s one other, much worse – actually, inexcusable – example of Michas’s prosecutorial attitude to which I must object. I quote:

If anybody had expected the Yugoslav elections [in September 2000] to provide an opportunity for Kostas Simitis’s government to change its policies and improve Greece’s image…this was a great disappointment….

In Belgrade and the rest of Yugoslavia, the opposition was busy denouncing the electoral fraud and organizing massive strikes and demonstrations aimed at toppling Milosevic and preventing him from holding a second round of elections. While the Serb people took to the streets by the hundreds of thousands, the Greek government rushed to help the Serb oligarch by supporting his demands for holding new elections.

In an interview…Foreign Minister George Papandreou advised the Serb opposition to yield to Milosevic’s pressure and take part in the election. “Our advice, coming from our own experience,” he said, “is that abstention even under very harsh conditions, even under conditions which are not fully democratically controlled, is not the best solution.” (p. 103-104)

At the end of the last paragraph cited above, Michas attaches a footnote that, when one goes to the back of the book to look up, reads as follows:

…It must be said here[!], however, that during the last year of the Milosevic regime George Papandreou was in close contact with the Serb Democratic opposition and especially President [Vojislav] Kostunica, trying to help the struggle for democratic reforms in the country. Most of the leading members of the Serb Democratic opposition have since recognized in public statements the positive role Papandreou and his adviser, Alex Rondos, played during the transition and the fact that his behavior differed radically from that of his predecessors, whose only contacts had been with the Milosevic regime. However, most of Papandreou’s activities in support of the Serb opposition were never publicized in Greece…because the dominant view both within his party as well as in Greece was that the changes taking place in Belgrade were “foreign instigated.” (p. 154)

As we say in Turkish, aman! You can’t win: damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

I will not speculate on Michas’s rationale for burying the comments above in a footnote. Suffice it to say that they clearly belong in the body of the text, if for no other reason than they seriously bring into question much of his argument. The important point for me, in any case, is in the last sentence, which explains as lucidly as one can why to judge the Greek – or any – government’s policy by official declarations is a fool’s game. The fact is that one cannot (and should not) take a government’s statements on any issue at face value; it is what a government does that matters. Throughout the Nineties, the various Greek governments were never as loyal to Milosevic as they (ostentatiously) declared themselves to be – and even their declarations were in fact (often cynically) made knowing, as Michas persuasively shows in his book, that they had to keep various constituencies happy, or at least quiet. And lest I be accused of cynicism myself, I say this not to excuse Greece’s governments – which has never been my wont – but to try actually to explain Greek policy in the Balkans: then, now, and, most important of all, in the future.

Anti-Americanism is not a disease
I have one more serious disagreement with Michas. In his last chapter, entitled, “The New Anti-Americanism,” he writes:

The ideology of anti-Americanism that marked the 1960s in Greece reflected the radical Left’s state of mind. It based its critique…on the inconsistency that purportedly [!] existed between ideals of liberty that Americans officially espoused and the policies they followed either at home – the so-called Jim Crow laws…or abroad….It also was…essentially benign…. Despite its occasional violent rhetoric and acts, it did not challenge the essential principles upon which American society rested – namely…liberty, the rule of law and individual rights….What it pointed out in its critique was that a country that was supposed to respect the rule of law and democratic procedures could not…cooperate in the overthrow of elected governments (as probably [!] happened with the Allende government in Chile). Nor could its government acquiesce in…military dictatorships in NATO countries (as happened in Greece in 1967). (pp. 131-132)

And again, at the end of this paragraph, Michas appends a footnote that, when it is found, reads:

Examples of the “benign” anti-Americanism that flourished in Greece in the late 1960s and early 1970s are the early texts by Andreas Papandreou…and by sociologist Konstantinos Tsoukalas.

Before I get to the heart of the matter, I have to address the second part of the footnote above. I first met Konstantinos Tsoukalas in 1978, in Washington, DC, and have known him since, which is to say for about a quarter of a century. You can say a lot of things about him – including that he’s (proudly) a leftist and, arguably, Greece’s greatest sociologist of the postwar era – but you cannot say that he’s anti-American. If anything, the Stalinist left in Greece has, for many years, accused Tsoukalas of being a notorious (for them) pro-American. When I met him in Washington, he was planning to go on to Las Vegas before returning to Paris, where he was living and teaching at the time. And he wasn’t going to Vegas to mock – as so many American intellectuals would do – but to try to understand some (hidden, strange) part of a country with which he had (and still has) essential political and social differences, but whose culture he happens to love deeply. Tsoukalas has a profound passion for movies, jazz, and New York City – like most Europeans of his generation. To call him “anti-American” is – purely, simply, and completely – to misconstrue and, in fact, mangle everything he has written for the last 35 years and in which he believes.

As for Andreas Papandreou – who was a very different kind of leftist from Tsoukalas – his “early texts” did not “flourish in Greece in the late 1960s and early 1970s,” but were written and circulated in the 1950s in the United States, where he was a respected academic. His “anti-Americanism” was so utterly rhetorical and tactical, so designed and plastic – and so fundamentally innocuous and strategically shallow – that it did exactly what he undoubtedly wanted it to do all along: bind the Greek left completely to the West and therefore break, once and for all, any sentimental ties to Stalinist models of socialism (i.e., the KKE).

Let’s get serious. There is no such thing as “benign” or “malign” anti-Americanism; one is either anti-American or one is not. And, personally – as an American – I do not believe that you can share “the essential principles upon which American society rest[s] – namely…liberty, the rule of law and individual rights” and be anti-American. In my 35 years of active political consciousness, I have much more often disagreed with my government than agreed with it. But, guess what? It’s my right. It’s there in black and white in the first ten amendments to our constitution, which were not coincidentally christened the Bill of Rights when they were composed, proposed, and ratified. I also happen to be one of those Americans who refuses to cede his nation’s ownership to the Nixons and Cheneys and, yes, Kissingers (not to mention Lays and Ebberses and, yes, Rigases), since I believe, rightly, that it belongs to the Madisons and Adamses and Jeffersons and Twains and Faulkners (and, yes, Griffiths and Keatons and Welleses and Hawkses and Fords – Johns, not Henrys). Which is why “Love It Or Leave It” has never made sense to me; we all know it should be, “Love It? Prove It.”

And which is finally why I cannot endorse Michas’s notion that the rightist – the word is actually “fascist,” and I wish, for the sake of intellectual honesty, we would stop avoiding it – anti-Americanism that has plagued Greece for the last decade is a “mutation” (p. 132) of earlier, presumably leftist modes. The archbishop of Athens and all Greece and his minions, George Karatzaferis and his lackeys, and Christos Giannaras and his students and readers (and, of course, fascist-in-mufti Aleka Papariga and her execrable blackshirts dyed scarlet, who make every genuine Greek communist red with rage, shame, and revulsion) do not believe in “the essential principles upon which American society rest[s].” In fact, they hate and abominate them, and the sooner we start telling our children the truth – to echo the wise words of Salonika’s omnidirectionally dissident, and therefore truly leftist, poet, Manolis Anagnostakis – the better off Greece will be.

One last, minor, complaint, more on Michas’s behalf than my own: he has not been served well by Texas A&M University Press. His book is marred by various, more or less consequential, typos, infelicities, and just flat-out errors, from Kerin Hope’s name, which I mentioned above, to “Erich Honnecker” (it’s Honecker), to multiple spellings/transliterations of foreign names (Ratko/Ratco Mladic, Nicos/Nikos Mouzelis [it’s actually Nicos], Aggelos [!] Elefantis/Elafantis [it’s Elefantis, of course], Nikolai Ceausescu [the late, unlamented dictator was Romanian and not Russian, and so his first name was traditionally, and consistently, transliterated as Nicolae]), to the following stunning revelation:

Nobody understood this better than Karl Marx, who in 1897 wrote: “There exists no polemical schism between the Musulmans and their Greek subjects; but the religious animosity against the Latins may be said to form the only common bond among the different races inhabiting Turkey and professing the Greek creed.” (p. 135)

While I agree with Marx’s sage observations here, as I always have with most of his analyses of the world, you don’t have to be an aging Marxist to know that he died in 1883 and is buried in Highgate. (I assume that 1897 is the date of posthumous publication of the essay from whose Greek translation Michas quoted.)

Finally, as I don’t want to beat a pretty lame horse, the notion that Cornelius Castoriadis was Greece’s “most prominent postwar social thinker” (p. 143) would be laughable were it not so poignant – and too kind to Greece by spades. Castoriadis, of course, founded Socialisme ou Barbarie in 1948 in Paris, to which he had fled in his early twenties as he was on death-lists of both the KKE and Greek government on the Civil War’s eve. He might have been France’s “most prominent postwar social thinker” who happened to be Greek (albeit Turkish-born), but let’s not give Greece the credit for a man it exiled (like so many other intellectuals and artists of the postwar era) and would have sooner shot than taken to its national breast.

These are all niggling but annoying errors. In the end, however, they do not, and cannot, take away from the value of Michas’s book. Anyone who’s been a subscriber to from the outset knows that Takis Michas was one of our very first contributors, which means that all of us respect his work tremendously. Personally, I would not have spent over 10,000 words to review a book of less than 200 pages unless I thought it made an unusually important contribution to the debate with which it engages. Michas’s book is actually critically, singularly, important because it does not simply engage with a preexisting debate, but inaugurate one that should have begun years ago.

I disagree with much of what he says – even on some essential matters – but I am grateful to him for saying it and doing so articulately, dispassionately, fairly, and without animus. I believe it is only a beginning, of course, and that Unholy Alliances must be engaged as much as the wider debate it has tried to foster. For that to happen, however, certain people – a lot of people – will have to start answering some (a lot) of the questions that Michas has put so clearly and, often and rightly, brutally. That also entails an intellectual candor that Michas has revealed but that is prodigiously, pathetically, lacking in Greece’s intellectual, social, and political elites. In the event, the deafening silence surrounding Michas’s J’accuse – like the earlier craven silence on the Balkan tragedies of the Nineties of which Michas has written – will only confirm and validate everything he has had the rare audacity to record.

Peter Pappas is co-founder of
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