Greek lives and times

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Jul 4, 2007, 6:04:53 PM7/4/07
June 20, 2007

Greek lives and times

Richard Clogg

Robert Holland and Diana Markides
Struggles for mastery in the Eastern Mediterranean 1850–1960
280pp. Oxford University Press. £61.
0 19 924996 2

Paschalis Kitromilides, editor
The trials of statesmanship
384pp. Edinburgh University Press. £50.
0 748 62478 3

Elisabeth Kontogiorgi
The rural settlement of refugees 1922–1930
394pp. Oxford University Press. £65.
0 199 27896 2

Marina Petrakis
Dictatorship and propaganda in Greece
256pp. I. B. Tauris. £47.50.
1 84511 037 4

Violetta Hionidou
282pp. Cambridge University Press. £50.
0 521 82932 1

Bea Lewkowicz
History, memory, identity
320pp. Vallentine Mitchell & Co Ltd. Paperback, £20.
0 853 03580 6

Half a century ago, Nikos Svoronos, one of the great panjandrums of
the historical profession in Greece, was stripped of his Greek
citizenship. His offence was to have published in the Que sais-je?
series a (very) slim volume offering a Marxist interpretation of the
modern history of Greece, a work that continues to be reverentially
regarded by Greek historians on the Left.

Since that time the historiographical climate in Greece has undergone
a sea change, a process given a powerful impetus by the Colonels'
coup, the fortieth anniversary of which occurs this year. This
prompted historians to examine the forces, historical and other, that
had culminated in the establishment of a military dictatorship at once
brutal, anachronistic and absurd. The downfall of the junta in 1974
removed the last constraints and taboos in the writing of the modern
history of Greece, and since then there has been a remarkable
flourishing of historical writing both within Greece and, to a degree,
outside the country. A generation ago the publication of a scholarly
book in the United Kingdom on the modern history of the Greek world
was an infrequent event. The appearance, within the space of a few
months, of the six books under review would have been unheard of, and
is in itself a measure of the way in which the subject has developed
exponentially both inside and outside the country.

Robert Holland and Diana Markides in The British and the Hellenes:
Struggles for mastery in the Eastern Mediterranean 1850–1960 look at
the close and not infrequently fraught relationship between the
British and the Greeks through the prism of four critical junctures in
which Britain was particularly entangled in Greek affairs. The first
of these was the British protectorate over the notionally independent
Ionian Islands between 1815 and 1864, one of the few lasting legacies
of which is a taste for tsitsibyri or ginger beer. As demands for the
enosis or union of the islands with the Greek kingdom became ever more
insistent, William Ewart Gladstone was, in 1858, dispatched to the
islands as Extraordinary High Commissioner. As the author of Studies
on Homer and the Homeric Age (published by Oxford University Press in
the year of his Ionian mission) and honoured with a statue in front of
the University of Athens, Gladstone has a secure place in the
philhellenic pantheon, even if his spoken Greek could on occasion be
mistaken for English. But in reality he had no time for Ionian
aspirations. Within fifteen years, however, Britain had agreed to the
union of the islands with Greece as a kind of dowry for the Danish
prince who assumed the throne as King George I of the Hellenes.

The second occasion was the sending of troops in 1897, alongside those
of Italy, France, Russia, Austria and Germany, to maintain peace
between Greeks and Turks on the island of Crete, another hotbed of
"enosist" agitation. This intervention by an international
peacekeeping force interestingly prefigures the dispatch of
peacekeepers to the Balkans in the 1990s. Nor did peacekeeping in the
1890s prove to be without cost. On September 6, 1898, seventeen
British troops were killed and thirty-nine severely wounded, a greater
number of British casualties than was incurred by General Kitchener's
forces at the near-simultaneous Battle of Omdurman.

The third episode was the British military administration of the
Dodecanese at the end of the Second World War. This followed
Churchill's misguided attempt to capture Cos, Leros and Samos at the
time of the Italian surrender in September 1943. With its echoes of
the Gallipoli campaign, this proved a costly fiasco and led Churchill
to bestow, unfairly, on "Jumbo" Wilson, the Commander-in-Chief in the
Middle East, the epithet the "Wizard of Cos".

The fourth was the occupation in 1878 and subsequent annexation of
Cyprus, a move which Gladstone at the time called, with not a little
justification, "an insane covenant". Here Britain contrived to make an
even bigger mess of things than in the Ionian Islands, the
consequences of which are still with us and, more to the point, with
the Cypriots. Holland and Markides say little about the establishment
of the British Sovereign Base Areas under the terms of the 1960
settlement whereby Cyprus became independent. The entry of Cyprus into
the EU in 2004 has had the thoroughly anomalous consequence that one
EU country, Britain, exercises sovereignty in perpetuity over sizeable
chunks of the territory of another EU member in the shape of the two
sovereign base areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia.

What is more, the only British interest that could be considered, with
any degree of plausibility, to have been under threat from Saddam
Hussein in 2003 were these same bases. The case of the British bases
on Cyprus is a salutary example of the law of unintended consequences.
Annexing other people's territory has indirectly contributed to the
miring of Britain in the unmitigated disaster of Iraq. Overall,
Holland and Markides make a major contribution to the study of
Anglo-Greek relations in a book full of arresting insights.

As these two authors note, probably the most Anglophile of Greek
politicians was Eleftherios Venizelos. Although an enthusiastic
champion of a Greater Greece, in his anxiety not to embarrass his
British patrons he never espoused the cause of the enosis of Cyprus,
the so-called Gibraltar of the East, with Greece. It is odd that there
is no up-to-date Life, in Greek or, indeed, in any language, of
Venizelos, a statesman who placed Greece firmly on the international
map and a politician who dominated the politics of Greece during the
first third of the last century, attracting in the process adulation
and execration in equal measure.

But political biography, as opposed to hagiography, is not a common
genre in Greece. No proper Life exists, for instance, of Adamantios
Korais, a man of extraordinary intellect, a textual critic accepted as
an equal by Porson himself, and a key figure in the Greek national
movement. Nor are there adequate biographies of Charilaos Trikoupis
and Theodoros Deliyannis, the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of Greek
politics in the second half of the nineteenth century, or of their
twentieth-century counterparts, Konstantinos Karamanlis and Andreas

Although it is no substitute for a single authored Life, the volume of
essays Eleftherios Venizelos: The trials of statesmanship serves a
very useful function in making the fruits of recent research on the
charismatic (and exceptionally photogenic) Cretan available to the
English-reading public. Extensive coverage is given, appropriately, to
his native island, where he cut his political teeth in the struggle
for enosis with the Greek kingdom and to his rejuvenation of the jaded
politics of Athens, the ethniko kentro or "national centre" of the
Greek world. Within the space of two years he had introduced
fundamental domestic reforms and overseen the virtual doubling of
Greece's territory in the Balkan wars of 1912–13. His intellectual
pursuits, including the translation of Thucydides into a modern form
of the language, and the notable educational reforms instituted under
his aegis, also receive attention.

The standard of the individual chapters is high, although the English
in the translated chapters at times reads rather oddly – for example
"prefectural agronomers" – while the volume lacks a concluding chapter
which would summarize Venizelos's contribution to the shaping of
Greece in modern times.

Venizelos believed profoundly in the civilizing mission of Greece in
the East, and, for a brief period after the First World War, it looked
as though the irredentist dream of the Megali Idea, or Great Idea of
incorporating all areas of compact Greek settlement within the
boundaries of a single state, lay within reach, as the Greece of the
two continents and the five seas came into existence. But if
Venizelos's achievements between 1910 and 1913, in both foreign and
domestic affairs, were extraordinary, his greatest mistake lay in
launching, in 1919, the occupation of a large area of Western Asia
Minor. This proved to be a disastrous move, albeit one that was
continued by Venizelos's bitter royalist foes, the supposed advocates
of a small but honourable Greece, following his surprise defeat in
elections in November 1920. For the Greek occupation acted as the
catalyst of the Turkish national movement led by Mustafa Kemal (later
Atatürk). The adventure ended in catastrophic defeat in 1922.
Venizelos, as Greece's chief negotiator at the Lausanne Conference the
following year, was realistic enough to realize that the only outcome
likely to keep the peace between the two countries (as it has, even if
once or twice only narrowly) was to exchange the Greeks of Asia Minor
(many of them Turkish-speaking) for most of the Turks of the Greek
kingdom (many of them Greek-speaking).

When he returned to office between 1928 and 1932, Venizelos achieved
some notable successes in foreign policy. These included a remarkable
rapprochement with Kemal Atatürk, albeit one secured at the cost of
abandoning claims for compensation of those caught up in the
population exchange. Venizelos even somewhat improbably (and
unsuccessfully) nominated Atatürk for the Nobel Peace Prize. But he
had lost his old magic, and manifested a marked social conservatism
and a cavalier attitude to parliamentary democracy.

The debacle in Asia Minor resulted in a massive influx of refugees,
much of it unplanned and chaotic, some of it carried out in a
relatively orderly fashion under the terms of the convention on the
Exchange of Populations. Most of the refugees, preponderantly women
and children, and including a disproportionate number of orphans, were
destitute (the grandmother of one of my former Greek students arrived
on Greek soil with only one shoe). This tidal wave was joined by
refugees from Eastern Thrace, the Caucasus, with its sizeable Greek
populations, and from Bulgaria.

In total, some 1.2 million poured into a near-bankrupt and war-weary
country, with a population of 5.5 million and few natural resources.
In the early 1970s, the arrival in the United Kingdom of 30,000
Ugandan Asians in a country of 55 million was held in certain quarters
to presage the end of civilization as we had known it; yet an influx
on the Greek scale would have amounted within the space of two or
three years to some 11 million incomers.

The resettlement of many of these refugees in the areas of Macedonia
annexed by Greece during the Balkan wars is the subject of Elisabeth
Kontogiorgi's Population Exchange in Greek Macedonia: The rural
settlement of refugees 1922–1930, a book which makes a valuable
addition to the literature on the exchange of populations. Although
the resettlement process and eventual integration of the incomers was
an extraordinary achievement, it met, as Kontogiorgi demonstrates,
with many obstacles. Adequate housing was in short supply; there were
no land surveys; fertile land was scarce; competition for jobs was
fierce; malaria was endemic; many of the incomers were
Turkish-speaking and knew no Greek; others, the Greeks originating in
Pontos, spoke a form of Greek that was scarcely intelligible to the
natives. Publication in karamanlidika, Turkish printed in Greek
characters, continued for the refugees in Greece until the end of the

Attempts to resettle refugees from the same community together were
not always successful. There was friction, sometimes serious, between
natives and incomers, as in the riots in 1924 over land distribution
in Küpkoy, the birthplace of Konstantinos Karamanlis, the President of
Greece in the early 1980s and 90s. The refugees were criticized as
lazy, and referred to derisively as yiaourtovaptismenoi (baptized in
yoghurt, a reference to their use of yoghurt in their noticeably
better cuisine). Anti-refugee hysteria sometimes assumed extreme
forms. One fanatic wanted them to wear yellow armbands so that they
could be readily identified. During the Axis Occupation in the Second
World War, some of the turcophone and Pontic Greeks, marginalized in
their new homes, proved fertile recruits for anti-Communist and
collaborationist bands.

Following the Balkan wars of 1912–13, Greeks were actually in a
minority in the newly acquired territories. The arrival of the
refugees meant that Greeks became a clear majority in the hitherto
ethnically mixed region, diluting the numbers of Slav-Macedonians.
Henceforth, Greece became the most ethnically homogeneous country in
the Balkans. Kontogiorgi maintains that the incomers shared a national
consciousness and national ideals with the natives. But this was not
true in all cases. More than half a million of the refugees were
settled in Greek Macedonia. At the height of the controversy (still
technically unresolved) in the 1990s over the name to be adopted by
the newly independent state of Macedonia, there was little sympathy
for the Greek case among her European partners. But Greek behaviour
over the issue is explained, if not necessarily excused, by the fact
that so many Greeks living in the region have parents, grandparents,
or great-grandparents whose lives had been turned upside down in the
1920s, and who were naturally alarmed at the prospect of a
neighbouring state laying claim to their land, however unlikely that
prospect was in reality.

It was the relentless feuding between Venizelists, who enjoyed the
electoral support of most of the refugees, and Royalists, that gave
Ioannis Metaxas, a general turned leader of a marginal political
party, the chance to establish in 1936 an anti-Communist,
anti-parliamentary dictatorship, with quasi-fascist trappings. The
diminutive, egotistic, uncharismatic (and distinctly unphotogenic)
dictator was the very antithesis of Venizelos. As Marina Petrakis
records in her The Metaxas Myth: Dictatorship and propaganda in
Greece, the British Minister in Athens once described him as short,
corpulent and ill-dressed.

Although Petrakis gives little of the context of the establishment of
the 4th of August dictatorship, she has unearthed some fascinating and
rare material about the way in which Metaxas sought to bolster support
for his quasi-fascist regime through the deployment of relatively
sophisticated and modern methods of propaganda. These included film,
radio, the use of propagandistic slogans as postmarks ("Do not forget
that on the 4th August Greece was saved by Ioannis Metaxas") and on
bus tickets, even the superimposition of photographs of the
self-anointed "First Peasant", "First Worker", and even more
improbable "First Athlete", on light bulbs.

The book constitutes a pioneering piece of research, based on a wide
range of sources, although it would have benefited from better
copy-editing. Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, for instance, metamorphoses into
"Etna Gambler". It is, moreover, surely an exaggeration to say that
Metaxas dominated the political and military scene in Greece for
thirty years. He emerged from political obscurity and his domination
lasted only for the five years of his dictatorship. This was
established solely by force, his attempt to develop a power base
through the youth movement, EON, proving a miserable failure.

The one redeeming feature of the Metaxas dictatorship was the way he
stood up to Mussolini in October 1940, in the process unleashing a
wave of patriotic exaltation. Greece's repulse of the attempted
Italian invasion provided a glimmer of hope during the dark winter of
1940–41, when Greece stood alone with Britain in Europe in offering
active resistance to the Axis. But Greece had no hope of resisting the
German onslaught in April 1941, which rapidly resulted in a brutal
tripartite German, Italian and Bulgarian occupation.

Within a matter of weeks serious food shortages developed into a
horrifying famine, the last major famine, in terms of mortality, to
take place in Europe. Some 5 per cent of the population died of
starvation, and there were as many as 450,000 deaths between May 1941
and April 1943.

Considering its seriousness, there has been surprisingly little
research on the famine and its consequences, as historians have
concentrated on the resistance and the role of the powers in Greek
affairs. This lacuna is now filled by Violetta Hionidou's impressive
and exhaustively researched Famine and Death in Occupied Greece,
1941–1944. Extrapolating from the situation on the islands of Chios,
Syros and Mykonos, where accurate records continued to be kept amid
the chaos of Occupation, Hionidou produces a detailed anatomy of the
famine and its demographic consequences; the functioning of the
economy and markets, including the ubiquitous black market, which she
considers on the whole not to have been as negative as often supposed;
and the effects of the famine on fertility as well as on mortality.
Severe food shortages actually led to measurable levels of stunted
growth among those born in this period. Hionidou also considers the
organization of welfare and relief in a society in which there was no
tradition of state provision, a process in which the Swedish and Swiss
Red Cross were heavily involved. The Oxford Committee for Famine
Relief, which after the war metamorphosed into Oxfam, had its origins
in raising funds for the alleviation of famine in Greece.

One of Hionidou's revisionist findings is that the extent of
requisitioning of food by the Occupation authorities has been "hugely
exaggerated" by historians (myself included) in writing about the
famine. Requisitions seemingly did not have a major effect on the
local availability of food. Indeed, Hionidou records that on Chios the
German Occupation authorities took active steps to alleviate food
shortages, even permitting locals to forage for food supplies in
neighbouring Turkey.

Famine was not the only disaster to befall occupied Greece. The
civilian population was not only at risk of death from starvation, but
as a result of the savage punishments meted out by the Occupation
authorities in reprisal for acts of resistance, while the country
experienced one of the worst inflations in recorded history. The
cost-of-living index rose from 11,686 to 198,630,000,000 between May
1943 and October 1944. Greece's Jewish community, consisting
principally of the Spanish-speaking Sephardim of Thessaloniki, once
known as the Jerusalem of the Balkans, was virtually wiped out. The
community numbered some 53,000 at the beginning of the 1940s, of which
some 48,000 were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Of the total Jewish
population in Greece, approximately 75,000, only 8,000 survived the
Occupation. Most of these survivors emigrated to Israel, with fewer
than 2,000 living in Thessaloniki after the end of the war.

The destruction of Greek Jewry at the hands of the Nazis is, like the
famine, an under-researched topic. As Bea Lewkowicz points out in The
Jewish Community of Salonika: History, memory, identity, it is only
relatively recently that attention has been paid to a community that,
as late as the early 1940s, constituted some 20 per cent of the
population of the city, and this in spite of the huge inflow of
refugees to the city in the 1920s. The community is principally
descended from Jews expelled from Spain in 1492: only in the 1970s did
Greek replace Ladino, essentially fifteenth-century Spanish, in the
recording of the community's affairs. Only relatively recently has the
Greek state formally recognized the extent of the tragedy that befell
Greek Jewry during the Second World War. It took until 1997 for a
monument to the Holocaust to be erected in the city, and only in 2001
was a Jewish Museum opened. Although recent years have seen the
publication of a number of memoirs of survivors and a number of
scholarly studies, even now the city's Jewish heritage is little known
at a popular level, as Lewkowicz demonstrates.

Bea Lewkowicz's book, based on thorough field work, has two strands:
an interpretation of the horrific experiences of the 1940s through
interviews with the now very elderly survivors of the Holocaust and
how this is remembered; and a study of younger members of the now very
small Jewish community in the city and how they perceive themselves as
part of a minority group in a society which tends to regard only those
of the Orthodox faith as being fully "Greek". In an interesting
passage she records the differing reactions to an incident at
community camp in the late 1980s when an "American-Israeli" rabbi
hoisted the Israeli flag. Some thought the move totally out of order.
Some thought the reaction against the raising of the Israeli flag
reflected a "weak" Jewish identity. One threat to the cohesion of the
community is inter-marriage: a consequence of the introduction of
civil marriage in 1982 by Andreas Papandreou's PASOK party has been to
remove the need for the non-Jewish partner to convert. The book is
accompanied by some interesting, although poorly reproduced,

The six books afford a good insight into the way in which the study of
the modern history and society of Greece has in recent years been
expanded, enriched and in many respects transformed.

Richard Clogg is an Emeritus Fellow of St Antony's College, Oxford.
His recent books include I kath'imas Anatoli: Studies in Ottoman Greek
history, 2004, and Greece, 1940–1949: Occupation, resistance, civil
war – A documentary history, 2002.

June Samaras
(For Books about Greece)
2020 Old Station Rd
Canada L5M 2V1
Tel : 905-542-1877
E-mail :

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