OPINION

The Week in Review

Time seemed to have been kind to them. In fact, it seemed to have stood still. The picture was a little like one of those mysterious drops of amber that, if science and fiction can be believed, contain a mosquito carrying a pregnant drop of the blood of some extinct creature that once ruled the earth. Rebuilding the monster from its DNA still belongs to the realm of fiction – unlike politics, where recreating a distant, often mythical past is the lifeblood of the coalitions of visionaries and opportunists that make up movements and parties. Yasser Arafat and the 6,000 or so PASOK delegates who gave him a frenzied, standing ovation at the start of the party congress on Thursday basked in each other’s reflected glory as if they both represented the political, liberation movements of old. The party that has grown old in government tried to look like a fired-up liberation movement while the old revolutionary who has grown old without a country, stuck in the middle between Palestinian extremists and a hard Israeli government, was treated as a head of state (with major thoroughfares being closed for his security), a revolutionary, and a visionary. Suddenly, in the New Socialist chic of a hangar-like congress hall at Athens’s Olympic Stadium, we were back in the early 1980s – in 1982, in fact, when Andreas Papandreou’s PASOK had been swept into office the previous October on a wave of anti-American, anti-NATO and anti-European Economic Community rhetoric, when Greece sent passenger ferries to Lebanon to evacuate Arafat’s fighters and their families in the wake of the Israeli military invasion. At that time, the United States and the rest of the world considered Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization a terrorist group, following numerous attacks on civilian targets. Greece’s support for the PLO gave Papandreou the credibility of being a rebel in the Western camp and of supporting a nation trying to win its liberation as the Greeks had done in the early 19th century. The Third Way With his effortless mastery of populism and nominal armed opposition to Greece’s 1967-74 junta, Papandreou had taken on the persona of the Prophet-Warrior of Allagi (Change), PASOK’s panacea in its early years, forging the impression that Greece was entering a new era where it would be master of its fate. But he had no intention of leading Greece away from the West and into the opposite camp. What he sought was a Third Way – a slogan which later became fashionable briefly in a different context with Tony Blair’s somewhat similarly toothless revolution in Britain (although when he adopted the conservative policies of his predecessors he said as much, unlike Papandreou who would wrap them in something to enrapture his audience). Papandreou, of course, had to appear radical without going so far as to destroy the source of funds pouring into Greece from the EEC in a bounty not seen since the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan. So flouting the West’s taboo on contacts with the PLO and Libya, calling the United States the metropolis of imperialism, almost always having asterisks with footnotes of Greek objections added to NATO and EEC decisions, by standing firmly against Turkey and raging against the international community for not solving the Cyprus problem, and by adopting extreme polarization as his way of dealing with Greece’s conservatives, he could cultivate the persona of the rebel, the champion of the underdog everywhere (whether it be a Third World liberation movement or a Polish military dictator busy stamping out another liberation movement), the defender of the interests of Hellenism. Much of his action, however, appears to have been based on the simple dogma of going against what America wanted or America represented without going so far as to cause a rupture. In this, he played merrily on the Greek egotism and national delusion that, in the end, everybody else needed Greece more than Greece needed them. For instance, he did not carry out his promise to throw the American bases out of Greece, he just appointed a dogmatic and self-important journalist (best known at the time for having claimed to have discovered the water that cures cancer) as Greece’s negotiator in what turned out to be interminable talks on renewing the defense agreement with the United States. The Americans seethed but they played along (until the time came for them to pull out anyway). He also stayed in what is now the European Union, using the funds to spread wealth among Greeks in a way that had never been seen before. With this, and by overturning the old conservative order in the civil service and education system (where students were given a dominant voice which led, inevitably, to a disastrous drop in standards), by appointing brash young Green Guards to positions of authority and easy pickings, he replaced the clubby old conservative system by one in which people who might have had no jobs were now in positions of power. This marriage of unaccountability with a sense of entitlement, along with indifference and incompetence, is one of the greatest plagues on Greece today. Having made sure that he had won the adulation of most Greeks, who hitherto felt disenfranchised by a long-entrenched conservative regime and had scores to settle after the trauma of dictatorship and the Turkish invasion and occupation of northern Cyprus, Papandreou cleverly gave this sense of rebelliousness the patina of institutional respectability with his efforts to create something like an international Third Way. The short-lived Initiative of the Six brought together the leaders of Sweden, Mexico, India, Tanzania, Greece and Argentina and was supposed to function as a bridge, or wedge, or club, or whatever, between East and West. This allowed new government hacks and Greece’s new journalistic elite the opportunity to follow the cosmopolitan Papandreou on junkets across the globe. It truly was a great time to be a Greek siding with the forces of social justice and progress, as PASOK liked to present itself. But it was also a time in which, as we said, many of the ills that now plague Greece were incubated and hatched. Many Greeks were now living like princes but were thinking like proles. Ritual anti-Americanism There was the sense of entitlement most often seen in revolutionaries after they have overthrown the ancien regime and before the new bureaucracy asserts itself by cutting off the leaders’ heads (this we saw, in a watered-down fashion, in the corruption charges that dogged Papandreou in 1988 and 1989 before he returned to power with an economic austerity plan in 1993). There was the sense of unaccountability – with tenure and ochlocracy in the civil service in all its forms making government employees a law unto themselves, from street cleaners to hospital doctors. There was the death of the intellectual, with the overriding sense that the enemy was clearly defined: He was the Right, the Turk, the American, and, to an extent, Brussels, which was good on handouts but could get pompous. This meant that anyone who disagreed was either undemocratic or unpatriotic. So few disagreed. Our intellectual depth remained where it was in 1974 – or 1967 for that matter. This has led to a situation where the Communist Party, embittered both by the collapse of the Socialist Paradise in 1989 and by the drop of its support from 12 percent in 1984 to 5 percent today (mostly to PASOK’s benefit), has become, in effect, the country’s voice when it conducts anti-American protests: The government and conservative opposition do not agree but they are not the ones burning American flags and chanting American Killers in the streets and on the world’s television screens. Although Greece did nothing to leave NATO or the European Union, it cultivated the warmest feelings for the Eastern Bloc and the Arab world. The valid cause of the Palestinians – because in the end, international recognition of the PLO proved Greece had been correct in supporting this particular underdog – became an excuse for a range of problems, from widespread anti-Semitism to the depredations of urban guerrilla groups trying to gain revolutionary credentials from other people’s struggles. Creating the ideological basis for this was the ritual anti-Americanism of every protest march, whether the annual commemoration of the November 17 student uprising of 1973 or the US-led campaign against Yugoslavia or whatever was in vogue. America moved on from the blatant intervention of past decades, the world changed, the Eastern Bloc fell into separate nations trying to assert themselves (often at the expense of each other). The Palestinians and the Israelis signed a peace agreement and began working toward a modus vivendi in which they would try to separate the inseparable and divide the absolutes on which each based his dogma. Arafat became president of the Palestinian Authority, enjoying the trappings of power with the revolutionary’s autocratic sense of entitlement and, now responsible for his people’s future, choosing indecision rather than signing a lasting settlement brokered by the Americans. Suddenly, at the PASOK Congress, it was as if Arafat was no longer burdened by the present but rather driven by the past, when things were simple. PASOK, too, is burdened by the fact that it has ruled Greece for all but three of the past 20 years. It is now into its second generation in power. It is run by a bookish man who has nothing in common with the charismatic founder who died five years ago. It is the establishment. And so, it too, with Arafat, could find its alibi for present guilt and the fiasco over its proposals for social security reform in the brave new past that each represents for the other. The irony is that Arafat, who has been described famously as never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity, is showing himself to be more astute in the present crisis than his many champions in Greece. If support for Israel is the criterion for Islamists’ rage against America (although this, once again, sounds more like the excuse of bourgeois intellectuals trying to cash in on other people’s revolutions), then surely Arafat should be the standard-bearer of that anger? And yet he knows that the only way to further his nation’s interests is to make them coincide with those of the United States. He has come a long way and fought against many odds and survived many dangerous situations to come to this conclusion. The Greeks (and, of course, here we are generalizing on the basis of the comments on television, editorial pages and among those who take to the streets in demonstrations) have not been tested in the same way and have not outgrown the passions of their own revolt, in which few took part but many enjoyed its fruits. They have started out from a position of friendship with the United States to one where only Greeks, Palestinians and Pakistanis have been seen on American television burning American flags. Similarly, when the Serbs took their difficult choices and decided to step into the future, many Greek commentators were left alone holding a candle for Slobodan Milosevic, again forgetting that it was the Serbian government that was responsible for its people’s fate, not the cynics in Athens. Left, Right, little center The madness is that the right wing (at least that which is to the right of New Democracy) has adopted the Communists’ anti-Americanism as if it was not the United States which had helped the Right win the 1946-49 civil war and stay in power until PASOK’s rise. Much of this anger is because the United States came to live comfortably with a PASOK that said one thing while doing another. The strongest American reaction came in the mid-1980s when the Reagan administration, angered by Papandreou’s freelancing and flirtation with the Palestinians, accused Greece of being soft on terrorism and slapped a damaging travel advisory on Greece, saying that Athens airport security was deficient. This, along with its inability to capture even one member of the November 17 terrorist group, created the image of Greece as a haven for terrorists – an image that one might have shrugged off as an exaggeration and an injustice but which has now come back to haunt us at a time when the United States is wracked by the pain and sorrow caused by the attacks that it suffered. Just as the world changed with the collapse of the Soviet Union and our politicians remained frozen in their old polarized dispute, so it has changed with the attacks of September 11 and we’re still seeing ourselves in the world as it was 30 years ago. When soccer hooligans last month chanted anti-American slogans and tried to burn the American flag, they were just carrying out the usual routine, being radicals by rote. The fact that this incident, combined with the now frequent Communist-led demonstrations, has rocked relations between Greece and the Greek Americans indicates that the incessant drone of past anti-Americanism in Greece left little tolerance across the Atlantic. This has resulted in what might otherwise have been seen as isolated expressions of extremists and hooligans being seen as the tip of the iceberg of how Greeks feel. This is the monster that the sleep of our reason has created. It was an accident waiting to happen. It was a crime of negligence. While we dreamed of revolutions that for us were over long ago we loosened our collective grip on the present.