The reason for this interview was his recent beating in Thessaloniki, northern Greece, that was allegedly prompted by his academic views. Nikos Marantzidis was approached by a group of unidentified men who asked if he was “the guy who writes articles against the left.”
Since 1999, the University of Macedonia professor’s research has focused on Greece during the 1940s and the civil war. Together with Yale political science professor Stathis Kalyvas, Marantzidis has contributed to shifting academic perception of the left during that era. Their work has sparked a fair amount of controversy among academics and the media.
Marantzidis was born in Thessaloniki in 1966. He spent his childhood in France, following the political exile of his father, who was a member of Democratic Defense, an anti-dictatorial group that fought against the Greek military dictatorship of 1967-74. He did his PhD at Universite Paris X (Paris University 10) on the subject of communism. Marantzidis is the author of a number of books, most recently “The Greek Civil War and the International Communist System” (Alexandria, 2011). He is also a visiting professor at Charles University in Prague and Warsaw University.
Would you say that if people have a different point of view in Greece, they end up getting beaten up?
There is a tacit toleration of violence in Greek society. As far as I am concerned, there have been attempts to stigmatize me over the past 15 years. I continue to be surprised at the level of hostility that can be generated by people who happen to hold a different point of view.
And would you argue that verbal abuse is different to real abuse?
It is not unrelated to physical [abuse]. The quality of public debate in Greece is, at least in part, to blame for what happens out there on the street. When you call someone a Hitler sympathizer or an apologist of [Nazi] collaborators, there is not much you can expect from a fanatic youth who is obviously not the smartest man on earth.
Do you think your work has provided absolution for Greece’s collaborators?
No, not at all. It’s not my job to forgive or to condemn people, but to understand why and how people act within a certain context. The fairy tale that the great majority of the Greek people were fighting the Germans and that there was only a small group of collaborators may serve the national narrative, but it is just false.
Does that mean we all have a grandfather who collaborated with the enemy?
No, but the number of armed men who collaborated with the Germans was more than the armed men who fought against them. In mid-1944, there were more than 10,000 armed anti-National Liberation Front [EAM] collaborators in Macedonia according to my calculations.
Why would a Greek side with the enemy?
Most of them sided with the Germans because they thought that they were protected against attacks by EAM-ELAS [National Liberation Front – National Popular Liberation Army] who often behaved vindictively against other Greeks and executed dissidents. There was a type of civil war going on during the [German] occupation.
What kind of evidence do you rely on to back up your claims?
Our data include village-specific death records for people who were executed by ELAS fighters during the occupation – and these have not been challenged. We have also conducted endless interviews.
Why did our grandfathers keep this guilty secret for all these years?
Well, they didn’t. It’s just that they get sidelined as we move on into the Metapolitefsi [the period following the end of Greece’s military dictatorship] years. I have a friend from Pyrgos in the Peloponnese’s Ilia district who is a leftist. He told me that his father had for years claimed that people in his village were begging the security battalions to protect them, and everyone was telling him that he “did not remember well.” Things were more complex in the countryside than in Athens.
Why did leftist culture dominate the Metapolitefsi?
The defeated were able to prevail on an ethical level because the winners who controlled the post-civil war state went on to persecute a large part of the Greek population and marginalize them along the lines of an identity that often was no more than family identity.
Would you describe yourself as anti-communist?
Yes, I am anti-communist, in the way I also am an anti-fascist. I am against all forms of totalitarianism.
Can an anti-communist person be an objective historian?
I am an honest historian. There is no question that the questions I pose derive from my subjectivity. But my method and my research tools are fully acceptable on a scientific level.
Are you upset by the fact that you are questioned by a section of your colleagues?
Never mind about me. Stathis Kalyvas is a professor at Yale. Is it not a sign of Greek provincialism to question the legitimacy of one of the most important political science professors in the USA?
What if the US is trying to rewrite history and its role in the Greek Civil War?
That is out of the question. Yale is not just any university.
As a Black Sea Greek from Macedonia, does your family have any stories from the civil war?
No, but my grandfather was a communist, a Stalinist. He was exiled to Icaria island. My cousins are now KKE officials.
Are you on speaking terms?
They are very loyal and they think I have betrayed our family.
How would you identify yourself politically?
When I was young I was a member of Rigas Feraios [the youth organization of the Communist Party of Greece (Interior)]. Today I identify as centrist social-liberal.
Could you have been beaten up by agents provocateurs of the ultranationalist Golden Dawn party?
No. The people who hit me took shelter in an anti-establishment rally down the road.
Didn’t anyone react?
No. everything happened too fast. My student [who was sat next to me] was shocked.
Is your student really an adviser to the prime minister?
That is his own purview. I am just his PhD supervisor.
Have you advised the premier on the “theory of two extremes” [as the horseshoe theory, which points to the similarities between the extreme right and left, is described in Greece]?
No, thankfully. Thankfully for the prime minister, not me. It is wrong to exploit the theory of totalitarianism in order to serve short-term objectives.
Could the people who attacked you have been your students?
No way. I have been teaching for 15 years. I have had students who were members of KKE or SYRIZA, and I am certain they sometimes swore at me behind my back, but they were always polite in their interventions during class.
Do you have students who are members of anti-establishment groups?
They don’t usually come to class. They know everything, it seems.
Have you received threats in the past?
No, and I am proud of that. The University of Macedonia has no culture or history of violence.
Would you describe your students as clever?
It is not a matter of intelligence, but of deficient education. They enter university having scored 15,000 credits at a bad school, lacking basic knowledge and having difficulty in comparative thinking.
And how do they turn out?
Some 70 percent of my students graduate. Five years later half of them are unemployed or have no prospects, which is worrying.
So do you think you deserve the money you get as professors?
Yes. I mean, what money are we talking about? An assistant professor gets 1,300 euros a month. But I believe that Greek professors could work harder. Here’s a chance for anyone who has not sworn at me to do so now. In the Netherlands, professors work 9 to 5 on a daily basis.
Are you afraid?
I want to believe it won’t happen again.
* This article first appeared in the July 13 issue of K, Kathimerini’s Sunday supplement.