The passions of others our own

Every geopolitical crisis, such as the present war in Lebanon, divides the Greeks. It as if we are condemned to live out the passions and conflicts of others as if they were our own. Here we need not go into the sources of the wildly divergent attitudes among the Greeks, which have frequently occupied these columns, but it is of great interest to note how readers of Kathimerini – both the Greek and English editions – diverge on major issues. Due to the fact that Kathimerini appears in these two editions and is widely read on the Internet, our paper is in the privileged position of being able to harvest not only the opinions of Greek readers within Greece but also those of Greeks who live abroad and of foreign readers who care about how the Greeks see things. Similar periods that shook the international community were NATO’s war against Serbia in 1999 and the terrorist attacks on the USA on 9/11, 2001. There we saw that Greek opinion makers – intellectuals, politicians, journalists and others – differed greatly among themselves. Most people, however, appeared to be greatly suspicious of the motives and actions of the USA and their allies and this tended to color the debate. The Kosovo war broke out when Kathimerini’s English Edition was exactly one year old – and it was a baptism by fire. It was as if the fledgling paper was suddenly caught in a firestorm. The main cause was that our use of English allowed the analyses and opinions of prominent Greek journalists and intellectuals to reach a far wider audience than before, as they were no longer limited to snippets pasted into the dispatches of correspondents working for foreign news media. And though Kathimerini was coolheaded and careful in its coverage of the war, its journalists could not but reflect the majority view in Greece which was strongly opposed to the war on Serbia. Instead of being limited to a small, Greek-only audience, these views were now appearing in an English-language newspaper that was published as a supplement to the International Herald Tribune in Greece and Cyprus. The IHT’s analyses, of course, reflected the thinking in the United States, Britain and most other members of the international community who believed in the need for intervention in Yugoslavia. Readers of Kathimerini’s English Edition, in other words, would find two completely different approaches to the war for the price of one. For non-Greeks and for many Greeks who live abroad, it was a revelation to see how much the Greeks of Greece diverged from their opinion on the issue and how strongly they expressed that difference. On the other hand, many Greek readers who bought the Kathimerini-IHT package could not accept the view that the war was justified. The letters that swamped our paper showed just how annoyed each side was with the other – and with us. We published letters from all sides of the argument and the only thing we could do was to note that at least our readers were in a position to know all the opinions and arguments on the issue. Today’s war in Lebanon unites the great majority of Greeks in the conviction that Israel’s response to the Hezbollah raid that set off the crisis is greatly disproportionate to the provocation. For many of our other readers, however, the cause of the war was not only Hezbollah’s provocation but the continual threat to Israel that this organization constitutes. For many Greeks it is impossible to see the justice of Israel’s position when what is evident on a daily basis is the destruction of Lebanon and the growing death toll on the innocent. Greek commentators who presented Israel’s arguments have met with an angry response from many readers. For many non-Greeks (I hate to use the term but it serves to make a point here) it is inconceivable that the debate does not take into account the magnitude of the threat that Israel faces, especially now that the most unfortunate US invasion of Iraq and the very aggressive anti-Israel position taken by the Iranian president have created an explosive climate in the region. Today one feels that many readers are not interested in being exposed to the opinions of people whose thinking differs to theirs. It is as if they are outraged that others do not believe that which they themselves hold true. Nowadays there are countless sources of news and opinion – especially on the Internet – and this seems to have created communities of readers who are pandered to by the medium which they have found best agrees with them. This reduces tolerance for different opinions and increases anger. Aggression is on the march. Newspapers who care about their readers, who want to present both sides of the argument, who want to show how people on all sides feel (and to reflect their own community’s position, warts and all), who want to fight against polarization and complacency, face a difficult task. But this makes them more important.

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