The Greek left: how history can repeat itself as an even bigger tragedy

In early 2018, several hundred thousand Greeks participated in two big demonstrations, first at Thessaloniki and then at Athens, calling for a categorical “no” to any agreement with the Republic of Macedonia concerning its official name.  Mikis Theodorakis was the main speaker at the rally in Athens. Giorgos Mitralias writes:

So, it is a “distasteful surprise” that Thedorakis publicly rubs himself up against apologists for racism, anti-Semitism, anti-communism and the nightmare of “ethnic purity”? Undoubtedly distasteful, but not a surprise. And if the problem were only Mikis, it would not be much harm. However, since it is not just him but also several others, the problem is enormous, and the danger imminent. It is therefore time to call things by their proper name.

  • First truth: The Greek left, or at least a large part of it, since there are – luckily – some exceptions who save its honour, suffers from a pathological chauvinismwhich almost borders on racism, and sometimes even goes beyond it. For how long? Without any doubt for a very long time – at least for several decades.
  • Second truth: The Greek left not only does not conceal its chauvinism, which it calls “patriotism”, but is very proud of it, and presents it as if it were a supreme virtue, above all criticism.
  • Third truth: It is unthinkable to criticize this chauvinism, because it is perpetrated in the name of two unanimously accepted Greek taboos: the “national community of souls” and “national unity”,necessitated by what are referred to as “national questions” or “national causes”.
  • Fourth truth: The acceptance of these two taboos on the part of the Greek left is the logical consequence of the fact that it traditionally treats Greek society as something unique, where differences (of class and others) are of secondary importance because they recede when faced with “the national interest”. In other words, class struggle is ignored and forgotten indefinitely.
  • Fifth truth: Given that this “national union” constitutes a vital need and an ideological banner of bourgeois domination, its acceptance on the part of the Greek left leads inevitably to the acceptance and adoption of most – if not all – of the obscurantist and reactionary beliefs by which “national unity” is imposed on the populationand put into practice: the superiority of orthodoxy and the Greek nation, its “racial purity”, its rejection of diversity and of the right to diversity, its contempt for others and for anyone different, because the Greek nation is a “chosen” and “unique” nation, permanently encircled and menaced by all manner of enemies.
  • Sixth truth: Having accepted the bourgeois inspired “police conception” of Greek history, the Greek left nevertheless put forward its own “left version” of it by inventing the theory that the Greek nation is supposedly a sworn enemy of imperialism, which in turn, obviously, does everything possible to punish the Greeks. Thus Greece – a founder member of NATO and one of the earlier members of the Common Market and the EU and of a myriad of international imperialist agencies, as well as regional gendarme of the West, is transformed by a magic wand – for reasons that no-one has ever explained – into a special target of imperialism and its local Balkan “representatives”, which are usually smaller and less powerful countries, colonised, moreover, by Greek capitalists.
  • Seventh truth: Faced with an imperialism which wants to harm the Greeks, the Greek left invented two other nations which are distinguished for their supposed traditional (if not innate) anti-imperialism – Serbia and Russia – which can only be the natural allies of Greece. All the more so because the three nations are orthodox,the theory of “the anti-imperialist arc” – Athens, Belgrade, Moscow – emerges strengthened, acquiring an orthodox-secular dimension forming the mainstay of the Greek foreign policy favoured by the left.

It is evident that this primitive, metaphysical and profoundly reactionary world view has absolutely no connection with Marxism, nor with any of the traditional principles and values of the socialist and workers’ movement, such as class solidarity and internationalism, nor even with the most elementary humanism. But what is worse is that the results of such politics when put into practice are always catastrophic. And to give just one example, they are as shameful and disastrous has been the balance sheet of the attitude of practically all the Greek left during the wars, massacres and mass ethnic cleansing which marked the breakup of Yugoslavia during the first half of the ’90s.

It is therefore precisely because it replaced internationalism and class solidarity with nationalist ranting about “the orthodox arc” and “our Serbian brothers” – slogans borrowed from the right and the extreme right – that the Greek left did absolutely nothing to differentiate itself from the nationalist hysteria which was sweeping Greece at these times. On the contrary, from the start it found itself not on the side of the victims, not with the inhabitants and besieged defenders of Sarajevo and other Bosnian towns (a number of whom were Serbs, such as the Serbian General Jovan Divjak, who was the head of defence of Sarajevo) but with the war criminals Milosevic, Karadjic, Mladic and Seselj and their irredentist “Greater Serbia”!

Unfortunately, years and decades passed and nothing seems to change in the Greek left. And in response to those who – in good faith – questioned the “Macedonian” drifts of several of its big names, this is what we wrote (1) twenty five years ago on 7th May 1993, in an article significantly entitled: Bosnia: the Waterloo of the Greek left, at a time when this same left lamentably failed its historic test: the colossal nationalistic butchery in the dying Yugoslavia:

“However the Greek left never ever had time to respond to the calls of its close Bosnian allies. Actually, it has always done all it could to ignore even their very existence. With unbelievable cynicism, surpassing all precedents of hypocrisy, it has pretended from the start that those and other protagonists of the drama were only simple pawns of some obscure and invisible forces. As a consequence, it spent its energy doing paper exercises, where these were no concrete human beings in flesh and bone, nor real blood baths, but only foreign conspirators and Machiavellian imperialist plots. And when someone dared to pose awkward questions such as: “what should happen to these romantic Bosnians?” the answer has always been the same: “what imperialist force is hiding behind them?” As if in our epoch it is altogether unthinkable…  to meet people decided to struggle for their most elementary human rights…”

“This is why there were some demonstrations against ‘the coming war’ and not a single one against the… existing war. And this is why the Greek left not only found nothing to say against the propagandists of the “unique front of orthodox nations”, but added its own “anti-imperialist” contribution to the metaphysical paranoia of the present times. However, although it may think it has done its progressive (or revolutionary) duty, there remains one small detail: what does it propose for all the unfortunate people who are bombarded for the past 12 months in Sarajevo, Mostar, Gorazde and Srebrenica? What does it propose for the three million refugees? For the victims of ethnic cleansing? What does it propose for the future of Bosnia, that is to say for the future of the Balkans and for Greece itself?”

And clearly it is not by chance that we draw the same conclusions, in almost the same way, now as we did a quarter of a century ago:

“So, are we with the supporters of Greater Serbia or with the free besieged citizens of Sarajevo who are fighting for a free multinational society? With the racists who seek racial purity or with those who support the miscegenations of all sorts that make our lives worth living? With those who suppress any sort of diversity (ethnic, religious, “racial”, sexual) or with those who defend the basic democratic rights of minorities? With the cretins who wonder why Europe refuses to understand what they are doing against “the advance of Islam”, or with Muslim intellectuals such as Emir Kusturica and others who have nothing to do with fundamentalism? With the butchers or with those who are being butchered? With the ghosts of the past, the Chetniks and the Oustachis, or with those who continue the struggle of the Yugoslav partisans? With the return to barbarism or with those who personify the only hope for the Balkans? With life or with death?”

The Yugoslavian wars and their associated massacres finally came to an end and there were many who were keen to declare “whew, it’s all over! It was only a nightmare and it has passed”. And with them there were many who believed that the successive chauvinistic “misdeeds” of the Greek left had been simply an “unlucky” mishap, and that the errors of the past have served as lessons.

Unfortunately both were wrong. The former Yugoslavia could explode again at any moment, while the Greek left seems not to have learned anything and still follows the route to the same nationalistic blind alley. And worst of all is the fact that today, just as last time, the consequences are catastrophic for everyone, but most of all for the Greek “patriotic left” itself, which, like the sorcerer’s apprentice, persists in playing with fire, naming anti-imperialism the most extreme obscurantism, and popular revolt the most reactionary regroupment of forces which now, as then, is opening the door to the neo-Nazis of Golden Dawn!

This is what we meant when we emphasized at the beginning of this article that “the problem is enormous and the danger imminent”. Because, unlike what happened 25 years ago, the present day crisis in Greece and internationally is far deeper, and the progress of the extreme right continuous throughout Europe and the world; but also, and above all, because in Greece we have witnessed not only the defeat and the atomisation of society and the workers movement, but also the tragic experience of “the first government of the left in Greek history”. For all these reasons, any compromise with the racist, reactionary, anti-communist and warmongering far right “legitimizes” it in the eyes of the citizens, helps it overcome its isolation, and thus helps open the road for the worst of all nightmare scenarios: the repetition of what happened in Germany and elsewhere during the ’20s and ’30s, when the social pendulum – and quite a few people on the left with it – swung from one extreme to the other of the political map. And contrary to what many on the Greek left seem to think, history can repeat itself, this time as a still bigger tragedy.

1) This and 64 other articles written in Greek and published in the Greek press between 1987 and 1994 are available in a book entitled: “Yugoslavia, Crime and Punishment- Chronicle of a catastrophe” published in Athens in 1994.


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