Friday, January 29, 2010

A response to “The Shame of Modern Greece”

On January 20, 2010 Andrew Apostolou published an op ed piece in the Wall Street Journal titled “The Shame of Modern Greece“; the points so obliviously forced or ignored the facts (both as to the burning of the synagogue and the historical context) and maliciously facile that I felt compelled to respond.

My letter to the editor was sent on January 22 but it has so far not been published, probably because it exceeds the ten-second soundbite. I reproduce it below for those who may be interested and for the record (scripta manent, if only on the internet).

A. Caratzas
To the Editor [of the Wall Street Journal]:.....

Andrew Apostolou’s “The Shame of Modern Greece” (Opinion Europe, January 20, 2010), about the arson attacks on a historic synagogue in Chania on the island of Crete, represents a case of a premature judgment used to support a simple-minded sermon without respect for the complexity of the historic relationship between the Greeks and the Jews, which stretches back about 2,500 years
Contrary to Mr. Apostolou, who did not have all the facts, of the five people accused of arson four are foreign, i.e. non-Greek nationals (two are British and two Americans), and one a Greek national; the two British and the Greek individuals have been arrested by the Greek police and will be charged based on video taped evidence of their actions and the confession of at least one of them. The US nationals are fugitives.
As for the larger issue of anti-Semitism in Greece, there are indeed bigots of all stripes in the country, though these are few and tend to be marginalized; Greece does not have an extreme rightist fascist or racist party that espouses anti-Semitism. Some on the left (including a major left-wing daily) promote “the now banal comparison of Israel with the Nazis,” a view that may be obnoxious but hardly racist. The comparison to anti-Semitism in Turkey falls flat, given that Hitler’s Mein Kampf has sold hundreds of thousands of copies over the last few years in that country, not to mention the fact that its political leadership is not particularly warm towards the state of Israel,
The relationship between the Greeks and the Jews is too complex to be reduced to slogans such as “[m]any Greeks do not know that their second largest city, Salonika, had a Jewish majority for most of its modern history.” The reality is that the many Greeks know this fact, as they also know that in 1492 the Jews were settled in Thessalonica by the Ottoman Turks after the latter had massacred and enslaved the Christian population of the city and seized its properties. The Jews replaced the tax base of which the Ottomans deprived themselves as a result of their massacres.
In the more recent past while during World War II over eighty percent of the Jews of Greece were exterminated by the National Socialist occupation forces, assisted by local collaborators (as in all of Europe), a significant number of Christian Greeks (including the family of the undersigned) simply assumed it their duty to protect and to hide their Jewish friends and neighbors. Mr. Apostolou’s accusatory tone about “the often shameful and ambiguous stance that too many (sic) Greeks took during the Second World War” reflects a studied ignorance of human nature universally and serves an anti-Greek political agenda. How many Europeans or Americans really intervened to stop the genocide of the Armenians, the Greeks and other Christians is Asia Minor by the Turks? Indeed many western countries still refuse to recognize that event, which prompted Raphael Lemkin to coin the very term genocide.
Aristide Caratzas
New York/Athens


  1. As a former journalist and editor, I can confirm Aristide Caratzas' conclusion that letters to the editor that are concise and "punchy" have a better chance of being published. A letter to the editor does not have to be a refutaion of all statements in the article, nor does it have to make a progressive argument. A few well-written points is all that's needed. A newspaper has limited space allocated to letters. They are also subject to highly subjective selectivity. Even if a letter is not published, it has not gone wasted. Letters, especially well-written ones, are often made note of in editorial circles. Humour is also effective. Most effective are a multitude of letters with a similar opinion.

    Don't forget that newspapers are instruments of power purchased for profit and influence and to push the personal agendas of those who can afford to own them. If anyone is looking for fairness and truth, he should go to divinity school.

  2. The age of such propaganda organs is coming to an end. More and more people are turning to blogs that are run by experts as opposed to journalists. Experts in their area of expertise provide far more detailed analysis than the pithy and vacuous articles of these archaic propaganda organs. In addition, events that occur in a particular location, are also covered by bloggers who are located in the area or close to that area. So people are now able to get on the ground points of view.

    In short, these propaganda organs like the Wall Street Journal, are being pushed out, their revenue streams are drying up, they can't compete, and soon they will shrivel up and die. That day, can't come to soon for my liking.

  3. I wish you were right, Icanoclast, but the truth is that powerful forces, and people, will always dominate the media regardless of what form they take. Greece, like any country, has an international media profile that reflects its domestic strength. The present economic crisis has caused Greece inestimable damage abroad as well as at home. Many sectors in Greek society are on the verge of collapse. Modern Greece has overcome many challenges in the past. None have been greater than the present one.

  4. Also not published; I hope at least they took notice of my protest.
    The original had my full name:
    PART 1:

    Greece is not Nazi Germany
    Dear Editor(s),
    In light of the recent arson attacks on Chania's Synagogue, the subsequent rather nasty op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by Andrew Apostolou (“The Shame of Modern Greece”), and the raised eyebrows by officials in the US State Department, I would like to offer my thoughts. As is revealed now, and reproduced in various news media including the World Jewish Congress, the culprits in the attack were 2 Americans, 2 Brits, and 1 Greek citizen who acted as the lookout. It has also been reported that the 2 US citizens were working on the Souda US military base and that the 2 Brits are responsible for training NATO's marines at the local NATO base. However, it is now being reported that they are local British "bartenders" and not involved with NATO. In my view, this smacks of a political game gone terribly wrong. What was the motive for something like this? Moreover, the criticism by the US State Department, and the unfortunate op-ed in your journal were obviously knee-jerk reactions and quite incendiary. How could all of Greece and the Greek people be painted in such a negative light for the actions of a few shameful individuals? I for one reject the accusations thrown at the feet of Greeks as a whole.

    The Greek press asked: “The nationality of the culprits raises a crucial political question: Were the British and the American culprits using their bases to firebomb the synagogue twice due to their own personal dislike of Jews, or were they acting on orders of the secret services of their nations? In other words, are we dealing with random acts of anti-Semitic cretinism by four brainless Americans and Brits or with a political provocation of foreign agencies whose aim is to smear Greece's name to the world Jewish community?”

    Conspiracy theory or not, what I fear is that these few individuals were indeed following some sort of orders, and that Mr. Apostolou was way too “ready” to point the finger at a whole nation. So far everything is being hush-hushed. I am very keen to see what the conclusion of this fiasco is going to be.


  5. PART 2:
    Yes, anti-Semitism is present in Greece as it is present everywhere. However and thankfully, I have not seen the rampant expressions of hate there as I have seen elsewhere including in the United States. Regardless, the actions of a few should not overshadow the goodness of a whole people. Testament to the majority of Greeks' anti-anti-Semitic character is the human chain formed around a vandalized Jewish cemetery in Ioannina, Greece. I also offer my personal story of how my grandfather helped hide and then smuggle Jews out of Greece during WW II, the unsung acts by many Greek priests who changed documents and names of many Greek Jews fleeing from the Holocaust (many of who still retain the Greek names given to them out of thanks), and the following story of Greek native General Mordechai Frizis written by Michael Schwartz (see: ). Frizis was the first Greek officer to die during WW II. His family received honours by King George II and by Metaxas. His statues are found in Chalkis, Kalpaki, (near Ioannina), and in Athens. To quote Greek poet Alexandros Gabrielidis:

    “ A legend was created in October 1940, as Greece refused for ever to accept Fascism. The name of Mordechai Frizis - No one has forgotten him – heroes are not forgotten. The Greek people – Christians and Jews – will pray for you, young and old. Farewell my hero, who gave your life – my brother, we will always be in your presence.”

    All this is in stark contrast to what Mr. Apostolou wrote about the lack of morality in Greece, thereby placing all Greeks on the same level as the arsonists who, subsequently and for the most part, seem not to be Greek at all. This is a time for self-reflection for everyone and not a time to play the holier than thou card on the international stage. I remember something about glass houses and throwing stones here.


  6. A spirited and well-written defense, CK. You should know, however, that any hint of "conspiracy theory" plays very badly in the US press and causes a reader to dismiss the argument outright. Best avoided.

    Greeks believe that everything in the world is a conspiracy. Americans believe that nothing in the world is. Both are wrong, of course.



  7. Carol,

    powerful forces will dominate, this is true. Although, the reach has certainly been diminished. They will always innovate and find other ways to project themseleves, although, I still see that the old mechanism is no longer as effective as it once used to be.

    Blogging is certainly a powerful information tool and we must make sure that we do not loose it.

  8. True. I'm afraid, though, that the window of freedom on the internet is slowly closing. Looking back, we may think of these days as the Net's "Golden Age."

  9. MONITOR: The YouTube link is again starting to block the comments submission box. Is it on steroids?


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