Archive | October, 2012

The Greek Autumn

12 Oct

Unlike in Israel, where social protests (and wars, as the song goes)  happen in the summer, Greece saves them for the fall. This is easily explained by the Greeks’ unfailing commitment to vacation in the islands for all of August if not the entire summer, economic crisis or not.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Athens this week spurred Greeks out of their summer bliss and into Syntagma Square and other familiar protest grounds. The arrival of a woman who embodies all that is wrong with austerity and the deepening crisis for Greeks is a worthy reason to demonstrate and express anger over the worsening economic turmoil.

The images I saw on TV, from here in Israel, were familiar, except for the protesters dressed up as Nazis in the crowds, and saluting them with the notorious Nazi salute. During our time in Greece, it was common to hear talk of the “second German occupation” and even a term like the “fourth Reich” was not a shocker. I wonder what they were trying to accomplish, though, with this latest provocative act, and how the majority of Greeks interpret it. To me,  it’s an irresponsible and highly offensive stunt, and those who carried it out are clearly unaware of how charged a metaphor they made.

The TV crew interviewed a woman who said that the Germans were “killing them” – except that they’re not and this is the protesters’ main fallacy. Although I don’t diminish the Greeks’ current predicament and the widespread suffering it has caused, the Germans are not killing Greeks – or anyone else – in gas chambers. A type of fiscal occupation maybe, but not a systematic murder campaign to control the world and eliminate those deemed racially inferior which is what Nazi symbolism typically connotes.

The immediate association for me was the exhausting and obnoxious use of Nazi symbols, rhetoric, and yellow Jewish stars in Israel by a wide array of interest groups, simply to draw attention. I think most Israelis are sick of such comparisons, since members of the settlement movement wore yellow stars in protest of Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005, under the headline “Jews don’t expel Jews”. Needless to say, public outcry, even from within the movement, quickly suppressed that misguided campaign.  (For an interesting if not weak comparison between Greeks’ and Israelis’ use of Nazi symbolism, Hebrew speakers can read today’s column by Benny Ziffer in Haaretz).

Like Israel, Greece has a painful history with Germany, and the country’s resistance to the Nazi occupation is highlighted often in the public discourse as well as in museums, and by individual citizens. I have heard several stories of impressive courage. Closest to home, Israel bestowed upon our downstairs neighbors in Athens one of its highest honours: Righteous among the Nations. Her parents and aunt and uncle hid a Jewish family in their homes for several years, brazenly defying the Gestapo officials based across the street. I wonder what Ani, and other Greeks who lived through the Nazi horrors, think of this week’s protesters.

What’s even more ironic is that Greece’s homegrown Nazi party, Golden Dawn, has become stronger in recent months, winning several seats in the current parliament. The party shamelessly flaunts the swastika and other Nazi rhetoric, even denying the Holocaust. Though they are growing popular among certain segments of the population, to the best of my knowledge, most Greeks strongly deplore the party’s overtly racist policies and violent bully tactics. (For the latest on the Golden Dawn, read this article). I mentioned in my last post the Swastika we found on our building in Athens ahead of the recent elections.

Shame on the protesters who defamed their own history as well as that of humanity with this cheap and vulgar stunt. I hope it won’t weaken the Greeks’ attempts to overcome this crisis and make a better future for themselves.