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Monday, 29 January 2018

Salade macédoine

If you don't understand the Macedonian name issue, read:

My students are mainly foreigners and they have to prove to the institute that they understand English in order to continue to follow our courses. Once they have done that, we allow them to initiate a series of cultural activities at the institute in tandem with their scientific studies; one of those activities is to learn - if they wish - the language of Greece, Ελληνικά. The purpose of the lessons is for the students to have some fun, to enjoy themselves by learning how to make small talk with the locals in the town and to impress them with their knowledge of Greek in basic transactions, like making acquaintances and buying things. For various reasons (that I will not go into here), I am giving the Greek lessons to the students, and also to understand the Greek signs that they are surrounded with so as to have a better understanding of their present home.

I started off by teaching the students the Greek alphabet. That way, I explained to them, they would be able to read Greek signs on the street; even if they did not understand the words they were reading, they would be able to guess the meaning, given that street signs have some universal meanings. Finally, they would be able to learn to write their names in Greek, a practical use of their new knowledge. The Greek alphabet is very transparent - unlike the English one - so what you see is what you read. And as you read those words with supposedly unknown meanings, you may make the observation that some words sound a lot like English. And lo and behold, you have increased your vocabulary, and your general knowledge of the language. This raises your confidence immensely.

In that first lesson, I was surprised to see Greek students in the class. This shows that our Greek students enjoy keeping company with their fellow students from other countries, and above all, they like to help them in their learning. Having someone other than a teacher to converse with makes for a more genuine learning environment. So I was pleased that Greek students were coming to the class.

In the second lesson, I checked that the students were comfortable with the alphabet. Then we started learning basic phrases with which they could have a simple conversation introducing each other, things like:
Γειά σου (Hello)
Τι κάνεις; (How are you?)
Καλά (είμαι), ευχαριστώ. Εσείς; (I'm OK. How about you?)
Πώς σας λένε; Πώς σε λένε; (What's your name)
Με λένε ... (My name is...)
Χάρηκα (Pleased to meet you)
At this point, I had to explain why we seem to have many ways of saying the same thing, but I simplified things and told them not to worry things like formal and informal language. The Greek students in the class also helped to this end, when we practiced some phrases and turned them into a conversation.

The lessons continued with:
Από πού είσαι; (Where are you from?) and Είμαι από ... (I'm from…).
We learnt about the different nationalities and the word endings in Greek which differ according to whether a man or a woman is answering the question. I started asking all the students in turn: Από πού είσαι; and I got a variety of responses:
Lusine said είμαι Αρμένισα, Zoulficar said είμαι Αλγερινός, Kahina said είμαι Τυνήσια, Elias said είμαι Λιβανέζος, Anya said είμαι Ρωσίδα, Anas said είμαι Παλεστίνιος, Siana said είμαι Αλβανίδα, Angelos said είμαι Έλληνας... until I got to (let's call her) Fidanka:

Από πού είσαι, Φυντάνκα; I asked her. Fidanka started laughing. Angelos (the Greek student in the class) also started laughing. The rest of the class looked on wondering what they were laughing about. At one point, I think they thought they should laugh in solidarity. But they didn't get it.

Φυντάνκα! I repeated. Από πού είσαι; 
Δεν πειράζει! (It doesn't matter!) she managed to say, in between the laughter.
Yes it does! I answered, continuing the joke.
Είμαι από το FYROM, Fidanka said.
No such country! That;s just an abbreviation! I reminded her. More explosions of laughter from those who were in on the joke.

When you make a joke, you need to include everyone in it, otherwise, it may look like you are laughing at someone rather than with someone. So I explained it to the rest of the class:
"Fidanka is from the Republic of Macedonia, but in Greece, we don't call the country Macedonia, we call it Skopia from the name of its capital, or FYROM from the abbreviation used by the United Nations, we don't call it Macedonia for political reasons, because Greece feels it owns the name Macedonia, and it can't be used to mean anything other than Greek..." And when I finished saying all this, I knew it all sounded ridiculous, and I, the logical cool calm and collected teacher I have proved to be, was sounding rather incoherent. Bt that is what I had to do to keep everyone happy.

I was met with stunned silence. "It's political," I concluded, "but to understand the issue, you need to read a little more about it," I said, laughing a little less heartily.

The Macedonia name issue has reafred its ugly head once again in Balkan politics: I say ugly because the two sides are unable to agree on anything other than what each side prefers. It's very rare to hear Greeks or Macedonians showing even an inkling of support for a compromise; they only support their side. It would help if each side could put itself in each other's shoes - rather than see their differences, they might find that they have much more in common with each other:
"The entire Balkan Peninsula claims Shopska as their salad: Macedonians claim it to be theirs, Serbs say, nope, it’s ours... Bulgarians also say it’s all theirs. Greeks, too, though they decided to call it 'Greek Salad' and added a few olives to it. :) Then again, they just decided to call everything 'Greek', including salads, coffee, yogurt, the sky, the trees, air… aye aye aye… 😉. In a nutshell? We will all go to war with each other to prove that something is ours and not theirs. Not just Shopska, though. We fight about the ownership of Ajvar, land, Baklava, land, Kebapi, land, Musaka, and land. But I have to add that, if we leave politics aside, we are the best of friends. Not kidding. We love one another like brothers and sisters. ♥" from:
More on Macedonian food: coincidentally, it all looks Greek to me:

Both the Greeks and the Macedonians have distorted views about the Macedonian issue, as Alexis Iraklides, a Greek academic and professor of international relations and conflict resolution, recently wrote. The article was written in Greek (, but I have taken the liberty to translate it into English:

THE MACEDONIA NAME ISSUE: Why "strangers do not understand us" and the reasons of the negative Greek and Macedonian attitude (by ALEXIS IRAKLIDES)
     In the famous Macedonian name issue, the Athens-Skopje conflict over the name, the other states and their peoples (except perhaps the Balkan states) find it difficult to understand Greek sensitivities and Greek fears. This is for at least four reasons.
     First, they are unable to see how such a small, poor and weak country, like Macedonia*, with virtually nonexistent armed forces and equipment (particularly in the 1990s), may threaten Greece, which is shielded to the teeth (an impressive naval and aviation, armored vehicles, specially trained bodies, etc.). So they come to regard the Greeks at best as graphic or paranoid, the worst usurpers and even the covert expanses.
     Secondly, other states have of course taken into account the many similar situations around the world, a common name between one country and the region of another neighboring country, eg. Mongolia and Mongolia in China, Great Britain and Brittany in France, Luxembourg and Luxembourg provinces in Belgium, Moldavia in Romania and Moldavia, or cases with complex names between neighboring countries, eg. Bangladesh (Benghal) and West Bengal in India, East Azerbaijan in Iran and Azerbaijan, Ireland and Northern Ireland, Mexico and New Mexico, and others. So they wonder: why is Macedonia, since 1991 to date, an unresolved dispute, initially with Greece and then Macedonia not accepting a complex name?
     Thirdly, most states, and undoubtedly the liberal Western states, regard self-determination as an inalienable human and minority right and, at grassroots level, an aspect of the fundamental principle of the self-determination of the peoples. It is therefore very difficult to accept that a foreign state can impose the name of choice in another state or co-decree or veto in the name of another state, how another state and its people want to be called.
     Fourthly, in most other countries, and especially in the West, historical laws that reach their ancient world seem incomprehensible and an example of annoyance (more comprehensible to longer-lived peoples, such as the Chinese who have a similar problem with Mongolia, as to who owns Genghis Khan). In particular, as far as Alexander the Great is concerned, the West has an ambiguous position. The identity of Alexander and the Macedonians is not crystal-clear (in spite of the findings in Vergina) to Europeans and Americans, something also reflected in most Western history school textbooks.
     However, if in the decisive first decade of the conflict, the Greek government had the responsibility for the impasse, after a decade between 2006 and January 2016, the Macedonian government under Nicola Gruevski, the leader of the nationalist VMRO- DPMNE (Inner Macedonian Revolutionary Organization - Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity) was at fault. That is, the initial intransigence of one side, the Greek one, has brought about - or has eaten - the intransigence of the other side, which as the smallest and newest country was by nature the most insecure, so it does not accept any compromise since it is almost certain that it will be perceived by the inhabitants of this country (meaning the Slav-Macedonians and not the significant minority of Albanians living in Macedonia) as degrading, with the following obvious reasoning: where did we hear about the change of our national identity, which we chose?
     Two first obvious reasons for the Greek attitude are due to ignorance. One is the ignorance of what was geographically Macedonia, which was divided in 1913. The second is the shape of Kofos in extremis: that Titus invented and produced, arbitrarily, a new nation from scratch.
     Few Greeks know, even those in responsible positions, that geographically Macedonia is not one, the Greek ("historic Macedonia") one, but three, obviously all three with the right to be called Macedonia, with a complex name or derivative to be perceived for the Macedonia we are talking about. And the "Macedonian" or Slav-Macedonian nation was not an invention and construct ex nihilo of Tito. It existed as a potential new nation. It was a people that had been gradually alienated by the Bulgarians and were in search of a new national identity beyond the original Bulgarian, although opinions differ as to when this ethnicity originated. More likely, as we have seen, in the 1930s, at the level of the elite, Tito found ground for his well-known venture, which was crowned with success.
     But there are other reasons for the excessive attitude of the Greeks, which are more difficult to deal with than simple ignorance treated with elementary knowledge of the facts. I would distinguish them in three categories: (1) official reasons, (2) hidden and ungrateful ones, and (3) in more general terms related to Greek identity and historical narrative, as well as to the dominant image of Greece and Greeks in the international arena.
     The most obvious official reasons are, of course, the (a) fears of neighbors' perceptions in Greek Macedonia and (b) the wrath of attempted seduction / theft of a significant part of the Greek cultural heritage.
     As for the first, the aspirations, the answer to foreigners when they tell the Greeks "you are paranoid, how can you fear such a small and weak country" was the following from the lips of Ambassador Manolis Kalamidas (close friend and partner of Antonis Samaras) in the early 1990s: that an identification called Macedonia is rooting for a future conflict because it allows Skopje to nurture territorial aspirations and seek them in the future when international conditions are more favorable.
     As for the second, about the theft and falsification of Greek history, I will confine myself to a phrase by Evangelos Kofos that impressed the Australian anthropologist Loring Danforth, and he wrote it in his famous book on Macedonia: "It's like a thief entering my house and stealing my most precious jewels - my story, my culture, my identity.”
     The most hidden and unmistakable reasons of the prevailing Greek attitude - the skeletons in the cupboard, to use the familiar English expression - are, in my opinion, three or maybe four.
Firstly, the non-recognition of the Slav-speakers of Greek Macedonia as a national or ethnic minority, not even as an ethnic or linguistic group. Although these people number only a few thousand (and therefore there is no threat to Greek territorial integrity) and a part of them has now voluntarily acquired a Greek national identity, Athens however fears the slightest reference to them and the recognition of their existence, while there are some other mother tongues, like Slavonic-Macedonian (and not Slavic, which is not a language, but a group of multilingual languages). With this denial of their existence, the fact is forgotten or concealed that they were oppressed in the Interwar period, and many of them (though not all) fled or were expelled as refugees to ELAS (fifty to sixty thousand Macedonians). Upon the end of the Greek Civil War, in 1948-1949, their property was confiscated, and since then it is not permitted for them and their descendants to return to their homes or to claim their property.
     Secondly, the fact that the current inhabitants of Greek Macedonia are mostly non-native, they do not come from the pre-existing local population. Approximately two out of every three present-day residents of Greek Macedonia are refugees or descendants of refugees from Asia Minor. This makes them psychologically more insecure, since they came to the region in the 1920s, long after the Slav-speaking or Slav-Macedonians who were "natives", the native inhabitants of present-day Greek Macedonia for centuries (half of whom fled or expelled from 1913 until the late 1940s). This insecurity of the descendants of the refugees may explain their great need to identify with the glory of the ancient Macedonians and the legendary Alexander the Great, in order to take root in Greek (historical) Macedonia and to be considered the descendants of the ancient Macedonians (while, to the extent that are descendants of ancient Greeks, they will probably be the descendants of the Ionians).
     The third, more secret and unconscious reason is, I think, the following. In the 51.56% of the Macedonia that came to Greece, the Greeks (the strictly Greek-speaking) constituted only 10-11% of the geographic Macedonia. That is, they did not actually "liberate" this area, but they conquered it, and then they tried to evict, in one way or another, the majority of the native population. So there is a hidden source of Greek insecurity: that Greece received, far more than it would have been due, on the basis of the proportion of Greeks on the population, much more than it was entitled to, if a referendum with international oversight had taken place, in other cases in the second half of the nineteenth century, or which it realistically could have expected if the Balkan Wars had not taken place with the unexpected result, pro Greece.
     The fourth possible reason for the Greek attitude has its roots in the insecure and ancestor-loving Greek identity. In this case, who were really the ancient Macedonians, given the conflicting positions of the ancient Greeks themselves, who regarded them as (a) non-Greeks (Demosthenes), (b) partially Greeks or not fully Greeks (Thucydides, Isokrates) or (c) fully Greeks (Herodotus). That is, the fact that two out of three ancient Greeks south of Aliakmon and Olympus, at the time, questioned the full Greekness of the ancient Macedonians (which, of course, the other side does not miss the opportunity to exploit).This leads the present Greeks to ‘Angst’ and exaggerations in order to guarantee the Greekness of the ancient Macedonians. However, according to most sober historians who have dealt with ancient Macedonia, the ruling class in the ancient state of Macedonia were Greeks, or they wanted and proclaimed to be Greeks, or they were Hellenized, and yet spoke Greek and had the same religion, the Twelve Gods (in the organization of the state and how their state differed and fewer Greeks were present). However, their citizens, of whom we know little, were rather a mix of Greek and non-Greek ethnic groups (probably Thracians, Molossians, Paoians, Illyrians, etc.). It is also certain that there were no Macedonian Slavs at that time, since Slavic ancestors of the Slav-Macedonians came in the 5th and 6th centuries AD.
     Let us now look at the more general reasons for the Greek attitude. One is the Greek identity itself and the national narrative of thousands of years of glorious history, which has resulted in the way the Greeks view the newer Balkan "nationalities", and especially the Slav-Macedonians. Hence the many insults they embraced: the state, the hybrid, the construction, the fake nation, the artificial structure, the Macedonians, Skopje, the Balkan Gypsies, Skopje's warts, Gypsoskopians, etc. As Antonis Liakos said in 1993, in the Macedonian issue there is an ideological use of history by the Greeks, in terms of national ideology of the 19th century, "on the argument that the titles of a nation are due to the age of its origin. Thus, the Greek national ideology, claiming a four-thousand-year history, may even deny the existence of a nation whose certificates are not found before the last hundred years, the legitimacy of its language and the feasibility of its constitution; despite the fact that most nations are modern, they were born in the 20th century.
     The other general reason is the prevailing perception in Greece as to the "strangers" who "cheat on us" and "conspire with conspiracies against us", the well-known anti-hellenism supposedly dominating internationally, the narrative of the disrespectful brother's nation or the "syndrome of Dighenis Akritas " as I had called it. The strangers "do not understand" or "they want to see us fall to evil" and do not support us in the "Skopje" issue, while "we are right on our side" and while "they owe us" as descendants of the unparalleled ancient Greeks, the cradle of European culture.
     The obvious causes of the attitude of the other side are: their great bitterness about the unfair share of 1913, the attempt of the Hellenization of those who lived in Greece ("the Macedonia of the Aegean") during 1919-1940, the oppression of the Metaxas regime, their expulsion in the 1940s, the expropriations-confiscation of property, and of course, above all, their non-recognition, the rejection of their own identity and mother tongue by the Greeks, which is particularly heavy and unbearable especially for a new, relatively insecure nation.
     There are also several hidden reasons for their attitude, "skeletons in the cupboard" as in the case of Greece. Let's look for some.
     First, although their Slavic ancestors were in the wider Macedonia region for centuries (and before the Cyril and Methodius era, that is, from the 6th century AD), they were slow to gain a distinct national consciousness. Their identity, even with the advent of the 19th century of nationalism, remained either Bulgarian or vague and fluid, rather because the volume of the then inhabitants was ungrateful villagers, with all that this entails. However, the ‘unlearned’ villagers were one hundred and twenty years before almost all Serbs and eighty years ago most Bulgarians, but this did not prevent them from gaining national consciousness. However, it is the penultimate new Balkan nation (with the last being the Bosnian Muslims), with a history of 70 to 80 years. Initially, as we have said, many have identified themselves with the Bulgarians and with Bulgarian nationalism. Indeed, some Slavic speakers were identified at the beginning of the 20th century as Greeks (initially as "patriarchs") and they became Greeks (Graikomanoi) or changed identity on a case by case basis, from 1904 (with the Greek Macedonian Struggle) to the partition of Macedonia into three parts.
Secondly, some of them, in Yugoslav and Greek Macedonia, co-operated with the conquerors in 1940-1944 and mainly with the ethnic relatives of the Bulgarians, even if the latter, with their attitude, quickly abhorred them.
     Thirdly, it is their national narrative that suffers, the original in relation to the Bulgarians (appropriation of the Empire of Samuel, Cyril and Methodius, etc.), in order not to be considered Bulgarians, and the most recent, known as antikvizatzija (antiqueism or dependence). This second distorted national narrative, mainly of the right-wing nationalists, began in the mid-1990s, originally by amateur historians and nationalist politicians who claimed to be of ancient Macedonian origin, namely that they had ancestors like Philip and Alexander the Great. This unrealistic national narrative is popular because of the great prestige it gives them, but it has not completely prevailed and it is criticized by the most serious Macedonian historians and other serious social scientists.
It seems that this trend was born mainly as a reaction to the ultra-Greek attitude and the "hysterical anti-Macedonian campaign of Greece". It responded to Greece's refusal to accept the term Macedonia, and to the exclusivity of the term, with ancient Macedonia being considered Greek, a part of just Greek heritage and national historical narrative and identity. After that, the Slav-Macedonians opposed the exclusive ownership of ancient Macedonia and its symbols by the Greeks. In this way they attempted to strengthen their own claims in the name and in the geographical area, making it a part of their own national heritage and not the Greeks. If Greece, with the protagonists of Samaras, Papathemelis, Marti and other "Macedonian fighters", did not place so much emphasis on Alexander the Great and the ancient Macedonians, if Macedonia and its derivatives were not excluded, then we probably would not have what emerged as a national narrative of the neighboring country, a national narrative that makes the resolution of the name conflict much more difficult. The Greeks shouted that the name "is our soul," but it is also the soul of the "Macedonians" - and perhaps more, because they have very little but their name as an identity. In other words, if for the Greeks it is an important part of their cultural heritage, the Macedonians have their own cultural heritage, regardless of whether this reading is inconsistent with serious historiographical research.
     Although this narrative has no basis - apart from the coincidence of the names "Macedonia" and "Macedonians" - they insist on it, given the unparalleled glamor and the European identity of the ancient Macedonians conferred on them by this national construction: a descendant of the Slavs and another descendant of the European Macedonians who conquered the then-known world. However, the identification of the inhabitants of Greater Macedonia with Alexander the Great has deep roots among the southern Slavs during the 19th century and first appeared in Renaissance written texts in the Republic of Ragusa (today's Dalmatian coast of Croatia). However, more than half the Slav-Macedonians - and clearly the center-left or leftist Slav-Macedonians, starting with Gligorov yesterday, and today with Prime Minister Zaev and Foreign Minister Dimitrov - reject archeology as nonsense and emphasize their Slavic origin and the advent of their Slavic ancestors in the Balkans during the 5th and 6th centuries AD.
     More generally, antiquity and other exaggerated reactions by neighbors are due to insecurity that is all but unjustified. This country, when it became an independent state, felt the threat of neighbors who thought it would dissolve in the immediate future - in the Bulgarian case it would disappear by embracing the "motherland" and joining with it. The questioning was of great caliber as it concerned the language (in terms of Bulgaria and Greece), the church (Yugoslavia-Serbia), the flag (in terms of Greece), the name (in terms of Greece), the nation (in terms of Bulgaria and Greece) and of course the state itself from all three neighbors, partly from the Albanian side because of the Albanians there.
     Finally, the issue of the term Slavic Macedonians (and Macedonian Slavs), which the Greek side has previously proposed, is constantly rejected even though it attributes the identity of this nation, and it has been used in the past (late 19th century and early 20th century) by some intellectuals and activists of this new nation. The rejection of this term by Skopje is made with three arguments: (a) that they themselves have chosen the term Macedonian and Macedonia; (b) that there can be no Slav-Macedonians, as there are no Slav-Poles or Slav-Russians and (c) that this name is accepted by the Albanians in their country for the name of the country to which they belong, as a geographical rather than a national term. As for the third argument, one side (the Albanians) does not use "Macedonia" as the other side means, which by its name denotes its national identity - that is, the nation ("Macedonians") with the state ("Macedonia"). Can the same name mean two different things? As strange as this seems beyond Cartesian logic, it seems to be true, and yet it is accepted by both constituent ethnic communities in Macedonia. Perhaps the case of Spain resembles this paradox, in the sense that the name Spain (which originated from Phoenician and Roman) was later associated, in the Renaissance, with the Castilians, with the Spanish language being the original Castilian, but also to the fact that Spain as the geographical name embraces the other nations of Spain, such as the Basques and the Catalans.
(first publication: XRONOS magazine, 27 January 2018)
[* I use the term Macedonia 'liberally']

From Irakleidis' article, it is clear that there has been a mix of cultures occupying the same land throughout the centuries, a Macedonian salad so to speak. The French call a mixed (frozen) vegetable salad 'macédoine': which can also be made with fruit - the Spanish call this mixed fruit salad 'Macedonia': Now we all know why. The world seems to be laughing at us; either that, or they are just tired of the same old song. Best to stick to food; the next Greek class will focus on ordering souvlaki and frappe.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki. 

Sunday, 21 January 2018


Many many years ago, probably more than 35, some time in the early 80s, I remember a Kiwi woman coming into the fish and chip shop that my parents owned and operated. I happened to be there too, so it can't have been a schoolday. The woman was a customer, not a very regular one, but maybe she felt like some fish and chips that day.

"Are you from Greece?' she asked us. Yes, I answered (the children were always their parents' representatives in the shop).

"Oh, what a coincidence" (no, not really; Greeks were the main owner-operators of fish and chip shops back in those days), my daughter is living in Greece. She met and married a man on the island of Crete."

"Crete?!" my parents exclaimed, their faces lighting up gleefully. "We are from Crete! Which part of Crete does your daughter live in?" they asked.

"Hania," the lady replied.

"Hania?!" my parents cried, not believing what they were hearing. "We are from Hania! Is she living in the town?" they asked.

"No," said the lady, "she's living in a village called KOU-NOU-PI-DEE-AAAAA-NA". 

Split-second pause. "A-ha!" said my parents, but from the look on their face, you could tell that it was not really an a-ha moment; it was more of a shock to their ears, for they could not believe that this city woman's daughter gave up her comfortable urban life to move to a village where water supply was scarce, and there were more goats than people. 

We exchanged more niceties. If I remember correctly, she showed us a photo of her daughter holding her first child, the lady's grandson. When her order was ready, she paid for it and we said goodbye, at the same time wondering whether we would also see her coming into our shop once again, but this time with both her daughter and grandson; you had to be one tough cookie to leave urban life and go live in a goat village.

"The foreigners are taking over our country," said my mother, mindless of the fact that she was an immigrant. "Who would even want to live in Kou-nou-pi-dia-NAAAAA?" said my father. 

Turn the clock ahead four decades. Google Kounoupidiana and you will see no goats. Instead, you will see a whοle new town, whose residents are fully served in terms of any service, public or private, that they may need: schools, doctors, lawyers, sports centres, chemists, churches, shops, houses, apartment blocks, English language schools, confectioners, all the supermarket chains operating on the island. It even has a university, one of the best tertiary institutes in Greece. The 6,500 residents of Kounoupidiana - 8,500 including the 'suburbs' of Kounoupidiana) can easily live in their own little bubble, without even venturing to the central town of Hania, only 10-15 minutes away by car, depending on the traffic - not the four-legged variety, but the four-wheeled.  

Image may contain: 11 people, people smiling, people sitting, table and indoor

Last night, I met up with Philippa, the woman's daughter, whose life became firmly rooted on the island, despite being a stranger to the Greek world. It wasn't difficult to recognise her, as she reminded me so much of her mother, even after all those years. It's possibly the third time we have seen each other since I moved to Hania. We were at a Kiwi get-together organised by a former Greek Kiwi like myself. Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch Greeks reminisced their time in a faraway land, sharing some moments together. Funnily enough, among the little παρέα that we created, we were nearly all related, each one knowing someone else's relatives and acquaintances, notably our koumbaroi, meaning the primary attendant to the couple in a wedding ceremony or the godparent of one's child(ren). It really was a small world among the Greek diaspora communities of old. 

And while we are on the subject of Kiwi Greek life, I feel as though I have gone through the full Greek circle, having just invested the last remaining Kiwi dollars of my parents' savings (they both died too young to use it themselves) into the coveted - in Greek terms - 'investment property'. My parents both died too young to use their earnings themselves, but I am sure that they will be very proud of what their daughter did, to firmly root her life in our wonderful island. 

Naturally I will be super busy from now on as I work on my new project. Watch this space...

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Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Tinned tomatoes

I've been following the populist 'no more tinned tomatoes' debate that broke out just over a week ago in the New Zealand media, when a women's refuge worker demanded (not just requested) that food donations to the charity should not include tinned tomatoes. The 'Treatise on Tinned Tomatoes and Why They Are Like Books' did not get as much airtime as did the readers' vicious comments about the connection between 'poor people' and tinned tomatoes, which sounded like it was coming from non-Maori/Pasifika (read: white) higher-end middle class New Zealand society. The post (I found a cached version) did not actually villify tinned tomatoes. All the reasons that the writer gave for banning tinned tomatoes were based on solid facts and sound logic. Given that we are just days away before Christmas, it shouldn't be too difficult for most people to see why words like 'tinned' and 'staple foods' don't collocate well with 'Christmas'.

The women's refuge worker claimed that refuges (like food banks) often have many tinned tomatoes in their pantries, often past their due date. Women who use refuges generally don't use tinned tomatoes, nor did the people who raised them, and some of the women who use refuges don't even (know how to) cook. So if you gave those women a choice, they would never even ask for tinned tomatoes. In other words: if a woman cooks with tinned tomatoes, its a cultural thing. Pasifika/Maori women - the main users of women's refuges in NZ - are unlikely to have a cultural background of cooking with tinned tomatoes. Middle class NZ society might be very surprised to discover this: some people just don't use this quintessential global pantry stocker. By judging these women on foreign (to them) cultural terms, ie as good and knowledgeable budgeters ("tinned tomatoes are cheap!", "tinned tomatoes are versatile!"), the 'tinned tomato brigade' can't actually see what these women are feeling when they enter a refuge, ie sadness, depression, shellshock, running away from violence. Coupled with a lack of life skills and literacy skills, being cash strapped, in debt and looking after children, they wouldn't even feel like cooking, let alone cook from scratch: tinned tomatoes usually imply cooking from scratch.

Women who turn to a refuge for help have no family support - if they did, they would not be asking a refuge to help them. The writer made a point of how important it was to help such women get what they wanted, rather than what other people feel they need. In such moments, they want simple comforts: "spaghetti on toast or really simple things, stuff [that can be eaten] straight from a can if needs be".  Donors donate what they think poor people (which does not always mean the same thing as 'women in a refuge') need rather than want: "That’s you putting your values, and your mores, and your cultural prejudices on other people." Offering to teach women how to cook, how to use tinned tomatoes, and any other life skills they may be lacking is all very well, but there's a time and place for everything; when they arrive at a refuge, they need to settle into a new kind of life. Eventually, they may start preparing meals like they used to for themselves and their children; but some of these women may never want to cook, let alone from scratch. So tinned tomatoes are probably never going to be useful for them.

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My old no longer wanted books started this foreign language library at CIHEAM.MAI Chania. Many students use it in their free time, and students also add to the collection.

The writer made the analogy that "tinned tomatoes are a bit like books": just like we don't all cook, we don't all read. While cooking and reading may sound like very basic activities to some people, to others they are not. For some people, cooking and reading are very difficult activities. Giving things to people who need things is not the same as giving people presents: the things you give to people who need things have to be useful things. Giving tinned tomatoes - a very cheap common product - to someone who has never used them is like giving away your old books which you no longer wish to read to people who never read novels. The better off harbour comfortable perceptions about what others should be doing all the time to become better off.

The treastise against tinned tomatoes aroused a storm of comments from both sides of the argument. A (Maori) woman working for another women's refuge added canned chickpeas and canned lentils to the forbidden list of items that refuges didn't want:
"We ask for fresh meat and vegetables and we get beans and lentils. What are our people going to do with chickpeas? Are they going to be making hummus in the safe house? Like tinned tomatoes, chickpeas and lentils have to be cooked and accompanied with other ingredients, using knowledge and supplies that many families [don't] have."
A (white) woman working for a Salvation Army food bank said she was shocked to hear that other charities were turning away tinned tomatoes:
"...the refuges are being a bit fussy... We are very short on things like [tinned] tomatoes... chickpeas and lentils are staples in Salvation Army food parcels given to families at this time of year... The staples are never going to go out of fashion. And hungry families will usually eat anything."
Anything? I doubt it. (And she also put her cultural prejudices into the picture by calling women in refuges hungry.)  Food is incredibly personal and highly cultural. Clearly the Salvation Army is catering for different kinds of people from those entering a women's refuge. People on a low income may also lead a more stable kind of life, not the nomadic existence of a woman fleeing from violence. Processed food is not necessarily the greatest miracle in the food world to make women's lives easier; having someone doing all the bloody cooking for you is even better than buying, carrying, storing, preparing and cooking food yourself. We don't all have that luxury of a private home cook; this usually happens when you are very wealthy or if you live in a cultural setting where one of the household's women (eg the grandmother) will prepare meals for all the family members, who may be working out of the home, or have been assigned other tasks. As mentioned above, if a woman has this kind of family support, she would not be asking a refuge to help keep her safe in the first place.

Snails and xinohondro - highly acquired Cretan tastes!

As I was following the discussion in the media, what really struck me was how unlikely it is among these refuges that someone will be cooking something for someone else, so that those people who need a decent meal (especially children) would find something that wasn't full of sugar/fat/salt (read: snack-type ready-to-eat highly-processed, eat-from-the-packet kind of food). It is already obvious that a lot of the people using these services don't have many life skills needed in order to maintain a healthy standard. So why not have someone cooking something on a regular basis, which can be served up to everyone and is also healthy and comforting? Some of the commentators mentioned that they would like to do such a thing as a cook-up, where some of the meals produced can be frozen for emergency moments. I think that the answer to this question will bring to the fore a host of other social issues that will be difficult to resolve.

It seems to have escaped people's notice that a lot of people in highly advanced countries like New Zealand are too busy to cook these days. This doesn't apply just to people in difficult situations. Most people in advanced countries spend their time in many creative ways, which often include doing things away from the home. And when they do have free time, they spend it more leisurely. Cooking is not a leisure activity when you are thinking about how to feed a family. It's a chore.

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Lentil (φακές - left) and bean (φασολάδα - right) stew/soup - it depends on how much water you add.

Cooking for others, cooking with tomatoes and cooking with beans are therefore all very culturally based. In truth, I cook tomato-based bean dishes not because they are the yummiest thing imaginable, but because I have to feed a family, and beans are a pretty good quick cheap choice of food which can be prepared the night before, by the working woman in the household. (I am doing this right now as I write: a pot of lentil stew is boiling away on the stove. It should be ready before midnight. No, I don't use a pressure cooker.) This is not to say that a woman living in New Zealand from the Maori/Pasifika cultures cannot do the same thing for her family as a Greek or Indian woman (two cultures which use beans a lot in their daily diet); she doesn't do this simply because it's not part of her culture. She could be taught to do something like this - but if it was never part of your culture to prepare food in this way, learning to do this kind of chore is very difficult in modern times, when people are generally being 'taught' to treat food as a commodity: you buy/eat food when it's time to eat, or when you're hungry, or maybe to comfort you - and it's all ready prepared by someone else, and - generally speaking - you will generally cook when you feel like it. What may have been part of the food culture of a Maori/Pasifika woman fifty years ago has now changed, due to her translocation - due both to internal and external migration - into a highly advanced society headed and directed by non-Maori/Pasifika leaders. No matter how settled a woman in New Zealand who has turned to a refuge becomes, she is unlikely to revert to a less processed-food daily diet.

*** *** *** 

The 'tinned toms' discussion that ensued tells us much more about comfort food, processed food, and the act of cooking, than it does about how to use tinned tomatoes. The following can be implied:
- Comfort food is ready-to-eat food
- Cooking is for people who lead stable lives
- Canned chickpeas and lentils are the kinds of food that connoisseurs, health-freaks, vegetarians, vegans (and generally other 'smart-farts') know about (and eat)
- Certain cultural groups eat a lot of chickpeas and lentils, so they will know what to do with them
- Certain classes of people - especially those whose lives are less complicated - have the chance to be more adventurous in their food experiences
- Canned food (eg chickpeas and lentils) is for poor people
- Canned tomatoes are useful in a home where the act (which is now often considered an art) of cooking can actually take place (read: you have a kitchen, a stove/oven, AND you can afford to pay the electricity/gas bills)
... inter alia.

Canned tomatoes - and muuuuuuuuch more recently canned beans, but never ever canned lentils, except at LIDL when it's having a 'Spanish week' - are highly popular among Greek food banks and especially in soup kitchens. They are cheap and easy to work with. They make quick filling meals. A heated tin of tomatoes could quite possibly be poured over some boiled pasta. BUT: If this was never part of your culinary repertoire, then you will not eat it, let alone know how to make it. Culinary knowledge in western countries has passed into the realms of mystery, while things like chickpeas and lentils are considered food for the poor - or food for cultured. Even Greeks will acknowledge that beans are cheap and that's why the eat them.  Most Greek women with a family (including me) will cook up a bean dish once a week on a week-day, de rigeur.

I can't actually imagine any working Greek woman with a family here in Crete not cooking up a bean dish at least 2-3 times a month, but this is based on cultural norms. Greeks may have become impoverished - but still, there is much truth in saying that theirs is a dignified kind of poverty. We can have our cake and eat it, because we know how to make the cake. Greek identity these days often implies food knowledge. Recent Greek emigrants due to the economic crisis often end up working in their own food-based business. Their family background is not necessarily middle class. They rarely realise the superiority of their culinary skills because until they leave Greece, they do not realise that there are people out there who lack such knowledge. They are also astounded to learn that most people in highly advanced societies watch cooking shows and buy cookery books - but they rarely cook meals: most of their food will have been prepared by someone else, for them to heat and eat.

It's still not very common to see soaked ready-to-use chickpeas (let alone lentils) in Greek supermarkets; on the other hand, there is a plethora of dried beans on the shelves. If such canned products were presented to a Greek woman, and she was asked to produce something on the spot with them, I don't think she'd have much trouble producing a hot comforting meal in little time. All you need to make classic Greek φακές (lentil stew) and ρεβιθάδα (chickpea stew) are tomatoes, beans and water; if you add some minced onion and garlic, salt and pepper, your soup/stew - depending on the amount of water you add - will taste nicer. A hot bean soup made with canned tomatoes makes great comfort food - and it tastes better the next day.

Puttanesca is one of the quickest things I can cook from scratch 

Tinned tomatoes are often hailed as a food processing miracle by media cooks:
"The larder is worryingly bare when you've run out of tinned tomatoes. They are the cook's comfort blanket, the progenitor of any number of soups, sauces, stews and braises... Tomatoes are the best source of the carotenoid pigment lycopene. Some studies suggest it can help prevent prostate, lung, and stomach cancers. Tomatoes are an interesting exception to the rule that cooking food reduces or destroys valuable micronutrients: lycopene is better absorbed when it has been heated, either during processing or cooking, as the heat turns the molecule into more useful isomers. Tomatoes provide significant amounts of bone-strengthening vitamin K, and some research suggests that lycopene also supports bone health. Many studies link tomatoes with heart benefits, and although the mechanisms aren't yet clear, the antioxidant vitamins C and E in them, along with lycopene, seem to slow down the processes that would eventually cause heart disease."
An old photo of my pantry - these days I prefer to freeze our bumper summer tomato harvest.

In short, a pantry full of tinned tomatoes and chickpeas and lentils symbolises domestic wisdom, happiness and prosperity. But this is something that is not within the sight of a woman fleeing to a refuge with just her kids and the clothes they're all wearing. They'd rather be having some tea and toast, and maybe something sweet, like chocolate biscuits, to bump up their spirits. In other words, they want the same things you want. I highly doubt that the average citizen of a highly advanced society is eating tinned chickpeas or lentils cooked in tinned tomatoes on a daily, let alone weekly basis. We all want variety.

When buying "food for the poor", we really need to think about what we ourselves like to eat rather than what we think poor people 'should' be eating. Better still, charities can tell you what they need because they know who they're supplying. It's even better to give them money (they are likely to make better deals with suppliers), so they can do the appropriate shopping for that tiny segment of society that is rarely visible to the majority. Especially now before Christmas, to make it a merry one, skip that bloody canned food. As the Greek saying goes:
Φάτε τώρα που το βρήκατε, γιατί αύριο έρχεται η φακή.
(Eat now that you have good food, because the lentils are coming tomorrow.)

More articles on Greek food banks and soup kitchens:

All quotes come from the following links:

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

The living dead

Looking after the dead is an important aspect of every modern society. Greeks bury their dearly departed in such a way that we can imagine them as sleeping in the earth, as if they are still with us, only that they are now silent and enjoying a peaceful life. This is one reason cremation has been hard to imagine for modern Greeks until very recent times. Cremation was actually very common in ancient Greece, especially for warrirors, and in Athens where there was a lack of space. Cremations are being reconsidered in our times because more people these days have expressed their desire to have a non-Christian funeral, and there are also people who see it as environmentally more sound to be cremated. But until crematoriums are built in Greece - and this won't happen too soon, although they are on the cards apparently - we will still be buried in cemeteries similar to the one I visited recently in the village of Gerolakkos in the Keramia region of the Cretan highlands.

On the ocassion of the memorial service of a friend's mother, we visited the church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, where the cemetery of the village is also located. The splendour of the area is not visible from the main road - you have to climb a marble staircase to see it. The winter season's colours were on full display in this semi-alpine region with a view to the snow-capped mountains of the Lefka Ori: the yellow orange shades of the deciduous trees contrast starkly with the evergreen olives, whose trunks show the effects of snow. Olives don't like frost, and their branches break when they are covered in snow. But olive is a very hardy tree, and it does not die easily - at such altitudes, its trunk gets stockier, and it regains its strength by winter's end, continuing to flourish over spring and summer, while remaining shorter than olive trees growing on lower ground.

The church service was rather long, the church was small, and the congregation was huge - at least 250 people turned up. Since we did not all fit into the church, I stayed outside most of the time, and strolled through the cemetery, which is very typical in Greek terms. Many of the graves had some very moving epitaphs (which we call epigraphs in Greek - επιγραφές) inscribed on them, giving away clues about the earthly life as it was lived by the residents of the tombs. The words written by the loved ones of the dearly departed imply that life does not stop once you die: your actions in the world keep your memory alive well after death, and you will be remembered for them - whether for good or for bad. Life goes on, even after death.

What particularly endeared me to the epigraphs at Gerolakkos is that they were nearly all written in the style of the Cretan mantinada, a rhyming poem very popular in Crete, consisting of two 15-syllable parts, often written over four lines. Many of the epigraphs were also written in the Cretan dialect. A few of those epigraphs stood out for the message they wished to convey: the writers know that the people reading them will not be their dearly departed loved ones, but the general public, among whom there will be many people who knew the deceased (it's a village church, after all, and it will be visited by villagers with family and friends in common). Many of the messages are simple poems showing the great sorrow of the writers at the loss of their loved ones, but a few stand out for the story they tell of their dearly beloved.

A picture may tell us a thousand words, as is the case of the accompanying photograph to the epigraph - the traditional face of the Cretan man, with a black crochet sariki on his head and a 'katsouna' (wooden walking stick) just visible, reminds the Cretans of their roots from older times which are still relatively recent in our memories:
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"Father, wherever you walked, your name stayed/And it left a legacy for your family"

In a similar way, the family of this man want to acknowledge their father's legacy:
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"You were a beacon next to me, a harbour in my life/But now you have left, and my soul is broken." (from his wife)
"Thank you for teaching us to live/You told us that we dont need to conquer the world
You taught us integrity, trust, work and manliness/Necessary in life for it to have value
You will always be in our heart and in our mind/a great ideal, our greatest teacher"

The daughter's epigraph to her dad is a simple farewell expressing sorrow for his loss.
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On closer inspection, we realise that the bus shows German placenames which tells us that her father (and perhaps her family) lived abroad but wished to die in their homeland.

Sometimes we wished things had turned out differently, not just for ourselves, but also for others, as this message written from a daughter to her father tells us: 
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"Now that you are together with your two children, don't forget your gradson. I want you to find my son so he can have company and not be alone, because my beloved father, you know well how much it hirts to be lonely. Thank you for coming and visiting my son, on pain's bed. You were the only relative to remember that he was confined and helpless. Thank you, I owe you a big apology for your own loneliness."

This beautiful epigraph, written in the Cretan dialect, shows the love that the deceased had for his homeland. It also pictures the last home that the man had ever built, but didn't quite finish. God didn't take him away too soon - someone else did:
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"You walked the highlands of Kerameia and Sfakia/And with great enthusaism, you began buidling your 'koumo' (Cretan stone mountain hut).
You will be sorely missed by the Kerameia mathways/Which you traversed up and down, your back heavily laden.
Tell me Father how you are these days in Hades' palace/You, who would say you'd die if you were ever bedridden.
You stood against the monster for four years/And now that you have gone, the vacant space is big..."

A 'synteknos' laments the passing of a good friend: "I lost my favorite bead from my kehribari." Kehribari is the Greek word for amber, which is shaped into beads, to make a komboloi, the popular 'worry bead' necklace that Greek men (and lately women) are seen clicking at cafes. The word 'sinteknos' is used very much in Crete, signifying a friend 'by marriage': someone who shares a relationship due to being a best man at a wedding or baptising a child.
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The epigraph continues with matinades about the writer's love for Crete, and sorrow for not being close to this beloved uncle:
"... I'm far away in the deserts of the foreign lands, I want to be an eagle, to have wings on my shoulders, to fly across the Atlantic, to glide across Hania, to run over Keramia, to see the Dancer's house, and to bring you a pot of curly basil, Uncle."
The Uncle must have been a γλεντζές, a word often used in Greece, derived from Turkish, meaning 'lover of having a good time with song and dance'.

Sometimes we feel guilty about why our loved ones never reached out to us and we wished we could reverse the events:
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"... I knew your pure and humble soul but I didn't know your egotistic pride..."
"... you always cared for us and kept us close to you but you, mother, did not accept from any one of us, the moment you were leaving this phoney world, to hold you hand, but never mind, we don't hold it against you, we will love and remember you forever..."

This man died too early but he must have been very much loved. There are three mantinades written for him: one by his children, one from his wife and the last one from... his father- and mother-in-law:
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"You were our hope and our joy/And now we are full of sorrow for you, in our old age."

The epigraphs at Gerolakkos remind us that there is indeed life after death, and just as we lived life on earth as we wished, so too will we live life below ground:
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"Our humble grave resembles our hearts/That it's not dressed in marble is as we wished."

*** *** ***

Bonus photos: Gerolakkos is close to the village of Drakonas, so we decided to have lunch at Ntounias. We were the first customers for the day, and the food was still cooking in the clay pots. So we didn't order anything - we just let Stelios bring us one plate after the other, until we reached satiation point. By the time we left, there was hardly a spare seat in the restaurant.

And as we drove home passing by other villages like Therisso, we could see that the tavernas in those other places were also full, not just with locals, but busloads of visiting school children from other parts of Greece. And that's when I thought that perhaps Greece is now living in the post-crisis period (but we can talk about that next year, lest I speak too soon).

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Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Greek Urban Warriors: Resistance & Terrorism 1967-2014 by John Brady Kiesling

Ήμασταν ζωντανοί νεκροί         (We were the living dead)
μας δίνανε μ’ ανταλλαγή           (they exchanged us for)
τη μπόμπα την ατομική             (the nuclear bomb)
Το Ισραήλ για να σωθεί             (To save Israel)
ακόμα ο στόλος ναυλοχεί          (the fleet is still charging forth)
γεμάτη πόρνες η ακτή               (the coast is full of prostitutes)
κι αν φύγανε οι Γερμανοί          (so what if the German left)
ήρθαν οι Αμερικανοί                 (the Americans came)
καινούρια πάλι κατοχή              (again a new occupation)
Panos Tzavellas, Ξυπνήστε (Wake Up), 1975

The 17th of November is supposedly a day of commemoration in Greece, in remembrance of the events on 17 November 1973 at the Athens Polytechnic. It invariably starts with what sets out to be a peaceful march through some central Athens thoroughfares; by the time the marchers get to the terminal (the US embassy), the march turns into a violent street brawl, composed mainly of hoodies, with costly damages made against public and private property. Leftist struggles against capitalism lose their meaning in such actions. This has in effect happened with the date of the commemoration of this event, which lent itself to the name of a now defunct Greek terrorist organisation, 17 November (abbreviated to 17N) with a world record of "27 years of deadly political violence before the first arrest" of one of its members, which sparked its unravelling. Most but not all members of 17N were identified, arrested and jailed, effectively putting an end to the fear that had overtaken Greek society of an attack staged by them. Home-grown Greek terrorism still exists, but in a less organised microform compared to 17N. Most of the time, the perpetrators of such crimes are caught: they are often young people (mainly men) disillusioned with the failings of their personal life, which they blame on the government, and the deterioration of a capitalistic society. A 29-year-old, believed to be working with the Conspiracy of Cells of Fire group and accused of sending letter bombs to Greek and German politicians, is the latest to be arrested (see

Last week, Dimitris Koufodinas, one of the most loyal members to the 17N ideology, was released from jail on temporary leave, which raised a political storm both in Greece and abroad, not least because another member who had been granted furlough two years ago did not return to jail until he was rearrested after a year on the run. Provocative photos of Koufodinas were splayed all over the news websites as he came out of jail - followed closely by his wife, lawyer and son Hector (whose birth father was registered under the name of another 17N member, a former husband of hector's mother because Koufodinas lacked valid ID) - with a huge smile on his face and his arms outstretched as if ready to embrace long lost friends.

Understandably many people whose lives were upturned by 17N's murder of loved ones were hurt by this action, but it also has to be said that it was a perfectly legal action and Greek law was being implemented to the letter, as even the Greek prison officers' federation was quick to point out (see If you have read "Greek Urban Warriors: Resistance & Terrorism 1967-2017" (GUW) by John Brady Kiesling, then you will know how astute Koufodinas has always displayed himself in his ideological beliefs, and what a 'model' terrorist he was - a rebel, supposedly 'with' a cause.

Kiesling was once a career diplomat serving US embassies until he resigned during his term in Athens (see His book on Greek home-grown politically motivated terrorism is a very thorough piece of work. The success of the book lies in the fact it has been written by a non-Greek who knows Greek society very well. Other accounts of Greek terrorism written by Greeks tend to melodramatise the ideals of the terrorists or simply write them off completely: accounts differ according to the political leanings (left or right) of the writers, as left- and right-wing factions make accusations against one another. Kiesling is not Greek, so he is more neutral in his analysis of the situations.

My main interest in reading GUW came from my assumption that Greeks are generally a disorganised race; how then, could anyone in this country have organised so many terrorist attacks over a period of a quarter of a century without being caught? Were it not for a failed bombing attempt in 2002 involving two of the members, one of whom was seriously injured and could not escape, 17N could probably have survived longer. When they were finally caught, we discovered that all those involved were a tightly knit group of Greeks, partly family and partly friends, masterminded by an eccentric ex-professor, with a handful of loyal servants to the cause. In essence, 17N was a group of thugs.

Apart from the analysis on Greek terrorism, GUW gives the reader a good idea about the political situation in Greece during each time period described, whenever an attack took place, tracing up to half a century of modern Greek post-WW2 history. The story of 17N is very useful for piecing together the events of recent times, covering important historical events, such as the military coup of 1967, the end of the junta in 1974, Greece's entry into the EU in 1981, the embezzlement scandals in the late 80s and the years of false prosperity in the 90s, leading to the arrest in the summer of 2002 of an almost dead 17N member Savvas Xiros, who doctors managed to bring back to life so that the police could make him sing, bringing the 17N racket down like a house of cards. Greek identity is not the focus of the book, but the account of the exploits of 17N as described in the book confirm various aspects of Greek identity and how Greek society has developed over those years. All the quotes below come from GUW.

The first victim of 17N was American Richard Welch, CIA chief of the US embassy, on 23 December, 1975, hence the dismay expressed by the US on hearing that a convicted 17N member was given leave, even though Koufodinas had nothing to do with this murder as it was way before his time. At the time of the murder, US influence (aka 'interference') was well established in Greece, since the execution of the Marshall plan:
"In 1952 Greece was an authoritarian state dependent on US economic support... an American protectorate..."
Anti-American sentiment had built up in Greece since then, and it was widely known that the US clearly supported the military dictatorship which had ended only 18 months before the murder. The Greek-American politician Spiro Agnew infamously stated that the junta was "the best thing to happen to Greece since Pericles ruled in ancient Athens". When the junta finally fell - the events of 17th of November 1973 in Athens were the first act which eventually led to this - and democracy was restored, a march from the centre of Athens to the US embassy has been held every year to remind people of the US's involvement in Greece's darker times. So it is quite ironic that Tsipras and Trump only very recently met up at the White House, saying nice things about each others' countries, given their extreme opposite political leanings (especially given that they were saying nasty things about each other only a few months before the meeting).

The struggle between left and right factions has been present since WW2 in Greece. The left have never forgiven the right from taking away their glory, even after the fall of the junta:
"Athens in 1975 was full of young activists wrapped in the glory of imprisonment or exile. The 'official' revolutionary organisation, the KKE [Greek communist party] weighted down by Brezhnev in Moscow, was deeply suspicious of ... liberated comrades in tight jeans... This slander, particularly because the KKE applied it to the heroes of the Polytechneion [the stage for the events that took place on the 17 November 1973], proved a serious tactical error. The Karamanlis government exempted members of the anti-Junta resistance from military service, apart from three months of basic training. Many of them settled in Exarcheia, an inexpensive, traditionally leftist neighbourhood just above the Polytechneion..." 
In the history of the Greek left, we find many instances of members not being able to accept modern trends (like wearing jeans, a fashion originating in the US). It is this reason that sometimes blurs what defines the difference between extreme left and right, making them both sound like different sides of the same coin. They both exhibit elements of violence in their resistance to the status quo, and they renounce foreign influences, and this has continued up to the present time, with a softening stance on the part of leftist Syriza after the humiliating OXI vote; the left had to turn right in order to find the centre. The rise of centre-left PASOK, which won the elections in 1981 by a landslide just after Greece had entered the EU, gave 17N a chance to rethink their purpose. If Greece had a leftist government, what was their role now?
"At his first NATO summit in December 1981, Papandreou announced that Greece was 'forced to consider a process of disengagement' from parts of NATO it did not approve of. In the EU, Greece vetoed economic sanctions against the USSR for its intervention in Poland... Papandreou infuriated  his European allies by rejecting the prevailing Atlantic consensus on the Middle East... But in doing so Papandreou was stage-managing a careful retreat from his election promises... PASOK had forgotten its election pledge of abolishing the MAT [riot police]... In terms of day-to-day law enforcement, PASOK would be little different from its conservative predecessors... By mid-1983... Koufodinas and his fellows were in firm, fierce agreement that the socialism implemented by PASOK was unworthy of being defended."
The left-right struggle explains the motives behind the second attack in 1976, directed against Evangelos Mallios, a policeman accused of torturing political prisoners during the junta period: the terrorists were taking revenge on what they regarded as the failure of the state to punish people like Mallios (who, by all accounts, sounded like a nasty man). The police took more notice of this attack than the first one, partly because 17N had never been heard of before; this is also the time when Koufodinas started to take a serious interest in 17N, which gave him his life's calling. The murders continued in this way: US servicemen and Greek police officers were the main victims until the mid-80s. The police were never really liked in the past, unlike now when they are more highly respected than they were 30 years ago - at the time, they were scorned for their origins and their leanings:
"Greeks watching police battling stone throwers in the streets of Athens do not automatically cheer for the forces of order. Contempt for policemen is partly a relic of history; in Ottoman times, police earned their reputation as cruel corrupt and politicised. Class snobbery also plays a role, in that the sons of poor villagers are recruited to police an urban society. "
The left-right struggle continued while PASOK was in power, exaggerated by the claims from both sides, firmly entrenching the two major parties. The media was now regarded as a propaganda tool: 
"Prime Minister Papandreou warned of a vast right-wing scheme to destabilise the country. Conservative newspapers blamed Papandreou's secret army of leftists. KKE ... accused the CIA of planting ... bombs. Police used the excuse to search the houses of dozens of extremists and haul [them] in for questioning... ND [the centre-right opposition] organised a protest march and rally against the offices of Greek state television (ERT) ... Every governing party rewarded friendly journalists and the mistresses of cabinet minsters with ERT sinecures, but the scale of PASOK's media intervention had triggered charges from ND that PASOK was building a North Korean-style one-party propaganda machine."
At this point, Greek journalists and businessmen are added to the list of 17N's victims. In a country being governed by the left, the leftist terrorists had to find fault somewhere. When newspaper publisher Nikos Momferatos was killed in 1985, 17N charged that:
"the CIA had funded Momferatos to buy his newspaper 'in a systematic effort to make the more backward sections of the people stupid and torpid, offering various sentimental scandals and half-naked women, cultivating their lowest and crudest instincts. This proclamation introduced a new term, the 'lumpen big bourgeoisie' (LMAT). The government and LMAT were selling out Cyprus while de-industrialising Greece to turn it into 'the West's beach, a huge hotel, which will depend even for the basic necessities on imports, that is on loans from Western Banks'... servants of international capitalism and the multinational corporations."
PASOK was "perceived to have betrayed the popular strata that naively supported it." The same tune is sung in our times with Syriza's rise to power. 17N proclamations in the mid-80s showed the ambivalence 17N members felt towards capitalism and the West:
"After complaining that tax evasion was rampant, the author offered a harsh but scarcely revolutionary critique of the Greek educational system. The working class paid taxes but got a worthless education, since passing the examination for the state universities was impossible without private tutors. Admission to a state university entitled one to join the 'university proletariat' because the desirable jobs went to graduates of foreign universities. The 'hypernationalist, xenophobic' PASOK government pretended to be against foreign and private schools but let them function unimpeded. At the same time, the state promotes 'the superiority of ignorance' by obstructing bureaucratic recognition of foreign university degrees."
We recognise a lot of these traits among Syriza in their early days when they were in opposition. On securing power, they realised they had little choice but to continue in the same vein as their predecessors, in the same way that PASOK could not keep its promises in the late 80s:
"PASOK's leftist voters felt cheated by austerity budges, the continued US military presence, the co-option of the organised labor movement, and the first rumours of high-level corruption."
TheKoskotas scandal (see had just broken out, helping 17N to forge their belief in their cause: to fight against corruption, for justice of the λαός. By the late 80s, 17Ν began targeting Turkish embassy and military officials posted in Greece (two of whom were killed in the early 90s), adding the divided Cyprus issue to their causes, by linking the arch-enemy US with the Turkish coup:
"17N promised to fight rapprochement with Turkey until the Turkish army left Cyprus... A thoughtful handful of journalists were supporting Papandreou's Davos process, admitting that Greece had some share of responsibility for the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, that the US was a potentially helpful intermediary, or at least that negotiations with Turkey might be a good thing. 17N rejected these ideas firmly. US imperialism had orchestrated the Turkish invasion..." 
Thus, Cyprus became a 17N cause, since Papandreou had already started discussions on the Cyprus issue with Turkey. Thus, 17N could carry on with its murderous activities. One wonders if these rebels really had a real cause. Having been bank robbers (to sustain their criminal activities) and murderers most of the time, one gets the idea that they were acting like common thugs. And since they had never been caught, they became legends:
"By the end of 1988, 17N had everything it needed to be one of the most dangerous terrorist groups in Europe. it now counted among its members several young men with weapons, discipline, practical skills, and proven courage. Their ideology - libertarian socialism - was all-embracing enough to transcend their personal moral objections to theft and murder. A major scandal had delegitimised the current government and the entire Greek political system. Appeals to Greek nationalism ... could help energise Greece's pre-socialist proletariat to consider the need for revolutionary solutions. Simultaneously, 17N was taken with the idea that it could help fill the political vacuum the scandals had created... 17N printed up and scattered little campaign fliers and stickers with a 17N star logo calling for 'People's Power and Socialism with 17 November' ... a little stack of them was found in a safe house 14 years later."
To add to 17N's cause, the leftist PASOK eventually lost the elections, thanks to the Koskotas scandal, and centre-right ND came to power in 1990. By then, 17N had become a highly discussed topic in Greek political debate. The disorganised Greek state of the time could not stand up to 17N's well developed organisational skills. On 3 February 1990, 17N proved a formidable power in a comical farce when they stole nothing less than bazookas from the Athens War Museum:
"... a white Toyota ... parked illegally... Five well-dressed men in sunglasses... walked up the steps of the Junta-era ochre cube... The guards at the War Museum were unarmed and somnolent, their closed-circuit cameras out of order. The men pulled out handguns, explained politely but briskly that this was an exercise, and asked the guards and two visitors to gather against the wall. Three ... men then went upstairs where they immobilised two more guards and a pair of French tourists. One of the men cut the wires attaching the ... bazookas to their wooden display case and put them in a large plastic bag... they placed a cardboard box in the entryway with a wire sticking out and explained that this was a bomb with a motion-sensitive detonator. They climbed into their car and drove away. The cardboard box did its job well enough that no eyewitness spotted the license plate."
A year later, the left-right divide was blurred once again with the death of a leftist by a group of right-wingers:
"On Jaunary 8, 1991 a group that included a local cadre of the ND youth wing ONNED burst into an occupied school in Patras and fatally bludgeoned a far-left teacher named Nikos Temboneras." 
This was not a 17N attack. But it was part of the same political crisis that gave forth groups like 17N. Temboneras' son recently rebuked ND, when they showed dismay concerning Koufodinas' prison break: "Ξεχνά προφανώς ότι και εμείς πήγαμε σε κηδείες." Left and right violence is essentially of the same nature: everyone involved in such activities is nothing less than a thug. Thuggery was once again shown in 17N's failed attempt to kill Ioannis Paleokrassas, the ND Minister of the Economy for doing exactly what 17N believed in - weakening bank secrecy and combatting tax evasion:
"17N was certain the state planned to tax ordinary workers on the income from their moonlighting jobs while giving wealthy tax-dodgers an amnesty to legalise their hoarded wealth."
So we understand that making banks more open and collecting more taxes for the state was welcome, but only as long as the 'other' side was being punished and the 'goodies' were allowed to continue as usual. But 17N made a fatal mistake: instead of killing Paleokrassas, 17N killed a young man, an innocent bystander, in the botched operation. (I was in Athens centre the day that this murder took place, having been in Greece only a year at the time. The event made me wonder what I was doing choosing to live so close to random danger.) For Koufodinas, ever the ideologist, who was constantly searching for (and finding) reasons to justify his involvement in murder, this was a major setback. He knew 17N would be regarded by the public as just a group of thugs, something he so painstakingly tried to prevent:
"... for Koufodinas, the aftermath was the turning point for 17 November, a shift that caused the Organisation, then at the height of its capabilities and influence, suddenly to go limp, to turn into a mere team of militants again. There should have been a major strategic reevaluation at that point... because the Greek people were still passive spectators in this political process despite all 17N had done on their behalf." 
What exactly had 17N done for the Greeks? Nothing. It was by joining the EU that Greece finally got out of its poverty trap and steadily progressed (albeit on false premises) from a backward low-income country to a wealthy nation where everyone could dream of and have a fitted kitchen just like the ones we see in American films. Just a year before this murder, 17N had killed a black American serviceman, sparking another negative reaction on the part of the public due to the race factor involved in this crime. He was working at the Hellenikon US army base which was vacated by the US in that same year. Greece was changing, slowly ubt surely. By the mid-90s:
"... Greece's industrial base had evaporated. Propaganding socialist revolution to a country of civil servants and small shopkeepers required new ideas, but the far Left did not have them. ... 17N was not ready to abandon the armed struggle, but its sparse disconnected attacks and proclamations reflected a failure of internal leadership and ideology... To justify its deadly violence, 17N needed a more persuasive 'ism'. Nationalism was all it had left."  
In other words, the leftist organisation turned to ideals often associated with the far-right, as it had nothing 'left' to strike at. On 16 February 1996, the US embassy in Athens was attacked, with 17N firing a bazooka (the one stolen from the War Museum), which fell into the carpark area, damaging vehicles.  In February 1998, they exploded bombs at 2 McDonalds outlets and damaged the GM Detroit General Motors showroom, all in the northern suburbs of Athens, which are often associated with wealthy Greeks and foreigners:
"The heart of the McDonalds proclamation was a defesne of Greek nationalism as the natural patriotism of a struggling people. By contrast, [as] 17N asserted, American, European and Turkish nationalisms were inherently racist, based upon a sense that ethinic superiority gave them the right to dominate lesser breeds and turn them into junior versions of themselves." 
Αt this point we could say that 17N είχε μπερδέψει τα μπούτια της, as the Greek saying goes, although their hatred of the US did manage to have one important outcome: President Clinton's visit in November 1999, set to coincide with the 17 November commemorations, was shortened to just one overnight stay. Not only that but the Greek President George Stefanopoulos basically got an apology for American interference in Greek politics during the years of the military dictatorship. The following quote comes from Clinton's speech in Athens:
"When the junta took over in 1967 here, the United States allowed its interests in prosecuting the Cold War to prevail over its interests - I should say, its obligation to support democracy, which was, after all, the cause for which we fought the Civil War. It is important that we acknowledge that." 
According to a 17N member, Koufodinas did not fail to note Clinton's acknowledgement of US interference in Greece, and he might even have considered stopping 17N's activities. This didn't happen, but at any rate, by this time, 17N's days were numbered. Unfortunately, not in time to stop one more - the last - murder, of a British military officer, Stephen Saunders in June 2000, on the pretext that he murdered Greeks' Serbiann brothers (even though the UK insisted that he was not involved in any bombing attacks over Serbia). This came at a difficult time for Greece, which had committed to staging the 2004 Olympics. The US was one of the first critics of Greek security tactics:
"The Greeks were furious at the US. They had mortgaged their economic future and national honor to the Games. Though the US government never threatened a boycott, Greeks were certain [the US] were spreading lies with some kind of extortion in mindl No one cared to point out publicly that 17N was too nationalist and public-relations-sensitive a group to shame Greece by attacking tourists or athletes at the 2004 Athens Olympics."
After Saunders' death, Scotland Yard got involved in the 17N investigations. But this was all to prive futile: 17N unravelled completely by accident, basically when their luck ran out, on 29 June 2002, when a bomb exploded in 17N member Savvas Xiros' hand, while he was setting it up with Koufodinas:
"The explosion below Savvas several yards backwards. 'Can you walk?' Koufodinas asked the crumpled figure. 'No,' Savvas grunted. 'leave!' he had lost three fingers of his right hand andboth eardrums. He had blast particles in both eyes, damaged blood vessels in neck and brain, and pressure and burn damage to his chest and lungs. a cold-blooded fanatic would have finished off Savvas to keep him from talking. Long friendship prevailed... Koufodinas embraced him and left... An hour later the Port Police found the second bomb and the bag with savvas' revolver, two hand grenades, keys, and telephone card thrown by the blast... The .38 Smith&Wesson had a history that could be recovered frm the effaced serial number. In 1984, it had been taken off the corpse of Christos Matis, the young policeman shot dead in a bank robbery, the 6th of 17N's victims. here, after 27 frustrating years, was the final mistake the Greek police and the CIA had been waiting for."
Koufodinas' action here tells us that his ideology did not prevail in a freindship. This is in fact very typical of Greeks. Their emotions prevail, even in the face of logic. Koufodinas was no exception. It cost him his life's calling. Perhaps though he had gotten tired of setting up bombs - maybe he just wanted to give up this lifestyle, and by letting Savvas live, he had found a way to do it.

In the summer of 2002, I was a new mother with very young children living in a not so well-connected Greece. The 17N arrests, as they were being reported all day on television, were an addictive diversion from raising babies. That summer was a busy one for Greek media, as they unravelled 17N's history, displaying photos of the members as they were discovered one by one, and the 'yafkas', the numerous safe houses containing the incriminating evidence. When Savvas was finally able to speak, the Greek world was amazed to discover that Savvas came from a poor family with 10 children, and his father was a priest. We were even more astounded to hear that not one, but two of his brothers were also involved in 17N's murderous activities: 17N was beginning to look like some kind of family business. Over the next month, more arrests were made, as many as you can count on your fingers and toes. Was that it, we wondered? 17N was made up of a closely knit secretive family and friends, who kept their activities well guarded, while they lived among ordinary Greek citizens in various parts of the country.

Christodoulos, Savvas and Vasilis Xiros

When Savvas was finally able to speak, he basically sang. He clearly wanted to live, not die. The evidence eventually led in mid-July to the capture of 17N's mastermind, Alexandros Giotopoulos who was holidaying on the remote Greek island of Lipsi, but not Koufodinas, who also preferred remote Greek islands for holidays. Instead of hiding in Gavdos where he had a modest holiday home, Koufodinas chose Angistri, close to Athens. He camped there throughout the whole summer, without anyone realising who he was:
"The weather turned rainy at the beginning of September. Koufodinas was subject to migraines. the press was reporting imminent arrest of his partner Kiki. Koufodinas decided the time had come to redeem the honor of the organisation. On Thursday, September 5, 2002, he left his tent and newspaper clippings beside the dumpster and took the boat to Piraeus. having showered, shaved, and put on a new shirt, he called Kiki's lawyer to ask her help, then caught a taxi to Athens. On reaching GADA [the central police station], he told the driver to keep the change from a 100 euro note... When Koufodinas introduced himself to the police at the front desk, they were at first certain it was a joke at their expense. His fingertips ultimately persuaded them he was indeed the man they had been pursuing for the past 65 days." 
GUW reveals details of the confessions and trials of the 17N gang members, which Kiesling attended. The 17N women, partners of the accused, although eventually cleared of charges, are noteworthy for their allegiances: Kiki, for example, had grown up in an orphanage and was clearly anti-American, even though she had a sister living in the US working in space research. Kiesling notes the pressure involved during the trials: they had to take place as quickly as possible in order to show that justice was being served but this could only really be done by plea bargaining, so that the end result pleased the prosecutors. There are also bound to be some 17N members who were never caught. In other words, we only know some of the story: the rest has been consigned to history.

The very different personalities of Savvas Xiros and Dimitris Koufodinas, who opened the way to the end of 17N, could easily have led to different circumstances: one cannot help wondering what might have happened had it been Koufodinas in Savvas' place, so that Savvas was the one who busied himself the next day erasing evidence, while Koufodinas was lying in a hospital bed making up alibis about his presence at the site where the bomb exploded.

More writing by John Brady Kiesling about 17N and US-GR relations:

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