I am indebted to Hara Tzavella-Evjen for this story about a common acquaintance.
Chapter 1. 1963–2008: History, Microhistory, Metahistory, Ethnography
“What sort of legal innovation is the notion of indefinite detention?” asks Butler, as she contemplates the indefinite extension of sovereign power and legal jurisdiction in the United States post 9/11 (2004: 51). The legislative net that I have just described shows that indefinite detention is not a “legal innovation” that appeared with the Bush administration but has a history that reaches back to a space and place used as a laboratory for neo-colonialism at the outset of the imperial expansion of U.S. power after the Second World War: namely, Greece after the Truman Doctrine and under the Marshall Plan. This legislative net produced a system that transformed inaccessible corners of Greece into a web of fenced and strictly disciplined spaces of existence. In the early years of the twentieth century, the only securely inaccessible places were the thousands of islands strewn throughout the Greek seas.
Amorgos, Kea, Thera, Gavdos, Corfu, Folegandros, Hagios Eustratios (Ai-Stratis), Anafi, Paros, Andros, the North and South Aegean, the Ionian Sea, the Cretan Sea, the Libyan Sea, the Saronic Gulf: some of these places are now cloaked with the glamour of leisure, wealth, ostentation, and the kitsch of the nouveaux riches (Greek and non-Greek alike); some are now only an airplane or a hovercraft hop away from Athens; some are still quiet, requiring a ten- or twelve-hour ride on a thirty- or forty-year-old boat; others, in the years before the explosion of tourism that came with the junta of 1967 to 1974, could require days of travel. Some, such as Thera, Amorgos, Folegandros, Ai-Stratis, and Anafi, could be reached only once a fortnight in the summer, once a month in winter. Ships and naval vessels could not dock at their minuscule ports, which were constructed only for fishing boats. They would remain “at road” offshore, while service boats ferried supplies, people, letters, and sometimes books (which were strictly forbidden in the camps but nonetheless were regularly smuggled in).
Surveillance of the exiles by the gendarmerie on those islands exceeded the act of policing. After all, in these places no criminal act ever took place, and only the presence of the exiles made surveillance necessary. Everything considered a human and not an animal activity was forbidden: reading books or newspapers, contacting local residents, taking a stroll outside the village, staying out past sunset, listening to the radio.
In 1948, the director of one of the American schools in Greece, an American philologist, took a trip to one of those islands, Thera, to visit a newly excavated site. An old acquaintance of hers had been exiled there, an architect who had already served time on Makrónisos. She saw him sitting alone at the coffee house in the main square late in the afternoon and she went up to talk to him, since they had known each other in Athens. She had lost track of him completely, and her surprise at seeing him was immense. They sat down and started talking. After she got up to leave, on her way to the house where she was staying, a gendarme stopped her. “Why were you talking to him?” he asked. She said that she had known him as a colleague, that she was an American, and that she was surprised to see him here, so she had stopped to say hello. The gendarme said that he would have to file a report about what he had witnessed. She was a woman, talking to an exiled Communist, and there were only two categories available for a report: he could write that she was either a Communist or a prostitute. Which would she prefer? “Prostitute,” she said, and that's how he wrote his official report: so-and-so has been visited by a prostitute.
Greece marks the beginning of the cold war. As Michael McClintock notes, quoting Lt. Col. Robert Selton of the U.S. Army, the Greek Civil War constitutes “the formal declaration of the cold war” between the “Free World… and the forces of communism” (McClintock 1992: 11). It was on the occasion of the beginning of the civil war in Greece that President Truman articulated his famous (or infamous) doctrine about the necessity for intervention on behalf of other countries to prevent infiltration by ideologies originating elsewhere. As McClintock notes, as of November 1961, starting with an initial allotment in 1947 of $400 million through the Marshall Plan, Greece was granted $3.4 billion for postwar reconstruction, out of which only $1.2 billion went to economic aid. The rest was used for military aid and defense support, including the establishment and maintenance of the concentration camps and the containment of Communism. (See Selton 1966: 68; McClintock 1992: 466n.31.) James Becket notes about the Truman Doctrine that “Greece was the first country of the Old World to experience the full impact of Pax Americana. Aid and advisors of every kind arrived: agronomists, soldiers, teachers, spies, businessmen, diplomats” (Becket 1970: 12). For an incisive analysis of the beginnings of the cold war in reference to the civil war, see Gerolymatos 2004.
Venko Markovski, interned at Goli Otok in Yugoslavia between 1956 and 1961, mentions similar conditions of everyday existence: “Everything is forbidden at Goli Otok. It is forbidden to look around, to listen, and, of course, to speak. Even sighing is forbidden us” (1984: 47).