Phillis, Yannis A. 2006. Mia Stagona ston Cheimarro (A Drop in the Torrent). New York: Seaburn Press.
Chapter 1. 1963–2008: History, Microhistory, Metahistory, Ethnography
“Everything is unified,” Yiannis Filis submits in his autobiographical sketch, which traces his trajectory starting in the small, largely Right-wing (by his account) village of Asine in one of Greece's most ancient and famous areas, the Argolid, where Mycenae, Ancient Epidauros, and the obscure Homeric Asine lie. Asine appears only as a name in Homer's catalogue of the ships that participated in the Trojan War.
Everything is unified. Education from the day of Sunday School to the Polytechnic School, where I start studying in 1968, constitutes a cogent unit [enótēta]. Emphýlios [the civil war], the Special Security guy [asfalitēs] with the thin mustache and the angry face at the gate of the Metsoveion [the Polytechnic School], the party meetings of the decade of the sixties, the battles in the school yard, the history lesson from grammar school to high school, every lesson, the maps showing the as yet unliberated homelands, the sketches of the faces of the Greek warriors of the War of Independence and the Turks, the pious and the sinners of the village, the serious ones and the frolickers, the normals and the homosexuals, everything is a cogent unit. Nothing is left to chance. Nothing allows for margins. They inscribe in our mind the foundational theory of us and the rest. We, the good ones; the others, the bad ones. (Phillis 2006: 100)
The story of the Left in Greece has a very idiosyncratic history (as the Nobel Prize laureate George Seferis noted about the entirety of Greek history, which, for him, probably did not include the Left). It is a history written in fragments and intervals, within a larger history that has not always included it. From the beginning of the labor movement in Greece (which included the beginning of the agricultural labor movement and its significant event, the massacre at Kilelér on March 6, 1910) to the return of the last exiles in 1963 (a return that proved to be ever so brief, as the junta of 1967 opened the exile and concentration camps once again, and most of those who were released in 1963 were interned and exiled again at that point), the history of the Left was not being written as a conscious historiographic endeavor; in fact, it was expressly prohibited from being written, a censorship that concerned only the Leftist historiographic act and was based on the premise that writing this history would “stir up passions [anamóhleusis pathõn]” .
The first scholarly conference to mention the civil war in its title took place in Greece in 1995, when, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War, the historian Hagen Fleischer decided to organize a conference on the civil war that would consider the preceding decade to be constitutive of it. Fleischer argued, as I do here, that since the war in Greece neither ended in 1944 (since this was the beginning of the civil war) nor started with the Italian attack in 1940 and the German invasion in 1941, but bore the burden of the 1936–41 Metaxas dictatorship, the time of the Second World War needs to be examined within its rightful context, which, for Greece, was intimately connected with the story and the history of the Greek Left. Right-wing historiography did not concern itself with either of these contentious events—the Metaxas dictatorship or the civil war—except in publishing accounts of the latter that maintained and supported the official state position that the Greek Left (and later the Communist Party) had always been a treacherous tumor, a carcinoma within the Greek polity, having as its aim the forceful overthrow of the (or any) legitimate Greek government. Hence, the civil war would be codified as nothing more than the latest attempt at such a forceful change in political formation. The history of the Greek Resistance was gauged according to this reading, which forcibly collapsed within it the history of the civil war. Curiously, the historiography of the civil war has from the beginning employed sports metaphors (the First Round, the Second Round, the Third Round;) engendering, in effect, an emphyliology, a long and sustained discourse on the emphýlios that has managed to produce as much as to analyze its content.
The mid-sixties, before the junta, witnessed a tentative attempt by the Left to initiate a coherent, cogent, and systematic account of the Left and the actions taken by the Greek state (of Right-wing or Centrist leanings) to suppress it. Apart from Foivos Grigoriadis's To Andártiko (the first book mentioned in this study), Nikos Margaris's History of Makrónisos, published in 1963, was such an attempt, as were two books by Spyros Linardatos on the Metaxas dictatorship. During the junta, Constantine Tsoucalas's The Greek Tragedy, published in London in 1969, was the first attempt to provide a cohesive narrative of political developments in Greece from the inception of the modern Greek state to the dictatorship of 1967 while delineating the measures that were taken by the state to eliminate all critical political discourse.
What such attempts were trying to do was to put in writing, to bring up to the level of public discourse, indeed, to make public and discursive something that the whole of Greece was experiencing as private and unspeakable: the reality and the specter of all those who had spent anything from two or three to twenty-two or twenty-three years in prison, in the army, in concentration camps, in exile, or in plain fear. These were attempts to explain the fear that permeated the air, despite the “democratic” government in place, the whispers and the silences, the circuitous explanations about why someone who held a university degree and was fully qualified to teach, work at a bank, or in the public sector was, instead, employed at a small factory, selling books from door to door, surviving by giving private lessons, being a private accountant, or renting a small hole in the wall, off the beaten track of downtown, selling souvlaki and gyro sandwiches. Obviously the Right wing was oblivious to (and, occasionally, even ignorant of) all this, seated comfortably in the seat of the right and the correct, content in its satisfaction that this only happened elsewhere, to other people, to “the others,” who had been asking for it. Thus all discussion was stifled; the cards were drawn, East was East and West was West, and that was the way it would be.
See Chouliaras 2003. I do not mean to imply that there had been no research done or publications on the civil war prior to the conference in 1995, nor that conferences on the civil war had not taken place outside of Greece. Hagen Fleischer mentions, in the introduction to the volume of essays he edited in 2003, that when he and the historian Nikos Svoronos organized, in 1984, the first conference ever to take place in Greece on “those years of the great contrasts,” they dealt only with the Metaxas dictatorship, the Resistance, and the German occupation. When Fleischer suggested that they include the civil war, Svoronos said to him, “Be patient” (Fleischer 2003: 12). Conferences and publications on the matter had been taking place abroad for about twenty years before one could be attempted on Greek soil. The bibliography is not very long, but it is significant. See, e.g., Iatrides 1972, 1981; Sarafis 1980; Baerentzen, Iatrides, and Smith 1987.
See Fleischer 2003; also Chouliaras in the same volume.
I am consciously echoing James Boon's notion of Baliology.
Asinēn te refers to a Homeric Hymn and a poem by George Seferis. The only textual information that exists about Asine is the Homeric catalogue of ships that participated in the Trojan War. Seferis wrote his poem after visiting Asine in the summer of 1938 and finished it in Athens in January 1940. I have used the translation by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard.
The King of Asine
All morning long we looked around the citadel
starting from the shaded side, there where the sea,
green and without luster—breast of a slain peacock—
received us like time without an opening in it.
Veins of rock dropped down from high above,
twisted vines, naked, many-branched, coming alive
at the water's touch, while the eye following them
struggled to escape the tiresome rocking,
losing strength continually.
On the sunny side a long empty beach
and the light striking diamonds on the huge walls.
No living thing, the wild doves gone
and the king of Asine, whom we've been trying to find for two years now,
unknown, forgotten by all, even by Homer,
only one word in the Iliad and that uncertain,
thrown here like the gold burial mask.
You touched it, remember its sound? Hollow in the light
like a dry jar in dug earth:
the same sound that our oars make in the sea.
The king of Asine a void under the mask
everywhere with us everywhere with us, under a name:
“Asinēn te… Asinēn te…”
and his children statues
and his desires the fluttering of birds, and the wind
in the gaps between his thoughts, and his ships
anchored in a vanished port:
under the mask a void.
Behind the large eyes the curved lips the curls
carved in relief on the gold cover of our existence
a dark spot that you see traveling like a fish
in the dawn calm of the sea:
a void everywhere with us.
And the bird that flew away last winter
with a broken wing:
abode of life,
and the young woman who left to play
with the dogteeth of summer
and the soul that sought the lower world squeaking
and the country like a large plane-leaf swept along by the torrent of the sun
with the ancient monuments and the contemporary sorrow.
And the poet lingers, looking at the stones, and asks himself
does there really exist
among these ruined lines, edges, points, hollows, and curves
does there really exist
here where one meets the path of rain, wind, and ruin
does there exist the movement of the face, shape of the tenderness
of those who've shrunk so strangely in our lives,
those who remained the shadow of waves and thoughts with the sea's boundlessness
or perhaps no, nothing is left but the weight
the nostalgia for the weight of a living existence
there where we now remain unsubstantial, bending
like the branches of a terrible willow-tree heaped in permanent despair
while the yellow current slowly carries down rushes uprooted in the mud
image of a form that the sentence to everlasting bitterness has turned to stone:
the poet a void.
Shieldbearer, the sun climbed warring,
and from the depths of the cave a startled bat
hit the light as an arrow hits a shield:
“Asinēn te… Asinēn te…” Would that it were the king of Asine
we've been searching for so carefully on this acropolis
sometimes touching with our fingers his touch upon the stones.
—Asine, summer '38—Athens, Jan. '40
Translation by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, George Seferis, Collected Poems (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1995: 134–36).
Asine becomes just a place name again in Stathis Kalyvas's The Logic of Violence in Civil War (2006), in which Kalyvas tries to show that the entire area of the Argolid had been politically homogeneous and without political rifts before the civil war. Filis's account, however, shows that such rifts existed even within the cloak of fear and silence. For a critical review of Kalyvas, see Panourgiá 2008b.
There is a startling reverberation here with the oath required of all Athenian citizens after the end of the civil war of 404 to 401 b.c., which erupted among Athenians after Spartans defeated Athens in 404 b.c. and burned the Long Walls, the wooden walls that had been built in the middle of the fifth century b.c. around Athens and Pireaus to connect and protect the two parts of the city. The oath demanded that citizens not recall the misfortunes caused by the civil war. The exhortation mē mnēsikakein (“do not hold grudges,” literally, “do not hold onto bad memories”) was, as we will see, completely forgotten by the later Greeks of the modern civil war. But then modern Greek politicians are not held accountable to the same code of ethics as the ancients. Although the directive against remembering past misfortunes was rigorously applied to the Left in the 1950s, it was certainly not required of the rest of the political spectrum, especially the Right, whose governments (local and national) engaged in many mnemonic rituals (both religious and secular) at sites throughout Greece where battles between the Left and the government forces had taken place. Not until the 1990s did the Left engage in a few commemorations of its own, primarily on the exile islands and at Grammos, the place of the final defeat of the Democratic Army.
Nicole Loraux emphasizes that the oath was taken on an individual rather than a collective basis: “I shall not recall misfortunes—Ou mnēsikakēsō,” an active verb individually uttered that drew each citizen into the vortex of city politics, into the vortex of the polis (2006: 149). Loraux further reminds us that the discourse on amnesty (thus the demand that certain acts become forgotten) was originally associated with the fine imposed on Phrynichus (2006: 148). Phrynichus, one of the earliest tragedians, composed a tragedy entitled Miletus Captured shortly after the city of Miletus, one of the members of the Ionian League in Asia Minor, was captured and sacked by the Persians in 503 b.c. The Persians brought such devastation on the city that Athens (the metropolis of this colony) also mourned. When the tragedy was taught in Athens, the audience wept, and Phrynichus was fined for having reminded the Athenians of oikeia kaká (familial—or familiar—misfortunes). On the civil war of 404 to 401 b.c., Loraux 2006 remains indispensable.
The ironic fact that the Communist Party of Greece was never a revolutionary party aiming to take over political power has been lost on everyone (most of all on itself) save for its critics located to its left (the Trotskyists and the Maoists).
At least one commentator has used the terms the “first civil war (December 1944)” and the “second civil war (1946–1950).” See Papadopoulos 1967: 7. The trajectory of the “rounds” metaphor is not an uncomplicated one. This metaphor permeates most of the postjunta historiography dealing with the civil war. The terms are always in quotation marks, yet have never been attributed to a specific source. I have managed to trace the use of the terms to John Iatrides's Revolt in Athens (1972), but even there they are in quotation marks. Correspondence with Iatrides yielded the following explanation: “As far as I can remember, I used the term 'second round' simply because that's what we called it at that time. I don't remember finding the term in any of the sources I used but I'll check and will let you know what I find. The quotation marks were my own choice, thinking that readers might otherwise think the numbering was somehow formally established. In one of his many books and manuscripts, [Chris] Woodhouse writes approvingly of calling the Dekemvrianá the second round.”
When I asked Iatrides what he meant by “we called it at that time,” he responded: “By 'called it at that time' I meant before the 1960s (when I was working on Revolt in Athens) and by 'we' I had in mind family, friends, colleagues in the Greek army and government, and others in Greece and here who were interested in the civil war and with whom I discussed it. It had nothing to do with the State Department or British official views. As for Woodhouse, there is nothing on 'rounds' in Apple of Discord but The Struggle for Greece (published in 1976) is divided into three sections called 'rounds.' I am almost certain he used the terms much earlier, perhaps in unpublished writing, but if so I was not aware of it when I used 'Second Round.' Again, I simply cannot remember what prompted me to use it other than it seemed to be the natural thing to do! I checked my sources for Revolt in Athens and can't find 'rounds' anywhere. Perhaps I was reacting to Foivos Gregoriades's Istoria tou Emfyliou Polemou, whose subtitle is To Deftero Antartiko” (Iatrides, personal communication, e-mail message, November 1, 2006). I am indebted to Iatrides for taking the time to look into this question and for sharing with me his thoughts on it, and for giving me permission to publish his comments.
The feminist political philosopher Eleni Varikas insists that I put the appellation “democratic” in quotation marks when I refer to this period. I do want to insist, however, that, however rigged, forced, and disingenuous the elections that produced those governments were, there was an insistence on the performativity of the rule of law, on the constant iteration and reiteration of the discourse of legality as producing legal order, that is of primary importance to my project overall. I am trying to show that the performance of the legal speech act, the invocation of law at the very moment the same law was being broken, was the ground on which the violation and abuse of civil and human rights took place at that time.