In Greece, the side that lost the civil war, the Left, has engaged in a prolific production of meanings and symbolic constellations concerning the “generation of the defeat” (as it has come to be known), from literature to historiography. Nothing is monolithic, and the “defeat,” as a locus of symbolic subjectivity, is not felt by the Left in its entirety. Rather, it tends to characterize (again, not collectively) the political subjectivities of what is known in Greece as the Revitalized Left, or what we would generally call Eurocommunism (namely, Communism with a decidedly European orientation, deeply critical of Stalinism and Sovietism and adhering to the “historical compromise” between the Communist and the bourgeois political parties that had been developed by Enrico Berlinguer in Italy as the new strategy for the preservation of Communist ideology and the possibility of participation in government).
We know the terrible effects of a combination of civil war, concentration camps, and oppressive and authoritarian governments on the everyday lives of citizens. We know of the dismantled families, the maimed relationships, the broken bodies, the poverty, the devastated infrastructure. A civil war, however, has lasting effects that are not so immediately apparent. It produces psychopathologies, mistrust, and resentment in addition to economic and political devastation. There is nothing civil in a “civil war.” In such a war, siblings fight against each other, children are tortured in front of their parents, parents are killed in front of their children. When it ends, no one can get up, dust off his clothes, and shake hands. The effects are lived for generations, long after the war has ended and decades after the winners and losers have settled down (curiously comfortably) in their respective positions. The Greek paradigm acquires particular importance here, because in Greece, though the civil war ended in 1949, its effects are only now being discussed. The case of Greece gives us the texture of the longue durée of this particular historical experience, sitting, as it does, on the cusp of cultural and political memory.
In Greece, the collective experience of history seems to be located in a deep-seated mistrust of the political sphere, a mistrust that can be traced by turning over the folds of recent social and cultural history when it is viewed as an anthropological problem. In the many interviews I have conducted with people who lived in the camps, their families, and their wider network of friends, this historical experience manifested itself along a double axis. One pole of this axis is factual: the reintroduction and expansion of the camps in Greece from 1947 to 1958 (or, even, 1963) and from 1967 to 1974. The second is discursive: the biomedical metaphors that pervade what is said about dangerous and suspicious persons.
In terms of public understanding, the watershed event organizing this experience of history was the Second World War. In Greece, the war segued into the period of White Terror (1945–46), in which the Resistance fighters against the German occupation (Katohé) were persecuted by paramilitary gangs, whereas the collaborators of the Germans were rewarded with promotions, positions in the much-coveted public sector, and pensions. This period of terror led Greece into its civil war (1946–49), which, in turn, led to the reopening of the concentration camps (1947–58). The effects of both the civil war and the camps were solidified by the Junta (1967–74), and were felt until the beginning of the 1980s. But if the world war publicly organized the experience of Greek history, so that, in a gesture of national and statist colonization of the experience of history (after the total defeat of the Left), the heroism of the Resistance came to be acknowledged as a collective one, the civil war was the unspoken but deeply felt trauma of Greek history. Like all civil wars, it did not just erupt one day, nor did it end on the date that the calendar says it did. The civil war has always lasted its length and a day.
Collaborators denotes people who collaborated with the occupying forces against the occupied country. The Greek term is synergates, which after the war ended and synergates were tried in courts of law changed to dosilogoi, meaning those who had to give an account of themselves and their actions.
Certainly we can say that the effects are still being felt today, if not on the level of the experience of history by its actors, then at the level of historical, anthropological, and political epistemologies that are currently being debated. The debates among a number of researchers who are trying to rehabilitate the Right and apologize for its actions during the occupation and the civil war, a number of aging Leftists who are attempting to assume a critical positionality toward the period, and a newer hermeneutical approach that attempts to dispel the attempts of the former and contextualize those of the latter is instructive here. For a whole year this debate raged publicly through inserts in the three major dailies in Greece (To Vema, Eleutherotypia, Ta Nea), and in the end the exchanges were published separately.
Dionyssis Savvópoulos has marked the difference between the two periods as lived historical experience in his sad, introspective, but ultimately conciliatory verses about Greece:
ki an ston emfýlio
sernótan san tsoúla
êtan lyménē psychoúla
even if during the civil war
she was dragging herself
like a whore
during the occupation
her little psyche was unleashed