America the Despised: A Letter from Athens

America the Despised: A Letter from Athens

Mini Teaser: Conservatives and churchgoers are joining the Greek Left to form a new and more visceral anti-Americanism.

by Author(s): Takis Michas

Seen as a system of ideas, the new anti-American narrative in Greece has little in common with critiques of American policies and social structures that were prevalent in the 1960s and early 1970s. The latter were rights-based discourses and had as their goal liberal emancipation. Current anti-Americanism, on the other hand, is suffused with xenophobia, irrationality and plain hatred. Earlier forms of Greek anti-Americanism attacked what America did. Present forms attack what America is.
Confusing these two forms of anti-Americanism amounts to committing what philosophers call "a category error." Such a mistake can have serious policy implications, as it did when President Clinton visited Greece in October 1999. His trip planners thought that if he strongly condemned American support for the colonels' junta that ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974, he would placate those Greeks who were protesting his visit. It did not work. The large and violent demonstrations against his visit went ahead as planned. What the former President's advisors failed to understand was that the protesters of 1999 were not primarily interested in the usurpation of Greek political freedoms by the old junta; they were instead affirming their deep-seated opposition to Western values and their ideological alliance to Milosevic's ethno-tribal politics.

The effects of such developments in Greek society on relations between Greece and the United States, NATO and the EU are, of course, impossible to predict with precision. What is certain, however, is that for a growing number of Greeks, the United States-Greece's formal ally-is rapidly becoming Enemy Number One. In a poll published in the Greek daily Ta Nea two weeks after the September 11 attacks, only 18.9 percent of respondents said they had positive feelings about the United States. "One of the most dangerous recent developments in the relations of Greece with its friends and allies", says Dimitis Katsoudas, head of the pro-Western "Center for New Policy-Pavlos Bakoyannis"-named after the most prominent Greek victim of "November 17th"-"is the consolidation of an anti-Western and anti-American sentiment that goes far beyond any logical reaction to aspects of U.S. foreign policy that may affect negatively Greece's national interests."

At the same time, those feelings go hand in hand with a pragmatic attitude on the part of the majority of the Greek population toward Greece's membership in NATO and its relations with the United States. Thus, as many opinion polls have shown, the majority of the Greek population combines a critical attitude toward the United States and its policies with an acquiescence to the Greek government's formal support for those policies. Whether this situation can be sustained in the long run, only time will tell.

Takis Michas is a staff writer for the Greek daily Eleftherotypia and a frequent contributor to the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal (Europe). The views expressed here are the author's own. His book, The Unholy Alliance: Greece and Milosevic's Serbia During the 1990s, is forthcoming from Texas A & M Press.

Essay Types: Essay