Friday, 28 December 2007

Evaggalos Vallianatos joins up some dots

June Samaros at Kalamos books has referenced a blog by Evaggalos Vallianatos Through Greek eyes - views on hellenism and ecology. From Kephalonia, Vallianatos studied zoology, then mediaeval Greek history at Illinois and Modern Greek history at Wisconsin, going onto post-doctoral studies in the history of science and international development at Harvard. He's held US government jobs concerned with the environment and worked as an advisor on sustainable development at the United Nations Development Programme - chief interests Greek history, global environmental and agriculture. He's unleashed an informed polemic in the Hellenic News of America, linking the fires in the Peloponnese as shown on satellite images to the final route of the Ionian Highway:
The August 2007 photographs of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of burning Greece brought to light not merely the monstrous size of the destruction, but the equally monstrous planning of those striving to convert the country into a playground for rich Greeks and foreigners.

Filling the dots between the hundreds of fires in Peloponnese puts many of them within reasonable distance and direction of the Ionian Road, a multibillion-dollar highway scheduled to open within four years and connecting the cities Corinth, Patras, Pyrgos and Kalamata. The arsonists did the dirty job for private and corporate criminals who plan to invest in the now burned land. The Ionian Road meanders along unspoiled coastline and Olympia, easily the most beautiful region of the heartland of Hellas. The highway then moves from Olympia in the west to the southern region of Peloponnese.



What is made of this outspoken diaspora Greek? Speaking as one who has fought for urban green space and against predict-provide road building policies for years, I find his writing on land-use and the ravages of agri-business convincing. His appreciation of flaws in the contemporary Greek polity revolve around views he drew together in a 2006 book The Passion of the Greeks: Christianity and the Rape of the Hellenes (Cape Cod: Clock and Rose Press) after a June 2005 op-ed 'Greece: A wounded country and civilization' in Hellenic News of America:

Greece is always hurting me. It’s a country full of tragedy. Its fantastic ancient civilization, which gave light to the West, stands alone because Greece remains outside the cultural borders of the West. Having never had a Renaissance, Greece is behaving more like an Oriental religious despotism, allowing its clergy a license for power and corruption reminiscent of the dark ages. The result of having a Christian theocracy in Greece is that the country is paying little attention to its Greek history and cultural treasures. Everything is made from a foreign model — and in a hurry. Its Christian population has yet to understand its pre-Christian Hellenic achievement. Rather, it strives to emulate its European neighbours and the United States, barely tolerating its antiquities.
[Reference back in the blog]
* * *1316 GMT 27/12/07: A bullet for the throat - source of debate and public utterance; another for the heart - source of courage and love. A bomb for the electorate - democracy stunned. Reason sleeps.
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Intermediary Greeks
How I like this library on my kitchen table, though what a distraction it is from doing the washing up, getting dressed, marking papers, taking out the rubbish, sweeping the drive, packing away the Christmas decorations, preparing the talk I'm giving Thursday evening about Handsworth Park, completing a tax return, doing my share of the housework, and...and. I just found a piece written a while ago on the website of Iason Athanasiadis, a journalist based in Tehran which advances my understanding of Greece, but also of Iran - so pivotal in the landscape of international apprehensions. Athanasiadis grew up in Athens, read stories from 1001 Nights by his mother - mentioning in particular Sabah the Sailor (who I've long enjoyed by the name of Sinbad the Sailor):

...Being Greek makes me a quasi-insider: We have been present as a regional power from antiquity through to the Byzantine Empire. Later, as Christian subjects of the Muslim Ottoman Empire, the Greeks were its bankers, merchants and diplomats to the European West.

The switch of allegiances to the West only came in the 19th century, after the Great Powers helped Greece win its War of Independence. There is still residual mistrust over the Crusaders' sacking of Constantinople on their way to Jerusalem and the lack of help sent by Genoa as the Turks scaled the capital of Byzantium. After World War II, Greece remained firmly within the Western orbit and became the first line of defense against the Soviet Union. In the post-9/11 world, Greek politicians have continued the tradition of the intermediary, most notably when former Greek foreign minister and Colin Powell confidante George Papandreou passed messages from the Bush administration to the Taliban prior to their overthrow. Greek construction companies were trusted by Arab leaders to construct much of the Gulf's infrastructure, build clandestine military bases in Libya, and erect palaces in Saudi Arabia complete with secret escape routes in case of an antimonarchical revolution.

A fine example of the "intermediary Greek" is that country's current ambassador to Baghdad. Panayiotis Makris was educated in Alexandria's Victoria College, speaks fluent Egyptian Arabic, packs a pistol in his leather briefcase, and lives resolutely outside the Green Zone. A 17th century tapestry depicting Alexander the Great's death in Babylon dominates his living room in the kidnapping-scarred diplomatic district of Mansour. His professional performance is likewise infused with an historical perspective. As he points out to visitors, Alexander died just 10 kilometers from Baghdad; "We're the only country that has the right to offer lessons in democracy around here," he quips in a barely concealed barb at the American mismanagement of their Iraq occupation.

Greece's man in Tehran similarly draws heavily upon history in his dealings with Iranian officials. His enthusiastic and repeated claims that Greece and Iran share 5,000 years of shared civilization may owe more to Athens' dependence on Iranian oil imports and an innate proclivity to exaggerate than to historical fact. But the excellent ties between Greece and Iran reveal how important a shared cultural background is to a bilateral relationship (extract)
Odysseas Elytis, speaking of his work in 1972 said, in a longer talk:
... You always look somewhat puzzled, I notice, whenever I contrast Greeks with Westerners or Europeans. This is not a mistake on my part. We Greeks belong politically, of course, to the Occident. We are part of Europe, part of the Western world, but at the same time Greece was never only that. There was always the oriental side which occupied an important place in the Greek spirit. Throughout antiquity oriental values were assimilated. There exists an oriental side in the Greek which should not be neglected. It is for this reason that I make the distinction.
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Read this for the sweetest funniest 'thing' - my waging peace award for 2007 'Η κοινοτοπια τοθ κάλοθ'

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for alerting me to Mr. Vallianatos site. Although I may not always agree with him, I do enjoy reading his views.

    Kalli Xronia

    ReplyDelete

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