Nikos Konstandaras at PostGlobal

Nikos Konstandaras

Athens, Greece

Nikos Konstandaras is managing editor and a columnist of Kathimerini, the leading Greek morning daily. He is also the founding editor of Kathimerini’s English Edition, which is published as a supplement to The International Herald Tribune in Greece, Cyprus and Albania. He worked as a correspondent for The Associated Press from 1989 to 1997 before joining the Greek press and has reported from many countries in the region. Close.

Nikos Konstandaras

Athens, Greece

Nikos Konstandaras is managing editor and a columnist of Kathimerini, the leading Greek morning daily. He is also the founding editor of Kathimerini’s English Edition, which is published as a supplement to The International Herald Tribune in Greece, Cyprus and Albania. more »

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Double Standards for U.S. Friends

Anti-Americanism in Greece cannot rise much higher than it has been in the past few years, where polls have consistently shown Greeks as the most wary of Europeans regarding Washington’s policies. The reasons are many and have as much to do with domestic politics as with U.S. policy toward Greece, the region and the world.

This “anti-Americanism” comes across as much more strident than it actually is. The most dangerous urban guerrilla group, called November 17, killed five U.S. officials in a 23-year run which ended in 2003. Otherwise, there are noisy but harmless demonstrations and the occasional firebombing of banks, car dealerships and other symbols of U.S. “capitalism” carried out by self-styled anarchists and other anti-globalization activists. There’s a lot of sound and fury but in the end it does not amount to much more than a backdrop to public discourse -- yet it is there, like a backdrop, influencing almost every aspect of public debate.

Why is there so much anti-Americanism? And seeing as there is so much of it, how come it is not as toxic as in other parts of the world, such as the Middle East? Perhaps the most important aspect of Greek anti-Americanism is that it is mainly an intellectual concept -- a complaint -- and not something that stems from a genuine sense of rage and pain that can be found elsewhere at this time of radical readjustments in the world.

America’s perceived sins regarding Greece can be divided into two categories: actions that were seen as harming Greece and sins of omission, in which Washington allegedly did not do enough to help the Greek side. In this complex relationship, the primal sin, which combines both categories, was America’s connection with the military dictatorship which seized power in 1967 (and which enjoyed both covert and open support from Washington). The Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, which led to the junta’s collapse, was also seen as a crucial point at which America did nothing to help Greece and the Cypriots but stood back and allowed the Turks to begin an occupation of a third of the island which continues today.

Even Greeks who were not alive at the time feel justified in expressing moral outrage at America’s alleged involvement in these events of more than 30 years ago. Greece’s troubled relationship with Turkey, and the fact that the Cyprus problem remains unresolved, manages to keep alive the sense that Washington prefers to keep the Turks happy for a variety of geostrategic expediencies rather than press for an end to Ankara’s belligerence.

A political and journalistic elite which was raised on simplistic and popular anti-Americanism helps skew the debate on Washington’s policies -- from the way the U.S. government treats its own country's poor to its geostrategic choices and their effects on Greece.

But just as memories of the junta began to fade, the U.S.-led war against Serbia over Kosovo in 1999 dealt a serious blow to Greek-U.S. relations. The war was widely condemned in Greece, with close to 100 percent of Greeks polled condemning NATO’s actions. However, while demonstrations rocked the main Greek cities for the duration of the war, the government fulfilled its obligations to the alliance. Most Greeks felt that the Serbs were the victims of double standards (unlike U.S. allies such as Turkey and Israel). Also, NATO was seen as aiding Albanian irredentism and creating a legal black hole in the heart of the Balkans which could prove a lasting danger.

But another event helped galvanize the anti-American movement. The Battle of Seattle, as the first great anti-globalization protest was called, helped fire up the Greek “anti-imperialist” camp that had not managed to swallow the fact that the Soviet Bloc had collapsed a decade earlier. The anti-globalization movement now fuels much of the more theatrical street displays of anti-Americanism, giving young rebels something to rail against and creating a dramatic climate of radicalization that is far from widespread in reality. In this case, one might say that such criticism comes with being the world’s only superpower. So the Americans would do well to know that you can’t be a superpower and be loved by everyone all the time.

George W. Bush’s rush to war in Iraq, which was condemned by most Greeks before the invasion, and his unilateralism have helped confirm the suspicions of the most anti-American Greeks but also made many pro-American Greeks wary of American motives and actions for the first time.

Yet, most Greeks admire America for what it stands for, as the world's leading force that promotes democracy -- the invention of which Greeks see as their ancestors’ proudest accomplishment. Many Greeks are also proud of their relatives who have made good in the United States, forging a very strong bridge between the two countries. Also, the fact that American news media play such an active role in uncovering corruption and abuse of power is the greatest ambassador for America’s virtues at this dark time. This is something that is not lost on the Greeks. That is why it is most probable that the current anti-Americanism will abate when Greek relations with Turkey ease. And if the United States manages to quiet the situation in Iraq, that too will play a decisive role in reducing anti-Americanism in Greece, as in the rest of the region.

In short, anti-Americanism here appears to combine a sense of inferiority (in which Washington is responsible for all that is good and bad in Greece and the world) with a sense of superiority, in which the Greeks can always foretell the blunders that Washington is about to make -- blunders which authorize even the most timid to belittle American policies. In other words, the historical excuses for anti-American feelings are secondary to America’s actual actions in stoking or easing opposition to the superpower. And failure in Iraq or elsewhere will be the greatest catalyst for greater anti-Americanism in the world, whereas success will be the best argument in favor of America.

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