Four weeks after military strikes began in Afghanistan, Prime Minister Costas Simitis insists that his country still fully supports the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism. Greek public opinion, though, suggests the opposite.
While the Greeks allow U.S. fighter jets to use their airspace as part of the antiterror campaign, more than 86% oppose the bombing, according to a poll last month in the Athens daily Ta Nea. In another poll—this one carried out by state television in September—18% of respondents said the U.S. "deserved" the September attacks because of Washington’s "unjust" and "bullyboy handling" of world affairs. And, even more alarmingly, 57% of those surveyed in a separate Ta Nea poll confessed to "having negative feelings about the U.S." Why are the Greeks so anti-American?
Part of the animosity is historical. Many Greeks still resent Washington’s tacit support for the brutal military dictatorship that ruled the country from 1967 to ’74. After that Andreas Papandreou, the late socialist pasok party leader, turned Greece’s grudge against America into national policy. Vowing to evict nato forces from the country, Papandreou forged ties with U.S. foes like Muammar Gaddafi and refused to recognize Israel as a sovereign state. But anti-Americanism didn’t die with Papandreou in 1996. Many Greeks are still incensed about the U.S.-led attacks against their fellow Christian-Orthodox Serbs during the Balkan wars.
Now, the strikes against Afghanistan have filled the anti-American contingent with fresh ardor. In the words of Makis Mailis, who co-organizes anti-U.S. protests for the Communist Party, "It’s America’s policies that amount to terrorism. Greeks have suffered dearly as a result of U.S. and nato policies. This war . . . is not about freedom versus terrorism, it’s imperialism versus the people." Other Greeks, even those from less extreme political camps, share this view, shouting "American assassins!" at marches and burning American and Israeli flags. Not all Greeks feel this strongly. Only about half a dozen demonstrations have taken place since Sept. 11, with the largest attracting 2,500 people.
Some believe there’s a hidden agenda. "It’s obvious that while the government is making all the right noises in public, some of its members, in private, keep feeding anti-American stuff to the media," says one diplomatic envoy. "Greeks may have to address that issue in the future."
Another issue the Greeks might want to address is anti-Semitism. Last month a news bulletin from the Technical Chamber of Greece, which represents 80,000 engineers, featured a viewpoint calling for resistance to the forces of "Zionism, the foremost satanic conspirator and global terrorist." Israel’s top envoy in Athens, David Sasson, issued a letter of protest warning both the press and the chamber of the dangers of allowing anti-Semitic remarks to masquerade as free speech. The viewpoint did not reflect the opinions of the chamber, an official concedes, "but to have spiked it would have amounted to censorship."
Prime Minister Simitis hasn’t yet spoken out publicly on these incidents. He may be pondering another viewpoint, this one less fevered, published recently in the Athens daily To Vima, which asks the question: "Can a country both abhor America and remain its ally?"