After September 11, that is no longer true. Anti-Americanism has emerged as more ugly, widespread, and dangerous than we realized. Not only are thousands of angry Muslim men trained and ready to kill, but millions of their coreligionists, even if they disapprove of terrorism, share their anger. In Europe, meanwhile, popular disdain and even loathing of the United States is in vogue.
If this were only due to America trampling the rights of other nations by selfishly projecting its power, there would be an obvious antidote: trample less. Certainly, some U.S. policies (our nose-thumbing unilateralism, supporting Israel over the Palestinians) contribute to the outrage. It’s also inevitable that the richest and most powerful of nations will arouse anger and envy among those who are less privileged and successful–especially if our gains and advantage are perceived to be ill-gotten. But something else is at work. Anti-Americanism is no longer rooted solely in the policies we impose or the envy we inspire, but in the values we export. And it is no longer the province of secularists and the left, but is increasingly fanned by religionists and the right. The prime example is Osama bin Laden and his reactionary Wahhabi-Muslim followers, who not long ago were U.S. allies against the Soviets in Afghanistan. There’s also Russia, where, for the last decade or so, communists have joined forces with right-wing ultranationalists and the Russian Orthodox Church to denounce America, NATO, Jews, and the pro-Western policies of the Yeltsin and Putin governments. In Turkey, secular and Islamic parties might team up to try to wrest power from pro-Western politicians. In Tokyo, notes The Washington Post,. “Traditional opponents of U.S. influence in Japan, such as the small communist and socialist parties, have found unexpected company among some conservatives.’ In each of these cases, the left-right axis has been cemented by an ethno-nationalist fear that American culture and values–often conflated with globalization–are undermining the country’s identity.
All of this has been playing out vividly in Greece, a small nation that would seem an unlikely place for anti-Americanism to thrive. After all, most Greeks have relatives living happily and prosperously in the United States, and Greeks can rightly take pride that their ancestors invented the ideas of democracy and individualism on which the U.S. is based. Greece seems to have clearly thrown its lot in with the West. It’s a member of NATO and the European Union, which it outpaces in GDP growth, thanks to a virtual economic revolution engineered by the government of Costas Simitis. Its deft diplomacy has calmed relations with arch-foe Turkey–a dtente cheered by Washington–and its allies are relying on Athens to solidify democracy in the Balkans. Free-market capitalism underpins the economy. And in 2004, Athens will host the Olympic Games.
Scratch the surface, though, and you’ll find sentiments that belie this neat facade. An anti-American terrorist group, November 17, has been menacing and killing U.S. and other officials for 27 years, with little protest from average Greeks, until the group was seemingly dismantled this summer. Thirty percent of Greeks responding to one poll said the September 11 attacks were justified; just 7 percent supported the U.S. campaign against terrorism, and 95 percent opposed NATO’s bombing of Serbia in 1999. Reasonable arguments can be made against the bombings and the form of our anti-terror campaign. But often the mood in Athens is not a reasonable one. “I hate Americans and everything American. I hope the youth begin to hate everything American,” declares Mikis Theodorakis, the country’s leading cultural icon and composer of the Zorba theme, whom Greece nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize last year.
The average Greek might not share Theodorakis’s hatred of Americans as individuals. But a resentment of the U.S. is disconcertingly widespread. The roots of this antipathy go back decades. From 1967 to 1974, Greece was ruled by a right-wing military junta that America supported. In 1974, that junta engineered a coup in Cyprus, an independent island republic with a majority Greek and minority Turkish population. In response, Turkish troops seized one third of the island, an action the U.S. did nothing to prevent (and some say encouraged). These acts did not merely bring down “the colonels,” they provoked an anti-American backlash, one which socialist prime minister Andreas Papandreou nurtured in the 1980s with fiery speeches attacking the U.S. and NATO.
But in the 1990s, this older anti-Americanism–a mostly left-wing denunciation of U.S. foreign policy–metastasized in Greece to include conservatives and, surprisingly, the once-quiescent Greek Orthodox church. And the enemy became not just U.S. foreign policy, but U.S. cultural values.
Unholy Alliance, by Takis Michas, attempts to explain this turn against America through the prism of Greek support for the Serbia of Slobodan Milosevic during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. For anyone living in Athens in the 1990s–I founded an English-language magazine about Greece there in 1993, to which Michas has contributed–this affinity for Milosevic was nauseatingly evident. In the end, I think Michas overstates the degree to which Greeks reject Western values; there are simply too many pro-American tendencies in Greece that his theories can’t explain. Still, Unholy Alliance tells an important story, and Michas is a courageous messenger.
Unholy Alliance is a chilling tale. It opens in 1993 with Michas’s Greek newspaper column being suspended after he wrote about the beleaguered newspaper Oslobodjenje, a well-respected independent daily in Sarajevo. Michas included the paper’s address for anyone who wanted to send support. “We received a lot of phone calls that day from readers protesting that we were asking them to send money to the Muslims so that they could buy arms to kill Orthodox Serbs,” his editor told him.
Michas persuasively recounts how, in the midst of Serb atrocities throughout the 1990s, Greeks rallied to their Orthodox Serb “brethren.” He tracks Greek businesses conspiring with civil servants to violate the United Nations embargo on Yugoslavia; Greek officials passing NATO bombing secrets to Milosevic, at least in one instance with the alleged support of the prime minister; Greek mercenaries participating in the slaughter at Srebrenica; Greek priests sending succor to Serbs while ignoring stricken Bosnian Muslims; Greek media willfully distorting the news, running footage of slain Muslims and identifying them as Serbs; Greek politicians welcoming (and vacationing with) Milosevic and his lackeys. While over 100,000 Bosnians were killed, Greeks fted Milosevic and his homicidal accomplices (including Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic) with galas and stadium concerts.
This is the grist of Unholy Alliance, an unrelenting stream of damning evidence showing that while Athens was officially allied with the European Union and NATO to oppose Milosevic, its politicians, and church leaders, its media and labor unions were actively assisting his regime and showing little sympathy for his victims. “There was not one house editorial in 10 years in any of over 20 national newspapers deriding Serb war crimes,” Michas told me in a recent interview.
In Greece, everyone knows everything–this minister is corrupt, that oligarch is the one who really runs the country, the referee in Sunday’s match is on the take–but you can prove nothing. Judicial inquiries into graft begin and rarely end. Michas’s first, vital accomplishment is, through careful journalistic research, to provide ineluctable evidence of Greek-Serb collusion. His second major contribution is to analyze the underlying causes of the behavior he discovers. And above all, his success lies in getting all this published. Michas was hardly alone among Greek journalists disgusted by Serb atrocities; but most other journalists had their stories spiked. When Michas was stymied in Greece, he smartly found an outlet in The Wall Street Journal Europe, and now in this book.
Why did Greeks not only support Milosevic (not the Serb people–Milosevic) but also ignore the suffering of Muslims in Bosnia and Albania? Sixty-three percent of Greeks had a good opinion of Milosevic, even though 53 percent believed he had violated the human rights of Albanians. When confronted by evidence of Serb atrocities, Greeks brushed it aside. To understand such behavior, Michas argues, one must understand that Greece is an ethno-nationalist state. You belong either by dint of birth or by displaying the two primary “markers” of Greek identity–the language and the Orthodox faith. Otherwise, you’re out of luck. By contrast, most societies in Europe and the United States rely on civic nationalism, which bases membership on an acceptance of shared institutions and responsibilities rather than on ethnic or confessional purity. (This is not to say that Greece’s minorities are treated harshly–compared to most of Europe, they are well-received–but they certainly have a hard time acquiring political, economic, or social power.)
Greeks found Milosevic’s actions justified, Michas concludes, because he was defending his ethnic group’s sovereignty. The minorities he attacked could be seen as fifth columnists who threatened the Serb nation. Milosevic also played on Greece’s age-old enmity with Turkey to keep Greeks in line. “From the moment Bosnian Muslims were demonized as Friends of the Turks, every crime against them was justified in the eyes of the average Greek,” Michas writes.
Greece’s moral relativism was at odds with the international community’s growing sense in the ’90s that it was obliged to prevent large-scale suffering, even if it meant violating state sovereignty. By contrast, sovereignty for Greeks seemed to trump humanitarianism. Not valuing the humanitarian dimension of the Balkan wars, then, the Greeks allowed themselves to interpret NATO’s intervention as a mere power play. It was easy to argue that Washington wanted a foothold in this strategically important region; this allegation became even more charged when it appeared that NATO kept siding with Muslims (in Bosnia and Kosovo)–whom Greeks identified with the Turks. “The Greek worldview,” writes Michas, “combines the idea that the country faces a constant threat and that it is at the same time the target of a huge conspiracy emanating predominantly from the West.”
Michas describes how an unholy trinity has fanned these sentiments and coalesced around an anti-American agenda. The left, the traditional home of anti-Americanism, has been joined by a radicalized Orthodox church and right-wing nationalists. No longer able to rely on Marxism to excite voters, the left turned to nationalism as a new form of collectivism. The right in Greece was in a similar bind. Its economic ideology, unlike that of the communists, hadn’t been discredited in the 1990s–it had been hijacked. The socialists, who have had a virtual monopoly in Greece for 20 years, proved to be more effective market liberalizers than the conservatives. So with no economic platform to differentiate them, many on the right turned to nationalism for a competitive edge.
But since the United States clearly has no designs on Greece, how could right-wing nationalists scapegoat America? Certainly, NATO’s bombing of Greece’s neighbors stoked a sense of trampled sovereignty. But Michas argues that the conservative nationalists also appealed to the Greek public’s ethno-nationalism by damning America’s multicultural values. They explain NATO behavior during the Balkan wars, for instance, as Washington’s attempt to “export its model of societal pluralism to the region” (read: they’ll force us to live with Muslims). Turning against America was made all the easier for the right because the anti-communist sensibility that had once bound it to the U.S. had been made irrelevant by the Soviet demise.
The church, meanwhile, is the most powerful member of the trinity, Michas explains. It sees itself as the guardian of Greek identity, having preserved the nation’s language and many of its traditions during the dark centuries when Greece was under the Ottoman yoke. Also, after the Berlin Wall fell, a renewed sense of possibility gripped the Eastern Orthodox Church in general. Orthodoxy went from having 20 or 30 million active adherents (those in the West) to 250 million (including the Orthodox churches of Russia, Serbia, Bulgaria, and elsewhere in the former Soviet orbit). The leader of the Greek Orthodox Church (one of many quasi-independent components of the Eastern Orthodox Church) had a particular twinkle in his eye when it came to Orthodoxy’s resurgence: On a clear day he could see all the way to Belgrade, Kiev, and Moscow–an Orthodox axis to counter the (Vatican) West.
These ambitions would not be so troubling were there a separation of church and state in Greece, but there isn’t. Priests are not only paid by the state, but the church has been nationalized. “Its role has consisted less in the salvation of souls,” Michas writes, “than in the creation of the ideological preconditions that would ensure the cultural homogeneity of the Greek nation.” Anyone who’s not Orthodox is not simply viewed as belonging to a different faith, but can be stigmatized as anti-Greek. For nationalists in Greece, Michas writes, the church is the only bulwark left against the threat of a multicultural open society. But although the “new Orthodox” movement in Greece argues that there is a wide chasm between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, Michas doesn’t buy this, and neither do I. In the past 10 years, I don’t recall a single time when an Athenian argued to me that the values of Orthodoxy are in some way fundamentally different from other mainstream Judeo-Christian traditions.
The French philosopher Edgar Morin deems the mood in Greece to be one of “fundamental irrationalism,” meaning that it has become easier and more comforting for many Greeks today to revel in stories of their own ethnic superiority (glory of ancient Greece, Orthodoxy as the true faith) than to believe in the complex promise that liberal democracy, a robust civil society, and free markets can improve their lives. You might argue that some Greeks believe more in the past than in the future. That Greece–which bequeathed individualism and pluralistic democratic values to the West–should feel threatened by them would be archly ironic were it not so dangerous.
While it’s true that some modern Greeks might feel menaced by America and the Western values it represents, it’s wrong to say, as Michas implies, that this amounts to a rejection of them. There are simply too many trends in Greek behavior that contradict Michas’s thesis. He does not attempt to explain, for instance, why Greek foreign minister George Papandreou (the son of the former prime minister) and his advisers quietly nurtured the opposition to Milosevic and were instrumental in catalyzing his downfall. Nor does his theory reconcile the fact that Papandreou–whose mother is American and who is the most pro-Western Greek politician in decades–is the most popular leader in the land. And rather than serve as a lightning rod for anti-Americanism, Papandreou represents the hopeful aspirations of an ambivalent nation just as surely as Michas’s unholy alliance represents its more benighted instincts.
Michas argues that the ethno-nationalist mindset in Greece is deeply engrained at the grassroots level and is not just a construct of the media and politicians. But if this were true, how could one explain the massive popular outpouring of sympathy and support Greeks showed for Turkey after it was struck by a devastating earthquake in August 1999, when Greeks by the tens of thousands lined up to give blood to people who were supposed to be their sworn enemies? That moment signaled the start of a popular dtente between the two countries that continues to mature.
In truth, Greeks don’t reject Western values so much as they discount them, because the institutions that represent these values are either dysfunctional or distorted by corruption. The courts don’t operate fairly. The media are owned and manipulated by oligarchs who use them to promote their own business interests, rather than as a check on power. The stock market, instead of being an engine of innovation, was responsible in the ’90s for probably the biggest transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich in Greek history. Corruption is present throughout the public realm, where services are in shambles.
So it’s no surprise that when Greeks are polled they say they don’t trust the media, the courts, or politicians, and instead place their faith in the church and the military. If Greeks can’t rely on the system to give them a sound education, good jobs, and a voice, then they will be prone to opt for the safety in numbers that collective identity promises. But Greeks are not rejecting liberal democracy–for the simple reason that they haven’t experienced it in a truly developed form. They are only rejecting the watered-down, contaminated variety that has been shaped by venal businessmen and politicians. The same can be said of other struggling countries around the world.
What can America do? First, the U.S. must recognize that free-market capitalism not only won’t flourish but also can be outright dangerous to American interests when it is not accompanied by the robust development of liberal democratic institutions. This is largely because free markets concentrate wealth and power in the hands of the very few, very quickly, unless there are countervailing forces. America does an excellent job of exporting free-market ideas–investment bankers, consultants, and creative accountants are thick as fleas in Athenian cafes–but a terrible one of insisting on the necessity of the rule of law, free media, and a vibrant civic space.
Second, we must do this tactfully. Greeks and others hate being told by Americans that their democratic institutions are faulty. Fortunately, Washington has the perfect proxy in the European Union. Had it not been for the E.U., Greece today would be a mess. The E.U. forced it to get its books in better order and to overhaul its laws so that civil society can take root.
There are enough forces of enlightenment in Athens to build this robust civil society. It is a country that often feels morally and intellectually adrift, but one that has the resources to right its course: an educated population, strong ties to the West, relative wealth, and an entrepreneurial soul. Nation-building is needed not only in ruined states like Afghanistan; it is a constant challenge, even for what we call developed countries. The elites in Athens, Washington, and elsewhere would do well to realize this before “fundamental irrationalism” wins the day.