The air outside the
Directly in front of the embassy building – a whitewashed chunk of concrete covering an entire block – a line of blue police buses are stained red by paint bombs. The usual gridlock on
"We Greeks have been through so much – dictatorships, Balkan wars, not to mention the Roman and Ottoman occupations" says a placard-carrying man who has been singing along to a traditional Greek ballad played by a nearby accordionist. "We are a small country but we have the experience to know that war is not the answer". His placard features a moustachioed Bush with the inscription "Adolf Bushler". Every inch of the walls on this street is covered with Greek and English graffiti. "
"Can you really compare Bush with Hitler?" asks Vincent Moloi, my fellow filmmaker from
A dense mass of 500 militant protestors blowing whistles and chanting with military precision interrupt our conversation. Greek anarchists? Communists? I speculate. "Athenian school teachers," I am corrected. Behind them a thousand students from
In addition to their turbulent history, Greeks have several reasons to feel strongly about Bush’s actions. Firstly their home is located just a 90-minute flight from the site of the hostilities. Secondly, and more importantly, their government continues to host a
"We would close down the base if we could," says Panos Trigazis, at dinner later that evening. Trigazis is International Relations head for Synaspismos, a coalition of greens and leftists, with 4% of the electoral vote and a close relationship with the ruling PASOK (socialist) party. "In fact the government would like to withdraw support to the Americans if it was feasible" he explains. "We don’t want to become the next
As we munch our way from tarama salata to halva in a taverna at the foot of the Lykavittos hill, and a stone’s throw from the Acropolis, I am struck that this land, once the fount of democratic thinking in the days of Aristotle and Socrates, has become but a pawn to be played in support of the new Pax Americana.
To romanticize Ancient Greek city states is to forget the slaves who built their temples and talk-shops. However at the present juncture it seems appropriate to ask how the noble concepts of demos (people) and kratein (rule) – combined in the term democracy – are now being used to legitimise US anti-democratic designs across the world.
At the port of Pireas the following evening, a thousand modern Athenians assemble for a voyage. Their destination – the
"We are members of the Greek Social Forum," says one young girl, "because it’s not like a political party. You don’t have to follow the party line on all things. You just come together because you all know something is wrong and you have to do something about it. Also everybody is consulted and involved in the decisions of the forum. We have no leaders, just activists."
On this sailing, the Greek vessel Eleftherios Venizelos, operated by shipping magnates and arch capitalists Anek Lines, resembles the anti-capitalist convergences of
In the captain’s dining room, leading figures in Greek struggles, old and new share stories and plan for the day ahead. "Our protest is symbolic," explains Natasha Theodoracopoulou, a founder of the Greek Social Forum. "We cannot close the
At the same table, eating soup and spaghetti, and trading struggle stories with Greek freedom fighter Manolis Glezos, is South African anti-apartheid veteran Dennis Brutus (named "Dennis the Menace" by Essop Pahad for his ability to be a constant thorn in the side of the Mbeki government). Glezos inspired millions to fight fascism when he tore down the Nazi flag flying from the Acropolis on the night of May 30th, 1941. His courage led him to be condemned to death for treason in 1948 and imprisoned many times by the Greek Junta. We while away the small hours comparing the prison experiences of the two octogenarians.
At the port the next morning, the sleepy-eyed masses are met by the mayor of Suda and other political dignitaries. At the market place at noon, 5000 angry young people, their hangovers now a distant memory, shout down PASOK speakers who are there to denounce Bush. "Hypocrites! How can you criticize with your left hand whilst you help them with your right". I am reminded of the Stop the War movement in
The streets of Chania, with their Armani boutiques and trendy cafes are more used to British lager louts and Japanese shoppers than activists from the Greek mainland. Today a hundred hair stylists peer through their make-up at their unwashed countrymen on the streets, carrying yet more banners comparing Bush to Hitler and denouncing Greek hypocrisy. The creativity of the slogan-writers put even the most experienced
As dusk falls at the Suda Naval Base, these young Greeks prepare for a huge party. On the main road to the base, weaving through the hills high above the water, twenty teenagers are sitting on the white lines in the middle of the road, the words "Fuck Bush No War" sprayed in red on the tarmac. Behind them the towering loudspeakers of a huge concert stage, where Greek rock music will soon shake the Cretan hills. Behind the stage, to the left, the glimmering waters of Suda bay, and above, the snow capped peaks of the Cretan mountain range. A more beautiful backdrop no laser show could create.
Perhaps tonight the
Ben Cashdan is a documentary filmmaker based in