The Harvard Lady

Nikos Raptis


U.S. (corporate or state) institutions that dominate the life of ordinary people

in almost all countries, though impersonal, need some individuals who as part of

a local elite promote the ideology and the goals of these institutions. The

portrait of such an individual, a lady, as it appears through a recent interview

in a Greek paper is quite instructive.


lady, Niki Tzavella, was interviewed by Olga Bakomarou of the Athens daily

ELEFTHEROTYPIA and the interview was published on September 6, 1999. Mrs.

Tzavella is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Kennedy School at Harvard

and a friend of people like "Kissinger, Ford, or Bush"’ according to

the introductory note of the interview. The interview was held on the occasion

of the appointment of Mrs. Tzavella at the leadership of "Athens

2004." "Athens 2004" being the group (or something) that will

organize the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004 AD. The silliness of the

"Olympic Idea," etc. aside, it seems that the position is important in

the corporate-CEO sense. Indeed, Mrs. Tzavella, by training and through her

experience, is a labor expert.


on in the interview, the journalist mentioned that some people consider Mrs.

Tzavella as a "person of the Americans." To this Mrs. Tzavella

answered that she considers "America as (her) second country." In

connection to that remark, one should not ignore the fact that Mrs. Tzavella at

a point in her public career, up to 1996 (?), she was a Deputy in the Greek

Parliament. Inevitably, one wonders if an American who considers Greece as his

second country can be a member of the US Congress. Is there a (hidden)

"patriotic" factor that in a way I am exaggerating in my thinking?

Maybe this can be clarified as we move on in the text of the interview. Besides,

on this question, as in any other question, there is the ultimate authority, as

Mrs. Tzavella would agree, the Bible: "No man can serve two masters: for

either he will hate the one and love the other; … Ye cannot serve God and

mammon." (Matthew, 6:24, King James Version). Of course the US is

definitely not mammon, i.e. an "Evil Empire."


the journalist asked a very "interesting" question: "For you,

what does decency in politics mean?" Mrs. Tzavella answered: "Not to

drive ourselves in excesses, either as managers of state power, or in our

personal life, respecting the extremely educational role of politics for the

benefit of the citizens. And to continuously remind the Greek people some basic

principles that hold a society together."


the, logically following, question of the journalist: "What are these

principles?’, Mrs. Tzavella answers: "Respect for country, family and

God." The journalist adds: "That is, country, religion, family?"

Mrs. Tzavella confirms her position saying: "I believe, yes."


we should linger a bit. That was not an awkward repetition of the phrase by the

journalist. In Greece the phrase "country, religion, family," up to a

few years ago was an extremely loaded and dangerous maxim. For example, let us

take a high school class in Athens in the late 1940s. If a pupil was stupid

enough to, say, smile ironically, when the teacher mentioned the maxim, then, if

the teacher was the right kind, the pupil could have this smile follow him in

the rest of his life through his police file. And his parents could be

"invited" to the security police "for a matter that concerns

them," that is for a session of torture. Greece, indeed, is (a US-created)

mammon. The supervisor "present at the creation," was none other than

General James Van Fleet of the US Army. Mrs. Tzavella is old enough to know the

"history" of the maxim.


little digging in the historical content of the maxim is quite tempting:

"Country" is a code word for "patriotism." On April 7, 1775,

Dr. Samuel Johnson "dined at a (London) tavern" with James Boswell and

"with a numerous company… Patriotism having become one of (their) topicks

Johnson suddenly uttered, in a strong determined tone, an apothegm, at which

many will start: ‘Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel"."

(Source: Boswell, James, "The Life of Samuel Johnson," The Folio

Society, London, 1990, p. 526-7)


assume that for Mrs. Tzavella, religion means the Greek Orthodox Christian one.

(Notice that it is not only "Christian", but above all it is

"Greek". Also, for a sector of the Greeks, patriotism and Orthodox

Christianity are identical). If my assumption is correct, then one tends to

wonder how Mrs. Tzavella gets along with her WASP colleagues at Harvard. Of what

I know, the Greek Orthodox Christians, consider the Catholics of the same

religion as non-persons. The Protestants stand a few rungs below the Catholics

in the Orthodox ladder.


for "family", the third parameter, there is nothing that a Greek can

add to the "family values" of the American "fundi" variety.

Yet, there is a fundamental question: at the turn of the century there were

between 7 and 12 children in the average Greek family, especially in rural

areas. Now, there are 2 children in the average family, a world-wide practice.

What happened?


let us go back to the interview. Mrs. Tzavella expressed her admiration for Mr.

Kokkalis, a Greek businessman involved in telecommunications, etc. The

journalist mentioned that "it is said that today Kokkalis "is the

ruler of Greece." To which Mrs. Tzavella commented: "I do not think

that he rules Greece, he rules Olympiakos (a soccer team)…" And she

added: "And we were proud of him when last year he gave a speech at the

Council of the Deans (?) at Harvard…" Mr. Kokkalis is financing "The

‘Socrates Kokkalis’ Program for South-eastern Europe" at Harvard. Also, Mr.

Kokkalis used to have business dealings with the DDR (Deutsche Demokratische

Republik, or German Democratic Republic, or Communist Germany, etc.). In a

recent CNN interview Mr. Kokkalis, jokingly, said that in his private basketball

court, "what he says goes," or something to that effect. Which reminds

one the George Bush dictum in the Gulf war. Maybe Mr. Kokkalis is too ambitious.


Tzavella raps up her interview by admitting that she "talks very

little." The reason for that is; "Not to waste time. And to have the

joy of listening to others. If they also talk very little." Noam Chomsky,

known for his eagerness to talk as much as time limits allow him, does not have

a chance with Mrs. Tzavella.




Leave a comment