Date: Fri, 19 Nov 1999 23:55:17 -0600 (CST)
From: Michael Eisenscher <email@example.com>
Subject: Greece: 25,000 march on U.S. embassy against “Butcher of Balkans”
ATHENS—A rising tide of anti-Americanism in Greece brought thousands onto the streets Wednesday night to denounce President Clinton for the bombing of Yugoslavia and to demand that he stay out of Greece.
The demonstrators, estimated at between 15,000 to 25,000, marched to the U.S. Embassy in a foretaste of the protests that await the president when he arrives Friday evening for a visit that has been delayed and shortened to just 22 hours because of a dispute between the U.S. and Greek governments.
“No to the butcher of the Balkans!” the demonstrators shouted. “Go home!” They repeatedly chanted “Clinton, fascist, Clinton, killer,” reflecting Greek anger over U.S.-led NATO bombing of Yugoslavia last spring to end its purge of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo province.
Hundreds of riot police backed by a line of police buses stood guard in front of the embassy, one of the most frequently besieged U.S. missions in the world. During the 78 days of bombing last spring, the embassy was the target of 52 anti-American demonstrations.
The demonstration marked the 26th anniversary of a bloody student uprising against the former Greek military junta, and each year the demonstrations take on an anti-American character. Many Greeks have never forgiven the U.S. for having supported the Greek colonels who overthrew democracy in 1967 and ruled until 1974.
Clinton's visit originally was scheduled for last Saturday and Sunday, before his visit this week to Turkey, Greece's historic adversary. But a stalemate developed when Greek authorities backed down on previous assurances to the U.S. that demonstrators would not be allowed to dog the president's footsteps.
The stalemate arose because the Communist Party, one of the last unreformed Stalinist parties in the world, and other small leftist groups insisted on marching to the U.S. Embassy while Clinton was there.
The impasse was broken only when the government reversed course again and promised to keep demonstrators well away from the president. But in the interval the visit had to be delayed nearly a week and cut from more than two days to just 22 hours, leaving the Americans upset and many Greeks blaming their government for a calculated discourtesy to Greece's most important ally.
It marked the first known instance of an American president having to postpone a visit to a West European country because of concerns for his safety.
“The way the Greek side has handled this is stupid,” said Miltiades Evert, former head of the conservative New Democracy Party. “It's unbelievable that this should happen for a visit by a president of the United States.”
Theodossis Tassios, an Athens Polytechnic University professor, said: “I am convinced the majority of people in this country are not in favor of the image we are presenting, of a country that does not respect traditional hospitality. To act like this when the most important personality on this globe is entering our country is unacceptable and can badly affect our interests.”
The debacle has been a major embarrassment for Socialist Prime Minister Costas Simitis, who has been trying to restore Greece to the European mainstream, attract American investment and tourism and reap benefits from Greece's role as host to the Olympic Games in 2004.
Behind the near snub to Clinton lie many years of troubled relations between the U.S. and Greece. Some diplomats have described Greece as the most anti-American country in Western Europe.
Many Greeks would quarrel with that and blame a leftist minority for fomenting trouble. But there is little doubt American policy has angered a vast segment of the population over the years—most recently last spring, when the country was wracked by anti-American demonstrations because of Yugoslavia.
On the U.S. side, the current wrangle has brought out smoldering resentment about Greece's failure to crush a Marxist-Leninist terrorist group that in the last 26 years has killed 22 people, including four U.S. officials and one Greek employee of the U.S. Embassy, and wounded 70. No suspects have been arrested in that time.
The terrorist group calls itself November 17, after the date of the 1973 student uprising.
Some Greeks have accused the government of failing to act because of fears that arrests would reveal past associations by some members of the Socialist Party with the November 17 movement.
“There is no serious political will to suppress terrorism,” former Supreme Court President Vasilis Kokkinos said Monday in a radio interview. Several years ago, he said, police believed they had found typewriters used by November 17 to prepare communiques, but government officials refused to allow police to run tests on the typewriters and their ribbons.
Officials have not commented on this allegation.
Greece is a country with long ties to the U.S. and is a partner in NATO.
After World War II, President Harry S. Truman poured in aid and military advisers to help defeat the communists in a civil war, and Marshall Plan aid later helped rebuild Greece and other West European countries.
But the relationship took on an almost proconsular quality, with the U.S. operating five major military bases in Greece and American ambassadors sitting in on Greek Cabinet meetings for years. That may have marked the beginning of Greek resentment toward the U.S.
Ties became seriously frayed after the Greek colonels' coup in 1967.
There is no evidence the U.S. assisted the coup, but the colonels later won the open backing of President Richard Nixon and his then-national security adviser, Henry Kissinger. Nixon's Greek-American vice president, Spiro Agnew, came to Athens and publicly threw his arms around dictator George Papadopoulos, an act many Greeks have not forgotten.
The colonels remained in power until 1974, the same year Turkish troops occupied northern Cyprus and divided that island between Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot sectors.
Greeks believed the U.S. had the power to prevent the Turkish incursion and failed to do so. That fostered Greek suspicions that the U.S. was on Turkey's side in territorial disputes in the Aegean Sea between the two countries.
Andreas Papandreou, the fiery Socialist prime minister of Greece for 12 years starting in 1981, fanned the flames of anti-Americanism, courted anti-American regimes in Iraq and Libya and made Greece a center of leftist radicalism in Europe.
The NATO bombing campaign of Serbia last spring brought Greek anti-Americanism to a boil. While the U.S. justified the bombing as necessary to halt Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic's brutality toward his country's Kosovo population, Greeks tended to view it differently.
Historically, Greece and Serbia have enjoyed close relations, bound together by a common Orthodox religion and a common history in fighting Turks and Nazis. Many Greeks believed the Serbian people were being unfairly punished for Milosevic's crimes.
Secondly, they worried about the implications of detaching Kosovo from Yugoslavia. Because of their own border disputes with Turkey, they regard European borders as inviolate, and suspected Washington of wanting to create an independent Kosovo.
The country exploded in anti-American demonstrations.
“Greeks do have a feeling they have been mistreated in international affairs,” said government spokesman Dimitris Reppas. “But nobody ever thought that could be a shadow on Greek-American relations.”
Reppas was reluctant to discuss the dispute over the timing of Clinton's visit, but predicted the president's talks in Athens would be a success.
“After all, we are the country that deified Xenios, the god of hospitality,” he said.
On the eve of Clinton's visit, there have been some positive developments in the region. Greece and Turkey offered help to each other after earthquakes in both countries, and that led to a resumption of official talks not held for some years.
They also agreed to open talks Dec. 3 on resolving their differences over Cyprus.
Clinton's remarks in Turkey, urging that country to take risks and initiatives toward peace with Greece, also played well in the Greek press.
In a speech to a group of Greek-Americans on Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador Nicholas Burns suggested both sides should look past the current dispute and focus on the “substance” of Clinton's talks this weekend with Greek officials.
“We need to focus not just on what we did or did not do for each other 50, 40 or 30 years ago, but on the crucial question of the future of our relationship,” Burns said.
One positive result of Clinton's visit is expected to be strong American support for Greece's desire to play a larger role in restoring stability to the Balkan region.
Greece has pledged $328 million toward an international fund for Balkan stability, more than any other country.