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The View From Greece.

Arriving in Athens from London, you suddenly see NATO's war on Yugoslavia from the point of view of the bombed. Here the burning of Belgrade looms much larger than the misery of Kosovo's dispossessed, who usually appear on television after their Serbian counterparts: a swollen-faced woman crumpling in tears as she describes the death of her 11-month-old daughter; workers digging desperately for their colleagues in the rubble of Belgrade's TV station. Here, it is not Milosevic who is crudely compared to Hitler but Clinton and his "butler," Tony Blair; the centerfold of the satirical weekly Pontiki recently sported a US flag with swastikas for stars and a ghoulish, long-fingered Adolf groping between the stripes. Blue buses filled with riot police ring the US Embassy to shield it from the demonstrators who march almost daily for peace, and, like desert flowers after rain, red graffiti bloom on cement walls, spreading a scent of deja vu: "Americans, murderers of nations"; "Greece, Serbia, Kurdistan: a new Vietnam"; "Yankees go home." British troops en route to Macedonia have found roads and railways disrupted by protests, and an obscure terrorist group called Revolutionary Cells recently availed itself of the crisis atmosphere to set off a bomb in an Athens hotel.

The Greek media, popular and highbrow, left and right, are unanimously opposed to the NATO bombings, as is (say the polls) 96 percent of the population. There is no question as to whether the NATO campaign has worsened the plight of the Kosovars, which in any case is scantly reported: Albanians and Serbs alike appear as victims of the West. The only question, debated everywhere, is, Why are the Americans doing it? The only answer that is never given, that would meet with hoots of derision from black-clad grandmothers and mobile-phoned yuppies alike, is "To save the Kosovars." In this part of the world they know very well that the "planetarch," the bey of beys, never lifts a finger simply out of the goodness of his heart.

To understand the reasons for this absolute dissent, you have to look beyond the Greeks' longstanding sympathy with the Serbs, who share their religion and key historical experiences-among them a fierce guerrilla struggle against the real Hitler, oddly brought to mind when the Greek soccer team AEK braved the bombs to play Yugoslavia's Partizan in Belgrade. You have to peer through the fog of tabloid nationalism that has clouded political discourse since former Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou pumped it out of his propaganda factories in the eighties and pick your way through a swamp of conspiracy theories about real and imagined threats to Greek security from a destabilized Macedonia, "Greater Albania" or the Turkish minority in Western Thrace. What you get is a worm's-eye view of the New World Order from near the bottom of the European food chain.

Along with what used to be Yugoslavia, Greece stands painfully on the fault line of the cold war, which began here as a hot war in the forties and has deformed the country's politics ever since. The fall of the Berlin wall took with it one leg of the bipolar political discourse that had kept the country in a state of equilibrium-contorted, uncomfortable but reasonably stable-since the collapse of the US-backed junta in 1974. By then, Papandreou's nationalist consensus was in place to fill the breach as the only available riposte to the West's long betrayal, which offered the elusive promise of material wealth and the mirage of stability in return for a servile politics and an economy primed for the needs of global corporations.

The bitterest confirmation of that betrayal came twenty-five years ago, when Cyprus was invaded, occupied and partitioned by a NATO ally with the active collusion of the United States. The current crisis, which has brought bombs almost within hearing distance of Greece's northern border and threatens to destabilize the whole region, feels, by a spurious but emotionally compelling analogy, like the other shoe dropping-and with only one superpower stalking the globe, there is no way out but in. Greece's level-headed, pro-Europe Prime Minister, Costas Simitis, has no choice but to run cap in hand to the NATO summit, begging for recognition of Greece's "exceptional" position as he tries to stay on-message with a war his country hates.

Without excusing the ugly aspect of a popular reaction that can gloss over Milosevic's atrocities, it is not difficult to see why history has led so many Greeks to stand in enraged solidarity with Serb demonstrators bearing signs that say "Stop NATO-Cola." After NATO's high-handed disregard for democratic forces in the region; after Tony Blair's arrogant speech in Chicago redefining the alliance as global policeman; after the extreme reluctance of some northern countries to accept Kosovar refugees, it is difficult not to see, with them, this war's imperial face-the hypocritically concerned face of NATO at 50 meeting midlife crisis with machismo. Meanwhile, the Kosovars in whose name it all began go on dying; and the people of the Balkans go on living their history as a double nightmare, dreamed simultaneously by themselves and by the great powers beyond the mountains.

Maria Margaronis, a Nation contributing editor, was in Greece for two weeks in April.
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Title Annotation:reaction in Greece to NATO-Yugoslavia Conflict
Author:Margaronis, Maria
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EUGR
Date:May 24, 1999
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