Tuesday, October 17, 2006


It was Harmodios and Aristogeiton that set the precedent for things to come. When Hipparchos, tyrant of Athens attempted to seduce the youthful Harmodios, he did not realize that OXI means OXI. As a result of his failure to comprehend the enunciation of this adverb, a negative used to express dissent, denial, or refusal, Harmodios' elder lover Aristogeiton (literally "excellent neighbour" - though his conduct is severely proscribed by law these days, as Solomon Islands' attorney-general Julian Moti can attest) ended up killing him, thus plunging Athens into a constitutional crisis. According to the mores of the times, though Aristogeiton was killed shortly after his attack, his act of retribution was justifiable because as Thucydides tells us, Hipparchos' action in attempting to appropriate Aristogeiton's eromenos was a definite breach of the rules as he was Harmodios' "lover and possessed him." Of course the aftermath of the tyrranicide was that the increasingly autocratic regime of Hipparchos' brother, Hippias, was overthrown with the help of the Spartan army and Kleisthenes ushered in a period of peace and prosperity, instituting among other things, democracy, in the place of precambrian fascism.
In October, it is the custom for pundits of Greek history to bloviate warmly upon the concept of the innate freedom-loving nature of the Greek people, their natural aversion to fascism, using the above as the first of an ultra-long list of examples that culminate in Alexander the Great "freeing" the hapless of peoples of the Middle East, who up until that point, were fettered by the harrowing bonds of total ignorance of the bright lights of Greek Civilisation. This is because October marks the anniversary of another great seduction attempt: that of OXI. The reader would be familiar with the story. Fascist Italy lusted after Fascist Greece and thinking they have much in common, made various attempts to seduce her into a blissful autarkic connubial state. When Italy's first honey-tongued attempts at seduction failed, that enraged lover resorted to manifest acts of sexual frustration, such the firing of its missiles at Greece's submarine from a distance. This failed to rouse Greece into submission. Instead it elicited an OXI from an irritated Metaxas. Italy resorted to forcible penetration, at which time the entire Greek people, outraged to the extreme and casting aside for the moment Metaxas' assertions that: "I was only flirting with the fascists, I didn't intend things to go all the way," gave Italy such a hiding that they soon learned what OXI signified.
In the harrowing years that followed, Greece was subjected to one indignity after the other, not only by the invading powers who stripped her of her resources, violated, tortured and killed her people but also, in the aftermath of the Second World War, by various powers and ideologies, desperate to go to bed with her. When all was said and done however, and a hell of a lot was both said and done, the triumph of the Greek evzones over the invading Italian armies, as well as that of the Greek resistance (which while poorly organized and riven by infighting, managed to at least survive until after the war in order for its various factions to kill each other, giving elder lover Britain an opportunity to intervene on the grounds that Greece was its eromeni and thus its possession,) is interpreted as the freedom and democracy-loving Greek peoples' triumph over fascism, to which they have a natural aversion. Almost every single political event taking place in Greece after liberation has been viewed in the light of the democratic-fascist dialectic, to the extent where any attempt to compel a citizen to abide by the law is termed 'fascist' despite the fact that the term "fascist" is now an anachronism in western democracies, replaced by the more menacing appellations: "comfortable and relaxed," "secure" and "safe."
While it is known that a few Greeks, probably those of mixed DNA and thus unable as of instinct to abhor fascism, collaborated with the Italian and Nazi hordes that plunged Greece into the depths of depredation, not much is said of those Greeks who actually were possessed of high rank in the Nazi army (antipodean newspapers of the time publishing their photos under the caption: «κοίτα πώς προοδεύουν τα παιδιά μας» have not survived) and like Darth Vader, were so sickened by the Dark side of the force, that they ended up fighting against it.
Most notable of these fascist anti-fascists surprisingly enough, was Rudolph Hess, Hitler's second in command. It is a little known fact that Hess' mother, was a Greek from Alexandria and a member of the Georgiadis family. What is well known is that Rudolph Hess, distressed by the war with Britain, decided to fly over there on his own in a quixotic and dare we say particularly Greek attempt to single-handedly negotiate peace. He received life imprisonment as a reward for his pains, his dreary and allegedly insane existence in Spandau prison being terminated by his suicide in 1987.
Another renegade Greek of like description was Wilhelm Franz Canaris, a descendant of the Greek Revolutionary fighter and Prime Minister Constantine Canaris, who was a German admiral and head of the Abwehr, the German military intelligence service between 1935 to 1944. A distinguished naval officer of the First World War and devotee of his illustrious ancestor, whose portrait he always kept in his office, Canaris rose to fame as a champion U-Boat sinker. He joined the fascist Freikorps after the dissolution of the German Empire and though implicated in a few political assassinations of which he was acquitted, he never actually joined the Nazi party. As head of the Abwehr, he was responsible for convincing Hitler to side with Franco and his fascists during the Spanish Civil War and it was this that marked his amazing political volte-face.
For while Canaris originally believed Hitler to be the only safeguard against the expansion in Europe, by 1938 he was totally sickened by the Nazi's authoritarian and unscrupulous actions. As a result, he began to work against the regime. Notably, he was involved in two plots to assassinate Hitler before his annexation of Austria and to this effect even traveled to Britain for consultations with the British MI6, as he was convinced that Hitler's aggressive expansionism would provoke a European war.
Canaris' commitment to overthrowing Hitler was deepened after visiting the Polish front in 1939. There he witnessed the atrocities committed by the SS against the populace, including the burning down of the synagogue at Bedzin and the immolation of its Jewish residents. Notes regarding various exterminations in Poland were carefully collated and send to MI6. Similarly, from his privileged position within German intelligence, Canaris was to provide the British with full and detailed positions of the German army during the Nazi invasion of Russia. He also was able to save hundreds of Jews from extermination by giving them token training as Abwehr agents and issuing them with papers allowing them to leave Germany.
Such activities came to the notice of the notorious head of the German Security Police, Reinhard Heydrich and the 1942 assassination of Heydrich in Prague was said to have been organized by Canaris in conjunction with the British, in order to safeguard Canaris' position. Eventually, convinced he was working for the British, Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, dismissed Canaris from his position and he was held under house arrest. Though he had nothing to do with the failed 20 July 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler, Himmler uncovered evidence of 15 assassination plots that were formulated and then abandoned by Canaris over the course of his service including a plot to declare Hitler insane and arrest most leading Nazi officials. Canaris was executed by slow strangulation at Flossenburg Concentration Camp on 9 April 1945, a worthy freedom-fighter who was possessed of enough scruples to say OXI, or rather NEIN to violence and paid for his defence of freedom and decency with his life, much as Aristogeiton did but for more selfless reasons.
The symbolism of Harmodios and Aristogeiton is thus enduring. When in 346 BC the Athenian politician Timarchus was prosecuted for prostituting himself as a boy, his defence lawyer Demosthenes cited the example of Harmodios and Aristogeiton, as well as Achilles and Patroclus as examples of the beneficial effects of same-sex relationships, presumably because they served to rid the world of tyrants. As late 1912, Andreas Barolias who assassinated Prince Andreas Kopasis of Samos was publicly lauded as the new "Aristogeiton" and we could possibly view the armed intervention by certain powers to remove tyrannical leaders they originally supported and forcibly install democracy in their place these days in similar light.
As we salute the Greek victims of the Second World War and all forms of extreme ideology and say OXI to violence, we also pay tribute to those unlikely Germano-Greek heroes such as Canaris who had the courage to say sic semper tyrannis again and again and again, paying the ultimate price for their principled stand. It is to their worthier memories, that we dedicate the last verse of Edgar Allen Poe's ode to Harmodios:
"Ye deliverers of Athens from Shame!
Ye avengers of Liberty's wrongs!
Endless ages shall cherish your fame
Embalmed in their echoing songs!"
Just don't try this at home.

First published in NKEE on 16 October 2006