[ Philhellenic Perspective
[ August 1996 Issue ]

[ Choose to proceed ] In this premiere issue:

Welcome to the Journal

A philhellene is someone who loves Greece and the Greeks. The word has a significant history tied to European support of Greece's 19th century war for independence. Today it can be applied informally to those who want to look beyond the beaches and the justly celebrated quality of the light to know more about this fascinating country and people.

But learning about Greece, staying in contact with Greece when you aren't there is difficult in the United States. Oh, all the surface information is readily available in a dozen guidebooks and assorted picture books, but there is so much more! More places than the standard tourist haunts, more history than the miraculous century that produced the Parthenon, and more life, culture, politics and people than as a colorful background for the tourist trade.

I've been looking for this "other" Greece for the last two years, and so the purpose of this internet magazine is to both share what I have found about this fascinating place, and provide a forum to stimulate the sharing of more information.

In the months ahead, look for reviews of books, magazines, mailing lists, web sites, publishers that will open up the world of Greece to you. Look for comments and interpretation of current Greek affairs. Greece inspires passion, and I hope some of my passion for the place comes through. [ Top of the Page ]

Editorial: Greece & Turkey: Having the Courage to be Reasonable
It's gone largely unnoticed in the "mainstream" (read: superficial) American news media, but Greece and Turkey have been continuing their long term sniping at each other. They nearly went to war this past January over the tiny island of Imia, protests are hurled back and forth about airspace violations by military overflights, and then there is the impasse over Cyprus. But the rhetoric! Check out soc.culture.greek for your daily dose of insults.

To be sure there is a bit of the "phony war" about it all: tourism goes on blithely. The one thing the two countries agreed on is not to have any military maneuvers in the Aegean tourist zone in the peak tourist season of July and August.

But explosive issues are right at hand. Greece could extend its territorial waters to the detriment of Turkish commerce and Turkey could put more pressure on the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch already isolated in Istanbul. Periodically talk surfaces of turning the ancient Hagia Sophia church in Istanbul into a mosque. Both nations harbor small and vulnerable ethnic minorities of the other who could be squeezed.

External dangers also abound. Greece and Turkey sit at the edge of multiple hurricanes: the Balkan conflict to the northwest, the Chechen rebellion to the north, the Kurdish conflict to the east, and the Middle East conflict to the south east. A shift of political winds on any of these fronts could send heavy weather into the region. And rumors about oil deposits in the region could bring trouble coming from below as well.

Both countries work at being internally stable. The Turks are dealing with Kurdish separatists, a number of human rights issues and endless coalition governments, the most recent of which brought to power for the first time an Islamic leader, threatening a rift with the secular army. The Greeks of course not only invented democracy but factions as well. Faithful to this heritage Greek premiere Simitis takes so much flack from members of his own party that the insults of the opposition must seem trivial by comparison.

Add to all of this the bland U. S. refusal to see anything other than "two valued NATO allies," (while they ignore Turkish problems for the sake of having a western oriented Islamic country) and its enough to make a philhellene cry, or just head back to the beach. But there are also signs of hope. Beneath all the blustering, at least to this observer, can be discerned a desire by the governments to redefine the issues from hyper-nationalistic posturing towards the real potential of the relationship. Over the last year, both the Greek premier Costas Simitis and the former Turkish leader, Tansu Ciller, seemed to be reaching for a more stable relationship - but venturing only as much reasonableness as could go undetected by their hyper-nationalistic fellow-politicians.

Simitis, upon his ascension to power around the start of the year, moved swiftly on several diplomatic fronts. He resolved the practical conflicts that Greece had with the Former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, opening up economic activity and securing the borders, leaving only the name dispute to perhaps wither away. This issue (Greek refusal to allow the country to call itself Macedonia) continues to make Greece look foolish to the world. Diplomatic and military agreements were sought with

Albania. As regards Turkey, while mouthing all the correct words about "not one inch" of sacred Greek soil would be surrendered, he agreed to blink (just a bit) during the crisis over the Imia islet in January, saving a war without giving up an island.

The Turkish side is harder to read, but while must blustering and posturing continues, no offensive actions have taken place.

It's as if no one dares be reasonable, as if to actually make peace with the other would prove fatal to the government. Perhaps that is correct. Two examples may show it. Recently, a Turkish army officer made an absurd claim that the island of Gavdos, south of Crete, was "disputed." Despite the bizarre nature of the claim (as if Russia laid claim to the Farallon Islands off San Francisco), the Turkish government was paralyzed, unable to disavow the actions of its army officer (apparently) for fear of seeming weak.

The Greeks went ballistic, of course, and eventually, even the United States government had to intervene. Several weeks of this critical non-crisis were necessary before it could be said that the Turkish officer only meant to object to certain changes in Greek military exercises, and no sovereign issues were involved. Who knows if this was the case, but it illustrated the inability of the Turkish government simply to say, "the army officer doesn't make Turkish policy, and we have no claim on Gavdos." Even "giving up" a claim you never had is too reasonable for the politics of this region.

Equally illustrative of the fear of being reasonable is the corner that the Greeks have painted themselves into over talking with Turkey. "No negotiations" is the cry: no negotiations to surrender sovereignty over an island, or anything else. Perhaps this is an effective strategy with a child demanding another toy, but it makes no sense with a neighboring country. Greece and Turkey are intimately connected, most obviously to Americans by tourism, to the discerning by history and culture, and in geopolitical realities by a common stake in economic development and stability. How else will Greece know what exact claims Turkey is making (if any) unless they talk to them? How could either Greece or Turkey be an active part of the global economy if the other was either a basket case or excluded behind a boycott?

Simitis and his government explored various ways of "talking" without "negotiating," each seized upon by the opposition and by part of his own party as yet another sign of appeasement.

While Simitis deserves our respect and encouragement for his attempt to make peace without getting caught being reasonable, its left to the ordinary citizens to reach out in courage to a common human future. Recently all of Greece was ecstatic with pride at the gold-medal-winning performance of gymnast Yiannis Melissanidis. As reported by the Athens paper Ta Nea and recounted by Derek Gatopoulos, Melissanidis in 1994 gave his silver world championship medal to the family of Murat Canbas, the Turkish athlete killed in a car accident. Canbas' father, a Turk, rejoices at the Greek Melissanidis' success, "he is my son too." This isn't likely to make Dick Enberg's justly celebrated Olympic moments, but it should.

Of such reasonableness is a secure future made. That's this philhellenes' perspective. [ Top of the Page ]

Visiting Greece: Of Time & Temperature

Every couple of months in the rec.travel.europe newsgroup somebody says they're going on vacation in Greece in the winter, and will it be warm enough to swim? The newsgroup regulars grit their teeth and try to explain: Greece is not a tropical country. It gets cold and rainy in the winter, nothing to impress someone from Norway, but too cold for the beach.

I've compared weather information from a number of sources, tried to resolve the contradictions that I found to give you a consensus opinion.

Data comes from "Athens: A Knopf Guide," "Greece: Travel Agent's Manual for 1995"; "Cadogan Greek Island Guide," 5th ed, 1993; "Thomas Cook Greek Island Hopping, 1995", "Greece: the Rough Guide," 1993; Rick Steves' "Europe through the Back door, 1995; and last, but definitely not least, The National Technical University of Athens


                                    Avg        Avg

                                    Daily      Daily

               High       Low       Rain       Avg. hrs.

               (F)        (F)       Days       Sunshine

JAN             54         43        14

FEB             57         45        12

MAR             59         46        10

APRIL           68        52          9

MAY             77        61          6           9

JUNE            86        68          4          11

JULY            91        71          2          12

AUG             91        73          1          11

SEPT            84        66          2           9

OCT             75        59           7          7

NOV             66        52          12          5

DEC             59        46          14          4

For those of you who don't like numbers, here are three points to keep in mind:

(i). Greek temperatures vary more by altitude and exposure than by north to south. There are only slight climatic differences from the islands to the far north. Height above sea level and exposure to ocean breezes make more difference.

(ii). Look at mid-May to mid-June and September as good times to visit. Both have good weather and fewer crowds. Most things are open full blast then.

(iii). Winter is winter. Greece is not a tropical country, its too far north. In winter it is dark, cold, rainy and windy. That can have a stark beauty, but you aren't going to sit on the beach all day in that weather. [ Top of the Page ]

Vanishing Greece: A Book Review

"Vanishing Greece" Photographs by Clay Perry, introduction by Patrick Leigh Fermor, text by Elizabeth Boleman-Herring. Cross River Press, New York, 1992. Large format (approx 10x7) soft cover book, 190 pages, slick paper. I think it was about $25. Also available via Cosmos Publishing of the Hellenic Literature Society.

There are many picture books of Greece that show off the standard sites: the Acropolis, Santorini's view, etc. This is not a book for that, but a book that shows off the rest of Greece.

The book is a collection of photographs with accompanying text, that attempts to document what the authors see as the vanishing aspect of (largely) rural Greece. There is only one shot of the Parthenon, almost none of any tourist sites. Rather there are numerous photos of rural villages, both mainland and on the islands, including 26 pages on Mt. Athos and 37 pages on Crete. We see portraits of rural folk, including both men and women, some in traditional attire, showing the work-a-day life of the bakers, craftsfolk, priests and others of rural life. The text is more than simple photo captions, and includes some interviews with the people pictured. A surprisingly extensive bibliography for a "picture book" is included. Don't buy this as your first book about Greece, but as your second one.

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Finding Greece: Selected Internet Resources

This section, to be a regular in this journal, will contain pointers to good resources for learning about Greece. This time let's look at two magazines: one paper, one internet.

Odyssey: The World of Greece

Published bi-monthly by Zephyr Publications of Athens. Represented in New York at 1790 Broadway, New York, NY 10019, Tel: 212/977-6719. Subscriptions: $30 a year.

Odyssey is a unique magazine: a slick, colorful journal of contemporary Greek affairs covering not only Greece but the Orthodox church (to some extent) and the world-wide hellenistic diaspora. It's tone is worldly, sophisticated, a bit flip, very hip. It's not a puff piece; recently it critiqued the Greeks about Greek-American lobbying in Washington and dissected Greece's hopeless quest to get the 1996 Olympics.

You will find articles debunking the Black Athena, interviews with significant Greek leaders, and looks at regions and islands. The graphic content is up to the minute and its a visual pleasure to examine. Each summer they run a review of the Summer festivals in Athens and other places in Greece.

An average issue of the 8 1/2 x 11 inch format magazine has 80 or so pages. My only complaint is that reading the thing makes me sad that I'm not in Greece.


I have to admit that I'm not sure what is up with this magazine since it produced one internet edition several months ago and nothing since, but check out that one issue if you've got a yen for some heavy-duty analysis of Balkan issues from a Greek perspectives.

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Coming-up Next Time

In defense of Athens: can this marvelous city get any respect? Patmos journal: The Revelation, the computer, and the ATM. And: more book and internet reviews. [ Top of the Page ]

Philhellenic Perspective

is published once a month to the newsgroups soc.culture.greece and rec.travel.europe as well as appearing on the web. It is published by John P. Nordin who is solely responsible for its contents. You may reproduce this material, in whole or in part provided you provide proper acknowledgement of the source, and you don't distort the content. [ Top of the Page ]

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