Old war wounds still ache, 70 years on

Konstantinos Kallergis

For 10 days, driving through the countryside of the Peloponnese and Central Greece, I kept coming across marble memorials.

White plaques with thousands of names engraved on them, in mourning black letters. Killed by the Germans and their Greek collaborators, some of them say. Killed by the Communists, say the others.

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Previously, I always bypassed these memorials, which can be found in every corner of Greece. They felt like an over-familiar history lesson. The protagonists were known -- German oppressors, their local collaborators, oppressed Greeks, Communist guerrillas, victims, hundreds of victims, thousands of victims, from all sides. But what did any of this have to do with modern Greece?

When I was a kid, I had the impression that the social divisions and the deep scars created by the German occupation and the Greek civil war that followed the Wehrmacht’s retreat had long healed.

But the economic crisis and the upheaval in Greek politics that brought the far-right Golden Dawn party to prominence proved exactly the opposite. On both a local and a collective level, these tensions were only hibernating during the years of plenty between 1980 and 2009. The old emotions are now out of grandpa’s chest, out in the world again.

My last stop was the village of Distomo where one of the bloodiest Nazi massacres took place, a few days after the Allied invasion of Normandy. In that same village, 104 people voted for Golden Dawn in the recent European elections. I spent several hours talking to local people to try to understand how someone in a place with such a history could justify a vote for what most Greeks see as a neo-Nazi party.

Those discussions soon gave me the impression that the civil war has never really ended. What someone did in the war still haunts his grandchildren. When I talked with people in their 20s, phrases like “his grandfather was a collaborator”, “her family was killed by the Communists”, “he betrayed his own brother to escape” were the norm in every conversation. These phrases explained how someone was most likely to vote – be it for Golden Dawn or for a leftist party.

Before I left the village, I stopped at the main church in the upper square. Two marble plaques stand side by side. The plaque on the right is titled “Killed by the Communist guerrillas because they loved their homeland, Greece”. The one on the left has a list of people that were “brutally slaughtered by the Germans”. Some of the victims have only a surname, infants who had not been baptised.

Both memorials were there to teach a different version of practically the same history. And those versions, like the plaques on the church wall, coexisted quietly for years. Until now.

Konstantinos Kallergis is a freelance journalist and television producer based in Athens. His fellowship story focuses on Greek voters who have embraced the far-right Golden Dawn party, especially those from families with a leftist tradition.

Fellow Bio

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Konstantinos Kallergis

Kostas Kallergis is a freelance journalist and television producer based in Athens, with extensive experience in documentary-making.

Topic

Topic 2014: Generations

This year’s annual topic is Generations. Think of a powerful story that you have always wanted to report, and link it to this theme while crafting your proposal. Remember, it is better to have a strong central idea that is loosely linked to the annual theme than to have a weak idea that is strongly linked to the theme.