Athens’ distinguished Grande Bretagne Hotel is entwined with the history of modern Greece. Looking out onto Syntagma it has been a silent witness to the ebb and flow of power and political forces that have shaped the nation for more than a century.
I think successive governments have yielded to these hoodlums. Eliminate the asylum. Make it illegal to wear hoods to conceal your identity and the problem is over. Appeasement always brings a worse situation than existed before. History has taught us that.
– Nicholas Gage-
Writer Nicholas Gage, born Nikolaos Gatzoyiannis in the village of Lia in Epirus in 1939, uses the ‘GB’ as his home from home when in Athens.
It feels the right place to meet a writer who has intimately chronicled the most painful and tragic episodes of the Greek experience; episodes that still today reverberate in Greece’s body politic and the very soul of the nation.
It is some months since the rioters have left Syntagma Square when I meet with Gage in the hotel’s elegant ‘winter garden’ lounge, and I begin by asking what his reading was, of the worst civil unrest in Greece in a generation.
After a pause, he answers somewhat enigmatically. ‘When you keep feeding the monster, it’s going to get up and bite you.’
I ask which monster he is referring to.
“The anarchists. They have asylum in universities” he replies in his soft New England brogue. “The whole world is amazed” he adds laconically.
Laconic is a good word for Gage. He speaks in a measured, deliberate way, often making a point by asking a question then giving its answer.
When I suggest that an interpretation of the Greek press at the time was that the unrest was a wider uprising by disaffected youth, frustrated at their prospects, Gage disagrees.
He talks of a confluence of the Greek media, the culture and the intelligentsia having a romantic view of the Left. “By the Left I mean the extreme Left. None of the parties of government have wanted to appear hostile to that.”
Gage is unequivocal on how he feels the authorities should deal with similar future protests.
‘’I think successive governments have yielded to these hoodlums. Eliminate the asylum. Make it illegal to wear hoods to conceal your identity and the problem is over. Appeasement always brings a worse situation than existed before. History has taught us that.”
One of Gage’s articles in 2007 for Vanity Fair (and a project which he is now developing as a feature film), is the story of the November 17 terrorist organisation and how its members were brought to justice.
With the attacks at the beginning of the year on Greek police by a new group calling itself Revolutionary Struggle, I ask Gage if he feels that the conditions exist for the return of November 17 type group.
‘’November 17 was essentially two groups of extremists. One from Thesprotia, the other from Ikaria, with one leader Giotopoulos. “There weren’t thousands joining November 17 and there won’t be dozens joining this new group.
“Eventually they get caught. They’ll become what November 17 became. That is common criminals.”
As the conversation turns to Greece’s most infamous terrorists and their potential pretenders, Gage explains how an echo of the civil war still reverberates dangerously in Greece.
“The communists lost and there’s a romantic feeling for losers. Just as there is in the United Sates for the rebels in the civil war there.
“What was the cause of the Confederacy? The support of slavery, the most heinous kind of social system ever developed.
“Greece is an aberration in terms of Europe in terms of its attachment to Marxist ideals. What would a communist victory in the civil war have brought for Greece? Albania.
“The majority of the people want to live a better life, forge a better life for their children. They don’t support extremists. They don’t support appeasement either.
“Political leaders who think they’re gaining support by appeasing these anarchists are going to learn a bitter lesson.”
Gage’s account of his personal quest to find the communist torturers and killers of his mother – who was brutally executed during the Greek civil war by leftists – was first published in 1983 and Eleni became an international bestseller, translated into 32 languages.
He has been regularly criticized by the Greek Left ever since.
I ask him if he feels he is a man of the Right, and what the motivations are for the people who paint him as such.
“I’m a registered Democrat in the US. No one wrote more articles against the Junta than I did.
“Those who were shattered by my exposure of the crimes of the communists during the civil war attack me to try to diminish what I revealed. But not one fact in that book has ever been challenged or disputed.
“I name names, dates, places. No one has disputed any of it. Because I dared to stand up against this coalition of leftist falsehoods they try to paint me that way.”
Gage tells me no book outside the Bible has sold as many copies in Greece since World War II than Eleni.
“I think we all have a purpose in life. My purpose was to bear witness to a certain period in Greek history that is not widely known in the world.
“What wrangles my critics is that the history and image of the Greek Civil War in the world is fixed by my book. It’s the only book that is in every library, every university.
“My critics haven t been able to produce a work that can match the popularity and weight of this work. Out of frustration they make baseless charges.”
Have the attacks ever upset or disappointed him? ‘No. It gives me pleasure to know that I have rattled these people to that degree. It doesn’t bother me one iota.
A Leftist once said to me in an aggressive way ‘Why do you come to Greece so often?’I I replied ‘So that you will see me and remember me.’