Three journalists of the German newspaper Die Zeit published a rather ridiculous article trying to imply that this blogger and writer, the Greek Defense and Foreign Ministers and the composer and resistant Mikis Theodorakis are acting somehow under the "influence" of Russian ideologues. We had to address the following letter to the newspaper.
To the Chefredacteur of Die Zeit on Line
Mr. Giovanni di Lorenzo
On Friday, 7th of February your reporter Zacharias Zacharakis send me a very unpolite, if not provocative and insulting e-mail, telling me he was investigating my relations with a Russian diplomat and asking me if I was a friend of him, what kind of a friend I was and if my friendship has influenced my writing! At the end, he even put an ultimatum asking me to answer by 1.00 next day!
Next day I was indeed preparing a letter to you, protesting for the style of this individual and wondering if his ways represent the journalistic and even simple politeness standards of Die Zeit, when I was, for a second time, badly surprised by an article he and two other journalists have signed and published in the Online edition of your newspaper.
I am not a reader of German press but I had the impression that Die Zeit was a serious German newspaper, not one confusing (bad quality) police literature with journalism or attempting what we call character assassination (I think rufmord is the right word in German). I thought, probably wrongly, that it was a newspaper wishing to inform its readers, not to misinform them with cold war amalgams, created with the help of massive use of distortions, misinterpretations and inaccuracies, as well as personal data, real or fake. All of it with an obvious aim, that is to attack the newly elected Greek government and its supposed relations with Russia. And also to “terrorize” somehow anybody who is for dialogue and good relations with Russia.
The obvious and quite crazy implication of the article is that a part, at least, of the Greek government parties is acting somehow under some kind of malicious influence of Russian “ideologues” and “oligarchs”. They are cough, as the title of the article suggests, in “a web of Russian ideologues”. So, not only Greeks have elected two bad parties in power, important people in those parties are flirting now, under the malign influence of Moscow, with the equally bad entity of Putin’s Russia. And they are doing this without asking for the permission of Berlin authorities.
This is a quite paranoiac way of looking into what is happening into Greece and its international relations. It is ridiculous to present all political and social trends as a result of conspiracies. Conspiracies do exist (sometimes even leading to bad journalism). But even when they exist, they can succeed only if there is objective basis for them to succeed.
But let me be more precise, at least as far as it concerns me. The authors of the article claim that I am a kind of “link” between SYRIZA and Moscow. But they don’t provide any hint to substantiate such a claim.
By the way, there is nothing bad about having contacts between different political entities and countries. Everybody in the world is doing this. Why it should be forbidden to Greeks and Russians? But in this case simply your reporters are wrong. I ‘m not the link they are looking for. They have first to find him, if he exists, and then name him, not the other way round.
As for the claim of your imaginative authors that I am an “important ideologue” of SYRIZA, I have to thank them for the promotion. I hope the leadership of SYRIZA will take notice and will offer me a post corresponding to my importance.
Trying to create from scratch all this story, the article claims that I am a regular contributor of the newspaper Avghi, which again is connected with SYRIZA. It is true that this newspaper has probably published three or four articles of me during the last two years. You will agree that this hardly makes me a “regular contributor”.
Again there is nothing bad about being a regular contributor to Avghi. I even proposed some time ago to its director to become such. He answered me that he would like it but the financial situation of the newspaper does not permit it. Again, your authors, though this unimportant detail, show us inadvertently the haste with which they have tried to assemble the “proofs” of a prefabricated “accusation”.
Then the article goes on assigning me with an even greater role. The authors claim that in a mail I send to a Russian diplomat I referred to cooperation proposals made by Mr. Kammenos to SYRIZA through me in October 2014. Not only there is not such a mail, it could not even exist. Mr. Kammenos and Mr. Tsipras are in close direct contact since the end of 2011, when both opposed in the parliament the agreements on the restructuring of Greek debt and the substitution of Greek law by English colonial law in matters connected with the debt. According to my journalistic information, they were even ready to form a government back in 2012, in case SYRIZA would win the elections of that year.
Kammenos and Tsipras had established their personal contacts and cooperation long before the time of the supposed email and they did not need mine or anybody else’s help to achieve such a goal. I am afraid your reporters suffer a kind of paranoia, searching everywhere for suspicious links. They would be better advised to study the already well known and published information. The two politicians and their parties came closer not because of any kind of mysterious “conspiracy” or with the help of journalists communicating with Russian diplomats, but rather for the simple reason they both share a fundamental opposition to the policies imposed to Greece and they need each other to get the necessary parliamentary majority to form a government.
There is even worse. It seems that I took and published an interview with Russian geopolitician Dugin. So what? Mr. Brzezinksi or Mr. Fukuyama for instance also debated publicly or privately with Mr. Dugin. Are you going to investigate also their relations with Moscow networks? What is permitted to US citizens is not permitted to Greek citizens?
As far as I know the exchange of ideas with Russians is not yet in the sanctions list. And to tell you the truth I believe extremely important to sustain a serious dialogue with all political and “ideological” spectrum in Russia. Dialogue does not necessarily mean agreement. And such a dialogue and even cooperation, where it is possible, with Russians is extremely important not only for Greeks but also for Germans and all Europeans. I strongly believe European intellectuals, journalists, politicians should discuss and cooperate with their Russian counterparts in order to reverse the extremely dangerous course towards a Cold, if not Hot war we witnessed during last year. The alternative to dialogue, talk, cooperation between Europe and Russia exists. It is War.
I do believe also that journalists from Western Europe, Russia and Ukraine should also cooperate in reversing the climate of hysteria and one-sided (mis)information about events in Ukraine, in order to provide the public with the means to make its own balanced judgments. If I am not mistaken, it was the editor of Handelsblatt, who had last summer the courage to write an article comparing the atmosphere created by German media around Ukraine to the atmosphere dominating Germany in the beginning of the First World War. I hope you will agree that the last thing Europe needs is to repeat its history.
But there is also here a question of principle. As an independent journalist and as a free person I am taking interviews, I keep contacts, I exchange opinions with anybody I wish and I will continue to do so. I don’t have to apologize for this or ask the permission of your journalists to do it. This is my job and my pleasure. German newspapers like Handelsblatt have asked sometimes for my articles on Greece, I was often interviewed by numerous media of France, Russia, USA etc., I cooperated for many years with Deutsche Welle. I had very interesting, analytical talks with the previous German ambassador in Athens about the Greek crisis. I remember even a long talk with him, in the compound of the Russian embassy, during a reception in February 2013. At some point Mr. Tsipras himself also joined us. Maybe your reporters should investigate not only the “Russian connection”, but also a possible “German extension”?
I am supporting for a long time, and I have never hidden it, the development of a strong Greek-Russian partnership. I believe by the way the same about German-Russian relations. I think for instance that projects like the Nordstream pipeline are very important and I don’t see why everything was done to cancel the analogous Southstream project through Bulgaria and Greece. I am also wondering if whoever ignited first the fire in Ukraine was not also trying to destroy relations between Berlin and Moscow.
Strong Greek-Russian and strong German-Russian relations are foundations for an equally strong Europe-Russia partnership. I consider such a partnership of fundamental importance for Europe’s stability, prosperity and autonomy. Russia in fact is part of Europe, even if it followed a quite separate path during part of its history.
You may agree or disagree with such ideas. But it is completely ridiculous to imply they are formed as a result of contacts with Russian diplomats or intellectuals! I am writing on international affairs and Greek foreign policy since many years, my books and articles are easily available (by the way criticizing also Russian policy when I feel I have to). My ideas were formed much before Putin comes to power or Dugin becomes known and I meet him personally. It is true that I follow with great interest ideas coming out of Russia and what Russians do say, but I don’t need any Russian “ideologue” to have an opinion on Greek-Russian and Europe-Russia relations. The policy and ideas of Charles de Gaulle, Jacques Chirac, Dominique de Villepin, of your Chancellors Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt, of Greek revolutionaries of the 19th century, to mention just a few, provide me with a more than sufficient source of inspiration.
But again what is the “counter-proposal”? To begin a new cold, or probably hot war in the heart of Europe, accusing Russia of doing (after provocation) what we did in Kosovo? Do we need a kind of Vietnam in Ukraine? What is the purpose of sanctions which, all relevant historic experience proves, fail to produce the results supposedly shown, but empoison international relations? As Serge Halimi, director of Le Monde Diplomatique recently asked in an article, are we going to wait again more than half a century, as North Americans did with Cuba, to admit and correct such a mistake?
It is also mentioned in your article that I gave an interview to Mr. Dugin. I don’t think again there is something strange or bad in that. He asked me, I gave him. I give interviews to anybody from abroad asking for them. I consider this even a moral obligation for me, because there is a huge need to inform properly the world public opinion about what and why is happening in Greece. The tragic state of nowadays Greece is not due, only or mainly, to its quite serious internal problems, but also, and mainly, to the program imposed on it in 2010 and then 2011 in order to “save” it. The “therapy”, in the case of Greece has proven much worse than the “illness”. As for the program itself it is full of quite colonial clauses, unacceptable in today’s Europe.
I believe Europeans we have taken a wrong course and such a course cannot but affect also deeply our own democracies. This is what we have seen unfortunately in the massive, hysterical and misleading campaign against Greece from a big part of German media in 2009-10, or in the equally massive distortions of reality in the covering by European main stream media of the Ukrainian crisis. The article you published inadvertently provides us with a good example of the very real risk of returning to the Stasi and Mac Carthy years, where all principles and the very notion of the truth were sacrificed to the goals of the Cold War. Simply the word “Russia” and “Russians” seem to have replaced now the words “communism” and communists”. Any contact with them seems to be a source of suspicion and accusation.
By the way, you may like or dislike Putin’s Russia or SYRIZA in Greece. But in both cases, if we wish to be honest and serious, we should admit that both phenomena are, to a large extent, the result of our, mainstream western policies. I remember Russia being the more pro-western country in the world in 1990. They applied all the IMF ideas – the same imposed on Greece now – and they were ruined economically and socially. They accepted German reunification, they dissolved at their own initiative their economic-military alliance and even USSR itself. As a result they saw NATO advancing well into ex-soviet territory and USA denouncing the ABM Treaty and increasing dramatically military spending.
The same goes for Greece. The program applied supposedly to help it, in reality it did save the interests of its private creditors, at the cost of destroying literally a European country, member of the EU. Greece has been put in the same situation as Germany in the thirties. You were then under the external pressure of the enormous war reparations, as Greece is now under the external pressure of an enormous and growing debt which obviously cannot serve. Between 1930 and 1933 Chancellor Bruenning has applied the very same economic policy that troika (EU, ECB, IMF) is applying now to Greece.
The result is a drop of more than 25% of Greek GDP since 2010, the skyrocketing of unemployment, the destruction of Greek pension funds and health system, a massive braindrain, not to speak about the enormous moral, social cost which nobody can count in numbers, but which is probably the biggest loss of these years. The program provoked one of the biggest economic and social catastrophes in modern economic history. What it has achieved in return? A rise of the debt from 120% to 180% of GDP and the drop in competitiveness of the Greek economy! As happened previously with Weimar Republic, this political and social catastrophe is laying the grounds for the destruction of the old political system. This is exactly what we witnessed these days in Greece. And on a European level, we have witnessed the great crisis of 2008, due to the wrongdoings of the financial sector, finally transformed into a political and financial “fight” between European nations.
The long term economic, political and geopolitical results of the insistence to the Greek program risk to prove terrible for Greece, Germany and Europe. I don’t know if your government has the force to try to crash economically Greece. But I am sure it will not have the capacity to avoid an enormous political fall-out as a result. This is why, I think Germans should see the victory of SYRIZA not so much as a problem, but rather as an opportunity to operate the big correction needed.
If we don’t stop such an infernal spiral now, I am afraid it may finish by destroying, among other things, the political capital that Germany itself has accumulated during more than half a century by its economic achievements and its contribution to the European project, if not the project itself. And if tomorrow this or another Greek government tries to get some help from Russia, China or anybody else willing to help, it will not be the work of some individuals acting under malign Russian “influence”. It will be the result of sheer necessity for this country to survive.
We need to return to the critical examination of the roots of these crises and of the ways to face them. I am afraid it is not by searching mails or “suspicious” weddings (!) in Moscow that we will be able to confront the huge, nearly existential problems, Europe is now facing.
I ask you to publish this letter and I feel, believe me, very sorry to have to address it to you.