In the beginning of the 20th century, a vibrant Jewish community of 2.000 individuals (in a total of 50.000) lived in Kavala, a city in the north of greece. 69 years ago, 1,484 members of this community were murdered in the german concentration camp of Treblinka. After 1980, the few remaining Jews left the city, with their properties taken by christian greeks and their signs in the city being totally erased, quiet conveniently for the greek population and state. Nothing was supposed to disturb that tranquility, until May 2015 when a Holocaust memorial for the murdered Jews of the city was to be revealed in the central square of the city. Although they have been dead for years, the sole commemoration of their death seemed enough to make the local greeks forget their problems with crisis and focus on the cancelation of the memorial ceremony.
In the very beginning it was the mayor of Kavala herself, Dimitra Tsanaka, who has been elected with the support of the conservatives of Nea Dimokratia. Four days before the ceremony take place, the mayor Tsanaka announced that there was no problem with the monument as such, as long as it didn’t have a Star of David on it! Her reasons, as she rushed to explain, were “strictly aesthetic”.
She went further to actually request from the Central Jewish Board of Greece the erasure of the Star of David, however the Board rejected this request as offensive and antisemitic, and then the mayor cancelled the ceremony. And that is how it all started. Let us note that all Holocaust monuments in greece have been paid and constructed by the Jewish communities. And after one of the innumerable desecrations, they are restored by the Jewish communities too.
The mayor, of course, could not be an exception on her attitude. Many conservatives of Kavala supported the mayors’ decision wholeheartedly. During the relative public discussion in the municipal council of the city, a mere citizen who was given the opportunity to intervene (and also, the president of the Patriotic Movement of Citizens of Kavala) denounced “Zionism” and suggested that, if the ‘jewish monument’ is to be built, then a series of other monuments should also be built for the greeks and the Armenians who were victims of genocide by the Turks, the greeks who fell victims of Bulgarian occupation during WW2, as well as the Palestinians who suffer nowadays from Israel.
Then, it was the local Church’s turn to put out an announcement, through the lips of the leader of the church Prokopios, who committed all the kind of relativizations over the Holocaust, as well as a comparison of the Star of David to the Satanic pentagram!
Unfortunately, though, due to bad estimations on their part, the mayor, the religious leader and all their friends would not expect that this debate would gather the attention of international media and a large-scale campaign of negative advertisement for the municipal authorities of Kavala by the jewish community. The international attention even forced a clear-cut denunciation of the mayor’s stand by most political parties (the communist party and the neonazis being excluded)! See, when greeks are left without international surveillance, who knows what they are capable of… But, here, we had one of these rare moments where almost everybody agreed that there is some antisemitism in greece after all…
For us, even more important than the international media, was the calling of a protest at the day of the cancelled ceremony. The protesters were mainly members of Jewish communities around greece and even Israel, who had come to Kavala for the unveiling of the monument and a handful of antifascists. We should take special note of the presence of ten high school students with their teacher who all wore yellow stars of David in support of the original monument. The teacher is still receiving death threats after this insolent act.
The protest was finally successful and the story even had a happy conclusion. The mayor, after facing the fury of some protesters, as well as world-wide shame, finally agreed to deliver the monument in its’ original form. Local conservatives and right-wings in the municipal council were still mad but they could not help it anymore: on the 7th of June, the ceremony finally took place. It was the left’s turn to prove its own value. A leftist showed up in the ceremony and took photos of him next to the monument with a t-shirt reading ‘I stand with Palestine. Free Palestine!’ In a couple of walls of the city, one of them also next to the monument, slogans were sprayed, reading ‘Free Palestine. Jews murderers of the peoples!’ Another similar slogan (‘Jews Murderers’) decorates a wall in the port of Kavala, in a place where tourists can see it, as they get off the boats. Apparently, this is daily antisemitism and it will not get any attention by the media. We would love to repeat here that information as the latter, consist of the most proper reasons for boycotting the greek tourist industry.
Some final conclusions for the ‘Kavala incident’? First of all, those who oppose antisemitism in greece, keep on “discovering” cities and villages where jew-hatred remains mainstream and virulent. Discovering in quotation marks, as antisemitism rarely needs to disguise itself or be expressed in more obscure ways. Many times it appears in its most ‘19th-century-style’ and ugly face, hence it doesn’t require reading Adorno or analyzing much. After all, it is present and expressed, as noted above, in the whole social and political spectrum. Anti-imperialism, relativization of the Holocaust, nationalist memory strategies, superstitions and … many more, are part of the same game. It is not difficult to recognize it and to name it. All it takes is courage to cope with it!
Second, precisely because anti-Semitism (and racism of course and all the rest) is part of the common sense of greek society, actions like the protest in Kavala do have a point and, sometimes, acquire such significance and effectiveness even!
Third, here you have a proof (if any is required) that the latest fad in anti-imperialist circles, which claims that antisemitism and its’ critique is passé because the greek and the israeli states have a military alliance nowadays, is a complete nonsense. The geopolitical interests of the greek state is one thing and the social ideology of the greek mob and municipal, or state authorities is another; and in the case of anti-Jewish hatred, we have repeatedly witnessed its centuries-long continuity.
Antifa Negative, 19.6.2015 (for FSK Hamburg)
p.s. the first desecration of the memorial in Kavala took place after the midnight of the 20th of June