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Reviewed by:
  • Dangerous Citizens: The Greek Left and the Terror of the State
  • David Binder (bio)
Neni Panourgia: Dangerous Citizens: The Greek Left and the Terror of the State. New York: Fordham University Press, 2009. 302 pages. ISBN 978-0-8232-2967-3. $24.30 (hbk).

A noteworthy feature of this work is a presentation, through the author's scholarship, of classic themes, including Oedipus and Sisyphus, albeit in the grim setting of Greece's post-World War II island prison camps. I was reminded of verses of Sophocles (who wrote much about Oedipus and was familiar with the legend of Sisyphus) in a chorus of Antigone:

Many the wonder lives and moves, but the wonder of all is man. . . . One while he moves toward evil, and one while toward good.

Neni Panourgia's title is drawn from the term "dangerous and suspicious persons" formulated during the dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas (1936-41) and applied then and later solely to leftists. The scope of her investigation runs from 1936 to 2008 and includes not merely the civil war and its aftermath of prison islands but also the dictatorship of 1967 to 1974, when, under the US-supported junta, "democrats inhabited the zone of danger heretofore occupied by Leftists, Communists, and world peace advocates." [End Page 117]

The prison camps were established on islands to incarcerate leftists during and after the brutal civil strife that engulfed Greece in the 1940s. The Emphylios (civil war) described here had three phases. The first, beginning in 1943, pitted anti-Nazi resistance armies of the Left against rightist formations, some of which collaborated with the occupation. Second was the so-called Battle of Athens in December 1944, pitting the National Popular Liberation Army against rightist forces augmented by British army units. The third phase, from 1946 to 1949, ended with the defeat of remaining (leftist) Democratic Army of Greece forces numbering about four thousand in the northern Greek mountains by combined Greek army units and Greek aircraft. The island prisons (though not their horrors) were oddly foreshadowed by the prison camp at Al Daba on the Egyptian coast; it was established at the end of 1944 by the British in the wake of the Battle of Athens for as many as twelve thousand Greeks suspected of supporting the Left (including children).

For those unfamiliar with the practice of confining putative enemies of the state on prison islands for protracted periods, this account may be a revelation. Tortures both physical and psychological of Greeks by Greeks on the nearly barren Aegean islands of Makronisos, Yaros, and Trikeri were practiced between 1947 and 1958. As recounted by Panourgia, they would appear to have outstripped what we know of South Africa's Robben Island, Yugoslavia's Goli Otok, or France's Devils Island. (Of course, we don't yet know much of what has gone on at the US Defense Department's Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp on Cuba since 2002. But the officer first in charge at Guantanamo, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, was well known for training soldiers in "improved interrogation techniques" before he went on to oversee the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, where severe abuses of Iraqi de tainees were reported in 2004.)

Concerning the evolution of the Greek island prisons, Panourgia writes that massive US military aid to Greece authorized by President Harry Truman from 1947 onward helped to fund the "establishment and maintenance of the concentration camps and the containment of Communism." She also documents attendance of US diplomats and military officers in repressive actions by Athens officials against leftists.

At its height, Makronisos, the largest of the island prisons, held 10,500 inmates in five separate camps. There, in a tribute to the glories of antiquity, the prison administration required inmates to construct small-scale replicas of the Parthenon, a classic edifice on Crête, and well-known statues.

Another classic theme that emerged on Makronisos the author describes as "the constant repetition of the Sisyphean act of needlessly and mindlessly carrying stone" from up to down and then down to up under orders of armed guards "all day long."

As for the main figure of two of Sophocles's dramas, she...


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pp. 117-120
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Archived 2019
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