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Greece, Germany and the middle finger of Venus de Milo

In the continuing drama of the financial crisis plaguing Greece and the eurozone, a row erupted last week because of a German Focus Magazine cover that depicted ancient Greek statue Venus de Milo flipping a middle finger at the European Union.

The magazine also published an accompanying article reportedly describing Greeks as the ‘crooks’ of the European family.

The media in Greece elevated the story to a level of popular public scandal, evoking indignation by Greek politicians, and engendering a new round of fierce public discussion on issues of national identity and sovereignty, racism and European integration.

Indignation and bitter humor

Some saw the incident as an instance of “anti-Hellenism” or dislike of Greece. On Twitter, sotomi angrily proposed a boycott action,

Boycot German products and German stores in Greece. This should be the answer to Focus cover and German publicity. #GRanswer

… while Nikos Roussos, echoing a popular recurring theme, focused on war reparations allegedly still owed to Greece:

the best answer would be, if we could finally demand from Germany to pay their debt to us for 2nd World War

pascal_ bitterly proposed a reaction in kind:

Να βγει το ελληνικό Focus με εξώφυλλο φωτό του Χίτλερ και τίτλο: Σας χρωστάμε πολλά

The next issue of the greek Focus magazine should have Hitler on the cover and be titled: We owe you a lot

Perhaps as a conciliatory gesture, radio producer Antonis Vlavogelakis responded to the cover with a Venus de Milo photo manipulation of his own:

"Prost Venus!" by vlavo

"Prost Venus!" by vlavo

Veteran comedian Harry Klynn threw a punch line back at the crisis,

Ένας φίλος μου αγόρασε μια 600άρα Μερσεντές τοις μετρητοίς. Την βενζίνη αγοράζει με δόσεις!

A friend of mine paid cash for a Mercedes 600cc; but he's paying for gas in installments!

… while FivosV speculated on the statue's usually unseen fingers:

Επιτέλους είδαμε και το -ένα τουλάχιστον- χέρι της Αφροδίτης της Μήλου. Έτσι ήταν κανονικά. Γι'αυτό τα σπάσανε. #FOCUS

Finally, we saw one of Venus de Milo's hands. That's how they were originally. That's why they were broken.

Reflection and social critique

Blogger alepouda weighed the public indignation against the more serious economic crisis,

έμενα μου τη δινει που πιο πολύ ως λαος εκνευριζόμαστε αμα μας κακολογήσουν παρά που τα έχουμε κάνει σκατά

I'm pissed that, as a people, we get more angry at getting badmouthed than about messing things up

…while web designer Cyberela angrily refocused the argument on those responsible for bringing Greece to a state of decline:

Ντροπή σας! Εμένα με προσβάλει το γεγονός ότι βάζετε εμένα να πληρώσω την κρίση των άλλων και τα κλεμμένα την προηγούμενης κυβέρνησης.

Shame on you! I'm offended at having to pay for a crisis engineered by others and recoup the loot of the previous government

kaltsovrako, also entreated Greeks to focus on the most important issue:

μας εγκαλούν έμμεσα να αλλάξουμε νοοτροπία [και] “εμείς” βλέπουμε το δάχτυλο και απαντάμε ενθυμούμενοι ΞΑΦΝΙΚΑ τον Χίτλερ, τις πολεμικές αποζημιώσεις, το Δίστομο και τα Καλάβρυτα. Ρε, πάμε καλά;

they're reproaching us to change our mindset [and] “we” focus on a finger [pointing at the moon] and suddenly remember Hitler, the war reparations, Distomo and Kalavryta. What's the matter with us?

E-Lawyer blogger Vassilis Sotiropoulos focused on legal aspects of the controversy:

το νομικό ερώτημα είναι εάν έχει το δικαίωμα ένα περιοδικό να συμπεριφέρεται με αυτόν τον τρόπο σε [..] ένα σύμβολο του Ελληνικού πολιτισμού. [..] Τα δικαστήριά έχουν αποκλείσει τέτοιου είδους παρερμηνείες, τασσόμενα παραδοσιακά υπέρ της ελευθερίας της έκφρασης. [..] Για να επιστρέψω όμως στον πολιτικό χειρισμό, πρέπει να παρατηρήσουμε ότι κι αυτός ενδέχεται να έχει ορισμένες νομικές προεκτάσεις. Το ερώτημα είναι εάν η παρέμβαση που ζητείται σε ιδιωτικά μέσα μαζικής ενημέρωσης είναι ή όχι μια παρέμβαση στην ελευθερία του λόγου.

The legal question posed is whether a magazine has the right to treat a symbol of Greek civilization thus. [..] Courts have ruled out such misinterpretations, traditionally siding with freedom of expression. [..] The political handling of the issue can also potentially have legal ramifications. The question is whether the intervention on private mass media requested [by the government] constitutes an obstruction of freedom of speech.

(Α day after this opinion was posted, Reporters without Borders reprimanded the president of the Greek parliament for requesting that the German government discipline the press.)

In his blog, Dog Day Afternoon, music producer Stathis Panagiotopoulos proclaimed the assertions in the Greek translation of the German article to be true,

“Οι Έλληνες δεν αντιμετωπίζουν ποτέ και πουθενά προβλήματα ενσωμάτωσης. Παντού νοιώθουν σαν στο σπίτι τους. Το συμπαθητικό αυτό μικρό έθνος μοιάζει να μην έχει έγνοιες και να χορεύει πάντα σαν τον Αλέξη Ζορμπά. Οι Έλληνες αισθάνονται σαν πατέρες των υπόλοιπων ευρωπαϊκών κρατών και δεν θα είχαν καμία δυσκολία να ζήσουν και χωρίς κυβέρνηση. Γιατί να αλλάξει κάποιος που είναι ήδη τέλειος;” Ψέματα είναι;

“Greeks never -and nowhere- face integration problems. They feel at home everywhere. This sympathetic little nation looks like it has no worries, always dancing like Alexis Zorbas. Greeks feel like fathers to the rest of the European states and would scarcely find it difficult to live without a government, even. Why change perfection?”
Is that a lie?

He unleashed a righteous fury of his own at the more simplistic counter-arguments:

Ξανάρχισε να ακούγεται το μικρονοϊκό επιχείρημα “όταν εμείς χτίζαμε Παρθενώνες αυτοί έτρωγαν βελανίδια οπότε πως τολμούν κλπ” [..] ενώ “εμείς” ξαναγυρίσαμε στα βελανίδια, και η απόδειξη είναι παντού τριγύρω μας, στον τρόπο με τον οποίον βρωμίζουμε και απαξιώνουμε τη χώρα μας, στην έλλειψη κοινωνικής συνείδησης, στο ρατσισμό μας, στον εθνικό μας αυτισμό.

The smallminded argument about “us building Parthenons when they were eating acorns, so how dare they etc.” resurfaced [..] but it's “us” that returned to acorns, and the proof is all around us; in the way we pollute and devalue our country, the lack of social conscience, our racism, our national autism.

Writer and translator Nikos Sarantakos engaged in professional critique of the article's translation, focusing on an obvious but overlooked aspect of the controversy:

Εγώ το διάβασα το άρθρο και δεν συμφωνώ ότι είναι ανθελληνικό, ότι είναι δυσφημιστικό και άλλα τέτοια. Φυσικά, έχει γενικεύσεις, έχει και ανακρίβειες, αλλά συνολικά χαρακτηρίζεται από χιούμορ, παρατηρητικότητα, καλή γνώση της Ελλάδας και συμπάθεια προς τους Έλληνες. Οι επικριτές του το διάβασαν το άρθρο ή έμειναν απλώς στη φωτογραφία;

I've read the article and don't agree that it's anti-hellenic, defamatory etc. Of course it contains generalizations and inaccuracies, but overally it displays humor, observation, good knowledge of Greece and sympathy towards Greeks. Did it's detractors read the article or did they just fixate on the photo?

Blogger mindstripper published an impassioned letter from a friend, tormented by perceptions of Greece abroad and a, perhaps uniquely Greek, kind of grief:

Εδώ που είμαι έχω ακούσει ένα σωρό ειρωνίες για το πως βγήκε η δημοκρατία από μια χώρα σαν την Ελλάδα, για τους Έλληνες και την νοοτροπία τους. Αλλά έχω σταματήσει καιρό τώρα να προσθέτω σ’ αυτές τις συζητήσεις τη γνωστή γκρίνια για τους ανάξιους πολιτικούς και τις ηλίθιες κυβερνήσεις και αυτούς που τα παίρνουν και το σύστημα και… Εμείς είμαστε όλοι αυτοί.

I've heard all sorts of ironies here about how democracy sprung from a country like Greece, about Greeks and their mentality. But I've long since stopped adding to these conversations the familiar nagging about unworthy politicians and stupid governments and graft takers and the system and… We are all those.

And blogger Roides, nicknamed after an iconoclastic and witty Greek author, challenged the perception of who should be affronted by the article:

Δεν υπάρχει μία Ελλάδα, ουδέποτε υπήρξε. Άλλη η Ελλάδα της δημιουργίας, του αλτρουισμού, της αλληλεγγύης, του μεροκαματιάρη και της Σκέψης, κι άλλη η Ελλάδα των λαμόγιων και των κάθε είδους αρπακτικών. Το εξώφυλλο του Focus θίγει τους δεύτερους

There is no one Greece, there never was. Greece of creation, altruism, camaraderie, wage workers and Thought is another thing entirely from the Greece of crooks and all kinds of predators. The Focus cover offends the second kind.
  • http://rodiat7.blogspot.com/ Rodia

    Asteri, Πολυ ωραια ιδεα!
    Το δευτερο αρθρο, αυτο που δεν ανεβηκε στο ιντερνετ ειναι εκεινο που ενοχλησε και μεταφραζεται σιγα σιγα εδω: http://docs.google.com/View?id=dfrkxnc3_248fvp8ds8x

  • Manzoor H. Sarkar

    I guess this a problem with most of the Balkan nations .They always tend be pride but are in fact very irrational , unproductive & irresponsible in economic behaviours . I am surprised to note that many Greek citizens are threatening to boycott German products & services , but forget the fact their national revenue greatly depends on the remittance of their more than a million workers in Germany and the money spent by German tourists in Greece . Greece is in no position to show off .

  • PX

    Greece is a country of great culture and history, a country withhdrawn from their independence for 400 years, a country still fighting to reconcile its past to its interrupted future. Unfortunately, political corruption is a common phenomena in today’s world, would like to see how many countries can honestly claim otherwise? Visit Greece and discover why the middle finger should not be the one standing in Venus de Milo’s hand but the thumb should be standing.

  • http://archaeologymatters2.blogspot.com/2010/02/leaky-pergamum-museum.html archaeologymatters

    Venus de Milo on the front cover of the German Focus illustrating an article analysing the causes of the state of the Greek Economy. Leaving aside the analysis itself, one cannot but appreciate the humour of the artist who designed the cover…

    http://archaeologymatters2.blogspot.com/2010/02/leaky-pergamum-museum.html

  • charlie

    I just want to point out are we forgeting about the wall streets bankers, which have responsiblity for this mess.I believe from that they fraudlently lied to the europe union on Greeces econmey what back in the year 2000.I seem to see coruption with wall street bankers and greek goverment not the people.I would also like to add that Germany was disrespectful to Greece by using the middle fingure on the stature from what I here Germeny stands to gain by a lowering EURO conerning thier exports and by the way it is poor taste to gesture like that.I believe the goverment of Greece is to blame not the people and the banks, dont kick the people when thier down and gonna suffer for all this.I been to Greece a while ago alot of Germens bought alot of land in Greece meaning winter homes on various islands where they also can enjoy a nice warm climate for a reasonable cost of livin.I dont know to much about Germeny but can foriegners by property like Greeks buy in Germeny if they wanted?Why not bring up past of the war germeny started that cost Greece alot of money and deaths.Oh how easy you forget the past Germeny history books dont millions of people were killed and countrys were plundered.

  • GEORGE KOSTOPOULOS

    A REPLY TO FOCUS

    The article of the FOCUS correspondent regarding the shortcomings of the Greeks has not only surprised the Greeks everywhere but all decent people who had the unfortunate chance of reading it.
    The people of every nation have qualities and shortcomings which vary depending on many reasons.
    «The writer» should have examined the shortcomings of his people which are plenty and have been felt in two World wars by all people in the world. Representatives of his people should be the last ones to satirize the Greeks who of all Europeans have contributed most to the European civilization in ancient, medieval and modern times Of course that means nothing to «the writer» who probably sees the Greeks as being responsible for stopping his «Ancestors» and preventing them from rewarding their super egoism of a super Arian specie that ought to have ruled all Europeans and the rest of the World, on earth and …beyond. In his article he deals with insignificant menial things inappropriate for a correspondent of such an important periodical as the Focus. It is however fortunate that his views are not shared by the majority of his countrymen.

    If some people need to change their attitude and way of thinking are some people of «the writer’s» mentality. Of course we don’t need anyone’s charity because as people we are rich enough (twice as rich as the average European). Our Government isn’t rich but we will correct it ourselves without anyone’s pity and malicious comments.
    The timing and the character of his article «makes it possible of being part of the speculators conspiracy» to slander Greece and its people so that they would raise the spreads of borrowing.

    Greeks belong to the category of people who adapt themselves in every situation quite easily. Of course «the writer» has never been an immigrant and doesn’t know the stages that those people need to follow in order to get established in their new society. He readily resorts to insulting comments about little workers who do nothing but cook and fry to make a living. At the same time these immigrants manage to remain happy for what they do and dance the zorba, something «the writer» would never understand. Fortunately, we are not under his country’s occupation and forced to eat potato-salad which is their favourite dish, so he finds the Greek-food funny but at the same time he gradually adapts to the Mediterranean diet which is without the toxins of his ethnic meals. His egoism hasn’t yet allowed him to admit that Greece won the European Championship in soccer, that has two Nobel Prize winners in literature, that has the first Merchant Marine in the World, that has ennobled the World’s Operas with outstanding singers, orchestra conductors and virtuosos and that there is not one single University in the USA without Greek professors of first standing. If we knew that it would hurt his egoism so much we would do him a favour to say nothing about his malevolent ignorance.

    The fact that the Greeks developed the sciences and civilisation which Europe’s progress is based on, is not our fault. I understand that his country’s industrial progress will never be a match to Greece’s contribution and that of course bothers him to a great extent thus trying to belittle our contribution to the world through his sarcastic comments and vile ignorance. We may appear that we are spending our wealth for our children but as always we leave them enough to build their future life, something which ‘the writer’ can never understand. Don’t worry, we won’t disappear as people because thank- God we have the power of converting some of his countrymen settlers in Crete to Greeks who are proud of becoming Greeks and even adapt their names to Greek and learn the local dialect. His comments that we didn’t deserve to have known 2500 years ago that the earth turned around the sun and that the mass was composed of atoms have only derived from jealousy because his people didn’t have the chance of discovering those things as at that time they still lived in caves.

    His comments that the Greeks give their politicians their vote in exchange for approval of their illegal house indicates that we haven’t managed yet to properly plan and designate areas with all the required facilities completed before the actual housing begins. Of course that’s not as serious as under the table practices made «by his country’s corporations» in order to get the business of major projects at the expense of international competition. The Greek nation is so powerful that managed to exist and maintain its language intact even though it passed a 7 century’s Roman, a 4 century’s Turkish conquest and it dealt with three enemies during the WWII such as Germany, Italy and Bulgaria, so there is no need to worry about its fate.

    Greeks are not unique in using a non Latin writing as he mentioned because the Cyrillic languages use similar letters. Besides, the writer seems to ignore that the Latin letters are of Greek origin and so are the Cyrillic. Greek is the richest language in the world-which has about six million words and for his information it has a word for everything. Therefore if any language needs to change it is those derived from Latin and those like the German and other latin European languages the vocabulary of which contains as much as 25% of words of Greek origin (just try to count how many English words of this letter are Greek!!) It’s not a bad idea to facilitate the Tourists by having signs in Latin letters which we can write in any way we wish, after all latin letters are generated from Greek letters!

    Greeks are proud people and not egoists as his countrymen are. Besides we are not sheep to follow the rules imposed by a «Fuehrer» we don’t like. As people, we are independent and competitive among ourselves but at the same time we know how to unite against enemies as we did against the Germans in WWII, which is a positive aspect. We take a pleasure while driving to overpass, which is another indication of our independence and competitiveness. The chasing of the traffic warden away by sounding our car horns is an exaggeration but if it happens it’s because the traffic warden delays the free movement of the traffic through his actions and I think it’s well done. Despite of the Greeks’ aggressiveness when driving the car, crashes are much fewer in Greece than in his country. It’s grossly wrong to say that the Greeks hate each other. It is true that more Greeks were killed in the civil war than during the Second World War. The writer doesn’t know that it’s true in any civil war when the casualties are higher because you don’t know who your enemy is. All you have to do is to count how many Germans were killed by Germans during your silly wars on Religion!
    It’s not true that nowadays the Greeks believe that there are Greeks and “the other people”. Perhaps it would be more correct to say that there are hypocrites and truth loving people.

    It’s an insult to think that Greeks just thirty years ago believed that there were six continents-the known five and Greece. I think the writer wanted to cover his predecessor’s belief that there was only one Heroic country and race in the world worth keeping and no others an attitude in which, like sheep, followed their insane «Fuehrer» with the result to be responsible for 60 million dead in Europe and elsewhere.

    In Western Europe, it was the Pope’s idea to oppress the Greek Orthodox so that it could better rule them and attract their money. In fact, that was the thinking before the Turkish occupation of Greece and five hundred years later it proved to be correct. The experience with the Franks (mostly Germanic) that robbed and massacred Constantinople was so fresh in the minds of Greeks at that time that lasts ever since, but history is unfamiliar to the writer.
    Of course it bothers him that we had never been assimilated by the Turks something which the West would have loved to see. Istanbul is of course a Greek name which means TO THE CITY (eis tin polin). Even the Byzantine flags annoy him and he would not wish them to be flown beside the Greek flag as he mentioned but unfortunately for him that’s our history which we respect and would maintain for ever. We are the only people in Europe that we maintain our national spirit for the last 4000 years despite foreign invasions and massacres and genocides and holocausts, because the national spirit does not depend on the “blood” – an idiotic theory which is the core of the| «Nazi» mentality still prevailing in «some of his countrymen». Although as he incorrectly said Greece obtained its independence in 1829 instead of 1821 we have come a long way and built a modern and a rich country in Europe, with the First Merchant Marine in the World.

    Although 97.5% of the Greeks are Orthodox Christians, the fact that they give ancient names to their children proves that we are equally proud of our present and past, because during the 4000 years of our national life we gave more to the western world than any other nation – classical Greece and medieval Byzantine Greece included. As for the icons which we respect and don’t mind in showing them, they have a symbolic meaning which people like him would never understand. The saints in our religion are martyrs and pure Christians who lived a decent life and set an example for the future generations to follow and we never held a criminal Holy Inquisition like the western Europeans did. Having a Saint as a protector against certain deseases is a philosophy which even if I explained it to him, he would never understand. Because he ignores the history of the ancient Greeks and it is beyond his capacity to see that the devotion and respect to the Divine Power is the same for us modern Greeks, despite the change of god’s names. What for the ancients was Athena for us is Maria the “Theotokos”.

    As far as the names of the streets not being marked sounds to me as he lives in 1800 because in Ilioupolis a suburb of Athens where I live the names of the streets are well marked as well as those of the neighbouring suburbs. This is the general phenomenon not without some exceptions when new buildings replaced the old. The fact that he found so very little things to satirize and criticise indicates his prejudice and historical ignorance. In fact most of the things he is dealing with in his article are so insignificant that it was not worth the paper they were written on. We may have some inefficiencies in practical things he mentioned but on the other hand we give more emphasis to important things of our life. These things separate the robots that pay attention to every menial detail their Fuehrer imposes, from real people with sensitivity and humane qualities. He pretends he is perfect and that he knows Greece better than his country and only sees the bad things. But he forgot to mention that the Greeks never invented «crematoria» and never sold the golden teeth of their victims to buy weapons for even more victims.

    He even mentioned personal names of some clever and hard working people like George Petrakis and Kostas Kotsanas etc.in downgrading their services to make a living, something a civilised person would never dare do.

    Greece is a real paradise and Greeks have been blessed by God in providing them with a summer and a winter holiday to enjoy life. Our quality of life is much superior to his and that is also something that annoys him and tries to criticise.
    The grants provided to Greece by EU are returned in multiples in the form of high interest rates and the money contributed by Germany is inferior to the money Germany obtained from Greece in the purchase of tanks and merchandise. So we are not obligated to anyone.

    The Greeks enjoy the company of their friends and when they get together they drink and eat well-a whole lamb or a kid is the minimum they consume- exactly as their ancient ancestors did in Symposia celebrated by Socrates and Plato – but there again the writer does nothing more than display his cultural ignorance. They are ashamed in buying one square inch of meat to cook and eat it alone as his people do. The Greeks are sociable people and not selfish and cold or even criminal as some others we all saw during WWII..

    GEORGE KOSTOPOULOS, Ilioupolis, Athens, Greece

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