Victimhood culture spawns Greek anti-Semitism, study finds

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By Harry van Versendaal

A large number of Greeks have limited awareness of the Holocaust or even hold anti-Semitic views, according to a new survey which traces the roots of attitudes to a strong sense of victimization among the public.

The same study found that prejudice or hatred against the Jews cuts across the country’s left-right political spectrum, which is similarly attributed to the fact that victimhood, the idea that Greeks have suffered without full responsibility for their misfortune, is a universal trait of the country’s political culture.

The survey, which was presented Thursday at the British Ambassador’s Residence in Athens under the title “Perceptions about the Holocaust and Anti-Semitism in Greece,” was carried out by researchers at the University of Macedonia, Oxford University and the International Hellenic University with the support of the embassies of the United Kingdom, Canada and Romania.

Asked what the word “Holocaust” brought to mind and presented with a choice of Auschwitz, Distomo, Zalongo/Arkadi and “None of the above,” less than half of respondents opted for Auschwitz. An almost equal percentage chose either the 1944 Nazi massacre at Distomo or the mass suicide of Souli women at Zalongo in 1803 and the 1866 Ottoman raid at Arkadi. All alternatives to Auschwitz are related to Greek history. Almost 15 percent of respondents found no association between the Holocaust and any of the available options.

Less than 33 percent of respondents selected the correct answer when asked about the number of Jews estimated to have perished during World War II – 6 million. The Greeks ranked lower than their European peers, with the exception of Germany. Almost 50 percent of French and 55 percent of Swiss came up with the correct answer in similar surveys.

“Interestingly, underestimations are a lot more frequent than overestimations among those who pick an incorrect figure,” the study said.

Whereas more than 90 percent of respondents said that subjects such as the 1922 Asia Minor disaster, the 1946-49 Greek Civil War, and the Pontic genocide should be taught at school, less than 60 percent said that Holocaust teaching should be included in the curriculum.

“The Holocaust… is perceived as something that does not belong to Greek history and thus its teaching becomes less pivotal in public education,” experts said.

The research was carried out between January 10 and 14, when 1,043 Greek adults were surveyed on their perceptions of the Holocaust. Its publication comes on the back of an earlier report conducted by the same team of researchers last summer that indicated high levels of anti-Semitism among the Greek public.

Competitive victimhood

Experts sought to play down partisan and ideological affiliations as a significant factor in influencing attitudes and perceptions about the Holocaust.

“Ideology is not a safe guide to explain the phenomenon,” Elias Dinas, a political expert at Oxford, which contributed to the survey, told a press conference, singling out supporters of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party and the nationalist, populist Independent Greeks, now junior coalition partners.

Findings instead indicated competitive victimhood as a catalyst in fueling anti-Semitic attitudes.

“Victimization engenders an ethnocentric view of global history, thus generating biased perceptions about the magnitude of suffering incurred by other groups,” the report said, suggesting that Greeks felt less willing to acknowledge themselves as victim to other communities.

It mentioned that high levels of victimization tend to generate indirect competition with established ethnolinguistic or religious groups that have been widely recognized as victims.

“It is outrageous. It shows a lack of moderation. It’s like saying, ‘I can’t be part of another person’s drama, because I have my own drama,’” Dinas said.

Asked how it was possible that Greeks were in a position to see themselves as a unique community and, at the same time, victims of outside interference, Dinas said that national self-understanding is not necessarily a rational one.

“‘We are unique,’ the argument goes, ‘and this is why we are in everyone’s cross hairs,’” he said.

More than 60,000 Greek Jews died in Nazi death camps or were killed during the Nazi occupation of Greece. The Jewish community in Greece currently numbers about 5,500 people.

In comments made to the newspaper, Giorgos Antoniou, a historian at the International Hellenic University, said that misguided perceptions about the Holocaust were not just a result of poor schooling in Greece.

“What really concerns us is the fact that whereas education is used for the socialization of other painful chapters of Greek history, the Holocaust is not really treated as an issue of national concern,” he said.

_________________________

“Perception of the Holocaust and of Anti-Semitism in Greece.” Research conducted by Nikos Marantzidis (University of Macedonia), Elias Dinas (Oxford University), Spyros Kosmidis (Oxford University), Leon Saltiel (University of Macedonia), and Giorgos Antoniou (International Hellenic University), with the support of the embassies of the United Kingdom, Canada and Romania.

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