What is Diplomacy?

Δευτέρα, 22 Αυγούστου, 2016


Klemens von Metternich

I define diplomacy as the art of protecting a polity’s interests. A polity is here a politically organized unit.

This unit has clearly established interests, like the protection of its territorial integrity.

Craft is the middle ground between art and science, and is grounded on experience.


Henry Kissinger

In this respect diplomacy has a clear objective, to protect the polity’s interests, and a multitude of means. The means are determined on the go, as the threats to the polity’s interests develop and evolve.

Once the threats become substantial and large scale conflict is inevitable, diplomacy gives its position to armed conflict.

Hauptmarkt, Nuremberg, Bavaria, Germany

Πέμπτη, 5 Μαΐου, 2016


Hauptmarkt, Nuremberg, in the 16th century


In another post, I have written about Albrecht Duerer’s House in the Old City of Nuremberg. The master was one of the famous sons of Nuremberg.

Today I am going on a different trip to Nuremberg.

Hauptmarkt is the main square in Nuremberg’s old town. Its two landmarks are:

  • Frauenkirche (Church of our Lady) – on the right far side
  • Schöner Brunnen (Beautiful fountain) – on the left near the center side

Frauenkirche, Nuremberg, October 2010, Photo: N. Moropoulos

Frauenkirche was built between 1352 and 1362.


Schöner Brunnen, Nuremberg, October 2010, Photo: N. Moropoulos

Schöner Brunnen was built from 1385 to 1396.


Hauptmarkt, Nuremberg

This post presents some of the square’s and its monuments’ photos and the relevant historical context, structured in two sections: The period 1927-1938, and The Second World War.


Frauenkirche, Nuremberg, 1850

For many reasons, Nuremberg became one of the three favorite Nazi cities in Germany, along with Berlin and Munich.


Hauptmarkt, Nuremberg, circa 1891

As a result, Nuremberg was bombed extensively during the Second World War.


Hauptmarkt, Nuremberg, circa 1891

The period 1927-1938

A lot of the photos in this post were taken before, during or after Nazi rule.

This is not an accident. Nuremberg was one of Hitler’s favorite cities, and it is there that the National Party Convention took place, starting in 1927.

The 3rd National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) Congress («Day of Awakening») was held on August 19 – 21, 1927 in Nuremberg. (3)


The first Nazi Party Rally in Nuremberg took place in 1927, and it was an impressive event, in spite of the fact that at the time NSDAP was a small and almost insignificant party, albeit a party that had recovered Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch of 1923.  (2)

In May 1928 elections, the NSDAP only managed 2.6 percent of the vote nationwide. (4)


Hitler in Hauptmarkt, with Frauenkirche in the background, 1928

«The Party selected Nuremberg for pragmatic reasons: it was in the center of the German Reich and the local Luitpoldhain was well suited as a venue. In addition, the Nazis could rely on the well-organized local branch of the party in Franconia, then led by Gauleiter Julius Streicher. The Nuremberg police were sympathetic to the event.»(3)


The music band of  SA in front of Frauenkirche, 19-21 August 1927

Hitler’s 1927 speech

Here are some excerpts form Hitler’s speech to the party members and friends in the 1927 Nuremberg meeting.

«When we examine the concept of power more closely, we see that power has three factors: First, in the numerical size of the population itself. This form of power is no longer present in Germany.

62 million people who seem to hold together are no longer a power factor in a world in which groups with 400 million are increasingly active, nations for which their population is their major tool of economic policy.

If numbers themselves are no longer a power factor, the second factor is territory. This, too, is no longer a power factor for us, even seeming laughable when one can fly across our German territory in a mere four hours. That is no longer an amount of territory that provides its own defense, as is the case with Russia. Its size alone is a means of security. If the first two sources of power, population, and territory, are inadequate, there remains always the third, that which rests in the inner strength of a people. A nation can do astounding things when it carries this power in its own internal values. When, however, we examine the German people, we must to our horror see that this last power factor is no longer present.» (1)


Hitler and Hermann Goering with Frauenkirche in the background, 1928


That leads to what the large parties proclaim, namely to a nation that thinks internationally, follows the path of democracy, rejects struggle, and preaches pacifism. A people that has accepted these three human burdens, that has given up its racial values, preaches internationalism, that limits its great minds, and has replaced them with the majority, that is inability in all areas, rejecting the individual mind and praising human brotherhood, such a people has lost its intrinsic values. Such a people is incapable of policies that could bring a rising population in line with its territory, or better said: adjust the territory to the population.» (1)


March in front of Frauenkirche, 1934

Hitler’s rise to power in 1933

«When elections were finally held again in July 1932, the Nazis got a whopping 37.4 percent of the vote.

It was a chilly winter day in 1933 when the German dictatorship began. Thermometers showed a temperature of minus 4 degrees Celsius — the skies were clear. At about 10 a.m., Adolf Hitler, head of the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP), made his way down Wilhelmstrasse in the heart of Berlin.

The 44-year-old Hitler was on his way to the Reichskanzlei, seat of the Weimar Republic’s government, where both he and his cabinet were to meet with President Paul von Hindenburg. A feeling of relief was in the air. For months, the German state had been limping from one failed government to the next, with three general elections having been held within 10 months. Hopes were high that the next government would provide some desperately needed stability. The swearing-in ceremony was set for 11 a.m.

Hindenburg, 85 years old at the time, spoke for just a few minutes, expressing his pleasure that all had finally managed to come together to form a coalition. Then he turned the floor over to Hitler, and nodded in appreciation as the new chancellor promised to uphold the constitution and govern for the good of the nation. It was Monday, Jan. 30, 1933 — exactly 75 years ago — and Hitler had finally reached his goal.» (4)

Roser 02 (Chip)

Hitler saluting a parade, Frauenkinche in the background, 1934

«The 6th Party Congress was held in Nuremberg, September 5–10, 1934, which was attended by about 700,000 Nazi Party supporters. Initially it did not have a theme. Later it was labeled the «Rally of Unity and Strength» (Reichsparteitag der Einheit und Stärke), «Rally of Power» (Reichsparteitag der Macht), or «Rally of Will» (Reichsparteitag des Willens). The Leni Riefenstahl film Triumph des Willens was made at this rally.» (3)


Schöner Brunnen, Nuremberg 1938

The Nuremberg Race Laws

«At the annual party rally held in Nuremberg in 1935, the Nazis announced new laws which institutionalized many of the racial theories prevalent in Nazi ideology. The laws excluded German Jews from Reich citizenship and prohibited them from marrying or having sexual relations with persons of «German or related blood.» Ancillary ordinances to the laws disenfranchised Jews and deprived them of most political rights.

The Nuremberg Laws, as they became known, did not define a «Jew» as someone with particular religious beliefs. Instead, anyone who had three or four Jewish grandparents was defined as a Jew, regardless of whether that individual identified himself or herself as a Jew or belonged to the Jewish religious community. Many Germans who had not practiced Judaism for years found themselves caught in the grip of Nazi terror. Even people with Jewish grandparents who had converted to Christianity were defined as Jews.» (5)


Schöner Brunnen, Nuremberg, Nazi postcard

‘A long-term policy in this war is only possible if one considers it from the standpoint of the Jewish question.’  Joseph Goebbels.

The Second World War


Schöner Brunnen in a cement corset, surrounded by ruins. 1945

During the war, Nuremberg has been one of the key targets of the Royal Air Force (RAF) raids. In the following sections I quote extensively from the RAF Bomber Command Archives.


Frauenkirche surrounded by ruins. 1945

10/11 August 1943

653 aircraft – 318 Lancasters, 216 Halifaxes, 119 Stirlings to Nuremberg.

The Pathfinders attempted to ground-mark the city and, although their markers were mostly obscured by cloud, a useful attack developed in the central and southern parts of Nuremberg. The Lorenzkirche, the largest of the city’s old churches, was badly damaged and about 50 of the houses in the preserved Altstadt were destroyed. There was a large ‘fire area’ in the Wöhrd district. 16 aircraft – 7 Halifaxes, 6 Lancasters, 3 Stirlings – lost, 2.5 per cent of the force. (7)


Hauptmarkt, Nuremberg, 1945.

27/28 August 1943

674 aircraft – 349 Lancasters, 221 Halifaxes, 104 Stirlings – to Nuremburg.

33 aircraft – 11 of each type on the raid – lost, 4.9 per cent of the force.

The marking for this raid was based mainly on H2S.

47 of the Pathfinder H2S aircraft were ordered to check their equipment by dropping a 1,000-lb bomb on Heilbronn while flying to Nuremberg. 28 Pathfinder aircraft were able to carry out this order. Nuremberg was found to be free of cloud but it was very dark. The initial Pathfinder markers were accurate but a creepback quickly developed which could not be stopped because so many Pathfinder aircraft had difficulties with their H2S sets. The Master Bomber could do little to persuade the Main Force to move their bombing forward; only a quarter of the crews could hear his broadcasts. (7)


Nuremberg in ruins, with Frauenkirche in the background. 1945

«H2S was the first airborne, ground scanning radar system. It was developed in Britain during World War II for the Royal Air Force and was used in various RAF bomber aircraft from 1943. It was designed to identify targets on the ground for night and all-weather bombing, allowing attack outside the range of the various radio navigation aids like Gee or Oboe which were limited to about 500 km.» (Wikipedia)


Schöner Brunnen, Nuremberg, 1946

30/31 March 1944

This would normally have been the moon stand-down period for the Main Force, but a raid to the distant target of Nuremberg was planned on the basis of an early forecast that there would be protective high cloud on the outward route, when the moon would be up, but that the target area would be clear for ground-marked bombing. A Meteorological Flight Mosquito carried out a reconnaissance and reported that the protective cloud was unlikely to be present and that there could be cloud over the target, but the raid was not cancelled.

795 aircraft were dispatched – 572 Lancasters, 214 Halifaxes and 9 Mosquitos. The German controller ignored all the diversions and assembled his fighters at 2 radio beacons which happened to be astride the route to Nuremberg. The first fighters appeared just before the bombers reached the Belgian border and a fierce battle in the moonlight lasted for the next hour. 82 bombers were lost on the outward route and near the target. The action was much reduced on the return flight, when most of the German fighters had to land, but 95 bombers were lost in all – 64 Lancasters and 31 Halifaxes, 11.9 per cent of the force dispatched. It was the biggest Bomber Command loss of the war.

Most of the returning crews reported that they had bombed Nuremberg but subsequent research showed that approximately 120 aircraft had bombed Schweinfurt, 50 miles north-west of Nuremberg. This mistake was a result of badly forecast winds causing navigational difficulties. 2 Pathfinder aircraft dropped markers at Schweinfurt. Much of the bombing in the Schweinfurt area fell outside the town and only 2 people were killed in that area. The main raid at Nuremberg was a failure. The city was covered by thick cloud and a fierce cross-wind which developed on the final approach to the target caused many of the Pathfinder aircraft to mark too far to the east. A 10-mile-long creepback also developed into the countryside north of Nuremberg. Both Pathfinders and Main Force aircraft were under heavy fighter attack throughout the raid. Little damage was caused in Nuremberg. (8)

«This was the night when more than 100 Allied bombers — all on the same mission — were lost. Come dawn, more than 700 men were missing, as many as 545 of them dead. More than 160 would end up as prisoners of war. In one night alone, the RAF had lost more men than in the entire Battle of Britain.

He (Commander Harris) wanted a huge force — well over 700 bombers — to drop 2,600 tonnes of explosives on Nuremberg.

The historic city had plenty of major industrial targets, including tank and engine factories, but it was also of huge symbolic importance to the Nazis. Hitler had staged his rallies there and regarded it as the ‘most German’ of German cities. And it had not been touched for months.»

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2592084/Still-insult-sacrifice-Exactly-70-years-ago-RAF-suffered-worst-night-losing-106-bombers-545-men-raid-Nuremberg-So-going-unmarked.html#ixzz47kggP72Z
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Hauptmarkt, Nuremberg, 1948

2/3 January 1945


514 Lancasters and 7 Mosquitos of Nos 1, 3, 6 and 8 Groups.

4 Lancasters were lost and 2 crashed in France.

Nuremberg, scene of so many disappointments for Bomber Command, finally succumbed to this attack. The Pathfinders produced good ground-marking in conditions of clear visibility and with the help of a rising full moon. The centre of the city, particularly the eastern half, was destroyed. The castle, the Rathaus, almost all the churches and about 2,000 preserved medieval houses went up in flames. The area of destruction also extended into the more modern north-eastern and southern city areas.The industrial area in the south, containing the important MAN and Siemens factories, and the railway areas were also severely damaged. 415 separate industrial buildings were destroyed. It was a near-perfect example of area bombing. (6)


Frauenkirche, Nuremberg, October 2010. Photo: N. Moropoulos


Today the wounds of the war have healed.


Schöner Brunnen, Nuremberg, October 2010, Photo: N. Moropoulos

It is only the tourists who raid the beautiful city. Let us hope it will remain this way.


1. Alfred Rosenberg and Wilhelm Weiß, Reichsparteitag der NSDAP Nürnberg 19./21. August 1927 (Munich: Verlag Frz. Eher, 1927), pp. 38-45.

2. German Propaganda Archive, Calvin College.

3. Wikipedia, Nuremberg Rally.

4. Jan. 30, 1933: The Story behind Hitler’s Rise to Power. Spiegel

5. The Holocaust, A Learning Site for Students. USHMM.

6. Royal Air Force Bomber Command. Campaign Diary 1945. January 1945

7. Royal Air Force Bomber Command. Campaign Diary 1943. August 1943

8. Royal Air Force Bomber Command. Campaign Diary 1944. March 1944




Can the Middle East migrant crisis be contained?

Σάββατο, 19 Μαρτίου, 2016

The migrant crisis has reached an acute  state in Greece and Europe for more than one year now. Millions of people from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries are flooding Greece aiming to continue their journey to other European countries. Some 45,000 of them are now stuck in Greece, after the northern borders of the country have been closed. Approximately 14,000 of them are in the area of Idomeni, a village of 150 inhabitants.


Photo: Hundreds of people arrive at the passport office in Kabul to apply for new travel documents. SLOBODAN LEKIC/Stars and Stripes

Images of the migrants stuck in Greece near the border with FYROM (Macedonia) are all over the news. On the 17th March 2016 the EU leaders met and finalized the EU proposal to Turkey to stem the flow of migrants to Europe. An agreement was reached with Turkey on the 18th March 2016. According to the agreement, every migrant arriving in Greece after the 20th March 2016 who does not qualify for asylum in a European country will be returned to Turkey. In exchange, a Syrian refuge who is in Turkey and has not attempted to cross illegally to Greece, will be given asylum to a European country. There is a cap to this, of 72,000 people. There are significant implementation issues for the agreement to run smoothly. However, the big question remain: «Can the flow of migrants from the Middle East to Europe be stemmed?»

It is obvious that the European leaders and their advisors think that the flow can be stemmed. The deal with Turkey is structured on the basis of this hypothesis. Why is this the case? How can this be proven to be a reasonable assumption?

Quite simply put, the flow can be stemmed provided that the causes of the massive migration can be addressed so that migration is no longer the path to the future for millions of people. It is therefore essential that we know which are the causes of the migration, and that we examine how they can ills behind creating them can be cured.

The war in Syria has made the whole phenomenon look like a mass exodus of people from the battlefields of the Syrian war. This is the explanation that best suits the European Union’s agenda. The war stops, therefore the migration flow  declines and eventually stops. All we need – in this case – is to stem the flow from Turkey to Europe and wait until the flow stops.


Photo: Boy on a destroyed tank in Kobane, Syria. Yasin Akgul/AFP/Getty Images

Before I proceed I would like to clarify the terminology. Following the BBC, I use the terms migrant and migration to describe the phenomenon. I suggest that the word refugee is not needed, as it creates confusion and obfuscates the phenomenon at large. A migrant is a person who decides to leave their country of residence in order to move to another country. No matter what the reason is, political persecution, economic need, or something else, the migrant is a man determined to move and seek asylum in another country.

The confusion with the terminology arose out of the need qualify a migrant as a refugee in case the reason for their decision is political persecution.Being a refugee qualifies the migrant for automatic granting of asylum by the receiving country, whereas a simple migrant who, say, emigrates in order to make a living (so called financial refugees) has no right to asylum whatsoever and is not accepted.




In order to establish the causes of the phenomenon, we must make sure we have the facts relevant to it. Lets begin with the country of origin.Where do the migrants come from?

The origin countries

According to Frontex, there were 1.83 million «illegal border crossings» into Europe in 2015 compared to the previous year’s record of 283,500. As we see in the Eurostat chart above, the three top origin countries of the migrants are Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. A total of 363,000 Syrians fled the war and entered Europe seeking asylum.

So far we have established one probable cause for the migration. The war in Syria. Assuming that this is the only cause, we have an issue to deal with in our analysis. How do we explain the migration from Afghanistan and Iraq as a result of the war in Syria?


Before addressing this issue it would be useful to gather some facts on the migration from Afghanistan and Iraq.

Afghan refugees walk through a beach where they will wait to board a dinghy sailing off for the Greek island of Chios

Afghan refugees walk through a beach where they will wait to board a dinghy sailing off for the Greek island of Chios, while they try to travel from the western Turkish coastal town of Cesme, in Izmir province, Turkey, March 6, 2016. REUTERS/Umit Bektas


The Afghanistan population is approximately 33 million. Male life expectancy is 59 years, and female 61 years. Unemployment is over 50%, while 38% of the population lives below the poverty demarcation line.Afghanistan is practically a country whose economy is destroyed and more than one third of its territory is under the control of the Taliban insurgents.

Eurostat  figures show that 178,000 Afghanis entered Europe in 2015 seeking a better life.

Slobodan Lekic writes in «Stars and Stripes»:

«Afghans are now the second-largest contingent of migrants heading for Europe, after Syrians but ahead of Iraqis fleeing from the murderous Islamic State jihadis in the Middle East, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the European Union’s statistical agency. But exact numbers are difficult to come by because many of the Afghans heading east have already been living as refugees outside Afghanistan’s borders. A good proportion of those traveling to Europe live in Iran, where some 900,000 Afghans have resided since the 1990s.»(1)

Dasha Afanasieva reports on the Afghanis in Turkey:

«The EU is not even discussing these issues and is exclusively focused on Syria,» Kati Piri, the European Parliament’s rapporteur for Turkey, told Reuters last month.

«Even if the Syrian crisis would be solved tomorrow, there would still be a serious refugee crisis, with a large number of refugees in Turkey who don’t have access to their rights.»

Afghan migrants in Turkey interviewed by Reuters said that over the past few years they had been denied interviews with U.N. refugee agency UNHCR that would formally determine their refugee status, a key step in the journey to being resettled.

Polat Kizildag, program coordinator at ASAM, an organization which registers asylum seekers in Turkey, said they were generally told they were ineligible because Turkey was the third country on their journey and the expectation was that they apply for refugee status in their second, in many cases Iran.

Human rights groups have said Iranian forces deport thousands of Afghans without giving them a chance to prove their asylum status and that they are pressured to leave the country.

«More than 63,000 Afghans came to Turkey last year, a sharp rise from 15,652 in 2014, according to ASAM (an organization which registers asylum seekers in Turkey), counting only those who registered. Some came directly from Afghanistan, others from Iran, where they had tried unsuccessfully to settle.(6)



Iraq has a population of approximately 37 million people and its oil dependent economy is in a terrible shape. In her NPR report, Alice Fordham says:

«Everything seems to be working against the Iraqi economy. The government is waging a costly war with the Islamic State while dealing with falling oil prices, millions of displaced citizens and staggering costs for reconstruction of cities ruined by fighting.» (7)

Add to this the effects of the civil strife and you have the makings of an explosive situation. According to a report by the International Organization for Migration, more than 3 million people have been displaced in Iraq by violent conflict since January 2014.  Dominik Bartsch, the U.N.’s deputy humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, said 10 million people were expected to need humanitarian support by the end of the year in that country, where 3.2 million were already displaced. (4)

In the past years there has been  migration within the region, which is now becoming migration to Europe. In a New York Times article, Ken Arango wrote in September 2015:

«Adnan al-Azzawi, 45, was in Damascus, Syria, from 2004 to 2011, and then returned to Baghdad. He recently sent his family on the migrant journey, and they wound up in Belgium. He hopes to join them soon.» (3)


The mix of the origin countries is changing

Since September 2015, the mix of migrants by country of origin has changed significantly. The extensive quote below is from Chris Tomlinson’s article (5):

The number of Syrian migrants is falling, while the number of Afghans, Iraqis and West Africans continues to grow, according to the European Union’s (EU) Frontex agency.

The organisation, which is tasked with monitoring and controlling movements around Europe’s borders, has revealed that the new wave of migrants aren’t necessarily fleeing conflict, but rather “aspiring” for a better economic situation, according to two agency reports.

The first document talks about migration coming through the Greek islands from the Middle East. They state that in recent months the percentage of Syrian migrants is decreasing.

According to the agency, although Syrians represented 56 percent of the illegal migrants that crossed into Greece in 2015, by December that number had fell to 39 percent.

The report also said that Iraqis and Afghanis as a percentage of the migrants had dramatically increased with the share of Iraqis more than doubling from 11 percent in October to 25 percent by the end of December. Afghani numbers also have increased to one third of migrants crossing into Greece.


Photo: The Aigli Hotel, a bankrupt resort near Thermopylae Greece, is now an official migrant center. Sergey Ponomarev for the New York Times.

First conclusions

What we can conclude from the Iraqi situation is that the tide of migrants will become stronger. When 10 million people are displaced and in danger of their well being, the tide will not only be big, it may also be unstoppable.

If the findings of the Frontex reports are valid, the wave of migrants from the Middle East to Europe will continue to come strong, contrary to the views that it will stop once the Syrian war is over. The reasons behind the migration are not restricted to the geographical territory of Syria, nor are they confined to fully blown war. There is an intense feeling of insecurity both in Iraq and Afghanistan, and this feeling is not going away if we believe the relevant reports.

If insecurity drives the migration, this is not strictly a political issue. It is also an economic issue, and it is related to demographics.

Given all of the above, the migration crisis facing the Middle East and Europe is here to stay. And this raises a lot of questions regarding the adequacy of the EU – Turkey agreement regarding the flow of migrants. If the migration tide is not just the result of a war in Syria that is going to end, what are the chances that an agreement to control the flow of migrants from Turkey to the EU will prove to be totally inadequate?

European politicians have developed a piecemeal approach to tackle issues, no matter how big or small they are. As the collapse of the American financial system in 2008 has shown us, piecemeal measures do not work when the issue is a big crisis that transcends the ordinary. The Europeans do not seem to have learned this lesson. If we judge from the way the Greek crisis is being handled, the piecemeal approach thrives.

Is this going to work in the migrant crisis facing Europe? I do not think so. A year from now the situation in Greece will be intollerable, with many more migrants stuck in the country unable to move either to Europe or back to Turkey. The northern borders of Greece will continue to be closed for the migrants.

And what is the worst of all, the economic conditions that make migration inevitable also fuel insurgency in the Middle East.



(1) Afghans join Syrians, others migrating to Europe, by Slobodan Lekic. Stars and Stripes. Published: September 18, 2015.

(2) In Syria: Four Years of War. The Atlantic.

(3) A New Wave of Migrants Flees Iraq, Yearning for Europe, by Ken Arango. The New York Times, September 2015.

(4) U.N. sees refugee flow to Europe growing, plans for big Iraq displacement, by Tom Miles. Reuters, September 2015.

(5) EU Border Agency: Syrian ‘Refugee’ Numbers Declining, Economic Migration Exploding, by Chris Tomlinson. Breitbart, January 2016.

(6) Afghans feel forgotten in Europe’s migrant crisis, Dasha Afanasieva. Reuters, 6 March 2016.

(7) Iraq Faces A Perfect Economic Storm, Alice Fordham. NPR parallels, January 2016.






Anglo-Saxons in Byzantium – a snippet of history (2)

Παρασκευή, 28 Αυγούστου, 2015

Today I continue the snippets of history ‘series’,with the presence of Anglo-Saxons in Byzantium.

This is related to the Varangian Guard, and the ‘Swedes going South’, a previous post.

‘The formal date for the introduction of the Varangian Guard to the Byzantine military establishment is widely considered to be the year 988 . In that year, the Emperor Basil II was faced with the one of the most challenging tasks of his reign which was the suppression of a rebellion led by two of the most powerful families of Asia Minor, the Phokades and the Skleroi . With the rebel armies marching against him and in a desperate need for troops he turned to Prince Vladimir of Kiev, who agreed to send him 6,000 elite troops in exchange for the hand of a πορφυρογέννητη princess, Basil’s sister Anna.'(3, p.128)

Vasiliev Alexander Alexandrovich

Vasiliev Alexander Alexandrovich

Inevitably, behind every snippet there is a book. In today’s snippet it is the «History of the Byzantine Empire», written by the Russian historian Alexander Vasiliev.

Until the middle of the 11th century the Varangian Guard comprised almost exclusively Swedes and Scandinavians. This started changing after the conquest of England by the Normans under William the Conqueror in 1066.Many Anglo-Saxons, in despair, abandoned their fatherland. In the eighties of the eleventh century, at the beginning of the rule of Alexius Comnenus, as the English historian Freeman emphasized in his very well known work on the conquest of England by the Normans, some convincing indications of the Anglo-Saxon emigration into the Greek Empire were already evident.

The Anglo-Norman monk Orderic Vitalis, a western chronicler of the first half of the twelfth century wrote (5):

«And so the English groaned aloud for their lost liberty and plotted ceaselessly to find some way of shaking off a yoke that was so intolerable and unaccustomed. Some sent to Swegn, King of Denmark, and urged him to lay claim to the kingdom of England which his ancestors Swegn and Cnut had won by the sword. Others fled into voluntary exile so they might either find in banishment freedom from the Normans or secure foreign help and come back to fight a war of vengeance. Some of them who were still in the flower of youth travelled into remote lands and bravely offered their arms to Alexius, Emperor of Constantinople, a man of great wisdom and nobility.»

Alexius I Comnenus, Emperor of Byzantium (1081 - 1118)

Alexius I Comnenus, Emperor of Byzantium (1081 – 1118)

This was the beginning of the «Varangian-English» bodyguard which, in the history of Byzantium of the twelfth century, played an important part.

It is quite interesting that the young warriors went all the way from England to Constantinople, instead of settling of much nearer destinations like Denmark, or elsewhere in Western Europe. But the emigration has been confirmed by the Chronicon Laudunense, a 13th century world chronicle, written in Laon, France. It must have been common knowledge that the Byzantine army was in need of mercenaries.The English mercenaries were called «Εγκλινοβάραγγοι», which is a combination of the words «English» and ‘Varangian». (4)

Byzantine Coins  - Period of Alexius I Comnenus

Byzantine Coins – Period of Alexius I Comnenus

Alexius I Comnenus, also spelled Alexios I Komnenos, was crowned on April 4, 1081. After more than 50 years of ineffective or short-lived rulers, Alexius, in the words of Anna Comnena, his daughter and biographer, found the empire “at its last gasp,” but his military ability and diplomatic gifts enabled him to retrieve the situation. He drove back the south Italian Normans, headed by Robert Guiscard, who were invading western Greece (1081–82). This victory was achieved with the help of the «English-Varangian» Guard and with Venetian naval help, bought at the cost of granting Venice extensive trading privileges in the Byzantine Empire.(6)


1  Alexander Vasiliev, History of the Byzantine Empire, 324–1453, p.484.

2  Georgios Theotokis, The Norman Campaigns in the Balkans, 1081-1108, pp. 85-86.

3  Georgios Theotokis, Rus, Varangian and Frankish Mercenaries in the Service of the Byzantine Emperors (9th-11th C.), BYZANTINA ΣΥΜΜΕΙΚΤΑ 22 (2012) 125-156.

4. Krijna Nelly Ciggaar, Western Travellers to Constantinople: The West and Byzantium, 962-1204, p.140.

5. Seeking Revenge – The English Varangian Guard at the Battle of Dyrrhachium in 1081

6. Alexius I Comnenus, Britannica

Electoral workers prepare ballot boxes in a warehouse in Thessaloniki on July 2, 2015, ahead of a controversial bailout referendum. Greece's radical left government suggested it would resign if it fails to get its way in a make-or-break referendum July 5 that could decide the country's financial future.   AFP PHOTO / SAKIS MITROLIDIS        (Photo credit should read SAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Electoral workers prepare ballot boxes in a warehouse in Thessaloniki on July 2, 2015, ahead of a controversial bailout referendum. Greece’s radical left government suggested it would resign if it fails to get its way in a make-or-break referendum July 5 that could decide the country’s financial future. AFP PHOTO / SAKIS MITROLIDIS (Photo credit should read SAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP/Getty Images)

On Sunday 5th July the Greek people will vote on a non – existing issue, whether we accept or not the proposal of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF, a proposal that is no longer on the table, as the framework for the agreement, the second agreement between Greece and her creditors, has expired on the 30th June 2015.

But absurdity is not the issue here. The issue is that we Greeks live in a society where discourse is dead. Democracy is also dead. The new government claims to be democratic, but I have serious doubts. The European Union claims to be democratic, but they do not convince me. Words no longer have meaning, it depends on what you are going to vote . Language is split, people are split. And this split is between good and bad, and this may not be a temporary split.


What follows is an imaginary dialogue of two Greek citizens, one is identified as a «YES» voter, and the other as a «NO» voter.

Bu there is a catch.

Each voter is not an individual, but a member of a set.

There are two sets.


Set A is the set of individuals who will vote  ‘YES’.

Set B is the set of individuals who will vote ‘NO’.

Therefore, in each turn of the dialogue, we may have different members of each set participating. I will not try to identify ‘who is who’. It does not make sense any way.

The format of the dialogue is very simple. Each set member (voter) in turn makes a statement. There are no interruptions. I will freely comment on the statements, using the identity of «CHORUS». This is the result of exercising some sort of a poetic license, and it therefore totally arbitrary. In addition, I claim to express my personal views and therefore I have the responsibility for these views. Unfortunately, in spite of my best efforts, I could not convince Moses to give me the secret of receiving instructions from God. I have climbed many mountains without success. At the same time, my recent trip to Delphi was also fruitless. No God was willing to speak to me, and the priestess on duty treated me with silence.


There is another catch.

There are various ghosts who participate in the dialogue. No one can prevent ghosts from intervening.

Political prisoners.

«CHORUS»: Even if Hellas does not fall the big fall today, she will remain dangerously close to the edge of the abyss for a long and unknown period of time.

«YES»: I will vote «YES».

«NO»: I will vote «NO».

«YES»: You are an  opportunist!

«NO»: You are a traitor!

Prime Minister Gounaris with other officials in Minor Asia, 1921. Gounaris was executed in Goudi, on the 15 November 1922.

Prime Minister Gounaris with other officials in Minor Asia, 1921. Gounaris was executed in Goudi, on the 15 November 1922.

CHORUS: Memories of the 1922 Minor Asia Disaster emerge. At that time traitors were the leaders of the Greek Government and Army and their supporters and followers, who were accused and executed as being responsible for the disaster that ended the presence of the Greeks in Minor Asia and Western Thrace. What remains from this period in the imagination of the Greek people is the word ‘Goudi’, the Athenian suburb where the ‘traitors’ were executed following a brief trial. You, Greek voters, you need to decide on who the traitor is! There can be no resolution of this conflict without a clearly identified traitor side! This can be resolved with the use of the State machinery, State is by definition coercion.


«YES»: You are a Communist Bandit! You are against the Nation!

«NO»: You are a Quisling! A cooperator of the Germans! A black marketeer!

«YES»: The Nazi party of ‘Golden Dawn’ is your partner in the ‘NO’ vote. What are you talking about?

«NO»: You cannot escape from grim reality: you are the new ‘partners’ of the modern Nazi, the Merkel – dominated European Union.

«CHORUS»: The statues are not the ruins—we are the ruins (Giorgos Seferis)

Τα κεφαλια του Βελουχιωτη και του Τζαβελα στην πλατεια των Τρικαλων το 1945

The heads of Aris Velouhiotis and his lieutenant Tzavellas, in the square of the city of Trikala, 1945

CHORUS: Memories of the 1945-1949 Civil War are still alive. Back then, it was the communists who formed an army, the Democratic Army, and took control of mountainous territories of Greece. Against them was the newly formed National Army, with English and American support. Whereas during the Occupation by Axis forces (Germans, Italians, Bulgarians) the Greeks were united, most of them under the umbrella of the National Liberating Front (EAM), including the communists, when the Civil War broke, the Communists became isolated. People who fought the Germans under the wings of EAM, joined the National Army and fought against the Communists.The Communists were expecting – or their leadership had said so – support and help from the Soviet Union, which never materialized. Stalin remained faithful to the Yalta accord and abandoned the Greek Communists.


«NO»: I want justice.

«YES»: Get real! Justice exists only among equals! Fight for something you can achieve!

«CHORUS»: How easy it is for desperate people to follow the leaders who promise to them everything they do not have, only to be bitterly disappointed later.


«YES»: We must find a way to work with the Europeans. They are the best option for Greece. Who else? Putin?

«NO»: We must show them that we do not succumb to blackmail.

«CHORUS»: When you have a knife on the table and instead of slicing your steak you stick it into your guts like Mishima did, you get a sense of belonging to the «beyond», verging on megalomania (George Veltsos).

Kader Attia, Ghosts, 2007

Kader Attia, Ghosts, 2007

«Ghost1»: Greek people, vote «YES»!

«YES»: George Papandreou, you are one of the people who brought the country where we are today. How dare you?

«Ghost2»: Greek people, vote «YES»!

«YES»: Kostas Karamanlis, you are one of the people who brought the country where we are today. How dare you?

«Ghost3»: Greek people, vote «YES»!

«NO»: With this wonderful show of ghosts we have secured the win!

«CHORUS»: Ghosts, Ghosts, we live in a country full of Ghosts!!! Not only they are still alive, they do not let the living take positions in the political process. The ghosts keep the political process hostage. The ghosts occupy vital space. We need to get rid of the ghosts! But how!


«YES»: The SYRIZA government and Tsipras have failed the country. They are incompetent and have totally screwed up the negotiations. For five months they were just fucking about, playing the «catch me» game with the creditors. Shocking and childish. People who voted for SYRIZA in January 2015 are now voting «YES».

«NO»: The government and Tsipras stood their line. What you say is propaganda of the power mongers and the rich.

«CHORUS»: There is no longer discourse in the country of Socrates. People do not speak, they make announcements. People do not listen to what the other is saying. They only listen to the echo of their own words.


«YES»: If we win, and we will win, Tsipras and his government must resign on Monday and a National Unity Government should be formed.

«NO»: You are the agents of anomaly! The Tsipras government were elected in January 2015 and they will stay in office for 4 years.

«YES»: This would be the case, if they were not totally incompetent. Now that they have almost destroyed the country, they must leave.

«NO»: Dream on! Political anomaly will not be allowed!

«CHORUS»: How sad one feels to see that people cling on to power without regard for the implications of their actions.


«NO»: We will win!

«YES»: We will win!

«CHORUS»: «Win win» as the Americans call it, but how good a win is, when society is full of hatred? How good a win is, when the country continues to be run and represented by the guard that brought it up in flames? When the hope of January 2015, Mr. Tsipras failed miserably in his first (and may be the last) major challenge?








on razor’s edge…

Δευτέρα, 15 Ιουνίου, 2015

athens-flag_1538667i επί ξυρού ακμής = στην κόψη του ξυραφιού…

on razor’s edge…

Greece is on razor’s edge.

The fact that Greece is bankrupt is not only the result of the «hubris» of the Greek State, the Greek politicians and, inevitably, Greek society. No matter how much they wanted to borrow money in order to spend and spend and spend, they would have not been able to do so unless someone lent them the money.


The Greek State, the Greek politicians, and the Greek society at large did not build a creditworthy profile on their own. Greece became a member of the Eurozone on 1st January 2002.  Without this membership there would have not been any of the huge loans made to the country.

Back in 2009, one of the architects of this mess, Kostas Karamanlis, had the courage to announce that he fucked up and that the country is in deep trouble. Nobody listened. The paramount issue in the other politicians’ minds was to capitalize on this rare instance of honesty and directness.

George Papandreou won the 2009 elections and propelled the already bankrupt country into receivership.

The problem is that Papandreou did not have the guts to find a solution. He found the easy way out. Complete surrender to the IMF, the European Union, and the European Central Bank.
watermarked-amr_diab_nammos_mykonos_18-8-2013_065-600x359The so called troika came to Greece and implemented an austerity program that could not have worked even in a healthy economy.

Five years later, Greece is a destroyed country. And there is no future in sight.

There is a new government in Greece, led by SYRIZA, a left-wing party. But since they were elected in January 2015, they have done very little to give even an indication of a solution in sight.


Instead they have wasted huge amounts of time trying to arrive at a «honorable» compromise with Greece’s creditors.

Greece has no future as things are today. The debt cannot be paid back. The economy is in shambles. The State is a huge mechanism that spends money and produces very little. The tax regime is flawed and discourages any investment. The judicial system is antiquated and ineffective.

It is not only the economy. It is a lot more.

The problem with Syriza is the key problem of the Greek society.


They want to use a magic wand to rectify the problems of the past without paying any price. The price in this case is the Greek State. Ironically enough, the Greek State, the edifice built by the Americans after the Greek Civil War of 1945-1949, has been the primary instrument of the populist governments which ruled Greece. An instrument of power, control, and absolute neglect of any rules of an open economy. In this respect, Greece has never had capitalism. Greece always had (since 1945) State Capitalism.

We all know that in real life there is not magic wand.


Syriza are so much dazed by the vision of the rejuvenation of the corrupt and inefficient State, that they forgot to try and find a solution to the Greek problem.

They have been repating the non-sensical statement that Greece belongs to Europe, but have not elaborated a policy to address the crisis of the country.

Today we find ourselves yet again on razor’s edge, with the creditors trying to push Syriza in a corner «take it or leave it». More taxes will be applied if the creditors have it their say, taxes to be paid by the usual suspects, the pensioners and the salaried citizens, who have no ability to paid all these additional taxes, let alone the ones already in place.

Replicating George Papandreou’s lazy approach (let the others do the work, I only bring them in), Syriza have discovered that this only lets the fox in with the chickens.


Too little too late.

The irony is that it is not only Syriza who have no plan whatsoever for Greece to recover. The same applies to all the other political parties. Firstly and mostly New Democracy, led by Mr. Samaras, who today screams that Greece is going back to the Drachma. The fallacy of accepting the Euro as a given is the capital offence committed by Mr. Samaras. Of course he is not the only one.


And the people?

We have reinvented «Deus ex machina» and named her «Pride».

No more than that.

Just so that I do not give to the reader the impression of criticism without any view on what to do, I believe that Greece does not belong to the Eurozone and we should get out. The sooner the better.

One might ask «what is the plan? are you prepared?» and so on.

Given what has already happened in the country, both as a result of the creditors plans and the plans of the local politicians, one might be tempted to follow the well-established Pirandello plan.

«Tonight we improvise!»

But this would be unnecessary. The potential pitfalls and risks are known. It does not take a genius to put things together. All that is needed, is something we have not had in the last 40 years. The desire and determination to achieve a collective goal that will eventually improve our situation, without having unreal expectations.



Aphrodite Kallipygos, National Archaelogical Museum, Naples, Italy

«ήν καλλιπύγων ζεύγος εν Συρακούσαις»

Ήταν στις Συρακούσες ένα ζευγάρι κοπελιές μ’ ωραία πισινά»

«There was in Syracuse a pair of girls with beautiful buttocks»

Athinaeos, Deipnosophistae, 554d, Vol. 12

Athinaeos wrote a wonderful story about culture and dining in the Greco-Roman world of the 3rd century AD. His masterpiece is considered to be the first cookbook, but it is a lot more.

He tells a story about two girls with beautiful buttocks and concludes by referring to a temple in Syracuse, dedicated to Aphrodite Kallipygos.

Kallipygos is a composite Greek word, meaning the one who has beautiful buttocks.

Kalos = beauty

pygos = buttock, or behind, or arse

Aphrodite Kallipygos, National Archaelogical Museum, Naples, Italy

Aphrodite Kallipygos, National Archaelogical Museum, Naples, Italy

The statue of Aphrodite Kallipygos in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples is a Roman copy of the Greek original, dating back to the 1st century BC (1).

The woman lifts her dress and turns to see her buttocks reflected in the water of a pond or something like that.

She may be one of the two sisters mentioned by Athinaeos, but we will never know.

The original sculpture is attributed to 2nd century BC, and thus belongs to the Hellenistic period.

The attribution of a work to a period (Classical Greek or Hellenistic) is indicative. A lot of the information on the original sculpture is questionable, and the resemblance of the copy to the original is also subject to scrutiny. It is well known that the Roman copiers had quite an eclectic attitude towards making copies.

Aphrodite Cnidus, Glyptothek, Munich

Aphrodite Braschi, Glyptothek, Munich (Photo by Panathinaeos)

The works included in the post contain a representation of the female nude.

I use the word «nude» rather than «naked», in reference to a distinction that originated in Kenneth Clark’s «The Nude» (2).

According to Clark, the «nude» is an invention of the Greeks, an «idealization». The «naked» is the ordinary, the mundane.

I will use the term «nude» differently, to imply a multiplicity of layers of sense and representation, compared and contrasted to the «naked» that has a single layer, the physical / instinctual.

The first Greek sculpture depicting a female in full nudity was most likely Praxiteles’ Aphrodite.

It was the middle of 4th century BC when the Greek sculptor Praxiteles was commissioned by the island of Kos to produce a sculpture of goddess Aphrodite.

He produced two, one fully clothed, and another fully nude.

The citizens of Kos were too conservative to accept the nude sculpture, and it was purchased by the city of Knidos, on the Minor Asia peninsula just south of Kos.

Aphrodite Braschi, back, Glyptothek Munich

Aphrodite Braschi, back, Glyptothek Munich. (Photo by Panathinaeos)

The Aphrodite of the Glyptothek in Munich is one of the many copies of Praxiteles’ Knidian Aphrodite, made in the Roman period.(3)

It shows Aphrodite placing her drape on top of a «hydria» (water jar), as she is ready to take her bath. Her right hand (broken) covers her pubic area.

Until the depiction of the fully nude female by Praxiteles, Greek Art was only depicting full male nudity.

Even after the Aphrodite of Knidos, the dominant theme in nudity was male, be it athletes, warriors, gods, deities, and so on.

The Three Graces Roman copy of a Greek work of the second century B.C. Marble. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The Three Graces
Roman copy of a Greek work of the second century B.C.
Marble. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The impact of the Knidian Aphrodite on the Greek world was huge.

The three graces, surviving today as a Roman copy of the 2nd century B.C. Greek original, is a good example of the impact. The original belongs to the «Hellenistic» period. Its distinctive feature is that instead of one female figure we have a group of three in harmony.

The Hellenistic period was a «lighter» period compared to the «classical», during which the artists celebrated the joy of life and emphasized earthly, hedonistic aspects of the human existence. They also depicted vices (e.g. The Drunken Woman) It is as if the classical period landed on earth.

The Three Graces Roman copy of a Greek work of the second century B.C. Marble. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The Three Graces
Roman copy of a Greek work of the second century B.C.
Marble. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

We have three female figures, more relaxed compared to the rather uncomfortable Aphrodite of Knidos, ready to take their baths, as their towels indicate, enjoying the moment.

Notice that they do not attempt to cover their body. Their hands rest elegantly on the other graces’ shoulders.

The Roman copy sculpture was placed in a garden or  a public building like a bath.

The Broghese Hermaphrodite, Louvre, PAris, France.

The Borghese Hermaphrodite – front, Louvre, Paris, France.

Hermaphroditus was the son of Aphrodite and Hermes.

The marble sculpture that reclines on a marble mattress sculpted by Bernini in 1620 was discovered in the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome. It is an early Roman Empire copy of a bronze sculpture created by Greek sculptor Polycles around the middle of the 2nd century BC.

The sculpture was sold to Napoleon and thus it found itself in the Louvre.

Another copy is displayed today in Villa Borghese of Rome.


The Borghese Hermaphrodite – back, Louvre, Paris, France.

This is a highly sensual sculpture.

The hermaphrodite is seemingly asleep, but there is expectation all over.

The breasts and male genitals are visible, leaving no doubt as to the hybrid nature of the creature, man and woman bound together.

A 18th century visitor commented: «This is the only happy couple that I have seen».


1. The National Archaeological Museum of Naples. Electa Napoli, 1996.

2. Kenneth Clark. The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form.

3. Raimund Wuensche. Glyptothek, Munich.  C.H. Beck. Verlag, Munich 2007.