Monday, February 8, 2021

Heeding German Warnings

There's a new documentary coming soon about a political tendency in Germany called the Anti-Germans.  For an American audience, the release of this film could not be more timely.

I looked at my phone this morning upon waking up, never a good idea.  As is the case pretty much every day for me, among the various emails, posts, comments and messages I'm notified about, there are always a couple of disturbing things to read, though most of it is usually friendly.  This morning's disturbing message reminded me of a film some folks I know are working on which will be out soon, called Time of the Slanderers (trailer here), about a German phenomenon known as the Anti-Deutsche, or Anti-Germans.  Knowing that I have had a lot of personal experience with the Anti-Deutsche, one of the filmmakers made sure to show me the trailer, in case I thought it was relevant to share with people outside of Germany.  

I do, as people who have read much of my writing already know.  I'd say that unfortunately the Anti-Deutsche phenomenon continues to be more relevant here in the US than it has ever been in my lifetime.  

History doesn't change -- but it gets retold differently, with different aspects emphasized, depending on what's happening at the time it's being written, rather than what was going on when it was being made.  Before speaking about the relevance of the contemporary Anti-Deutsche phenomenon in particular, I want to first bring up certain especially notable historical trends that led up to Germany as it is today.

Over a century ago, tens of millions of people were slaughtered in a global bloodbath centered in Europe that became known as World War 1.  It basically ended in a stalemate, with an entire generation of young men from many different countries almost completely wiped out, or significantly reduced in number, and many others dead by other means.  But the allied powers, including Russia -- which was the Soviet Union by the war's end -- France, Great Britain, and the US (which entered the war after it was several years in progress), were declared the victors by themselves and by the German kaiser, who was soon replaced by a short-lived new government.

For over two decades following the First World War, poverty and unemployment were rife in most of the formerly warring nations.  The three main political poles by then centered around what we can label as social democracy, communism, and fascism.  A lot of people in the world were impressed by the mobilization of society they saw in the Soviet Union, and FDR's New Deal fed a whole lot of people, too, and won over a lot of hearts and minds to his middle road.  In Germany, the weak government of the time was unable to rise to the occasion, and the period was characterized by massive, bloody street fights between fascists and communists in cities throughout the country.

Notably, though it came at great human cost, it was the left that was generally dominant in these street battles.  This changed in 1933, when the fascists came to power.  Preferring to call themselves National Socialists rather than Nazis, the rise of Hitler's fascist dictatorship came with a huge increase in infrastructure projects and a full-tilt program of militarization which saw Germany emerge from their prior economic problems with something approaching full employment.  Many people in the US, France, Britain and other countries were impressed by all of this.

Many capitalists in the western countries saw fascism as a potential alternative to communism that they could live with just fine, if bourgeois democracy didn't work out.  US oil companies fueled Franco's army in Spain, and US banks made Hitler's spending programs possible.

Fascists in Germany held Jews -- who were numerous among the ranks of social democrats as well as among communists -- responsible for Germany's defeat in World War 1 and everything else that was wrong with the world.  This kind of anti-Semitic thinking -- scapegoating Jews and other racialized groups for anything that wasn't going well -- permeated many societies at the time as well, and could be heard on radio stations throughout the United States, throughout the 1930's.

Although the left had been dominant on the streets of German cities prior to Hitler taking power, once it was a criminal offense to be a communist and communists were being sent to prison, facing potential execution and so on, this obviously changed the equation.  During the years that the Nazis maintained a very iron grip on power, they exterminated millions of innocent people, especially Jews and communists, but so many others across Europe and beyond.  The vast majority of the German military was always on the eastern front, and when Soviet victory was looking very likely, in 1943, the US entered the war with ground troops, in the famous, and famously disastrous, Naval deployments on the coast of France.  US involvement prior to Normandy mainly consisted of the virtually indiscriminate bombardment of most German cities, which escalated, until the war's end in 1945.  The German Luftwaffe, for their part, indiscriminately bombed cities as well.

At the end of the war, after a few top Nazis were executed and a whole lot of others were hired by the CIA, with a country and much of a continent and other large chunks of the world in ruins, German society was left to try to make sense of what just happened.  Many different official and unofficial narratives emerged.  

Most of what I've talked about so far is history I learned from historians.  The rest is from a mix of written sources, and lots of oral history from people I know personally, because I've spent a big chunk of my adult life traveling in a handful of countries, Germany always one of the top five.

In West Germany, in the 1950's, my now elderly German friends tell me, the dominant narrative was that fascism was terrible, but we were part of the resistance, or if we weren't, we were one of the concentration camp guards who snuck a few extra pieces of bread to the prisoners.  With the revolutions and uprisings that were sweeping the globe in the 1960's, much of German society became immersed to one degree or another in a tremendous process of reflection, perhaps like nothing any society had previously undertaken.  Campus rebellions led to radical reform in the educational system.

Within this new societal context, there were again many different narratives around.  While there was lots of solid, academic, sober analysis, along with a huge movement against militarism, out of this societal self-reflection also grew a kind of pendulum effect reacting against the previous decade of denial, and the genocide prior to that.  With this swing of the pendulum, rational discourse and historical reality was often discarded in favor of a hyper-simplified version of everything.  

In this fringe alternate dimension coming out of certain more youthful elements of the left scene in the late twentieth century to the present, instead of "we were all part of the resistance," none of us were, and Germany was just a nation of compliant fascists who enthusiastically supported the Final Solution.  The dominance of the left prior to the rise of Hitler, the thousands of Germans known to have sacrificed their lives in futile acts of resistance -- which many would view as far more significant than acts of resistance that actually stood a chance of changing things -- all rendered irrelevant in the face of the notion that Germans are basically one-dimensional, irredeemable predators with no relevant history of behaving otherwise.

The one-dimensional view of German-ness developed by the Anti-Germans also included a similarly one-dimensional understanding of Jewishness.  Just as Germans are inherently flawed, Jews can do no wrong, and, by some kind of natural extension, neither can the country that calls itself the Jewish state.  

Although of course supporting an apartheid state like Israel as it's carrying out massacres of unarmed civilians every week after Friday prayers may provide ethical challenges for anti-fascists attempting to perform these intellectual convolutions, for those who do manage to jump through all the necessary hoops, by the end of the obstacle course, the typical adherent to the Anti-German tendency unconditionally supports the state of Israel, and calls anyone who opposes Israeli atrocities a fascist and an anti-Semite for doing so.

The Anti-Germans are not the dominant tendency on the German left.  More common is a more nuanced perspective that certainly dwells intensively on understanding what led to the Nazi holocaust taking place, but is also capable of recognizing the heroism of the resistance in its many forms, and appreciating the overall human toll, the horrors of war not only for the victims of the panzer divisions, but to all those who lost their lives in the bombed-out cities of Germany as well.

Even what I'm saying now would be raising some hackles among some Germans who have nothing to do with the Anti-Deutsche, however.  The anti-nationalist sentiment is so widespread, that even the mention of subjects like the suffering of Germans during the bombing raids, or of the ethnic German refugees fleeing eastern Europe for their lives during the fallout from the war, is a move that will have some people questioning whether you have a right-wing agenda for talking about these things.

If people know anything about the suffering of German civilians during the Second World War, they know about the carpet-bombing of the city of Dresden.  The Anti-Deutsche have a slogan praising the Royal Air Force commander who was in charge of the bombing mission.  Do it again, they say.  The German people are evil, irredeemable, even the children, bomb their cities, kill them all, is the unmistakable subtext.

But with the awful history of the Nazi holocaust still in living memory for some, it's not so surprising that this political tendency has a disproportionate, chilling effect on elements of German society today.  

In the upcoming film that I mentioned earlier, we'll be able to hear many different examples of the actions and words of the Anti-Deutsche.  As a critic of Israel performing in Germany over the years, I have had many gigs canceled because of Anti-Deutsche threats to venue owners or gig organizers.  A couple times, at gigs that did go ahead in some form, there were Anti-Deutsche picketers.

They all looked college-age, and they had written up and printed out physical flyers which they were handing out to those who dared walk through their ranks and go into the venue anyway.  The flyers were a more or less random assortment of my song lyrics taken out of context, which attempted to make their case that I was an anti-Semite.

In the modern context of the Anti-Deutsche, the term "fascist" has become entirely removed from its original context.  One need not be an adherent to any principles of National Socialism, one needn't be a fan of either the original or the contextualized versions of Mein Kampf.  All you need to do in order to be considered a fascist now is to be critical of Israeli policies towards the Palestinians, among other offenses.

The Anti-Germans don't just spend their time pursuing critics of Israel, but they're often involved with opposing gatherings of people who at least in some cases are actual, proud members of the far right.  People with Anti-Deutsche views have been involved with heroic efforts to defend refugees against xenophobic attacks, and lots of other good things.

Knowing this, when I saw the college-age picketers outside of the one gig there in that college town in Germany, wherever that was, I made the mistake of trying to engage with them.  I was trying to be rational, but there was probably an edge to my voice which would have been off-putting to anyone who was there to protest me.  In any case, rather than trying to talk with me about these bizarre flyers they were passing out, one young German woman looked me in the eye and ended the conversation before it began with the line, "I don't talk to fascists."

The fact that she was right there, saying this to my face, and that she seemed like such an earnest, well-meaning activist sort -- and the fact that I was a lot younger then, and she was very attractive -- was altogether devastating emotionally, to be honest.  

A lot like how it felt this morning, to see a person with a Facebook page who appeared authentically to be a college student, post something intended for my wall that declared me to be a fascist, and that if I ever tried to do a gig in San Diego, she and her antifascist crew would run me out of town.

Why does this person who appears to be a leftwing college student from California think I'm a fascist?  Ask her, not me.  I'm just hoping that anyone who has lived through the past few years of division in the US, in particular, might glean some insight from a little familiarity with some aspects of the German experience, because these two societies have a lot in common.  

Genocide is one of those things.  They have many other things in common, such as the presence of a wide variety of prevalent approaches in society for understanding the present and the past, with different elements of society pushing different narratives for different reasons.  Both societies also currently have a growing divide between the classes, and a rising far right, both on the streets and in parliamentary politics.  In the US this currently expresses itself politically as the Trump faction of the Republican Party.  In Germany the far right has its own party, the AfD.

I would not say by any means that the existence of the Anti-Deutsche is responsible for the rise of the AfD, or that equivalent tendencies in the US are responsible for the growth of the Proud Boys or the rise of Trump.  There are many other far bigger factors at play.  But as we continue down a path of increasing division, increasingly different narratives of history and understandings of the present within the same society -- in the cases of the US, Germany, and elsewhere -- it doesn't seem to me that the "I don't talk to fascists" approach to life is serving any of us very well.

And in fact, before we go further down the road of a society splintered into multiple sectarian factions, each existing in its own echo chamber, trying to communicate with anyone, especially anyone currently thinking about joining the Proud Boys, by whatever means might work, would seem like a very good way to avoid continuing down the road we're on now.  Just bringing more guns to the protests doesn't seem like it's going to end well.



Thursday, February 4, 2021

Remembering Anne Feeney

On February 3rd, 2021, Anne Feeney died in the hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with her children at her side.  She was 69 years old.  She was a cancer survivor in poor physical health when she fell and broke her back a month ago, and in the hospital she contracted Covid-19, then pneumonia.

Although Anne died too young, she lived a long life.  She lived many lives during those 69 years, really, and she cheated death at least a couple times during her last decade on Earth.

As I set out to write some words about my old and very dear friend, colleague, and fellow worker (that's Wobbly for comrade), I feel compelled to note first that this is only going to be one of many remembrances of Anne Feeney that will be written, by many different people.  Anne personally knew many thousands of people around the world.  Many of them she spent a lot of time with over many decades, and knew very well.  A much larger number of people have listened to her music over the course of those decades, and thus had her in their lives in all sorts of other important ways.  

As has been noted in the local Pittsburgh paper, Anne was born in 1951, and spent her childhood in Pittsburgh.  One of her earlier musical appearances, when she was still a teenager, was captured in a beautiful photograph in 1969 singing a Phil Ochs song at an antiwar protest with her recently-purchased Martin guitar.  

The Pittsburgh that Anne grew up in was still one of the main centers of the steel industry in the world, and one of the most vibrant centers of labor activism in the US.  Anne's grandfather, William Patrick Feeney, was also a musician, and a labor organizer, with the United Mine Workers of America in West Virginia, several mountain ranges south of Pittsburgh.  One of the unfinished projects of Anne's latter years was a biography of her grandfather.

Of course I didn't know Anne when she was a child.  (I was born in 1967.)  And when I was growing up, and Anne was a young adult living in Pittsburgh, she had a whole life of which I only have second-hand knowledge, for the most part, and I'll leave it to other people to talk about that.  Anne was a lawyer for the working class for many years, as was her first husband, Ron, with whom she had two kids, both now accomplished people in their thirties, who both went on to pursue very similar interests as their parents.

Anne's second career, or third career, depending on how these things are measured, is the one I have some familiarity with -- her career as a touring musician, briefly interrupted by a stint as the president of the Pittsburgh Musician's Union, which she really did not enjoy, as I distinctly recall.

It's easy to remember the first time I heard Anne's music, because it made such an impression on me.  It was a demonstration in Boston at Government Center circa 1993, something having to do with labor issues, I don't remember what, but through the sound system in the largely empty, sterile space in front of the building was emanating some wonderful music.  I asked one of the organizers who it was, and she told me, "Anne Feeney."

I don't remember which songs they were playing, but in retrospect, it must have been Anne's kick-ass 1992 debut album of contemporary labor songs, Look to the Left.

Anne didn't start making albums until she was in her forties.  So she was already an experienced musician by 1992, and most definitely an experienced labor activist.  That album, as with all the albums she put out under her name in the years after it, is a brilliant mix of obscure cover songs and finely-honed original compositions, recorded with a collection of really talented musicians (all of whom were union members who got paid well for their time, of course).

In almost all of the remembrances and obituaries I've been coming across since an hour after Anne died, she is referred to as a folksinger or a folk musician.  I don't want to split hairs, and it is most definitely true that Anne loved all sorts of traditional music and played bluegrass herself.  And largely for financial reasons, like so many other artists out there, she mostly toured solo.  However, if you listen to her recordings, you'll figure out right away that Anne was not just a brilliant live raconteur and folkie, but also a rocker, and a great team player, getting material together with bands that really sound like bands, which is not necessarily the norm among singer/songwriters from the folk scene who make an album with a band.

The 1990's is a long time ago now, and my memories about times that far back are a lot less sharp than they once were, so I'm not quite sure when I first met Anne, but the first time I spent any amount of time with her was in the summer of 1997 at the Kerrville Folk Festival in the Texas hill country.  

I was there at the invitation of my old friend Chris Chandler, who would later become Anne's touring partner and musical co-conspirator for many recording projects as well, spanning a decade.  But for this summer, I was Chandler's backup band, which became a four-piece by the end of the eighteen-day festival, before we all crammed into a pickup truck and hit the road together.

The more prominent artists who played at Kerrville tended to just hang around for a night or a weekend, but the dedicated ones, known locally as Kerrverts, spend the entire eighteen days of the long folk festival every year, camping in the dust.  I don't remember if Anne's presence camping with us for the whole duration was a surprise to me at the time or not, but what I distinctly recall is that most people at the festival knew Anne mainly from the context of this festival and the broader folk music scene around it, whereas for me, she was already a musical legend of the labor movement, and most of these apolitical folk musicians were less on my radar than folks like Anne and Chris were.

The political-musical cross-pollination that Anne facilitated at her Camp Revolution at Kerrville was representative of the ecumenical, One Big Union orientation that she approached most everything with.  She was an extrovert and an organizer, always gathering forces, always building, cheerleading, winning hearts and minds, working on projects related to organizing, music, and popular education, looking impatiently to a future where we might stop losing all the time.  Whatever audience she was singing for, whether it was octogenarian coal miners, trans vegan punks, or tree-hugging hippies, she always did her best to communicate to them, always learning about what was happening locally, not just to impress whoever was hiring her, but in that constant effort to build bridges through music and storytelling.

As far as I'm concerned, of the many Anne Feeney songs that have been recorded by other musicians, the best cover is the Montreal punk band, the Union Thugs' version of "War on the Workers," just out a few months ago.  But the cover recording that had by far the most impact on Anne's career was when Peter, Paul and Mary recorded "Have You Been to Jail for Justice?", which they sang every year on those PBS holiday specials for a long time.  (As it happened, one of the many great musicians who had made a habit of hanging around the campfires at Kerrville was Peter Yarrow.)

From that festival in Texas until a few years ago, no year would be complete without several encounters with Anne, each one usually in a different part of the world, some of them extended encounters, such as festivals or protests we were both singing at, or concert tours we were doing together.  

Probably more than any other musician I know, Anne made a very regular habit of organizing tours with other musicians.  Speaking as one familiar with the logistical details of these sorts of endeavors, I can say that many of these tours she did with other artists didn't end up paying as well as they probably would have if she had just done them by herself, but for Anne, whenever it was the least bit practical, the chance to reach a broader audience and to introduce another artist to her audience, the chance to do some more cross-pollinating, would generally win out over any other considerations.

Like me, Anne did most of her touring by some combination of flying and driving, and generally staying with friends or gig organizers, wherever she was going.  Unlike me, Anne was very organized about not only organizing tours effectively, but on lining up nice lodging everywhere.  She kept a frequently-updated database of people she knew everywhere, with their guest room accommodations noted, indicating things like whether they had a hot tub in the back yard, whether the guest room had a comfortable bed in it or a springy foldout couch, whether there was wifi.  Whenever I'd be touring and our paths would intersect, she'd make sure to ask where I was heading, and see if she knew anyone en route with especially nice digs for me to take advantage of.

By some strange coincidence, Anne fell in love with a wonderful Swedish artist named Julie Leonardsson around the same time as I got into a relationship with a European, and beginning in the late 90's, both Anne and I were spending a lot of time in Europe as well as touring in the US.  Anne's main stomping grounds on that side of the pond involved Sweden and Ireland.  In Ireland she led many trips for folks from the US who wanted a guided tour of the island from someone with a lot of inside knowledge.  I never managed to run into her in Ireland, but in Scandinavia we shared many good times.

One of so many examples I could share of Anne's generosity of spirit occurred there.  A wonderful woman in Copenhagen named Gerd Berlev (rest in peace) was regularly organizing tours of Denmark for both Anne and I.  In 2005, when NATO was planning on having a big summit in northern Sweden, Gerd was involved with organizing the protest that ended up flying Anne and I from Copenhagen up north for the occasion.  There were no plans originally for Gerd to come with us, until Anne suggested to me that together we buy Gerd a plane ticket so she could join us, knowing as she did that Gerd didn't get out of Denmark much.  As Anne predicted, Gerd had an especially good time on the adventure to the north.

A few years later, back in Copenhagen during the COP15 events, Anne and her husband Julie were two of 900 or so people to be mass-arrested during a march in Copenhagen.  The next day, Anne and I were swapping songs on the back of a sound truck in another neighborhood in Copenhagen, wondering whether the hundreds of people marching along with the sound truck towards the prison near Gerd and Jan's place in Valby might be mass-arrested next.  An electrifying atmosphere, that.

And then it must have been that same year that we were touring throughout the midwestern US together for several weeks, playing for folkies, union activists and the occasional punk -- I wouldn't necessarily remember that this was sometime that same year, 2009, except that my daughter Leila was three, and my wife Reiko somehow kept her entertained in the back seat of a too-small rental car that Anne found somewhere, wedged in next to two guitars, sometimes for five hours at a time, every day.  Throughout the entire trip, neither Anne or I ever sat in the back seat, because it was physically impossible for either of us to fit back there, along with the booster seat and two guitars.

Months later, I was passing through Pennsylvania with Reiko and Leila, and we stopped to visit Anne in the hospital, where she was being treated for cancer.  The first thing she did when she seemed to be recovering and was able to get around again was organize the most wonderful, week-long birthday party I've ever been to.  So many of Anne's friends, who are, in so many cases, musicians I've admired for most of my life, rented cabins around a lake in Maryland for a week, gathering every day to swap songs and tell stories.

As people who knew Anne or came to her shows over the past decade know, her health problems were getting in the way of a lot of things in life for her.  This recent fall wasn't the first bad fall.  She also fell down the stairs to her basement and broke both her wrists some years ago, so her guitar-playing suffered a lot after that, as did her memory for lyrics after all the cancer treatment.  

Her decline in health over the past decade happened to coincide with the decline of the music business, with many musicians who used to tour a lot no longer doing so for financial reasons, well prior to the pandemic.  With Anne traveling much less, and many of her friends also traveling a lot less for other reasons, I for one saw a lot less of her in recent years than I used to.

There were some very special times in recent years when our paths came together again, though.  The centenary of the execution of Joe Hill in Salt Lake City was one such occasion.  The lineup of musicians -- including folks I hadn't seen in a very long time, like Erik Petersen of the band, Mischief Brew, along with old friends like Mark Ross and Anne, and unexpected visitors from far away, such as playwright/actor/singer Tayo Aluko -- made for a magical weekend.  In retrospect, perhaps the pall of death hung around the event a bit.  We're there commemorating an execution, while the person they originally wanted to headline the event, Pete Seeger, died in advance of being asked to headline, and the singer/songwriter of one of the headlining acts, Erik Petersen, would very unfortunately die a few months later.

I'll forever be grateful to the folks who brought Anne and I to Madison a couple years ago.  That would end up being the last time I'd see her in person, as there have been no paths crossing since.  I was flown in to Madison to do a little gig, and Anne was flown in just to tell stories.  She graciously did just that.  I think for everyone involved, it felt less like a gig than like the gig was an excuse for a bunch of people from disparate parts of a very large country to hang out together for a few days, which we did.

One of the folks who organized the first gig where Anne and I were on the same billing was Ben Manski, who used to be one of the principle organizers of anything for a long time in Madison that either Anne or I did, before he went off on academic pursuits that took him elsewhere.  Ben used to be one of the organizers for the Earth Day to May Day events in Madison, which always brought together lots of labor and environmental activists every  late April to early May throughout the 1990's.  

Ben wasn't around for this visit, but the location was fitting for a last visit with Anne, in retrospect, if I'm going to get a little mystical about it for a moment.  What I remember most are long conversations with Anne over breakfast about a wide variety of subjects including the dismal state of US politics, her broken water heater in Pittsburgh, and her unfinished book project -- and the morning that Anne's hosts, the Berrymans, had to borrow a walker from a neighbor in order to help her get out of bed.

That gig in Madison may have been an unusual one, but as with Utah Phillips' gigs, a lot of people would have been there just for the stories regardless.  Which normally would anyway take up as much of a set, of either Anne's or Utah's, as the songs themselves would.  Utah called Anne "the best labor singer in America."  Anne loved that quote, as any sane person would, and used to say it was "not bad, coming from the best labor singer in America."  I agree with both of them.

Thank you, Anne Feeney, for all the organizing, all the songs, all the encouragement, and all the good times.  I wish I had not waited two weeks to call you back last time we played telephone tag, too late to reach you before you came down with Covid, then pneumonia, largely losing the ability to speak, before you died.  I was very glad to hear that Dan and Amy could be with you in the end, and that you were able to tell your beautiful husband way off in Sweden that you loved him.  

I wish the world were a smaller place.  I'll be one of your many friends who will be both mourning and organizing in the time I've got left.

Anne Feeney is dead.  Long live Anne Feeney.

Monday, February 1, 2021

November 17th, 1973 and the Legacy of State Terror

In a prison hospital in Athens, Greece, a man named Dimitris Koufontinas lies unconscious most of the time.  Almost a month into a water-only hunger strike, one of his tremendously weakened organs could fail, and he could die at any moment.

As always, there's a lot happening in the world.  Ongoing wars between countries, civil wars within them and threats of war elsewhere; at least one full-blown famine; dramatically growing rates of poverty and hunger all over the place; attempted coups in some countries and successful coups in others, various national elections, multiple assassinations of political activists and journalists -- all just in January alone.

And even if the winter of 2021 were not quite so eventful, Greece is far away for most people in the world.  Recent Greek history, even more distant.  Which always seems especially unjust being here in the United States of Amnesia, the most forgetful place on Earth, because as with so much of the world, the modern history of the US is inextricably tied up with the modern history of Greece, from the massacre that gave rise to 17N, to the fact that members of this long-disbanded armed group are being singled out for persecution in Greek prisons today.

Dimitris Koufontinas has written two books while in prison, one of which is out of print.  The other looks like it can be found in hardback form in both Greek and German, but not in English.  But what seems to come up most, whether you search in English, German, or Greek, if you look for the name Dimitris Koufontinas or the November 17 Group, are statements in support or in opposition, with a little tiny bit of space for some kind of objective journalism in between.  Prominent among the statements against, say, releasing disabled former 17N prisoners on humanitarian grounds, are tweets from the US State Department condemning any leniency against those they call terrorists.

Of course, one person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter, and this reality couldn't be more true of Dimitris Koufontinas.

What is especially remarkable to me, as I was brushing up on recent Greek history in preparation for writing both a song on the subject ("November 17") and this piece, is that even the counter-terrorism state department types writing their entries keeping track of their various nemeses around the world readily acknowledge that the origins of 17N stemmed from the massacre carried out by forces of the Greek military junta at the campus of Athens Polytechnic University on November 17th, 1973.

This massacre gave rise to 17N in much the same way as the re-formation of an armed resistance movement in Northern Ireland in the 1970's was a direct consequence of what became known as Bloody Sunday, or the Bogside Massacre, carried out by British Army in 1972.  As in Ireland, the drowning in blood of peaceful protesters, among other events, caused some people to resort to responding with violence in kind.

Support for the Greek military junta, and for the violent suppression of left and anarchist movements in Greece in the decades following the Second World War, was a key component of US and British foreign policy in southern Europe, which should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with concurrent events in Chile, Vietnam and elsewhere at the time.  Along with the head of the Greek riot police, one of the first people to be assassinated by 17N was the CIA station chief for southeastern Europe -- and he was not the only US citizen killed during the armed struggle.

After the restoration of democracy in Greece, class conflict there did not disappear, and neither did the immense influence of oppressive institutions such as the International Monetary Fund.  Huge left and anarchist movements in Greece continued to be violently repressed by armies of police, many of whom who held, and continue to hold, a fascist worldview.

But as with many other parts of the world, by the end of the twentieth century, for a wide variety of reasons, many armed resistance movements were disbanding, and in 2002, 17N became another to do that.

Dimitris Koufontinas -- 17N chief of operations or "terrorist mastermind," depending on which press releases you read -- turned himself in, and has been in prison ever since.  Under the previous government in Greece, although in prison, his conditions of imprisonment were relatively humane, and even improving.  With the rise since 2019 of the New Democracy Party in Greece, however, with relatives of 17N victims now once again in prominent positions of political power, laws have been passed specifically to target this one man for treatment that amounts to torture.

On January 10th, Dimitris Koufontinas stopped eating.  He'll likely die soon, and when he does, maybe you'll see something flash across the screen, and he'll get his 15 seconds of fame, outside of Greece, with an AP story and a BBC report.  And when you see this story, you should know that it did not begin with any of the assassinations, bombings or other actions this man may or may not have carried out, regardless of what they say on the screen.  

It began on November 17th, 1973.



A Tale of Two Narratives

Was it a peaceful gathering, a riot, or an insurrection?  That depends on who we're talking about, and who's talking about them. Eve...