After 19 years travelling in the Balkans, through two wars and more, I think I’ve picked up a thing or two about the history there. In fact, I can cite chapter and verse on better than 5000 years of Balkan history. You see, moving among the former republics of what was once Yugoslavia, in the hyper-charged atmosphere as war raged in Bosnia, with flare-ups among contested regions of Serbia and Croatia, and the calamity of Kosovo, everyone had an opinion they paraded as gospel truth on the conflict and each side’s culpability. I had two clear choices. one was to to nod respectfully and remain silent for fear of argument or reprisal (an embassy official in Belgrade warned me the going rate to kill someone was roughly $125USD), or I could dissuade vitriolic nationalism by knowing the history better than my opponent.
I hated the nationalists and their tunnel-vision fear and antagonistic-based view of the world. It was tribal and ignorant, and in the end, responsible for filling mass graves across the former Yugoslavia. I was there as a witness, and as a responsible witness ( to the dead in those mass graves, the rape victims, the displaced and devastated) I was only adding to the tragedy by not standing against it. The ultimate tool to that ignorance, and to all ignorance and injustice is knowledge.
From 1991, when the decision was made to go to the Balkans, I consumed all I could find on Balkan history, literature and culture, depleting the shelves at DePaul, Northwestern and Loyola Universities. I absorbed Russian, Turkish, German, Yugoslav, Italian, Greek, Bulgarian and Austro-Hungarian sources. My research included Classical Roman and Greek sources, archaeological background and primary sources. I interviewed professors in a bombed out museum, holocaust survivors, diplomats, genocide victims and soldiers on all sides of the frontline-often under fire. That research has never abated. To say that I have forgotten more Balkan history than most will ever know is not an exhibition of ego, but an indication of a voluminous amount of research, blood, sweat and experience.
The problem with history is that it proves nothing, but can excuse everything. History can be fact, but facts are not necessarily the truth. They can be arranged, omitted or skewed with hyperbole and emotion to pretend basis for excuse. It is the nationalists prime tactic-regardless of political ideology. On today’s show, Glenn Beck, in his Mosquito Coast scheme to falsely demonize the 17 November Occupy protest demonstrated the darkest form of this by drawing a perverse connection to today’s protest and a pathetic, barely remembered terrorist group.
First, Greek history, like every other part of the Balkans is not a linear arrangement, and not even a patchwork. It is a complex three-dimensional weave. A Marxist in 1960s Greece is not the same Marxist from Germany or France in the early 20th century, and certainly nothing like that of pre, let alone post revolutionary Russia. The term is meaningless. It is a ruse, a cartoon for Right-wing propagandists, like Beck, to stimulate those too lazy, incapable or gullible to learn those differences themselves. For the record, the “Marxists” in Greece were standing in opposition to a violent Right-wing Military dictatorship, you know, like those Hitler, Franco and Mussolini characters that destroyed Europe.
But to the point, today’s protest on 17 November, (all my years around the military, that’s how I say November 17) may well have had a historic inspiration, as Beck asserted. But not the one he’d have you believe. He began his show bragging that he’d blown the lid off the whole movement, and that 17 November was inspired, connected or in step with the so-called Marxist 17November terrorist group. But, oops, Glenn Beck betrayed his ignorance (or dishonesty) yet again. A few facts about 17November
On 17November 1973, after nearly a decade of brutal rule, the CIA supported Right-wing Greek Military Junta turned dictatorship violently turned on a popular mass protest against the imprisonment of thousands of dissidents and political leaders, the torture and exile of dissidents, the suspension of the Greek constitution and civil liberties, and the abolition of political parties. The terrorist fringe group 17 November grew from that violence, but 17November became a national Greek holiday, not at all connected with the fringe group. Greeks still observe the day annually. But Beck’s ignorance (or outright lies) did not end there.
He dropped a line about Kristallnacht, the Nazi pogrom targeting Jews in an orgy of violence in 1938. Unfortunately for Beck, Kristallnacht happened on 10-that’s 10 November 1938.
N17 is also a rock band. NC17 is a movie rating. N-17 is a song in Ireland, and N-17 is also a highway in Belgium, a very pleasant one I drove on just two years ago.
All of this is meant to portray and define the ignorance of men like Beck, and people who believe the slightest breath from his mouth. It also underscores fundamental rule about history. Not that those who are ignorant are doomed to repeat it, but for the dumb and foolish it will eventually return to bite them in the ass.