Here are the headlines in one of the Greek newspapers today. A Greek police-chief has been caught in a photograph giving a Nazi salute-
ΑΣΤΥΝΟΜΙΚΟΣ ΔΙΟΙΚΗΤΗΣ ΧΑΙΡΕΤΑ ΝΑΖΙΣΤΙΚΑ
Ναζιστής ο αστυνομικός διοικητής
The story, however, is not at all as simple as it first appears. The police chief (υπαστυνόμο) in question, Yiorgos Kagkalos,(Γ. Κάγκαλος) has been stationed for the last two years in a tourist hotspot, Hydra, and the photo was taken in 2011 in the Nuremburg transport museum. The Greek newspaper “Ethnos” added that the officer was wearing a black t-shirt with some sort of nazi-style insignia on it. I am not sure the photo is actually that clear but the newspaper writer is incensed and adds: “Shame on the police!”(ντροπή για το Σώμα της Αστυνομίας). According to “the Sunday Nation” («Εθνος της Κυριακής») Kagkalos is also a supporter of the defeated Military Junta that ruled Greece in the late 60s/early 70s and was involved in some sort of military salute to the dictator Papadopoulos when he was caught firing his pistol several times over the graveside in 1999. This led to a slap on the wrists by the police federation but no serious prosecution because of “a lack of evidence”. This man has form evidently and a position of authority. So much for the man. Had he been caught saluting by the electric train in Nuremburg, then he would have faced the more serious penalty of a prison sentence or a hefty fine because it remains a serious offence in Germany to give Nazi salutes. (There is a full summary in English here in Damian Mac Con Uladh’s excellent blog, A Gael in Greece: http://damomac.wordpress.com/2014/09/07/greek-island-police-chief-snapped-giving-nazi-salute/)
In 2011, a Canadian tourist was arrested in Berlin for saluting outside the Reichstag. He was temporarily imprisoned and his girlfriend had the memory card removed from her camera. While threatened with a 6 month period behind bars, he was cautioned, fined and warned not to do it again. At about the time Kagkalos was doing his salute in Nuremburg, a British tourist was being questioned by a testy car hire man and in response did a nazi salute which had him under arrest within 90 seconds. The police said very simply: “You can call him a bastard and give him the finger but you cannot do that.”
However, a recent case in Switzerland has questioned the automatic penalty for the Nazi salute- this is Switzerland, mind and not Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic where it remains an offence. After a demonstration this year on Ruetli Meadow that took place on the Swiss National Day, the Swiss Federal Tribunal ruled that the salute is only a crime if it is part of a racist ideology and intended to influence a “third party”. It is not a crime if it expresses a person’s own conviction. This seems to me to be very difficult to determine. The law as it stands in Germany does not allow for irony, or any personal expression – if the arm is raised in a Nazi salute, it is an offence.
Film and Disney
The film industry has long had issues with the German/Austrian law. “The Sound of Music” had problems filming the Nazi troops in Saltzburg, and the musical itself was rarely seen until recently, yet no one could be in any doubt what message the film carries about Hitler and the flag with “the spider” on it. Things are changing and there was a production of “Cabaret” on in Berlin when I was there a few weeks ago. Disney produced a number of celebrated films during the war which made active use of irony. “Der Fuehrer’s face” (1943) involves a scene in which Donald Duck repeatedly salutes machinery and people, even the postbox. It is part of an insane dream that was the only Donald Duck film to receive an Oscar. We also used the salute twice in the revised “A Torture Cartoon”, once for the main character, the Turkey and once subliminally when the Archbishop was complaining “All Turks are Barbarians.”
Though he certainly said those words, I would not imagine he intended any salute and when I look at the footage this morning, it is not really very obvious. Under German law as it currently stands, however, it might still be an offence: it is the act itself that is offensive- not the intention.
As for Christodoulos himself, the man died in 2005 and was given an elaborate funeral in Athens. I began a film about some of the more absurd things he said, but in the end, left the film unfinished. Maybe somewhere in my head echoed the Greek equivalent of the Latin tag, “De mortuis nil nisi Bonum”. Who knows. Animation takes time and I ran out of time! Christodoulos rose to power because the Church was felt to be too distant from ordinary people but his meddling in politics once he was made Archbishop has led today to a triumphant reaction against the Church, particularly by the youth whom he claimed so enthusiastically to understand. So much so, it seems today that the only people who attend Church are members of Far Right activist groups. The picture of Orthodox clerics tinkering in politics and wearing expensive cufflinks can also be seen in modern Russia where the current Patriarch is building an elaborate Country pad for himself just outside the main city, in one of those enclosed bits, sealed with gun-touting sentries and high fences. It is a sorry statement about power. A few months ago, I watched his motorcade whizz past – a show of power or a display of brute force?
Football & Putin
Now, the reason for this post is the punishment of Girogos Katidis in Greece last year. I have absolutely no interest in football, though today I am supposed to watch a school match and in a few weeks’ time, I believe I am to be taken to my first stadium game. But I am deeply fascinated by crowd behaviour and by the whole idea of entertainment, whether in the theatre, on film or in Church. Gestures play as important part in that, as they do in politics. I have little doubt that the 20 year old footballer who played for AEK was “having fun”. I do not think he was intending a racist or fascist statement. He said at the time, “I am not a fascist and I would not have done it if I had known what it means.” Here is a link to the actual moment…
His coach, Ewald Lienen, who was German, said that the boy had no political ideas and “I am 100% sure that Giorgos did not know what he did,” though the actual offence might lie in the plethora of tattoos. Despite that, Katidis received from the Greek football authorities a lifetime ban from the sport. It seemed draconian especially if the boy intended something ironic and while Newspapers say the salute lasted a long time, I see no evidence of that. This was a punishment that went far beyond the one year ban that had been imposed on Lazio striker Paolo Di Canio in 2005. And Di Canio readily admitted his Fascist link:
“I made the Roman salute because it’s a salute from a comrade to his comrades and was meant for my people,” he said. Football has a long history of links with political slogans- most recently with the development of Путiн – хуйл (ukrainian) and Путин – хуйло (Russian), abbreviated or adapted as PTN, PNKH (Путин, пошел на хуй), something very rude about the current Russian President.
Like many others, I wait to see what happens to the Police chief in Hydra. The photo does not seem, on the face of it, to be ironic, and nor were the shots over the grave of the Dictator. I do not think this man was being humorous and I do not think he is being misunderstood. It would surprise me, however, if he faced serious punishment for his actions. Let’s not draw too many generalisations here….There are policemen in Greece who act honourably. I know some and even taught some of them English (which was a thing laced with alot of humour and a very fond memory); I even knew the man who set up the system of Internal Affairs there, but the level of cronyism and corruption remains intense and I am afraid that, with the rise of the far Right and the strength it has gained in austerity, there will be a fairly vocal minority that will be saying, “Well, so what! What has he really done wrong?”
Sometimes, in pursuing silly ideas, people may forget their own past: I hope that, should he escape official censure, Kagkalos will now remember the starving families in Crete during the second world war and the holocaust victims of Thessaloniki and Corfu. These are not people who would have understood why a man tasked with the protection of his own people should stand beneath the Hoheitsadler and salute the man who had ordered their deaths.