Greece Has Few Jews, but They Are Still Blamed for Political Problems

February 26, 2019 | Devin Naar
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During the Nazi occupation of Thessaloniki, a large Jewish cemetery was destroyed to make room for what is now Aristotle University. In long-overdue recognition of the fact, a commemorative monument was installed on the university’s campus. The monument was vandalized in 2017, and again in January—this time with particular viciousness, apparently by a group of several people who smashed much of it to pieces. Devin Naar comments:

According to Greek government statistics, vandalism of Jewish sites has been on the rise. The recent desecration took place on January 25, two days before International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The timing may be only a coincidence, but the vandalism—attributed to neo-fascists and supporters of the extreme-right Golden Dawn—was likely linked to a heated vote in the Greek parliament that took place that very same day—and had nothing to do with Jews.

Still suffering from the financial crisis and pressured by the refugee crisis, the Greek government, led by the far-left Syriza, embarked on the landmark Prespes agreement with its neighbor, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, to resolve a longstanding dispute over the latter’s name—now the Republic of North Macedonia. . . . Since before World War II, Thessaloniki has played a central role in the debates as the historic capital of a region known as Greek Macedonia, [especially given] fears that acknowledging the Republic of North Macedonia’s claim to the name could legitimize irredentist aspirations.

Those in Greece who opposed the Prespes agreement—especially those on the right but also moderates—have unsurprisingly found in “the Jews” a convenient scapegoat for this alleged national betrayal. In a country known for conspiracy theories, it is perhaps no surprise that demonstrations against the agreement were rife with anti-Semitic slogans. At Syntagma, the main square in Athens, in front of the Greek parliament itself, a banner read: “[With] Jews and people from the Balkans in the Parliament, you are screwed.” (Notably, there are no actual Jews in the Greek parliament.) The destruction of the Jewish cemetery monument took place on the exact same day that the Prespes agreement was signed, and three previous desecrations of another Holocaust monument, in downtown Thessaloniki, over the past six months coincided with earlier demonstrations against the agreement.

But Naar takes heart in the responses of local and national government officials, noting that improving relations with Israel have encouraged Greek politicians to take a firmer stance against anti-Semitism.

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