History and WEB in Greece

by Cinzia Venturoli

A few preliminary remarks

The relationship between Clio (history) and the Internet is conspicuously complex. Similarly, the approaches one has to adopt when facing historical analysis are multi-layered and complex: the web is a place where historical knowledge is known and made known. On the other hand, the Internet can also be a tool to promote historiographical research as the Web is often considered to be a structured archive, a container of documents and sources. Lastly, the Internet itself is a possible historical source.

It cannot be denied that the characteristics of such tool are particularly striking: the simple and user-friendly usage is linked to how easy it is create and divulge its contents. More and more often, history websites are created by academic and various other institutions, such as establishments and archives linked to sites and portals created by individual users or groups of people suggesting their stories or memoirs, that is, a particular historical narrative of their own. At times, we find sites devoted to the preservation of memory, in a continuous proliferation of virtual realities whose methodologies and contents are, unfortunately, difficult to ascertain. The internet, due to the ease with which its contents are spread, has advertised positions that until not long ago would not leave the elites and that can now reach a vast audience. This compels one to reflect on the public usage of history both when considered different from “representations” and “distortions” of the past and as the birth of new structures of meaning relating to the past and characterised by extreme inconsistency. The Internet foregrounds ever more strongly complex issues and problems for the historian, who has never as much as nowadays had to deal with means of communication and modes of narrative that can make “the documentary modesty pathetic and powerless”1 The Internet is an enormous container filled with diverse material on which historians do not have the last word and are a minority compared to the professionals of information, the politicians, and the people who deal with history at an amateur level. It is my contention that in such situation it becomes extremely difficult to provide the adequate means for an analysis of the contents, their divulgation and the identification of safe critical approaches to the Internet sources. Traditional places where documents and memories are contained like archives and libraries are paralleled, and sometimes even substituted, by the Internet.

If used as a source for historical information, the Internet demands a cunning strategy and remarkable research skills. In the first place, the user has to understand the aim of the site, therefore verifying its authenticity and reliability, in order to evaluate whether the historical sources are primary or secondary ones. Blogs have great visibility on themes linked to history and memory. This particular methodology pertaining to the communication and usage of the web is increasingly adopted and it is certainly peculiar. It is difficult to describe and defies generalisation, it can be written by an individual or it could be the expression of a group or a party, it can take the shape of a journal which undergoes the decision to become public, and it can be used as a means to share one’s ideas and discuss them with other web surfers. A blog is a graphic mode of communication via computer, it can be managed autonomously and it allows his creator to publish online, in real time, news, information and stories of all kinds. “Historical” narratives (to put it better: personal, non-scientific interpretations of history) are extremely obvious in blogs, especially in places where political ideas are debated, as we shall see later on. Already from these brief remarks, there arises the need of online research on the presence of contemporary history in the Greek language in the Internet as well as on the relationship between the Web, other means of communication and the public debate in the light of Greece’s current economic and political situation.

Before venturing into this analysis itself, it is perhaps fruitful to try to understand how the Internet is used in Greece. According to the data gathered in 2012, Greece has the lowest rate of usage of the Internet when compared to the other State Members of the European Union and, generally, to the European average: according to Internet World Stats at the end of June 2012, the Internet users were 5.706.948, 53,0% of the population.2 As far as the rate per day in 2012 is concerned, it reached 41% (37% is the figure for 2011), well lower than the European average, which is around 59%. In Greece, there is a very high percentage of citizens who have never used the Internet: according to the data gathered in 2010, Internet was used manly by men, whose age was between 16 and 24, with a high degree of education and living in urban centres where the Internet is used for communication and entertainment purposes. In the age span between 35 and 44, the usage of the Internet is rather aimed at the search for information. It is noteworthy that users between the ages of 55 and 64 are second in reading blogs with a figure of 33,9 % right after young people of 16 to 24 years of age (37%). Lastly, 67% of Internet users also use Facebook. I could not find specific data on the Internet usage as a source of historical information.

The Research

Thinking back on Greek contemporary history, I believe I can identify some sensitive issues, as well as not yet researched painful moments, like the Resistance and subsequent civil war, the Regime of the Colonels, or narratives of the past that must not and cannot be questioned, albeit they are clear-cut consequences of a mythopoiesis held necessary in the past for the creation of a nation but undoubtedly far from a thorough historiographical analysis.

Amongst the latter, for instance, the role of the Orthodox Church in the liberation from Turkish control. In Greece, the common sense resulting from propaganda and the teaching of history at school, and opposed to a great deal of research not to mention historiographical acquired records, sees the Church as one of the fundamental elements of the end of Ottoman rule. In the construction of the State, religion grants a very important role to national identity3 and this is a fact that cannot easily be questioned.4

One should not forget that the difficult path towards Greek democracy, which had reached its climax in the Regime of the Colonels, has made the study, teaching and divulgation of correct historical information very difficult, disjoined from the “necessities of the State”.5 In this twilight zone, one can find the story of the existence of the Κρυφό Σχολειό (secret-hidden schools) where the Church taught Greek classes forbidden by the Turks, whose existence is neither proved nor documented. The very first classes present us with the myth of nursery rhymes sung by the children: Φεγγαράκι μου λαμπρό /φέγγε μου να περπατώ/να πηγαίνω στο σχολειό/να μαθαίνω γράμματα/γράμματα σπουδάγματα/του Θεού τα πράγματα (oh my small bright moon, shed light on the path, so that I can go to school, to learn letters, letters and things to study, things of the Lord). In the Internet, the majority of the sites we find6 seek to confirm the existence of such hidden schools, while others referring to historiography cannot locate sources for such narratives, whereas Facebook indicates that Kρυφό σχολείο is either a cafe or a restaurant.

Another myth of foundation about the Turkish rule is the so-called Zalongo dance. In Greece, there is a rumour, and this is deemed history, that in 1803, during the Turkish rule, on the village of Souli (in the Epirus region), all men were massacred by the troops of Ali Pasha. As a result, the women sought shelter in the mountains along with their children in order to escape from the soldiers. Fearing they could be raped and turned into slaves, they resolved to die together with their children and flung themselves from mount Zalongo, dancing and singing. This story is told in numerous traditional songs, to the point that in 1961 on the highest peak of the mount a monument was built. The grammar school textbook called ‘In modern years’ reports:

When the Soulliotisses understood they could fall into enemy hands and risk becoming Muslim themselves, they climbed on the peak of mount Zalongo and after kissing their children for the last time, they threw them down the chasm. At this point, they took each other by the hand and dancing and singing they flung themselves down, one by one, till all of them perished”7

What historiography denies is not the suicide of the women, rather the fact that they went to their deaths singing and dancing. Maria Repousi, a deputy of Dimar (reformist left-wingers) and lecturer in Contemporary History in the faculty of Science Education of Thessaloniki has tried to reassess the historiographical truth of this story in parliament and this led to endless debate in the Internet. Blogs, sites, and online newspapers filled up with declarations and comments on this story including insults and threats to Repousi. Several comments to the few blogs which praised the historical truth of Repousi’s account were all against her, as in Facebook where 175 users hit the like button about a comment against Repousi (see The Mythologists8)

Even Mikis Theodorakis9 attacked Maria Repousi,10 claiming that she was unworthy to live in Greece and once more proving that nationalism in Greece is not a right-winger characteristic, but a shared feeling, albeit with different nuances, in the entire political panorama.

It is necessary now to dwell on the Greek situation, namely on the presence of a party whose Golden Dawn (Χρυσή Αυγή) embarks on the rewriting of history, both the history of Resistance and the history of the Regime of the Colonels, linking the present with the past11. In their programme, one reads: “there exist books of philosophy, but there are no books that tell true history” and also that one should write and tell the “true story” of the great Spartan heroes, of those of 1821, and 1974 Cyprus12. It is worthwhile to note that in extreme right-winger, neo-Fascists and neo-Nazis sites, blogs and Facebook Pages, there are -both graphically and content wise- historical and mythological references that inevitably go back as far as to Ancient Greece, particularly Sparta, the Byzantines, the liberation struggle against the Turkish Empire (not disregarding the importance of the Church), in truth the very same themes and interpretations which the Regime of the Colonels highlighted in propaganda and in the teaching of history.

For instance, the creation of the nation is during the so-called “1821 Revolution”, namely the beginning of the Wars of Independence, as the common ground acknowledged by both left-wing and right-wing alike, so that there are songs of self-declared left-wingers that commemorate those times.

A change of perspective is taking place now because of movements like Golden Dawn and, as we shall see below, this is represented in the Internet and in the public debate.

A sensitive issue for Greek history is the Resistance and the subsequent civil war to which the communist party was declared illegal and its militants excluded from political life and very often incarcerated. We must not forget that the first official acknowledgement from the State to the Resistance against Nazis and Fascists in the 1940-1944 period happened under Pasok Leader Andreas Papandreou government in the early eighties. Going back to the issue of memory and narrative, there is a clear divide in the common sense, even in the definition of the rebellion against the Nazi-fascist occupation which can either be Resistance or National Resistance whereas in the following period we have second partisanship or civil war. If one questions the Internet with the aim of increasing one’s historical knowledge, and therefore using a normal research engine13 writing key words like Resistance (αντίσταση-anti-standstill), the first site to come up is Wikipedia, where we find a simple profile taken from the official text used in secondary school.

Browsing the results we find pictures and sites whose origin is undoubtedly of an extreme right-wing nature. In extreme right-wing sites, the word ‘Resistance’ is subject to a final and total appropriation so that domains like http://antistasi.org/; http://www.antistasi.info/; http://ethniki-antistasi.blogspot.it relate to such sites. Of course there are anti-fascist sites that talk of Resistance in different terms such as http://antistasigr.blogspot.it/

By merely scrolling down in the list one finds other sites, some of them suggesting their story or recollection, often in an anti-communist light14

Left-winger organisations talk of Resistance, like Edon of Cyprus15 and other Cypriot sites that more easily than their Greek counterpart narrate the Greek Resistance, not ending with the Liberation but reclaiming the extreme importance of Ellas, namely the left-wing and communist partisans.

In order to find institutional sites, like the Museums of the Resistance16 or to have more thorough and historically reliable news, one has to conduct a thorough search, not dwelling too long on the first upcoming results. If one continues the research, one will find sites explicitly devoted to students or lecturers of history; one can reach easily this information by clicking on the pictures on the research engine. Such pictures direct us towards common sites that tell us their story, as for instance the Xaidari administration where barracks/a prison was located or the Volos elementary school site which offers history classes or, even, history classes made available with no further contextualisation17

If one performs the research using key words like ‘civil war’ or ‘Δεκεμβριανά’ (Dekembrianà, namely the clash between Ellas and the English army in Athens), one will be astonished to find, in addition to Wikipedia, more peaceful sites ranging from a travel guide of Athens18 to a textbook19

Social networks do not escape this logic, in fact Facebook presents us with profiles like εθνικη αντισταση (National Resistance)20, related to extreme right-wing organisations with links to webpages like Hellenic Victims of Communism- Θύματα του Κομμουνισμού.

Despite the willingness of the Ελλάδα 1940-1949 – Κατοχή Αντίσταση Εμφύλιος Webpage (Greece 1940-1949- Occupation, Resistance, Civil War) to tell the evidence, extreme right-wing surfers ignore it.21

Another extremely important issue of Greek contemporary history is the Regime of the Colonels (1967-1974). Eleftherotypia is a newspaper that has recently conducted a survey showing that 59% of people interviewed think the country was doing better during the military regime, 46% believe that the quality of life was higher and 24% that Athens had a better international reputation. Up until a few years ago such figure was unthinkable, as the nostalgia for the Regime was kept secret and it was directly related to extreme right-wing circles that rarely spoke of it openly. As a result, it is interesting to understand the new “historical knowledge” that has led to this situation and to see it in the mirroring reflections of the Internet.

Until a few years ago, before the overwhelming crisis that has affected Greece, there were people who tried to assert the “purity” of the Colonels and the absence of corruption during the Regime but they were always proven wrong not only by historical research but also by television shows like “la macchina del tempo” (an Italian show, The Time Machine) and Reporters without Borders.

There was no anniversary linked to the Resistance against the Regime that would not be officially remembered. In particular, there was an event of that period, namely ‘17 November 1973’, when tanks entered the student-occupied polytechnic and there occurred deaths, apprehensions, disappearances, and tortures. Such event is so important that is deemed a founding date of Greek democratic reconstruction, to the point that every anniversary was commemorated with demonstrations, meetings, and TV broadcasts. Anniversaries keep being an incentive for newspapers and blogs. Indeed, ‘17 November’ is still strongly felt to the extent that there are sites dedicated to the teaching of history endorsing projects for children to learn about it.22

Nonetheless, this event is also revised and minimised as when members of the Golden Dawn talk of it in terms of “the polytechnic fairy tale” and in blogs they parade it with words like “finally the historical truth about…” and “enough with the lies”. The strong presence of the neo-nazi party has brought to the foreground a revaluation of the Regime as the former was founded by men close to the Colonels enabling the election of eighteen delegates whereas in surveys it appeared to get 20% of votes.

This situation is clearly visible on Facebook where there are several pages celebrating Georgios Papadopoulos as in 21η Απριλίου 1967 – 21 Apriliou 1967- where 1.130 people hit the ‘like’ button, or on a webpage entitled Που είσαι ΠαπαδόπουλεΠου είσαι 21η Απριλίου (where are you Papadopoulos? Where is April 21st?) where 2.406 chose the ‘like’ option.

The willingness to revaluate the Regime by portraying it as the best moment of Greek history promoting controversy and revisionism has not been subject to repercussions from the last events, repercussions which had ultimately led to the arrest of the founder of Golden Dawn and the other delegates.

If one uses Google to gather information about the seven-year period of the Regime, the first upcoming link will be, again, Wikipedia, with a straightforward profile, notes and a bibliography. Subsequent sites and blogs declare their intention “not to forget”.

Both in newspapers and in the Internet, we often see analogies between the present and the past: euros instead of tanks. In other words, in 1967 they had tanks, now they have the banks.

As far as the relationship between Greek history and the Internet is concerned, it is worth to mention YouTube, seen as a container full of documentaries and interviews (both to Freedom fighters and soldiers).YouTube presents its viewers with fragments of TV broadcasts, news and public speeches. This is very rich material, albeit undifferentiated, whose usage is difficult out of its diversity and the lack of classification and critical profiles. This happens because YouTube is characterised by diverse material that can be searched with the help of key words and therefore the same page is likely to display videos celebrating the Regime and Papadopoulos whose editing is clearly biased, not to mention fragments of speeches without commentaries, interviews, TV broadcasts that aim at reconstructing events, and even footage shot to divulge a militant anti-fascist recollection.

On YouTube there are comments to the videos and they usually assume the shape of a political debate.

On institutional sites we find online archives where there was an attempt to do a census thanks to the «Η Νεότερη Ελληνική Ιστορία στον ψηφιακό χώρο» project (Greek contemporary history in the archives). These archives are of a different kind with documents relating to different historical periods: in some of them we find a lot of digitized material while others are just catalogues. No wonder that such sites are visited and used by those who wish to pursue serious research, indeed such digitized sources can be used along with the traditional means of the historian. Grievous is the loss of the Ert online archives, namely the State Television whose shutting down has caused the disappearance of the abovementioned site and its archives.

From these premises I believe I can safely assert that Greek history in the Internet has become a political arena while the space dedicated to information is reserved to the specialists. I think one can legitimately say that the present, I mean the current political turmoil in Greece, has made the situation worse and therefore even online history is increasingly used for polemical and political ends and the very word ‘Resistance’ has undergone a semantic change as it has been appropriated by the extreme Right-wing.

It is an attempt to rewrite, or confirm, a national and nationalistic history where Fatherland, Religion and Family have a primary role and where the extreme Right-wing has its roots and legitimation while, on the other hand, the Left-wing foregrounds memory, rather than a rewriting of history. It is a patchwork of rewritings that covers with its loud noise the more historically grounded sites and information.



1 A Criscione, Web e storia contemporanea, edited by P. Ferrari e L. Rossi, Carocci, Roma, 2006, p. 52.

3 In 2007, a group of historians was charged by the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs to write a new history textbook for schools. It is noteworthy to remind the reader that in Greece such text is unique and must be approved by the Ministry. As a result of its publication, there arose polemical debates that involved all political parties, ranging from the extreme right wing to the left. The first loud voice that rose against the new textbook was that of Christodoulos, an important Greek clergyman. He complained that the text gave little importance to the Church in comparison with the Ottoman domination and the constitution of the modern state. Subsequently, such complaint was welcomed and supported by extreme right-wing organisations like LAOS, and also by both the New Democracy government and by the opposition. The communist party as well joined this polemical debate aiming to control the job of historians and the teaching of history. See M. Repousi, I nuovi manuali di storia in Grecia. Cronaca di una guerra ideologica sul passato nazionale in «Mundus», n. 1, pp. 37-43, and also my book Insegnare storia contemporanea in Grecia: il testo unico, in Patrimoni culturali fra storia e futuro, edited by B. Borghi – C. Venturoli, Bologna, Patron editore, 2009, (pp. 131-139).

4 An example of this privileged relationship between the Nation and the Church can be seen in the removal of the religious affiliation from identity cards in 2000. This choice resulted from the will to adapt to the EU laws but the religion of citizens was written on ID cards since 1945. The ensuing controversies were harsh and the entire Greek population was involved. The point is that many saw religion as a distinctive trait defining the Greek people in terms of “us against others”.

5 It is perhaps useful to remind the reader that one of the significant slogans of the dictatorship was ‘Ellas, ellinon xristianon’, namely ‘the Greece of the Christian Greeks

7 This was peer reviewed in 1997 by T. Katsoulakos, A. Kirkini, M. Stamopoulou, p- 71.

8 (Είμαστε μια ελληνική κοινότητα που αγαπάμε τη Μυθολογία και τις Παραδόσεις μας και μαθαίνουμε γιαυτές με πλούσιους τρόπους!!!) We are a Greek community loving mythology and our traditions from which we learn at a profit 27,717 “I like” – 2.120 talk about it (last accessed October 2013)

9 Mikis Theodorakis was a musician and a member of Epon in World War II who later joined the reserves of the Elas, Resistance groups. During the civil war, he was imprisoned and exiled in the islands of Psitalia and Ikaria. On 1949, he was imprisoned and tortured in Makronisos. During the Regime of the Colonels, he was incarcerated and forced to leave the country. His music was forbidden in Greece.

12 http://www.xryshayghkerkyras.com/uploads/2/1/9/0/21906974/ideologia.pdf

13 In this case I have used google.gr

20 10.692 “I like” · 688 talk about it. When I last accessed it on 28 October national vigilance has been added to national resistance. Stop clandestine immigrants

21 1.623 “I like” · 488 people talked about it when I last accessed it on 28 October 2013

22 http://pro-sxolika.blogspot.it/2011/11/17.html; http://www.eimaimama.gr/2011/11/17-noemvriou.html.