How to Mix Fact and Fiction

By William Mallinson
Athens, 15 October 2020

On 5 October, published an article by a Denis MacShane, né Josef Denis Matyjaszek, which can compete with some of the clumsiest, but hopefully accidental, propaganda that I have come across, and which does Greece a disservice. But first, for uninformed ekathimerini readers, who is MacShane? He is, as the article indeed describes him, the UK’s former Minister of [sic] Europe. What ekathimerini forgot to mention was that he is also a Blairite who supported the Iraq war, and a former jailbird, having spent six months in prison for false accounting seven years ago. Certainly not my cup of tea. Let us now consider his article, which is frightening for its ignorance, the result either of tactical omission or a lack of even basic knowledge about Anglo-Greek relations.

In his article, he quite rightly attacks Erdogan and Turkish policy, also referring to British pro-Turkish policy, particularly since post-Brexit, Britain will want to have a trade deal with the country. Let us however quote some of his article:

‘Two hundred years ago the people of Greece rose up and demanded freedom from their Turkish overlords. The campaign for Greek independence and sovereignty caught the imagination of the British people. The most famous of the many Brits who threw themselves whole-heartedly into the struggle for Greek freedom was the poet Lord Byron, who died in Greece while supporting the campaign.

Greece has always had a peculiar hold on the British or perhaps the English sensibility.

In the last two centuries our love affair with Greece has continued unabated. Patrick Leigh Fermor’s dashing exploits in World War II or Winston Churchill dropping everything to hurry to Athens for Christmas 1944 to stop a Soviet communist enslavement of Greece are examples. Christopher Hitchens, the famous leftist English polemicist, cut his teeth writing against the Turkish invasion and occupation of northern Cyprus and then a splendid book calling for the return of the Parthenon Marbles looted by a syphilitic Scottish aristocrat, Lord Elgin, who shamed British diplomacy and could only get away with his crime as Greece was still controlled by Istanbul.’