Jason Leech

Greek perceptions of the ‘good Italian’ and ‘bad German’ from invasion (1940) to the London Agreement (1953)


Greece was officially occupied from April 1941 to October 1944, the result of a war famously begun by Italy on 28 October 1940. The Italian occupation between June 1941 and September 1943, however, is commonly remembered as benign; the polar opposite to the atrocities committed by the Germans in now emblematically martyred villages like Distomo and Kalavryta. The Bulgarian and Albanian invaders also feature in collective memory as a whole but they never formed as curious an antithetical and juxtaposed pair as the Germans and Italians. Their link has been entrenched in decades of cultural production in European literature and film with quintessential examples being Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and Mediterraneo. In the allotted 20 minutes, I would like to unravel this long-standing yarn to reveal what really influenced the evolution of these international identities in the collective memory of Greece. Whilst clarifying the actual devastation and pillage perpetrated by the Italian occupiers, I would like to present some, often surprising, vignettes of this Italian-German dichotomisation, showing how the trauma of occupation healed in such an unpredictable selective way: whereas the wounds inflicted by the Germans scarred quite visibly, Italian atrocities ultimately receded into the murky depths of collective memory to render the Italians blameless. I will disentangle the discordant and evolving government narratives in Athens and Rome, deliberately created to serve a political purpose in the advent of the end of war and the Paris Peace Conference, from those of the victims and witnessing bystanders on the ground whose perspective was necessarily influenced by more personal, cultural factors. Whilst sketching out these sometimes overlapping, sometimes discordant narratives in regions as diverse as Thessaly, Athens and Kalavryta, I will try to explain the relationship between the capital and its periphery – both within and outside its borders – and how, perhaps, the rapidly evolving geo-politics of the Cold War coupled to pre-existing cultural stereotypes and political expediency fundamentally transformed the identity of the ‘enemy’ until, by 1953, what started as a mendacious alibi would be set to linger unchallenged for decades, seeping into the heritage of those who had no counter-memories and becoming a popular Greek – if not European – ‘truth’.

Η ανακοίνωση (PDF)