Children of the Greek Civil War: Refugees and the Politics of Memory

Article excerpt

Loring M. Danforth and Riki Van Boeschoten, Children of the Greek Civil War: Refugees and the Politics of Memory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012. 352 pp.

Loring M. Danforth and Riki Van Boeschoten offer a masterful, original, and rich ethnographic analysis of the evacuation of children, self-identified as Greeks and Macedonians, from their homes in northern Greece by both parties in the Greek Civil War of 1946-1949, namely the royalist right-wing government and the Greek Communist Party. The refugee children-that is, children who were usually between the ages of three and 14, though often younger or older children as well, who were "forced to leave [their] home[s] and country of origin because of a well-founded fear of persecution" (265)-were evacuated to children's homes operated by the Greek Communist Party in Eastern Europe and to paidopoleis (literally meaning "children's cities") by the Greek government in locations throughout Greece. Based on archival research and ten years of fieldwork in multiple locales around the world, the authors explore in three neatly organized and tightly knit parts the intersection between the stories of lived experiences as told by individual refugee children after the end of the Cold War and the history of the Greek Civil War. They provide pioneering insights into a still controversial episode in Greece's modern history and maintain a remarkably balanced and sensitive approach, whereby a wide range of personal experiences and perspectives on the Civil War is presented and analyzed in a sophisticated manner. For the non-specialists in the ethnography of Greece, the authors make strong theoretical contributions to the fields of refugee studies, the anthropology of children and childhood, and the politics of memory. Danforth and Van Boeschoten write with the hope that the similarities in the meanings with which all the refugee children of the Greek Civil War have themselves imbued their past experiences, irrespective of their national identity and political party affiliation, will help to heal the traumas of war and exile and to bring about reconciliation with the past. It is particularly encouraging to read this book at the present moment, when the Greek and Macedonian sides involved in the controversy concerning the memory of the evacuation of refugee children of the Greek Civil War lay claim with nationalist fervor to an absolute truth about suffering and victimhood and produce authoritative national narratives. The multiple voices presented in this book eloquently illustrate the complexity and ambiguity of the refugee experience, and can thus help undermine the potency of nationalist perspectives and resolve a long-lasting and seemingly intractable dispute. But let me begin at the beginning.

In the first part of the book, Histories, Danforth and Van Boeschoten present the larger historical context in which the two Greek evacuation programs unfolded. In the wake of the Axis occupation of Greece in April 1941 and the immediate flight of the king of Greece, King George II, and his government into exile, the communist-sponsored resistance organization National Liberation Front (EAM) and its military wing, the Greek Popular Liberation Army (ELAS), enjoyed wide popular support among the Greek population. Although EAM consented to participate in a government of national unity and place ELAS forces under the command of British General Scobie in September 1944, polarization between the political leftand the anti-communist, royalist right continued to grow. In December 1944, fighting broke out in Athens between units of EAM/ELAS and the Greek police, rightist bands, and British troops, that lasted for six weeks. The persecution of the leftcontinued, especially after the right won the elections of 1946 and a national referendum sanctioned the return of King George II to the throne, and played a key role in the eruption of civil war. The Democratic Party of Greece, established by leaders of the Communist Party, kept to its stronghold in the mountainous regions of northern Greece. …