Saturday, March 31, 2012

Rodney Dangerfieldopoulos

One of the things I’ve always loved about the Greeks is their sense of humor.  We share that same warped trait.  So what the hell is going on over there?

Here I am, trying to decide what to write in my last US-based blog for quite a while when what to my wondering eyes should appear but a story in Wednesday’s (the web content provider for Greece’s most respected newspaper) about a group of Greek lawyers suing a German-based travel writer for libel in Greece (an imprisonable offence there) for having written allegedly offensive things about Greece in a magazine article the writer claims was, at most, satirical.  (That’s him, Klaus Boetig, in the photo above, not the late American comedian Rodney Dangerfield who’s famous for the line, “I get no respect.”)

They say the first thing to go is the sense of humor.  If that’s the case this Grecophile is in serious trouble.  Perhaps I should check the plane schedules to Turkey.  I’m sure the Turks would be more tolerant of humorous musings on their neighbor—though I doubt they’d take to kindly to the use of Constantinople in the dateline.

So, what was in that Greek newspaper article by Harry van Versendaal?  Click on this link for the whole thing, but here’s the opening:

Klaus Boetig set foot in Greece for the first time on Christmas Day of 1972. He came on a train from Germany and spent the night at a cheap hostel in Plaka. Since then, the 63-year-old Bremen-based author has visited Greece almost every year and written more than 70 travel guides on all parts of the country. Many of these have been translated into more than 10 different European languages and three have been published in Greek. His travel pieces have appeared in dozens of newspapers, magazines and information brochures, including a German publication prepared by the Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO).

Ironically, Boetig tries to avoid Greece these days. Two years ago, his name was embroiled in a controversy that still lingers.

It all began when the German weekly news magazine Focus came out with the now-infamous cover depicting the iconic Venus de Milo statue draped in a Greek flag and showing her middle finger. “Cheats in the Euro family,” read the headline. The cheats, of course, were the Greeks.

The distasteful cover
The publication, which was published on February 22, 2010, prompted a group of Greek lawyers to sue a dozen staff journalists at Focus as well as Boetig, a freelancer, for defamation and libel. Boetig, the prosecutor said at the time, consciously misguided readers about the character of the Greek people.

Boetig's article was headlined: “Culture shock: Can the Greeks be understood?” A court summons summed up the author's alleged claims: “The Greeks live off borrowed money; they maintain clientelistic relations with the country's politicians in order to protect their illegal homes; they make rules only to break them; they use their religion to solve all their problems; they don't know how to read; they do not respect their working hours and, finally, they use the European Union's tourism funds to build private residences.”

Katerina Fragaki, one of the Greek lawyers who filed the lawsuit, slams the article as “an insult to our honor and integrity.”

She says the authors made and distributed false claims about the Greeks while knowing that those claims were false. Moreover, Fragaki adds, the cover and the articles carried comments and opinions that, directly or indirectly, vilify the Greek people, their history and their culture. “These articles in effect put in doubt the social and moral value of Greek society and disparage its integrity,” she says.

Lost in translation

From his home in Germany, Boetig claims it's all a big misunderstanding. He describes how he was contacted by the online edition of Focus to contribute a story for the website's tourism section. “I was told it should be witty, funny and even ironic like the other articles for these series before. I agreed.”

And so it continues.

I thought of redacting the “the author’s alleged claims” so as not to offend my Greek friends by repeating them.  But then I read them carefully, and realized by that in light of all the disparaging things that have been said about Greece in the world press, to omit them might give rise to thoughts in a reader’s mind of things much worse.  Even as stretched for purposes of litigation, virtually all of the alleged claims have been publically lodged before in one form or another, some even on the very floor of Greece’s Parliament by a sitting Prime Minister. 

Frankly, I don’t get the lawsuit against the writer.  Even if his article were intended as serious and bore not a scintilla of accuracy, I think this plainly dedicated group of Greek lawyers would have served the integrity of their countrymen far better by going after any of those who did some of the deeds accused rather than the accuser.

I just don’t see where putting a travel writer in jail for libel would do faintly as much to positively pump up Greek morale as would putting in jail just one of those every Greek knows should be put away.

And before anyone says, “You don’t understand, the wrongdoers can no longer be prosecuted for their crimes,” I say, “Put on your thinking caps, do something creative that will do more to benefit your country than suing foreign journalists.”

And to the “Yeah, like what?” response I say:

“I’m willing to bet that whatever law no longer allows the guilty to be prosecuted surely does not allow wrongdoers to keep their ill-gotten gains.  So, lawyers of Greece unite and use your creative skills to recover what rightfully belongs to the people of Greece.”

That is how to truly serve Greece and inspire the morale of its people.

Leonidas, Greek hero-king of Sparta
Perhaps I should fly under an assumed name.  Any suggestions?

Saturday—Molon Labe


  1. By suing the writer, the lawyers have seen to it that what he wrote will get the broadest possible distribution. I, for one, would never have heard about it. There must be many like me who read the "libelous" opinions in articles like this one, about the lawsuit. If the lawyers are trying to protect Greece's reputation, they would have done better to ignore what Boetig wrote. The worst thing you can do to a writer is ignore what he writes. Most of us would rather go to jail than to have our work ignored.

  2. I think much along the same lines, Annamaria, though having spent a lot of time around jails I'm not so sure I'd pick a sort of "Midnight Express" experience (that film of course involved a Turkish prison, not Greek) over being ignored. Then again...

  3. I guess it's hard to maintain one's sense of humor when you feel under siege, and the Greeks have taken a hit as "The seat of Democracy). It's a shame.

  4. Aha, another idea for a future book, Mr. Siger? I think the libel issue plus murder would work. I just bought, from Amazon, your book, Murder in Mykonos. Hope to do this for all you seven.

  5. It is a shame, Lil, and I understand how Greeks dedicated to their country want to lash out at the unfairness of so much of what they're enduring. I'm just suggesting they be more selective in their targets.

    And Loverofwords, thank you for the murderous suggestion and your purchase of "Murder in Mykonos," my sentimental favorite what with it being my first Andreas Kaldis novel.

    I also have good news to announce for the first time here about the new Kaldis book coming out in June, TARGET: TINOS. I literally just learned from my publisher (Poisoned Pen Press) that Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review, calling it "superb...a winner."

    Can you see my smile:))))

  6. CONGRATULATION, JEFF!!!!! Great, great news, and richly deserved.

  7. Wonderful news! Another in the TBR cache!

  8. Thanks, Tim and Stan, not just for your most appreciated thoughts, but the high standards you set for all of us to follow!

  9. Congratulations, on your book and your soon-to-be return to Mykonos.

    As to slander/libel/gossip, I seem to recall the old Testament prescribed a gruesome end. Perhaps a modern day lawsuit is better or not. Only our inner lawyer knows. Maybe Google the Greek word diabolos (slanderer).

  10. Thanks, Liz.

    On the subject of biblical grounds for punishing slander, you really don't have to search beyond the Ninth Commandment.

    1. It's the punishments, not the crime, that I have successfully repressed but a glimmer tells me Edgar A. Poe would have approved.

  11. Replies
    1. At this point in time, I feel such sympathy for the Greek people, especially against Germany, due to the economic imbalances and austerity imposed on them, that I'll go along with anything they do to keep their integrity.

      And I was very sad to learn today of a 77-year-old retired pharmacy taking his own life because he could not live on his reduced pension and would not, as he put it, scavange for food.

      This is what I meant, along with mothers put their children into government care so they'd be fed, about the suffering of the people. They don't deserve it. They, as our retired pharmacist, worked hard all their lives.

      What will the government do about this sorry state of affairs?

  12. There's no quarrel that the suicide was tragic and many are suffering. My point, Kathy, is that energies should be focused on changing the government's approach, not attacking those who criticize it. And it appears from stories running in Greek newspapers, such as Ekathimerini, that a lot of Greeks agree. They see the case against Klaus Boetig as a waste of legal resources that could be far better used going after true villains.

    By the way, I've been back on Mykonos for 24 hours and the most significant thing I've noticed so far is a broad sense that "Despite all the government is doing to us, we are prepared to work hard and prevail."

    And then there's the virtually unanimous shared opinion on their politicians, but I'm sure I don't need repeat that for you to know what it is.

    1. There have to be major changes to alleviate the suffering of so many people, working people, the poor, farmers, and even some in the middle class.

      Politicians? I doubt if there's confidence in any of them.

      My approach would be very different: Put the people who are suffering financially first in line as creditors, the banks, hedge funds and investors last. Medical care, food, housing are the priorities.

      It's a morally bankrupt system which leads to suicides of people who've worked hard all their life and women having to give up children to government care. Much is wrong with this picture.

      Human beings should come first if there is any morality and justice.

      This is true of the States, too, more and more.