[ilds] Panayotis on Bitter Lemons

mail at durrelllibrarycorfu.org mail at durrelllibrarycorfu.org
Wed Apr 6 01:20:17 PDT 2016

Regarding Panayotis' remarks below: I cannot see how this polarisation of opinion can be resolved. It is totally understandable that Greeks, especially Cypriots, would regard LD as part of the British administration, that they would see that administration as offensive and obstructing enosis and therefore by implication LD was part of that system. I respect that point of view although I radically disagreee with it.
Philhellenes like myself would take the view that the situation was an impossible one based on historical mistakes (even Gladstone referred negatively to the annexation of Cyprus, saying it was ill-judged). 
Those of us who knew LD and/or have studied his work in all areas of his writing will be able to see what I have already described as the agon between his head and his heart. I am sure (and so was he) that he was wrong to take the job in Public Relations, and people like Seferis were right (from their standpoint) to confirm Maurice Cardiff;s view that he would lose his Greek friends. 
In fact, LD intensely disliked most of the postings he had in the British foreign service, with the exceptions of Rhodes and probably the short-lived job in Kalamata. But to brand him unreservedly as a colonial leper, as Panayotis seems to do, is as one-sided as to see the current Cypriot situation or the name-dispute over FYROM as irresoluble because of indelible polar differences. If war is the thing we do when diplomacy and peace have failed, then Panayotis must be seen as a warhorse in the same vein as Roufos and Montis - so virulently anti-British as to condemn all philhellenes. If to be British/English is to be bad (in Greek terms) then there can be no philhellenes , hence no Byron. That's the logic of exclusivism. It doesn't work in the modern world, although extremists can see it no other way - hence the Middle East, Isis, Putin, the Panama Papers which have fascinated us for all of this week.......ad infinitum. Some of us have to get on with the business of living with our opposites WHETHER WE LIKE IT OR NOT. Even the Cypriots are endeavouring to overcome the problems caused by the illegal occupation of their country by Turkey. But look at the continuing presence of Britian in Cyprus (as owner of 100 sq miles of sovereign etrritory) and ask: why do they hold on to it? Because despite the British desire to get out, the Americans insist on its retention - this is the realpolitik of geopolitics. Rebelling against this, as EOKA did against the british, is futile; it may be honourable, but so is martyrdom and exile. LD had 2 views on the martyrdom of EOKA - again, the heart and the head, As a British employee he simply couldn't openly condemn it, but as we know he did condemn it in his private diary, which I made public in 1994, confirming evidence from other sources.
And if Panayotis is so pro-Greek, what does he say of the failed putsch in Cyprus by the military junta in 1974 which provoked the Turkish invasion? Was it simply a desperate attempt by the fascists to bolster their sagging power, or was it a truly nationalist attempt to achieve the longed-for enosis, 14 years too late? According to Panayotis, one must take an entrenched, monochrome view of the thing. 
And for Panayotis to suggest that the town of Corfu should not have named a park "Bosketto Durrell" or allowed the bas-reliefs of Gerald and Lawrence to be placed there is so absurd as to make his position insupportable to all but the most rabid Greek nationalists. LD and GD did honour to Corfu, and the island has thanked them for it.
Nationalisn has had its day, as we know in this country, where the notion of sovereignty has been exploded by the realpolitik of globalised finance and geopolitics.
Moreover, whatever his persuasions, Panayotis is simply not reading Bitter Lemons correctly and I can see the reason for this: the English text is not immediately amenable to critical analysis by non-English readers. I find this when I am lecturing to Greek students or indeed Americans - never tell a joke because the joke for its success demands a shared referential context and Greeks or Americans simply do not 'get' English jokes. It;'s the same with a book, whether it is or is not 'political', whether it is written for propaganda or (to use LD's term) impropaganda, or just for money. The mindset is different. It's a matter of translation - metaphor - and it usually fails. "Every interpretation of reality is based upon a unique position. Two paces east or west and the whole picture is changed".
Bitter Lemons is an ambivalent (diforoumenos) and flawed work where fiction meets history (mithistorima). Don't try to analyse it as a political treatise, as an objective history or even as a fable. It has parts of all of these, and it is above all a work of the imagination as are prospero's Cell and Reflections on a Marine Venus (but I expect Panayotis would read the latter as proof of LD's betrayal of the Greeks by joining the Dodecanese to Greece as part of some dastardly long-term plot to intensify Greek-Turkish hatred and mistrust - and it is indeed open to such interpretation....)
For the attempt to whitewash of the British policy in Cyprus in Bitter Lemons, it is in order to give ashort but concrete example:

[…] ‘Have you heard the news?’ I nodded.‘The execution?’ She puffed and swelled with sorrow. “Why should they do suchthings? I became angry. ‘If you kill you must die,’ I said; she raised herhand, as if to stop me. ‘Not that. Not the execution. But they would not givehis mother the body, or so they say. That is a terrible punishment, sir. For ifyou do not look upon your loved one dead you will never meet him again in theother world (Bitter Lemons of Cyprus,paperback Edition Faber & Faber 1959, p. 268)

The discussion takes place between LDand the cleaning-lady Xenou during LD’s last visit to the Bellapaix house theday of the execution of Michalakis Karaolis in spite of the international protestsand appeals for clemency, US president Eisenhower and Albert Camus included, LD gets angry: ‘If you kill you must die’.Xenou the law-abiding subject of HM protests: the killing was OK, what she hadin mind was the decision of not turning back to the mother of the dead body forsepulture ‘because if you don’t look upon your loved one… etc. ’The naïve beliefof the illiterate indigene registered by pseudo-orientalist LD that ignored thestory Antigone. Otherwise, as all law-abiding subjects of HM, Xenou approved thehanging.

 Even more white washing, the ‘remarkablycourageous woman’ as advertised in the dust cover of her book ‘Below the Tide’ PenelopeTremayne published in 1959, with a spirited preface by the philhellene LD. Speaking of Caraolishanging she does reiterate courageously ‘murder had been done, and punished accordingthe law’ and continues on desecrating the dead

He had killed a man, yes a policeman andcompatriot. But that was not murder: it was the high-spirited act of a decent,upstanding youth who yearned for his freedom he was a hero and a martyr – or atall events, he became later so. 
 It is hard to think that many people believed in this martyr view at thetime. The average Cypriot, then, was still level-headed enough to know murderwhen he saw it; and the EOKA enthusiasts must have been chilled, at least, bythe fact that, when he was condemned, all Caraolis’ political heroics fell fromhim: he repudiated EOKA, said that it was all nonsense and he had never reallywanted to have anything to do with it, and asked for mercy on the grounds thathe was a good boy led astray by bad companions. (Penelope Tremayne Bellow theTide, Houghton Mifflin, First American Edition, 1959, 17)
In1953-56 LD was in possess of mote information than Charles Foley on whathappened in the prisons and in the offices of the Colonial Government of Cyprus.He was not a policy maker but in BitterLemons he chose to lie not ‘for his country’ but for ‘the Tories of his country’cashing the DuffCooper Memorial, thecompliments of the Queen Mother and the applause of Lord Salisbury. Thirtyyears after, in the interview with the Aegean Review he apologized. Maybe notin earnest, but why ironically? All these might sound simplistic but are hard factsthat must be taken into consideration and explained by the learned professors of this list unless theythink they deal with simpletons. 

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