Thursday, 10 December 2015 15:44

SYMBIOSIS Radio: interview with Iosif Vaena

First episode of SYMΒIOSIS Radio FM100.6 for Get the Trolls Out.

 First episode of SYMΒIOSIS Radio FM100.6 for Get the Trolls Out (1 December 2015)

Iosif VaenaIosif Vaena

In his spare time, Iosif Vaena, a young Greek Jewish pharmacist in Thessaloniki, dives into the Thermaikos bay to collect headstones of the Jewish cemetery destroyed by the Nazis and the Greeks. Vaena is hoping to find out, one day, who threw them there. 

Greece has stood out for having one of the highest levels of antisemitic attitudes among monitored countries, research has been showing since the 1980s. “We could object on many things about these research studies – that the sample was small, that the questions were not right –  but we cannot say that all the research in the last 30 years was wrong” said Vaena at the microphone of Symbiosis.

The Jewish Elementary School in Fleming Street is surrounded by strong fences and anti-terrorist barriers – a response to terror attacks in neighbouring countries and folied attacks in Greece by domestic and foreign organisations. Yet, episodes of vandalism are still happening. In preparation for a feast, a few Jewish religious symbols that were left in the courtyard became the target of unknown individuals who threw eggs at them. Furthermore, Molotov cocktail bombs have been thrown against the Jewish graveyard; the Shoah memorial has ben vandalised; and during demonstrations some members of the Communist Party have attacked the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki offices and the Jewish Youth Club.

Why are these incidents not known although they have been reported by the media? “Because those committing these violent acts are what we consider ‘normal’ people,” explained Vaena. “Our neighbours, our friends, people with whom we go out to drink Ouzo. It is difficult to report them also because antisemitism and conspiracy theories are embedded in Greek society and are not considered outrageous", he concluded.

Eleftheri Ora, a populist far right wing newspaper, draws both on new and traditional antisemitism and conpiracy theories to grab attention and sell more copies. If a lie repeated many times ends up becoming truth; that seems to be the mantra of Elefteri Ora’s editorial policies. The fertile ground for the growing antisemitism could be found in the strong belief that Greek people are oppressed and exploited by “invisible world powers”. This discourse is not stranger to richa and poor people alike. Yannakopoulos, MP and owner of a pharmaceutical company, said in the Greek parliament that foreign and Greek Jews are trying to take over and buy the Greek pharmaceutical industry. The same belief in conspiracy could be heard among members of some Greek left-wing parties claiming that Jews and western secret services are behind the Paris attacks in November or that the "US is a puppet and the infamous Jewish lobby the puppeteer". The same conspiracy theories can be found on both leftist and conservative speech. This is one of the reasons why antisemitism is so deeply-rooted in Greece.

For Vaena it is difficult to accept that although it cannot be denied that there is a very high level of integration of Jews – Vaena’s family ancestors have lived in Greece for the last 520 years – there is still antisemitism in the country. What can be done to eradicate it in Greece? “It is difficult to change attitudes that are based on hatred – which is a human emotion,” Vaena said to Symbiosis. “Antisemitism is 2000 years old. If we cannot deal with it and manage this issue, how can we hope to deal with other difficult issues like immigration that we are facing now?”

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