This is the speech I gave during the presentation of the book “The Amorgos Conspiracy” on the 27th of June 2013 at The Hellenic Centre in London .
Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen
I usually like to begin a talk like this by remembering my mother. She was the one who told me I should become a writer and also go into shipping, and I’ve done both things and never regretted it.
Tonight I also have to thank her for telling me I should marry a nice Greek girl, for if I hadn’t done that, there would have been no Amorgos Conspiracy.
The word conspiracy comes from two Latin words, con and spiro, which mean breathe together.
In that sense, whenever two or more people breathe together they are actually conspiring.
At the moment, in this Great Hall, we are all breathing together. But if this is a conspiracy, it is not likely to be a successful one, because one of the important requirements of a conspiracy is that it should be a secret.
And with the very nice turnout of people who are here this evening, if we are plotting anything, it is not like to remain a secret for very long.
So, I thank you very much for coming and for joining this very open kind of conspiracy.
The Amorgos Conspiracy is a story of youth, of people who are at an age when they think they can do anything.
Think of what it must have been like for the five Italians who came to Amorgos with me. One day, in the little Tuscan port of Santo Stefano, where King Constantine used to keep his yacht, they met a tall man with a black beard. They knew he was Greek, but they knew him only by a Danish name, Arne Diener.
In the book, I say I was supposed to be a Dane, but I looked like Archbishop Makarios when he was a monk, wearing a bathing suit.
I told them I would lead them to rescue a Greek politician who was being held on an island in the Aegean but I wouldn’t tell them the politician’s name or the name of the island until we got there. And they came. That is what it is to be young.
A story of youth gives us hope and inspiration. Our own youth and other people’s. It does us good to remember a time when we thought we could do anything. Especially now.
Soon enough life teaches us that we can’t do everything.
In fact, it often teaches us that we can’t do very much at all. But as we look back on our young adventures it’s no good if we smile ironically and say, “See how naïve I was, how well meaning and innocent.”
You can’t say anything like that. And you can’t even think it. Because if you do, then your book—if you write one—will not be about being young but about being old, and no one wants to read about that.
So in the summer of 1969, I thought I could overthrow the junta. I was thirty-two at the time, and it seemed eminently possible. I still think it could have been possible.
That summer, the Americans seemed to have grown tired of the colonels. Amnesty International reported that they tortured their political opposition, and all Europe hated them. The Americans were said to be ready to turn to Constantine Karamanlis if a broad coalition of politicians would support him. So, the task as I saw it was to help form a broad coalition of politicians to replace the colonels under former Prime Minister Karamanlis.
A difficult task but it shouldn’t have been impossible. In fact, if the politicians had been different, it could have been easy.
Andreas Papandreou, the left-wing leader who had gone into exile in Stockholm wouldn’t talk to the conservative ex-Prime Minister Karamanlis let alone support him.
So, what was needed was a politician of the Center Left, one who could take Papandreou’s place. Mylonas was just such a politician and he happened to be my father-in-law.
I met Konstantinos Mitsotakis that summer, long before he became prime minister. We met in Geneva at the house of mutual friends, James and Maria Becket. James Becket had written the Amnesty Report on Torture in Greece. Before we sat down to dinner, Mitsotakis drew me aside in the Beckets’ bedroom and without any small talk, he said, “Your father-in-law must escape.”
I had already thought of that but I didn’t let on. But even though I was a neophyte in Greek politics, I could see why Mitsotakis might want that to happen.
In contrast to the uncooperative Papandreou, the moderate left-wing Mylonas would be a gift horse to any coalition. If he could escape from Greece and take Papandreou’s place on the left, the coalition could outflank Andreas and maybe it would succeed.
And that was how the Amorgos Conspiracy was born.
Even now it is tantalizing to imagine what might have happened if it had succeeded. The junta would have been thrown out in 1969, five years before it eventually collapsed.
There would have been no colonels’ coup against the government of Cyprus in July 1974. Neither of the two Turkish invasions would have happened. And 6,000 Cypriots who died that summer would have lived.
Unfortunately, the coalition of national unity did not come about. But despite that fact, the escape brought many good results. For one thing it was the first successful act against the junta, and it proved to everyone that resistance was possible.
It also helped the European case against the junta for human rights abuses. The publicity surrounding the Amorgos rescue helped push wavering governments off the fence in the Council of Europe. And since the votes were there for Greece’s expulsion, the colonels voluntarily withdrew.
As I say in the epilogue to The Amorgos Conspiracy–
“It was the first time the infant European community acted to ensure a common standard of political conduct; and by taking concerted action against the junta, (the council) laid one of the first cornerstones of the European Union.”
It’s worth remembering today that Greece helped bring Europe together in 1969, and now, forty-four years later, if Europe takes the necessary steps to stay together, once again Greece will be one of the causes that made it do so.
Greece always seems to be in the lime-light. Spain or Italy are much larger, but Greece is the country that people talk about. Why that is so seems beyond our power to influence. It may go back to Byron and the Greek Revolution.
Why should a British nobleman in his twenties have taken up the cause of Greek liberty and then died in a swamp near Missolonghi? Why should five Italians no older than he was sail to Amorgos with someone they didn’t know? Whatever the answer may be, it has something to do with Greece, and with the hold that Greece has on people’s imaginations.
International organizations—Amnesty and the Red Cross couldn’t get the man off the island. A small group of young people had to do that—one Greek from the diaspora and five Italians with heart.
So, if we follow the Amorgos analogy now, international organizations won’t save Greece now. The Troika and the E.U. won’t save Greece. Others will have to do that.
All of us were private citizens. All of us came from so-called privileged backgrounds, and all of us were from the periphery as we would be called today.
I was a Greek who had grown up outside of Greece, but I was raised in a traditional Greek home. If I hadn’t been, I never would have embarked on the journey. I took this action against the colonels because I’d been brought up to believe in Greece, and I believed it in a way that I thought the colonels didn’t.
Not one of the rescue party was born in Greece or ever lived there. And yet we were responsible for one of the notable acts of resistance against the junta.
Many of you here this evening didn’t grow up in Greece either. Greece has a large resource that is not available to most other countries—the large numbers of ethnic Greeks who live beyond its borders—the so-called Greek diaspora. And all of us, Greeks of the diaspora, have a concept of Hellenism that goes beyond our loyalty to any particular Greek government.
The decline of the Greek political class is vividly off-set by the achievements of Greeks who have emigrated and made good abroad.
And we are used to being foreigners in the country where we live. We lived in the Ottoman Empire for four hundred years. When our capital was I Poli, Greeks were one of several nations, the so called millets that lived in the Empire, along with the Armenians and the Jews and other “nations”. Wherever they lived at that time whether it was in Anatolia, in Ionia, by the Black Sea or in Egypt, Greeks in all parts of the Ottoman Empire made up that unique Greek nation— a nation that existed with no Greek borders and no Greek government in Athens. And the nation still exists.
The center of Hellenism is not in Athens, but in ourselves
We are the true Greek nation—we the Greeks abroad, and those who come abroad and go back frequently.
We are the ones who have brought glory to Greece and can continue to do so despite the misconduct of Greek politicians since the Amorgos Conspiracy and earlier.
It’s time we begin to take the credit for our achievements. We are the Greek nation in the sense of the millet–A nation without borders. All of us here this evening are part of that nation, We the Greek teachers, writers, artists, business people, scientists, ship owners. We are all Greek people living as a whole, in diverse places geographically, bound together by our common language and culture.
And of such a nation, this Great Hall can really be considered a capital. It is a Greek place, where Greek people gather to consider subjects of interest to their nation.
And the nation I am talking about is here. We are the ones who carry the flame.
All of us here, breathing together, in this room.