Can you tell us a bit about the project you worked on as Laskaridis research fellow at the University of Amsterdam?
My main research project focused on anticommunism in Greece during the post-war period, that is from 1944-1974. In contrast to the conventional historiography, I argue that anticommunism was a dominant sociocultural and political discourse in Greece in those thirty years. The grant has helped me to progress with a book-length project on this subject. This follows from my previous book, Greece and the Cold War, which was on the foreign policy of the early post-Civil War governments. My new project examines anticommunism from a wider perspective, as a cultural, social and, of course, global phenomenon that defined Greek politics in the post-war period.
These research fellowships are for research projects (partly) situated in the field of Modern Greek Studies, broadly understood. How does your work relate to Modern Greek Studies and how do you see your relation to the field?
In recent years, I believe two major shifts have occurred in Modern Greek Studies. First was the move away from a narrow discipline-based (i.e. purely literary, historical, linguistic) focus toward cross-disciplinary studies that approach Greek culture in a broader sense. Here, the Cultural Studies perspective of the late Gramscian/Fanonian intellectual Stuart Hall, was crucial. The second major shift has been towards greater comparative work, to break with the (often but not always nationalist) agenda that stresses Greek ‘exceptionalism’. My work on anticommunism embodies both trends. It re-thinks post-war Greek history and politics from the perspective of the hegemonic cultural regime of that period, which was primarily anticommunist; and compares this history to the experience of anticommunism across Europe during the early Cold War.
What did you enjoy most about the University of Amsterdam and Amsterdam as a city? What did you find estranging, funny, or less appealing about life in Amsterdam or at UvA?
For various reasons, including the Covid-19 restrictions and lockdowns, my visits to Amsterdam were brief. Still, I got to know the city better, especially on two occasions when I deliberately lost my way among its beautiful streets and canals. It was nothing like Camus’ ‘seven circles of middle-class hell’. What I did find less appealing were the large crowds of tourists (of which, in one sense, I was also one!) and the piles of litter they left behind every night. What I liked most were the contradictions and the conscious attempt of the authorities to accommodate cultural extremes, which elsewhere would be viewed as inappropriate. An amusing moment was my visit to the house of the Greek Enlightenment intellectual, Adamantios Korais, which is located opposite a Church, as one would expect. Today, however, it also lies at the heart of the red light district. I know that another key figure of Greek letters, C.P. Cavafy, wouldn’t mind, because his last apartment in Alexandria stood between the Patriarchate and a brothel. But I did wonder what the great Korais would think about his own house today.
What is your impression of the academic community in Modern Greek Studies at the University of Amsterdam?
Getting to know better the small but dynamic Modern Greek Studies community at UvA was, for me, one of the highlights of the fellowship. I was impressed by the diverse and innovative work both staff and research students are working on, and their multifarious interactions with other University departments. I was fortunate to jointly teach two classes with the Modern Greek Studies staff at UvA. I found them truly engaging! The standard of teaching was high and students from various disciplines participated with genuine intellectual curiosity and zest.
What do you consider the highlight of your fellowship?
The long and frank discussions with colleagues and students, often alongside the city’s canals, in which we exchanged views about their work and developments in our fields. The depth and creativity that one attains in such informal conversations, in my experience, beats what is usually said in seminars, conferences and other formal academic gatherings. I found it intellectually healthy that such open and all-embracing exchanges go on regularly in and around the University.
What do you consider the main outcome of your term as a fellow at this university?
Besides my work on post-war anticommunism, which will not be published yet, my other major output was a 9,000-word longue durée article on Greek orientalism toward the Arabs, from Korais to the 20th century. This will appear in the Journal of Greek Media and Culture, in a special issue on relations between Greece and the Global South. I also wrote shorter pieces and gave guest talks, including one on C.P. Cavafy, which appeared in the Greek magazine Ta poiitika (Poetics), and another on how ‘entangled histories’ can further the UN’s ‘Dialogue of Civilizations’ agenda. I also wrote a political science article titled, ‘Why Greece Does Not Have a Two-Party System’. Near the end, fellows must give a lecture on their work. Because of the pandemic, I gave mine online. Technically, I wouldn’t recommend it, but the great advantage was that we were joined by viewers from the UK, the US, and Greece, who gave us a lively Q/A session.
What are your plans for the next few years? Do you feel the fellowship contributed to these plans – if so, how?
My immediate plan is to finish the book I am writing now on Egypt’s Greek literary community, provisionally titled, Colonialism and Diaspora: A Cultural History of Greek Literature in Egypt. It is close to completion, but as British universities have become highly bureaucratized, I find very little time to write. My work during the Laskaridis Fellowship contributed mainly to the next book-length project, which will be on post-war Greek anticommunism. I have published three chapters from it, the latest in the form of an article that appeared this year in the Journal of Contemporary History. But I still have some way to go with that project.
Do you see yourself returning to Amsterdam in the future?
Absolutely! If I could, I would go again tomorrow.
Do you have any advice, thoughts or suggestions for prospective applicants for these fellowships?
Different scholars work in different ways. So, I will refrain from sounding overly didactic. All I can say is that Modern Greek Studies at UvA provide a friendly, flexible and liberal academic ethos that enables future fellows to organize their research as they see fit. Perhaps the only didactic thing I will allow myself to tell them is this: Enjoy the city as much as you can, and talk with as many UvA academics as possible, especially from disciplines other than your own.