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Profiles of Greece
Nicholas Econopouly

November 22, 1963

A neighbor walked in (Mr. Prantounas). We talked for a few minutes about a number of things, then got around to the topic of race relations in the U.S. Talked about twenty minutes - he didn't understand why such feelings exist - we moved from this to regional patterns - to letters from my university students to Northport students - then suddenly his wife burst into the room, a look of awful shock on he face, her arms waving and hardly able to speak - something about Kennedy - hard to distinguish between her words and our own conversation about racial conflict at the time. We rushed to the radio - the army station had switched to the Voice of America - and the news was confirmed.

I will never forget the reaction of Mr. Prantounas. He is a quiet and gentle man and suddenly his arms were flailing over his head, a sign of extreme and awful distress in Greece and he swore repeatedly and immediately associated it with Southern racists: "The beasts. The beasts. They killed him. They killed him." His wife had tears around her eyes, as did the others in the room, Greeks and Americans alike. We still could not believe it had happened. We went to the balcony and looked outside. It was strangely, strangely quiet, especially for nine o'clock Friday night - the shops had closed and people had gone home early.

The U.S. had come crashing back on us.

Next day. The distress in this city is hard to describe. I went to Mr. Prantounas' later last night - they were stunned, disbelieving - "He was a man first and an American second." We have heard much criticism of American policy, some of it justified but never have we heard an attack on Kennedy - the closest to it being curiosity as to whether he knew of the true picture in Greece, had he been accurately informed, etc. Went downstairs this morning & the place still very quiet - the barber, hardware man, photographer, coffee shop man, tailor, several others crowded around - why had they killed him? What could have been the motive for killing a man who was interested in peace? He was a democrat, they agreed, he worked for the good of ordinary people - this is always dangerous. Their affiliations (political): from extreme left (communist, a peculiar ill-informed variety) to center, all in agreement on the topic.

The Embassy is quiet - Greeks walking in quietly to sign a register, cross themselves, walk out again.

Several have been awed by a number of things: (1) at how quickly we dismissed the possibility that the set might have been committed by a political opponent - impossible, impossible, we told them - it was probably done wither by a manic and/or a Southern racist, not a Republican - sounds strange, almost funny but we tend to forget the remarkable and peaceful nature of our political tradition; (2) the orderly transfer of power. Will there be riots, revolution, they asked? What will happen now? Will there be a contest to decide the new President? No, we told them - President Johnson was installed immediately after the death of Kennedy. He will be in the presidential offices this morning. They were very, very impressed.

The army station is playing funeral music, as are some of the Greek stations. Acropolis, an Athens daily, had headlines from the top down to the middle of the page. Papers were selling rapidly and around every kiosk (they are everywhere, several on every important block in the city) people gathered to read the headlines on the Greek, French, Italian, English newspapers displayed there. And the groups of people are strangely quiet, reading, perhaps whispering and moving on. Strange, strange, strange for Greeks.

"The poor, poor black people. They lost the best friend they had," said a man downstairs. "We all lost a friend," added the hardware man. I look at the words now and they appear almost trite - but they were said so quietly, with solemnity and feeling.

Sunday. All radio stations are now playing serious classical music. Same thing tomorrow. All radio commercials have been cancelled through Monday. Schools, which ordinarily operate on a six-day week, were closed on Saturday and will remain closed until Tuesday. All government offices and banks are closed during the three day period of national mourning. Many private businesses were closed on Saturday and will be closed on Monday (a severe hardship to the small merchant who barely makes ends meet.)

Went to downtown Athens this morning - all copies of the Paris editions of the New York Times and Herald-Tribune had been bought up within a half hour; I finally found copies in a kiosk at the edge of the district. Same scene as yesterday: people standing around quietly reading the latest editions of papers displayed on the kiosks.

Confusion about the motives for the assassination. Greeks are not particularly well informed about life in America - many assumed immediately that the crime was committed by gangsters. "Why don't you do something about your Al Capones? Gangsters shoot people down in the streets almost every day." (Greek teenagers do particularly those prominent in the 1930's era.) Quite a few people with whom we spoke thought at first (as we did) that the assassination was carried out by Southern racist. Many more, however, seemed to feel that Communists were responsible, that it was part of a large plot involving many other people - or that it was the work of a political opponent - i.e. Johnson, in Texas - as a means for getting the Presidency. (Politics in this part of the world can be a pretty violent business.) Conversation is now largely focused on this: why did Oswald do it? Was it really for the reasons given by Dallas police?

To sum up, we are astounded at the intensity of the reaction here in Athens. The city is stunned, in mourning & as one Greek commented, it would have been no more intense if it was a Greek national leader who had been assassinated. It is also a measure of Kennedy's personal popularity in this part of the world. In three years he emerged as a symbol of the search for peace, higher in stature in this respect than any otherworld leader. He was, in effect, the keystone of positive feelings between the Greek and American, far more so than aid programs and military assistance. The Greek tend to see issues and problems in terms of personalities & Kennedy and the Greeks were, strange as it seems, well suited to each other. Bewilderment about the future - without references to the '64 campaign - is now an important ingredient in the Greeks' feelings about the problems of peace.

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