How A Greenpoint Statue Became A Target of Anti-Americanism
Many Greenpointers know that Ferdinand De Lesseps famous Iwo Jima memorial was cast locally at Bedi Rassy Art foundry on India Street; however many people do not know the story of another sculpture cast there, which has become one of the most attacked statues in the world and a focal point of anti-American violence.
In 1963 De Lesseps cast a twelve-foot high bronze statue of Harry Truman. The statue is one of only eight statues of American presidents that stand outside of the United. States. The piece was commissioned by the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association, a Greek-American group, to honor the Truman Doctrine, which gave $2 billion in economic and military aid to the Greek government to defeat communist guerrillas during the country’s civil war between 1946 and 1949.
Today visitors to Athens still notice Truman’s statue on the drive into the central Athens along the way to the Acropolis and Temple of Olympian Zeus. Below the statue two faded white marble tablets, inscribed in Greek and English thank Truman for “helping the Greek people to preserve their freedom and national integrity.”
However, since its unveiling in 1963 the statue has been the focal point for anti-American protests by Greeks for a number of issues: the Truman Doctrine, the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, and the U.S. support of a series of authoritarian leaders, among others. It’s been bombed, toppled over, and recently doused with red paint. One of those attacks occurred in March 1987, when a leftist group protesting alleged American imperialism in Greece bombed the statue.
According to The New York Times:
The monument was blown off its pedestal, a few nights before the arrival of Secretary of State George P. Shultz, in protest against any improvement in relations. Responsibility for the action was claimed by a group calling itself the Christos Cassimis Revolutionary Organization, named for a militant killed in 1978 in a gunfight with the police.
Restoring the statue took a year and a half. The Socialist dominated Athenian City Council voted against restoring the statue, saying that Athenians were still bitter after the U.S. involvement in the Greek civil war. Finally, however, Socialist Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou agreed to put the statue back in the central Athens park where it originally stood, citing improving relations between the U.S. and Greece at the time. Previously, Papandreou was elected on the promise to significantly cut ties with the U.S., and to leave the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Community.
The New York Times on Aug. 7, 1987 described how the statue was restored in the middle of the night under heavy security and said:
The pro-Moscow Greek Communist Party today charged that the restoration of the statue ”conflicts with the anti-American sentiments of the Greek people.” It said it was a ”humiliating act” that demonstrated the government’s attempt to gain favor with the United States leading up to talks on the renewal of an agreement on American military bases here.
Again the defenseless statue would suffer. In July 2006, Greeks protesting U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East tore it down following demonstrations at the American and Israeli embassies. It had previously been knocked down at least four times. The Greeks continue to repair the statue and clean off the red paint. I do not think that the De Lesseps and the craftsmen from India Street had any idea that they were creating a statue that would suffer so much abuse.