Leftists March, but Anti-US Sentiment Otherwise Muted at Olympics

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - Secretary of State Colin Powell at the weekend canceled a planned visit to Athens, where he was to have attended the closing ceremony of the 2004 Olympic Games.

The decision came after some 1,500 demonstrators marched in the Greek capital to protest his visit and the war against Iraq.

The State Department said Powell had important business in Washington, but Greek communist organizations and sympathetic media boasted that the demonstration had scared off the American.

The Greek government said Powell planned to visit instead in October, when "subjects of mutual interest" could be discussed at a time Greece was no longer tied up with the Olympics.

Despite the anti-U.S. demonstration, the 17-day sporting event was not marked by serious displays of anti-American sentiment.

Warnings that displays of virulent anti-U.S. feeling were inevitable in a European country where the left-wing is traditionally hostile to the U.S. were proven to be mostly off-target.

American medal-winners in the main Olympic stadium, like their counterparts from a host of other countries, paraded and draped themselves in their national flag without incident.

With Americans again dominating the medals table, there were plenty of opportunities for antagonism each time the U.S. flag was raised and the national anthem played.

But although boxers were booed and members of the U.S. men's basketball team reported some crowd antagonism when they took the court, on the whole expressions of anti-Americanism remained relatively mild.

The only noteworthy incident of mass booing related not to Americans but to Greek spectators' unhappiness that their country's great hope in the 200 meter track event, Costas Kenteris, was not taking part. Kenteris, who won gold in the event in 2000, withdrew this time after missing a drugs test.

Even when Americans went on to win gold, silver and bronze in the 200m, there was no obvious hostility directed towards them by the worked-up Greeks in the stands.

Outside of the games venues, too, there were few signs of anti-U.S. sentiment -- until the protests against Powell in the closing days of the event.

Anti-Americanism in Greece predates the Iraq war and the Bush administration, going back to U.S. support for an unpopular military junta which ruled the country from 1967-1974.

Previous visits by U.S. leaders have prompted angry scenes, like those seen during a visit by President Clinton in 1999, when leftists rioted in Athens to protest the U.S.-led bombing campaign against Serbia earlier that year.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow