Friday, 28 December 2007

Nothing in excess

I should have written this post about excess before Christmas; but never mind.

When the Greeks said Μηδὲν ἄγαν (Nothing in excess), they meant in all aspects of life – in politics, ethics, aesthetics, culture, art, architecture, psychology and so on – defiance of which invited hubris, discord and catastrophe and amounted to the repudiation of what the Greeks aspired to more than anything – living with beauty and truth.

Nevertheless, it was Nietzsche who pointed out the essential deceit of the Nothing in excess maxim – carved into the temple of Phoebus Apollo at Delphi – and asserted the root of Greek art and life is not rationality and moderation but strife and pain, and that only a people – like the Greeks – who experienced an ‘excess of strength and courage to gaze into the horror of individual existence and not be turned into stone by the vision’, who were familiar with the ecstatic dream world of Dionysiac art, would have dared to unravel the mysteries of beauty and truth.

‘What suffering [the Greek] race must have endured to reach such beauty [in their culture],’ Nietzsche says at the end of The Birth of Tragedy.

Here’s another view of excess, from Odysseas Elytis, as expressed in his poem The Sovereign Sun, in which he prefers to extol the virtues of moderation, praise the man who has few needs in life and pity the tragic fate of those – like the Greeks – who create modest paradises and then find themselves at the mercy of the avaricious, the envious and resentful, of those whose needs are excessive and malicious.

There’s nothing much a man may want
but to be quiet and innocent

a little food a little wine
at Christmas and at Easter time

wherever he may build his nest
may no one there disturb his rest.

But everything has all gone wrong
they wake him up at break of dawn

then come and drag him to and fro
eat up what little he has and lo

from out his mouth from out of sight
and in a moment of great delight

they snatch his morsel in an evil hour.
Hip hip hurrah for those in Power!

Hip hip hurrah for those in Power
for them there is no ‘I’ or ‘our’.

Hip hip hurrah for those in Power
whatever they see they must devour.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Radio Akritas: Greek carols

On Radio Akritas, I've made available some Christmas and New Year's carols from various parts of the Greek kosmos, which give a good indication of the heterogeneity of the Greek tradition, how the larger Greek world consists of multifarious, smaller Greek worlds.

The carols are from:
1. Zakynthos
2. Magna Graecia/Megali Ellas, i.e. southern Italy
2. Epiros
3. Propontis
4. Thrace
6. Crete
7. Cyprus

More carols from the Greek kosmos can be heard here:

The depiction of the nativity is from the church of Panayia tou Araka, in the village of Lagoudhera in the Troodos mountains, Cyprus.

Καλά Χριστούγεννα σε όλους

Friday, 21 December 2007

It’s a Wonderful Life… or is it?

‘Frank Capra… in my estimation is the greatest of all American directors, a man so beautiful, so forgiving, so democratic, so damned talented, so full of life and energy that his films patrol the imagination of America today’. John Cassavetes

As you settle down this Christmas to watch Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, remember that you are not watching a sentimental or light-hearted film, but a film about a desperate man, George Bailey, in irreconcilable conflict with the full range of social, bureaucratic and discursive conventions conspiring to thwart his hopes for self-expression and self-realisation; a film which depicts a ‘wild-eyed’ dreamer relentlessly frustrated and disappointed, who goes from one crisis to the next, suffers one wound after another, until his sense of defeat and estrangement is so great that he wants to kill himself.

This, at least, is the interpretation of It’s a Wonderful Life provided by Raymond Carney in his book, American Visions: The Films of Frank Capra, which touts Capra as a ‘poet of suffering and tragedy’ and aims to rescue his films – which include other classics such as American Madness, Forbidden, The Bitter Tea of General Yen, Ladies of Leisure, Lost Horizon, It Happened One Night, Mr Smith Goes to Washington, Mr Deeds Goes to Town and Meet John Doe – from accusations of ‘sentimentality’ ‘corn’ and fatuous celebrations of the American Dream, and establish him in a tradition of artists – such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Edgar Allan Poe, William James, Edward Hopper and John Cassavetes – who examine the conflict between what American society offers and what it delivers, the gap between imagination and reality in which alienation exists, who are advocates for the man or woman who dares to dream or desires too much, and defenders of the visionary individual battling against systems, ideologies and cultures out to repress, control or crush passionate impulses and creative energies.

The phone scene (in the above video) gives a good idea of the almost unbearable emotional strain and tension that Capra makes George Bailey endure in It’s a Wonderful Life, the turmoil and suffering that permeate the film and which not even the film’s notoriously ‘happy ending’ can heal.

Indeed, in relation to the ending, Carney says that even though George doesn’t commit suicide and seems to have found renewed reason to live thanks to the love of his family and friends, he has gone through too much to be so easily redeemed or reintegrated into society.

‘Capra wants us to know that George Bailey's life is wonderful – not because his neighbors bail him out with a charity sing-along, and certainly not because of the damnation of his life with the faint praise embodied in Clarence [his guardian angel's] slogan, "No man is a failure who has friends," but because he has seen and suffered more, and more deeply and wonderfully, than any other character in the film.

‘This Cinderella, unlike the one in the fairy tale… is returned to the hearth… [but] with no future possibility of escape and with only the consciousness of what has just been lived through in the preceding dark night of the soul as consolation – [although] that, Capra argues, is enough. The adventure of consciousness that George has lived through in dreamland is greater than any of the romantic adventures he has talked about going on – but it is at the same time only an adventure of consciousness.’

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Radio Akritas: Για τον Στέλιο

Στελιο, μην στεναχωριεσε. Κι’ εγω πονω. Εχουμε μιλησει πολλες φορες για psyops. Αυτα τα τραγουδια ειναι για σενα.

1. Του Βαγορή, Νταλάρας
2. Ο Θούριος του Ρήγα, Νίκος Ξυλούρης
3. Πότε θα κάμει ξαστεριά, Νίκος Ξυλούρης

Πότε θα κάμει ξαστεριά
Πότε θα κάμει ξαστεριά,
πότε θα φλεβαρίσει,

να πάρω το ντουφέκι μου,
την έμορφη πατρόνα,

να κατεβώ στον Ομαλό,
στη στράτα των Μουσούρων,

να κάμω μάνες δίχως γιους,
γυναίκες δίχως άντρες,

να κάμω και μωρά παιδιά,
να κλαιν' δίχως μανάδες.

Του Βαγορή
Εννιά τζιαι δέκα τζι' εκατόν τζιαί σίλιοι πεντακόσιοι
τ'άρματα εζωστήκασιν στον πόλεμον τζιαι πάσιν
ο πκιό μιτσής τριών γρονών χαζίριν τζιαι παρπάταν
τζι' ο μιάλος ήτουν εκατόν τζι' έδειγνεν τους τη στράτα

Ήτουν ο γρόνος δίσεχτος μήνας Δευτερογιούνης
τη στράταν που πηαίννασιν λαμπρόν την πκιάννει μιάλον
ο πρώτος ο μιτσότερος ελούθην του κλαμάτου
πον εισιεν μάνα να το δει μήτε γονιόν κοντά του

Τζι' έτσι σαν ήτουν το λαμπρόν τζι' ούλλα κατάπιννεν τα
τζι' ο φόος ήτουν δακρυκόν τζιαι τ άρμάτα κρουσμένα
ομπρός τους συνομπλάστηκεν πέρκαλλος τζειν' την ώραν
τζι' "ώρα καλή" εφώναξεν λαλούν `με Ευαγόρα

Τζι' επολοήθειν ο παππούς στα εκατόν του γρόνια
τζιαι άννοιξεν το στόμαν του τζιαι λέει τζιαι λαλεί του
"ώρα καλή σου Βαγορή που `ρτες που την αγχόνην
είμαστεν αγνοσύμενοι που πάππον ως αγγόνιν"

Πάππος, μωρόν τζιαι πέρκαλλος τα μμάθκια εσηκώσαν
καρτζιλατούν τον Πλάστην μας πκιάννουν ευτζιήν τζιαι στράταν
τζιαι εφκήκαν μιαν ανηφορκάν τζιαι στην Τζιερύνειαν πάσιν
τζι' η νύχτα που'ταν Βαρετή έφεξεν στο Καρπάσιν

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Radio Akritas: Papaioannou, part two

On Radio Akritas last week, I made available three Papaioannou songs and said the great rembetis was from Asia Minor and that part of his repertoire included several songs in Turkish, which I liked and wanted to share but felt guilty about sharing.

I said to myself that if anybody mentioned anything to me about wanting to hear the Turkish songs, I would put them up; and, indeed, my fellow Cypriot, Ardent, from Australia, didn’t like the reason I gave for not putting the songs up – i.e. guilt about the songs being in Turkish – and effectively challenged me to play the songs. So here they are:

1. Gelmenden, sung by Papaioannou and Rena Ntalia.
2. Rambi-rambi, sung by Rena Ntalia; and
3. Karapiperim, sung mostly in Greek by Eleftheria Arvanitaki; though I do have an even livelier, full-blown Turkish version of this song somewhere.

Vasilis Michailides: Cyprus’ national poet

Yesterday, the 18th of December, marked the 90th anniversary of the death of Cyprus’ national poet, Vasilis Michailides.

The biography of Michailides as described on Phantis is as follows: ‘Vasilis Michailides was a poet born in [currently Turkish-occupied] Lefkonoiko, Ammochostos province, Cyprus in 1849.

‘Michailides initially studied art and painting, first in Larnaca and later in Naples, Italy. In 1877, he left for mainland Greece and fought in the uprising in Thessaly. He returned to Cyprus in 1878 as British rule began and settled in Limassol. He then began writing poetry for various newspapers.

‘Michailides wrote several poems in Cypriot dialect, among them The Woman from Chios [concerning the Turkish massacres in Chios], The Nereid and The Greek Man's Dream.

‘Arguably his most famous work is The 9th of July, 1821, a poem based on the execution of Archbishop Kyprianos, the rest of the Cypriot Orthodox Church leadership [and 470 other Greek Cypriot notables] by the Ottoman rulers of the time [to prevent the Greek war of independence spreading to Cyprus].

‘Michailides fell into poor health and poverty later in life, much of which was due to alcoholism. He finally died on 18th of December, 1917.’

Here is an excerpt from The 9th of July, 1821, from the scene where Archbishop Kyprianos has been brought before the Ottoman pasha, Kucuk Mehmet, who has vowed not only to rid Cyprus of Greeks, but also ‘to go round the whole world [and] kill all Greeks’. Kyprianos answers:

‘The race of the Greeks was born when the world was born;
No one has ever been able to root it up.
God shelters it from the heights: it cannot die.
Not till the whole world ends will the Greek race vanish!

‘You may kill us till our blood becomes a torrent,
You may make the world a slaughterhouse for Greeks,
But when an ancient poplar is cut down
Three hundred offshoots sprout and grow around it.
The ploughshare thinks it eats the earth it cuts,
But is itself destroyed and eaten up.’

‘Η ρωμιοσύνη εφ φυλή συνότζιαιρη του κόσμου
Κανένας εν ευρέθηκεν για να την ιξηλείψη
Κανένας, γιατί σιέπει την ‘που τα’άψη ο Θεός μου.
Σφάξε μας ούλους τζ’ ας γενεί το γαίμαμ μας αυλάτζιν,
Κάμε τον κόσμον ματζιελειόν τζαι τους ρωμιούς τραούλια,
Αμμά ‘ξερε πως ύλαντρον όντας κοπή καβάτζιν,
Τριγύρω του πετάσσουνται τρακόσια παραπούλια.
Το ’νιν ανταν να τρω τηγ γην τρώει τηγ γηθ θαρκέται,
Μα πάντα τζιείνον τρώεται τζαι τζιείνον καταλιέται.’

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Nothing is Ever Lost

Here’s a video of Haris Alexiou, Sokrates Malamas and Alkinoos Ioannidis singing Tipota den Paei Hameno (Nothing is Ever Lost), at a concert given at Lykavittos Hill in Athens in 2006.
The song is from the 1979 album, Ta Tragoudia tis Haroullas (Haroulla’s Songs), probably the best and most emblematic Greek album of the 1970s, combining three of the most outstanding talents in Greek music in the post-Theodorakis/Hadjidakis era – the incomparable Haroulla Alexiou; the Cypriot composer Manos Loizos – who died in 1982, aged 45; and the eccentric but brilliant songwriter Manolis Rasoulis, who round about the same time was also collaborating with Nikos Xidakis; the result of which were two other groundbreaking 1970s albums, I Ekdikisi tis Yiftias (The Revenge of Gypsydom) and Ta Dithen (The Posers), albums which pointed to an unadulterated, authentically Greek post-rembetika style, which briefly illuminated Greek music but failed to evolve into the dominant popular form, losing out to horrible ersatz Western pop music and skilladika now prevailing in and undermining contemporary Greek culture, which, on his website Rasoulis – a keen follower of the controversial Indian ‘guru’, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (or Osho, as he is now known) – describes as ‘unmitigated amoralism, [emiting] the most pseudo-glamourous decadence in the entire global village [making it my] goal to express the deeper soul of Greece with the universal soul and the global potential in the discovery of an antidote and the production of a new ideology, a new code of values, something which at this very moment is the grail of every intelligent, sensitive and honest citizen of every country, every race, every social class and both genders’.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Ασερόμπασμαν, sung by Alkinoos Ioannidis

Two Cypriot folk songs sung by the Cypriot singer Alkinoos Ioannidis.

The first is Ασερόμπασμαν, an almost unbearably beautiful song.

Ασερομπάζω refers to the process of taking straw after threshing and piling it in a storage area (ασερονάριν) for use throughout the year as animal fodder and so on.

The ασερόμπασμαν was an ideal opportunity for a young man, as he went from threshing to the ασερονάριν carrying straw on his donkey, to pass by the home of the girl he was in love with and sing her love songs.

The lyrics to Ασερόμπασμαν go something like this: Ασερομπάζω and I’m coming at daybreak to your neighbourhood to see your black eyes and listen to your voice (λαλιάν). I shiver when I’m near you; let me embrace you and find some peace (πνάζω).

Ασερομπάζω τζαι έρκουμαι
αυκήν στην γειτονιάν σου
να δω τα μαύρα μμάθκια σου
ν'ακούσω την λαλιάν σου.

Έχω κοντά σου μιάν ριτζάν
τζαι καρτερω να περάσει
ν' αφήκεις το κορμάκιν μου
στ'αγκάλια σου να πνάσει.

Ξύπνα δκιαμαντοπούλλα μου
τζαι ήρτα στην γειτονιάν σου
να δω είντα εννά μου κάμουσιν
τα γειτονόπουλλά σου.

The second song, The Song of St George, constitutes the last verse of a Cypriot song concerning the mythological exploits of St George. St George is a particularly popular saint in Cyprus.

Το Τραουδιν του Aη Γιωρκου
-Τράβα το κόρη λυερή στην χώραν να το πάρεις
Για να το δουν αβάφτιστοι να παν να βαφτιστούσιν
Για να το δουν απίστευτοι να παν να πιστευτούσιν
Άνταν τους βλέπει ο βασιλιάς κρυφές χαρές παθθαίνει
-Πκοιός ειν’ αυτός που μου ‘καμεν τούτην την καλοσύνην
Να δώκω το βασίλειον μου τζ' ούλλον τον θησαυρόν μου
Να δώκω τζαί την κόρην μου τζαί να γενεί γαμπρός μου
Τζ' επολοήθην Άγιος τζαί λέει τζαί λαλεί του
-Έν θέλω το βασίλειον σου μήτε τον θησαυρόν σου
Μιαν εκκλησσιάν να χτίσετε, μνήμην τ’ Άη Γιωργίου
Που έρκεται η μέρα του κοστρείς του Απριλλίου
Που έρκεται η μέρα του κοστρείς του Απριλλίου.

Alkinoos Ioannidis' version of the song has a Cretan flavour – with the Cretan lyre – having sung it at the 2007 Yakinthia, the annual cultural festival that takes place in the fabled Cretan mountain village of Anoyia.

The Yakinthia are held in honour of an obscure local saint, St Yakinthos (Hyacinth), the saint of love, the Greek equivalent to Valentine, and with some obvious connection to the Hyacinth of pre-Christian Greek mythology, the beautiful but tragic youth loved by Apollo. St Yakinthos' (above) icon is unusually erotic.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Radio Akritas: Yiannis Papaioannou

On Radio Akritas, there are now three songs from Yiannis ‘Ο Ψηλός‘ Papaioannou, the pioneering rembetis who was born in Kios in Asia Minor in 1913 and died when he smashed his car against a lamppost in Athens in 1972.

Papaioannou’s songs are often witty and playful but his more melancholy works can be as powerful as Tsitsanis’. Papaioannou also recorded some lively songs in Turkish, which I like – and feel guilty about liking – and I thought about putting these up for their exotic value, but went instead for two melancholy songs and one ironically melancholy song – Πεθανε ο Περικλης.

The songs are:
1. Άσε με (Leave me alone), sung by Sotiria Bellou
2. Πεθανε ο Περικλης (Pericles has died), sung by Stratos Payioumtzis; and
3. Τα νειατα δεν τα χορτασα (I haven’t had enough of my youth), sung by Papaioannou himself.

Τα νειατα δεν τα χορτασα, my favourite Papaioannou song, is also known as Στα πεύκα και στα έλατα (Among the pines and firs), and is a song about tuberculosis. Here are the lyrics to sing along to:

Στα πεύκα και στα έλατα
Τα νιάτα δεν τα χόρτασα,
Δεν θέλω να πέθανω.
Σαν τον ανθό μαράθηκα, μανούλα μου,
Και δεν μπορώ να γιάνω.

Βλεπω τα φύλλα απ'τα κλαδιά,
Να πέφτουν μαραμένα,
Και όταν τα βλέπω σκέφτομαι, μανούλα μου,
Πως μοιάζουν σαν κι εμένα.

Στα πεύκα και στα έλατα
Μου’πανε πως θα γιάνω.
Γι'αυτό πήγα στη Πάρνηθα, μανούλα μου
Και στην κορφή απάνω.
Γι'αυτό πήγα στη Πάρνηθα, μανούλα μου
Το πόνο μου να γιάνω.

Among the pines and firs
I haven’t had enough of my youth,
I don’t want to die.
I’ve faded like a flower, Mother,
And I can’t get well.

I see the leaves on the branches,
Falling, withered,
And when I see them I think, Mother,
How like me they are.

Among the pines and firs,
They told me I’d get well.
That’s why I went to Parnitha, Mother,
To the high peak.
That’s why I went to Parnitha, Mother,
To cure my pain.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Cyprus, Russia, Kosovo and Sweden

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov was in Nicosia yesterday for meetings with Cyprus’ political leadership. Lavrov is a frequent visitor to the island and once again his trip was successful and demonstrated the excellent relations that exist between Cyprus and Russia.

Both the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation have always supported Cyprus against the designs of Turkey, Britain and the USA to partition the island and this support has often proved vital in the UN Security Council where Russia, and increasingly China (the Chinese ambassador to Nicosia speaks perfect Greek), has time and again blocked, and even vetoed, pro-Turkish Anglo-American resolutions and initiatives.

Cyprus’ financial services sector has also greatly benefited from the large number of Russian companies registered on the island, taking advantage of the tax breaks on offer in Cyprus, making Cyprus, with $31.8bn of accumulated investment, the second largest investor in the Russian economy.

This happy arrangement has spawned a considerable Russian community in Cyprus – maybe up to 40,000 strong – particularly in Limassol, and an estimated 200,000 Russian tourists visit the island every year.

There are also strong cultural bonds between Russia and Cyprus. Not only are both countries Christian Orthodox but because of Cyprus’ traditionally large communist party, AKEL, thousands of Cypriots benefited from Soviet higher education and are fluent Russian speakers and Russophiles.

Indeed, one of Lavrov’s purposes in visiting Cyprus yesterday was to present to former minister of communications and works, Haris Thrasou, and Moscow-educated AKEL general secretary, president of the Cyprus House of Representatives and candidate – and likely victor – in next February’s Cypriot presidential elections, Dimitris Christofias, with the Alexander Pushkin medal, awarded to those who promote the use of the Russian language and friendly relations with Russia.

While in Cyprus, Lavrov criticised the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon, and his six-monthly report on Cyprus, released last week, which again called on the international community to end the ‘isolation’ of the Turkish Cypriots.

Now, of course, the cause of the ‘isolation’ of the Turkish Cypriots is the occupation of northern Cyprus by 40,000 Turkish troops, which Ban’s report made no mention of – nor did it mention the 200,000 Greek Cypriot refugees ethnically cleansed from northern Cyprus by Turkey in 1974 and ‘isolated’ from their homes and land for more than 30 years; oversights, omissions and disregard of existing and long-standing UN resolutions which prompted Lavrov to say yesterday he hopes in Ban’s next report to the Security Council the secretary general will reflect ‘the real situation’ on the island and mention, among other things, the constructive approach of President Tassos Papadopoulos to the so-called Gambari process for a comprehensive solution to the Cyprus problem, and the many initiatives of the Cyprus government aimed at supporting the economic development of the Turkish Cypriot community.

Lavrov was also in Cyprus to shore up Cyprus’ opposition to recognition of Albanian nationalist efforts to detach Kosovo from the rest of Serbia, a matter on the EU agenda this week.

Cyprus is touchy about secessionist entities achieving international recognition – given Turkey’s concerted campaign to gain recognition for its puppet occupation regime in northern Cyprus, the so-called ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ – and is holding out against any EU approval of Kosovo secession before an appropriate UN Security Council resolution.

European newspapers reported yesterday that, of the 27 EU member-states, Cyprus was the only one against an agreement to recognise Kosovo secession; but this targeting of Cyprus seems to be based on statements made by Swedish foreign minister, Carl Bildt, who, over the last few months, has become Turkey’s and the Turkish occupation regime in northern Cyprus’ most ardent cheerleader in the EU.

(Last June, for example, Bildt took the provocative step of inviting the leader of the occupation regime in northern Cyprus, Mehmet Ali Talat, for talks in Stockholm, since when Bildt has been persistently mouthing off about the EU needing to ‘do more to live up to its commitment to end the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots’ – ‘ending the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots’ is code to the Cyprus government for legitimisation and indirect recognition of the occupation regime).

Not surprisingly, relations between Cyprus and Sweden are at all-time low, culminating last week with Papadopoulos, fed up with Bildt, implying that the Swedish foreign minister’s outbursts and interference did not reflect the official Swedish government position on Cyprus; a comment which so offended Bildt that he cancelled the planned 18 December visit to Stockholm of his Cypriot counterpart, Erato Markoulli.

(Apparently, Bildt’s increasing animosity towards Cyprus has been fuelled by Cypriot newspaper reports pointing out his prominent role in George Soros’ Turkophile Bilderberg Group and the Swede’s extensive business interests in Turkey).

Anyway, Cypriot government spokesman, Vasillis Palmas, denied that Cyprus was out on a limb in the EU in opposing Kosovo secession and said that Italy, Spain, Greece, Romania and Slovakia also had strong reservations about precipitately approving the Albanian move.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Achaean Coast: the enclaved of Agia Triada

The video above was made by the Cypriot artist Toula Liasi as a tribute to the enclaved Greeks from the village of Agia Triada in the remote Karpas peninsular, which has been under Turkish occupation since Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974.

Agia Triada, a satellite village of Yialousa, had an exclusively Greek population of some 1,400 in 1974, whose rights to stay on their land and carry on their lives unimpeded, after the invasion, were supposed to have been guaranteed and regulated by the Third Vienna Agreement of 1975.

But the Turks never honoured this agreement and as a result of violent and bureaucratic means the number of Greeks living in Agia Triada has dwindled to around 100, mainly elderly people who, despite daily pressure and harassment from the Turkish occupation regime and the hundreds of Turkish settlers dumped on the village, refuse to leave.

Toula Liasi is from Agia Triada and her parents remain enclaved in the village, and in 2004 she documented these unlikely heroes and heroines – these Cypriot resistance fighters – in an exhibition shown in Nicosia called Αχαιών Ακτή.

Αχαιών Ακτή/Achaean Coast (Achaean being the Homeric name for Greeks) is the stretch of coast off Agia Triada where the first Mycenaean Greeks are said to have landed on Cyprus in the 1300s BC. These pioneer Mycenaeans were traders, and were joined in Cyprus over the next two centuries by refugees fleeing the collapse of Mycenaean civilisation and Dorian invasion in Greece.

The Greek geographer Strabo writing in the first century AD presents a (more mythical) variation on the theme of Mycenaean colonisation of Cyprus and the naming of Αχαιών Ακτή. He states that Achaean Coast is where the locals believed that Tefkros, after the Trojan war – having failed to prevent the suicide of his brother, Ajax the Great, and consequently condemned to exile by their father, King Telamon of Salamis, the island-kingdom 16km west of Athens – landed with his companions to initiate the Greek presence in Cyprus.

Tefkros, the legend continues, went on to found Salamis in eastern Cyprus – 6km north of occupied Famagusta, 45km south of Yialousa – which became the pre-eminent city-state in ancient Cyprus, and a bastion of Greek culture on the island.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Cyprus: eternally Greek

This video was originally shown at My Greek Odyssey, and consists of a slideshow of photographs taken in the free and occupied areas of Cyprus in 2006.

In April 2003, the Turkish army eased crossing restrictions to the occupied areas and many Greeks ethnically cleansed from northern Cyprus in 1974, not having seen their homes, land, churches and villages in 30 years, made the pilgrimage to a life denied them, what was and what might have been, but found no solace in the journey only more heartbreak as they saw first hand the systematic Turkish attempt to obliterate Cyprus’ past and memory and crudely reinvent the island.

Anyway, the first pictures are from the occupied areas, beginning with Pentadaktylos mountain; then there is the monastery of Apostolos Varnavas – containing the tomb of Cyprus’ patron saint – prior to 1974, a major place of pilgrimage for the Orthodox faithful, but which the Turks have now turned into a museum; then there are photos of the looted and desecrated churches of Agia Marina and Agios Therissos in the village of Yialousa, in the remote Karpas peninsular, followed by images of the desecrated cemetery of Yialousa; then there are images of the sea around the church of Agios Therissos.

(Agios Therissos or Thirsos, is a local saint, who during the period of the Arab raids was Bishop of Karpasia and became renowned for his leadership of the faithful in those times of foreign invasion and depredation.

(After the island was freed from the Arab threat and returned to the Byzantine fold by Nikephoras Phokas, Therissos resigned from the bishopric and became a hermit-monk, though this did not diminish his popularity among the faithful in Karpasia who visited him for guidance.

(After the monk’s death, near the site of his hermit cave, a church was built, the ayiasma/holy water from which soon became associated with miracles, curing, in particular, those suffering from skin disorders.

(For the miracle to happen, a supplicant would first wash with the ayiasma and then wash again with seawater – the photos show the spot near Ayios Therissos’ church where the faithful would immerse themselves in the sea).

The church of Agia Triada is next and is one of the few Christian monuments in northern Cyprus which has not been vandalised or destroyed and serves the 120 or so enclaved Greeks, who despite daily pressure and harassment from the occupation regime and Turkish settlers refuse to leave the village of Agia Triada.

The next pictures are of the monastery of Apostolos Andreas, the most important religious shrine in Cyprus, followed by images of the pristine wilderness of Cape Apostolos Andreas at the northeastern-most tip of the island, though the Turks are now planning to build marinas and luxury hotel complexes in the area.

After passing through the Turkish army checkpoint, we are back in the free areas of the island and the Troodos mountains, ancient Kourion in Limassol, the Paphos mosaics and the Tombs of the Kings, also in Paphos.

The music is Evridiki singing a rocked up version of the traditional Cypriot folk song, Tessera gai Tessera.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Radio Akritas

After much aggravation, I managed to embed an mp3 player on Hellenic Antidote (see right) – which I've called Radio Akritas – where I'll be able to upload and share some of my favourite music. Now you'll be able to listen to Tsitsanis, Vamvakaris, Kazantzidis, Theodorakis, etc, etc, as you read my highly entertaining posts.

Even better, by clicking on the link – control click for Macs, I don't know how it's done on PCs, similar I should imagine – you'll be able to download the songs to keep as mp3s to your desktop and music libraries. (I've a reasonable collection of Greek music, particularly rembetika, so will take requests for Radio Akritas if any are forthcoming).

I've set Radio Akritas an impossibly high standard by initially selecting three of Tsitsanis' best songs, as sung by Tsitsanis himself. They are:

1. Fantazes san prinkipessa/You imagined yourself a princess
2. H drosoula/The dew
3. H litaneia tou manga/The manga's ceremony

Here are the lyrics to sing along to.

Φάνταζες σαν πριγκηπέσα
Έμαθα πολλά, μικρό μου
έμαθα πολλά, μικρό μου
έμαθα πολλά, μικρό μου
μου ζαλίζουν το μυαλό μου

Πως γλεντούσες στον Περαία
πως γλεντούσες στον Περαία
πως γλεντούσες στον Περαία
μαυρομάτα μου κι ωραία

Φάνταζες σαν πριγκηπέσα
φάνταζες σαν πριγκηπέσα
φάνταζες σαν πριγκηπέσα
μα με πρόδινες, μπαμπέσα.

Η δροσούλα
Άνω κάτω χθες τα κάνανε στου Σιδέρη τον παλιό τεκέ
Πρωί πρωί με τη δροσούλα απάνω στη γλυκιά μαστούρα
Στήσανε καυγά δυο μάγκες για να κάνουν ματσαράγκες

Τέκετζή μου βάστα να σου πω του μιλάει ο μάγκας με καημό
το χασίσι κι αν φουμάρω εγώ κανένα δεν πειράζω
είμαι μάγκας και αλάνι τίγκα στο τεκέ χαρμάνι

Μπήκα μόνος μέσα στο τεκέ να φουμάρω έναν αργιλέ
Να φουμάρω να μπαφιάσω και τις πίκρες να ξεχάσω
Μες τη τόση μου σκοτούρα βρίσκω γλέντι στη μαστούρα.

Η λιτανεία του μάγκα
Σαν χριστιανός ορθόδοξος σ' αυτή την κοινωνία
εβάλθηκα ρε μάγκες μου να κάνω λιτανεία

Εμάζεψα τα σέα μου κι ένα κομμάτι μαύρο
και ξεκινώ ρε μάγκες μου να πάω στον Άγιο Μάμα

Μπαίνω μέσα στην εκκλησιά στις στρογγυλές καμάρες
και αρχινώ τις τσιμπουκιές σαν να 'τανε λαμπάδες

Νάσου κι ο αρχάγγελος με μια μεγάλη φούρια
απ' τα ντουμάνια τα πολλά τον έπιασε η μαστούρα

Μου λεει άκου χριστιανέ δεν είναι αμαρτία
που μπήκες μες στην εκκλησιά να κάνεις λιτανεία

Μα ξάφνου ένας καλόγερος μου λέει κάνε πίσω
γιατί κι εγώ έχω σειρά τζούρα για να ρουφήξω.

Friday, 30 November 2007

Apostolos Andreas: the occupied monastery

Apostolos Andreas monastery is located at the northeastern-most tip of the remote Karpas peninsular in Cyprus and is the pre-eminent Christian shrine on the island.

Ever since the Apostle Andrew was said to have visited the spot and performed a miracle by summoning forth a spring of fresh water able to cure the sick and heal the afflicted, Greeks on the island have performed pilgrimages to the site and regarded it as sacred.

A monastery seems to have first been built in the 12th century, but under the Franks and then the Ottomans, Greek Orthodox life was suppressed and the site declined and it was only in 1895 with the miracle granted Maria Georgiou that the monastery’s fortunes revived.

It is said that 17 years after Turkish brigands abducted her son, Maria Georgiou ‘received a dream in answer to her unceasing petitions to St Andrew, which instructed her to go from her native Cilicia [in Anatolia] to the neglected monastery of Apostolos Andreas.

‘On the voyage to Cyprus, she explained her journey to fellow passengers and particularly excited the attention of a young man. He asked Maria how she would identify her lost son, so she told him of the peculiar pair of birthmarks that he bore on his shoulder and chest. The young man then threw off his woolen cloak to expose the same marks and fell on his knees before his mother.

‘Within months of this event, the shrine received a stream of pilgrims which increased into a flood as the saint proved his power over a random tithe of supplicants.’ [1]

The monastery’s fame and prosperity continued to grow and the saint’s feast day on 30 November became one of the liveliest and most popular events in Cyprus with thousands of supplicants trekking from all over the island, often for days, to bring votive offerings to the monastery to induce the saint to bless them or intercede on their behalf.

All this changed after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 and the brutal seizure of the northern third of the island. The Turkish army cleared out the clergy from Apostolos Andreas, tore the cross from the belfry, turned the pilgrims’ hostels into army barracks and declared the monastery off limits.

Still, Apostolos Andreas was spared the worst forms of looting and desecration suffered by the majority of churches and monasteries in northern Cyprus, and in the 1980s the Turkish occupation regime came up with the idea of turning the site into a tourist attraction, and ran it, according to Marc Dubin, ‘like a sort of zoo to prove [the Turkish occupation regime’s] religious tolerance’.

But despite the Turkish occupiers wanting to promote Apostolos Andreas as evidence of their civilised credentials, they couldn’t quite bring themselves to forget or overcome the spite they felt for Cyprus’ Greek and Christian heritage and the monastery fell into such a state of disrepair that fears were expressed that it was in imminent danger of collapse.

The outcry at the state of the monastery, a World Heritage Site, encouraged the UN and the USA to propose a twin restoration project to include the pre-eminent Muslim shrine on Cyprus, the mosque of Hala Sultan in Larnaca, in the free part of the island – (Hala Sultan, Mohammed’s wet nurse, was said to have fallen off her donkey and died in Cyprus during the Arab raids in the 7th century) – and Apostolos Andreas monastery in the occupied areas.

The work on the mosque was completed amid much fanfare in 2005, but the occupation regime has never fulfilled its side of the bargain and no restoration work has been done on the monastery. Indeed, last year the occupation regime said it had drawn up plans not to restore Apostolos Andreas but to transform the annexes of the monastery into a 120-room luxury hotel.

Anyway, despite 30 November being a somewhat melancholy day for Cypriots – particularly those from the Karpas villages where the saint, his monastery and feast day are held in highest esteem and where the carnival atmosphere which prevailed on the island around this time was most evident – here’s wishing all Andreas’, Andrianes, Androulles and Andrees chronia polla – there isn’t a Cypriot family that does not have someone named after the saint – I can think, off the top of my head, of five in my family – and here’s hoping that next year we can celebrate the saint’s feast day at his monastery, free from Turkish occupation.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Kyriakos Matsis: the Eagle of Pentadaktylos

President Tassos Papadopoulos is in Greece at the moment, meeting the country’s political leadership to discuss the latest developments in the Cyprus issue and to visit the village of Artemida in the Peloponnese burnt down in the catastrophic summer fires and which the Cypriot government is pledged to rebuild.

On Monday night, Papadopoulos, along with Greece’s president, Karolos Papoulias, and other dignitaries attended a concert at the Megaron Musikis in Athens in honour of one of the foremost EOKA heroes, Kyriakos Matsis, known as the Eagle of Pentadaktylos – the mountain range which runs along the north coast of Cyprus. Here is a description of Matsis’ life, mostly taken from the Phantis website:

‘Kyriakos Matsis was a Cypriot fighter during the EOKA struggle of 1955-1959.

‘Matsis was born on January 23,1926, in the village of Palaiochori, Lefkosia province, one of three children of Christofis Matsis. He studied at the University of Thessaloniki, received his degree in 1952 and returned to Cyprus. Matsis was active in labour union matters for both farmers and labourers.

‘When EOKA was formed, he was one of the first to join.

‘On January 9, 1956, Matsis was arrested by the British and tortured during interrogation. As he was an important EOKA member, Matsis was even interrogated by Cyprus Governor Sir John Harding. At one point Harding offered Matsis £500,000, a new identity and relocation if he would reveal the whereabouts of EOKA leader Georgios Grivas-Digenis.

‘Matsis replied: "Ου περί χρημάτων τον αγώνα ποιούμεθα, αλλά περί αρετής." (This struggle is for virtue not for money).

‘While imprisoned, Matsis organised his fellow prisoners and, through his charismatic leadership, kept their morale high. He managed to escape from Kokkinotrimithia Prison, with six fellow inmates, on September 13, 1956 and rejoined the struggle as area-leader of Kyrenia. The British placed a £5,000 price on his head.

‘Finally, on November 19, 1958, Matsis and two companions – Kostaris Christodoulou and Andreas Sofiopoulos – were surrounded at their hideout in Dikomo, Kyrenia province.

‘Matsis ordered his comrades to surrender but refused to do so himself. When the British commanded him to come out, he answered: "No. I won’t surrender. If I come out, I'll come out shooting.” A battle ensued but Matsis still refused to give up, prompting the British to throw hand grenades into the hideaway. After the smoke cleared, they removed the dismembered body of Kyriakos Matsis. He was buried in the Imprisoned Tombs in Nicosia.’

Matsis’ idealism, patriotism and sense of being engaged in a struggle and immersed in a tradition and history in which self had no meaning, were typical and widespread in Cyprus in the 1950s. Cypriots were convinced that they were fighting not just for Cyprus but for Greece too, for the whole of Hellenism, and as such were gripped by a delirious love for Greece and unwavering belief in the validity and value of Greek ideals, the spirit of Sparta, Athens, the Byzantine Empire and the 1821 Greek War of Independence.

Unfortunately, stressing this romantic spirit and the heroism it induced – particularly in light of the 1974 coup and invasion – are no longer fashionable in Cyprus (or Greece) and this has resulted in a campaign to reassess EOKA’s armed struggle (1955-1959), to diminish it, regard it as a mistake and an expression of fanaticism. A more passive struggle, the argument goes, to rid the island of British colonial rule should have been pursued.

But I don’t see it this way, and not because I want to glorify violence, patriotic death and armed struggle. Indeed, if the British could have been persuaded through a non-violent campaign of diplomacy and civil disobedience to leave the island – as they left the Ionian islands in 1864 – then, of course, this would have been preferable.

But once the British declared, in 1954, in relation to Cyprus, that there were certain territories in the Commonwealth ‘which, owing to their particular circumstances, can never expect to be fully independent’ and simultaneously began to conspire with Ankara to arm the Turkish minority on the island and encourage it to violently agitate for partition, then what choice did Cypriots have other than to take up arms?

The hideout where Matsis was killed

Monday, 26 November 2007

Να ζήσης, Στελάρα

I’ve never been able to make up my mind about Stelios ‘Stelaras’ Kazantzidis (1931-2001). He is undoubtedly the most talented and loved singer in Greek popular music – having sung, as well as his own compositions, the songs of Tsitsanis, Papaioannou, Mitsakis, Kaldaras, Theodorakis, Loizos, Pythagoras, Panou and so on – but sometimes I find him lachrymose, morbid, self-pitying, sentimental, humourless and depressing and I wonder what the popularity of all these songs protesting injustice, bitterness, pain, mental torture, suffering, poverty, ruination and death, songs with titles such as Everything is Black; I Wish I Were Dead; If Only I Had My Health; and Catastrophes and Disasters, say about the well-being or otherwise of Greek popular culture and psychology.

This emphasis on fatalism, suffering and yearning for death is eastern – Iranian, Turkish and Arabic – and indeed Kazantzidis has refugee roots in Asia Minor and Pontos.

But more important than his Anatolian roots – and the hardships of his working class, war-time Athenian childhood – Kazantzidis’ father was a resistance fighter tortured to death by the Nazis – I believe what explains Kazantzidis’ style and substance is the severe depressive illness he suffered from throughout his life, but which is rarely mentioned in the hagiographies.

Kazantzidis was always an intense, introspective and isolated figure, but in 1965 he had his heart not so much broken as torn to shreds by the singer Marinella, who left him just one year into their marriage, an event that aggravated Kazantzidis’ already-existing persecution complex which fancied that record companies and colleagues were exploiting and cheating him.

Kazantzidis withdrew from a society he believed sick and a world he thought treacherous and when he returned, 12 years later, he seemed distracted, not in touch with reality, paranoid, a haunted man with a hunted look, though his voice was in tact and he seemed to find relief in the act of singing and in the lamentive nature of the songs he sang.

Today is Stelios’ name day, and, in honour of the man and the celebration, above is a clip of Stelara singing (in 1977) I Return from the Night – most poignant.

Another Stelios worth mentioning is Stelios Vamvakaris, son of legendary rembetis Markos Vamvakaris, and a talented musician in his own right.

The second clip is of Stelios playing his father’s Markos the Government Minister, and the contrast between the mournful, suicidal Kazantzidis and the witty, pragmatic, ironical and cynical Markos couldn’t be more pronounced. Two different ways of looking at the world, two different ways of being Greek.

Anyway, chronia polla to all Stelios’, Stélles, Styliànes, Stylianakia and Stelares.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Boiled chicken and macaroni

This is a very important Cypriot dish, which, as far as I’m aware, in this precise form, is not served anywhere else in the world. Too bad for the rest of the world.

It is a dish which, in the old days, in the old country, was my grandmother’s standby to be served to an unexpected guest and would involve my poor mother being sent out to slaughter a family chicken – a task she does not remember executing fondly.

Chicken breast.
Grated halloumi cheese.
Dried mint.
Fresh lemon juice.
Macaroni (or spaghetti or penne).

Slaughter your chicken.
Boil your breast.
In your broth, cook your macaroni.
Grate half a cup of halloumi.
Mix dried mint with your grated halloumi.
Serve macaroni straight out of the saucepan, with a little bit of broth.
Sprinkle your halloumi with mint over macaroni. Be generous with your halloumi – we’re talking half a cup of halloumi per person here.
Rip your cooked chicken breast to pieces.
Add chicken to macaroni.
Saturate your chicken with freshly squeezed lemon juice.
Eat. Enjoy. Have some more. Go on, you're insulting me.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Werner Herzog and Dieter Dengler

Human folly, madness, barbaric dreams, the thin veneer of civilisation, the overwhelming evil of the universe, faith and superstition, human cruelty and violence, the hubristic desire to conquer nature. These are some of the themes present in Greek tragedy, and the films of German filmmaker Werner Herzog.

Currently, Herzog is promoting his feature film Rescue Dawn, a (controversial) version of his earlier documentary film, Little Dieter Needs to Fly, which concerns the life of German-American aviator and Vietnam POW Dieter Dengler.

Dengler emigrated to America from post-war Germany aged 18 to pursue his dream of flying planes – Germany had no airforce or airlines at the time – and ended up becoming a US Navy pilot. Three weeks after gaining his wings, in January 1966, Dengler – whose aim in life was to fly, not go to war – was sent to Vietnam, where he was shot down over Laos forty minutes into his first mission, captured, imprisoned and routinely tortured by the enemy.

Fearing imminent execution, Dengler took part in a daring escape, after which he survived even more ordeals in the jungle, before, finally, emaciated, on the point of starvation, hallucinating, ‘with one day to live’, being rescued – making Dengler the only American POW to have successfully escaped captivity in Laos.

Little Dieter Needs to Fly is a tribute to America – its ‘qualities of self-reliance, courage [and] frontier spirit’, its inclusiveness, its preparedness to judge a person by personal character and not collective background – and an effort to give legitimacy to the stories of post-war Germany and post-war Germans.

But Dieter Dengler’s story, for Herzog, also possesses ‘the quality and structure of an ancient Greek tragedy, [which] is that of a man and his dreams, his punishment and redemption.’

Now, redemption is a strange word to use in relation to Greek tragedy. Redemption is not only normally associated with Christianity – with its just God, afterlife and soteriology – but is also often regarded, see George Steiner’s The Death of Tragedy, as being the Christian concept most inimical to the Greek tragic worldview and most responsible for its demise in Western culture.

So perhaps Herzog doesn’t mean redemption in Dieter Dengler’s case in a Christian sense, but in a way consistent with Greek tragedy and Greek radical pessimism.

Perhaps he means that Dengler, having endured severe mental and physical suffering, ‘having seen what death looks like and escaped it’, took his dark experience and turned it into an affirmation of life.

Indeed, this is what Little Dieter Needs to Fly – see clip above – and Herzog’s own personal testimony indicate.

‘The man,’ Herzog says of Dengler, ‘had such an intense enjoyment of life… There was a real innocence about [him]. He had such a healthy and impressive and jubilant attitude to life, [and] never made a fuss about his captivity.

‘He never had to struggle for his sanity and certainly was not possessed by those things that you see so often among Vietnam veterans who returned home destroyed inside.’

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Desperate Greek Housewives

Anasia Angeli has a website called Desperate Greek Housewives, on which she says she’s going to demonstrate the art of traditional Cypriot cuisine.

According to Anasia, a fellow London-based Cypriot, DGW is:

‘Dedicated to the traditions, culture and cuisine of Cyprus, not only for Greek Cypriots worldwide but for all lovers of our unique country.

‘Many recipes are still traditional fare in the small villages where they originated. So that we do not forget them I have compiled a collection for the younger generation to help keep the spirit of Cyprus alive.

‘I am letting you into the secrets that have been passed down to me from my mother, so you can learn about our wonderful food.’

Well, these are fine sentiments indeed and the woman deserves our support. Cypriot cuisine is the best in the world and Anasia’s effort to transmit the good news is in the best Hellenic tradition of spreading civilisation to the barbarian.

However, it’s been a while since Anasia announced her admirable enterprise and people are getting hungry.

I’m also concerned that in a newsletter update just sent to subscribers, Anasia says her first lesson is not going to reveal the secrets of koubebia, koftedes or makaronia tou fournou, but will show us how to make soujouko/soushouko/shoushouko (depending on which part of Cyprus you’re from) and palouze.

Now, I must confess I don’t know what palouze is and I’d have thought making soujouko – a dried sweet made from grape juice (ideal with nuts and your favourite alcoholic aperitif, especially with Christmas and New Year approaching) – would be too complicated to make for the average person in their average kitchen.

Nevertheless, I’m still backing Anasia, so please go to her site and register. It’s free and easy.

Meantime, for those of you who can’t wait for Anasia to put on her pothkia (apron) and start cooking, I suggest you look at my posts on louvi and trahana. I also promise that my next post will be on boiled chicken and macaroni – which is possibly the best Cypriot dish going.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Shock Corridor

In Samuel Fuller’s Shock Corridor, Johnny Barrett is a brilliant journalist who feigns sexual perversion to get committed to a lunatic asylum where a murder has been committed, which he wants to solve and win the Pulitzer Prize.

Once inside the mental home, Barrett ingratiates himself with the three witnesses to the crime – an operatic uxoricide; a black Klansman; and a genius nuclear physicist who has regressed to childhood to escape the guilt over his catastrophic discoveries – and cracks the case but only at the expense of cracking up himself.

The film begins and ends with the famous quote from Euripides – ‘whom God wishes to destroy, He first makes mad’ – and Fuller seems well versed in Greek tragedy.

Johnny Barrett is like Oedipus, a man with a brilliant intellect, supremely confident of himself and his mental powers, trying to track down a murderer, to uncover the truth of a horrible crime, only to succumb to insanity and ruin.

Barrett like Oedipus fails to realise the dangers inherent in the obsessive pursuit and acquisition of knowledge; is oblivious to the limits of self-knowledge (know thyself/gnothi seauton does not mean acquire self-mastery but know the limitations of human nature); and aspires to the truth not for its own sake, or for the love of enquiry, but to subdue the truth and satisfy his ego.

Christopher Rocco and Bernard Knox say that, in the figure of Oedipus, Sophocles is satirising Periclean/imperial Athens – Oedipus tyrannos as Athens tyrannos – and warning of the perils for individuals and cities in love with power:

‘Oedipus embodies the splendor and power of Athens: his attempt to assert dominion over nature and his unquenchable drive for human mastery; his forcefulness of purpose, his impatience, decisiveness, and daring, bordering on recklessness; his intoxication with his own accomplishments, his liberation from the constraints of all traditional pieties; his restlessness, innovation, and ingenuity; his designs that are swift alike in conception and execution, all recall the “fierce creative energy, the uncompromising logic, the initiative and daring which brought Athens to the pinnacle of worldly power.”’

Not only do Oedipus’ attributes recall Athens, but they also recall America, and Fuller, too, in Shock Corridor is interested in unveiling America tyrannos and showing us a hubristic society, prone to self-destruction and insanity.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Paradise partitioned

In Cassavetes on Cassavetes, the genius film-maker John Cassavetes describes the confrontations he had with the producer Stanley Kramer while editing A Child is Waiting (1963) and admits becoming so infuriated by the decisions of the man responsible for Inherit the Wind and Judgment at Nuremburg that he wanted to hit him; but could a young, inexperienced director with a flimsy reputation afford to attack an established, big-shot Oscar-winning producer? ‘If I hit him,’ Cassavetes recalls thinking to himself, ‘I’ll never work again. And if I don’t hit him, I’ll never breathe again.’

Cassavetes chose to breathe and didn’t direct a Hollywood film until Gloria in 1980 – though, of course, outside the system he made the best American films of all time.

What Cassavetes describes is revenge as purification or purgation in which violence is deployed to end psychic disturbance and restore mental equilibrium; a form of revenge I neglected to mention in my cursory overview of revenge in politics.

I have had personal experience of this form of cathartic revenge. A few years back, someone insulted me and, for a couple of days after, I was in what I could only describe as a state of Ajaxian turmoil during which I could not get the insult out of my mind – and for the sake of my sanity – to be able to breathe again – I felt I had no choice but to beat up the person who made the insult, which I did – though not badly – he was lucky – others were there to pull me off him, otherwise my rage was such that it could have been much worse.

Anyway, civilised society now dictates that we are supposed to be able to live with insults and that if we seek to preserve our honour or sanity with violence there must be social and legal consequences, which, indeed, in my case there were, but nothing so severe that it made me regret my actions. Revenge was sweet, the mental disturbance I had experienced over and I was able, like Cassavetes, to breathe again or, like Joel McCrea in Sam Peckinpah’s Ride the High Country, able ‘to enter my house justified’.

Revenge as purgation or catharsis exists on a political level too. It describes, for example, the violence committed against Muslim colonists in the Balkans by Christians as they liberated themselves from the Ottoman yoke in the 19th and 20th centuries. Indeed, the brutality shown recently by the Serbs to Albanians and Bosnian Muslims – who are all ‘Turks’ to the Serbs – can be understood as a need to purify their country with blood of the Turkish occupation endured for centuries.

In the Greek imagination too, Turks were associated with dirt, filth and pollution. There’s nothing surprising in this phenomenon, which should be regarded as a natural defence mechanism that a subject and vulnerable population develops to establish and delineate boundaries and protect its identity.

Apostasy, under the Ottomans, was a Greek Christian’s greatest fear, the fear of becoming or rather being made to become a Turk or a Muslim – as a result of the devshirme (blood tax) system or the arbitrary excesses of the Ottoman ruling class, in which a pasha, aga, bey or effendi could if he took a shine to your daughter – or son – carry him or her off to his harem.

This identity-defence mechanism had the added bonus of preventing Greeks from developing the self-hate of subject peoples and indeed, throughout the Ottoman period, despite being subjugated at all levels of society, Greeks never ceased to regard the Turks as their inferiors. (This is the reverse of the British empire, where the British managed to inculcate in their subjects a sense of inferiority and self-hate, which in many cases still persists today).

It’s also worth noting that this sense of Greek exclusivity and superiority is part and parcel of Orthodoxy, an aristocratic form of Christianity, which regards all those not fortunate enough to enjoy its sacraments as suspect at best and trash at worst – the Jews and goyim is a reasonable analogy. Indeed, the Byzantine Empire regarded itself as God’s Kingdom on Earth and the Orthodox faithful as the Chosen People, the subjects of a Holy Nation. As Hans-George Beck puts it:

‘Just as everything in the Byzantine space was right, so everything outside that area was, if not wrong, at least slightly suspect. The people who inhabit this space can only be a Chosen People. But only one people can be chosen. The Byzantines claim a monopoly, in which people and Orthodoxy are co-terminous, a monopoly of spiritual culture and thinking, of superior knowledge and savoir vivre which raises them above the outside world.’

In Cyprus, however, this sense of belonging to a superior world and being immersed in a rhythm of life revolving around diachronic Christian rituals and observance which suggested being part of an everlasting and inviolable natural order, and fear of being overwhelmed or annihilated by the inferior other, did not necessarily exclude Turkish Cypriots or translate into a belief that Turkish Cypriots were an alien or miasmic presence in this earthly paradise.

Marriage in Cyprus between Christian and Turk may have been forbidden, but all other social and economic relations were permissible and entirely natural. This only broke down when Turkish nationalist extremists, with the collusion of the British colonial authorities, began to penetrate and take over Turkish Cypriot communities and demand that paradise be partitioned.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Britain’s revenge against Cyprus

Speaking last weekend at the unveiling of a monument to the Cypriot uprising against British colonial rule in October 1931 – in which the Governor’s residence in Nicosia was burned down, Greek flags were raised across the island and 17 demonstrators killed – President Tassos Papadopoulos suggested that Britain’s recent Strategic Partnership Agreement with Turkey was an act of ‘revenge’ against Greek Cypriots; revenge for the 1931 uprising and the EOKA struggle for union with Greece, 1955-1959.

Papadopoulos’ observation is interesting, though on reflection probably not correct. Revenge rarely plays a role in diplomacy, international relations or the initiation of wars. Not that base motives aren’t involved; avarice – the guiding principle of British imperialism – the brazen addiction to and extension of power, the natural instinct of the strong to exploit and lord it over the weak, fear, paranoia, stupidity, the ambitions of madmen and charlatans – must always prevail in any assessment of what shapes relations and determines conflicts between states.

If international relations, diplomacy and the pursuit of war nearly always concern self-aggrandisement, self-interest and the will to power with revenge rarely a factor – Alexander the Great made a big deal of saying he was attacking the Persian empire to avenge the Persian invasions of Greece 150 years earlier, but in reality avenging Hellas was the last thing on Alexander’s mind – then this is because the thirst for revenge is a form of psychosis in which, as Thucydides says, ‘self-preservation is of no account’ and, normally, states do not go mad and engage in actions likely to endanger their existence.

Revenge, however, can be a factor in non-state social, political and ethnic conflicts; and terrorist/guerrilla campaigns nearly always contain an internal logic that justifies retribution and disregard for self-preservation – dressed up as self-sacrifice.

Thus the IRA often legitimised its campaign of bombings and shootings by referring to 800 years of English/British oppression in Ireland; ASALA killed Turkish diplomats in Europe and the Middle East to avenge the victims of the Armenian holocaust; and, of course, revenge is the raison d’etre of Al-Qaeda – revenge against the West for simply being the West.

Revenge can also take place in periods of stasis – a Thucydidean concept, indicating civil strife, internal disorder or collapse, the worst possible affliction for a state, even worse than war – during which everything becomes possible and all the primitive, irrational and grotesque desires which constitute the dark underbelly of human behaviour are unleashed.

In such circumstances, where resentment and jealousy may have festered for years, decades, even centuries, revenge reveals itself with ferocity and we have the Hutus slaughtering the Tutsis, the Germans annihilating the Jews, the Turks massacring the Armenians and, on a different scale, the Turkish Cypriots turning on the Greek Cypriots in 1974.

Anyway, here’s an article regarding the details of the Octovriana – the 1931 anti-colonial uprising in Cyprus – a rather forgotten episode in British colonial and Greek history.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Cyprus, Rimbaud and the British empire

Long ago, if my memory serves me, my life was a banquet where everyone’s heart was generous, and where all wines flowed.
One evening I pulled Beauty down on my knees. I found her embittered and I cursed her.
(Rimbaud: A Season in Hell).

In return for the Ottoman empire ceding it Cyprus in 1878 under the provisions of the Treaty of Berlin which ended the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-1878, Britain agreed to continue its support to preserve Turkey against perceived Russian ambitions in the Balkans and the Caucuses.

Britain’s support for Turkey was hugely controversial domestically. Gladstone was appalled that Britain was backing Turkey in the Balkans, particularly after the atrocities committed by the Turks in suppressing the Bulgarian uprising in 1876.

‘Let the Turks’, Gladstone wrote, in his famous pamphlet The Bulgarian Horrors and the Eastern Question, ‘carry away their abuses, in the only possible manner, namely, by carrying off themselves. Their Zaptiehs and their Mudirs, their Blmhashis and Yuzbashis, their Kaimakams and their Pashas, one and all, bag and baggage, shall, I hope, clear out from the province that they have desolated and profaned.’

The Anglo–Turkish Convention, it seemed to Gladstone, was a tawdry deal – ‘an act of duplicity not surpassed and rarely equalled in the history of nations’ – another demonstration of Disraelian showmanship and vanity in which Britain committed itself to preserving the Ottoman empire, a murderous and base entity for Gladstone, in exchange for Cyprus, a pointless adornment to the British empire, which was accumulating colonies like a thief accumulating swag.

But Disraeli was convinced that Cyprus would be a vital asset for the British empire – an Eastern Mediterranean Malta or Gibraltar – a military and naval bastion to protect Turkey in Asia Minor and British imperial interests in the Suez Canal and the Middle East.

During the 300 years of Ottoman rule, Cyprus had lost its reputation for prosperity acquired under the Lusignans and Venetians and suffered neglect, depopulation and the arbitrary oppression associated with the worst excesses of the Ottoman empire.

Indeed, the British appear to have been taken by surprise by the extent of the destitution the Turks left behind on Cyprus and soon realised that if the island were to serve the interests of the British empire its infrastructure and sanitary conditions would have to be dramatically improved.

Thus the British occupation of Cyprus began with grand plans for roads, railroads, harbours, forts, hospitals and canals – hardly any of which materialised, but did initially encourage an influx of Europeans and European capital looking for employment and profit.

One of those to arrive on the island in 1878 was Arthur Rimbaud, the brilliant French poet/ex-poet/anti-poet, aged 24, who, helped by his knowledge of Greek, found work at a quarry in Larnaca and then – after catching typhoid and returning to France to recuperate – as a foreman on the project to build the new British governor’s summer residence in the Troodos mountains.

(Sir Garnet Wolseley, the first British governor of Cyprus, was so appalled at the state of Ottoman Nicosia – and was ‘very anxious to get out of [it]… it is one great cesspit into which the filth of centuries has been poured’ – that one of his first acts was to order the construction of a villa in the more salubrious surroundings of Troodos from which to rule the island).

Regarding Rimbaud’s Cypriot sojourn, we know through letters he wrote to his family in France of the arduous conditions of his work, that he complained about the heat of the plains and the cold of the mountains, that he requested arms to protect himself from the workers under his authority dissatisfied with irregular pay, and that he left the island suddenly – either because of illness, an argument with his employers or, according to Ottorino Rosa, who knew Rimbaud a few years later in Ethiopia – where Rimbaud was a merchant, gunrunner and, possibly, a slave trader – because Rimbaud had killed a subordinate in a fight.

But the details concerning Rimbaud’s year in Cyprus remain sketchy – Christopher Hitchens mischievously speculates that Rimbaud may have had a homosexual relationship with Captain Herbert – later Lord – Kitchener, who was on the island at the same time as Rimbaud, conducting the British Survey of Cyprus – and all that’s left of Rimbaud’s presence on the island is a plaque in the governor’s – now president’s – summer residence, which reads: ‘The French poet and genius Arthur Rimbaud, heedless of his renown, was not above helping to build this house with his own hands.’

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Turkey, the EU and America

‘Recent polls,’ Victor Davis Hanson, the renowned American classicist and political commentator, writes, ‘reveal that Turks are among the most anti-American and anti-Christian peoples in the world, the latter fact not surprising to anyone who reads deeply of the 500-year history of Hellenic-Ottoman relations.’

While attributing the latest outburst of Turkish anti-Americanism to the US Congress’ Armenian holocaust resolution and US resistance to Turkish plans to invade northern Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish rebels, Hanson feels that the emergence of these issues insufficiently explains the depth of Turkish hostility to America since, over time, Turkey has benefited considerably from its US alliance.

America, Hanson says, has treated Turkey well: ‘We support its entry into the EU; we tried to be fair in the Cyprus dispute (despite the Turkish brutal invasion in 1974); we offered a lot of money to use bases to supply the invasion of Iraq; we advise the Greeks patience in the face of constant Turkish overflights in the Aegean. We were a good ally in the Cold War and kept the Soviets doing to Turkey what it did to Eastern Europe.’

How then does Hanson account for the surge in anti-American hysteria in Turkey – which, he says, is tied to ‘perverted manifestations of anti-Semitism’ and revealed by the ‘mega-hit, anti-American film and subsequent TV series Valley of the Wolves (replete with murderous American soldiers and an organ-harvesting Jewish doctor)’?

Hanson believes Turkish anti-Americanism is deep-rooted and reflects a general hostility to the West in Turkey, now able to find expression as ‘the historical aberration of Ataturk's secularism’ is exposed and Islamic ideology and perceptions of the global order increasingly permeate Turkish society.

‘European Turkey’, Hanson argues, ‘is being overwhelmed, demographically and culturally, by anti-Western, anti-globalization Anatolian Islamism, and thus begins to replay the historical role of the Ottomans — whom, contrary to current orthodoxy, I don't find to have ever been positive for civilization as a whole.’

The rise of Anatolian Islamism in Turkey will put such strains on Turkey’s partnership with America, Hanson suggests, that US foreign policy makers should now be planning for irretrievable breakdown and the formation of ‘closer relations with Armenia, Kurdistan, Greece, Cyprus, and other regional neighbors’.

Developments in Turkey are so serious, Hanson concludes, that America ‘should quit denying the danger, or despair that without the old Turkey we are adrift in the Eastern Mediterranean. We are not.’

In my fantasy US cabinet VDH would be the next secretary of state; but unfortunately, in reality, this privilege, assuming Hillary Clinton becomes president in 2008, is likely to go to Richard Holbrooke.

Dick Holbrooke – fomer assistant secretary of state, former US ambassador to Germany, former US ambassador to the UN, architect of the Dayton Peace Accords and President Bill Clinton’s former special envoy to Kosovo and to Cyprus – is an ardent proponent of the US-Turkey alliance.

Turkey is, according to Holbrooke, ‘a frontline state that stands at the crossroads of almost every issue of importance to the United States on the Eurasian Continent’.

At a Brookings Institute lecture earlier this year, Holbrooke reiterated his view that Turkey and the US are ‘indispensable allies’, accused the Bush administration of mishandling relations with Turkey to a dangerous degree and berated Europe for not seeing ‘the strategic and historic necessity for negotiating Turkey's accession into the European Union’.

The root of the EU’s skeptical approach to Turkey – its failure to see that ‘Europe and Turkey need each other’ – according to Holbrooke, is Islamophobia and racism, a failure of European nation-states to adjust to the realities of globalisation and mass immigration – particularly Muslim immigration – which reactionary Europeans are frightened will dilute ethnic and cultural homogeneity, to which they are unreasonably attached.

Of course, for Americans like Holbrooke the nation-state and ethnic and cultural homogeneity are anathema, antiquated concepts, dirty words. Their vision of Europe is that it should come increasingly to resemble America – glorifying the individual and individual ‘rights’, skeptical of history and tradition, revelling in multiculturalism and the demise of ethnicity.

Now, leaving aside that what Americans like Holbrooke advocate is in fact the death of Europe and European culture; it is also deeply ironic that while Holbrooke castigates Europeans for wanting to preserve the nation-state and ethnic and cultural homogeneity, he cannot praise Ataturk – ‘a brilliant visionary’ – and Turkey highly enough; Ataturk, who was guided by the ruthless pursuit of Turkish ethnic homogeneity – a policy prosecuted by his successors with the same violence, fear and institutional discrimination; and Turkey, where devotion to the nation and the state borders on the psychotic and fascistic.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Turkey: Hostage to Cyprus

One of the most extraordinary aspects of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus (1974) is how the island’s Greeks – despite the catastrophe and depredations they endured, the shattering of the island’s economy and society, bearing all the scars associated with a brutal assault, including the creation overnight of 200,000 refugees (one third of the Greek population of the island) deprived of their homes, possessions and livelihoods – through sheer hard work, determination and ingenuity were able to rebuild their lives, strengthen their state and improve their society.

(This peculiarly Cypriot form of resistance to violent displacement and occupation is, according to this article by Shlomo Avineri, an example the Palestinians should have followed).

The recovery of the Greek Cypriots from the Turkish invasion – which should never be mistaken as contentment with the status quo or hesitation in pursuing reunification of the island – is contrasted by Nikos Konstandaras in yesterday's Kathimerini with the way Turkey since 1974 has become trapped by its involvement in Cyprus and held back and deformed by the justification of Turkish nationalism and militarism the invasion represents. Here’s what Konstandaras says:

‘When a country loses in war or diplomacy it is logical to expect that it will be bound by the conditions imposed by the victor. It is less logical, and yet commonplace, that countries can be trapped by their success and thus persist with policies that turn out to be disastrous in the long term. History is full of great victories that ultimately became defeats.

‘In our region, the clearest example of this paradoxical entrapment of a victor is the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974. The Turks are so proud of this episode that one might think it was an earth-shattering achievement – something like the conquests of Alexander the Great. The Greek Cypriots suffered all the evils of the invasion and the occupation of a part of their country. But, though the wounds remain open, the Greek Cypriots recovered. With hard work and persistence they created a country that today is flourishing, is a member of the European Union and provides its citizens (including any Turkish Cypriots who want them) all the freedoms and opportunities of a full democracy. For Greece, the invasion of Cyprus signaled the fall of the military dictatorship in Athens and the establishment of the longest period of democracy and social development our country has ever known.

‘What did Turkey get? It has been trapped into sustaining the primacy of the military over all aspects of life, culminating in the 1981 coup and the continued “guardianship” of the political system by the generals. The occupation of northern Cyprus has cost Turkey billions to support the Turkish-Cypriot economy and fund a large occupation force. But, above all, Turkish policy on Cyprus – as in the Armenian and Kurdish questions – has been trapped in an intransigence born of military success that was followed by repeated diplomatic defeats…’

Read the whole article here.

Sunday, 28 October 2007


28 October is ‘Ochi’ (No) Day in Greece and Cyprus, which commemorates the defeat of the invading fascist Italians, 1940-41, and then the relentless resistance Greeks put up against the invading and occupying Germans, until liberation in 1944.

‘Ochi’ is what Greece’s prime minister, Ioannis Metaxas, allegedly replied on 28 October, 1940 to Mussolini’s ultimatum to allow Axis forces to enter Greece and occupy key locations in the country. In fact, it’s more likely that Metaxas said to the Italians, ‘Alors, c’est la guerre’ (Then it is war), but the spirit of defiance remains the same.

It’s worth pointing out that Greece, still reeling from the Asia Minor Catastrophe (1922) and from economic, political and social crises, only had heart, spirit and pride with which to resist the Axis powers, but it was enough; and that in the period 1940-44, Greece lost between 5-7 percent of its population – up to 500,000 people – one of the highest casualty rates of any Allied country.

Stavros, who knows a thing or two about fighting spirit, over at My Greek Odyssey has a post about Ochi Day, including videos demonstrating how Greek defiance of fascist Italy and Nazi Germany inspired freedom-loving people around the world during the darkest days of the war, 1940-41.

Here are some quotes from significant Second World War protagonists expressing their awe as Greece drove the Italians back deep into Albania and fought furiously against the Germans.

Churchill: ‘Hence, we will not say that Greeks fight like heroes, but that heroes fight like Greeks.'

Hitler, speaking in the Reichstag on May 4, 1941: ‘For the sake of historical truth, I must verify that only the Greeks, of all the adversaries who confronted us, fought with bold courage and highest disregard of death.’

De Gaulle: ‘I am unable to give the proper breadth of gratitude I feel for the heroic resistance of the people and leaders of Greece.’

Mainichi Shimbun, Japanese newspaper, 7 December 1940: ‘Our country, in which virtue is especially honoured, watches with admiration the struggle of the Greeks in Albania. We are so much touched, that, by letting aside every other feeling, we shout: LONG LIVE HELLAS!’

Long live Hellas, indeed.

I’ll finish with this poem I found on Constantine’s site, by John Dennis Mahoney, written in 1941.

Il Duce with his mighty legions
Knocked at Greece’s ancient gate
He had forty million people
And the Greeks had only eight
With his Fascist banners gleaming
From the high Albanian Peak,
“I am coming,” cried Il Duce.
“Come ahead,” replied the Greek.

“Forward!” shouted the commanders
With a good old Roman curse;
And the legions started rolling,
Rolling swiftly – in reverse,
And throughout the startled nation
The news began to leak
That the Duce had been walloped
By the sturdy little Greek.

Then that poor, moth-eaten Caesar,
What a different song he sang!
“This great big bully licked me!
Hey Adolph, get your gang!”
“You’re a dumkopf,” cried the Fuehrer,
As he pulled his trusty gun;
“You don’t know how to murder kids;
“I’ll show you how it’s done.”

And then the tanks began to roll
With clank and roar and groan:
The great planes blacked the sky and filled
The air with ceaseless drone,
In endless ranks with flame and bomb
And gray guns long and sleek;
The mighty German war machine
Moved down upon the Greek.

And still that fellow wouldn’t run –
He didn’t quite know how.
“We’ve got some help,” he said, “and that
just makes it even now.”
“Bring on your millions, Adolph dear,
We’re neither scared nor meek.
The British, sixty thousand strong,
Are standing with the Greek!”

They fought a fight like Homer’s song
They died, as brave men must
Their ranks, “neath dark odds,
Were beaten to the dust.
And then heroic chivalry
Attained its highest peak
As the victors clasped their bloody hands
Above the fallen Greek.

Someday, beyond this veil of tears,
We’ll all stand on the spot
To tell the Judge of all the world
Just who we were – and what.
I wouldn’t be a Fascist then,
Or Nazi grim and bleak;
But I’d be proud to tell my God
That once I was a Greek!