Tuesday, 30 December 2008

The Irish bouzouki

The bouzouki, believe it or not, has become a key instrument in Irish music, having been introduced to the tradition in the late 1960s by Johnny Moynihan. The Irish bouzouki – or zouk – has been adapted to suit Irish needs – for example, the Irish version is flat, not round-backed – but it is essentially the same instrument. Read more here:

The first clip posted above,
Monaghan jig, I liked a lot because the bouzouki player has managed to get that droning sound out of the bouzouki, which other Irish players often miss or don't want.

The second video below is the first part of an interesting BBC documentary on the history and current role of the bouzouki in Irish music. The other three parts of the documentary can be seen on youtube. The musicians shown are exceptional and they love their bouzoukis as much as any Greek.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

A tale of two nephews

Above is a clip of Psarogeorgis, playing Cretan lute and lyra and being interviewed on Australian TV. Psarogeorgis (Georgios Xylouris) is the son of Psarantonis, nephew of Nikos Xylouris and brother of Niki Xylouri and Psarolambi. The prefix Psara (Fisher) the Xylourides use in front of their first names comes from their grandfather, who is said to have killed Turks as if they were fish. The family hails from the legendary Cretan mountain village of Anoyia, which I’ve written about here.

The song in the embedded player is Psarantonis' version of Πότε θα κάμει ξαστεριά, from the album Rizitika. The entire album, plus two other Psarantonis albums, can be downloaded here.

Πότε θα κάμει ξαστεριά:psarantonis.mp3
The video below is of a Cretan dance, the watching of which made me even more annoyed by the continuing events in Athens. How could a country with such a culture and history – such palikarismos and leventia – have allowed itself to fall so low?

It's also worth pointing out that Kathimerini is reporting the high level of Albanian involvement in the Athens violence; and that if you take the view, as I do (following Karabelias), that lawlessness in Greece and its tolerance by society and the state is a direct consequence of the rule of the junta (1967-74), then we shouldn't forget which foreign powers imposed the junta on Greece.

Finally, Albanians, conspiring foreign powers or not, nothing can excuse the pusillanimous response of the Karamanlis government to the violence. Here was a golden opportunity to assert the authority of the state, to insist on law and order and make citizens fear the state and the law; instead of which Karamanlis chose to abdicate all responsibility and turn over the country to chaos. This decision to collude with the rioters in abolishing the state is the worst political decision made by a Greek political leader since another Karamanlis (Constantinos) refused to send armed forces to Cyprus to repel the Turkish invasion of the island. The consequences of that surrender of Greek national interests were national humiliation, the collapse of state prestige and the emboldening of Greece's enemies. What uncle Karamanlis achieved in 1974, so has the nephew in 2008.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Anarchists, immigrants, hooligans, gypsies, the mad, the curious and the unbalanced

A little while ago, Hermes and I got into a debate with a couple of Greek revolutionaries regarding the philosophy of Cornelius Castoriadis and its implications for Hellenism. I wrote about the encounters here and here. Because it crossed my mind that those we were debating would be just the sort who would welcome and support the continuing Athens riots and protests, I checked out the blog they write for, Autonomy or Barbarism, and below is a translated extract from the last predictably ecstatic entry, eulogising the ‘struggle’ and urging its intensification.

‘The murder of Alexi by the cop Korkonea shocked us all. It was the pretext for the expression of all the discontent, outrage and fury that has been piling up. Anarchists, immigrants, students, pupils, leftists, hooligans, gypsies, the mad, the curious, the unbalanced – all came out on the streets. Individuals from all classes, from all social layers. From Ilion to Kifisia, from Grava to Arsakeio. Mostly youngsters, but older people too. A vague and confused but at the same time mass and widespread discontent hangs in the air, along with the tear gas of the riot police which tries to suffocate it. A loathing and rage for the cops, politicians and school, for the daily routine, for everything that until now constituted our everyday lives.

‘The slogan that unites all parts of the movement is «cops, pigs, murderers».’

So there we have it, from the horse’s mouth, those who would destroy Athens, whose ‘discontents and fury’ the Greek state and society are supposed to urgently address, are teenagers, anarchists, hooligans, immigrants, gypsies and the crazed, who are united by… what noble cause and vision? – hatred for the police.

I still find it hard to believe that non-citizens, demi-citizens and ‘other flotsam of society’ (Marx) are being allowed to so brazenly challenge the Greek state, which by not being able, for whatever reason, to crush the disturbances has revealed the full extent of Greek society’s sickness, not that the mob are a solution or a justified response to this sickness; they are in fact its most prevalent symptom.

And here’s a quote from WR Burnett’s crime novel, The Asphalt Jungle, which I’m currently reading, that ties in with the argument I tried to make in my post Castoriadis and Thucydides on the Greek riots about the need for social constraints to prevent a surfacing of man’s natural tendency to barbarism:

‘The worst police force in the world is better than no police force. And ours is far from the worst – no matter what you may believe. Take the police off the streets for forty-eight hours, and nobody would be safe, neither on the street, nor in his place of business, nor in his home. There wouldn’t be an easy moment for women or children. We’d be back in the jungle…’

Friday, 19 December 2008

Spain's foreign minister on Tassos Papadopoulos

Below is an obituary of Tassos Papadopoulos written by Spain's foreign minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos who, as the EU's special representative for the Middle East between 1996 and 2003, had a base in Cyprus, where he got to know the island's issues and players well.

Moratinos' piece, which I took from the Greek American News Agency, speaks for itself, but just a few additional points:

Moratinos rightly repudiates the absurd notion that Papadopoulos (and by extension the Greek Cypriots) because he led the 'No' campaign in the referendum on the Annan plan in 2004 was somehow opposed to the reunification of Cyprus and content to see the Turkish occupation of the island continue.

The invasion and occupation of Cyprus is a crime against the Greeks of the island and it is the Greek Cypriots who have suffered the worst consequences of Turkish aggression. Greek Cypriots more than anyone want to end the occupation, reunite their country and reclaim the towns and villages from which they were expelled in 1974 by the Turkish army.

Indeed, it was precisely because the Annan plan would have legitimised the Turkish invasion and occupation of Cyprus rather than paved the way for the island’s reunification that Papadopoulos was so adamant in his rejection of it and why 76% of Greek Cypriots backed his judgement.

While many Greeks heralded Papadopoulos as the saviour of Cypriot Hellenism, the USA, UK, UN, EU were so furious with him for refusing to share their vision of Cyprus as an Anglo-Turkish protectorate and for complicating Turkey's EU accession process, that he was subjected to a campaign of diplomatic hostility and vilification in the international media, which portrayed him as an uncompromising nationalist unable to countenance the idea of sharing power with the island's Turkish minority. As Moratinos says, Papadopoulos became a 'scapegoat'.

Ultimately, it was this scapegoating of Papadopoulos that lost him the presidential election in Cyprus earlier this year; and not so much because Cypriot voters were swayed by foreign pressure, but because Dimitris Christofias, general secretary of AKEL, the largest party in the coalition that helped Papadopoulos win the presidency in 2003, was convinced that Papadopoulos' 'unpopularity among foreign governments' was damaging Cyprus' cause, allowing Turkey to avoid responsibility for the occupation of Cyprus and, in fact, to make the charge, since the Turks on Cyprus voted in favour of the Annan plan, that it was the Greek Cypriots who were against reunification of the island.

Of course, having played his part in scapegoating Papadopoulos, Christofias went on to win the presidential elections last February and, because Christofias speaks the EU-UN language of coexistence, multiculturalism and tolerance – language which Papadopoulos found it hard to utter, regarding it as meaningless since the Cyprus problem is not one of ruptured relations between Greek Cypriots and the Turkish minority, but an issue of Turkey's invasion and occupation of the island – he is indeed more 'popular' in the international arena; but so far this shows no signs, as Christofias hoped and expected, of translating into pressure on Turkey to be constructive in revived settlement negotiations.

Indeed, since President Christofias and Mehmet Ali Talat, leader of the Turkish occupation regime in northern Cyprus, started direct negotiations in September, the Turkish side has put forward its usual maximalist positions – some of which go beyond the provisions of the Annan plan, already favourable to Turkey – which clearly aim at the creation of two separate states on the island.

By resorting to proposals that would legitimise their invasion and occupation of Cyprus, the Turks are not expecting Christofias to accept their terms, but want instead either to collapse the talks – allowing Turkey to claim Cyprus reunification is impossible and that, citing Kosovo as a precedent, the only way forward is international recognition of its puppet state in northern Cyprus – or to prompt the UN to seek to bridge the gap between Turkey's maximalist and Christofias' minimalist positions and in so doing coming up with another Annan plan.

Increasingly, therefore, it seems that the current talks between Christofias and Talat are not aimed at reaching a settlement of the Cyprus issue, but are a trap set by the Turks; one which Papadopoulos would have avoided, but Christofias shows every sign of falling into.

Tassos Papadopoulos: a man who understood his people very well, by
Miguel Angel Moratinos

‘Tassos Papadopoulos, former President of the Republic of Cyprus, died last Friday in Nicosia. I met him soon after he became president, when I was still European Union special representative for the Middle East peace process. My wife knew his wife and family well. He had a Levantine personality, typical of the generation of Cypriots that, inspired by the idea of independence for their island, defended a legitimate nationalism against the British presence there.

‘I am writing these few lines, not only out of friendship for a great Cypriot patriot, but also seeking to eradicate the false image of him presented in Europe and the West as somebody who was stubborn and maximalist, who blocked a definitive solution to the Cyprus problem. Tassos Papadopoulos was an excellent personification of the Cypriot character; he was a staunch Hellenist, but educated in the strictest British tradition, which led him to become one of the most brilliant lawyers in Cyprus. His legal knowledge was always to the forefront when analysis was needed of any proposed solution to the dispute.

‘He became head of state of Cyprus at a very hopeful time for his country, after the excellent negotiation process carried out by the previous government, which led to Cyprus joining the European Union. All seemed well on course for all the ambitions of the Cypriots to be fulfilled.

‘Much has been written and said about the attitude of President Papadopoulos during the negotiations and about the referendum by which the Annan plan was rejected, but what is inescapable is that the vast majority of Greek Cypriots did not accept it.

‘Few Western leaders read all the fine details of this plan, and as has occurred in other international negotiations, the course of least resistance was adopted, namely that of pointing to a scapegoat, somebody held to be responsible – in this case, the president of Cyprus – rather than continuing negotiations, searching for a solution that would be acceptable to all parties. This does not invalidate the effort made by the Turkish Cypriots in the process, but all of us who have ample experience in the international arena, and especially in the area of the eastern Mediterranean, are well aware that any negotiating position can be improved and that what is important is to enjoy popular support.

‘I witnessed how President Papadopoulos made political ground within the EU and how his position and his arguments made themselves better understood. During this time, as the Spanish foreign minister, I had many opportunities to work with him and to exchange viewpoints, with the aim of reaching a definitive solution to the Cyprus problem. I can corroborate that this was his real passion, and despite diverse viewpoints, it was apparent that he was prepared to negotiate in good faith with the other side in order to reach a final agreement. He trusted in Spain and in our diplomacy, thanks to our good relations with Turkey, and on several occasions we were able to help resolve sensitive issues.

‘He admired modern, democratic Spain, and its Mediterranean vocation. He believed that young Cypriots could be better acquainted with the Spanish language and that students could study at universities in our country, in order to vary the current tendency to attend Greek or British universities.

‘He stood for re-election at the last elections, and was convinced he would win, but his good friend and political partner Dimitris Christofias, received greater support from the voters. The last time we met was in Beijing, on the occasion of the inauguration of the Olympic Games last August. Subsequently we spoke on the telephone on several occasions. His deep, throaty voice – caused by a lifelong tobacco habit – did not conceal his perfect command of English.

‘He never ceased to encourage me to assist the present government of President Christofias in achieving the long-desired reunification of the island.

‘He understood his people very well and I know he wished to resolve the Cypriot question, to achieve a definitive reconciliation with the modern, dynamic European Turkey, which is so close to this island-continent, as some have termed Cyprus.

‘Today, Tassos, you will receive the acknowledgement of all your people, to which I add my own and of Spain, another Mediterranean country.’

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

There is another Greece

Τάσσος Παπαδόπουλος: Παρέλαβε κράτος και παρέδωσε κράτος

If you've only got access to TV from Greece, then the death and funeral of Tassos Papadopoulos – who lived his life, as his daughter said, with dignity and honour, like a Greek, who never bows his head – may have escaped your attention. Here are reports from Monday's RIK TV News on the funeral of Cyprus' former president, with, in the first video, valedictory speeches from Vassos Lyssarides and the aforementioned Anastassia Papadopoulou and, in the second clip, from Archbishop Chrysostomos, Marios Karoyian and Christodoulos Pashiardis. Tassos Papadopoulos took charge of a state and he handed over a state. Αιώνια θα ειναι η µνήµη του.

Friday, 12 December 2008

A fearless warrior is dead

Tassos Papadopoulos is dead, struck down by lung cancer, having lived 74 years, nearly all of which were dedicated to the struggle of Cypriot Hellenism, to rid itself of British colonialism, to unite the island with the rest of Greece, to defend it against Turkish Cypriot terrorism, the Greek junta and their American masters, to resist the Turkish invasion and occupation and the scurrilous plans of the international community to wipe Cypriot Hellenism from the face of the earth and consign it to history and memory.

Papadopoulos joined EOKA aged 21 at the outbreak of the war against British rule in 1955, and as the struggle intensified became head of operations in the Nicosia district. In 1958, Papadopoulos was put in charge of EOKA's political wing, PEKA, responsible for directing the war of information, promoting the case for Enosis domestically and internationally. In 1959, Papadopoulos and Vassos Lyssarides were the only members of the Cypriot delegation (apart from communist AKEL delegates, under instructions from Moscow) who voted against the London and Zurich agreements, which granted Cyprus a restricted, poisoned form of independence; after which Papadopoulos served in a variety of senior positions in President Makarios' governments, in a period characterised by enormous economic and social strides on the island and the successful containment of Turkish Cypriot terrorist militias; until the Athens-CIA engineered coup in 1974, when Makarios was ousted and Papadopoulos arrested and imprisoned by the treasonous regime.

After the Turkish invasion and Makarios' restoration, Papadopoulos was part of the Greek Cypriot negotiating team in the intercommunal talks, heading it from 1976-1978. With Makarios' death and the subsequent presidencies of Spyros Kyprianou, Georgios Vassiliou and Glafkos Clerides, Papadopoulos was estranged from the centre of power and became known as a strident critic of continuing concessions to the Turks. In 2000, after an ailing Kyprianou stood down as head of the Democratic Party, Papadopoulos was elected leader, opening the way for his successful bid for the Cyprus presidency in 2003.

As president, Papadopoulos oversaw the island's entry into the EU in 2004 and in the same year saved Cypriot Hellenism from disaster – and Hellenism more generally from disgrace – by resisting the extraordinary pressure from the USA, the UK, the UN and the EU to accept the despicable Annan plan, which would have turned Cyprus into an Anglo-Turkish protectorate.

In a famous television address, two weeks before Greek Cypriots were due to vote in a referendum on the Annan plan, Papadopoulos, in a manner worthy of Hellenic defiance down the centuries, urged the Greeks of Cyprus to say 'ένα δυνατό Όχι' (a resounding No) to the shameful UN formula and to continue the fight for Cyprus' deliverance from the Turkish occupation.

Below are excerpts from Papadopoulos' address of 7 April 2004. Read the whole thing here:

'In these conditions of particular historic importance, I feel obliged to address myself to you, the sovereign people of Cyprus. Every people formulates and writes its own history. At times with liberation and social struggles, at times with democratic procedures through voting. Now the Cypriot people is called on singularly and collectively to write the history of the future of Cyprus.

'Our country is going through the most dramatic hours in its age-old history. Decisive times not only for the present and for our own generation but also for the future and the coming generations as well.

'I am convinced that the whole of the political leadership of this country and each and every one of you fully realise the gravity of the decision we are called on to make with the referendum of the 24 April… This decision belongs exclusively to the Cypriot people. I hope our foreign friends will respect the people and the Republic of Cyprus. I hope they will understand that interventions and pressure offend the dignity of the Cypriot people, that they are contrary to the express provisions of the UN Charter and that in the end they are counterproductive.’

(Papadopoulos then proceeded to give a detailed denunciation of the Annan plan, before concluding…)

'My fellow Cypriots… My feelings are no different than yours. I have dedicated myself to your service all my life, but particularly since my election as president of the Republic. All my actions have been aimed at and guided by the interests of the people and nothing else, dedicating myself to its service and carrying out my responsibilities with frankness, in words and deeds. The final decision was and will always be yours. Your verdict will be expressed in the 24 April referendum.

'Taking into account all the elements, in a calm and objective spirit, and being fully aware of the historic moments we are living in and the share of responsibility I bear, I am truly sorry to say that I cannot endorse the Annan plan as it has been finally shaped.

'I took charge of an internationally recognised state. I am not going to hand over ''a community'', with no say internationally and in search of a guardian. And all this in exchange for empty and misleading hopes, and the baseless illusion that Turkey will keep its promises.

'On 24 April you will vote either Yes or No to the Annan plan. You will decide the present and future of Cyprus. You will decide for our generation and the generations that will come after us.

'I trust your judgment. I am certain you will not be affected by false dilemmas, nor will you be scared by threats about alleged international isolation. I am certain you are not convinced when it is claimed that this is the last chance.

'I am sure that for you the moral principles and values of our people, its culture and national historic life, are still worth a great deal to you and you aspire to continue living in security and freedom and with justice and peace.

'Greeks of Cyprus… in weighing the advantages and disadvantages of voting Yes or No, it is clear that the consequences of Yes will be heavier and more onerous; and so I call on you to reject the Annan plan. I call on you to say a resounding No on 24 April. I call on you to defend justice, your dignity and history.

'With a sense of responsibility towards the history, present and future of Cyprus and to our people, I call on you not to mortgage the future to Turkey's political whims; to defend the Republic of Cyprus, to say No to its dissolution; and to mobilise for a new, hopeful course aimed at reunifying our country, inside the European Union.'

Thursday, 11 December 2008

The New Junta in Greece

Above is an interesting talk by Giorgos Karabelias from two weeks ago, which is remarkably prescient given what's been happening in Greece these last few days. As in my post yesterday – Castoriadis and Thucydides on the Greek riots – Karabelias would reject determinist theories of the events – i.e. Greek youth is unhappy with its lot, therefore it riots – and would want to know instead what kind of society has developed in Greece that has allowed the riots to take place and the state to be challenged in this way.

In his talk, Karabelias refers to the gaping holes left by the junta that ruled Greece from 1967-74. He says that since the junta Greece has moved from the extreme of repression to the other extreme of complete freedom, impunity and permissiveness.

The junta, Karabelias says, brought into disrepute a whole series of institutions and values in Greece, including that of national pride, to the extent that it is now more virtuous to burn the Greek flag than it is to be patriotic. Greece's armed forces were also discredited and undermined by the junta, to the extent that the Greek military is demoralised and incapable of fulfilling its basic mission, which is to protect the country.

Greece has gone, Karabelias says, from a totally repressed and disciplined society to one that is now completely lacking in restraint. Indeed, Karabelias says, the repression of the junta and the type of discipline it imposed gave birth to the permissive and unrestrained nature of contemporary Greek society.

Of course, Karabelias says, this new post-junta permissive society has not heralded a 'free' society. On the contrary, according to Karabelias, Greece is living under a New Junta, worse than the old military junta.

With the old, repressive junta, there was coherent, intelligent resistance – people meeting, reading, discussing; but nowadays, Karabelias argues – where it appears that everything is permitted and yet everything is predetermined – we sit in front of the television for five-six hours a day, being brainwashed, becoming increasingly atomised, abandoning social discourse and engagement in favour of Big Brother – which consists of television, journalists, politicians, the system of power, the owners of the mass media, large economic interests, all intertwined, who have imposed a dictatorship – a velvet dictatorship – worse than the old dictatorship, because it has acquired the consent of the people.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Castoriadis and Thucydides on the Greek riots

Why is Greek youth – or some of it – wreaking havoc and mayhem in Athens and elsewhere in Greece at the moment? The answer is obvious. Why wouldn't it? It is, because it can. The Greek state is so weak, terrified, discredited and incompetent that it cannot confront, dares not confront, a few hundred stone-throwing youths, allowing them to live out their destructive fantasies and enjoy for a short while a primitive state of freedom.

According to Thucydides, without externally imposed constraints, man is prone to barbarism. Here's how he describes the Plague of Athens during the Peloponnesian War:

'Nor was this the only form of lawless extravagance which owed its origin to the plague. Men now coolly ventured on what they had formerly done in a corner, and not just as they pleased, seeing the rapid transitions produced by persons in prosperity suddenly dying and those who before had nothing succeeding to their property. So they resolved to spend quickly and enjoy themselves, regarding their lives and riches as alike things of a day. Perseverance in what men called honor was popular with none, it was so uncertain whether they would be spared to attain the object; but it was settled that present enjoyment, and all that contributed to it, was both honorable and useful.

'Fear of gods or law of man there was none to restrain them. As for the first, they judged it to be just the same whether they worshipped them or not, as they saw all alike perishing; and for the last, no one expected to live to be brought to trial for his offences, but each felt that a far severer sentence had been already passed upon them all and hung ever over their heads, and before this fell it was only reasonable to enjoy life a little.

'Such was the nature of the calamity, and heavily did it weigh on the Athenians; death raging within the city and devastation without.'

Castoriadis agrees that man needs external constraints for civilised society to take place, and he chides Marxist and libertarian psychoanalysts for suggesting ‘that we only have to let desires and drives express themselves for universal happiness to follow. The result in such a case would rather be universal murder.’

The Greek riots are also a crisis of the country's education system, of Greek pedagogy.

Here's Castoriadis again:

'Pedagogy starts at age zero and no one knows when it ends. The aim of pedagogy (or paideia)… is to help the newborn and dreadful monster to become a human being, to help this bundle of drives and imagination become an anthropos… an autonomous being… with the capacity to govern and be governed…

'The point of pedagogy is not to teach particular things, but to develop in the subject the capacity to learn: learn to learn, learn to discover, learn to invent.'

Pedagogy, for Castoriadis, has the same aim as psychoanalysis, to help 'the individual become autonomous, that is, capable of self-reflective activity and deliberation' and both belong to the 'great social-historical stream of and struggle for autonomy, the emancipatory project to which both democracy and philosophy belong'.

Obviously, in Greece, the methods of making human beings out of dreadful monsters, of making citizens out of demi-citizens, are failing. This is not only because 'a man is educated by his surroundings… and what kind of education does a contemporary Athenian undergo living in the φρικτό τερατούργημα [the terrible monstrosity], which is today’s Athens?'; but also because since 1974 Greek youth has been educated to believe it restored democracy to the country through the Polytechnic 'uprising' and it continues to be in the vanguard of social change, rather than being taught that, because its paideia is inchoate, it has a subordinate role in society, in which it is not entitled to fully participate. This exploitation and idealisation of Greek youth has proved disastrous for it and the country.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Kazantzakis on Greece and Japan

In my recent post, Angelopoulos, Takeshi Kitano, Cacoyiannis, I mention that Greek and Japanese civilisations have some striking similarities. In his book, Travels in China & Japan, recording his impressions of imperial Japan and revolutionary China in the 1930s, Nikos Kazantzakis explains what I mean:

‘There is no country in the world that reminds me more than Japan of what ancient Greece might have been in its most shining moments. As in ancient Greece, so in old Japan and here in whatever of it still lives, even the smallest thing that comes from the hands of man and is used in his everyday life is a work of art, made with love and grace. Everything comes out of agile, dexterous hands, which crave beauty, simplicity and grace – what the Japanese call in one word: shibui (“tastefully bare”). 

‘Beauty in everyday life. And many other similarities: both peoples had given to their religion a cheerful aspect and had placed God and man in goodhearted contact. They both had the same simplicity and grace in dress, food and abode. They had similar celebrations devoted to the worship of nature, the anthesteria and sakura; and also from the same root (the dance) they produced the same sacred fruit, the tragedy. Both peoples had tried to give to physical exercises an intellectual aim… 

‘The ancient Greeks received the first elements of their civilisation from the Orient and from Egypt, but they succeeded in transforming them and in freeing the sacred silhouette of man from monstrous gods by giving human nobility to the monsters of mythology, theology and fear. In exactly the same way, the Japanese took their religion from India and the first elements of their civilisation from China and Korea, but they, also, succeeded in humanising the physical and the monstrous and in creating an original civilisation – religion, art, action – adapted to the stature of man.’

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Angelopoulos, Takeshi Kitano, Cacoyiannis

In yesterday’s Guardian, Ronald Bergen wrote:

‘Thessaloniki's international film festival, which will celebrate its half-century next year, again reinforced its reputation for being a festival where directors are the stars. For example, when one walks up the stairways of the large Olympia cinema, the walls are plastered with scores of photographs of film directors – not an actor to be seen.

‘This year, tributes were paid to the Dardenne brothers, Oliver Stone and Terence Davies, who all gave masterclasses to packed, enthusiastic young audiences, and there was a nine-film homage to Ousmane Sembène, who died last year. Takeshi Kitano was also presented with an Honorary Golden Alexander, for lifetime achievement.

‘Kitano, whose latest film, Achilles and the Tortoise, has Greek connections (the title comes from Zeno's paradox), said that it was a real pleasure to be so honoured especially by Greece, the home of great playwrights and philosophers, and "the cradle of western civilisation". Although these remarks are always flattering to Greeks, they also get on their nerves. It implies that Greece did its bit for civilisation centuries ago and has rested on its laurels ever since.

‘Despite the cradle being a bit battered these days, having gone through wars and revolutions and social and political upheavals, they have still produced many great artists since the days of ancient Greece, including two internationally renowned film directors – Michael Cacoyannis and Theo Angelopoulos, both of whom were represented at the festival.

My Life and Times: Michael Cacoyannis, a documentary by Lydia Carras, reminded us how the 86-year-old was once the embodiment of Greek cinema, reaching his peak of popularity with Zorba the Greek (1964). Yet with his Euripides trilogy, featuring the magnificent Irene Papas, Cacoyannis proved that the classic plays on film could still grip modern audiences…’

(Read the article in full here).

Just a couple of additional points.
It’s good to see that Angelopoulos is still going strong. His vision has always been epic, tragic and poetic. Above is a clip from his breathtakingly brilliant Travelling Players (1974) – which is not only the greatest ever Greek film, but also a masterpiece of cinema full stop.

Takeshi Kitano, who has rightly been honoured by the Thessaloniki festival for lifetime achievement for his films – which include Hana-Bi, Sonatine, Violent Cop, Brother, Boiling Point, Kikujiro – is also a visionary filmmaker with a strong sense of the tragic, heroic and poetic. Indeed, it’s worth pointing out that the only civilisation in the world of any significant interest besides that of Greece’s is Japan’s – and, of course, the similarities between Greek and Japanese civilisation are striking.

Finally, regarding Cacoyiannis’ Euripides trilogy – Electra, Trojan Women and Iphigenia; these are all good films, but Cacoyiannis is a filmmaker with a predilection for realism and he misses a fundamental aspect of Greek tragedy, which is that, as Nietzsche says, it takes place in an ‘ecstatic dream world’.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Stelios sings Markos Vamvakaris

I tried hard to find something by Stelios Kazantzidis off youtube to commemorate the name day of St Stylianos; but all I could find were those Kazantzidis songs that make a fetish of poverty, pain and despair, which get on my nerves. I've written here about my irritation at a lot – though certainly not all – of Stelios Kazantzidis' oeuvre. It only crossed my mind after a good hour of depressing listening to Kazantzidis that I should instead use Stelios Vamvakaris singing Markos to commemorate St Stylianos and, indeed, as soon as I found what I was looking for and recognised the familiar Vamvakaris melody and humour, I was relieved and my spirits improved. So, above is Stelios performing Markos' Τα δυο σου χέρια πήρανε.

Also, in Radio Akritas, I've made available four songs sung by Stelakis Perpiniadis:

1. Οι έξι εντολές. Music and lyrics Stelakis Perpiniadis;
2. Σα φουμάρω τσιγαριλίκι. Music and lyrics Vangelis Papazoglou;
3. Χτες το βράδυ στον τεκέ μας. Music and lyrics Stelios Chrysinis; and
4. Πέντε χρόνια δικασμένος. Music and lyrics Vangelis Papazoglou.

Anyway, chronia polla to all Stylianous and Stylianes.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Coriolanus: 'There is a world elsewhere.'

The clip above is from the BBC production of Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Coriolanus, with Alan Howard playing the eponymous Roman general, an arrogant patrician with a violent temper forced into exile after clashing with the plebeians who suspect the trenchant soldier is plotting to establish a dictatorship and so do away with their rights.

Shakespeare's source for the life of Coriolanus is the Greek writer Plutarch, who in his
Parallel Lives compares the Roman to the Athenian general Alcibiades, another aristocrat who, despite his military prowess, found himself at odds with the citizenry's democratic whims and suffered exile, not once but twice, decisions which proved disastrous for Athens in its conduct of the Peloponnesian War.

Alcibiades' narrative suggests the limits of democracy in the pursuit of national aspirations. The realisation of national aspirations more often than not requires vision, ruthlessness and hardship – qualities which the masses and their leaders are rarely capable of showing and reluctant to advocate. Venizelos, for example, at a moment of national crisis, put his trust in the judgement of the masses and called elections, with fatal consequences, climaxing in the Asia Minor Catastrophe; whereas Alexander the Great – a king – had much greater, though not total, freedom to decide the affairs of state and men's fortunes and in this way spread Hellenism far and wide. Would Alexander have conquered the East if he had been an Athenian constrained by the city's democracy? Certainly not. And would Alcibiades have realised his ambition of attaching the West to the Athenian empire if he had had at his command the latitude of a Macedonian basileus? Maybe.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

I’ve been reading Alberto Moravia…

I’ve been reading a few of the novels of the Italian writer Alberto Moravia – Conjugal Love, Boredom, Contempt and The Voyeur. They’re all good and share themes of intellectual, creative and male impotence. Boredom – about the obsession an artist develops against his instincts for a teenage girl – is the best of the novels; The Voyeur – about the intellectual, political and sexual antagonisms between a French literature professor and his father – is the least interesting.

Contempt is the novel Jean-Luc Godard filmed in 1963. I've previously written about Le Mépris here. The film is fairly faithful to the book and where it deviates from it, it enhances it. Le Mépris is, in fact, a sensational work of art. Both the film and the book, as I said in my previous post, are ‘among other things, a meditation on Homer’s Odyssey, [and] a celebration of Mediterranean landscape’. The story involves a struggling writer employed to write a screenplay of The Odyssey. He is unenthusiastic about the project, but takes it to earn money to impress his beautiful wife.

In the novel, the German film director Rheingold, explaining why he's interested in making a film of The Odyssey, says that ‘the Anglo-Saxon races have the Bible and you Mediterranean peoples, on the other hand, have Homer… To the Mediterranean peoples, Homer is what the Bible is to the Anglo-Saxons.’

Elsewhere in the novel, the writer Molteni objecting to the German director’s modern, psychological interpretation of The Odyssey says that the northern European wants to change Homer's ‘bright and luminous world, enlivened by the winds, glowing with sunshine, populated by quick-witted lively beings, into a kind of dark, visceral recess, bereft of colour and form, sunless, airless.’

Indeed, the ascendancy of the Bible over Homer is the greatest catastrophe to have befallen Greek civilisation. ‘Bright and luminous’ Greek culture was superseded by a culture formed in deserts and caves. In fact, if anyone wants to appreciate how repellent and un-Greek Biblical culture is, then one only has to read – as I have recently read – the climax of the Bible, Revelations, and compare the personality of John the Theologian and his nauseating, emetic ravings, with that of Odysseus, ‘a man’, as Moravia says, ‘without prejudices and, if necessary, without scruples, subtle, reasonable, intelligent, irreligious, skeptical, sometimes even cynical.’

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Perry Anderson on Kemalism and Turkey

Previously, the renowned British historian Perry Anderson in the London Review of Books wrote a brilliant essay on Cyprus – The Divisions of Cyprus – which I posted about here. It's now been brought to my attention that Anderson has, in the same publication, written two similarly interesting and lengthy essays on Turkey and Turkish nationalism.

The first essay is called Kemalism and concerns the end of the Ottoman empire and the rise of the peculiar form of Turkish nationalism created by Mustafa Kemal. Here is an excerpt:

'Kemalism fashioned for instruction the most extravagant mythology of any interwar nationalism. By the mid-1930s, the state was propagating an ideology in which the Turks, of whom Hittites and Phoenicians in the Mediterranean were said to be a branch, had spread civilisation from Central Asia to the world, from China to Brazil; and as the drivers of universal history, spoke a language that was the origin of all other tongues, which were derived from the Sun-Language of the first Turks. Such ethnic megalomania reflected the extent of the underlying insecurity and artificiality of the official enterprise: the less there was to be confident of, the more fanfare had to be made out of it.'

The second essay After Kemal considers how the Kemalist order developed after the dictator's death, leading right up to the present day and Turkey's determination to join the European Union, even though, by any objective standard, that country's way of being and doing are wholly antithetical to what is supposed to be the European project and European values. Here is an excerpt from this second essay:

'The implacable refusal of the Turkish state to acknowledge the extermination of the Armenians on its territory is not anachronistic or irrational, but a contemporary defence of its own legitimacy. For the first great ethnic cleansing, which made Anatolia homogeneously Muslim, if not yet Turkish, was followed by lesser purges of the body politic, in the name of the same integral nationalism, that have continued to this day: pogroms of Greeks, 1955/1964; annexation and expulsion of Cypriots, 1974; killing of Alevis, 1978/1993; repression of Kurds, 1925-2008. A truthful accounting has been made of none of these, and cannot be without painful cost to the inherited identity and continuity of the Turkish Republic.'

Monday, 3 November 2008

Selling out Cypriot Hellenism


An anonymous commenter writes: 'Greeks of England, Cyprus is being sold out and you should be aware because soon you'll have to go down to Cyprus for a new "NO".'

This is an increasingly prominent point of view and is a reference, I suppose, to the ongoing talks process between Cyprus' president Dimitris Christofias and leader of the Turkish occupation regime on the island Mehmet Ali Talat; and maybe even to recent controversies on Cyprus following attempts by Cyprus' communist-led government to dehellenise the island by proposing reforms to schoolbooks to reduce emphasis on Cyprus' links to Greece and reinterpret Cyprus' history so that it doesn't read like a history of struggle to serve and defend Hellenism – for this is nationalist and chauvinist – but is revealed – in true Stalinist style – as a common narrative of shared struggles between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

Well, I haven't said much about the talks so far because I don't believe there's any evidence to suggest that they're headed anywhere. In fact, even though Christofias and Talat have been meeting, on and off, for two months now, they are still in the throes of discussing what was supposed to be one of the least contentious issues – governance – during which Turkish demands have been so outlandish – going even beyond those Greek Cypriots rejected in the Annan Plan in 2004 – that it appears the Turks have no real intention of reaching a settlement and are either:
1. Going through the motions to create a favourable international impression;
2. Being so extreme in order to prompt the Greek side to walk out of the negotiations, allowing the Turks to declare that the differences are irreconcilable on Cyprus and alternatives to reunification – for example, Kosovo-style recognition of the occupation regime – must be considered; or
3. Being so intransigent in the expectation that the UN will once again be forced to mediate, to 'bridge the differences', and put forward another Annan-style plan, halfway between the Turkish maximalist and the Greek minimalist positions.

Currently, then, in terms of the talks, I don't feel Cyprus is being 'sold out', but just going through the same, old farcical negotiations process it's being going through since 1974.

As for Cyprus' communist government 'selling out' Cyprus' Greek history and culture; firstly, AKEL has never made any secret of its belief that the Cyprus problem is one of 'nationalism' and 'chauvinism' and that these two 'evils' must be eradicated from the island, and yet Christofias was elected with the backing of two of the more nationalist parties on the island – socialist EDEK and (Tassos Papadopoulos') DIKO, both of which have ministers in the government. So, who is to blame for the attempts to rewrite history and introduce communist ideology to Cypriot schools and at whom should we be directing our indignation and contempt? Not AKEL – which is simply behaving according to type – but the so-called patriots and stalwarts of Hellenism in DIKO and EDEK. And, secondly, any AKEL attempts to strip away Cyprus' Hellenic identity – an ambition the communists, strangely enough, have always shared with the British colonial authorities – and fill Cypriot children's heads with communist propaganda are laughable and won't succeed even if they keep on trying for another thousand years.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Theodorakis, Elytis, Venetsanou

This is Nina Venetsanou singing Marina, music by Theodorakis, from the poem by Odysseas Eltytis.

Give me mint and basil
verbena too to smell
For with these I would kiss you
what first would I recall

The fountain with the doves
the sword Archangels keep
The orchard with the stars
and the well so deep

The nights I took you out
to the sky’s other vista
And as you’d rise I’d see you
like the Dawn-Star’s sister

Marina my green star
Marina Dawn-Star’s shine
Marina my wild dove
and lily of summertime.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

What is freedom? Freedom is a divine madness

Now the dream in the blood throbs more swiftly
The truest moment of the world rings out:
Greeks show the way in the darkness:
For you the eyes of the sun shall fill with tears of joy.

Rainbow-beaten shores fall into the water
Ships with open-sails voyage on the meadows
The most innocent girls
Run naked in men’s eyes
And modesty shouts from behind the hedge
Boys! There is no other earth more beautiful

The truest moment of the world rings out!

With a morning stride on the growing grass
He is continually ascending;
Around him those passions glow that once
Were lost in the solitude of sin;
Passions flame up, the neighbours of his heart;
Birds greet him, they seem to him his companions
‘Birds, my dear birds, this is where death ends!’
‘Comrades, my dear comrades, this is where life begins!’
The dew of heavenly beauty glistens in his hair.

Bells of crystal are ringing far away
Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow: the Easter of God!

(Odysseas Eltyis: From the Heroic and Elegiac Song for the Lost Second Lieutenant of the Albanian Campaign).

As a reserve officer, the poet Odysseas Elytis was called up immediately after the Italian invasion and served on the Albanian front with the rank of second lieutenant in the First Army Corps. The translator Kimon Friar says of Eltyis’ war experiences that the poet ‘saw in the heroic resistance of the Greek people against superior odds, throughout their long history, a recklessness of spirit, a divine madness. In the spontaneous reaction of the Greek people to Mussolini’s invasion, he saw the victory of a beautiful rashness over self-calculation, an instinct that could distinguish between good and evil in a time of danger’.

In a letter to Friar, Elytis describes the impact of the war on his life and poetry:

‘A kind of “metaphysical modesty” dominated me. The virtues I found embodied and living in my comrades formed in synthesis a brave young man of heroic stature, one whom I saw in every period of our history. They had killed him a thousand times, and a thousand times he had sprung up again, breathing and alive. His was no doubt the measure and worth of our civilisation, compounded of his love not of death but of life. It was with his love of Freedom that he recreated life out of the stuff of death.

‘Later, with an order in my pocket, I set out to meet my new army unit at the front somewhere between the Akrokeravnia Mountains and Tepeleni. One by one, I abandoned the implements of my material existence. My beard became more and more unkempt. The lice swarmed and multiplied. Mud and rain disfigured my uniform. Snow covered everything in sight. And when the time came for me to take the final leap, to understand what role I was to play in terms of the enemy, I was no longer anything but a creature of slight substance who – exactly because of this – carried within him all the values of material life stressed to their breaking point and conducted to their spiritual analogy. Was this a kind of “contemporary idealism?” That very night it was necessary for me to proceed on a narrow path where I met repeatedly with stretcher-bearers who with great difficulty tried to keep in balance the heavily wounded whom they were bearing to the rear. I shall never forget the groan of those wounded. They made me, in the general over-excitement of my mind, conjure up that “it is not possible,” that “it cannot otherwise be done,” which is the reversion of justice on this earth of ours. They made me swear an oath in the name of the Resurrection of that brave Hellenic Hero, who became now for me the Second Lieutenant of the Albanian Campaign, that I would advance into battle with this talisman of my lyrical idea… Nothing further remained for me but to fulfill my vow, to give form to the Second Lieutenant of the Albanian Campaign on multiple levels woven together with the traditions of Greek history, but also involved – in particular – within and beyond death, in the Resurrection, the Easter of God.’

Friday, 24 October 2008

Ergenekon and Cyprus

The trial began this week in Turkey of the Ergenekon group of ultranationalist supporters and members of the Turkish ‘deep state’, which, in order to thwart the perceived drift of the country to liberalism and Islamism, allegedly plotted through terrorism and black propaganda to bring Turkey to the brink of chaos and precipitate in this way a military coup.

Writing in today’s Turkish Daily News, Mustafa Akyol indicates how events in Cyprus around the time of the Annan negotiations and plan in 2003-4 were of particular concern to Ergenekon, and how the then Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash urged the Turkish military to step in and put an end to the Annan process.

The Ergenekon-Cyprus link tells us a great deal about Turkey’s attitude towards the island; and makes us wonder that since the ‘deep state’, whose fiefdom occupied Cyprus is, was so hostile to the Annan plan – generally regarded as having met all fundamental Turkish demands on Cyprus – then what can we expect from the current negotiations between Christofias and Talat? If the pro-Turkish Annan plan brought Turkey to the brink of a coup, then what hope can there be for even more ‘concessions’ from the Turks this time round?

Anyway, here’s an excerpt from Akyol’s piece regarding Cyprus:

‘In 2003, United Nations' Secretary General Kofi Annan prepared a plan for the unification of the divided island. For Turkey's nationalists, including the Grand Old Man of Cyprus… Rauf Denktaş, this meant "accepting the Greek yoke". And those who supported the plan were "traitors" who were "selling" Turkish land to foreigners.

‘Denktaş had actually followed this "rejectionist" line for decades with strong support from Ankara. Their motto read, "The best solution to Cyprus is no solution." Hence the Ankara-financed artificial state in northern Cyprus would survive.

‘However, the AKP government was determined to find a solution to the problem, which, itself, was continuously blocking Turkey's entry into the EU. In January 2004, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan took the matter in his hands and reaffirmed to Kofi Annan that the Turkish government was accepting his role as a negotiator. Therefore, the "Annan Plan," which was categorically rejected by Denktaş when it first came out, gained momentum.

‘And hell broke loose in Ankara. For the hotheads in the military, and the like-minded, the government was now guilty of not just "Islamism" but also "treason." That's why some "unnamed generals," among which we have every reason to think that [the hawkish] Gen. Yalman and Gen. Eruygur were present, started lobbying for a military coup. They spoke with not only their fellow officers, but also some business and media circles. The operation they planned was named "sarıkız," or "blonde girl."

‘But, apparently, they could not gain enough support and the plot failed. Therefore, Denktaş had to go to New York for a second time, quite unwillingly, to negotiate with the Greeks. On the road, he called Chief of Staff General Özkök and asked, "Why doesn't the military do something?" "Constitutionally," said the law-abiding general, "this is all that we can do."

‘According to [the journalist] İsmet Berkan, "then Denktaş understood that the two generals, Yalman and Eruygur, have not been able to overcome Gen. Özkök."

‘In other words, Turkey had barely survived a coup.’

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Troilus & Cressida: Achilles slays Hector

One of the few advantages for us poor immigrants to the Anglo-Saxon world is that we know English well enough to appreciate Shakespeare.

In Troilus & Cressida, Shakespeare follows closely the narrative of The Iliad to provide a shocking and savage indictment of human cruelty, deceit and vanity. It is a tragedy in which all the protagonists are deemed unworthy of tragic dignity or apotheosis. There are no gods to appeal to, or to guide, restrain or offer protection. Motives are relentlessly base, informed not by honour or glory but weakness and selfishness. The Greek and Trojan warriors are particularly arrogant, callous and stupid and Achilles’ slaying of Hector – which is the scene above, from the BBC production – is depicted by Shakespeare as nothing more than contemptible, cowardly thuggery, far removed from Homer.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Tsitsanis, rembetika and Indian music

In the book, Βασίλης Τσιτσάνης: H ζωή μου, το έργο μου, consisting of interviews Vassilis Tsitsanis gave in the mid-1970s to Kostas Hatzidoulis, the great rembetika musician recalls with bitterness the decline of the rembetika song in the 1950s and squarely pins the blame on unscrupulous composers and producers who would rip off tunes from Indian records and films – Indian films were popular in Greece in the 1950s – and present them as Greek creations.
This is what Tsitsanis says (my translation):

‘Indian rule (Ινδοκρατία) started to prevail in the field of popular music in the first few years of the 1950s… Those irresponsible so-called composers, without a trace of shame, took music from Indian records and, after changing the lyrics into Greek, presented them to the public as their own creations and genuine Greek songs. An unprecedented wave of Indian songs swept over our country…

‘Everything we [rembetika and popular music] composers had created with sweat and blood was swept away by Indian rule. And yet nobody ever spoke out against these criminals… nobody denounced them so that the entire world could learn who, in cold blood, had killed genuine popular music.

‘One of these criminals would go with his tape recorder to cinemas playing Indian films and record the tunes. After, he would write new lyrics, make the record and have a big hit. And when I say "hit", I’m talking at least 100,000 records. With each record they put out, they were able to buy themselves a new flat.’

One of the most famous songs to come out of this Greek-Indian fusion is Δεν Με Πονεσε Κανεις (No one ever hurt for me); the tune for which comes from the Bollywood classic, Mother India (1957).

The first video above is the original song from the Indian film; the second video is the Greek version (Δεν Με Πονεσε Κανεις) sung by Eleni Vitali. Also, in Radio Akritas I’ve made available the song as sung by Eleftheria Arvanitaki, from her first solo album, Eleftheria. From the same album, I’ve included in Radio Akritas two Tsitsanis songs: Αραπικο Λουλουδι and Με Πηρε Το Ξημερωμα Στους Δρομους. This last song is one of the darkest in the Tsitsanis’ repertoire. The lyrics are Alekos Angelopoulos’.

Με πήρε το ξημέρωμα στους δρόμους
να σκέφτομαι και να παραμιλώ
καρδούλα πώς άντεξες τους πόνους
που μ' έχουν καταντήσει πια τρελό.

Μια λέξη απ' το στόμα μου δε βγαίνει
γιατί έφυγε και τούτη η βραδιά
λες και την καταδίκη μου να φέρει
η μέρα που 'ρχεται μες στην καρδιά.

Με πήρε το ξημέρωμα στους δρόμους
ανθρώπινο κουρέλι τριγυρνώ
καρδούλα μου πώς άντεξες τους πόνους
με τις φουρτούνες τούτες που περνώ.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Some Macedonian truths

Below are a couple of comments I made in the Washington Times regarding the Macedonia name dispute. The first comment is aimed at the contents of a Letter the newspaper published from Skopje’s US ambassador Zoran Jolevski, which claims that the name dispute is 2,000 years old and that Greece is being unreasonable in its demand that the Skopjans modify their country’s name.

The second comment is a response to a Skopjan commenter who parrots the usual trash you read on Skopjan websites about the Macedonians not being Greeks because if Alexander the Great and the Macedonians were Greek how is it possible that the Macedonians attacked Greek cities and killed other Greeks. Another frequent argument the Skopjans deploy to ‘disprove’ the Greekness of the Macedonians is that the Macedonians only began to speak Greek after Koine became the lingua franca in the Eastern Mediterranean and before that they spoke their own non-Hellenic language.

Also, this article by Athanasios Boudalis FYROM's Slavomacedonism, Part I: a Historical Overview is very good and worth reading.

The video above is from the excellent Cyprus Action Network of America as part of its campaign for Hellenic human rights in Skopje.

Finally, a Bulgarian news agency, Focus Information, reported yesterday that in an interview with the Albanian news agency, INA, Daniel Serwer, director of the Balkans Initiative at the United States Institute of Peace, said the following: ‘I would blame Athens [for the name dispute]. Skopje had shown big flexibility. Athens hasn’t shown anything. Greek nationalists gain from the prolonging of the argument. In my opinion the problem is solved and most of the countries in the world will call “Macedonia” – “Macedonia”. The time when Greece has to withdraw with pride from this significant issue had come.’

Now, if someone wants an idea of the kind of Americans and US NGO’s involved in promoting the Skopjans and threatening Greek national interests, it is worth looking at the website of the United States Institute of Peace – which is sponsored by Congress – and at the profile on the site of Daniel Serwer.

Here are the two comments I left regarding the Skopjan ambassador’s Letter to the Washington Times:

1. To the Skopjan ambassador: The name dispute does not stretch back 2000 years; it stretches back 60 years and the creation by Tito of an utterly bogus 'Slav-Macedonian national identity' with the intention of expanding communist Yugolav rule to the Aegean at the expense of Greece.

And if Ambassador Jolevski finds the name dispute so vexing, then why not do the honourable thing and abandon Skopje's ridiculous assertions and aspirations and call your country by the name it was known as before communist machinations, i.e. Vardaska.

Macedonia is and has always been Greek. Macedonians are and have always been Greek. Once the Skopjans accept basic facts and release themselves from the communist versions of history and communist notions of identity imposed on them when they were part of Yugoslavia, then a settlement of the name dispute becomes easy.

2. To Skopjan commenter: If you are going to claim the heritage of Alexander the Great and ancient Macedonia, you should at least go to the trouble of finding out some facts.

If you knew anything about history, you would know the Greek city states were constantly at war with each other and that one of the pivotal wars in Western history, the Peloponnesian War – described in one of the pivotal texts of Western civilisation, Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War – is all about Greeks fighting Greeks. Vicious conflict among Greeks is precisely why some Greeks craved strong leadership able to bring about Greek unity.

This desire for a hegemon paved the way for Macedonia – a remote region significantly insulated from the political convulsions that had affected and weakened the traditionally important Greek states – Athens, Sparta, Thebes, Corinth, Argos – to assume the role of unifying Greeks; not forgetting, of course, that many Greeks, proud of the liberties and used to running their own affairs, rejected Macedonian leadership and Philip and Alexander dealt with this resistance ruthlessly. In fact, Alexander reserved his greatest acts of ruthlessness for those Greek mercenaries who fought for the Persians, so outraged was he that fellow Greeks should be obstructing his Pan-Hellenic crusade in the East.

As for the Greek language, you should know that the Greek language in the Classical period was made up of a number of dialects – e.g. Doric, Attic, Aeolic, Macedonian.

Macedonian Greek was closely connected to Doric Greek, before Attic Greek made inroads as northern and southern Greece came into closer contact, particularly after the rise of the Athenian empire.

As for Koine – which is based largely on the Attic dialect – it was the dominant language in the Eastern Mediterranean AFTER Alexander's conquests, not BEFORE. Koine flourished during the Hellenistic (note Hellenistic, not Skopjan) and Roman periods.

Indeed, how is it that all these post-Alexander Hellenistic societies created by Macedonian rulers and Macedonian colonists were dominated by the Greek language, by Greek culture and religion and shaped entirely by the Greek way of life if the Macedonians themselves were not Greek? Where is the evidence that these Macedonian kingdoms were anything other than Greek? No intelligent person could possibly take Skopjan versions of Macedonian history seriously. They are beyond absurd. They fly in the face of the entire received wisdom and history of Western civilisation.

The Greeks were and are the only genuine Macedonians. The descendants of the Skopjans did not arrive in the Balkans until 900 years after Alexander, in the 6th century AD, and Skopjan history and language is bound up with that of the Bulgarian nation; the Bulgarians, as every one knows, being a Turkic tribe gradually Slavicised. This is where the Skopjans must search for their roots and history, not in Macedonia. Macedonia has nothing to do with you.

Monday, 6 October 2008

The Greek monologue tirade

Hermes and I have been discussing here the ‘monologue tirade’ popular on fringe Greek TV especially among patriotic analysts. I said I found the excessive emotion often used by speakers not only counterproductive since it obscured the message of their talk but also hilarious.

Hermes warned me against adopting Anglo-Saxon cultural attitudes towards pathos and I accepted this and mentioned how the Greek monologue tirade is actually an interesting art form, which hints at an extreme state of consciousness and is something akin to a stand-up comedy routine with all its digressions, non-sequiturs and hyperbole. I also mentioned that the Greek monologue tirade reminded me of the novels and plays of Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard and the films of John Cassavetes.

Indeed, above are two clips: one from Cassavetes’ Minnie and Moscowitz, in which Minnie (Gena Rowlands) finds herself on a blind date with Zelmo Swift (Val Avery), who lets his desire to impress his date get the better of him; the other is an excerpt from a Neoklis Sarris’ diatribe on High TV’s Τομές against vigilante ‘anti-nationalist’ journalists and academics. Sarris is a sociology professor at Panteion University and an expert on Greek-Turkish relations.

The host of Τομές is Kostas Hountas who, if anything, is an even more eccentric character than Sarris. In the clip below, Sarris works himself into a fury and then turns towards the sheepish Hountas and starts waving his finger in his face and haranguing him about the shortcomings of Pasok. Without exaggeration, I have to say that this was one of the funniest things I have ever seen and I laughed uncontrollably as I am laughing now, just thinking about it.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Cassavetes and The Blue Angel

Josef von Sternberg’s film The Blue Angel (1930), with Marlene Dietrich, is an extraordinary depiction of loneliness and humiliation, hubris and tragedy. (See the English-language version of the film in its entirety above).

Writing in Cassavetes on Cassavetes, Ray Carney reveals the influence of The Blue Angel on John Cassavetes.

Carney says of Gena Rowlands (John Cassavetes’ wife and star in many of his films):

‘It’s indicative… of many of her enduring attitudes that, after she saw The Blue Angel, Marlene Dietrich became her idol as an actress. Rowlands was fascinated with Dietrich’s blend of feminine sexual allure and almost masculine toughness and swagger. She watched the film over and over again… and even adopted a few of Dietrich’s gestures and mannerisms (sitting backward on a chair and such).’

Carney also tells us how The Blue Angel inspired Cassavetes in relation to his The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1975):

‘Cassavetes and Rowlands were both fans of Sternberg’s The Blue Angel. Rowlands loved the toughness and unsentimentalilty of Dietrich’s performance. Cassavetes liked the film for a different reason – because it was about an artist-surrogate who creates an artificial, artful world in which to live. (The filmmaker once asked me to give him a rare photograph I had from it, as well as a photograph showing the set of Yen’s palace in [Frank Capra’s] The Bitter Tea of General Yen, another film with the same subject). It’s not accidental that there is a photograph of Dietrich visible on the mirror of the strippers’ dressing room in the first version of [The Killing of a Chinese Bookie]. Although none of Cassavetes’ interviewers picked up on the allusion, in several post-release statements, Cassavetes wryly implied that he had modelled the character of Mr Sophistication [picture above] on Professor Rath.

‘Another reason Cassavetes was fascinated by The Blue Angel was that the film focused on the situation of a scorned, humiliated stage performer, an emotional event that spoke to Cassavetes for personal reasons. Notwithstanding the macho-man image he so diligently cultivated (or perhaps because of it), he often thought of his own life as a series of public humiliations – from his grade-school, high-school, college and drama-school days; to his years of unemployment and unsuccessful audition experiences – like the time he was jeered off stage as an MC at a burlesque house (an event dramatized in Shadows in Hugh’s nightclub debacle); to the various and sundry fiascos associated with his appearances at screenings and on television shows; to his run-ins with directors when he was acting (some of which are dramatized with the character of Myrtle in Opening Night).’

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Those who are alive: remembering Ion Dragoumis

‘The preservation today of our national existence is not at all certain. It demands vigilance against internal and external factors but also agents who, in a variety of ways and for a variety of reasons, have designs against our unity. It is a common secret that ‘Greece is a fortress under siege and inside the enemy roams freely’ protected by the cloak of the rights of the citizen and by a political establishment that fears being accused of nationalism and xenophobia.

‘The state of our country is clear to all of us. All around us there has been an outbreak of Balkan and Middle Eastern nationalism, much of which has its sights set against the integrity of our lands. Great powers are re-ordering their pawns on the international chess board and their moves should make us realise the need to boost the forces of Hellenism at all levels. Such a realisation is not, of course, a straightforward matter. The illusion of stability that continues to exist from past eras, as a manifestation of the law of inertia, makes us, more often than not, ignore the historical reality not only of our region but also of our planet.’ (Professor Christos Goudis).

Above is an extract (my translation – Greek text below) from a speech given by Professor Christos Goudis at an event in Athens commemorating the assassination (in 1920) of the great Greek man of action and letters, Ion Dragoumis.

Professor Goudis is a poet, the president of the Institute For National and Social Studies ‘Ion Dragoumis’ and director of the Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the National Observatory of Athens. You can read the whole of Professor Goudis’ speech here or you can see the speech being delivered here (Professor Goudis starts speaking in the second half of the video).

The talk in the video above by Professor Goudis on recent developments in the Macedonia issue (and the state of Hellenism generally) is from the TV series Όσοι Ζωντανοί (Those who are alive). Other episdoes from Όσοι Ζωντανοί can be seen here.

I am aware that some of the people involved in preserving and promoting the works of Ion Dragoumis are from LA.OS. I’m not that enthusisastic about LA.OS; but it is a fact that it is the only political grouping in Greece at the moment which is close to correctly identifying certain challenges and threats facing the country.

‘Η διατήρηση… σήμερα της εθνικής μας υπόστασης δεν είναι καθόλου μα καθόλου δεδομένη. Προϋποθέτει επαγρύπνηση έναντι εσωτερικών και εξωτερικών καταστάσεων αλλά και παραγόντων, οι οποίοι με ποικίλους τρόπους και για ποικίλους λόγους επιβουλεύονται την διατήρησή της συνοχής της. Είναι κοινό μυστικό ότι «η Ελλάδα είναι ένα φρούριο πολιορκημένο και μέσα της αλωνίζει ελεύθερος ο εχθρός» κάτω από τον μανδύα της προστασίας των δικαιωμάτων των πολιτών, και με προκάλυψη την φοβία του πολιτικού κατεστημένου μήπως και κατηγορηθεί για εθνικισμό και ξενοφοβία.

‘Η εικόνα της χώρας μας είναι γνωστή σε όλους μας. Περιβαλλόμαστε από ένα ξέσπασμα βαλκανικών και μεσανατολικών εθνικισμών, πολλοί εκ των οποίων καθιστούν σαφείς τις προθέσεις και βλέψεις τους έναντι της ακεραιότητας των εδαφών μας. Μεγάλες δυνάμεις αναδιατάσσουν τα πιόνια τους στην διεθνή σκακιέρα και οι κινήσεις τους θα πρέπει να μας κάνουν να συνειδητοποιήσουμε την αναγκαιότητα της ανάταξης των δυνάμεων του ελληνισμού σε όλα τα επίπεδα. Μια τέτοια συνειδητοποίηση δεν είναι φυσικά εύκολη υπόθεση. Η ψευδαίσθηση μιας σταθερότητας που συνεχίζει να υπάρχει από παλαιότερες εποχές, ως έκφανση του νόμου της αδράνειας, μας κάνει πολλές φορές να αγνοούμε την ιστορική πραγματικότητα της περιοχής μας, αλλά και του πλανήτη μας.’ (Χρήστος Γούδης).

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Greece, don’t forget us: Hellenes in Fyromia

The Cyprus Action Network of America (CANA) describes itself as ‘a grassroots, not-for-profit movement created to support genuine self-determination and human rights for the people of Cyprus’. It is an admirable organisation. I am on their mailing list, and CANA recently sent me an email with the following information regarding the campaign it is initiating to protect the human rights of Greeks in Fyromia:


NEW YORK: The Cyprus Action Network of America (CANA) has launched the Hellenic Human Rights coalition to Stop Skopje. Please act on the action alert to the US State Department below and send on to family, friends and colleagues.

Hellenic Human Rights is a coalition of grassroots activists in New York City, joining together in the struggle to save Hellenic people living under the Skopje government. Join our Rally To Stop Skopje on Monday, October 27th at the United States Mission to the United Nations.
Visit our campaign blog: http://www.hellenichumanrights.wordpress.com


Numerous reports in recent months indicate a rising atmosphere of anti-Hellenic human rights violations and an atmosphere of racist oppression directed toward the Hellenic minority living in the areas controlled by the Skopje government. The Skopje government is guilty of human rights violations, cultural genocide and ethnocide of Hellenic people.

Current status
The historic Hellenic communities living in the Monastiri area, many of whom are now dispersed throughout Skopje, have reportedly been denied the right to declare themselves Hellenic nationals, the Hellenic people in Skopje have also been denied freedom of assembly, and freedom of association by the Skopje government. These are grave human rights violations as outlined in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, mainly the right to a nationality.

According to Article 15 of the the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted and proclaimed by General Assembly resolution 217 A of 10 December 1948.
1. Everyone has the right to a nationality.
2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

The country which the US State Department chooses to recognise as ‘Macedonia’ and known throughout the region as Skopje, with the capital of its government in the Balkan city named Skopje is denying the basic human right to nationality to the 250,000 Hellenic people living within its borders.

The continuing campaign by the Skopje government to deny the Hellenic identity and Hellenic nationality to indigenous people is an act of cultural genocide and should be publicly investigated and condemned by the US State Department

What You Can Do
Contact the State Department's human rights division.

By Mail:
David J. Kramer
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
U.S. Department of State Harry S. Truman Building, 2201 C Street, NW, Room 7802, Washington, DC, 20520

By Tel: (202) 647-1780
By Fax: (202) 647-5283
By Email: kramerdj@state.gov

(Send a note to cana@cyprusactionnetwork.org to tell us what actions you took).

Phone Script for Assistant Secretary Office - (202) 647-1780
(The phone will be answered by a receptionist. As always, be firm, but polite. Hostile comments will only undermine the message you are trying to deliver. Ask to speak to a senior advisor to the Assistant Secretary. If a senior advisor is not available to speak with you, ask to leave a message on their voice mail).

Hello, my name is…
I am calling to ask the State Department to publicly protest the Skopje government's denial of Hellenic nationality for Hellenic people living in Skopje.

Please look into this matter personally and publicly protest any violations of human rights, directly with the Skopje government and in your annual human rights country reports, and please include all findings in the ‘MACEDONIA’ country report due to be released in February 2009.

Thank you for your time. I would appreciate learning of any action your office takes on this matter, and would appreciate an investigation and proper report. I can be contacted at the following address:

Sample Letter to Assistant Secretary (mail, fax or email)

The Honorable David J. Kramer
Assistant Secretary of State for
Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
Harry S. Truman Building, 2201 C Street, NW, Room 7802, Washington, DC, 20520

Dear Assistant Secretary Kramer
I am writing to ask the State Department to publicly protest the Skopje government's human rights violations and cultural genocide of the Hellenic people in ‘Macedonia’.

According to the US State Dept ‘Promoting freedom and democracy and protecting human rights around the world are central to U.S. foreign policy. The values captured in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in other global and regional commitments are consistent with the values upon which the United States was founded centuries ago.’ (Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor).

The Skopje government has a long legacy of anti-Hellenic cultural genocide, the previous Communist regime forcibly transferred Hellenic nationals, and prior to this the pro-Nazi Skopje government forcibly occupied Hellenic land, forcibly transferred Hellenic people, and targeted Hellenic people for massacres and torture. All governments in Skopje, by use of force together with racist propaganda and official racist discrimination, to this day have deprived the Hellenic people of their integrity as a distinct people, by use of forcible assimilation or integration by the majority Slavophone cultures or ways of life imposed on them by legislative, administrative or other measures including terror.

Article 7 of the United Nations Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (26 August 1994) [4] uses the phrase ‘cultural genocide’. The complete article reads as follows:

Indigenous peoples have the collective and individual right not to be subjected to ethnocide and cultural genocide, including prevention of and redress for:
(a) Any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values or ethnic identities;
(b) Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources;
(c) Any form of population transfer which has the aim or effect of violating or undermining any of their rights;
(d) Any form of assimilation or integration by other cultures or ways of life imposed on them by legislative, administrative or other measures;
(e) Any form of propaganda directed against them.

The Skopje government is guilty of all of the above itemized sub-articles in ‘MACEDONIA’.

Please help save the Hellenic people from cultural genocide by 1) immediately investigating the Skopje government practice of denying Hellenic nationality to Hellenic people; 2) publicly protesting any violations of human rights, and; 3) prominently addressing this matter in the annual ‘Country Reports on Human Rights Practices,’ on ‘MACEDONIA’ due to be released in February 2009.

Thank you for your attention to my concerns.

I look forward to hearing from you or your office in this regard.





(City, State, Zip)

For more information visit: NorthMacedonians.com/The Greek Community in FYROM.

There are two cases which illustrate the regime's virulent anti-Greek stance – denying even the existence of Greeks in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Makedonija (FYROM).

Case 1: Papouli Family. The Papouli family are Greek-Vlachs in FYROM (SKOPJE) who had their surname forcibly changed to Kostov. They petitioned the Skopjan regime to change their name back to the original Greek, Papouli, which means little-Grandfather in Greek. The regime refused their application on the basis that it would ‘change their personal identity’ and ‘obstruct legal procedures’.

Case 2: Nikos Kostantinidis: An eyewitness video account of a Hellenic person from Monastiri describing the official Skopje government policies of forcible assimilation and denial of the right to Hellenic national identity. See video above.

To be added to CANA's Action Alert e-mail distribution list, or to introduce CANA to a friend or colleague, please forward the pertinent name and e-mail address,with the subject heading ‘Add e-mail to CANA distribution list’, to cana@cyprusactionnetwork.org