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.’