Saturday, 31 January 2009

David Ames Curtis challenges me on Castoriadis and the Greek riots

It is somewhat intimidating (and challenging) to have David Ames Curtis – who has done more than anyone through his work and activism to promote the ideas in the English-speaking world of Cornelius Castoriadis (pictured) – comment on my blog and criticise me for my (mis)use of Castoriadis; particularly for my suggestion in this post, Castoriadis and Thucydides on the Greek riots, that Castoriadis – because of his assertion that the unfettering of our drives and desires would lead not to ‘universal happiness’ but to ‘universal murder’ – endorses the notion that, in my words, ‘man needs external constraints for civilised society to take place’.

Here is the exchange David Ames Curtis and I had on the issue of ‘external constraints’:

David Ames Curtis said:
'Castoriadis agrees that man needs external constraints for civilised society to take place'...
 What an incredible misrepresentation of the thought of the person who elucidated and advocated the 'project of autonomy' (which by definition – autos-nomos – includes self-restraint, self-limitation), by turning him into an advocate of 'external [sic] constraints'! I hope no one was truly misled by this amalgamation of incompatible ideas for political-ideological ends.

John Akritas said:
I don't think I said Castoriadis 'advocated' external constraints; all I said, or was trying to say, was that that there's nothing more antithetical to autonomy and freedom than chaos and violence, where the law – the rules of society – is disregarded or has been hijacked by, and becomes the privilege of, the strongest, loudest, greediest and so on – this is the scenario Thucydides describes as existing during the plague in Athens and, I maintain, is the true meaning of the Greek riots; and point out that even Castoriadis, associated with libertarianism, recognises that repression and limitation are necessary for the fruitful existence of individuals and society. There's a big difference between autonomy and anarchy, between self-control and no control. I don't know what you mean by my 'political-ideological ends'. I wish I had them.

David Ames Curtis said:
Your association of Castoriadis with 'external constraints' is and remains incredibly misleading. Yes, 'There's a big difference between autonomy and anarchy, between self-control and no control" (which goes along with the point I was making), but one must state clearly that Castoriadis was a critic not only of anarchism but of religion, nationalism, Marxism, nineteenth-century liberalism, representative democracy (i.e., liberal oligarchy), and today's (now rapidly being discredited) neo-liberal ideology of market fundamentalism, as well as of all forms of heteronomy with their appeal to extrasocial instances of authority (ancestors, God, laws of nature, laws of history, progress, etc). The problem of an autonomous society, and of the project of autonomy, is how to achieve a self-articulating and self-legislating community that recognizes itself as such, not how to conform to 'the law' in general or to existing heteronomous constraints. Appealing to the existing rule of law in order to oppose contestation of established society is a possible position, but, I would humbly assert, it has nothing to do with anything that can be honestly and accurately gleaned from Castoriadis's revolutionary writings. You would also need to take account in a much more nuanced way of Castoriadis's views on 'chaos' and 'violence' and to distinguish in a careful way between 'repression' and 'sublimation.' It is unclear to me what useful purpose is served by your misleading instrumentalization of Castoriadis's words for ends alien to the project of autonomy he elucidated and advocated. You are of course free to say whatever you want, as am I to say that you are, out of ignorance or for ulterior motives, clearly in error.

Now, I’ve highlighted a section in the second of David Ames Curtis’ comments because it provides, as one would expect, a useful and lucid summary of the aims and implications of Castoriadis’ thought. (I’m especially grateful for the distinction between ‘repression’ and ‘sublimation’). The statement is incontestable and, indeed, if what I were trying to do in deploying Castoriadis against the Greek riots were to defend the Greek state, the status quo, the forces of law and order, the ruling Greek oligarchy or the range of heteronomous significations and ideologies that exist in Greece, then this would without question be a grotesque abuse and parody of Castoriadis’ ideas.

Rather, my intention in using Castoriadis against the Greek riots was to criticise the redundant, counterproductive and even regressive notion, which the Greek left is utterly beholden to, that ‘revolution’ or ‘radical social change’ necessarily takes place in the streets and inescapably involves, to use Castoriadis’ phrase, ‘bloodshed and gunfighting’. Castoriadis is explicit that revolution is only revolution if it means ‘radical change in the institutions of society’, a radical questioning of society’s heteronomous social imaginary significations and the positing of new significations inclined towards autonomy.

With this definition of what radical social change involves in mind, I refute the suggestion that the riots in Greece last December were a meaningful ‘uprising’ presaging a freer, more autonomous and democratic Greek society. I saw no evidence of the articulation of new significations inclined towards autonomy nor did the riots take place to a backdrop of ‘creative outbursts in the field of art and culture’ – another Castoriadian precursor to autonomy.

In fact, the rioters and demonstrators themselves declared that they were united by the slogan ‘cops, pigs, murderers’. This cannot be considered under any circumstances a serious rallying call for social change and, in fact, its only outcome so far has been to provide the justification for the resurgence of terrorism in Greece, so that before the ‘uprising’ or ‘revolution’ has even properly started it has shown itself prone to the obscene and corrupt violence of a self-declared vanguard.

I also wanted to stress, through Castoriadis, that radical social action can never mean being anti-social. In fact, it must always mean the opposite, and Castoriadis repeatedly states that there can be no individual autonomy without social autonomy. The aim of engaging in social action should be to become an enhanced citizen, taking responsibility for what happens in your society, improving the life of your community or city – its laws, environment, social relations and so on. Being a free individual, Castoriadis says, also means being a responsible individual – ‘loving freedom and accepting responsibility’. And this is what I understand to be the meaning of Castoriadis’ definition of autonomy as knowing how ‘to govern and be governed’.

Now, at what level, did the Greek riots – the trashing of the centre of Athens (and other Greek cities), with public squares, small businesses, schools and universities coming off worst – show citizens taking responsibility or performing as enhanced citizens or demonstrating their capacity to be governed? At no level. (And apart from this childish denial of social limits, an even more irresponsible and regressive feature of the riots was that the real and legitimate outrage at the death of the schoolboy Alexis Grigoropoulos and the public debate it might have ignited about reforming the police and about how Greeks want to be policed, was forgotten amid the violence, hysteria and lynch mob-like clamour for ‘exemplary punishment’ to be meted out to the policeman who killed the 15-year-old).

Castoriadis also says that autonomous individuals only emerge through paideia (education) and that ‘man is educated by his surroundings’. Regarding the importance of ‘surroundings’ to the autonomous ancient Athenians and their heteronomous contemporaries, Castoriadis says: ‘What kind of education did an ancient Athenian enjoy walking around his city, seeing the Acropolis, the Agora and the Stoa? And what education is a modern Athenian subject to living in the terrible monstrosity, which is today called Athens?’

Given what Castoriaidis says about the importance of ‘surroundings’ to the project of autonomy, and his description of modern Athens as a ‘terrible monstrosity’, I cannot understand why anyone aspiring to change Greek society, to make it more autonomous and democratic, would participate in or condone the smashing up and defacement of a city which already, through its sheer ugliness and unliveability, oppresses and degrades its citizens.

In fact, the riots were not a challenge to the decay of Greek society, but part and parcel of that decay, a contribution to the decay, a further cheapening of Greek social and political life, a reflection of all its self-indulgence, selfishness and anti-socialness.

It is clear to me, then, that the first thing an aspiring modern citizen – who aims to be autonomous and live in an autonomous society – must do, is abandon the notion, which suffocates Greek leftist thinking and doing, that politics and social activism means to participate in a demonstration, chant slogans, write them on walls, hurl abuse and petrol bombs at the police, smash a shop window, plant a bomb outside a bank or kill a ‘pig’. Rather than indulging in this primitive version of politics and participation, Greek radicals would be better off engaging in less glamorous and more time-consuming and selfless activities, like those the residents of Kypseli are currently involved in – guarding 24-hours a day their local park to stop Athens city council from turning this rare refuge of greenness into a car park. A worthy cause, one that involves citizens taking responsibility for their community and its surroundings, but one that hasn’t aroused the interest or support of Greece’s revolutionaries, presumably because they’re too busy preparing to storm the Bastille and occupy the Winter Palace.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Attila Olgac confessed Cyprus war crimes to Greek official

Above is a clip from yesterday's RIK news (with English subtitles) in which Vasillis Giannopoulos, a former agent in the Greek intelligence services and current mayor of Nevrokopi in northern Greece, recalls an encounter he had 15 years ago, while he was serving at the Greek consulate in Smyrna, with a man he believes to have been Attila Olgac, who last week on Turkish television confessed to committing war crimes during the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. (See here and here for background).

There is additional information on the encounter in Smyrna between Olgac and Giannopoulos in this post on the Greece-Salonika blogspot (in Greek).

In the post, Giannopoulos, who was involved in trying to resolve the fate of the 1,619 Greeks and Greek Cypriots missing since the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, confirms: 'I came into contact with a Turkish paratrooper who was in a bad psychological way. He said to me "we slaughtered them like sheep on-the-spot in northern Cyprus". And because he said he was suffering from a bad conscience, he wanted to be put on trial in Greece to relieve his conscience…'

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Israel’s role in the usurpation of Greek land in Turkish-occupied Cyprus

In this post on the usurpation and exploitation of Greek land in the Turkish-occupied village of Livera, I drew attention to the fact that the theft going on in Cyprus involves the leaders of the Turkish minority and that the expropriation of Greek property and the greed and resentment of the Turkish Cypriots defines, to a large extent, the Turkish occupation. However, it's also worth pointing out that supporting Turkish usurpation are a number of foreign companies, mostly from Israel and Britain.

For example, in the occupied Greek village of Yialousa in the remote Karpasia peninsular, the British company, the Lewis Trust Group, is behind the construction of the appropriately named Port Barbaros complex, which on stolen Greek land intends to create a marina, luxury hotels, two spas, a conference centre, a casino, bars and restaurants.

The Lewis Trust Group describes itself as one of the UK's largest family-owned companies, employing 10,000 worldwide in a range of businesses, including the River Island high-street clothing chain, finance and investment management, and hotels and real estate in Israel, Spain, Thailand and the USA. Turnover for LTG in 2008 was £888m, with profits of £244m, while LTG chairman Bernard Lewis (pictured) is listed by The Times as the 43rd richest man in the UK, at an estimated worth of £1,408m.

Question: why would such a prestigious company want to involve itself in murky dealings in Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus?

Perhaps the activities of LTG co-founder David Lewis tell us, since he is a major fundraiser for the Zionist-inspired Jewish National Fund – which buys and manages land in Israel/Palestine for Jewish settlement – as well as being a prominent member of the Israel-Britain Business Council – which promotes trade and economic co-operation between Israel and the UK – while in 1998 Lewis was among a select group of 100 international businessmen who received from Israel, on the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Jewish state, the Jubilee Award, in recognition of his contribution to Israel’s economy.

Clearly, then, LTG and the Lewis family are more than willing to use their economic leverage to help Israel pursue its national objectives. Indeed, David Lewis, on being asked why LTG's Isrotel Hotel Management – which owns nine hotels in the Red Sea resort of Eilat and another four in Tel Aviv, Haifa, the Negev desert and the Dead Sea – was taking part in a joint Israel-Jordanian project to develop resorts in Aqaba, said: 'Because Shimon Peres asked me to.'

And no doubt when Mossad, the Israeli foreign ministry or whatever approached the Lewises and said, 'Israel needs you to take part in the illegal development of confiscated Greek land and property in occupied Cyprus because it’ll prove to the Turks what good allies we can be to them and enhances Israel's strategic vision of the eastern Mediterranean becoming, under US patronage, a joint Israeli-Turkish sphere of influence', the Lewises were only too happy to oblige.

Monday, 26 January 2009

‘Those who want to rape the daughters of the priest, come now!’

It’s been stomach-churning witnessing the coward Attila Olgac retracting the confession he made on Turkish television regarding the murder of Greek POWs during the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus.

Olgac now wants us to believe that his description of war crimes – (see here and here) – was a figment of his imagination and, indeed, a plethora of the actor’s associates have been put up to assert that Olgac is, among other things, unbalanced, a weakling and a fantasist.

Olgac’s original story may or may not be true; but what is beyond question is that every conceivable war crime was committed by the Turks in Cyprus in 1974 – mass murder, mass rape, looting, ethnic cleansing and so on – and that Turkey has never been held to account for its actions.

Indeed, Olgac’s war crimes’ revelations, even if he exaggerates or lies about his personal involvement, rather than encouraging Turks to broach the subject of the atrocities they committed in Cyprus in ’74 has prompted them instead to resort to the usual denials and lies.

It is mind-boggling that Turks cannot conceive that they are capable of wrongdoing, and this despite the fact that all the evidence of history shows that Turks, far from being uniquely righteous and immaculate, are, in fact, guilty of some of the most notorious and heinous crimes against humanity ever committed.

Even yesterday, I heard on RIK news that the association of the Turkish veterans of the Cyprus invasion had condemned Olgac for suggesting POWs were mistreated in Cyprus in ’74 and claimed instead that ‘we even shared our food with prisoners’.

This is not so much a lie as a deranged inversion of the truth and fits in well with Turkey’s Cyprus narrative, which describes not an invasion but an ‘intervention’; not a brutal assault, but a ‘peace operation’; and not ethnic cleansing aimed at Greek Cypriots, but genocide suffered by the Turkish Cypriots.

In fact, the ability of Turks to commit the worst imaginable atrocities and then deny (or justify) their crimes, not only to the outside world but also to themselves, is truly chilling. Normally, only the worst kind of psychopath can exist without a conscience.

Anyway, above is a clip from Michalis Cacoyiannis’ film, Attila ’74: the rape of Cyprus, in which some of the victims of Turkish atrocities describe their ordeals – see the whole film here – and below are extracts from two independent sources regarding the mass rape of Greek women by Turks in 1974.

The European Commission on Human Rights issued two reports on the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, one in 1976 and the other in 1983.

Here’s an excerpt from the 1976 report on mass rape: ‘Turkish troops were responsible for wholesale and repeated rapes of women of all ages from 12 to 71, sometimes to such an extent that the victims suffered haemorrhages or became mental wrecks. In some areas, enforced prostitution was practiced, all women and girls of a village were collected and put into separate rooms in empty houses where they were raped repeatedly. In certain cases, members of the same family were repeatedly raped, some of them in front of their own children. In other cases, women were brutally raped in public. Rapes were on many occasions accompanied by brutalities such as violent biting of the victims causing severe wounding, banging their heads on the floor and wringing their throats almost to the point of suffocation. In some cases, rape was followed by the stabbing or killing of the victims. Victims included pregnant and mentally retarded women.’

And here’s an extract from Turkish Cypriot journalist Sevgul Uludag’s 2006 book, Oysters with the Missing Pearls, recording events in an unnamed (presumably mixed Greek/Turkish) village during the invasion in which a priest and his daughters were held prisoners in a church.

Uludag interviewed a Turkish Cypriot villager, who recalls: ‘They were making announcements each night in the village… They were calling the men to go to the church… “Those who want to rape the daughters of the priest, come now!” they were saying. My father was angry and was telling me to get inside the house and remain there… 30 of them, 40 of them would go to rape the girls inside the church… They kept the priest there to watch… Now, no one pointed a gun to their heads to do this. These were the ordinary men of the village that you see every day… Later the Red Cross or some other organisation came to the village to take the girls. The girls were brought outside on stretchers; they were covered in blood and they were taken away. I remember those announcements, people going round the houses and saying, “Who wants to come tonight?” Now if we told these stories, imagine how a 10-year-old boy who loves his chubby grandfather and finds out that he had been part of the raping of the girls in the church, would feel… How his world will be crushed if he finds out that in fact his grandfather had killed seven or eight persons.’

*Also read this post: ‘Mass rape of Greek women during Turkish invasion of Cyprus’

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Turkish actor confesses Cyprus war crimes, then says he made it all up

Above is a clip from yesterday's RIK news that includes the interview on Turkish television with actor Attila Olgac in which he admits that during the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 he cold-bloodedly murdered 10 Greek Cypriot prisoners.

From the interview, it appears that Olgac is hardly repentant about his crimes and there is no evidence that this is a man who needs to unburden himself of the evil he has committed. This is not a confession from a man racked by guilt and shame, or overwhelmed by compassion towards his victims and their families; this is a man who appears proud of what he did and the psychological effects on him seem to have been minimal.

In the second part of this RIK news clip, Turkey correspondent Anna Andreou reveals that after describing his role in the invasion of Cyprus on Turkish TV, Olgac proceeded to give an interview to the Turkish newspaper Radikal in which he once again admitted that while in Cyprus he went on a killing spree. According to Andreou, Olgac repeated the story he told on television about murdering his first victim, a 19-year-old Greek Cypriot prisoner, for spitting in his face during interrogation.

The third part of the clip is a statement from Olgac to RIK in which he retracts the confessions he made to the Turkish media and claims instead that he is writing an anti-war screenplay and this prompted him to confuse fantasy with reality.

So, what do we have? Either this contemptible man in describing to two Turkish media sources his role in the massacres that took place in Cyprus in 1974 revealed the truth or something approximating to it, not forgetting an actor's tendency to dramatise and embellish. Or he made up his involvement in the killings; maybe, as he said, because he's an idiot who can't distinguish between fantasy and reality, or, ham that he is, as a means to draw attention to himself, or to impress the three pretty Turk women on the TV programme with him. Or the version of events he described is largely accurate – we know for certain that the Turks committed atrocities in Cyprus of the type described by Olgac – and in a demonstration of abject cowardice – and/or as a result of pressure from the Turkish state – he is now backtracking, having realised that he has implicated himself – and the Turkish government and military – in war crimes.

Anyway, here's a translated transcript of what Olgac says in the interview on Turkish Star TV:

OLGAC: They said to me 'take this Thomson [gun]; you think people only get killed on the stage? Go and kill in real life'. This is such a terrible thing. For a certain period, you live with the shock. You can't grasp if it's reality, or a game, but when you see people die left and right, when you see the scenes you feel a terrible fear. After, you get used to it and you become a killing machine. Without thinking about it. All you do is kill.

FIRST WOMAN: Did you kill?

OLGAC: Of course. I killed 10.

FIRST WOMAN: You killed 10 people?

OLGAC: Yes. After I returned [from Cyprus], for a long time I couldn't eat meat because I continuously saw corpses, reeking corpses. In the heat, the corpses had become bloated and started to smell, because of the high temperatures. (Note: the Turkish invasion took place in July and August).

SECOND WOMAN: When you killed for the first time, what did you feel?

OLGAC: At first I cried, then I got used to it.

FIRST WOMAN: Did you come face to face with anyone [you killed]?

OLGAC: Yes. He spat in my face. His hands were tied. My commander told me 'kill him', then he left. From a distance, I pulled the trigger and I killed him. He was 19-years-old.

SECOND WOMAN: Was he armed?

OLGAC: No, his hands were tied; he was a prisoner.

SECOND WOMAN: Did you ever see him again in your dreams?

OLGAC: Yes. I'm an artist. I'm a human being.

And here's the translation of the retraction Olgac made to RIK:

'For a long time, I've been writing an anti-war screenplay. When they asked me on the live programme if I was a veteran, in my mind reality got mixed up with my screenplay. The men I was killing in my screenplay, I described as if I were killing them in real life. I wanted to shock people on the TV programme and see how they reacted to [the ideas in] my screenplay. If there'd been more time on the programme, I would have made this clear.'

Friday, 23 January 2009

Turkish actor admits Cyprus war crimes

In this post last week, I tried to make it clear that the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 was a land-grab, an excuse for looting, theft and mass murder. That the invasion of Cyprus was an act of savage aggression is confirmed by this report (in Greek) in yesterday's Kathirmerini in which a prominent Turkish actor, Attila Olgac, a star in the popular Valley of the Wolves series, which spawned a notorious anti-American and anti-Israeli film of the same name, admits while being interviewed on Turkish Star television, that during the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 he cold-bloodedly murdered 10 Greek prisoners.

Below is Olgac's story as published by Kathimerini (my translation), while the video clip above is from yesterday's RIK news, which led on Olgac's confession that he is a war criminal. That Olgac makes out that he was a reluctant war criminal leads us to wonder, of course, how those less imbued with his artistic sensitivities went about their business on defenceless Cyprus 35 years ago. It's worth reiterating that some 4,500 Greeks were slaughtered in Cyprus in 1974, while another 1,600 are regarded as missing, and must be presumed dead. Indeed, Olgac's confession reveals to us how many of those 1,600 missing must have met their fate.

Turkish actor 'reveals' how many he killed during the Attila invasion

'I killed 10 prisoners,' said a well-known Turkish actor, referring to the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, where he fought during his national service.

'The first one I killed was a 19-year-old prisoner,' said Attila Olgac.

Speaking on the Turkish television channel Star, the actor said that while the 1974 invasion was being prepared, he was one day away from being discharged, but once the operation started he left from Mersin for Cyprus.

During the television programme, the actor said: 'I said to our commanding officer that I'm an artist and I can't kill. "This is where art ends and real life – war – begins. I've given you an order and you will kill", the commanding officer told me.'

Olgac continued: 'The first one I killed was a 19-year-old soldier taken prisoner. As I extended my gun towards him, he spat at me. I shot him in the head and he died. Later, I killed nine more. And every time I killed, I went to the barracks and cried but
, the next time, I killed again. I can't get these images out of my dreams. For a long period, I was in psychotherapy and as a result of what happened I still can't eat meat or look at blood, because I immediately remember the boys I killed.'

The actor said he was revealing the truth for the first time and stressed:
'The war affected me for a long period – in my professional life too. I couldn't do anything. Even today I remember my commanding officer telling me, "you think killing is only for the stage; take a gun and kill someone for real, to see how it feels".'

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Nikos Gatsos: Χαμένη Ελλάδα, παντού σ'αναζητώ

Σκοτεινό το τραγούδι που θα πω
τα συντρίμμια του τόπου μου πατώ
Χαμένα αδέρφια, ίσκιοι λαβωμένοι
Χαμένη Ελλάδα, παντού σ'αναζητώ.
(Νίκος Γκάτσος:Ο χορός των Κυκλάδων)

Μα για να σωθεί η Ελλάδα

στους καιρούς τους ύστατους

βρείτε κάπου έναν καιάδα

και γκρεμοτσακίστε τους
(Νίκος Γκάτσος:Τα γερόντια)

Θεέ μου γιατί, γιατί, γιατί κείνοι που σκύβουν το κεφάλι
και τεμενάδες κάνουν πάλι στον τύραννο και στον προδότη
Θεέ μου γιατί, γιατί, γιατί να 'ρχονται κείνοι πάντα πρώτοι
κι εμείς οι αγνοί κι ελεύτεροι να 'μαστε πάντα δεύτεροι;

(Νίκος Γκάτσος: Οι πρώτοι και οι δεύτεροι)

Μελετάμε τους πλανήτες κι όλους τους αστερισμούς
τους πολέμους και τις ήττες και τους δύσκολους χρησμούς
στην παλιά μας τη φυλλάδα που διαβάσαμε ξανά
τέτοιο όνομα Ελλάδα δεν υπάρχει πουθενά
Μόνο σ'ένα καζαμία με περγαμηνό χαρτί
αίμα στάζαν τα σημεία, σαν κομμένη αορτή.
(Νίκος Γκάτσος: Οι αστρολόγοι)

Τούτος ο τόπος είν' ένας μύθος
από χρώμα και φως ένας μύθος κρυφός
με τον κόσμο του ήλιου δεμένος.
Καθ' αυγή ξεκινά ν'ανταμώσει ξανά
το δικό του αθάνατο γένος.
(Νίκος Γκάτσος: Τούτος ο τόπος)

I was struck by the notes written by composer Stavros Xarhakos for the album Τα κατά Μάρκον (The Gospel According to Mark – Markos Vamvakaris, that is), with lyrics by the poet Nikos Gatsos.

Xarhakos' notes and Gatsos' songs reflect consternation about the state of Greece and were written in… 1991. The date tells us that what is currently afflicting Greece is not new and hasn't crept up on the country unexpectedly or out of the blue. Greece's problems are long-standing, deep-rooted, systemic and have, unfortunately, got worse and multiplied since Τα κατά Μάρκον 20 years ago.

Xarhakos writes (my translation): 'Nikos Gatsos' songs Τα κατά Μάρκον reveal the contemporary political reality [in Greece] with its "huge lies"(τα ψεύτικα τα λόγια τα μεγάλα) and like a scalpel cut to the bone of the responsibility we all have for the evil that surrounds us and is threatening to destroy us.

'In these songs, Nikos Gatsos, with awe, anger and pain, tells hard truths and speaks bitter words so that Greeks will wake up from their stupor before the onset of an irreversible catastrophe.

'These songs serve no party political purpose and are not the usual political or ideological songs. They are songs forged out of a deep sense of responsibility from a poet imbued with the Greek spirit and the human struggle who wanted, now, in his perfect maturity, to convey (with song) into the mouths, the souls and brains of our people, the words and sounds of rage against "that and those" (εκείνα και εκείνους) destroying Greece; against those trying to obliterate Greek sensibility and consciousness; and against those taking part in today's genocide of Greeks by Greeks, with the help of all the anti-Greeks in Europe and the world.

'Nikos Gatsos' songs speak for themselves. I only wanted with these few words to stress their importance at this critical time [for Greece]…'

I've made available in Radio Akritas six songs from Τα κατά Μάρκον. Giorgos Dalaras is the vocalist. These are:
1. Ο χορός των Κυκλάδων;
2. Τα γερόντια;
3. Οι πρώτοι και οι δεύτεροι;
4. Οι αστρολόγοι;
5. Τούτος ο τόπος; and
6. Δώστε μου μια ταυτότητα.

Δώστε μου μια ταυτότητα/Give me an identity card
I have no home, no name,
no codes, no laws
for centuries now I walk
on haunted roads.

Bitterness for a mother
necessity for a wife
in this land where
Turks and Franks danced.

The root that holds me
is from God's tree.
Give me an identity card
so I know who I am.

The whole album can be downloaded here.

The clip below is another Xarhakos/Gatsos collaboration Έβαλε ο Θεός σημάδι, sung by Nikos Xylouris.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Grigoris Afxentiou, Macheras Monastery and Nikos Kazantzakis

Yesterday, I received an email from from the brothers at Macheras Monastery objecting to a reference I made in this Hellenic Antidote post on Grigoris Afxentiou to a copy of Nikos Kazantzakis' Christ Recrucified, allegedly given to Afxentiou by the Abbot of Macheras, being found in the cave among the EOKA hero's possessions when the British killed him.

My source for this detail was Colin Thubron's Journey into Cyprus, which does, admittedly, contain many half-truths and improbable stories. Indeed, now that the brothers mention it, it does seem unlikely, firstly, that the Abbot would have given Afxentiou such a book; and, secondly, that it would have survived the fire that killed the hero.

Here's what the brothers say:

Recently, it has come to our attention the article about Afxentiou on your website. We were shocked to read that amongst other events, the abbot of the Monastery of Macheras has given Afxentiou a copy of the blasphemous book of Kazantzakis Christ Recrucified and it was found in the hideout next to the burned body of Afxentiou. This is fiction, not an historical event.

We don’t know from where you received this information because it is the first time we hear about this. Deeply disturbed, we contacted Avgoustinos Efstathiou, a co-fighter of Afxentiou, who took part in the battle and was with the hero till the end. Avgoustis confirmed to us that he never saw anything like it and such a book was never found in the cave. After all, is it not irrational for a book to survive after the total burning of the hideout?

Therefore, we kindly ask you to correct your article by emitting completely the fairy tale about the book.

With many wishes in Christ

The brotherhood of the Monastery of Macheras

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Politiki Kouzina with subtitles; and Giorgos Mitsakis

I initially posted about Tassos Boulmetis' 2003 film Politiki Kouzina (A Touch of Spice) here, and someone has asked if I could make available the 'Worst Five Seconds Of My Life' clip with English subtitles, which I’m now doing. As I said previously, in the scene Savvas relives the worst five seconds of his life when the Turkish police told him he and his family were to be deported from Constantinople and that he could avoid this fate if he were to become a Muslim. So in love with the City is Savvas, so distraught at the prospect of leaving it, that for five seconds, Savvas says, he thought about the Turk's offer.

Speaking of Constantinople, I've now got an excuse to make available some more Giorgos Mitsakis songs in Radio Akritas. Mitsakis was born in Constantinople in 1921, son of a fisherman, and spent the first 14 years of his life in the City before leaving for Greece, first for Kavala, then for Volos. A few years later, Mitsakis, having improved his Greek and lost his accent, got involved in Rembetika, becoming friends in particular with Tsitsanis and Apostolos Hadjichristos, who helped him master the bouzouki. In the immediate post-war period, Mitsakis composed some classic Rembetika songs, even though in later life he said he didn't like ‘heavy’ Rembetika and was fonder of the love songs he wrote – such as Paploma and Ta Dahtilidia, both of which are available in Radio Akritas performed by Glykeria under Previous Uploads, Female Singers.

Read more about Mitsakis here in Greek.

Anyway, the four Mitsakis songs I've uploaded are all more or less in the 'heavy Rembetika' style:
1. Που'σαι καημενε Περικλη;
2. Ο ψαρας;
3. Το καπηλειο; and
4. Αποψε ειναι βαρια.

The video below is the Rembetika Kompania's version of Αποψε ειναι βαρια, with Dimitris Kontogiannis singing.

The translation of Το καπηλειο, from Gail Holst’s book Road to Rembetika, is as follows:

The Little Wine-Shop
The night is chilly and drizzling
And on the opposite corner, the wine-shop is lit up.

And outside the little taverna, a drunk without a bean
Is sitting thoughtfully in the low doorway.

He'd like to go in too and drink
But the wine-shop is poor and they give no credit.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Turkey’s Aegean shenanigans and the implications for Cyprus

Above is Stavros Lygeros – one of Greece’s better commentators – discussing on NET’s Ουδείς Aναμάρτητος the recent escalation by the Turks in the Aegean, in which Greek airspace over Agathonisi and Pharmakonisi was flagrantly violated as part of a long-standing Turkish campaign to challenge Greece’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Lygeros suggests that the new element to the provocations is that the Turks are no longer disputing the sovereignty of uninhabited Greek islets but islands with established Greek populations and he suggests three reasons why the Turks have stepped up their cold war with Greece:

1. Turkey’s ambition to expand its Exclusive Economic Zones in the Eastern Mediterranean, which may contain large deposits of oil and gas.

2. The continuation of Turkey’s ‘Agios Efstratios’ strategy – i.e. in 2007 Turkey managed to get cancelled a NATO exercise incorporating Agios Efstratios, an inhabited island near Limnos, on the grounds that the island was in a ‘demilitarised zone’. (Update: 13/01/09. Just to clarify the point Lygeros is making on Ai Stratis: As this article in Greek reports, the NATO exercise 'Noble Archer', which the Turks initially objected to on the grounds that the island of Ai Stratis was in a 'demilitarised zone', finally went ahead last month – and included Ai Stratis. The inclusion of Ai Stratis in the exercise is regarded as a slap in the face for the Turks, and Greek analysts, like Lygeros, are suggesting that the recent escalation over Agathonisi and Pharmakonisi is a reaction to Turkey's failure and humiliation in this matter).

3. An expression of the conflict in Turkey between the ultranationalist Kemalist deep state – which, of course, is led by the Turkish military – and newer forces in Turkish society, including pro-EU liberals and Islamists, as represented by the government of prime minister Tayyip Erdogan.

On Lygeros’ last point: I believe the nationalism of the Kemalists is shared by the Islamists, that the logic of Turkish nationalism demands conflict and hostility with Greece and that Turkey regards its losses to Greece over the years – and particularly those suffered in 1912-3 and 1947 – as unjust and reversible. In this context, Greece is deluding itself by supposing there is a divergence between Kemalists and Islamists over Turkey’s foreign policy and it is an exercise in futility for Greece to invest hope for improved relations with Erdogan and other non-Kemalist elements in Turkish society. The Islamists might not subscribe to Kemalism’s secularism, but they do subscribe to its ultranationalism. Thus, the conflict between Greece and Turkey is more realistically regarded as perpetual and civilisational.

It’s also worth pointing out that last Thursday ANT1 evening news reported that the Greek foreign ministry was furious with President Karolos Papoulias for visiting Agathonisi and Pharmakonisi during Epiphany and stressing in statements Greece’s determination to defend its sovereignty. According to ANT1, the foreign ministry judged that Papoulias’ visit and statements were unhelpful in reducing tension with the Turks. Now, how the Greek foreign ministry can interpret the president of Greece visiting indisputably Greek territory and emphasising the inviolability of Greek sovereignty, as a provocation to the Turks is another mind-boggling indication of this government’s inertia, fear and lack of ideas.

The intensification of Turkish provocations in the Aegean would also suggest that Turkey is more interested in pursuing its neo-Ottoman agenda than in securing EU membership. This blows out of the water the main strategy Greece’s last two governments have adopted to confront the Turkish threat, i.e. offering the Turks an EU perspective in the hope that this will increase democracy and liberalism in Turkey and weaken the military’s and the nationalists’ grip on the country.

Turkey’s inability and unwillingness to meet EU standards and norms of behaviour also has far-reaching implications for the Cyprus issue.

Turkey only countenanced amending the post-invasion status quo in Cyprus because of the Republic of Cyprus’ impending entry into the EU (achieved in 2004), and from whose ranks, Turkey and its allies feared, Cyprus would influence EU policy on Turkey and transform the Cyprus problem into a European problem. The Annan plan, of course, was a gift to Turkey from its principal allies – the US and UK – made with the intention of abolishing the Republic of Cyprus, subjugating Cypriot Hellenism and thus preventing Cyprus from using its EU membership to harm Turkey’s relations with the EU and obstructing Turkey’s own EU aspirations.

If Turkey has decided it cannot comply with EU standards, then this removes its incentive to support a settlement in Cyprus and certainly not a settlement that significantly deviates from the Annan plan. Concern that Turkey is hardening its Cyprus stance may encourage AKEL and DISY – the two largest parties on the island and the most dovish (DISY was in favour of the Annan plan, as were a significant minority in AKEL) – to conclude that since Cyprus cannot afford for the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus in its current form to continue, that the effects of the occupation are becoming increasingly irreversible, then a solution similar to that envisaged by Annan will have to be accepted, as the lesser of two evils.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Melina in Phaedra and at the British Museum

Above is a clip from Jules Dassin's 1962 film Phaedra, supposedly an updated version of Euripides' Hippolytus, starring Dassin's wife (the dreadful) Melina Mercouri as the eponymous tragic heroine who falls in love with her stepson, Alexis/Hippolytus, played by Anthony Perkins. The film doesn't work. In fact, it's a mystery to me why Dassin, who made a series of brilliant films noir – including two masterpieces, Night and the City and Rififi – once he ended up in Greece, having being forced into exile from his native USA by the McCarthy witch-hunts, made one terrible film after another, including Never on a Sunday, which is one of the worst films of all time.

Anyway, in the extremely ironic scene above Mercouri meets for the first time and falls in love with her stepson, in of all places the British Museum surrounded by the Parthenon Marbles. Mercouri, of course, for years spearheaded the campaign to get our Marbles back from the dastardly, thieving, cultureless British.

Although Phaedra is not a good film, its score, by Mikis Theodorakis, is first-rate. In fact, the film contains three of Theodorakis' most well-known songs:
1. Βράχο Βράχο; lyrics Dimitris Christodoulou;
2. Αστέρι μου φεγγάρι μου/Αγάπη μου; lyrics Yiannis Theodorakis; and
3. Σε πότισα ροδόσταμο; lyrics Nikos Gatsos.

In the film, Βράχο Βράχο is only used as an instrumental but I've made available in Radio Akritas the version sung by Stelios Kazantzidis and Marinella. As for Αστέρι μου φεγγάρι μου and Σε πότισα ροδόσταμο, in the film they're sung (sic) by Mercouri, who can't sing and ruins the songs, so I've preferred to make available in Radio Akritas the version of Αστέρι μου φεγγάρι μου sung by Haris Alexiou and Σε πότισα ροδόσταμο sung by Mary Linda. The translated lyrics to Gatsos' Σε πότισα ροδόσταμο are below and the song is in the embedded player too. Gatsos is wonderful.

I gave you rosewater to drink
When you reach the other world, see you don’t become a cloud,
see you don’t become a cloud, and the bitter star of dawn,
so that your mother recognises you, waiting at her door.
I gave you rosewater to drink, you gave me poison,
eaglet of the frost, hawk of the desert.

Take a wand of willow, a root of rosemary,
a root of rosemary, and be a moonlit coolness
falling in the midnight in your thirsting courtyard.
I gave you rosewater to drink, you gave me poison,
eaglet of the frost, hawk of the desert.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Greek riots: lawlessness or social change?

Thanks to Stavros over at My Greek Odyssey for pointing out that the esteemed academics of the Modern Greek Studies Association deigned to use my little post Anarchists, immigrants, hooligans, gypsies, the mad, the curious and the unbalanced to have a little discussion on the Greek riots. They didn't like my assertions that the violence of non-citizens, demi-citizens and ‘other flotsam of society’ is not a legitimate or meaningful response to Greece's social ills but a symptom of Greece's crisis and that the most striking (and shocking) aspect of the disorder has been the failure of the Greek state to stand up for itself and assert the law.

One MGSA commenter, Anna K said this: '[Anarchists, immigrants, students, pupils, leftists, hooligans, gypsies, the mad, the curious, the unbalanced] are precisely the groups that need to challenge the state and make it more accountable for its abuses, corruption, violence… because it is through state and other social policies that people are marginalized and form the groups they form. Neither God nor nature creates these, only men (and women also these days) in power. So yes, demi-citizens and “other flotsam of society” do have the right to challenge the Greek state. It is not those who are doing well, for whom the rules/laws/institutions are working that will challenge things now, is it?'

Anna K goes on to claim that she is a 'reflecting individual', and boasts of basing her understanding of the 'uprisings in Greece’ (her words, my emphasis) on having taken 'Introduction to Sociology'.

Now, here's the thing: only the crudest of crude leftists daydreaming about the Paris communes or the Potemkin rebellion (and certainly not a reflecting individual) can arrive at the conclusion that blatant thuggery, looting and teenagers playacting in the streets amounts to an 'uprising' or a vital response to the ills of Greek society. The rioters and their apologists are not offering an alternative vision of Greek society or a superior morality, but are taking advantage of the state's bewildering passivity and failure to assert itself to live out, as I have previously said, their destructive fantasies and enjoy for a short while a primitive state of freedom. Thus, as a result of the riots and Karamanlis' surrender, Greece is not on the brink of progressive social change but toying with lawlessness.

(And if you want proof above and beyond the recent wanton destruction of what lawlessness means, then look at the video above from last Sunday's MEGA news, in which trade unionists ‘protesting’ Sunday shopping are harassing and haranguing citizens and workers, telling them to close their shops, stop working, go home and spend time with their families. The silver-haired trade unionist – or mafia bully, depending on your point of view – shrieking at shoppers and shopworkers (and who ought to take his own advice and go home and spend time with his family) is declaring that he represents the law and that he has taken it on himself to uphold the law. And maybe, in the current climate in Greece, he has a point).

Finally, what emerges from the Greek riots is not only Karamanlis' desperate and complete failure to fulfill his government's self-declared task of transforming Greece into a modern, liberal society based on free enterprise; but also the crisis affecting the Greek left, which still thinks radical social change means 'bloodshed and gunfighting', whereas in fact it should mean 'radical change in the institutions of society' (Castoriadis). Now, radically changing the institutions of society would involve effort, commitment, patience, organisation, selflessness, a belief in the common good and, above all, innovative thinking – none of which are on display anywhere in Greek society at the moment; nor, Anna K, will you find these qualities in ‘Introductions to Sociology’.