Sia Anagnostopoulou is a SYRIZA MP and associate professor of History at the Department of Political Science and History of Panteion University. She has been visiting professor at the New York University, the University of Cyprus and the Έcole des Hautes Έtudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. Her main research interests are nationalism in Greece, Turkey and Cyprus and colonialism in Cyprus. She has published two monographies: Asia Minor. The Greek Οrthodox Communities, 19th century-1919. From the Rum millet to the Greek Nation (Athens 1997, in Greek) and The Modernization of Turkey. Islam and Turkish-Cypriots in relation to Kemalism (Athens 2004, in Greek).
Professor Anagnostopoulou is a member of the Paneuropean Committee of the Academy for European History created by Transform! Europe, a member of the Greek Contemporary Social History Archives (ASKI) and a member of the Board of the Nicos Poulantzas Institute.
From 2000 to 2003, Anagnostopoulou headed the Cypriot Foreign Ministry's research team on issues concerning Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot community. In the January 2015 Greek legislative elections, Anagnostopoulou was elected as a SYRIZA Member of the Hellenic Parliament for the prefecture of Achaia and was appointed alternate minister for European Affairs. Following the last legistlative elections of September 2015, she was appointed alternate minister for Education, Research and Religious Affairs until November 2016.
Sia Anagnostopoulou spoke to our sister publication Grèce Hebdo* on the progress of the ongoing negotiations on the Cyprus issue, the European contribution to the Geneva Cyprus talks, the importance of installing an institutional framework for the coexistence of two communities of different religions and ethnic groups in one european state as an act of resistance against a galloping nationalism and the EU-Turkey refugee deal:
How would you evaluate recent developments on the Cyprus issue?
Very significant progress has been made. The negotiations between the leaders of the two communities, the Greek Cypriot community and the Turkish Cypriot community, are at a very good point. First of all, there is a historic development, symbolically and literally speaking: it is the first time since 1974, after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, that the two communities have exchanged maps outlining territorial proposals.
This is important because the leaders of the two communities are trying to define their space -the "border" between their communities- by themselves and through negotiations. In fact, the two communities are trying to reconstruct a "border" of trust and peace between them, thus in practice annulling the consequences of the invasion that has violently imposed a frontier of hatred, dividing the Cypriot area into two worlds, two enemy "countries". Through the presentation of maps, the Cypriot leaders claim that they, and not the Turkish army, are the ones with the responsibility to manage the Cypriot area. This is a first step towards the solution, and it is indicative of the determination of the two Cypriot leaders to move forward.
What is your assessment of the European contribution to the Geneva Cyprus talks?
This is the first time that the European Union has become more actively involved in the Cyprus issue. In my opinion, it is necessary to get more involved, especially since Cyprus is the southeastern border of Europe, the border between Europe and the Middle East. The solution of the Cyprus problem must be at the heart of European policy. Also, through Cyprus (not only Cyprus, of course), the European Union will reinvent itself; it will reinvent its "world" and its region, and the values that prevail in its relations with its neighbours.
The solution of the Cyprus problem, the border problem of Europe, will give out the message that: 1) the European Union has political responsibility for its borders; 2) It does not permit the perpetuation of "grey zones" in its territory, and of zones that lead to the division of its frontiers between a “Christian world” and a "Muslim world", one against the other; 3) It puts a definite end to its colonial past and to nationalist politics that undermine Europeanization efforts of its region; and 4) it turns its borders into a bridge with its neighbours and not a "wall of hatred” between the European world and the "barbarians".
In short, the resolution of the Cyprus problem, especially at a crucial time for the future -not only of Europe but of the whole world- will demonstrate that European values persist and that the world (on a local, European and global level) is not divided by criteria of culture, colour and religion; on the contrary, respect for democratic institutions, equality and justice is the basis of coexistence. Therefore, the solution of the Cyprus problem, i.e. the formation of an institutional framework for the coexistence of two communities of different religions and ethnic groups under the same state -Cypriot and European- can be an act of resistance against a galloping and threatening nationalism.
Some argue that "no solution" on the Cyprus issue is always the best solution. Do you share that view?
Not at all. First of all, by adopting this view, we accept the consequences of the post-colonial period, of ethnic conflicts and, above all, of the Turkish invasion, as something that happened "naturally", without political intervention. As a result, we passively comply with the notion that at this very intense historical moment in time, when problems in the Middle East and Turkey create a framework of instability, Cyprus -at least part of its area- is prey to this instability.
This means that we accept that Cyprus is potentially a gate to the importation of this instability onto European soil. In reality, allowing almost half of the territory of a European area to be outside European control and outside the control of the Cypriot state is not a good sign for the future, particularly at this time when the future does not seem so peaceful.
What is your view on the implementation of the agreement signed between the EU and Turkey on 18 March 2016 on the management of refugee flows?
This agreement could show that Europe is cooperating with neighbouring countries in order to solve a serious problem, a humanitarian problem, in order to more efficiently protect refugees from traffickers etc. However, this agreement is not the result of a humanitarian policy but an emergency management policy, dictated by the rationale of retaining the problem outside European borders. The European Union, which is very effective at imposing economic regulations, proves uninterested in applying humanitarian rules with the same zeal. So the European Union has capitulated to the threats and nationalist policies of member-states that do not accept refugees on their soil, but refuses to deviate somewhat from its economic rules when it comes to countries like Greece, which face a humanitarian crisis and which, at the same time, provide a humanitarian roof for refugees.
*Interview by Irini Anastopoulou, translated to English by Ioulia Livaditi
Anastasia Poulou is a Senior Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy in Munich. Prior to this, she was a Max Weber Postdoctoral Fellow at the European University Institute in Florence. Anastasia Poulou holds a PhD in Law from the University of Heidelberg, which addresses the impact of the Eurozone crisis on social rights in the EU and the role of courts adjudicating social rights in times of crisis. For her doctorate Anastasia received the second prize of the German Thesis Award by the Koerber Foundation. She received the award during a special ceremony at the German Bundestag in Nov. 13, 2016.
In her thesis, Dr Poulou explores the terms and conditions of financial assistance, as stipulated in the agreed MoUs between the countries’ government and EU institutions, as well as the domestic laws used to implement the agreements. She examines whether social rights, as guaranteed under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, in four countries affected by the economic crisis - Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Cyprus - had been violated, and who is to be held responsible. Anastasia Poulou’s current work investigates the new typology of European governance in the area of social policies and its impact on the design of national welfare systems.
Greek News Agenda* asked Anastasia Poulou to comment on MoU’s austerity measures and their consequences on social rights in Europe and the prospects of EU’s social policy:
MoU’s austerity measures in Greece and other European countries include cuts in labor rights and the right to free negotiation. Do these cuts violate social rights guaranteed by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU? Who is responsible for these violations?
In all cases of European financial assistance, Eurozone countries received loans which were made dependent on their compliance with extremely broad in scope economic policy conditions. Even informally regulating economic policies, the conditions related to what one would call the core of social policy, namely healthcare and pension systems, education, and labour sectors. For example, in the case of Greece the minimum wage established by a national general collective agreement had to be reduced by 22%. This reduction, introduced by law and without the consent of the collective bargaining parties, constitutes an interference with the right of collective bargaining protected by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU. This measure was so detailed and left no leeway to the Member State concerned, that the interference with the right of collective bargaining can already be attributed to the EU institutions proposing the measure. On the contrary, in the case of healthcare, the conditions entailed reforms, which aimed at the general objective of reducing public expenditure, but left a margin of appreciation to the national authorities with regard to their implementation. Hence, in this case a potential violation of right to healthcare could not be attributed to the EU institutions, but only to the Member State implementing the measures.
How can social rights be protected in times of crisis? Should social policy decisions be free from EU interference?
The development of the welfare state has been historically linked with the establishment of nation states. In this context, the enjoyment of social benefits is conceived as a key part of national identity and citizenship, and thus every Member State had, at least till the Eurozone crisis, some leeway in the allocation of social benefits. Even if one disagrees with the absolute confinement of the welfare state to the nation state, the question of who has the power to decide on the social benefits available to citizens should be considered carefully. Even though formally the EU has limited competences in the field of social policy, in times of crisis EU citizens feel left out of decisions that affect their ability to design and enjoy their welfare system. Given the fact that alienation from the European project is a real danger, an important challenge that EU social policy has to face is to reconsider ways in which EU citizens could meaningfully participate and co-determine decisions that directly or indirectly affect their social well-being.
Social policy regimes vary across Europe. What do austerity policies in the European periphery mean for the EU’s social policy as a whole?
A significant part of the European population, mainly in the European periphery, is sceptical about the European integration process because they feel that they have lost out in recent developments. The burden of austerity invariably falls on the most vulnerable populations, multiplying the disadvantages to which they had already been exposed. At the same time, the cuts in social benefits and assistance in countries, where social policy regimes have always been relatively weak, sharpens the inequalities between the European periphery and the rest of the Member States. Hence, the big challenge that EU social policy has to face after the financial crisis goes to the heart of what “Social Europe” means and how it can protect a minimum of social rights for all EU citizens.
Can European Commission‘s “Pillar of Social Rights” defend Europe’s values and social model in the context of the current fiscal orthodoxy/“rules-are-rules” policies?
The preliminary outline of the ‘European Pillar of Social Rights’, presented in March 2016 by the European Commission, should be welcomed as an attempt to defend European social values in a period when matters within social policy are framed primarily as a burden on public finances and an obstacle to economic success. Nevertheless, the preliminary outline of the Pillar presented is still far from the desired outcome. The draft text fails to give concrete suggestions on how to operationalize social rights in the framework of the new EU economic governance and treats social policy as subordinate to economic policies. These weaknesses will have to be overcome, if the Pillar aspires to become a weighty reference tool to drive social reforms in the EU and not just a simple reminder of the existing EU social “acquis”.
*Interview by Nikolas Nenedakis
Read Anastasia Poulou recent articles: Towards A European Pillar Of Social Rights: An Opportunity Not To Be Squandered; Europe cannot ignore the social impact of economic “recovery”
Kiriakos Gialenios was born in Thessaloniki in 1978. His first novel H νόσος των εραστών [Lovers disease] (Melani Editions, 2011) was shortlisted for the State Literary Award for Debuting Author in 2012 and the Michael Cacoyannis Foundation Award for New Writers in 2011. His second book titled Μόνο τα νεκρά ψάρια ακολουθούν το ρεύμα [Only dead fish follow the flow] was published in 2015 (Psichogios Publications).
Kyriakos Gialenios spoke to Reading Greece* about his latest book Μόνο τα νεκρά ψάρια ακολουθούν το ρεύμα, which, “within two parallel, seemingly unconnected, and yet tied by an invisible thread, stories” combines crime fiction, poetry and a noir atmosphere. He comments on intertextuality as a conscious decision on his part, while he mentions that for him literature is “a vast field of plays and emotions, an ark of genres, techniques, arts and experimentations, through which we can express every aspect of our world, overt or hidden”.
Asked about the imprint of Thessaloniki, a city of great cultural interest, on his work, he notes that in his books, “the city has more of a spectral presence; it constitutes the negative on which the landmarks and the places are only faintly imprinted and it rests with the reader to make the connection between the imaginary and the real". He concludes that “in times of crisis and turmoil, art constitutes both a shelter and a way out; not just for artists themselves but also for those who are called as viewers, readers or listeners, to become participants in whatever form of artistic creation”.
Your latest book Μόνο τα νεκρά ψάρια ακολουθούν το ρεύμα seems to combine crime fiction, poetry and a noir atmosphere. Tell us a few things about the book.
I will start with something more or less commonplace. We write the books we want to read. Structured and written the way we want, incorporating as many influences and obsessions we may have. Thus, within two parallel, seemingly unconnected, and yet tied by an invisible thread, stories I try to fit poetry, crime fiction and a noir atmosphere. In places described but never named, through characters that always hide more that what they reveal, with love pulling the strings and settling on fates and lives, in an era when cynicism and irony seem to prevail over sensitivity; in this framework, the book is an effort to capture the most intense human instincts, positive and negative.
The book seems to converse not only with your first book H νόσος των Εραστών but with classic works of literature as well. Was this intertextuality a conscious decision on your part?
Both intertextuality and the connection to the first book Η νόσος των εραστών were conscious decisions from the very beginning. The two novels may of course stand on their own; there is no interdependence, just that sense so eloquently expressed in the saying: Nothing is real, everything is permitted. Literature constitutes for me a vast field of plays and emotions, an ark of genres, techniques, arts and experimentations, through which we can express every aspect of our world, overt or hidden.
The heroes of your book all have ‘exotic’ names, while the titles of the various chapters are quite pretentious. What purpose do both choices serve?
The titles of the chapters are predominant elements of the text. Whenever I read a book divided in such a way, I try to discover what the title refers to, and this, in turn, defines the context of the specific chapter. Thus, on my part, I try to condense into a single sentence the sense and content of each chapter. Let’s say it acts as a point of reference as to what the reader is to expect in the following ten to twenty pages.
As for the names, in an environment where nothing is named and all situations are on the verge of an infinite dystopia, I felt that the naming of the characters should adhere to the atmosphere of the book. Thus, I avoided any relation to the Greek environment, aiming at the same time at dissuading the reader from identifying with familiar faces and situations.
The book takes place in a town and a country that are not specifically defined, while the word “crisis”, though never mentioned, is constantly implied. Would you say that the book describes the end of a collapsing world and the beginning of a new one that is struggling to be born?
I tried to approach the modern era through the daily lives of the characters, which have, however, been defined to a great extent by how things were prior to the crisis. There comes a moment when they are called to face up to the exaggerations and the decisions they made at a time when they felt invulnerable and mistakenly believed that Fate is a pet that can always be put on a leash. In any case, the book seems to balance on the verge of a before and an after, at that critical moment when the characters all realize that their lives will never be the same, even if they don’t really know what is in store for them right after the next turn.
What has been the imprint of Thessaloniki, a city of great cultural interest, on your work?
Undeniably Thessaloniki is a huge melting pot of peoples, religions and cultural influences that go centuries back. In this respect, it can act as a fascinating canvas for artists to create their micro-cosmos. As for my books, the city has more of a spectral presence; it constitutes the negative on which the landmarks and the places are only faintly imprinted and it rests with the reader to make the connection between the imaginary and the real. What I try to convey through the pages of my books is maybe the city’s atmosphere, which I consider ideal for noir novels.
“Art is a fantastic journey into a world where anything can happen and mostly all can be forgotten. This timeless escape from normality acquires even more importance when in crisis”. What is the role art is called to play in times of crisis?
I insist that in times of crisis and turmoil, art constitutes both a shelter and a way out; not just for artists themselves but also for those who are called as viewers, readers or listeners, to become participants in whatever form of artistic creation. For that short or long period of time they choose to “travel” with their imagination or with the talent of the artist as their vehicle, they opt for an escape from the everyday routine and the roughness of the daily survival.
*Interview by Athina Rossoglou
Lyra player, singer, songwriter and theoretical physicist "Chainis" Dimitris Apostolakis is a founding member of Chainides, a Cretan music group formed in 1990 by a group of friends, most of them students then at the University of Crete. The group's name comes from the world 'chainis' meaning the fugitive rebel in Cretan dialect. The group are inspired by the vast legacy of traditional Cretan music and their lyrics are in the Cretan Greek dialect. Their discographical debut, titled "Chainides" released in 1991 was warmly received by the public.
Over the years, Chainides have collaborated with several well-known musicians and singers, performed extensively in Greece around the world and recorded 11 studio albums. In their live performances, Chainides blend their own compositions and songs with new arrangements of themes and songs from traditions such as those of Turkey, Afghanistan, Bulgaria and the wider eastern Mediderrenean region.
Chainides' latest album "Pera apo ta synora" (Beyond Borders), was released in 2014 with the participation of legendary lyra player Psarantonis and traditional music group Mode Plagal, based on the lyrics of Lorca, Borges, Sultan Abdal, Rilke and Pushkin and blending Cretan music patterns with motifs from flamenco to rock and jazz.
Chainis D. Apostolakis, along with Psarantonis, Chainides and modern dance troupe "And yet it moves", re-interpreted the 17th century Cretan poem Erotokritos as a mixed spectacle with music, acrobats and references to medieval folk festivals. The performance was first presented in 2014 as part of the Athens and Epidaurus Festival and has been re-run every summer since. His most recent endeavour is the publication of a collection of short stories called "Ftou xeleutheria gia olous!" (Everyone get free!, 2015).
Chainis talked to Greek News Agenda* about how Cretan music has evolved through the years, the anthropological and geographical uniqueness of Crete, the tradition of Anogia, the forgotten role of the lyra player as a master of ceremonies and how Erotokritos was the last European epic saga to be sung by the people.
One of Chainides' biggest hits is 'O Akrovatis':"The Acrobat" (1994), Lyrics & Music: Dimitris Apostolakis: "Everybody, take a look at how the acrobat tries to balance Everybody, take a look at how the stranger doesn't get dizzy. Take a look at the acrobat; even if he falls he laughs and never cries. Take a look at the bird of the desert that has a bleeding wing. It's still flying against time, even if it's going to suffer the shot of death. When time is against you, the price you pay in order to fly is to be left alone. Everybody, take a look at me, I'm asking for nothing else. (look at me) that I have broken wings on my back and I am trying to keep the balance like an acrobat. The day has passed and you still are not there, don't cry my beloved one."
Why do you think Cretan traditional music has remained alive for so long and is still evolving?
I consider labels like “traditional” to be tricky. Let´s start from the beginning. In the old days, people played instruments and sung without knowing that what they were playing was Cretan music. In each village there were musicians and enthusiasts that sung and danced all kinds of music: rizitika from the Lefka Ori mountains of western Crete, syrta from Chania, kontylies from eastern Crete, rembetokritika or tampachaniotika -as they are called- from the urban north coast of Crete, songs from Kalamata and Smyrna and religious psalms, without knowing what kind of music it was. They just knew them as tunes.
Furthermore, because of the rugged terrain of Crete, each small region had its own instruments. For example, in the times before and after WWII in eastern Crete, you could find groups (zygiés) who used a violin and a guitar, or a lyra played with a bow with bells and a daouli drum. In western Crete you had the lute and violin, played differently from the eastern parts of the island. In the north coast cities you could see boulgariá, an instrument like tabmouras or saz. In central Crete you had lyras escorted by mandola or mandolin. The mandolin was a fundamental instrument, played along with askomandoura, a type of bagpipe and a daouli drum. That is to say, people played whatever was available.
After the 70s and 80s you have a stylization of Cretan music. If you play pre-war recordings to young people involved with music now, they will not recognize it as Cretan music. When I met the first woman who sang Cretan songs, Lavrentia Bernidaki, sister of the great lute player Giannis Bernidakis or Baxevanis, she told me that in their group, Andreas Rodinos played viololyra (an instrument that’s a cross between the violin and the lyra), her brother Giannis played the lute, and they also had an accordionist and a clarinet player. This combination of instruments would be considered unthinkable in today's Cretan music.
In the last couple of decades there’s an ever increasing number of young people playing lyra, lute, mandolin - it’s crazy! However, especially during the last decade, and perhaps because Cretans feel that they are being culturally besieged by fundamentally different ways of life, Cretan music has become self-referential. While thousands of youngsters are playing and singing it, Cretan music became very extroverted, very masculine, it lost its female element, its introspectiveness and diversity.
So, you are saying that Cretan traditional music has been homogenized.
Yes, it has been homogenized and standardized. This "return to tradition" that everyone welcomes with joy is not a return to self-reflection. It is a chauvinistic, narcissistic return; I believe in what the poetess Katerina Gogou said, that “our roots are not there for us to return to them, but so that we can grow branches”. I would add that tradition has deep roots in a specific time-space, so that its branches can potentially spread across multiple places and times. Also, I believe that tradition is what can be paired to something else. The sterile, obsolete version of tradition that is displayed as an exhibit in a folklore museum is doomed to perish. In reality, what remains of tradition is only what is necessary, and the necessary is always a product of composition; and composition could never contain similar things. Good compositions are made from something that we consider our own, and something that we consider foreign, things that are opposed but yet complementary.
There is, however, something special about Crete that relates to why this very old music is still being played, isn’t there?
Yes, of course there is. Crete is one of the last quasi-closed societies. Why? First of all, because it is surrounded by sea, and therefore has a very definite geographical boundary, and secondly, on account of the land: Crete has three huge mountain ranges, with hundreds of peaks over two thousand metres high, and an impressive biodiversity, ranging from chestnut trees to palm trees. This gives the island self-sufficiency in food, but at the same time, an extremely uneven terrain. Due to this ruggedness of the land, always interrupted by mountains, allotments in the lowlands have always been small, and since there were no large farming plots, there were no feudal lords, so Crete has been a relatively classless society. This anthropological and geographical uniqueness makes it one of the last places in Greece where the continuity of musical expression has never been interrupted.
And of course Crete has some amazing people. Look, Cretans are a war tribe in decline. So, in the absence of wars, they engage in displays of masculinity, in displays of wealth, in illegal activities and so on. But nevertheless, there are minorities of Cretans who are real poetic warriors. There are people with soul, with self-denial, amazing warriors and citizens, in the sense of assuming responsibility for all; with all the hospitality, the openness towards diversity, the eternal enthusiasm, the self-abnegation, all this wonderful graceful exaggeration. This is unique. Truly unique. But these are minorities, as they always were, only now these minorities are even smaller.
What about the village Anogia in particular? It seems to produce an endless string of talented musicians.
I have collaborated with many musicians form Anogia. When I was learning Cretan music, several years ago, I played at weddings and festivals in Anogia, so I have played with Psarogiannis Xylouris, brother of Nikos Xylouris and the best lute player in Crete - along with Markogiannis. I’ve also been collaborating in albums and performances with Psarantonis for 15 years. Psarantonis is the greatest lyra player alive now, he is a narrative gravitational centre, he lives like a lyra player should. Quite a unique person.
I have worked with many other musicians from Anogia as well. It is a very beautiful village, people have a special sense humour, are quick-witted and they support each other, they have strong social bonds. For example, when a new lyra player makes his first appearance, half the village will show up to support him. They have a strong sense of solidarity. However, Anogia, like Crete itself, is not excluded from the nationwide and global decline. Do not forget that at this point in time, the entire world, from Western liberal democracies to Arabic theocratic regimes, lacks meaning. Right now there is no vision in the world. People cannot dedicate their actions. They cannot give meaning to existence. What kind of vision for the future do we offer young people? Most suggest trying to find a job to make money, but that is not a vision. That is the common meal of the prisoner. So the world is at an existential impasse. Neither Crete nor Greece can be excluded from that.
"The Tiger" (2000), Lyrics & Music: Dimitris Apostolakis, First version: Psarantonis: "I have a ravenous tiger within me which always waits for me and I for her, I hate her and she hates me, and she wants to kill me but i hope that she will become friendly with time. She has her teeth on my heart, her claws on my mind and for my own sake I fight for her And she makes me hate all the good things in this world so that i can sing to her with the deepest of sorrows. She forces me to cross mountains, valleys and chasms in order to embrace her in the wildest of dances, And when, at cold nights, she remembers her cages she lends me her pelt to wear. And when sometimes we lie drunk, almost in peace, so that each one can sleep, this still silence is like the one before the storm, like the final moment before she attacks."
You mentioned living “like a lyra player”. What is the role of the lyra player in Cretan music? How does the concept of ‘parea’ (gathering) and revel fit in the whole picture?
There are tons of lyra players around, but no one lives like a lyra player. No one expresses the objective of their role, which is to be a narrative centre of gravity. Something similar to what bards-narrators of Homeric epics were; in ancient Greece, there were thousands of them, wandering from place to place and narrating the epics while playing their instrument. Later on, the bard-narrator became a lyra player in Crete, and the lyra player became a rapper in New York.
Now, this narrative centre of gravity is basically lost. And along with it we lost the ring, the turf were musicians would play out their role. In the older days in Crete, the lyra player sat in the middle and the people around him danced. The lyrics (mantinades) were improvised, in a give-and-take between musicians and dancers, it was a whole theatrical undertaking. Now the lyra player is up on stage, separated from the people dancing below. The whole of Europe is plagued by the death of ceremonies, big and small. Christmas for example, was the celebration of nature’s new seed and was associated with the passage of time, but at the same time many people -consciously or unconsciously- were swept away by the river of the ceremony, experiencing the joy and deep mourning at the same time.
Of course ‘parees’ are still going strong, you can see “parees” forming spontaneously and they are often more successful than organized festivals. For example, in October during “rakokazana” celebrations, all hell breaks loose. But I rarely go to these things anymore; I miss this sacred weight of mourning. Up until some decades ago in these ceremonies, celebration was intertwined with mourning, birth with death, yin with yang, creation with destruction. The joy did not emerge from the prosperity and the abundance of meat and cakes. It was basically borne out of frugality, and the fact that everyone was present in the celebration, all the living along with all the dead and all the unborn. Joy sprung as flowers grow from dung, it came through death. And the people who took part in these celebrations were like sacred dancers balancing on the rope between the tragic and the ridiculous - a sacred intermediary between the primitive and the divine. This is lost now. Revels have lost their ancient, eternal weight, and therefore have lost their lyra player - Hierophant.
Lyra players no longer improvise, they play with a kind of exaggerated high energy that says we are here, we are the best men, our land is the best, so there is not room for anything else; in essence the whole thing becomes self-indulgent. Of course there are resistances. Crete is an amazing place. Even by imitating ceremonies, at some point, some people may manage to create actual ceremonies. I believe that with so many young people playing music today, something new will be born; something will spring up. At all times and places around the world, anything of beauty, spiritual works or artistic creations, have been products of a small but grand ‘holy minority’, as Shelley called it.
How has Erotokritos, the romance poem composed by Vitsentzos Kornaros in early 17th century Crete, influenced Cretan music and lyrics?
Erotokritos, up until recently, played the role that Homeric epics played in antiquity. This means that people knew Erotokritos by heart and sang it in gatherings, while doing agricultural work, when they were alone and felt longing, and everyone had a particular passage they liked. Lines from Erotokritos were also used as maxims, proverbs and generally the poem served as a value system. Just like the Homeric epics valued beauty, bravery, and honour, Erotokritos valued beauty, courage and wisdom.
Moreover, these poems share another distinctiveness, in that just as the Homeric epics in ancient Greece sustained the Greek language during the so-called ‘dark centuries’, Erotokritos passed the language to the newly established Greek state. For a language to be spoken it must be realized poetically and epically. This is the method of the epics. We should not forget what Borges said, that the highest kind of literature is poetry and the highest kind of poetry is the epic, because, like he said, only in an epic poem can a happy ending be justified. Erotokritos was the basic living manual of every Cretan, every shepherd in his sheepfold had a copy of Erotokritos.
Psarantonis and I learnt Erotokritos from the oral tradition. We are the its last narrators and we had the pleasure of presenting it in a performance with the group Hainides, many musicians, as well as the exceptional modern dance and acrobatics team "And yet it is moving." So I learnt this poem from listening to people reciting it; it is the last epic poem in Europe that up to at least 20 years ago was being sung by the people. For example, Nibelungenlied, the German epic poem, has not been sung for ages. That is what Erotokritos was and its function in Crete. It incorporated all of popular wisdom and was thus embraced by ordinary people.
*Interview by Ioulia Livaditi
Erotokritos - The Dreary Tidings: Lyrics
“Eλλάς” (Hellas or Greece) is a project that presents the crisis affecting Greece in the past years through the eyes of six authors, cartoonists and illustrators: George Botsos, Petros Christoulias, Thanassis Dimou, Michael Kountouris, Antonis Nikolopoulos (Soloup) and Thanassis Petrou.
Under the high patronage of the Greek Embassy in Rome and with the collaboration of Katerina Fragou (founder of Iris Literary Agency), the project was presented last year by Giuseppina Frassino for Tricromia gallery (Rome, Italy) in an endeavor to explore the crisis from an economic, social and political point of view.
The idea of the exhibition was to portray the crisis in pictures, hoping that through the Greek case one can understand the future of every European nation. At the same time, special tribute was paid to the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo that has become for many people, a symbol - like Greece- of freedom and courage.
Greek News Agenda* spoke to Katerina Fragou** who provided an insight to the project’s concept and future plans, as well as to the six participating artists*** who shared their views on how feasible it is for an illustrator-cartoonist to communicate the case of Greece abroad, taking into consideration the cultural differences between countries.
Can you provide an insight on how the “ελλάς” project came to life? What were the aims of the initiative; any plans for the future?
Katerina Fragou: The initial idea came from Tricromia, the Italian gallery in Rome and its owner, Giuseppina Frassino. Tricromia specializes in comic illustrators. Giuseppina Frassino asked me to help her find important comic illustrators occupied with the crisis and the problems it created in Greek society. She also suggested that, in case they happened not to have works on the crisis, she was willing to commission artworks. In Greece however, we lived in times of immense change for years and the crisis was, and still is, abundantly portrayed, especially in works of cartoonists.
The Italian gallery aimed to give food for thought to Italian society, which was in a similar situation.
The idea was to have a travelling exhibition or to present similar shows in other countries in galleries, museums or embassies. Judging from my contacts around the world, people in other countries are curious to see how we survive in Greece with all the problems we are facing.
We use to say that “a picture is worth a thousand words”; however, the work of illustrators and cartoonists is a bit special, as it involves political -often satirical- messages touching on delicate social problems. Judging from your participation in the “ελλάς” project, as well as from your overall working experience, how easy is it for an illustrator/cartoonist to communicate the case of “Greece” abroad, given the different cultural backgrounds between countries?
George Botsos: I tend to turn around the saying; the opposite could really be true: "a word is worth a thousand pictures". Words and images can be the source of infinite combinations and, moreover, our main field of inspiration. When you communicate visually, you are able to express a whole "text" in a single gesture, to tell a story with a "silent" symbolic movement. That is why for my contribution to the "Ελλάς" exhibition I've chosen to communicate without words, in the form of a triptych synthesis, using the universal language of comics, trying to surpass the possible different cultural backgrounds of our foreign audience.
To communicate the "Greek case" through artistic expression is totally different from a political or economic analysis. An illustrator-cartoonist is not striving to persuade through his work, but to send a message that is both intellectual and emotional, sometimes ambiguous in an aesthetically appealing way. If a creator is able to express his ideas about "Greece" in an interesting, original way, his Greek origin can work only as a “plus”.
Petros Christoulias: The task of communicating the case of Greece to a foreign public is not easy. Society is not compact - neither in Greece or abroad - and an artist deals with diverse audiences. Despite the difficulties however, an image can carry a message in a more abstract way, generalizing the situation that it tries to depict. This way it can be more effective than a thorough documentary.
I used this approach when I was "drawing the crisis" as an abstract confusion of inked lines and motives. In the first image, the symbolic representation of the gloomy atmosphere is sitting like a heavy cloud over Athens and its people, while in the second image, a high wave threatens to gulp down a symbol of Greece’s positive face, that of its ancient history and culture.
Thanassis Dimou:"I admire the ability of political cartoonists to do this job and to encapsulate reality, but I have not practiced this profession myself. Humor, however, is a way of handling the reality that one is faced with, while comics and illustrations generally offer readers a creative escape. The language of sketches is global and this is its strength".
Michael Kountouris: My cartoons rarely come with words or captions. In order to describe or comment on people or a situation, I opt for symbols and images, making sure they are clear and intelligible to the public, both at home and abroad. The same rule applied to the 'ελλάς' exhibition: the cartoons I chose with which to take part in the exhibition were such that that pictures and symbols could be understood by the Italian public.
With over thirty years working experience in the field, I can assure you that it is much easier to talk about the crisis –whether economic, political or social - with a sketch than it is to deal with it in everyday life.
Antonis Nikolopoulos (Soloup): Yes, it’s true… you just described my daily life in the satirical and political newspaper “to Pontiki” where I’ve been working as a cartoonist for the past twelve years. Every day, togetherwith my colleague journalists, we are up against deadlines. For this reason, we have several meetings at the newspaper so as to discuss our reports, what happens in Greek parliament or abroad etc. Then I also need to be informed about what other newspapers or portals report. Finally, all this information needs to be transformed into a satirical sketch. With one cartoon, you must report and comment on a political or a social situation. Not only do you have to describe the story behind the report but you must communicate your thoughts, your point of view about what is happening.
Every nation lives with its own preconceptions. All around the world, people tend to believe that their country is a little bit better than others; and all around the world, there is a core national narrative regarding “the superiority of our race”. We have to bear in mind that this type of prejudice may exist, when we wish to communicate our country and our messages abroad. You have to respect other cultures and keep in mind that everyone loves their country, customs, traditions and way of life as much as you love yours.
It is not so easy to communicate your work around the world if you come from a small country like Greece. Other people don’t understand your language and something like that is a huge obstacle. But the problems we are faced with nowadays, such as the financial crisis, nationalism, immigration, poverty etc are global. So, if you want to communicate something clear about these issues, you also discoverways of arousing the interest of people around the world.
Thanassis Petrou: I took part in the exhibition, more as a comic book artist rather than a political cartoonist. A political cartoon is the art of the ephemeral: it comments on the daily social and political life, and it is often difficult to be understood, not only by the foreign but by the Greek public as well, if it refers to events that took place a long time ago that might be forgotten. For the “ελλάς” exhibition, I tried to create works that could have wider reading and be understood outside a narrow Greek context.
The different cultural background between countries is not that different between creators, because we have all seen and studied the work of foreign artists for many years, so there is proximity in our expression and aesthetics.
Unfortunately Greece, for years now, has been at the heart of developments taking place at European level, so both publishers and the public abroad expect to see works commenting on the crisis we are experiencing. From my own personal experience, having published a series of comics in France and reading the comments and reviews that followed online, it was made clear to me that audiences are looking for associations with the crisis in anything to do with Greece, even in works that do not directly relate to the crisis.
* Interview by Eleftheria Spiliotakopoulou
**Κaterina Fragou was born in Athens, where she studied French Literature. She lived in Paris for 15 years, where she also studied Comparative Literature. In 1995, she established Iris Literary Agency in Athens, undertaking the translation of works from all over the world into Greek.
She is working on making Greek literature known abroad, whilst working at the same time as a translator and an editor. She also organizes exhibitions.
***Authors- illustrators – cartoonists (in alphabetical order):
George Botsos was born in Athens, in 1960. In 1983 he graduated from the Department of Political Sciences of the University of Athens. He published his first comic in “Babel” comics’ magazine (1987). This was the beginning of a long lasting collaboration with Babel, in which he presented 60 short comics. His comics have been published in magazines in France (L’Echo des Savannes) and Italy (Dolce Vita).He has also been working as a freelance illustrator for books and magazines (such as Marie Claire) and as creative director for advertising agencies. Since 2000, he has been teaching the art of comics and is director of the Sketch-Comics-Cartoon department of AKTO Art & Design College.He has also written and illustrated eight books for children and exhibited his paintings in several solo shows.
Petros Christoulias was born in Chalkida in 1979 and studied Fine Arts at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. He works as a painter, comic creator and illustrator of children's books. The comics he has written and illustrated have been published in magazines and websites and have received many awards. He has also been involved in animation projects. He has participated in almost 20 collective comic expositions in Greece and an exposition on his book “Trenches” was held at the Greek National Library. He has also participated at the festival La Storia in Piazza, at the Palazzo Ducale in 2011 where he received honours in “conflicts war balloons” for “Trenches”. In 2015 he participated at the collective exhibition “Ελλάς” at Tricromia gallery in Rome and in the Ravenna festival. All of his books have received different prizes.
Thanassis Dimou is a graduate of the Department of Theatre Studies of the University of Athens (2000) and the “Theatro Technis K. Koun” Drama School (2001). Since then, he has collaborated with the National Theatre of Greece, the National Theatre of Northern Greece, the Athens and Epidaurus Festival and many important repertory theatres in Athens (Theatro Technis, Theatro tou Notou, Praxis, Porta etc.) in works of Aristophanes, Shakespeare, Goldoni, Moliere, Kleist, Chekhov, Durrenmatt, as well as in contemporary Greek and foreign plays. He also works as a cartoonist and recently wrote and illustrated the “Winter’s tale” (based on William Shakespeare) for which he received the National Award for Children’s Book Illustration (2009).
Michael Kountouris was born in Rhodes, in 1960. Since 1985, he has been working as an editorial cartoonist in Greek newspapers and magazines. He currently works at the (“Efimerida Ton Syntakton”) newspaper; he also cooperates with Courrier International and Caglecartoons. He has taken part in many solo and group exhibitions in Greece and abroad, such as The Hague Sculpture-GIANTS (The Netherlands, 2004), “G20” (Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburg, 2009), “Ελλάς” (‘Tricromia’ Gallery, Rome, 2015), ‘Fifty-fifty’ Gallery (Düsseldorf 2016). He has received awards in various cartoon contests at the United Nations, Portugal, Spain, Belgium, Italy, Turkey, Iran, Greece, etc. As a children’s books illustrator he has been awarded with the Illustration Prize of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY, 2002) and with the First EBGE Prize on Graphic Design and Illustration (2006). Since 2011, he has been working on innovative projects regarding the use of cartoons in education (Educartoon).
Antonis Nikolopoulos (Soloup) is a caricaturist who collaborates with “to Pontiki”, as well as other major newspapers and magazines in Greece. He studied Political Sciences at Panteion University and obtained a PhD in Cultural Technology and Communication from the University of the Aegean. He has published 13 books with comics and cartoons. His Phd is about the History of comics in Greece. His graphic novel Aivali, which deals with the violent expatriation that took place during the war in Asia Minor between the Greeks and the Turks, in the wake of World War I,received the prize of the best comics and of the best scenario at Comicdom Athens 2015; It has been translated into French and Turkish and is the first graphic novel that is the subject of an exposition at the Benaki Museum travelling all over Greece. In 2015, he participated in the exhibition “Ελλάς” in Rome and in the Ravenna realistic comic festival “Komikazen”. In 2016, Aivali was presented in Brussels, Paris, Istanbul and Ayvalik.
Thanassis Petrou was born in Thessaloniki in 1971. He studied French Literature in Thessaloniki and Paris and has a Master’s in Sociolinguistics. In 2002, he won the first national comic prize of “9” magazine while he started to work for the magazine. In 2005, he completed his studies in comics with distinction (AKTO Art & Design College). He has published comics and cartoons in major magazines and newspapers in Greece and has participated in festivals in Greece and other countries. Since 2012, he has been teaching Sketch, Comics and Cartoons. In 2015, he participated in the group exhibition “Ελλάς” at Tricromia gallery in Rome and in the Ravenna festival. He has illustrated and, in some cases, written scripts for comic books, such as: The Marathon battle (Patakis, 2015), Actors (Cartoonark, 2013, which received the Mention of EBGE Prize on Design and Illustration), Giousouri and other fantastic stories (Topos editions, 2012, which received the Best Comic Prize in Comicdom Athens 2012), Pararlama and other stories (Topos editions, 2011) and The corpse (Jemma Press, 2011, which received the first Cover Prize in Comicdom Athens and the prize of the best comic in EBGE Prize on Design and Illustration; in May 2015, it was published in France by Steinkis.
Kiriakos Sifiltzoglou was born in 1983 in the city of Drama in Northern Greece where he lives. He has studied Law and Political Sciences at the University of Thessaloniki. He has published four poetry books to critical acclaim: Στο σπίτι του κρεμασμένου (Thraka, 2015), Με ύφος Iνδιάνου (Melani Editions, 2014), Μισές αλήθειες (Melani Editions, 2012) and Έκαστος εφ' ω ετάφη (Gavrielides Editions, 2007) His poems have appeared in magazines and anthologies and recently in the anthologies of contemporary Greek poetry Futures: Poetry of the Greek Crisis, edited by Theodoros Chiotis (Penned in the Margins, 2015) and Austerity Measures, The New Greek Poetry, edited by Karen Van Dyck (Penguin, 2016).
Kiriakos Sifiltzoglou spoke to Reading Greece* about his latest poetry collection which “includes prose-like poems, poems and letters” noting that he “chose mostly persons whose life and art were tried hard by history, death, madness, even by art itself; persons whose works, however, constituted ‘milestones’ in the world of art”. As for the poetic language, he comments that “the theme defines the language, but language may, in turn, alter the theme, offering new perspectives or even a new reason why”.
Asked about whether poetry and photography are communicating vessels, he says that “a poem may contain such intense and potent 'magery' that you feel as if reading a photo or, in turn, a photo may avail of such abstraction that can withstand multiple readings and be read as a poem”. As to the effect of reality on poetry and vice versa, he notes that “reality surrounds us all – breathing, shouting, singing, making us angry, turning its back on us, engulfing us – in an all-inclusive co-existence”, while in turn, for poetry to re-form reality, there is required “a peculiar combination of vision and consistency”.
Your latest poetry collection, titled Στο σπίτι του κρεμασμένου [In the house of the hanged] was awarded the O Anagnostis Literary Review Awards 2016 for poetry. Tell us a few things about the book.
Στο σπίτι του κρεμασμένου is my forth poetry collection. The award was both a great joy and honor, not just for the book but as recognition of the ten years I have been writing poetry. This poetry collection was quite different from the previous ones, both in terms of theme and language. It includes prose-like poems, poems and letters. They all refer to real artists, writers, poets, painters, photographers, from Kafka and Cioran to Rober Walser, Tsvetaeva, Mark Rothko etc. I put them in eras and places different from the ones they lived in; they meet and interact with each other, uttering words they have never actually spoken.
I chose mostly persons whose life and art were tried hard by history, death, madness, even by art itself; persons whose works, however, constituted ‘milestones’ in the world of art. In other words, I underwent a “re-mystification” process – like short films on a blank page – for artists that have left their mark on me, either through their work or some aspects of their life; and I felt as if I returned, in writing, the love that they unwittingly bestowed upon me.
As Petros Golitsis notes, Sifiltzoglou, “in his capacity as a traveler, captures snapshots through his photographic writing, resulting in often cryptic ‘conclusions’”. Would you say that poetry and photography are communicating vessels?
A poem may contain such intense and potent “imagery” that you feel as if reading a photo or, in turn, a photo may avail of such abstraction that can withstand multiple readings and be read as a poem. It’s been three years that I am involved in photography and I have come to realize that poetry and photography can go hand in hand, not so much in terms of representation or “a decisive moment”, but mostly in terms of figurative meaning, intense meaning; a bullet that strikes instantaneously and aims straight to the soul, the mind and the eye. A shot that hits all three may act both as a poem and a photo- as long as the artist arms, fires and shoots straight to the target.
Your poetic language decomposes conventional linguistic norms and established conventions. What role does language play in your poetry?
From my first through my fourth poetry collection, language varies, shifts, taking shape in different ways. I’m not just interested in the theme, in ‘what’ I say but I try to baptize and re-baptize it in a new way of linguistic expression – difficult bets not easily won. I sometimes think that the theme defines the language, but language may, in turn, alter the theme, offering new perspectives or even a new reason why.
Language is the vehicle, the engine, but it may also become the fuel, or even the driver, it can move very fast, take dangerous turns and it may even send you down the cliff, straight to the abyss, in a meaningless leap; attention is required and the artist has no excuse saying “I was unaware”. Therefore, I try, by “guessing”, by turning upside down, not just words, but whole sentences to give my poems each time a different form – hoping that, even to some extent, I have managed to do so, given that what we want and what we achieve can be completely different things.
As Fryni Kostara eloquently put it, Sifiltzoglou is “not a poet of the elaborate but a poet of the substantial, who, through the depiction of the simple things of everyday life, urges us to look behind the superficial”. What is the effect of reality on poetry? And, vice versa, how is reality re-formed/trans-formed in poetry?
Reality surrounds us all – breathing, shouting, singing, making us angry, turning its back on us, engulfing us – in an all-inclusive co-existence. Even what we call “everyday reality” is actually a major part of our life, where everything can be found. I often say that I picture reality as a “huge lovely dump”, from where you can fish diamonds; even completely worthless materials that, at a first glance, seem non-poetic, may be transformed into poetry. It all depends on how open you are, how socially aware, how sensitive your ears are to what is calling or whispering to you – what additional windows, doors, skylights, basements or micro-cosmos you are in need of.
As to whether poetry may reform reality, it depends on the individual, from the artist to every single reader; and it’s demanding, tricky, requiring a peculiar combination of vision and consistency. In other words, it comes at a cost – yet a worthy one. I can’t say more, just bear in mind the words “vision”, “consistency”, “cost”.
Should poetry be socially or even politically ‘militant’ in times of crisis?
There are no “musts” in Art, yet there are certain “obsessions” among artists. These two elements can rarely go hand in hand just casually, spontaneously, or unselfishly. Even in extreme situations, social or political ones, “musts” feel strange or raise suspicions. The thing is whether the artist wants or can overcome himself and his obsessions so as to hearken to the extreme and express it in his way. In many cases, the artist considers himself to be the centre of the universe, even when the world around him is on fire, while in other cases he chases after this extreme reality and blows everything up.
In my opinion, extreme situations give birth to intense stimuli, which, depending on the sensitivity and the antennas of each individual, may become landmarks or prove to be nothing. There are people saying that “the era indicates or dictates…”. I, on the other hand, think that when the “natural frequency” – to use a physics term – of the creator, vis-à-vis extreme situations, coincides with the “natural frequency” of society, then yes, the “pace” of poetic verses can even make bridges fall.
You have been living in a provincial town of Northern Greece. How do things stand as far as artistic and literary production is concerned in the Greek province? How easy is for writers of the Greek province to have their voice heard?
Although I have been living in a small provincial town of Northern Greece called Drama, I should say that literary production has and continues to be doing well. Both in the previous decades and during the last few years, there are quite notable writers here. In a small town, time flows slowly allowing for a deep assimilation of everything – if, of course, that’s what you are after. It’s as if you are part of life and as it unfolds, you can take a step back, keeping your distance, so as to make the next few steps on a more solid ground. Not to mention that you really have the time and convenience to read wonderful books by others!
I truly enjoy walking around the town, greeting people every two steps, engulfed by a feeling of familiarity; I can’t stand the myth of the distant, mysterious, unsociable poet. North of my town, there are virgin forests and rivers, uninhabited villages, rare species of fauna and flora; it’s there that you bend your head, free of ostensible poses, it’s there that you can feel living poetry dying and then created anew.
No, a provincial town does in no way deprives you of “a large audience”, especially now with the internet and social media – as for the past, maybe, not to say definitely yes. For an artist, whether living in the capital or in the most distant town or village, the main agony is what to “bring to the table”; the book leaves his hands and starts its journey – it’s somewhere on the way that it will find the “erudite reader”, even if he doesn’t form part of the larger audience.
*Interview by Athina Rossoglou
Nikos Erinakis (1988, Athens) is a Doctor of Philosophy in Philosophy (Universities of London and Oxford), having studied Economics (AUEB), Philosophy and Comparative Literature (Warwick) and Philosophy of the Social Sciences (LSE). He has published two poetry books Σύντομα όλα θα καίγονται και θα φωτίζουν τα μάτια σου [Soon everything will be burning and will lit up your eyes] (Roes, 2009) and Ανάμεσα σε όσα πέφτει η σκιά [In between where the shadow falls] (Gavrielidis, 2013), as well as a translation of poems by Georg Trakl and passages by Martin Heidegger under the title Σκοτεινή αγάπη μιας άγριας γενιάς [Dark love of a wild generation] (Gavrielides, 2011). Essays and poems by him have been included in anthologies, have been published in numerous journals and have been translated into five languages.
Nikos Erinakis spoke to Reading Greece* about what drove him to poetry and what is his driving force noting that “what fascinated me, and still does, is the tension between voids and freedom, the quest of a poetry which the only ideal that recognizes is authenticity and beauty; away from a return to the absurd, but close to the configuration of the logical”. Asked about the interrelation between poetry and music, he discusses that “poetry should use all tools together in order to be exalted in the field of imaginativeness until it can become what it was born for or what gave birth to us: a game of beauty”.
He also reckons that “in the face of a contemporary post-modern drift towards a standardized instrumental mass society, it seems to me that through creative creation the possibilities of an authentic and genuine life may be awakened”, adding that “the breaking down of barriers between art and life, i.e. living creatively and thus authentically, may bring the quest of realising a thriving artistic culture back to the centre of poetic and philosophic inquiry”. He concludes that “poetry cannot remain simply a shelter, a lee or an escape; poetry can operate as a path towards a newfound reality. Inside there, in the great risk, we shall find salvation; the marriage, and not the assimilation, of oneness with the whole”.
You have published two poetry books, which seem as a quest for balance and sense in a world that has lost its pace and meaning. What drove you to poetry? And what is your driving force?
Beauty and pain. It was never a matter of choice; it was rather a matter of necessity. Many say that they write in order to be saved, not to lose their minds. As for me, writing does not save me, but rather, I guess, pushes more violently over the cliff.
What fascinated me, and still does, is the tension between voids and freedom, the quest of a poetry which the only ideal that recognizes is authenticity and beauty. Away from a return to the absurd, but close to the reconfiguration of the logical. It seems to me that a certain transcendental [with relation to the sacred and not the religious] range of thought and expression needs to be recreated, in order for us to cross the contemporary pause. We need to achieve the identification of poetic thought with stochastic poetry [as met, for instance, in the Presocratics]. Far away from the plain criticism and irony that characterize postmodernism, Ι feel that the aim of poetry is the development of a new imaginary. It seems the right time for poetry to suggest something novel again, to raise a proposition, to stop following life and convince life to follow her.
“Love, death and revolution. That’s where the game has always been played and will continue to be played”. Where do you draw your inspiration from?
From anything that I find authentic or to be a path towards authenticity. There is no reason to fear the big words, the hackneyed. I always tell to myself: Never put writing above experience. In other words, if you have to choose between being lost in the hair of a girl or inside words, choose the former. And also: never forget the crucial things; for example, what it means to be sun-kissed as, while randomly fooling around, you stare at a bougainvillea. Such are the ways to acquire an identity.
In any case, I consider critically important to read much more than I write. I constantly remind myself that one must write only when one has something new to say, otherwise silence sounds much better.
One, thus, needs to discover words that float above limits and give pace to anything silent that is ready to become something. Words that dig into the soil, seeking to express the urgent. These are the words that supply the necessary means to face the sky as an abyss below us, but also often leave us at the mercy of a strong propensity for silence. This is the kind of poetry into which our steps should burn. Chances are, nevertheless, that one shall most probably fail.
It has been noted that the influence of Odysseus Elytis and his Eternal Moment is evident in your poems both in terms of style and theme. How do you respond to that?
Really? That’s nice to hear—and perhaps it may be also right. But if one asked me about my deeper influences I would answer that my mind has more often got lost in ‘dialogues’ with words of the following literary ‘archetypes’: Heraclitus, Blake, and Rimbaud; Hölderlin, Trakl, and Celan; Keats, Pound and Eliot; Homer, Solomos, and Cavafy.
What role does music play in your life? What about the interrelation between poetry and music in your artistic ventures?
I am deeply interested in the conjunction of creative arts; and mostly, in the marriage of the pre-lingual (pre-Logos) and the lingual (Logos). The difficulty of the encounter and the discourse remains, and that is why the attempt of discovering its structure is based on the secret of the innate rhythm. For me, the only remaining solution is an appeal to the openness.We need an anti-biographic kind of poetry, which, at the same time, will be able to express the biography of us all—an ideal marriage between the individual and the collective. We need an experience of poetry that remains transcendental. We need to restore the experience of the sacred and the element of initiation. Beyond unnecessary manichaeistic dilemmas between logic and emotion, instinct and intuition, poetry should use all tools together in order to be exalted in the field of imaginativeness until it can become what it was born for or what gave birth to us: a game of beauty. In a nutshell, it seems to me that Dionysus is still around, and I ‘m trying to locate him.
"Even if inertia is against everything this word maintains, as it is able to lead to negative thinking, it can inspire us to be authentic, not follow the mass, be creative, autonomous and find joy into moments of complete freedom of thought”. Could you elaborate on that?
We find ourselves ‘thrown’, as Heidegger would say, into a world and a situation not of our own making, already disposed by moods and particular commitments, with a past behind us that constrains our choices. The "ethic of authenticity", if radicalized, may provide us with more fruitful responses to the tensions of post-modern morality and enrich the answers generated by the more mainstream tradition of the "ethic of autonomy”. An authentic life is not one that can be simply discovered and then experienced; it is one that needs to be creatively created. In the face of a contemporary post-modern drift towards a standardized instrumental mass society, it seems to me that through creative creation the possibilities of an authentic and genuine life may be awakened.
One may choose between living a life based on what one rationally believes is best for one, i.e. a life in which one acts on one’s good reasons, and living a life based on what one creatively creates, regardless of whether it is good or bad for one, but with the certainty that it is truly one’s own creation. It seems to me that the breaking down of barriers between art and life, i.e. living creatively and thus authentically, may bring the quest of realising a thriving artistic culture back to the centre of poetic and philosophic inquiry.
It is through this creative openness to the yet unthinkable and unimaginable that genuine authenticity may obtain. There is no possible way to predict exactly what may occur through such a leap into the open and what its consequences could be, but this is also the main source of its beauty—besides, as Hölderlin writes in the opening verses of Patmos: “where the danger is, also grows the saving power.”
“More than a few can write masterfully but only a handful poetically. And what is missing nowadays is an unexpectedly unprecedented, but, most important, timely lyricism”. What role is poetry called to play nowadays? What about the new generation of Greek poets?
You can tell whether a poem is good or not, by noticing whether when you finish reading it, you have a tendency to change yourself or to change the world. Poetic writing of any kind educates; true poetry transforms—that is, I believe, a critical difference. The aim of poetry is not to explain the world, or slightly changed it. The purpose of poetry is to make the world its own—to transform the world into itself.
At a time when language has been exhausted we cannot keep giving away our most beautiful words leaving their meanings and semiotics to the vulgarians. We need to create new symbolic forms for our individual and collective ideas and actions. A poetry that is not just language; it is simultaneous contact with the pre-lingual and post-lingual stage. Poets of a certain height have proved the feasibility of a revival of the language. Such a possible regeneration could regenerate our imagination too, and that would allow us to visualize and thus to induce the regeneration of our reality. Poetry cannot remain simply a shelter, a lee or an escape; poetry can operate as a path towards a newfound reality. Inside there, in the great risk, we shall find salvation; the marriage, and not the assimilation, of oneness with the whole.
Whether the contemporary Greek poets of the new generation are indeed capable of winning, or even taking part in, such a high bet, remains an open and tricky question. In any case, fortunately or not, we live in interesting times--we shall, thus, see.
*Interview by Athina Rossoglou
Lena Kallergi (1978) is a poet and translator. She has published two books of poetry: Κήποι στην άμμο (Gardens on sand, Gavrielides, 2010) – which received the Maria Polydouri Award for New Poets – and Περισσεύει ένα πλοίο (One ship apart, Gavrielides, 2016); as well as two volumes of poetry in collaboration with the ‘Ομάδα Από Ποίηση’ (Poetry Team, Gavrielides, 2010 and 2012). She has translated poetry by Giacomo Leopardi, Luis Cernuda, Mario Vitti and others.
Lena Kallergi spoke to Reading Greece* about her two poetry collections noting that while the former was “about stubbornly defending my dreams even if the soil where I could cultivate them was not always ideal”, the latter is “about coming to terms, at least partly, with uncertainty, with the unknown, and with continuing the journey even when a feeling of being adrift is prevalent”. She discusses the dominant role of the sea in her poems, while she comments that her poems, though not surrealistic in their entirety, bear “traces of surrealism” noting that “poetry and reality constitute both complementary and contrasting concepts”.
She concludes that she is “fortunate to be part of a generation of poets that includes so many diverse and talented voices” and that “the act of creating significant art is an act of faith and resistance in itself and it can become a vessel of, among other things, beauty, truth, and hope. Poets will continue to create and to enclose these treasures in their work”.
Περισσεύει ένα πλοίο was recently published, almost six years after your first poetry collection. What differentiates this collection from Κήποι στην Άμμο? How has your poetry evolved over the years?
Six years is a long time, much has happened, I evolved as a person, and my second book feels to me very different from the first one. It is more about moving away from myself and venturing out into the vast, always unknown world. Κήποι στην άμμο was, in many ways, a book about stubbornly defending my dreams even if the soil where I could cultivate them was not always ideal. Περισσεύει ένα πλοίο can be read as a book of autonomous poems about traveling at sea and about a language evolving, but also as the journey of a person, of a language, and of poetry itself.
The sea is dominant in both books but it assumes a different role in the second one, where the human body emerges as one of the very few certainties a person can have during a lifetime. It is also a book about coming to terms, at least partly, with uncertainty, with the unknown, and with continuing the journey even when a feeling of being adrift is prevalent.
The sea, the journey, travelling, change and their transcription to the body and language are recurrent themes in your poetry. Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I grew up near the sea and I carry it with me wherever I go. After I left my hometown in Evia, I lived in Patra, San Diego, Lancaster, Athens, and I travel to other countries and cities. I always need to know where the sea is in order to understand my coordinates, my position on the map. Reading, traveling, moving from place to place and from language to language, working as a linguist and a translator, meeting people and hearing their stories, having access to their writings, being a writer myself, growing older; all these things have defined me, in a way, and I guess they live in my poetry. Other than that, anything can be a reason for a poem.
In his review of Περισσεύει ένα πλοίο, Dimitris Athinakis notes that “in most poems, we delve into what the mind perceives as its own reality, which in no way upsets the waters of the reality of others”. Would you characterize your poetry as surrealistic? What has been the influence of Nikos Engonopoulos on your work?
Nikos Engonopoulos is one of my favorite Greek poets. I am never tired of reading his work. His poetry makes me feel free and makes me want to write poetry, so he must have influenced me a lot. I do not consider my poetry to be surrealistic, even though traces of surrealism can be found in it, but then again, traces of surrealism can be found almost everywhere. I think what Dimitris Athinakis observed is that the world my poems suggest in Περισσεύει ένα πλοίο is not a world which wants to impose itself on others. Different realities can exist simultaneously without necessarily being in conflict.
The poetic voice in Περισσεύει ένα πλοίο is a traveler in awe of his/her own ignorance and uncertainty, be it existential, linguistic, or other. So, there is a lot of room for differences, multiple realities, and undecided routes. The ship mentioned in the title and present in almost every page of the book «περισσεύει», it is the odd one out; it is redundant, but also excessive, superabundant as in surplus, and also a unique, special vessel. I chose this title because it allows for multiple meanings and interpretations and it includes both positive and negative connotations concerning the status of the ship.
“In poetry I find ways to understand, to feel, to communicate a deeper layer of experiences, images and desires”. How is poetry related to reality? Do they constitute complementary or contrasting concepts?
I would say that poetry and reality constitute both complementary and contrasting concepts. At times, “contrasting” means “complementary”, and vice versa. Language has many ways of creating categories that both facilitate and confine communication. I do not find that I escape reality by reading or writing poetry, and I do not think I construct a completely separate reality with my poems. Poetry is my window, my tool, my secret music, my third leg and my limp, my facilitator and my biggest challenge, my beautiful rose and ugly truth, my imaginative reality.
You have published two volumes of poetry as a part of the ‘Oμάδα Από Ποίηση (Poetry Team)'. Tell us a few things about these collective works.
The “Poetry Team”, «Ομάδα Από Ποίηση», was the result of experimentation with a group of poets a few years ago. We met in a creative writing workshop and decided to continue our meetings and working with each other’s poems after the workshop was over. This is how the first group was created. For the second book, we took this experimentation one step further and decided to write on roughly the same subject, drawing from common myths and archetypes that interested all of us. In our second book, entitled Υπέρ Ονειρίας, we did not assign each poem to one poet but considered them all to belong to the Team, thus taking the concept of collaboration to a new level. These experimentations were very fertile and helped me discover a lot about my personal identity as a poet, my preferences, etc. Poetry is essentially a lonely art; going against this reality does not change it, and it shouldn’t, but this journey offered me knowledge, encouragement, and friendship.
What about the new generation of Greek poets? Could poetry act as a paradigm of political action in the current unfavorable social conjuncture?
I am fortunate to be a part of a generation of poets that includes so many diverse and talented voices. It is motivating, challenging and enjoyable to read so much good poetry in our times. I often hear and read about the vast amount of bad poetry that is written and published today, but I want to stress the fact that I encounter poetry of great strength and originality very frequently. These remarkable poems constitute political actions, as far as I am concerned, in any social conjuncture, not only in the – especially unfavorable- current one. The act of creating significant art is an act of faith and resistance in itself and it can become a vessel of, among other things, beauty, truth, and hope. Poets will continue to create and to enclose these treasures in their work.
* Interview by Athina Rossoglou
Michalis Spourdalakis is Professor of Political Science at the University of Athens. Since April 2014 he is also the Dean of the School of Economics and Politics. Professor Spourdalakis is a founding member of SYRIZA and a member of the board of the Nicos Poulantzas Institute.
Professor Spourdalakis holds a Ph.D. from Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. He has published in the field of political sociology in both English and Greek, and part of his work has been translated into Spanish and Chinese. His books and articles have elaborated themes on political representation with an emphasis on political parties' relation to society, culture and the state; on local and regional administration and development; on the welfare state and collective consumption; and on Greek political institutions and policies since 1974. His books include: The Rise of the Greek Socialist Party (1988); Populism and Politics (in Greek, with Nicos Mouzelis and Thanos Libovats, 1990); PASOK: Party-State-Society, (ed., in Greek, 1998). His recent publications in English include “Left strategy in the Greek cauldron: explaining Syriza’s success” (Socialist Register, 2013), Rekindling Hope: Syriza’s Challenges and Prospects (Transform! Network, Yearbook 2016) and Becoming Syriza Again (January 2016). Professor Spourdalakis is the editor of The Socialist Register in Greece.
Michalis Spourdalakis spoke to Rethinking Greece* about the evolution of the discipline of political science in Greece, the detrimental effect of the dominance of the "underdog vs. modernist" scheme in Greece public discourse and its role in legitimizing specific policies, the colonization of the social democratic project by neo-liberarism, the elements of irrational dishonesty some opposition parties demonstrate as well as their belief that they have 'property rights' on public inistitutions. Professor Spourdalakis also talks about SYRIZA´s struggle to survive in a hostile political enviroment and the need to support weaker classes while solidifing the board social coalistion that brought the party to power. Finally, he stresses the importance of reversing the current representation crisis, so that the Left can implement one of its prime goals: "to create the conditions and the space so that the subordinate classes and strata can fight for a greater social transformation."
In your 1991 paper with Nikiforos Diamantouros on "Political science in Greece" you mention that “Greek political science has had so far a minimal impact on state and societal development in Greece”. Is this still true?
To begin with, there is no unified and universally accepted theory of political science. There is no such thing as value-free political science, and more generally social science. Thus, one has to qualify the term, especially when we talk about its impact on the field of “state and societal development”. Since there is no value-free science, it should be clear that there is a huge difference between “critical” and “apologetic” political science. We can now qualify this general statement as well as clarify what we mean by state power or societal development. Again, these terms are not neutral or free from competing interests; thus to judge the impact of political science on them, one has to be clear on the criteria used to measure said impact.
At the time the above mentioned article was written, political science in Greece, due to turbulent and undemocratic circumstances, was grossly underdeveloped, especially if one were to compare it to the state of the art in other European countries. Indeed, political science, in all of its traditions, had very little impact on public life. However, it must be noted that the political and social developments of the post-Dictatorship era did affect the course of the development of the discipline and vice versa. This can be seen in the issues with which the rather small community of social/ political sciences, most of them having returned from abroad (usually Western Europe, and North America), was preoccupied. The research was focused on: the transition to democracy; general studies of democratic institutions; the prospects of the country’s membership in the European Community (EC) and after 1981 on the issues arising from its accession to the EC /EU; on the imposition and the nature of the Colonels regime; as well as more macro studies on the key aspects of the Greek social formation (social classes, state power, studies on aspects of the country’s of political economy).
Roughly speaking, in the first couple of decades of the Metapolitefsi, research in political science focused on themes deriving from the pressing challenges the country faced. Within this context, many studies tended to be over-theorized but clearly maintained a strong inclination towards the critical tradition of the discipline and therefore had indeed limited impact on the country’s development. However, since the 1990s, as the country struggled with the challenges of Europeanization, and under the new influence of EU research money, the discipline’s strong critical theoretical inclination gave way to more mainstream studies which, while one has to recognize their technical and even academic superiority, were less theoretical and more issue oriented and thus served as a strong legitimizing force for governmental policies. One of the extreme consequences of the latter was the public intervention of key representatives of the discipline during the crisis, when the borders between research results and propagandistic statements became very unclear.
Simplistic schemas and frameworks for understanding complex macro-phenomena generally tend to become popular. Their simplicity provides an easy and convenient analysis for mainstream researchers and/or laymen, who have no interest in challenging given perceptions and understandings. After all, even the artificial or the fictitious tend to be more easily operational. Even when they appear polarized and divided, societies are an epiphenomenon of very complex processes and never the result of ideological or political choices of the involved parties. Thus, although arguments of cultural dualism were common for analysing issues in countries during periods of de-colonization and democratization, they were proven more politically than analytically useful.
The Greek use of the above mentioned analysis is no exception. The artificial divide between "underdog and modernist culture" has primarily functioned as a legitimizing force to the modernizing strategy led by PASOK governments (1993-2004) as well as to the complementary strategy of New Democracy (2004-2007) which aimed at the "re-foundation of the state". In fact without great risk, I would argue that this understanding of the Greek social formation even affected the content of the political polemics during the 2010 crisis: The unilaterally biased definitions of "populism" and their inflationary use by the dominant political forces legitimized the most unholy political alliances, which not only organized the imposition the most aggressive austerity polices but also promoted the so-called theory of the "two extremes", equating the rise of the extreme right forces with the radical left. This was a development that soon displayed its detrimental effects upon democracy, as Golden Down entered the parliament with a commanding share of the popular vote.
According to some commentators, SYRIZA seems to be taking a social-democratic turn, an example of which is Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras participation in the task force meeting of European socialists in Paris last March, and his appeal to the values of social democracy as a means of ending the crisis facing Greece and Europe. Do you agree with this assessment?
There is no doubt that this assessment is a rather superficial one. To some extent it reveals the shallow analyses that characterized public discourse in Greece. First of course, we must clarify what we mean by "social democracy". Do we mean the left wing current that dominated the politics of advanced capitalist democracies for thirty years after the Second World War, or its evolution in the last some twenty years under the adoption of Blair’s Third Way strategy, essentially hegemonized by neoliberalism? If by social democracy we mean the former, whose close ties with the working class led to programs with strong social considerations, why is this so negative for SYRIZA, or for any other radical left party? After all, SYRIZA is struggling to survive within the framework of the imposition of very aggressive policies and the political turmoil caused by neoliberal domination, both in Europe and worldwide.
This assessment reveals an additional misunderstanding, or rather, confusion. Those who claim that SYRIZA has reoriented its strategy towards social democracy because Alexis Tsipras, as Prime Minister, attended the meeting of the European Socialists, seem to be at the very least ill informed as well as confused, when they identify the government, or in technical terms the "party in office", with the party and its strategic identity. It is necessary to understand that seeking allies in Europe as a "party in office", and in fact in a coalition government, has very little or nothing to do with a change in the strategic orientation of the party, when its cadres consider that the polices implemented are the result of the setback of the summer of 2015 and "the coup" imposed by the country’s debtors, and not in fact actual choices.
To be fair, I must say that this confusion is expressed even by some SYRIZA supporters and even its functionaries, as they operate exclusively within the government with little or no relation to the party. This rather minority view of mainstream social democracy stems from the pressure that comes from the lopsided balance of power faced in the current conjuncture. This pressure makes some -especially those latecomer supporters of the SYRIZA project- settle for a renovated project similar to the modernizing one of the social democrats.
The anti-austerity movements that were so strong during the first years of the crisis in Greece and vital in the Greek Left´s rise to power seem to have died down. Care to comment? Does Syriza maintain its electoral appeal in the lower social classes and those more affected by the crisis?
No movement can maintain its strength, stamina and ingenuity indefinitely. The Greek case is no exception. We should also keep in mind that even the most self-confident movements, with a highly organizational capacity do not avoid the traditional trend of delegating their power to official political organizations. In the case of Greece, following the electoral victory of SYRIZA, naturally this trend became dominant, as the resistance movement sought its validation in the political change.
From day one, SYRIZA’s coalition government took initiatives to support the socially weakest strata. It was a countervailing position met with the vehement opposition of the debtors and their supporters among politicians of the establishment. However, in the long term, this is not sufficient to secure the electoral base of the party. SYRIZA’s rise to power has been, to a great extent, the result of a broad social coalition of a wide range of social strata (workers, unemployed, working poor, new and traditional petit bourgeoisie). The only way for SYRIZA to maintain its political base is to promote policies that somehow solidify this alliance. Therefore, its concerted efforts in support of the social strata hit the most by the crisis and the austerity cannot been seen as a sole guarantor of its future electoral success.
What do you think of the opposition in Greece, minor and major? How do you explain the furious reaction the government has faced from the centre-right despite its moderate policies?
There is no doubt that the opposition to the present coalition government is not only poor and disappointing, but also irrational. Putting aside the fact that it is often arbitrary and certainly off-centre with regard to its constitutional role, it seems clear to me that it utilizes strong elements of irrational dishonesty (see: its reaction to the electoral reform, to the social programs, to the reforms to private education, or its discourse on the government’s attempts to attract foreign investment, etc). The latter is clear among the political forces that in one way or the other have participated in or supported the governments since the crisis. They also have voted in favour of the measures imposed by the debtors since the retreat of the summer of 2015.
It seems that the opposition is either the victim of false ideological premises that in fact have turned them into conservative observers of the political dynamics (this is the case of KKE) or of the propaganda that aimed to legitimize the policies of austerity even before, but especially since 2009 (ND, PASOK, To Potami). To put it simply, the mainstream parties seem to believe their own lies. Using all the available means (media, bureaucratic control of organized interests, local and regional governments) and with the support of all the "traditional intelligentsia", who have always been committed to "efficient governability", they have contributed to creating a climate which is extremely hostile to SYRIZA.
In addition to the shortcomings and the contradictory political strategies which they produce (eg. ND has been calling for elections constantly, almost immediately since September, 2015), the opposition’s entire polemic discourse reveals the fact that the old established political forces have extensive structural relations with both the so-called "deep state" and powerfull socio-economic interests. Obviously, the "cartel parties" of the opposition, having long withdrawn from the social field, know that their survival is dependent upon the maintenance of their links to state resources. This explains the remark made by many observers that the functionaries and the cadre of today’s opposition behave as if they have property rights to public institutions.
There is one more comment that should be made about the so-called left-centre forces. One might have expected that these political forces, given the new (forced) orientation of the government, would have been more conducive to it, disassociating themselves from the centre-right and its eclectic and growing relations with the extreme populist right. However, this has not happened. On the contrary, without any self-criticism on their strategy and development of the last twenty five years, they have failed to reconnect with their historical origins and to break off from the neo-liberalist hegemony. This failure of this part of the opposition has made the term “Pasokification” an international one.
Have recent developments in Greece and Spain affected the Radical Left’s vision of a different politics in the EU? Is it a temporary setback, or is it proof, like some commentators say, that the Radical Left’s proposals for improving the relation between democracy and capitalism are outdated and inapplicable?
For the moment we cannot argue that the radical Left’s development in the European South has led to a clear strategy and a new vision vis-à-vis the EU prospect. However, it is only fair to say that the undemocratic structure and functioning of the EU, in combination with the deepening of socially insensitive policies, have contributed to a spreading of the scepticism for the future of EU. The negative developments (Brexit, rise and strengthening of radical right political forces) will possibly speed up among the radical Left parties -especially within the Party of the European Left- the process of putting forward a new and effective vision and strategy for the European future in juxtaposition to the present dominant one.
How can we rethink of Greece and Europe after Greek Left’s rise to power and one year and a half of government experience?
To me there are no surprises in this regard. Especially after the agreement of July 2015 and the realization that the Memorandum is not just an agreement to 'fix' the country’s fiscal problems, but rather a strategy to restructure the entire social formation so that it becomes completely in tune with market principles. In this context, and given the ammunition of all those to have subscribed to the full success of the Memorandum, under certain conditions we can be optimistic.
Optimism can come from initiatives that aim to reverse the crisis of representation, and to limit the phenomena of post-democracy that alienate the people from democratic processes, eliminate accountability and give rise to political cynicism. To make a positive effect, the Left’s coalition government has to reverse that trend. This is necessary, not just for the rehabilitation of the rule of law but also if the Left is to implement one of its prime goals: to create the conditions and the space so that the subordinate classes and strata can fight for a greater social transformation.
*Interview by Ioulia Livaditi and Nikolas Nenedakis