A reminder that Greece was not always democratic

September 24, 2009

Visitors to Greece’s capital these days cannot escape the fact that a general election is on he way.  But it is not just the constant discussion on television and the excited newspaper headlines about a U.S.-style debate between front runners that lets you know.

Peppered across the city are political stalls, open for the public to come in and be persuaded to vote on Oct. 4 for whichever party is hosting them. The style ranges from a bench and chairs manned by two ageing communists in the northern suburbs to a rather slick structure in Athen’s central Syndagma Square touting the worth  of the ruling conservative New Democracy party. For some reason the latter was blaring out The Clash’s “Rocking the Casbah” on a recent sunny morning.

It is all very frothy and something of a celebration of democracy in the city which, after all, invented it.

Which is why a quieter, almost unnoticed gallery on the corner of Syndagma is offering something all the more poignant — a reminder that it was not that long ago that such expressions of democracy would be met with batons, water cannons and even tanks.

“Mikis Theodorakis: The Composer – The Politician – The Thinker” is a temporary exhibition funded by the Greek parliament to honour one of the country’s greatest living artists and an icon of left-wing resistance.

Best known to the world at large for composing the music for Michael Cacoyannis’ 1960s film “Zorba the Greek” — now almost a Greek anthem — Theodorakis has a huge and respected body of work covering some 60 years, from operas to song cycles, ballets and symphonies. Among his film themes are those for Sidney Lumet’s “Serpico” and Costa-Gavras’ “State of Siege”.

These are all celebrated with due reverence at the exhibition, including displays of many strangely ancient-looking  record album covers. But in the current political climate, it is the politics which catches the eye.

Various phases of Theodorakis’ life are highlighted — from wounded resitance fighter in the Second World War to internal exile in the Greek Civil War that raged until 1949. His music was banned and the composer himself arrested during the brutal military junta that ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974. But his escape to Paris in 1970 combined with his music and imposing presence to set him up as a voice for democracy’s return.

A particulary historic photograph for the period shows Theodorakis embracing Mercedes Sosa, the Argentine singer who had similar struggles with her own country’s junta. 

It is all puts “Rocking the Casbah” into context as Greeks ready themselves for a simple excercise in democracy.

(Photo: Jeremy Gaunt)

2 comments

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Mr Gaunt ? A suggestion : Write about Berlusconi’s Italy, no need to worry about Greece.

Nico Nicolaides, San Francisco – Athens,Greece.

Posted by Nico Nicolaides | Report as abusive

a 2nd. suggestion Mr. Gaunt: not long ago in the US african-americans couldn’t vote.

Posted by George (Gdansk) | Report as abusive