Let’s take a little mental vacation to a lovely Grecian island. Picture the deep blue Aegean Sea running up onto a bleached sandy beach. Smell the scent of the sweet olive trees mingling with the salty sea air. Taste souvlaki, retsina and ouzo from a late-night dinner at a blue and white taverna. Listen to a lyra and laouto slowly play a mesmerizing tune. Watch as a group of burly men wrap their arms around each others’ shoulders, and move in rhythm to the music, crossing their feet from side to side in a traditional Greek line dance…
In 1964, the great actor Anthony Quinn, then aged 49, became an overnight sensation with the famous dance scene on a beach in the movie Zorba the Greek. The movie is a comedy-drama set in Crete where Zorba and Basil, an uptight middle-class Englishman, have a series of mis-adventures. Finally, after their grand plan to start a logging business ends in disaster, Zorba teaches Basil how to dance the sirtaki. It remains one of the most life-affirming moments in screen history and you share their feelings of the joy of comradeship, and of life and of living.
The music for Zorba’s Dance starts with a slow, simple repetitive melody and the dancers make slow, smooth and rhythmic steps, in time together. As the dance progresses, the music tempo gradually becomes faster and faster, causing the dancers to move faster and faster, sometimes leaping and hopping, trying to stay in time with each other.
The movie also introduced the world to the lovely, rich music of composer Mikis Theodorakis. But what might not be so well known to non-Greeks is how deeply involved in Greek politics Theodorakis was during his whole life.
As a young man in the 1940’s in his home town of Tripolis, which was under Italian occupation, Theodorakis developed his love for poetry and music. But for the young, feisty and patriotic Mikis, involvement in politics was just as important. Constantly in trouble with the occupying forces in Tripolis, his father had to eventually send him to the relative safety of Athens. It was there that he began his musical studies, but his burning desire to rid his country of the occupiers lured him to join up with a communist resistance group in Athens. It was during that time that he met and fell in love with Myrto Altinoglou.
The end of the German occupation in 1944 was not a happy occasion for many Greeks. Strong, differing opinions existed as to what the new Greece should look like and things came to boiling point when the British Forces attempted to install a pro-British Greek government in power. Clashes and violence erupted among the various groups and this eventually led to the Greek civil war in late 1946. Theodorakis was involved with the rebels and he led a clandestine life in Athens, just managing to stay one step ahead of the authorities. He juggled his involvement with politics with his love for music and the arts and still found time to meet secretly with Myrto. But in mid-1948 his luck ran out and he was arrested and sent to prison where he and his fellow rebels were often tortured and developed illnesses. Despite all of the hardships that he had to endure, Theodorakis refused to co-operate with the authorities. Tortured and beaten and in very poor health, he was finally exiled to Crete as an invalid.
In October 1949, the civil war ended and all men of military age were conscripted into the new Greek army. During this period, Theodorakis studied music and continued to develop his musical talents. When he was discharged from the army in 1952, he first went to Crete and then, shortly afterwards, to Athens where he was finally able to devote most of his time to his music and his studies.
It’s now 1953, and Theodorakis’ health was very poor but he was very happy because, in March, he and Myrto were married. In addition, his musical studies in Athens were also going well. He had already written the music for two ballets and he began to write film scores for two movies. His developing talent did not go unnoticed and Theodorakis received a bursary that allowed him to go to Paris in 1954 to study the composition and conducting of classical music. His first major achievement occurred in 1958 when he was commissioned to compose the music for three ballets which subsequently received acclaim in both London and Paris. The most famous of these was “Antigone”.
Sometime in 1959, one of Greece’s leading poets, Yannis Ritsos, sent Theodorakis a sequence of poems called “Epitafios”, which were poems inspired by the death of a young tobacco worker in a strike. Theodorakis set the poems to music in a single day making use of elements from Greek popular, folk and ecclesiastical music. This was the start of a new chapter in his musical career as he began to incorporate elements of traditional Greek folk music into his musical compositions. After a visit to Greece in late 1959, Theodorakis decided to return to Greece permanently, which he did in 1960 and, shortly afterwards, he began his involvement with national politics. In addition, Theodorakis attempted to bring about a cultural renaissance in Greece, which he felt would contribute to changes in the political system.
In 1964, he stood for election and was voted in as a member of the Greek Parliament. This was the same year that the movie “Zorba the Greek” was released. This was the beginning of his quest to obtain a genuine democratic system in Greece while, at the same time, he tried to institute democratic reforms within his own party. It was during these years that Theodorakis established the basis of his lifelong popularity with Greeks from all walks of life. Meanwhile, the political situation in Greece was going from bad to worse. As the government lurched from one crisis to the next, Theodorakis was elected president of the left-wing Lambrakis Democratic Youth party, which had become the largest political organisation in Greece.
In early 1966, after the Greek King blamed the communists for all of the political trouble, the government banned his music from being played on the radio. Theodorakis, in turn, criticized the royal family for allowing the situation in Greece to deteriorate so badly. Eventually the King was forced to call for new elections to be held in the following year. However, a month before the May 1967 election date, a coup d’etat occurred and a military dictatorship took over control of the government. Martial Law was declared. Theodorakis immediately called for resistance to be made against “The Colonels” and their reaction was to proclaim a total ban on the reproduction and playing of his music. Theodorakis was forced to go into hiding, but he continued to organise acts of resistance against the Junta.
In mid 1967, Theodorakis was arrested, tried in absentia, and was imprisioned. In early 1968, he was released from prison but remained under house-arrest. However, he refused to co-operate with the authorities and he was eventually sent to prison again in October 1969. By April 1970, his health had deteriorated so much that he had to be transferred to a hospital. Concerted international pressure was then applied to obtain his release and eventually, in 1970, Theodorakis was able to leave the country and he returned to Paris as a political exile. He immediately set about campaigning for a restoration of democracy to his country and he toured extensively around the world, using his concerts to promote and further this goal.
Finally in 1973, Theodorakis was instrumental in helping to form a civilian government-in-exile with former conservative leader Konstantinos Karamanlis as president. A year later, this possibility, which had seemed only a dream at the time that he suggested it, came true. Due to mounting pressure of the internal problems in Greece, an international outcry and, finally, the invasion of Cyprus by Turkey, the military regime was forced to ask Karamanlis to return from Paris in July 1974 to take over control of the country. This event allowed Theodorakis to return to Greece. Karamanlis then legalised the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) as a gesture of reconciliation and then formed the New Democracy (ND) party to represent the right wing conservative view-point in the up-coming elections. One popular election slogan was “it’s Karamanlis or the tanks”.
For the November 1974 elections, Theodorakis proposed that the KKE combine with the KKE Interior and the EDA parties to campaign under the name of the United Left. This plan was implemented and Theodorakis stood as a United Left candidate but was not elected. New Democracy obtained a majority vote and Karamanlis was appointed Prime Minister.
Throughout the period from 1974 to 2009, Theodorakis continued with his musical career while remaining active in politics. He was elected several times to the Greek Parliament (1981 to 1986 and 1989 to 1993) and for two years during this period, from 1990 to 1992, he was a minister in the government of Constantine Mitsotakis. Despite his life-long association with the Greek Communists and Left Wing political parties, he was always willing to seek compromises and association with any political party or politicians of any persuasion if he thought it would bring some benefit to his country. He devoted his efforts to achieve peace and reconciliation wherever conflicts existed, both in Greece and in other countries around the world.
From 2009 onwards, Theodorakis became well known for his opposition to the EU Troika and their economic plans for Greece and his condemnation for the Greek politicians in government who were colluding with them.
In an open letter to the world in February 2012, the composer had this to say:
“If you keep in mind that for us the German occupation has cost a million deaths and the total destruction of our country, how can we, the Greeks, tolerate Merkel’s threats and the Germans threat to impose us a new Gauleiter? … This time with a tie …”
On the eve of the new elections in 2012, Theodorakis declares, referring in particular to statements of Schäuble:
“To this crime of foreign and Greek leaders, the only answer is: Independence. Resistance. Disobedience.”
Later at the end of 2014, just before the elections, Theodorakis made a public statement:
“I remain anti-memorandum. Which means that I do not accept any connection with elections that are designed to highlight the best manager of the terms of the Memorandum. Therefore, when people ask me about my position in the coming elections, particularly regarding Syriza, I declare that I accept to support them with a single term: To make a commitment, here and now, that if they form a government, the first thing they would do would be to bring to the House a law for the permanent and complete riddance of the country from all the onerous terms of the Memorandum. And this is because I find it unthinkable to accept that a party of the Left can govern in conditions of surrender of our National Independence and National Autonomy to foreigners.”
Then just after the Syriza election victory in early 2015, Theodorakis said:
“We must not forget that the Greek people in its majority expects that a complete change of system is in compliance with the explicit commitments and election promises, especially by Syriza but also by ANEL that provide an end to the Memoranda, an end of the Troika policy, an end of the unbearable pressure coming from outside. This is essentially why members of Syriza have gathered around them so many voters who are against Memoranda and those political parties that have ruled Greece since 2010.”
During the ongoing crisis in Greece in 2015, Theodorakis constantly called upon Tsipras to reject the EU troika’s third bailout plan.
In July 2015, after the Greek people voted “No” in the Referendum, Theodorakis made a written appeal to the government, and that was co-signed by a great number of politicians, economists and cultural workers, to respect the “No” vote:
“RESPECT THE VOTE – In a dramatic appeal to the Greek people (and all the peoples of the world), the music composer Mikis Theodorakis, a world known symbol of Resistance to all oppressors and of struggles for freedom, democracy and independence, top Greek constitutional expert George Kasimatis, journalist and writer Dimitris Konstantakopoulos, Dr. Dimitris Bellantis of the CC of SYRIZA and tens of other known intellectuals, activists and politicians, ask for the respect of the will of the Greek people, directly expressed during the referendum of the 5th of July and for the immediate interruption of the program of “economic assassination” of Greece and its people, applied since 2010.”
So the most famous Greek songwriter and composer, who had written over 1000 songs and is Greece’s best-known living composer, looked on helplessly as his beloved Greece was conquered by the EU bureaucrats. In despair he declared:
“It goes without saying that elections usually take place in order to bring to power the parliamentary force that will lead the people during the next four-year parliamentary mandate and implement its programme. But after the upcoming elections, what is the programme that the winning party will implement?
Yesterday, Mr Juncker reminded us that it has already been voted by the SYRIZA government and Brussels, our “national” programme, meaning the Third Memorandum; and – like a real gauleiter – he threatened us that if we did not put it into practice we would be severely punished.
I think back to the days of the German occupation and wonder how the Greeks would have reacted if the then gauleiter had decided to call an election. Meaning: Would they have agreed to take part in ridiculing democracy by forming parties with a “government programme” in their hands, or would they have taken to the hills, as had already been the case. Because, as it has been proved, Greeks in those days were still proud patriots, who confronted the heavily-armed gauleiters upright and ready to sacrifice their lives for the honour and dignity of their country.”
Mikis Theodorakis……Zorba’s Dance – how does all of this fit together?
In the far distance, a slow, simple, repetitive melody echoes out from a taverna in Athens. The musicians gently pluck the strings of their lyras and laoutos. And a lone dancer takes to the floor, moving in rhythm to the music, crossing his feet from side to side, just like in a sirtaki.
Zorba’s Dance has begun again!
post from Observing Greece (16 December 2016)
According to the Ministry of Finance’s State Budget Execution Report, Greece’s primary surplus for the period January-November 2016 was budgeted at 3.553 MEUR and it came out at 7.449 MEUR. That’s a surplus in the surplus of 2.896 MEUR, or 110%. Greece has now decided to take 616 MEUR out of that unplanned surplus in the surplus of 2.896 MEUR, or 21% thereof, for a one-time payment to recipients of low pensions.
In the world of business, this would be called a bonus. Management exceeded expectations by 110% and the board decides that management is deserving of a bonus in the amount of 21% of the excess. In the world of investment banking, management would not be satisfied with only 21%.
If the EU had been smart, it would have anticipated events and acted pro-actively instead of reacting later. That the State Budget would have a significant surplus over the planned surplus has been in the coming for months. And one does not have to be a prophet to predict that, when there are unexpected surpluses, voices will come out claiming a piece of the action. Particularly when there are battered pensioners. Particularly at Christmas time.
If the EU had been smart, it would have proposed to Greece something like the following: “Your State Budget has seen a terrific development this year (that would be the praise part). We think that a portion of this unexpected surplus should go to the most needy in your society instead of your creditors (that would have been the bonus part). We propose 25% thereof.”
The way things happened, the EU has fallen into a trap laid out by PM Tsipras. He did the right thing (reward the most needy in society at Christmas time) but he did it in such a way that the EU would have to violently object to it (by not consulting them beforehand and, thereby, violating the agreements). The net result of this: it is now Tsipras who is the human politician to whom the most needy in society are more important than greedy creditors. And it is the EU who are the bad guys. Well done, EU!”