On 2 September 2021, I was invited to give a talk at a congress in Thessaloniki. On the way from the airport to the hotel the taxi driver asked me what kind of music I would like to listen to. I answered that, as I was in Greece now, I would like to listen to Greek music. The taxi driver burst into tears and told me that Mikis Theodorakis passed away this day. In broken English and Italian, he told me what this musician and national hero meant to the Greeks. When we arrived at the hotel, we were listening again to Mikis Theodorakis’ music for almost another hour. Always live music, always the audience was singing along …
Mikis Theodorakis (29 July 1925 – 2 September 2021), a revered and highly acclaimed musician who became renowned beyond domestic borders for his music to the film “Zorba the Greek”, was a determined opponent of the NATO invasion of Serbia and the illegal US war against Iraq. He was one of the few famous personalities that protested vociferous against these wars. He was often criticised, even by the communists. They said that he had been on the left-wing political spectrum during the Second World War and in the time of the Greek military dictatorship and then switched to the right-wing political spectrum at the end of the 1980s to the Nea-Dimokratia* (New Democracy). From Theodorakis’ biography, from his statements, it becomes understandable why mainstream media had been incorrectly labelling his change of course as a pact with power. Under the Anglo-American-backed dictatorship, the Greek partisans only had the communists in the Soviet Union as their supporters. With other partisans in captivity, under daily torture, Theodorakis had the hope of receiving help from the Russian Communists and their followers. When Theodorakis realised that the political left-wing was increasingly abandoning its ideals of freedom, equality and peace, he resigned from his political office and left the party.
Thus, Theodorakis henceforth criticised the left-wing political spectrum for abandoning this human desire for democracy, peace and freedom in favour of more power and violence. However, Theodorakis adhered to the fact that he and many on the political left-wing had fallen in the fallacy of having had support for their struggle against the dictatorship in communism. He never made a secret of this. He saw himself on the political left-wing but with the values of social justice and unrelenting advocacy for peace and against war.
In addition to symphonies, chamber music, choral works, oratorios, ballet music, operas and film music, Mikis Theodorakis also composed more than a thousand songs – again and again on current occasions or in honour of companions – with which he not only conquered the hearts of the Greeks. The joy of his music was paired with respect for his always upright and human integrity. With music he had the possibility to connect people of different political views, to unite for more peace and reconciliation. His music combined European symphonic music – models were Robert Schumann and Franz Schubert – with the traditional folklore of his home country, Greece. He helped to revive the “bouzouki” (a musical instrument popular in Greece; member of the long-necked lute family) which once had been banned by the Nazis and the dictatorship. At his concerts, he always included songs that the audience could sing along with. Music, according to Mikis Theodorakis, is meant to unite and reconcile people. You can find many of his concerts, songs and texts on the internet. •
* Nea-Dimokratia is a liberal-conservative party in Greece, founded in 1974 by Konstantinos Karamanlis after the fall of the Greek military dictatorship.
Στο περιγιάλι το κρυφό
κι άσπρο σαν περιστέρι
διψάσαμε το μεσημέρι,
μα το νερό γλυφό
Πάνω στην άμμο την ξανθή
γράψαμε τ’ όνομά της
Ωραία που φύσηξε ο μπάτης
και σβήστηκε η γραφή
Με τι καρδιά, με τι πνοή,
τι πόθους και τι πάθος
Πήραμε τη ζωή μας λάθος
Κι αλλάξαμε ζωή
/ Current Concerns
In the hidden bay,
white as a dove,
we became thirsty at noon,
but the water was salty.
Atop the sand so golden-bright
we wrote her name,
How lovely did the wind blow,
and it erased the writing.
With such heart, such spirit,
Such desires and such passion
we lived our lives; erroneously!
and then altered our ways.
* The text of the Greek poet and diplomat, Giorgos Seferis (1900–1971) was set to music by Mikis Theodorakis vertont and made into a secret hymne of resistance against the Greek military dictatorship (1967-1974). Refer to www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDEb4EYmaQY
cc. During the Yugoslav War, Greece was the only NATO member which refused NATO warplanes to use the Greek air-space and bomb Serbia from the South. Athens was the only capital where thousands of citizens demonstrated against the bombing in a daily base.
On the evening of 26 April 1999, a large concert was held in Syntagma Square in the centre of Athens in support of the Serbs and in condemnation of NATO’s attacks against their country. Mikis Theodorakis, whose contribution formed the conclusion and highlight of the event, gave a memorable speech there in front of more than 50,000 participants, who regularly interrupted him with a thunderous cheer (to be seen on video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=if9n20iM01E):
“Yesterday [25 April 1999], the heads of state and government of the member states of NATO signed
The United States, with the connivance of the European countries, can now
whom they view as objecting to their designs.
I do not think it an exaggeration to say that we are about to enter another Middle Age era. So, get a hold of warm, wool clothing, muffles, gloves, boots – bitter cold lies ahead.
As I have stated since the start of the raids, all that is being said about ethnic cleansing is merely pretext. I have said that they (NATO) don’t care about dialogue and agreements; their sole aim is to turn the heretic Yugoslavia into scorched earth. And they intend to do just that, transform Serbia into a desert made up of dust and blood, displaying it to the next victims, warning them ‘look, this is what lies ahead if you don’t succumb.’
We, the Greeks should be proud since we were the only ones who all together and in union said ‘NO’ to barbarity. We shall stand by the victims, by the Serbs.
We want our singing today to overpower the air-raid sirens and missile blasts.
‘Belgrade, today we sing for you.’
Let us all sing very loudly to be heard.
‘We are on your side.
Justice is on your side. And justice always triumphs in the end.’
I could say that we should sing, so Europeans can hear us, but I’m afraid, it’s a waste of time. Most of them are blind and deaf …”
“Goodbye, great conductor! Serbia will remember you.” With these words, the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic, bid farewell to Mikis Theodorakis.
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