Greece in the mirror - a statement about the situation of culture-makers in Greece, arising from the problems that occurred around the Athens Festival 2016/by Lena Kitsopoulou
Where is the revolution now?
by Lena Kitsopoulou
Athens, April 2016. Culture needs money. Today, Greece is a bankrupt country, enslaved since 2010. At that point, the whole problem starts. What brought Greece into this situation is another big discussion. It’s a mixture of many things and not so easy to investigate. For sure it's not only the "foreigners". All Greeks have experienced the "eating" of state and European money. Many off-the-record-agreements between artists and politicians; public funds not being used for the purpose they should and suddenly disappearing. Corruption. All this has been going on for many years.
I have once been witness to a phone call of a very famous Greek director to a friend of mine. They talked about a show the famous director was preparing for Herodium Theatre, for which he had received a big amount of money directly and personally from that time's minister of culture – under the table, i.e. not in a legal way. To my friend, his collaborator, he said: "Who cares about the show. Let's take the money and f**k the show!" This director is a very respected man in Greece. I suppose I am not the only one who knows such incidents; there are thousands of examples (I could fill a whole book only with those I have personally experienced).
No financial support for theatres
Greece didn't collapse now. Greece has been collapsing since I remember myself, and now the ground was ready for Greece to become the (first and easiest) European victim of the global fascism of investment. It's obvious that Greece is slowly being led to the edge in order to become cheap and then be bought. Greece is on sale. Of course, this whole economical disaster has its consequences for culture. There is no financial support from the government for theatre and generally for art anymore. Artists are starving, like people in all other professions.
Even the prestigious Athens Festival suffered under its last artistic director Giorgos Loukos. Despite Loukos' good intentions and ideas, it became more and more difficult for him to put them into practice. The money for the festival came in more and more delayed from year to year, which in turn delayed his planning process and in some cases forced him to last minute-cancel his invitations of foreign productions because he could not guarantee them their money.
The background: how Giorgos Loukos was toppled
Of course, the local artistic power also suffered. The tiredness of waiting, of seeing no future, leads to a lack of ideas, of courage, of dreaming. Start rehearsing, or not? Start working, or not? Those are the questions all Greek companies keep asking themselves. These last years, everything has been running breathless, and the only motivation to keep going has been the personal ambition of each individual. Lucky are those who have kept the remains of some undergoing puberty madness. There is no institutional framework to support anything anymore.
It's a well known fact that Giorgos Loukos was thrown out of the festival against his will; through a plot that had been prepared behind his back for political reasons and in the interest of some colleagues and former collaborators of his. That led to the Athens Festival suddenly being "headless" and ungoverned in the beginning of 2016, a date when it should already have had a program.
The minister of culture had just been subject of a big "revolution" against him from all fields of art. Thus, he could not possibly put a Greek in the position of Loukos, especially not one of the friends of Loukos who had supported the scheme. So, probably some advisor of his team suggested the name of Jan Fabre. A famous name, an established artist, a world-known European personality whose appointment would keep all these revolting artists quiet. So it happened.
And when Jan Fabre first arrived, he made kind of an incognito visit; there was a press conference, but no artists were invited and no announcement was made.
Belgian art-training for the left-behind Greeks
Normally, for every edition of the yearly festival, artists officially deposit their proposals, and the artistic director reads them with his team and decides which will be done. In his exclusive press conference, Jan Fabre already announced a program – thus, without having considered any Greek proposal. It was obvious from his announcement that he was totally uninformed and had no idea about any Greek artist (he even admitted this himself). His program included only himself and Belgium – for the first year.
He announced that he would come up with a four-year-schedule which from the second year on would include 1/3 Greek artists. Still, all the four years would above all be dedicated to Belgium and himself. He announced he would train us in Belgian Art and especially his own, f.e. by employing Greek actors to read his texts. He said that he would bring Belgian pop-concerts to Greece, and he explained to us the importance of Belgium in the contemporary arts (I agree and know of course that Belgium produces really important art today in culture, in dance and theatre and would really be interested in watching all these good Belgian artists. I also believe that you cannot criticize a program before the realization of it!).
Of course, his announcement was considered arrogant and humiliating in a country that had honored him by inviting him to be the leader of the one and only theatre festival – that, by the way, had also been the last remaining source of income for Greek artists (this is the biggest problem for me: That the whole Greek theatre society has to be begging for a place in the festival, whereas a place in the festival program should be reserved for the most interesting and crazy artists, and the festival should be a field for new artistic movements instead of repeating the winter productions and inviting the ever same people).
The artists' revolution
On the other hand, Jan Fabre was just being himself, as he has always been during his career, causing scandals, being provocative with his artistic actions. The minister of culture of a country should first of all know whom they appoint, his history in such positions and his background. But what our minister told Jan Fabre was: "Take all the money and do whatever you like." And that's what the guy did. He is not to blame.
To cut a long story short, the theatre world came together in Sfendoni-theatre in Athens to discuss how to revolt against this "Fabre-situation". The two proposals that came out of the meeting were the following: We ask Jan Fabre to quit. We ask Mr. Baltas (the minister of culture) to quit.
Following this statement, Fabre was hunted and humiliated by the media. We heard that the only thing that Belgium has ever produced is the comic Tin-Tin (Tim und Struppi). Small videos with parts of Fabre's work, penises or naked figures were posted all over the internet. All the nationalist stupidity there is in Greece collaborated with the revolution of the artists, and everything was put in the same sack. Suddenly, the Greeks felt insulted by the "foreigner", they wanted him out of the country. What a narrow minded attitude! Very very sad picture of Greece.
The Greek attitude: "I want it all and I want it now"
Why hasn't anyone resisted in such a way, when for years and years our own governments have been stealing from us, insulting us and lying to us day after day? Isn't that a thousands times more provocative than Jan Fabre, who at least has a big and interesting work in his back, is a cosmopolitan and might have expanded the mind of the festival? We would at least have seen some important Belgian artists, instead of seeing our bored and boring faces again and again, as it is going to happen.
Impossible in this country. Impossible to have patience, or to build something for some kind of future. The attitude is "I want it all and I want it now". Immature, but understandable as well, for such a suffering society. Every new government that is elected here in Greece does the same thing: They take out people from leading positions, even if they are good in their jobs, just to put "their" people there. That means that all the time programming is stopping until the new guy comes with his new program. So, all the work of the previous directors of any institution goes into the garbage. Even if it’s the best and the most effective. This cannot make a country work, and it doesn't even spend a slight hope for some kind of future.
Back to the festival story now: In my opinion, the most generous and straight attitude among all the people involved was that of Jan Fabre. Again: He was invited by a country's minister to do what he wanted to do and that’s what he did. The next day, the artists asked him to quit, and that's what he did. Jan Fabre taught us civilization. Name me one Greek that has ever quit his position. NOONE! In one night, Jan Fabre showed to us our mirror. This was an action. He just left. He remained honest to himself and to his belief. He didn't change his mind, he didn't try to please anyone, to take back things that he said. Other than our government – that reacted to the artists' congregation in Sfendoni-theatre with a letter saying they would reconsider some Greek proposals and put some Greek productions in the festival program. Every couple of hours that minister changed his mind. The earth was shaking under his feet. Instability. Fear. He invites someone one day, the next day he throws him out.
Imaginary Ministry of Imaginary Culture
Insecurity, lack of knowledge, lack of stability, lack of faith in anything. This is this "left" government. The government that went to Germany to negotiate for the debts, who asked their people to vote, to give a YES or a NO. People gave Tsipras the NO, and he went to Germany with a YES. This was also the attitude of the minister of culture Mr. Baltas in the festival situation. His "Yes" to Jan Fabre very easily became a "No". Very sad. Fabre showed a much more civilized attitude than any of these "left-oriented" Greek people that felt insulted by him. These people should be insulted by themselves. These people that are trying to hold on on their positions, these imaginary politicians, in an imaginary country and an imaginary ministry of imaginary culture.
After all these incidents, Mr. Vangellis Theodoropoulos was placed in the position of artistic director of the festival. Nobody is talking now. This is how we know it. At least he is "our" guy. He will put all the Greeks in the festival, all artists will somehow be satisfied, there will be a small income for the summer.
Where is the revolution now? Against the deeper problem, the inside enemy, against our own people, government, ministry of culture etc.? Because we can see right now what this big artistic resistance against Jan Fabre has brought. What changed, after the "big revolution" was succesfully fulfilled and the "bad" Jan Fabre had left? We are in the same situation we were in before he came. NOTHING. No future. No change. We now have the artistic director that the government probably wanted to install in the place of Giorgos Loukos from the beginning. All this through the vulgarity of the corruption, which is going on and on. So, what was all this about?
Lena Kitsopoulou, born 1971 in Athens, is a studied actress and has been working as a writer and a director for several years now. She has been directing the last years in Athens for the National Theatre, the Athens Festival, the Onassis Foundation (Stegi Grammaton kai Technon) and the Arts Theatre. In 2013, she received the international dramatists' award of the Heidelberger Stückemarkt for her piece Athanasios Diakos - The return. Her theatre work has been invited in Italy, Spain, France, Switzerland and Germany. In February 2016, she gave her directorial debut in the German-speaking theatre world with Hedda Gabler at Theater Oberhausen.