Sunday, June 21, 2015

Thoughts on a modern Greek tragedy

Then those who own a great deal, when they heard this creaking, were frightened. Because they know how to read every sign in detail, and often, from miles away, they can make out what profits them. So right away they put on the sandals of treachery. And half of them on one side and half on the other, they pulled the rest to and fro, saying: "Your deeds are good and fine, and here you see the closed gateway to the courtyard of lambs. Raise your hand and we are with you, and we'll take care of the fire and the iron. Don't worry about homes, don't feel sorry for families, don't ever let the voice of son or father or younger brother stop you. Should any one of you worry or feel sorry or stop, let him know this: his will be the sin, and on his head will fall the fire and iron we brought."
That quote comes the monumental poetic cycle The Axion Esti by 1979 Nobel Literature Prize laureate Odysseus Elytis. The extract is taken from the translation by Edmund Keeley and George Savidis, and in their preface the translators describe The Axion Esti as "an image of the contemporary Greek consciousness through the developing perspective of a first-person persona who is at once the poet himself and the voice of his country". Mikis Theodorakis mirrored Odysseus Elytis' radical prose with revolutionary music to create the eponymous work that is undoubtedly the composer's masterpiece: that is the classic 1964 recording released by EMI Greece below*:

The accompanying photos** were taken by me two weeks ago in the port of Chania on the Greek island of Crete, and I am suggesting that the sub-text of these images together with that of The Axion Esti will provide the impetus for a resolution of the current economic crisis in Greece. Crete lies on the geological and cultural faultline between Europe, Asia and Africa, and this is reflected in the architecture seen in the photos. Seen in the top photo is the Orthodox Church of St Nicolas in the Turkish quarter of Chania. This was built as as an Orthodox church, then converted into a mosque during the two centuries of Ottoman rule; it was returned to the Orthodox faith when the Turks left, but one of the minarets that were added has been left standing. The former mosque of Yiali Tzami on the quayside in the photo below was built shortly after Chania was captured by the Turks in 1645. Turkish forces were expelled from Crete in 1898, but the mosque was used for worship until 1923 when the last Muslims left the island. The minarets were demolished in the early 20th century and the mosque is now an exhibition space.

Crete is equidistant from mainland Europe, Africa, and Asia; it is close to the politically volatile Middle East and North Africa, including the flashpoints of Libya and Egypt. To the south of Crete is the main shipping lane for oil traffic using the Suez Canal. Ten miles east from where my photos were taken is Chania is the military base and airport at Souda Bay. This military base is occupied by the U.S. Naval Support Activity (NSA) Souda Bay. As the official US Military website explains:

The presence of U.S. Naval Support Activity Souda Bay is dedicated to taking care of the fleet and airborne operations in this strategically critical area of the world, which is their primary mission, and to building a new spirit of cooperation with our Greek Allies. NSA Souda Bay routinely functions as a Naval Operating Base, Naval Air Station and Naval Weapons Station. NSA Souda Bay skillfully orchestrated joint U.S. Navy (USN) / U.S. Air Force (USAF) reconnaissance missions and air refueling support for Operations Desert Shield/Storm, Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and other joint USN/USAF and multi-national operations.
The Souda Bay base is currenly being upgraded to a multi-role 'hub' "providing crucial air-links for USAF strategic airlift in support of CENTCOM and Africa Area contingency operations". Off the coast of Crete is a NATO missile firing range; one of the main users of this range is austerity advocate Germany, and it was here that the US 69th Air Defense Artillery Brigade fired a live Patriot missile for the first time in Europe.

Souda Bay is now the only US military base in Greece, but strategically it is very important. And Greece itself is no minor player when it comes to defense: despite the current economic crisis Greece is the second biggest defense spender among the twenty-seven NATO countries in relation to its GDP. Greece spends more than 10 billion euros a year on defense. 42% of its arms purchases are from the all-powerful US military/industrial complex and 25% from Germany. Neighbouring NATO member Turkey is never far from political meltdown, a beleaguered Greece is cosying up to Russia, and the CIA backed the right wing military junta in Greece from 1967 to 1974. So I predict that the following call will be made to Germany from the red phone in the White House in the next few days: "Hi Angie baby; it's OK to talk because I've told the spooks to turn the phone tap off. Do keep the pressure on those Greek bastards. But remember when push comes to shove we need them as much as they need us. Have a nice day." Or as The Axion Esti tells us: "Then those who own a great deal, when they heard this creaking, were frightened".

* The 1964 EMI Greece recording is very difficult to find outside Greece. Other versions are available: these include a 1982 recording for Channel Classics conducted by the composer. Unfortunately this is, in my view, fatally flawed by being given in a German translation.
** Footer photo was taken from the balcony of our room in the Porto Antico in Chania. My thanks go to Sophia for the hospitality in her outstanding hotel.
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1 comment:

Pliable said...

My prediction that the US would play a role in solving the Greek economic crisis is confirmed by this Guardian report -