Friday, 20 March 2009
Cheer for freedom of expression, but not too loud
Next person to call Greece the cradle of democracy gets their ears boxed, courtesy of me.
It’s not even funny any more. It actually hurts to hear Greeks and non-Greeks sing the praises of our ancient glories when, nowadays, Greece looks more like the place where democratic ideals go to die. Part of that is a government that just doesn’t care enough to even pretend they care. Part is a repressive and irresponsible police force. And part – the worst part – is that chunk of citizenry that doesn’t care to fight for freedom and some times is way too eager to shout against it.
Freedom is great you see, as long as it cleans up after itself and doesn’t cause unnecessary traffic jams. Oh and as long as we like it and it doesn’t take up too much time or clash with this evening’s socio-cultural happening.
But a couple of weeks ago, clash it did.
A co-production of the Greek Lyriki Skini and the Opéra de Nice was expected to be one of those events attended both by genuine music lovers and by those who wanted to say ‘oh yes, I saw Dvořák’s Rusalka, didn’t you?’ Neither group expected the opening to turn into a struggle over artistic freedom, censorship and homophobia.
The story begins with a new interpretation of a known work. Happens all the time. But not all revisionist directors have a vigilante musicians’ union to reckon with.
On opening night, a union picket was handing out leaflets outside the theatre, informing the audience of the dangers lurking in the director’s revisionism. They accused director Marion Wasserman’s adaptation of adulterating the libretto and undermining the work.
And those stalwart defenders of artistic purity would not stand for it.
Of course the libretto was untouched, the score unaltered and the musicians’ union did not object to the orchestration or casting. In fact, this had nothing to do with music. This was about stage instructions, the manifesto denouncing Wasserman's addition of ‘extreme scenes’ of a sexual nature.
Extreme scenes, ladies and gentlemen.
Drum roll please.
Homophobes of the world unite.
The union complained to the ministry of culture and staged a picket outside the theatre. Inside the theatre large parts of the audience – possibly egged on by agitators – booed, heckled and jeered when the performers and director took to the stage after the end of the performance. Disgruntled opera-goers spoke to the ‘Nea’ news crew. My favourite was a man who exclaimed he could not possibly bring his wife to ‘shows like this’. His wife obviously inhabits the 17th century. As does the rest of Greece, it seems.
A homophobic picket? An audience that boos its disagreement?
And before you say it was an isolated incident, when, at the Lyriki’s urging, Les-Bi-Gay representatives issued a statement before curtains-up on the second night, they were booed by the orchestra and audience in perfect synchronisation.
So art is to be censored and curtailed and never to show us anything we don’t already know, like, are comfortable in and agree with.
The same applies to life, it seems.
Greece’s Supreme Court has now legitimised the firing of an HIV-positive worker. This is not a case of someone being fired, who also happened to be HIV-positive. This is someone who was fired because he was HIV positive. And the Supreme Court ruled that the firing was legitimate and the man was consequently not entitled to compensation as the decision to let him go was within the limits of labour legislation and the employer’s rights. How?
His presence was disrupting the smooth operation of the company. How?
His work mates were upset.
The man was sacked in February 2005 after his workmates submitted a written request for his dismissal. On health grounds.
Understandably, he appealed and won.
So his employer counter-appealed bringing us to the Supreme Court. That effectively ruled that it’s ok to demonise people and to yield to unscientific fears and prejudiced instincts and to hell with the lives of those who don’t fit into the grand plan of ‘how things should be’.
So to recap: it is the year of our Lord 2009 and people in Greece think that they may catch HIV by sharing a water fountain with a patient, the Supreme Court not only fails to point out how ludicrous that is but goes ‘there, there’ and pats them on the head, encouraging the notion that it’s ok to drive away everyone that makes us uncomfortable meanwhile a subtle reference to homosexuality in a work of art is met with full-blown industrial action.
Let’s cheer the birthplace of philosophy, democracy and ethics everyone.
Oh of course we are all for democracy and freedom. Just not for those who disagree with our tastes and beliefs, those who look different, live differently and smell funny. Particularly not those who smell funny.
So go on children, cheer for democracy, individual rights and freedoms and free speech.
Just not too loud. We don’t want to give people ideas now do we?