Tackling tough issues in Delphi

DELPHI – Grappling as it did with an issue that has baffled decision makers everywhere – the role of the United Nations in the 21st century – the Cultural Amphictyony 2006 must be the European Center of Delphi’s most ambitious program yet. Scholars from many disciplines, politicians, diplomats, analysts, clerics and practitioners of the arts gathered in Delphi July 1-6 to tease out the multiple strands of theory and practice that impinge on world peace and stability. Proceedings started with a session on peace and war in the ancient world and moved on to explore aspects of UN reform. The range was wide, from Ayhan Aktar of Marmara University on «UN and ethnic conflicts: Success or failure» to David Menashri of Tel Aviv University on «The emergence of President Ahmadinejad: Continuity and change in revolutionary politics» and Mahmood Sarioghalam of the National University of Iran on «The asymmetrics of perception and interests in the confrontation between Islam and the West.» The fault lines, predictably, fall between those who see a future for the UN, for multilateral solutions and cooperation, and those who fear loss of sovereignty; between those who see globalization in all its guises as anathema and those who welcome the opening up of all kinds of borders that it promises; and between those who see the world lining up behind nation, ethnicity and religion and those who see the opportunity for new alliances, dissolving borders and new forms of cooperation. Not surprisingly, no clear-cut proposals emerged, nor was any consensus formed. But the purpose of such meetings is less to formulate concrete policy than to share the widest possible range of views in an atmosphere that fosters cooperation among people of very different backgrounds, whose experience then feeds directly back into the institutions they lead or work in. Enlightening moments While the breadth of the topics and the size of some of the panels sometimes made discussion unwieldy, the diversity of subject matter and views also sparked productive disagreements and insights. Perhaps the most striking examples of enlightening moments came across religious lines. And that was not only at the session specifically dedicated to culture and religion on July 5, where the keynote speech was given by Christodoulos, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, and the speakers included Grand Rabbi of Paris Rene-Samuel Sirat, Komotini Mufti Meco Cemali, and Corfu’s Catholic Archbishop Yiannis Spiteris. Nor was it only papers that explicitly addressed the issue of religion, of which two interesting examples came from Greek participants: «Terrorism and Islam: Myth and reality» by Professor Ioannis Mazis, and «Islam, globalization and democracy» by Alexandros Koutsis of Panteion University. The moments came unexpectedly, when participants stepped outside their chosen topics and spoke impromptu from experience to correct a theory-driven statement, or simply to inject some much-needed information. Associate Professor Bharat Gupt of Delhi University visibly surprised some of the representatives of the monotheistic religions with his gentle reminder that believers in polytheistic traditions also embrace the unity of the divine, citing an apt quotation from the Upanishads as evidence. Cultural events As always, culture is an integral component of events run by the ECCD. This year veteran Greek artist presented his installation «Peace,» a dramatic ensemble of images and objects centering on two cars that have collided. Powerful and thought provoking, it was absolutely germane to the theme of the conference. Theater has always had a special place at the Delphi conferences. This year the first performance was by the National Theater of Greece with Aeschylus’ «Persians,» directed by Lydia Koniordou. And there were two performances by children; primary school pupils from Izmir in Turkey and Delphi did separate performances of Aristophanes’ »Birds.» Kathimerini English Edition saw three productions. For highlights, see below. Three plays with three very different approaches Three plays took very different approaches. The Moscow Theater School of Dramatic Art, under the direction of Anatoli Vassiliev, went for spectacle in a play based on the burial of Patroclus and the funeral games organized in his honor as told in Book 23 of «The Iliad.» The performance deployed a mesmerizing mix of Oriental martial arts, guttural Russian chants, music, circus tricks and striking visual tableaux, as when cartloads of what looked like babies’ bodies were dumped on the stage. The impeccably drilled actors gave a compelling performance, though rain, hard-to-see surtitles and a duration of more than three hours winnowed out the less resolute among the audience. On Tuesday, poet-playwright Tony Harrison, Sian Thomas and Ann Morrish gave an engaging bare-boards reading from a work Harrison is writing for the National Theater in Britain. His new verse play dramatizes human tragedies of the early 20th century that inspired classicist Gilbert Murray and Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen to become early supporters of the UN’s predecessor, the League of Nations. Exploring tragedy and ways of representing it, Harrison leavens a grim subject with his trademark humor, lively characterization and rapid shifts of register from the coarse to dramatic to lofty. The following evening, the young cast of the Floodtide Theater, directed by Helen Eastman, gave a moving performance of Seamus Heaney’s «The Cure at Troy,» his translation and adaptation of Sophocles’ «Philoctetes.» Writing in response to the Irish Troubles, Heaney gives this classic tale of conflicting moral imperatives a contemporary cast, exploring the possibility of reconciliation and what role poetry might play in it.