Mikis Theodorakis thinks that the Palestinians should learn from the experience of the Greeks

From the point of view of the Israeli peace camp, Mikis Theodorakis’s practical political views are at least reasonable. He recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. He believes in a two-state solution. He also thinks that the Palestinians should learn from the experience of the Greeks, and understand that return is impossible. About 2 million refugees from Asia Minor were absorbed into Greece in the 1920s, including the family of Theodorakis’s mother. As opposed to a significant proportion of his colleagues on the European left, Theodorakis doesn’t think that Zionism is a colonialist movement. He is aware that the Jews needed a country of their own, which had to be established in their homeland. Since he is a romantic Greek, he says, he has a romantic weakness for the romantic dimension of Zionism. In his eyes, the fact that the Children of Israel returned to the historical womb from which they emerged is very beautiful. In the future, when the occupation comes to an end, he will support Israel’s joining the European Union. Europe has a moral obligation to the Jews, he says. From a cultural point of view as well, Israel is part of Europe. Therefore, Israeli membership in the EU will be only natural. One night he wrote me a letter. The conversations between us had aroused thoughts that caused him insomnia. In his handwriting, in pencil, in cramped Greek letters, he wrote that he’s afraid of the rise of a new Nazism. That he thinks the role of the Jews is to come out against the new Nazism. And that therefore, Israel stands today at a critical crossroad. It must choose Europe rather than America. Peace rather than war. It must be faithful to its historic destiny. Afterward he admitted that his relationships with Jews are love-hate relationships. And again he described to me the audience that hung from the rafters of the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv in the early 1970s. And he played the song that the Israelis most liked to hear. And translated the words for me: «So profound is the sorrow.» And played the requiem that he wrote after the death of his father. Said that he wanted to die after his father’s death. Until suddenly the sounds of this religious music came to him. That’s how he started to compose: Every Sunday he would write a new work for the church choir. Just like Bach, he laughs. And that’s why now, after the death of his father and the death of his mother and the death of his brother, he has found some consolation in this Passion. Because although he isn’t religious, he has some religion in him. He doesn’t believe in the Church; he doesn’t believe in an afterlife, but he loves Jesus’s love. Is moved to tears when he thinks about Jesus’s sacrifice. His sufferings on the cross. With your permission, I’d like to go back to your upbringing. To what you were taught at a very young age. How do you explain your grandmother’s fear of the Jews? I think it came from religion. From the priests. It had to do with the killing of Christ? Yes. My grandmother was not a well-educated woman. I am trying to understand her. Not to judge her. Perhaps the fear of the Jews had to do with the fact they killed the son of God. If someone has the power to kill the Son of God, he has enormous power. I think that the attitude of the Greeks toward the Jews has its roots in the way the Jews behaved themselves. In small communities like ours, there were no secrets. We knew that among the Jews there were secrets they did not share with us. They wanted to be different. To keep separate. I understand that. It comes from a need for self-defense. Can you give me examples? Very often there were love affairs between Jews and Greeks. But the Jewish families did not want their young to marry Christians. But this closeness and secretiveness, it provokes. They never invited me to a Jewish home. I had Jewish friends. They came to my house. But I was never invited to their homes. I wanted to go in and I was not allowed. So I began wondering: «Why not? What’s happening there?» The Jews paid a price for trying to keep their Jewishness. Their closed society. Were there other reasons for the special attitude toward the Jews? Yes. There was something else. When a Jew progressed, especially to control commerce or to have economic power, it provoked envy. You have that kind of envy for successful Greeks as well. But in the case of the Jews, the perceived wisdom was that he became rich not because of his talent but because he was a Jew. And that the Jews could pull strings to help one another to progress. So for you it was the secretiveness and closeness of the Jews that was the most troubling. Not the role of the Jews in the Jesus story. At that time that story did not interest me. For the Greek Orthodox Church, it was important. Anyway, during the war, the Jews were chased like animals. And we in the progressive movement saved tens of thousands of Jews. The Jews of Thessaloniki were the victims of the rabbis who didn’t let them come and hide in the mountains with us. For us, the Jews of Greece were no different from the Greeks. They were entirely Greek. Later you became preoccupied with the Jews. Why? When? When I started searching for the springs of humanity. I realized the importance of the two streams, the Jewish and the Hellenic. I realized that these are the two pillars of Western civilization. Judaism had two contributions to civilization. One was positive: morality. The other was negative: an autocratic mental structure. The idea that there is one God that we must obey comes from Judaism. Later it was exploited by secular powers. It created a society that is vertical. Hierarchical. Very different from the Hellenic democracy. What are the consequences of this mental-autocratic structure of Judaism? You have traditions of pride. It derives from your religion. The belief that God loves you and you are the chosen people. This gave you the power to survive against all odds. Every time you emerged as heroes. But it also created a great danger. It gave birth to racism. So we have to learn from the Greeks? In Greek mythology, there is no evidence of the concept of Hellenic superiority. In the Bible, you find the seed of the concept of superiority. Of Jewish superiority. The whole Bible wants to prove that God loves only one people, and that is the Jewish people. Do you think that the seeds of Sharon and Bush lie in this biblical tradition? It could be possible. And what is the story that shaped your mind? Was it not the Jesus story? The myth of Christ inspired all big composers. In the end, the story of Christ is the most important. It’s more important than the tragedy of Sophocles. But the role of the Jews in the story is problematic. It is not pleasant. This is very strange. Christ was Jewish. But the Jewish people for some reason are against a Jew that all the others love. So the position of the Jews is very special. Very special. Suppose Christ was Greek, and everybody likes Christ but we Greeks don’t. It’s very strange. Very strange. The Jews rejected the most important Jew? Yes. They are very special. The Jews are the most important. Millions and millions of Catholics and Orthodox believe in a Jew, Christ, whom the Jews don’t like. I think this explains your position. The world is as it is because the Jews were not listening at the right time. It’s difficult. Yes. It’s difficult. This is the drama of the Jewish people in this world. You are against yourselves. I don’t know why you are against the message of love of Jesus. Mikis Theodorakis, this is a great moment for Greece. You are Greece’s great cultural hero. And here you are, spending four days with an Israeli journalist. Why? I owe it to Israel. Especially to my friends in Israel. I know they are very upset. The false interpretation of what I said in November 2003 deeply wounded a whole people. The Jewish people. And now, as we bring this interview to a close, would you say that you want a reconciliation with the Jews? Do you want to shake their hand once more? I never withdrew my hand. Throughout my life I paid a great price so I could always look at myself in the mirror. It would be tragic for me to remain an enemy of your people. It is unjust. It is very, very unjust. I am a true friend of the Jewish people.

Subscribe to our Newsletters

Enter your information below to receive our weekly newsletters with the latest insights, opinion pieces and current events straight to your inbox.

By signing up you are agreeing to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.