NEWS

Kathimerini bids farewell to Antonis Karkayiannis

Everyone at Kathimerini will miss Antonis Karkayiannis. The truth is that he will also be missed by his readers, with whom he had built a long relationship of trust. He often felt that he was talking to friends when he spoke with them, and I was always impressed by the care with which he answered their calls or their letters when these pertained to the newspaper. For Kathimerini, he was a voice of conscience, defending unorthodox interests and always taking the side of the underdog or victim of injustice. Karkayiannis lived a turbulent life which could be the subject of a gripping novel. He liked to be a lead player in life – from the care he took regarding the way he dressed to his dominating a conversation. He was deeply cultured and this led to wonderful discussions. He seldom spoke about his years in detention camps and prison. Usually, he would do so only to tell some humorous story about a joke played on a fellow prisoner. Only very late at night, and after much whisky, would he remember an episode such as the time he was climbing uphill with rocks tearing at his knees and the sun burning down on him, refusing to give up, just so that the sergeant in charge would not get any pleasure in seeing him fail. We liked to ask him why he gave up a life of urban comfort and a promising legal career in order to go underground and get caught up in dangerous adventures. «Because I was bored at home,» he would answer. A few months ago, I met the group of «comrades» with whom he would drink ouzo every Wednesday. This time they were taking shifts keeping him company because he was being consumed by the cancer that came from smoking at least 60 cigarettes a day for 60 years. They told the story of how he was the only one who did not break when he was arrested and gave away no secrets, hideouts or names – of which he knew many. Grateful that he had kept their secrets and they were able to keep their regular jobs, after the fall of the junta they would often take him out to dinner. They would ask him if he needed money or where he was staying, and he would say that he was doing fine. One night they followed him home and found that he lived in a rooftop laundry, without money to pay for electricity. He was a proud man. In his time at Kathimerini he developed friendships with significant people, among them conservative leader Constantine Karamanlis the elder. At the end of one meeting at the Presidential Palace, as they stood at a window and Karamanlis gazed outside, Karkayiannis said, «Mr President, I owe you much, for these times and for the past, all that I went through.» In recent years, he was in conflict with the Greek left, especially the Communist Party. He saw it as a backward, conservative force and did not accept what it said, accusing it of «fascist» actions. His last published column was directed at an old comrade, Manolis Glezos (the resistance hero), whom he criticized in his own way for taking part in a protest outside Parliament (in which Glezos was overcome by tear gas and had to go to the hospital). After Glezos replied, they tried to meet but Karkayiannis had to cut short the meeting, as he was too weak. Karkayiannis used to tease us younger journalists, mainly for our persistence in chasing the news, or, as he put it, «what you term ‘reportage.’» He would tell the story of how Gerasimos Arsenis, who was then education minister, invited him to lunch and informed him that he would resign in the next few days. Karkayiannis became absorbed in a discussion on the history of education in Greece and forgot to pass on the news to the newspaper. When Arsenis resigned, Karkayiannis told his colleagues, «He told me he would do so when we met, didn’t you know?» Whenever important news broke, he would say: «Thinking, Alexi. That is what is needed. Thinking.» He also mocked us for going on vacation, which he considered pitiful. For us at Kathimerini he was a unique person whose opinion you always wanted to hear, even if it would upset you. For Aristides Alafouzos he was a close aide in creating the new Kathimerini, at a difficult but very creative time. For his readers, he was full of surprises, unorthodox opinions and straight talk. For me personally, he was, along with two other old-timers, the best and most charming teacher that anyone could hope to have. We all know that the «factory» that made Karkayiannis has closed, because the wisdom that he gathered and condensed in his writing demands unique, historical experiences that our generation cannot imagine. I now try to remember what I would like to hold on to from what I heard from him, especially during the first three years. When I asked him once whether he regretted the adventure of the left, the lost years and lost opportunities, he answered me in his inimitable way, «Look, the ship was wrecked but the journey was wonderful.» In the past few weeks, when we would tell him about our country’s impending bankruptcy, he was adamant: «Give the people some hope, don’t paint everything black. A little optimism. They need it.» We will miss you, dear Publisher. Go well.