With his life and work, Mikis Theodorakis won the right to be regarded as “ecumenical,” as someone belonging to the whole world.
He became a symbol of the Greeks. For him, as for many Greeks, “ecumenical” and “Greek” are not contradictory terms. But Mikis’ very full life and the days following his death underline the complicated nature between what is ecumenical and how each of us sees it through our highly personal point of view.
Although we note with awe that Mikis broke through the limits of an “average” life and the bonds of a small country (he once likened himself in Greece to “a supertanker on Lake Ioannina”), we know also that he played a leading role in Greek society, with all the passions and mistakes that distinguish us all. So we see him as belonging to the world – as “world famous” – and yet we try to shape his image the way that we prefer. We want to appropriate what we like about him, separating it from what annoys us, whatever does not tie in with what we want from him.
This is similar to our relationship with religion: Almost all Greeks declare that they are Orthodox, yet most of us live as we choose rather than according to the dictates of the Church.
While he lived, Mikis reserved the right to speak as he wished, with no care for the consequences. Whereas no one could doubt his musical brilliance, at some point in his long presence in public life he managed to enrage every political grouping.
Mikis saw “the people” as a unit, but the people are many clashing groups and individuals who either consider themselves superior to others or victims of injustice (or both). And so, for years, it was usual to hear someone at a gathering declare, “Mikis’ music is great, but his politics… Forget about it!”
With his death, no one fears Mikis’ opinions any more. Rival political groups have rushed to identify themselves with him, to sing his praises, to bask in his reflected glory. Their need to present him as both “theirs” and “belonging to the world,” even as they sling arrows at each other, is one of the few common things in public life. For Mikis, who sought Greek unity, this victory is a fitting end to a unique life.