A SYRIZA festival

A SYRIZA festival

Culture Minister Aristides Baltas and newly appointed Athens and Epidaurus Festival director Jan Fabre couldn’t in their worst nightmares have imagined the scale and breadth of the reaction sparked by their joint press conference to announce this year’s program of events earlier this week.

It was not just the glaring absence of Greek artists from the lineup, the strictly Belgian character of the roster (due, apparently, to availability), or the various off-topic and philosophical comments made which angered so many people. The most revealing thing about the press conference was that neither of the two officials appeared to know what they were talking about. They seemed ignorant of what the festival has grown into over the past decade, of the great leaps that have been made with the addition of the Pireos Street venue or of how former director Giorgos Loukos had shaped the annual summer event and what his vision was. Their only apparent concern was that a festival should take place this year, a SYRIZA festival.

The Greek art world on Friday demanded Baltas’s resignation and proclaimed Fabre persona non grata; the New Democracy opposition party decried the stripping of the festival’s Greek identity; and the Internet was flooded with comments, videos of controversial shows staged by Fabre, as well as plenty of threats to boycott this summer’s performances, to stage protest rallies at the Culture Ministry, etc.

Within just a few days of the press conference, the tension in Greek society became palpable once more.

All sense of moderation was lost as the incident drew indignation and anger from across the political spectrum and added to the disenchantment with the left. This week it was the festival that prompted it; next time it will be something else.

What’s true and justified and what is not, is not easy to determine. Is the Culture Ministry responsible for these developments? Of course, because the problem is foremost political and then artistic.

The crisis within society will only deepen as long as the government continues to appear incapable of governing. All we have seen from it so far is a complete lack of direction, upstarts trying to take advantage of every vacuum in power to their own benefit and politicians who are constantly screwing up. The government has written and rewritten its narrative so many times it’s become illegible. And no one wants to take responsibility.

So, the question is: Can a festival work in a country that doesn’t?

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