Greek National Theater in the meat grinder

Greek National Theater in the meat grinder

In his recent speech in Parliament on the education reform bill, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said that “nowhere in the world do we see scenes like those at our universities, where historic buildings are vandalized… and, more importantly, people are threatened, professors beaten and girls raped.” The response from opposition leader Alexis Tsipras was: “You’ve had to go as far as telling us that people are being raped at our higher education institutions. I don’t know, maybe you’re confused? Maybe you confuse them with the National Theater?”

In his rebuttal, the prime minister set the leftist leader straight on several points, including correcting him for misquoting Odysseas Elytis’ “Axion Esti” when he made a reference to “bums with swollen feet” and calling him out on his comment about “dimwitted citizens.” He also defended state broadcaster ERT, which the SYRIZA chief accused of “hiding the government’s mistakes.”

Mitsotakis was right about everything. He was right to make the correction regarding the Elytis verse, which referred to the Nazi occupation and not the left-wing Lambrakis Democratic Youth of the 1960s, and to defend ERT, which has even been commended in public opinion polls for its objectivity.

So all’s well that ends well? Not exactly. The matter of the Greek National Theater went unmentioned, wrapped in a veil of innuendo. “Are you thinking of the National Theater?” Tsipras said, pleased with his quip and basking in applause from his party.

It was sickening, though, to see an institution that has been around for nearly a century, that is a powerful presence with enormous symbolism beyond the countless productions it has staged, being maligned in Parliament and not a single person speaking up in its defense. Why? Because silence is the best form of self-protection. “What if I speak up and become associated with so and so, about whom so much has been said?” is a thought likelyto have passed through the minds of any lawmakers who considered defending the company, whose image was recently tarnished by accusations of sexual misconduct.

Speaking up about sexual abuse and harassment is certainly brave and commendable, but so is speaking up to stop the meat grinder of public opinion that destroys everyone and everything tossed into its maw. Because when the noise outside the halls of the House is echoed inside it and rewarded with sniggers and applause, there needs to be some kind of a reaction, a line of defense. Supporting the arts and culture is not just about throwing money at them.

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