Letter from Thessaloniki

All you need for «Il Trovatore,» Verdi’s tragic opera, according to Enrico Caruso, are the four finest singers in the world. Well, let’s say three. Today, Caruso’s requirement may be a tall order to fill, but Thessaloniki’s principal concert hall, our Megaro Mousikis, splendidly situated on the waterfront, has come up with a captivating production of Verdi’s grand opera, featuring – if not the best of the best – a potent triumvirate of principal singers: Zoran Todorovic from Serbia as Manrico, Manon Feubel as Leonora and Alexandra Papadziakou as Azucena. Yesterday was the farewell performance. Now, all you need to ratify the European Constitution is a consensus between not four, nor three, but just two parties: the governing New Democracy party and the opposition Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK). Sure, a referendum might have been more democratic. But tomorrow a vote for the ratification of the European Constitution will take place in Parliament. A total of 151 votes are necessary. Although there was a remarkable absence of public discussion on the issue, success is guaranteed. But didn’t the same thing happen with the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty in 1993, where the scope was equally breathtaking? It was then that the beginnings of a single European government were founded. It was then that they (certainly not the people) decided that there would be a single European currency, a single European central bank and common economic policies. It was then that the French started earnestly worrying about their sovereignty, and the Germans moaning about the cost. At the time, Greece, probably not understanding all the details (I wonder how many of the – then – 12 did), just gave the green light through an ordinary parliamentary session. Holding banners, a small crowd of Communist-led demonstrators marched the other day through central Thessaloniki in an anti-European protest. Taking the liberation from fascism 60 years ago as the hour of the birth of a modern joint Europe, it seems all the more important – for the Greek left – to campaign against an increasing militarization of the EU. The warning against an EU which, because of its first constitution, could develop into a big power resembling more and more the US was heard throughout the rally. Yet suspicions about the prospect of a stronger European Union derive from all possible sides. In a recent interview in Time magazine, Vaclav Klaus, president of the Czech Republic and a firm opponent of the proposed EU Constitution, says that it brings bad memories of red-fearing Soviet times. «It reminds us of COMECON (Moscow’s organization for economic control of the Soviet bloc)… The decisions are made not in your own country.» «So why are you protesting?» I asked a young Thessalonian demonstrator. «For two decades now, this… European super-state has been advancing in disguise. Today, it is casting aside its mask… United Europe will be a state whose laws override our national constitutions, and before which our national statutes must bend. It’s unnatural. It’s Illogical.» «So is opera,» I countered, being still under the influence of an excellent «Trovatore,» as conducted by Nikos Athinaios, who presided over the youthful but musically refined ensemble of the city’s Municipal Symphonic Orchestra, which captured the nuances and rose to the technical challenges of Verdi’s thrilling music – but the young intellectual had marched away. Indeed, what is really opera if not unreality made even more unreal? If you think European affairs and the prospective constitution are complicated (have you ever tried discussing Subsidiarity or the benefits of the Lome Convention?), try following the labyrinthine story of that Gypsy woman, Azucena, who is seeking revenge for her mother’s death at the stake. Such tales may not bear much relation to the truth. It is also unclear whether opera – «the total work of art» as Wagner called it – is the combination of all the other arts that has allowed Richard W. to play the all-knowing artist. What is without doubt is that the European Constitution is primarily directed toward centralization and a burgeoning bureaucracy in Brussels. Anyway, since both the governing ND party and the opposition PASOK are in favor, ratification is certain.

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