Letter from Dublin and Athens

What do the Greeks and the Irish have in common? Is it perhaps the language? Well, most probably, yes. For some inexplicable reason, we both belong to the Organization Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF), an international club for French-speaking countries. Other than in relation to this club, there is hardly ever any mention of Greece in the Irish press. «Even when we recently became basketball champions, they ignored us almost totally,» the press attache at the Greek Embassy in Dublin, Giorgos Kousoumis, told me. Later, Greek Ambassador Alexander Vallindas mentioned to me that the embassy is looking for some Greek contribution for a «Francophone festival» that the Irish are planning for next year. It must be said, however, that Ireland is not the most promising country for a Greek journalist to achieve the scoop of his lifetime. All the same there are some further, political similarities between our countries. Like us Greeks, the Irish fight their political battles with almost no ideological weapons. I was also informed by a local journalist that the main dividing line is which faction one’s grandfather belonged to at the end of the civil war 80 years ago. Furthermore, the people of the Irish Republic are deeply indebted to the outside world. For more than a century their main export had been people. Oh yes, and at election time people switch sides not for beliefs, but for favors received or promised. All that sounds rather familiar, doesn’t it? The Celtic Tiger may have faltered with politics – the entire spectrum of opinion in the Irish Republic’s parliament could fit without bulges inside a conventional European Christian Democratic party – but Dublin remains more posh than it’s ever been, at least in comparison to some years ago when I was last in Dublin for a European summit. Nevertheless, the urban scene in Dublin has acquired a confidence that rivals the most sophisticated euro-spending cities. Along with Guinness, Irish theater has become one of the nation’s trademarks. Given the dire globalized situation, this year’s Dublin Theater Festival gets top marks for good intentions. Highlights include «Emilia Galotti» by the 18th century playwright Gotthold Lessing, the classic play that every German schoolchild studies. Following on from smash-hit runs in New York, Tokyo and Moscow, the play continued its success in Dublin. This production by Berlin’s Deutsches Theater was transformed from Lessing’s original by Michael Thalheimer into a fashionable modern-day play. Another noteworthy production is a shoestring production of «Product,» the new play by Mark Ravenhill who was elevated to one of Britain’s best playwrights in the 1990s with his work «Shopping and Fucking.» A venomous satire, «Product» celebrates the terrorist as bogeyman and the erotic thrill of sky-high explosions. All in all it was a first-rate festival. Once back in Athens, I visited a festival of international cinema which had been organized by the Eleftherotypia daily. The festival closed on Saturday with the screening of Woody Allen’s latest film «Scoop,» which is the story of a student journalist who happens upon the scoop of a lifetime while visiting friends in London. «The funniest movie of the year so far,» said Mick La Salle of the San Francisco Chronicle. Yet other American film reviews were mostly negative: «A failed return to comedy,» wrote the Village Voice, while it is the «worst movie Woody Allen ever made,» according to the Washington Post. Personally I enjoyed Allen’s stammering self-parody. «Scoop» is coming soon to Greek film theaters when we shall see how Greek criticism will judge such lines as: «I was of the Hebrew persuasion, but I converted to narcissism.» However my favorite «Scoop» of all times remains Evelyn Waugh’s satire on journalism. It was published some 70 years ago yet it is still fresh and funny. Not unlike the Woody Allen film, the plot in Waugh’s novel also rests on some comic twists of fortune. By a twist of fate, Lord Copper, the ignorant and arrogant owner of the Daily Beast sends out a naive writer as a war correspondent to cover a conflict in the fictional East African country of Ishmaelia. Now I would like to share with you a small sample of this book where Waugh parodies what we here still call «left» and «right» in politics. Here is the dialogue between the correspondent and his editor in chief: «Can you tell me who is fighting who in Ishmaelia?» «I think it’s the Patriots and the Traitors.» «Yes, but which is which?» «Oh, I don’t know that.» «I gather it’s between the Reds and the Blacks.» «Yes, but it’s not quite as easy as that. You see, they are all negroes. And the Fascists won’t be called black because of their racial pride, so they are called white after the White Russians. And the Bolshevists want to be called black because of their racial pride. So when you say black you mean red, and when you mean red you say white and when the party who calls themselves blacks says traitors they mean what we call blacks, but what we mean when we say traitors I really couldn’t tell you. But from your point of view it will be quite simple. Lord Copper only wants Patriot victories and both parties call themselves patriots, and of course, it’s really a war between Russia and Germany, and Italy and Japan who are all against one another on the patriotic side. I hope I make myself plain?» Really, has so much changed since those tumultuous times?