Debates about censorship of the arts came to light again as a controversial theatre production came to an abrupt end at the end of January, days before it was set to finish officially, after pressure from politicians, NGOs and the American Embassy. “The Nash Equilibrium” (Ισορροπία του Νας) had been performed at the Greek National Theatre’s Experimental Stage (REX) since the beginning of January and had attracted controversy since it contained excerpts of texts written by Savvas Xiros, a convicted member of the group November 17 which carried out 23 assassinations and more than 100 attacks between 1975 and 2002. The leadership of the play decided to cancel the production due to fear for the safety of the staff and the withdrawal of the main sponsor.
This, however, created a backlash from the governing board of the National Theatre, the union of the National Theatre workers, the union of actors plus many artists, activists and concerned individuals. On the 29th of January a protest was held outside the National Theatre in Athens and on the 31st of January, on the last scheduled day of the cancelled performance, hundreds of people gathered outside the theatre with banners. Eventually the show was performed to a full house, followed by a discussion by the cast, director, production staff and the artistic directors of the theatre.
This conflict highlights many aspects of the realities for the arts in Greece during times of economic and political crisis and turmoil. The dependency of economic sponsorship, due to the near total loss of state funding for the arts, creates a dynamic where controversy and popularity have to be taken into account when appealing to corporate sponsors. This combines with the historical factors of dictatorships, occupation and war (all within living memory) which have seen censorship of various kinds and created a polarity in society where people's families often belong to various historical perspectives. Protests against the theatre production were voiced by Conservative politicians and 'Os Edo', an NGO for victims of terrorism, both representing parts of society that have been affected of violent attacks carried out by the group November 17. This very much illustrates the continuation of a violent and long conflict between the right and the left in Greece, going back to the dictatorship, the civil war, the second world war and the dictatorship of Metaxa. Memories of persecution, censorship and oppression by various regimes are brought to life when censorship returns as a result of pressure from the right, showing the very living weight of history.
This is yet another example of politics, history and economy shaping artistic production and bringing forth discussion about censorship, state funding, political interference and creative expression.
All photographs by Niklas Karlsson