Monday, 17 October 2011

Article: Interview with Chronis Missios

Original Article written for a Greek Magazine and found on this blog - Translation by Niko Paterakis.

Chronis Missios was born in Cavala (Greece) to a pair of tobacco workers. He spent his early years in Potamoudia, a neighbourhood of refugees, workers and illegal communists hunted from Metaksa’s dictatoship [Greek general, serving as Prime Minister/1936-1941]. His family flees to Salonica, where Chronis works as a salesman.

He returns to Salonica after the liberation. He joins the Urban Democratic Army and in 1947 – at the age of seventeen – he is arrested, brutally tortured and sentenced to death. He spends the next 9 months expecting execution every morning. In 1953, he is released, enlists for his compulsory military service and is sent to Makronisos, afterwards Ai-Stratis [significant political exile destinations], until 1962, when the camp is disbanded. Since then, he works as a member of Unified Democratic Left [Greek initials: EDA]. The dictatorship of ’67 finds him a member of the five-strong secretarial office of the Lambrakis administration. He joins other members in forming the illegal party Greek Liberation Front [Greek initials: PAM]. In November 1967 he is arrested and court-martialled to 18 years in prison. Once again, Averoff, Corfu, Koridallos, until the August 1973 general amnesty.

In an interview he gave Car & Driver he stated that: “Life is a gift for all of us. It has an expiration date. And we have the right to enjoy it, share it, create it”.

Below are excerpts of that interview:

‘Some of us romantics believed that we could make something beautiful back then, something special, but as Danton said: “the steps of humanity are the tombstones of the romantics”. We were, I think, the last of the Mohicans, the romantics. We had a myth, we believed in an ideal, we sacrificed our very lives for it. For the betterment of humanity, a more beautiful society, all of that. Well! It turned that the vision of this ideal society we strived for was impossible to materialize because people’s consciousness – that is, their deep internal cultural sensitivity – was not at the same level as the civilization it was trying to create. So, the powers that be climb back on top again and used all pretensions, legally or illegally, to form a new establishment much worse than the previous one. This happened
worldwide; the October Revolution, Vietnam, Cuba, everywhere…’, he emphasizes.

He continues to say that ‘the only visionary rebels who retained their innocence were the ones that died early. From Christ to Che Guevara, to Velouhiotis, to Beloyiannis, and so many others…’.

‘The opportunity was not lost in ’44; it never even existed. Just up the road is a little tavern. Vasilis, the owner – an old man, passed away now – and I were sitting and chatting one day. Me – a guerrilla fighter – and him – in the national guard. He was a gunsman. After a few drinks he started wondering about the insanity we both lived through. I said to him: “It’s a good job you held yur gun tight, ‘cause if we had won the war we would have destroyed Greece”. That’s how it is. The level of political guidance and of the people where such that it could not support this new model; aside from the fact that those where the circumstances, what would have become of Greece? Another Bulgaria, another Albania, something like that…’.

‘After the civil war, the right wing kept all the laws. The 509, the 3rd vote and it pressured the left wing to the point of annihilation. Independent justice, my ass. Let aside my convictions in the court-martials. When they exiled us, though, they sent us past appeal boards – supposedly; we were never taken there. So my papers read: “inducted due to judgement of threat to public order”. These boards where made up of judges, not court-martials. How the fuck do you exile someone without even knowing them? Every year? For ten consecutive years? Without hearing them state their case once?...’

‘When I returned from a trip to the Soviet Union in ’64, after obtaining a passport with great difficulty, Rinio asked me how things are there. I was disappointed with what I had encountered and I said, “Forget about it, but we’re Mediterraneans; we’ll sort communism out”. I didn’t believe it but else could I do? Where else to go? The party and my fight for communism was my whole life. It’s not easy renouncing your whole life. Today, for example, there are a lot of capable comrades in the party. How could they renounce their lives?...’

‘When I got out of prison after the dictatorship fell, I found work in a business. Someone asked for me urgently. I look at him, he looks at me; it was one of my torturers from prison. “What’s up”, I said. “What brings you here?”. He says, “Look, Chronis, I need to ask you for a favour…I’m so embarrassed…well, my son is looking for work, could yu help me out?”. We started chatting. We ended up in ‘Smaro’, a small ouzerie in Kaisariani, had a few drinks and cried on each other. Go figure. When you’re a rebel, and more so a romantic one, in order to survive the meat machine that those in charge put you through, you need to safeguard your culture and dignity like the rarest perfume. Don’t stoop to their level. Only that can save you as a human being. That’s what humanizes your struggle. That is culture. If we came out of the cavernous holes they threw us in with knives and grenades we would have become the same…’

‘In prison, we used to have a little game of talking about what job we would have in the future. “Chronis, what are you gonna do?”, they used to ask. “Lawman”, I said. And they thought that that’s how I was going to get my revenge. But that wasn’t my purpose. I wanted to be able to console the mothers whose children where inside. I imagine what it must have been like for my mom, who came every day to bring me fresh clothes and take the blood-stained ones, so she would know how often they tortured me…’

‘The main issue is to win people over. You can’t save people if they don’t want to be saved. Us communists did that. Save them by force. If the other isn’t bothered, doesn’t feel the need to change, how do you expect to make him do it?…’

‘Andreas [Papandreou – founder of the Greek Socialist Party (Greek initials: PASOK - currently in government); Prime Minister, 1981-89, 1993-96], the superb demagogue he was, adopted all of the slogans of the left wing, devalued them through his selective exercise of power and the movement was left looking for its legacy. As if that weren’t enough, he’s left us his family, too [current Prime Minister George Papandreou is his son]...'

‘Back then, us romantics had an ideal, a vision, a dream; also, an opponent. The system violated our bodies. It put us behind bars, tortured us, and executed us. Today the system violates the mind. It lobotomizes people. It is very hard today to form one’s own consciousness. One lives in a fake world, a fake life. Consumerism, marketing, television. From our generation they took away the quality of life. Today they take away life itself. What does the future hold for youngsters in this country? They hear numbers, memoranda, defaults, etc. Is it democracy for all this tragedy to have occurred after the regime change? Driving the country to the ultimate submissive state, to national servitude, through all these scandals and bribes and not have a single person behind bars? Not a single apology? A single one, for fuck sake! What justice? What democracy? Are the institutions under threat because Pagalos [current government – PASOK – second Vice President] got some yoghurt thrown at his face? If there was a fair democratic system in place, all in power would have to be charged with treason. We are experiencing a tragedy with puppets for actors. As for the past, let it be. The system is so powerful, it can erase history. It’s scary…’

‘While our political system has brought us to this point, as soon there is a deviation, open action against a member of parliament, it becomes immediately a matter of democratic principle. Personally I am against these methods, but if you have an entire nation of people enraged, there’s bound to be some impulsive ones in the bunch. Does that signify a breach of institutions? And what are they? To sell your vote every four years to a candidate or a party hoping to climb up the ladder socially, professionally – find your child a job? Is that Democracy? Isn’t the right to work and live your life in dignity, in safety, to prosper and to secure your childrens’ future a democratic principle, but this 4-year bazaar is? We need to realize that life is a gift for all of us. It has an expiration date. And we have the right to enjoy it, share it, create it. Well! The fact that the system stops us from fulfilling all this and instead pushes us to depression, despair, unemployment, insecurity – I’m sorry; that is NOT democracy…’

‘That is why I think it is important that the people are out on the streets. To have a look around, to cross paths and dreams, to exchange a few words, to get out of the ‘party pen’. The spontaneous is creative. And of course the party leaders are baffled; how can this happen without them, without guidance?...’

‘The system has been so dominant for so long that it has obligated people to constantly reproduce it. And the problem right now is not just the expansion of the institutional boundaries of freedom in our society. The problem is freeing the human being. That is the main challenge because people have been transformed and it is extremely hard to redefine oneself…’

‘When I hear what a rich nation we are because of the recent discoveries of oil in the Aegean and the Ionian Seas I get depressed. We’re going to mess the whole thing up. We’re going to become a colony for oil multinational companies. Can you imagine the platforms and the boats rustling about all over the Aegean?...’

‘Even ecological activists – who come indubitably to perform the important task of forging an ecological awareness and conscience – have not realized that our planet consists of two environments: the natural and the social. The problem is that the social is applying such catastrophic pressure on the natural one that, in order to protect it, we have to reshape the social. That is why ecology is revolutionary. Humanity must realize that the environment is our home…’

‘Marketing has made people insane. It always produces new things that it tries to push to people. Marketing has even vulgarised children. Makes them advertise crisps or whatever while moving and looking like prostitutes. Rubbish. We consume the planet’s resources so greedily and fast that we can barely tell what tomorrow will bring. Natural goods, water, air, sunshine are being destroyed. And these fuckers, the politicians go out on television and shake their finger at us…’

‘We’re living in ugly times. We used to fight, wage battles and conflict. Today they steal the lives of the children, of people. Who’s there to fight? Not even yur boss. Multinational corporation, they say. That’s the system. Fake money, plastic. There’s no reliable value around us to rest upon. Is that society? Is that culture?...’

‘The hippie movement was the last insurgence of mankind. Why was it that important? Because it had understood that universities where turning into technocratic boot camps, set to groom a new generation of high-tech idiots. That’s how questioning the entire system began. Coupled with the Vietnam war, a dynamic evolved that defied everything. To dissolve it, they threw chemical drugs in the mix. Unfortunately, the system prevailed and turned it into fashion. It even turned Guevara’s face into fashion, the hippies weren’t gonna get away with it…’

‘I last went to Cavala a few years back. It hurts a lot. I couldn’t find the road leading to the house I was born in. The city’s been destroyed, populated by monstrous apartment buildings…’

‘So what to do? Rebuild the country. Reclaim the land. Rebuild our agriculture. We live in a paradise land, capable of producing so many of the finest things. We need to return to our villages, to our bond with the earth. To hell with the lenders and our debts. What are they gonna do – send the troops in? We’ll suffer, but we’ll suffer for ourselves and all we create will be ours…’

“Since my generation failed at changing the world, at least I will not let the world change me and that is, in my view, the ultimate political statement’.

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