Greece Theme: Revisiting The Carnival; Crisis & Creativity

It has been a year since I finished my field work on the Cretan Carnival revelry in the town of Rethymnno. I think its time to revisit our findings and reflect upon the notion of crisis & creativity.

Last spring, my friend Peter and I packed our bags for a three week journey to conduct field work on the island of Crete in Greece. The previous 2 months had been spent researching Carnival culture through the prisms of hermeneutical studies and it was now time to take our hypothesis to the test. We had made  a pre-arranged agreement with Danmarks Radio (Denmarks national radio station) to produce a Panorama production which was meant to capture the essence of the carnival culture, manifested in crisis, through the channels of sound. Peter, being a wiz with sound production was armoured with the best in high- tech recording, whilst I conducted the majority of the interviews found throughout the recording. Below is a link to the finished production for those interested:

Last summer, I delivered, with satisfying relief, my master thesis. As is often quite natural with long and difficult projects like this, you are in no rush to revisit your findings. I finally did so, however, and was inspired to provide some perspective. As Peter and I concluded, the Carnival is a sanctuary and a creative domaine that is essentially further solidified by the presence of a crisis situation. Now more than ever, people seek to find refuge in these cathartic events, and it is this collaboration across familial, marital and friendship bonds that catalyse co-creativity. In many ways, the Greeks are the most family-oriented Europeans, yet they also seem to be judged as the black sheep of Europe. In my thesis , I wrote a passage about the peculiarities about the greeks and I would like to revisit these thoughts for a moment:

Despite bearing the label of the cradle of western civilization and democracy, the Greek nation is arguably less “European” than one tends to attribute the country. Despite its significant glory days of the Ancient period, and its subsequent Byzantine riches, Greece has had a unique, albeit turbulent past. For a period of 400 years, Western development has somewhat bypassed the Greek nation as it lay under the siege of the Ottoman yoke for a solid four centuries.  One may argue that the Greek nation-state has more in common with its eastern neighbours in Asia Minor and the Caucasus, than its western european counterpoint.

This argument is further solidified by the fact that the Greeks not only posses an Eastern Orthodox Christian religion, but also maintain their Greek alphabet. During the Turkish occupation, help was sought out from the Western romans, yet this military assistance came with a symbolic price of accepting papal supremacy in a vastly dominant orthodox country. It is therefore natural to assume that Greece’s somewhat antagonistic attitude towards Western European ethnocentrism comes from a range of frictions with its neighbours. Greece is essentially a European country amalgamated with an eastern influence and heritage. Therefore, some may argue that Greece is today a country that is seeking identity within a contemporary european context.    -Taken from my Master thesis 

Ultimately, the Rethymnian carnival is something we found to be a potential modern and driven cultural symbol of the modern Greek islander and their mitigation of the crisis through event creation. The grand parades and satirical costumes, the copious amounts of intoxication during the 3 week period has a cleansing effect. Artistic expression and cultural collaboration remains more important now than ever while Greece are licking their wounds.

As we all can remember, the onset of the crisis back in 2009 sent Greece through an emotional rollercoaster ride riddled by constant demonstrations and street violence. The Greeks have always been heated protesters, especially in the wake of increased xenophobia bred and cultivated by the fascist Golden Dawn. The streets of Athens and Thessaloniki often took on battlefield-like characteristics. This increase in fascist tendencies was further solidified by the on-going refugee crisis that has seen thousands of war-fleeing people walk onto Greek soil.

The year is now 2017 and the tensions seem to have dissipated a lot in the Greek nation. The black sheep no longer features heavily in the worldwide newstream as before, and I believe that this is a positive indication of growth. On my way down to Greece, I came across an feature article in the norwegian on-flight magazine. This author of this article describes and nominates Athens as an artistic and creative bastion of Europe, and boldly coined the nation capital as the “New Berlin”. Another impression was that I noticed people requesting receipts upon all purchases, showing optimistic signs that the taxation system must be respected. Furthermore, the tourism industry is booming and the Greek industry, especially wine, is finding channels to export internationally.

There is a degree of respect for one another that I did not find before the onset of the crisis. The fiery yet stubborn Greek seems to have let his guard down and is now seeking to work together with his fellow citizens. In some ways, one could say the crisis provides the fuel and inspiration for creativity and alternative means of living, finding cultural solace in each other. It is my opinion that crisis in many ways forces a nations people to look inward, but more importantly, at each other. The public sphere is ever more important and Greece now has the unique chance to really stir things up and thereby revitalizing, or even reinventing their own identity, as they would like it to be in 2017.  

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