Anti-national video banned in «Art Athina» Exhibition; Curator on trial

Open-minded Greek artists and bloggers organised a Public Protest Exhibition, after the Police banned an «anti-national» video in the «Art Athina» exhibition, arresting immediately the… Exhibition’s art director (who spent a night in prison) a few days ago.

I don’t usually put such news stories in my blog, but this posting is written as an act of solidarity with other Greek artists, bloggers and open-minded people, currently protesting about this event.

On Monday, 11 June 2007, the curator of the exhibition Mr. Michael Argyrou faces trial for indecency and «offensiveness against national symbols». The prosecution is mainly based on an antiquated law of former (pre-World War II) dictator Metaxas.

I have not personally seen the banned art-video , but obviously this is an issue of Civil Liberties and of democratic principles. If Mr. Argyrou is condemned, the situation in Greece is likely to be on the verge of a serious deterioration, a regress from democratic principles to conservative fundamentalism.

The banned exhibit was a video-clip of female… masturbation, while the Greek National Anthem was being played in the background. The artist, Ms. Eva Stefani (daughter of famous Greek professor of psychiatry Stefanis) wanted to criticise certain aspects of nationalism, the invasion of the state in private lives, etc.

The video was banned after a member of the ultra-right-wing «LAOS» party denounced it as an offense against national sentiment; not because of the video’s sexual content. However, the art exhibition’s director was prosecuted on the grounds of being offensive in both ways: against national sentiments, as well as against public decency. As regards the latter, it’s ironical -or hilarious- today, to censor anything in Greece, on grounds of indecency; in a country where almost every news-kiosk (outdoor news agent) sells hard-core porn (with closeup-photos in public); where another Artistic Event was a public Porn Film Festival; a country where the most… famous Greek porn Star (Gousgounis) received official Awards (from the non-pornographic film-making community in Greece), and so on…

Censorship itself has been outlawed in Greece, since long ago. There is a clause against censorship of any type, in the Greek Constitution (after the military junta’s collapse 30 years ago). However, certain laws still exist against «public indecency» as well as against «offensiveness towards national symbols». The «public decency» laws are never invoked, except very rarely, e.g. (as in this case) to justify the prosecution of the second type of offensiveness, against national sentiments or national symbols (e.g. the flag).

I write about this in English for two reasons:

  1. As a warning (towards Greek ultra-conservatives) that their actions are severely defamatory for Greece as a whole; for the situation of deteriorating civil liberties in Greece, etc.
  2. As a form of solidarity towards the prosecuted individuals (and others). This issue isn’t merely «local gossip» which «stays inside the family»; it is instantly becoming well known world-wide.

I also had unpleasant confrontations with the ultra-conservative attitude of some Greek people, on some occasions. I also faced (many years ago) extremely conservative criticisms about some of my own Art, e.g. some erotic drawings (with samples in an on-line Art Exhibition here; but nobody even remotely suggested… banning them.

Finally, here are some links to other Greek bloggers protesting about these events (likely to be updated continuously):

http://vlemma.wordpress.com/2007/06/02/i-syghroni-elliniki-skini

http://oi15.blogspot.com/2007/06/fw-as-mas-silavoun-olous.html

http://panosz.wordpress.com/2007/06/06/artathina-2
(copy-and-paste this one; it’s removed as a link to reduce noise in that particularly crowded blog)

http://enedra.blogspot.com/2007/06/33.html

http://mme-news.blogspot.com/2007/06/blog.html

Censorship in Art Athina by So What

15 comments

  1. I ‘d like to hear the opinion of foreigners

    what they would do if their national

    hymn was exposed in such way…

    Greeks have been art-pioneers LOL

  2. Whoa, whoa, slow down my boy Sammy! I don’t think it was censorship, it was that they weren’t prepared for the vileness and the vulgarity spewed by all the patriots. Cowardly, yes, and stupid too from their side: the disgusting vileness of their «critics» was a big point for them. But then «if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen».
    BTW, flag burning is still perfectly legal to the US of A, as an exercise of the right of free speech – a fact that enrages the neocon protofascist «patriots».
    There is also a movement of Japanese people that sing a parody of their national anthem as a protest to the recent ultranationalist turn of their country’s politics (and the subsequent denial of Japanese WWII war atrocities) with japanese «patriots» calling them mad, evil and undermining lefties. This case is closer to what happened in Greece, with the difference that it is a mass protest, not a single work of art.
    And you know what, Sammy boy? I’m with them. Because the attitude «my country right or wrong» led to all sorts of wars and mass scale atrocities. I am with what is right, and if that puts me against my country, so be it.

  3. It’s really an honour that esteemed Greek blogger Penguin Witch has commented here, since I am very new in blogging. She’s been speaking out, for elementary common sense, for a _much_ longer time than me.

    Sam, I don’t think that in England (where I lived for a long time) they’d arrest anybody if he or she offended the flag. Remember Sex Pistols? The Smiths? Nothing of the sort happened, unless my memory fails me.

    If art has a bad taste, it can be easily judged by critics and by the people in general. If police and courts start banning it, for any reason, it soon escalates to worse and worse forms of repression.

    Either you believe in freedom, or you don’t.

    «I strongly disagree with what you say but will fight till the end for your right to say it» -was it Voltaire, who said this?

  4. I think «most» people are responsible for «most» kinds of evil things, throughout history.

    Meanwhile, «most» good things in Greece come from people who are not «most» Greeks.
    (Just like «most» of the planet, basically).

    «Most» of us dont give a fuck about «most» people anyway.

    Anyone who can read Greek will be astonished to find that «most» Greek bloggers are vehemently opposed to «most» people, anyhow.

  5. I meant that no greek would go on a stree-protest for this thing

    However in the case of insulting Jesus,some old men and women would go for sure

  6. Well, apathy towards many issues is hardly a Greek invention. Nor is the tendency of old men and women to go on a street-protest when they feel their religious values are insulted.

    However, if we want to live in a repressive society, all we need to do is call the police to silence heretics, on the basis of antiquated legislation. Or stone heretics to death, as they do in certain countries…

  7. Well,

    first of all, it’s one thing to be patriot and a total different thing to be fascist…isn’t?

    we should not confuse freedom of speech with disrespect to national symbols…and freedom, in general, has some boundaries, concerning where yours starts and mine ends…

    however, it is my RIGHT to say what i want to say in a designated space, call it art exibition, forum, blog or whatever. No one has the right to refraim me from stating my thoughts in such places, as the one we are talking about here.

    FREEDOM and RESPECT are interconnected and, when living in an organized society, have to be kept in mind by everyone, all the time.

  8. Undoubtedly the combination of freedom and respect is quite an ideal.
    Unfortunaly you can only legislate about freedom. Respect you can never demand. If respect is enforced, it is no longer respect; it is FEAR.
    Certain muslim countries have tried to define freedom by an _exactly_ identical way to yours. Then they justified repression, on the grounds that freedom became «disrespectful». Then, they ended up imprisoning people unjustly, sometimes even executing them, and so on.
    Furthermore, the Art exhibition where the video was banned was not a public event like a demonstration. There were warning signs outside the exhibit and it was «adults only»; prohibited for under-aged visitors to watch it.
    If you define freedom together with respect, then freedom is finished, people become more and more disrespectful, and in the end _all_ you will get is _fear_.
    It is our moral responsibility to ensure that hatred against our sacred symbols (or flag or national anthem, whatever) does not arise. Then we get respect (from others) as a bonus. But we cannot demand it. If Greece does something extremely nasty, it must be prepared like all free countries to tolerate protests.
    In the case of this art-video, intolerance has resulted in people’s determination to show even more disrespect, rather than less.
    There is NO way to enforce respect, all you can ever do is enforce fear and hatred.

  9. True!True!

    respect, by definition, has to do with ethics…
    and ethics cannot be enforced…just…TAUGHT (for lack of better words). What I am trying to say is that one can only learn how to be respectfull, of other people feelings or symbols, through education and proper social structures. JUSTICE – EQUALITY – RESPECT, can these things be enforced upon us?

    Certainly not, but, thnakfully, there are some people, like us I dare say, that are trying to set an example!

    Thank you for that effort…

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