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Monday, 7 May 2012

Return of the Greek Barbarians

Greek neo-Nazis' electoral breakthrough (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/greece/9250142/Greek-ultra-nationalists-celebrate-parliamentary-first.html) is worrying for all sorts of reasons (http://www.jpost.com/International/Article.aspx?id=268884). The Far Right actually joined the Greek Government last year (http://www.thejc.com/news/world-news/58265/fears-over-antisemitism-new-greek-coalition-government), with these new Golden Dawn people being not so much the Far Right as the Even Further Right. Without exaggerating the number of people who actually voted for Golden Dawn and the others, it is profoundly depressing to see fascists elected in a country that has Greece's modern history (http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/2011/11/the_ghost_of_the_colonels.html).

This makes me think of a particular poem by the Greek poet CP Cavafy (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constantine_P._Cavafy). Eighteen years ago, I was the assistant director on a production of When the Barbarians Came (https://samuelfrench-london.co.uk/books/when-barbarians-came) by Don Taylor (http://m.guardian.co.uk/media/2003/nov/20/broadcasting.artsobituaries?cat=media&type=article). I liked Don, not least because he allowed me to talk to him about his work with David Mercer (http://www.screenonline.org.uk/people/id/476343/index.html) and Sydney Newman (http://www.screenonline.org.uk/people/id/522017/index.html). Not having then read Don's book Days of Vision, I assumed that Don shared my reverence of Newman - he didn't, and indeed considered himself to have been blacklisted by Newman (http://www.britishtelevisiondrama.org.uk/?p=461). In 1963, Newman had asked Don to be the first producer of a new time-travel adventure series for Saturday nights...Don had turned him down, and I asked him about it. "Sydney said that I could do stories about whatever interested me, like the French Revolution," said Don. "But if I want to do a story about the French Revolution, I'll do a story about the French Revolution - there's no need to have a man there in a time capsule, for me to do a story about the French Revolution." Fair enough.

Don always made clear that When the Barbarians Came was linked in his mind to Cavafy's poem Waiting for the Barbarians, and I find myself thinking of that poem today, in light of Golden Dawn's arrival in the Greek Parliament:

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

      The barbarians are due here today.


Why isn't anything going on in the senate?
Why are the senators sitting there without legislating?

      Because the barbarians are coming today.
      What's the point of senators making laws now?
      Once the barbarians are here, they'll do the legislating.


Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting enthroned at the city's main gate,
in state, wearing the crown?

      Because the barbarians are coming today
      and the emperor's waiting to receive their leader.
      He's even got a scroll to give him,
      loaded with titles, with imposing names.


Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

      Because the barbarians are coming today
      and things like that dazzle the barbarians.


Why don't our distinguished orators turn up as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

      Because the barbarians are coming today
      and they're bored by rhetoric and public speaking.


Why this sudden bewilderment, this confusion?
(How serious people's faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home lost in thought?

      Because night has fallen and the barbarians haven't come.
      And some of our men just in from the border say
      there are no barbarians any longer.


Now what's going to happen to us without barbarians?
Those people were a kind of solution.

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