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Patriotism, art and freedom in Greece June 6, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Exhibitions Greece.

Art and the police, two concepts, two worlds that are far apart and should remain so. After all, every time these two worlds have approached each other, it has always been for the worst.

As the official with political responsibility for the police department, Public Order Minister Vyron Polydoras is experiencing a kind of purgatory, or so he maintained recently. As a self-professed poet, however, who currently happens to be running the Greek police force, what should be Polydoras’s reaction to the sight of his officers bursting into an art exhibition and removing an exhibit, as happened last Saturday with the video installation of acclaimed artist Eva Stefani at the Art Athina show? Should he just sit back and watch? Or should he exploit his influence to defend freedom of speech and artistic expression?

There are many of us who probably feel bothered by a work of art that mixes pornography with the National flag. But if we give the state the power, and chiefly, the right, to remove such works from public displays, we will be setting off down an extremely dangerous spiritual and moral road. Such things do not happen in free countries; they are not done by free people. Such things happen under Third World regimes, in fascist-style states.

And when such things happen in free countries, then both the societies themselves and other public agencies must take concerted action to contain such activities. But such actions are certainly not silently overlooked, swept under the carpet or tolerated.

Art history is rife with creators who offended the “sacred values” of their times, including some huge names, who should one mention first?, whose restriction due to censorship would have left the world of art a much poorer place.

But Greek art has also suffered much from jingoistic censors over the decades. I do not know if Stefani offends our National sentiment. Perhaps she does. But I do know that the initiative of the police, in removing her work, offends this sentiment much more violently, as it insults the much deeper, central concept of patriotism. After all, the notion of patriotism should go hand-in-hand with that of freedom, otherwise there is something fundamentally wrong with it. In a true democracy, these two notions cannot be in conflict because if they are, our lives will become reminiscent of the gloomy years of the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

Irrespective of the fundamental values linked to civil rights and freedoms, beyond the argument about what constitutes art and what does not, there is another reason that we should allow provocative works to be shown, because they make us think. If we think long enough, we may wonder whether Stefani’s artwork offends our patriotism more than other activities we see every day and tolerate.

Further reading >

Police pull offensive video art off display

Protests as Greek police close indecent art show

Artists protest raid on show

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