Kostas Theodorou, aka Dine Doneff, speaks with Ieronymos Pollatos about non-forgetting.
[I.P.] Half of the time you are in Edessa and half in Munich. How do you manage this splitting of yourself?
[D.D.] It is an old habit which started in the early ’90s. Back then I was travelling with an old van which I had made more or less fit for living in. I travelled through many cities of West-Central Europe, playing music on the streets, and later at recordings and concerts with musicians I met on the road. It was a period of intense change and learning that left powerful memories. Over the last years, with all the difficulties we have been experiencing within our borders (and by “difficulties” I don’t mean financial problems) I’ve felt the wish for flight, not towards a better world, but towards a journey of body and mind. This time I chose Munich as my base; it’s in the middle of the map of Europe and it’s relatively easy to drive to concerts. I often travel back to Edessa, by car again, and work there until the next trip…
[I.P.] Who is Dine Doneff?
[D.D.] That’s a difficult question… Dine Doneff is me, i.e. Kostas Theodorou. As time passes by and we gather experience, we realize that reality differs from truth. Generally speaking, I can say that Dine Doneff is the truth, and KostasTheodorou the reality. The writer Skaribas put it in a nutshell;“generalizations save”.
[I.P.] At what point did Kostas Theodorou and Dine Doneff meet?
[D.D.] Since I can remember remembering, there has always been an inner dialogue between these two. All my years at school it was impossible for me to express my hidden identity, since reality demonized it. Coming of age, things became more difficult, and the necessity of surviving and integrating into Modern Greek society drew “borderlines”. I could already sense, even in leftist and anarchist circles, this rejection of “otherness”. Meanwhile, this anguish, intuitively, began to pervade the music I was writing. In Nostos (“Longing”), my first recorded work, I had already implanted some encrypted clues. In Rousilvo, the very theme of the project itself gave me the power to externalize what had been churning inside me all those years.
[I.P.] This sounds a little confusing, can you be a little clearer?
[D.D.] I belong to the generation of those used to hearing one language at home and another in public places. The older generation, particularly the women, didn’t speak Greek. In the purely rural villages of the Greek part of Macedonia the Greek language was hardly evident, whilst the local (Slavic) language was almost universal. In mixed villages, however, and especially in the cities, the demonized mother tongue remained locked in the house. We used to switch into Greek every time we came out to meet other people in the neighborhood. Children, on the other hand, used to teach their grandparents and parents their newly acquired language (modern Greek), sometimes simply passing on what they learnt at school. Although it’s been decades since state endorsed repression used any means it could, aided by television, to Hellenize even the most remote villages, my mother tongue (Slavic Macedonian) is still nurtured and cherished in many homes. I communicate with my parents in this language.
[I.P.] Everything you say, and the rest you only imply, is a kind of what the old Greek song calls “a still bleeding wound”?
[D.D.] Unfortunately this is not only an old song, but still a popular refrain… in 2014, despite many publications, scholarly research, books, a big pool of information on the internet, a large percentage of this country’s citizens neither know nor want to accept. They rend their clothes in public anguish when they hear that somewhere, in some distant country, minority rights are being suppressed, but in their own country they muzzle their neighbours in the fervent delusion that they are acting in accordance with some kind of national mission.
[I.P.] I can also add a small experience of my own, something that surprised me when I first published Vertekop. I asked a lady (a resident of Vertekop who had helped me a little with the geography of the city) to suggest some someone to send the book to. I sent it to two people, but neither of them replied, and, as I learned later, they had not even bothered to read it. I was bitterly disappointed. Not even one of them? Later, there was a presentation of the book in Aridaia and in the high school at Skidra. I always remember with emotion the work done on the text by the teachers with their pupils.
[D.D.] The dark master of Vertekop (Ο σκοτεινός κύριος του Βέρτεκοπ) was not only why we got to know each other, but also, in a way, the spur for this very conversation. Maybe, if The Repressed Language (Η Απαγορευμένη Γλώσσα), the book by Tasos Kostopoulos – both a thorough investigation of the historical documents, and also a dispassionate and courageous record of the issue - had come into your hands before you sent your book to Skidra, (Vertekop), you might have expected your book would not be read by the present inhabitants, just because the title use sits old (Slavic) name. Especially by those whose memories are afflicted by self-censorship, and all this, without considering the national allergy to the names of “allophones”. We lived and still live in this area of our origin and birth as indigenous foreigners. We are somehow consigned to the corner of the Macedonia-fighters and the Hellenization-streets (Μακεδονομάχων και Εξελληνισμού γωνία - in original) (an anomaly and irrelevance in our own country).
Still, you have been lucky, after a time you found a few teachers who didn’t come from the area and were not infected by the demonization of the language, or possibly felt that the book was not "dangerous" to the national identity and dared to proceed with a presentation. By the way, let me re-emphasise the impression your book made on me, especially the insight and perceptiveness of your writing, you caught the pulse of the times you described, when I read your words they evoked vivid images of when I used to go to school in Vertekop.
I.P. Since you live half in Greece, and half in another, European reality, how do you see the situation in Greece?
D.D. I would say that there are two Greeces. One, a Greece of grim reality, sustains an irredentist ideology even among working class people, under the historical burden of its national myths, and this is what makes Greece so vulnerable to right-wing nationalist fantasies – an ideology which sees all neighboring countries as inferior nations and potential enemies. Thus, Greece is diplomatically crippled, unable to establish friendly relations, and cooperate, to Greece’s benefit, with the surrounding countries. For the same reasons, Greece considers the violation of basic human rights not only of immigrants but also of Greek citizens who happen to have different origins (i.e.of people seen as second and third class citizens) perfectly natural. These, and other ancillary factors, lead to the self mutilation of its own body politic, forcing a large, hugely talented and productive part of its population to seek their fortunes abroad. It often seems, particularly to those on the wrong end of national prejudices, that Greece lacks the capacity for accepting free thinking, questioning, exploration of ideas, and of course differences.
The crisis we are going through is more than anything else a cultural one. The roots of all this can be sought in the educational system, it can be sought among every one of its religious prelates, among its nationalist politicians and the citizens who support them. But there is also a truthful,ideal Greece in the concept of Hellenism, if the word is taken as a cultural and philosophical term rather than a racial one. In this sense, Greece means free thinking, questioning, intellectual humility, exploration of ideas. It means a spirit free of prejudices and superstitions. I believe that no one is born a Greek. Everyone can become a Greek. This should be an achievement, not acoincidence.
I.P. The Germans?
D.D. Most of the people I associate with when I am in Munich happen to be involved with art. Probably because of this there is a good level of perception and cooperation. More than that, in everyday life you enjoy courtesy and, as far as I sense it, acceptance. The city hosts a large number of immigrants from diverse origins and in the streets you can hear many different languages. Many of the incomers have taken German citizenship. Recently I met the director of one of the largest museums of contemporary art in Munich who is Nigerian and enjoys great acceptance. The municipal official responsible for immigration in Munich is Greek. Imagine what would happen if in our country such positions were held by Albanians or Africans... However, although in Greece one hears of “Germanarades”- “bad Germans” - I have not had the “luck” to meet such a person. Perhaps they exist, maybe as the representatives of the long-long arm of capitalism that knocks on your door, and if you don’t open, wrenches the door off its hinges and leaves you... Here everything is calculated to such an extent that, if you are not able to tune (fit) in, the system itself crushes you or ejects you, but all with the same courtesy I mentioned before. Younger generations are infused with this "civilized" capitalism. Nowadays everything seems to be measured with precision. Perhaps this is the reason people here have so much love and respect for the arts: theatres, exhibitions and concert halls enjoy hugeturnouts since arts have the strength to unbind people and make them, even momentarily, feel free, but... only as I said before, perhaps.
I.P. Your future plans?
D.D. Sometime soon, I hope, I get into the studio to record a new album. There is a lot of fresh, but also older material, to choose from and create the new narration I am working on. I have already presented my Songs without words, and more recently, my latest work under the title Lost_Anthropology at concerts inside and outside Greece. Both works remain as yet unpublished. After Nostos in1999 and Rousilvo in 2010, as the first two parts of a trilogy there are still things to be done… We will see… I have exceptionally good friends and this gives me strength for the future. The rest will be concerts here and there.
I.P. The Greek poet Solomos says “Close inside you Greece (or whatever else…)” and Seferis remarks: “There are very few signs that are more characteristic of him than this parenthesis.” What is your comment on this parenthesis?
D.D. Solomos says somewhere else that “…the nation needs to learn to consider national, everything that is truthful”, and this is what comes into my mind when ever I think not only of this parenthesis, but also when ever I find myself confronted with the axiom which says Greece is made up of one nationality, one race, the Greeks. As far as I am concerned, the poet tells me to embrace in mysoul the truthful, the one and only that is not falsified. This reasoning is important if one meditates on the etymology of the word "true" where truth is the “non-forgetting” (α-λήθεια=μη λήθη). "Do not allow even a single arc to be cut from your fingerprints. If you succumb, the third day you will find yourself without moral or philosophical toehold”, writes somewhere another poet, Aris Alexandrou. This verse haunts you as soon as you get into this perpetual dialectics about what is and what is not true and by that what is, and what is not national, according to Solomos.
[Published on 09.04.2014 in www.popaganda.gr under the tittle:
A mysterious musical genius lives among us.
and followed by a prologue like:
“As time passes by and we gather experience, we realize that reality differs from truth.”
A phone call from “Rodakio” – editions resulted in an unexpected conversation with someone out of the ordinary, initially slightly unsettling, an enigmatic figure from Edessa (Macedonia, GR); Kostas Theodorou wanted to get to know the writer, “The dark gentleman from Vertekop”. We couldn’t meet then, he was off to Edessa the next day, but, before leaving, he dropped off a copy of his album, “Rousilvo” for me. As I listened to it, all those images and memories started flooding back: Vertekop, the bone chilling fog of Kajmakchalan, the silent mountains of Macedonia, the people muffled in thick coats speaking fearful words. Eventually I caught up with the (multi-instrumentalist) composer Kostas Theodorou in Athens. We were both a little wary to begin with, sounding each other out about books, music, the band “Primavera en Salonico” (he is a member) and a lot more. In a small kitchen bar in Athinas Street I tried to loosen his tongue, prise him open.
Translated by Alexandra Ioannidou - Edited by Jonathan Smith.