Wednesday, 10 February 2016

February 7 – Ai, Lesvos!


The island is buzzing like a furious beehive and whoever dares to
stand out from the crowd is suspect. Fingers are pointing, mouths tight-lipped, hearts are beating like a drum because of the coming time. The twittering people know who caused the flood of refugees and seeing a hopeless summer coming, the scapegoat has to hang. Ai, ai, ai, better that Ai doesn't hear this, otherwise we might be confronted with a huge monument of flaming tongues.

It was not even a century ago that the suffering of earlier refugees piled up, like in Skala Sykaminias, where the villagers now stand united on the barricades. Amongst them grandmother Emilia Kamvisi and fisherman Stratis Valiamos whose names have been put forward to be crowned with a modern laurel: the Nobel Prize for Peace.

The loose tongues of that same village could to be read about in the novel The Mermaid Madonna of Stratis Myrivilis, who just missed out on the laurel of literature in the Sixties. He earned the nomination for the literature prize for his writings about war, refugees and the gossiping life in the village of mermaids, where the 'Greeks of the other side' were treated as if they were people with another religion. The village now knows better and has a renewed change to get this priceless ode for peace.

In the Twenties the Greek Red Cross was also nominated over many years for the Peace Prize for the blood, sweat and tears it gave in order to return a decent life to the thousands of refugees who came to Greece after the Big Catastrophe. Now we all know what a Herculean job that must have been.

Odysseus Elytis, whose parents had their roots in Lesvos, was himself the owner of a little cottage in Eftalou. He put the sun in his poems and is one of the three Greeks crowned with a precious Nobel prize. His words, combative and light, taught a lesson about pointing fingers and injustice, would appeal to Ai, I am sure - perhaps bringing him ideas for a monument on Lesvos.

Ai Weiwei, who came from faraway China, landing like a colourful exotic bird on lamenting Lesvos, immediately set to photographing, filming, writing and creating. His portrait where he poses as the drowned butterfly Aylan on a beach, was not appreciated everywhere. He is an artist, once his wings cut by China, whose work focusses on setting tongues free, so that the world does not forget.

In faraway Australian Melbourne his work is making history next to that of the King of Pop Andy Warhol, who also had his own personal way of breaking free from conventions.

Ai Weiwei, hear the villagers, who imagine that they are as poor as the refugees, cry. 'Ai'; he will think, 'what a whining people'. Ai never had his life stopped, not by poverty, locks or passport. He crumbles his work behind him, leaving a trail far into the insecure future. Fourteen thousands lifejackets will make a bridge between Lesvos and Berlin in one of his projects.

Lesvos has to climb into the future and not remain stuck in self pity. She must honour her heroes, as Alfred Nobel wanted - not only the three nominees (Susan Sarandon is the third nominee), but also all the other local heroes and those people, like Ai Weiwei, who have come to care for the refugees and the islanders. Lesvos, where have you hidden your pride!

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

© Smitaki 2016

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