The Guardian • Issue #1978

Mikis Theodorakis: of his times and for the people

On 2nd September, the internationally renowned Greek composer, Mikis Theodorakis passed away in Athens aged ninety-six years. His death has been mourned by the people of his beloved Greece and by democratic and freedom loving people worldwide. Theodorakis’ music spanned the popular to the classical. The music he created will continue be his living legacy, it’s universal, lasting appeal derived from its ability to transcend a moment in time, to capture our deepest humanity, and through difficult times, to inspire optimism.

Theodorakis was a composer and artist of international stature whose greatness was magnified by his reimagination and strengthening of the inseparable connection between art and the life of the people. His music, often set to the powerful and beautiful words of modern Greek poets, gave a cultural dimension and a cultural weapon to the Greek people’s democratic and anti-fascist struggles of the last 70 years. It also resonated with a wider international audience and renewed the great traditions of Greek music.

Theodorakis was born on the Greek island of Chios to Cretan parents. In 1943 as a seventeen-year-old he enlisted in the Greek Popular Resistance, EAM, to fight against the German occupation of Greece. He joined the Communist Party of Greece, KKE, not long afterwards. After the war Theodorakis, took part in the Greek civil war and in the legal and illegal struggle against fascism and the military junta which controlled Greece between 1967 and 1974. During these decades he was imprisoned, tortured, and exiled. In the late 1970s and 1980s he was elected as KKE member of parliament several times.

Throughout his long life Theodorakis was an internationalist in word and deed and a strong supporter of the Soviet Union and the other socialist countries. Theodorakis spoke out against the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and the Zionist policies of the Israeli government towards the Palestinian people. Closer to home he opposed the cynical plans of imperialist blocs to realise their regional and international geopolitical interests by manipulating nationalist sentiments in Greece and Turkey.

He supported the development of friendship and solidarity between the people of Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus for their common interests and against the increasing militarisation of their economies and their countries. Theodorakis never wavered in his support for the people of Cyprus in their struggle to end foreign occupation and for an independent and united Cyprus. In 1983 he was awarded the Lenin Prize for Peace in recognition of his artistic and social contribution.

At home, in his later years, he was strongly critical of the policies of Syriza, (the Greek new left party formed from disaffected PASOK and other reformist political groupings). Theodorakis spoke out in 2015 against Syriza’s agreement with the European Union to implement a cruel austerity package on the Greek people to meet the debt obligations of Greek capital.

In the second half of his life Theodorakis expressed doubts and differences with the political strategies of the left, particularly over questions of uniting the Greek people. He searched for a political answer in different places but did not find lasting answers outside of the KKE. Prior to his death he wrote to Cde Dimitris Koutsoumbas, the General Secretary of the KKE, expressing his conclusion that the best and most meaningful years of his life were in the ranks of the KKE. He stated in his Letter to the KKE, he wished to die as a communist. Just prior to his death, he also spoke by phone with Cde Koutsoumbas to inform him of his final wishes.

Theodorakis and his music will forever be an inseparable part of the 20th century history of the Greek people as well as the history of the struggle of the peoples of the world for a better future. His refusal to stand apart from the people and the struggle for their rights, needs and dreams defined him as a man and as an artist. Theodorakis was a great artist and man of his times. His death will be a sad loss, but his legacy will live on in his music and contribution to the people’s march to a better world and socialism.

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