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To censor or not to censor

05 April 2009 / 14:04:57  GRReporter
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Dvořák’s opera “Mermaid” was played in Athens in the beginning of March. It stirred up people’s feelings and provoked a scandal, for which director Marion Wasserman could not even think it could happen. All this happened because of a kiss between two men and because of the half naked mermaids at the end of the show, which the director thought they were needed for the good development of the act.

Mostly it was the kiss, which made the orchestra musicians in the National Opera House to make a list against Wasserman, because “as you can see, the director not only changed the libretto but she gave the main character a homosexual orientation, because of which we have officially filed a complaint to the police.”

 

As the Greek media wrote, the play would have gone unnoticed if it weren’t for the kiss, which provoked all that fuss. The young French woman Marion Wasserman – director of Dvořák’s opera, found herself in the eye of the storm and had to defend her decision for the brave creative decision. Meanwhile, the Greek gay association found a convenient occasion to storm out in the opera hall, where “Mermaid” was played. Its members entertained one part of the audience but irritated the rest, who jumped from their seats, in order to try and defend their right to see the performance without being disturbed by calls for sexual tolerance.

Marion Wasserman left the country bewildered. Her version of “Mermaid” will be played in France this upcoming season, where she hopes her interpretation will be understood and will not provoke similar reactions as the ones in Greece.

Let us remind you some of the latest cases of open censorship of works of art in Greece. Following you can find few cases, where famous artists have become victims of censorship. If we exclude sensationalism as a sole cause for the creation of such production, which will bring popularity to the author, then the production holds something more – the personal view of the creator regarding religion, because freedom of expression is the freedom of thought.

A common characteristic of all censorship cases is that it is called forth by local church organizations. In the case of Haderer, the initiator of censorship is one newspaper.

Jesus Christ surfing

In 2003 the illustration book “The life of Jesus,” by Gerhard Haderer, which is a religious satire about Jesus’ life was censored. Haderer does not offend the religion in any way but gives a different view of Jesus’ life. He portrays him as a happy friend of Jimmy Hendrix or as a surfer, sliding over the smooth sea. These drawings caused a furor among some Greek circles and the author almost went to jail.

Actually, the Haderer did not even know that his book “The Life of Jesus” was published in Greece until he receives is summoned, in order to appear in the Athens court in January 2003 accused of blasphemy.

In his absence, he was given a primary sentence of six months but if he lost the lodge complaint, his sentence could have increased to two years in prison! Haderer’s book was the first one to be censored in Greece for the last 20 years.

 

Of course, his sentence provoked a stormy reaction among his European colleagues. In Vienna, a group of writers and poets called a press conference, in order to attract the attention of the public to Haderer’s case, which is considered to be extremely important regarding freedom of expression among all artists worldwide. Some of the best Greek illustrators also supported his colleague and came out with a statement that the court’s decision is harming the country’s image.

Back then, the 58 year old Haderer was one of the most famous and significant Austrian illustrators, who drew caricatures, which were a satire of contemporary way of life in Western countries. Between 1985 and 1991, he publishes weekly his caricatures in the Austrian magazine “Profil” and after that in the German magazine “Stern.”

Haderer himself says: “When I found out that my book was confiscated in Greece I was shocked. I never thought that such thing can happen in a country like Greece, which my friends introduce as a cradle of democracy. We dedicated a bottle of wine in Samos Island on this thought and killed our sorrow with it…” Regarding the content Haderer says: “Jesus is represented in a completely positive way. I have always been extremely positive regarding Jesus’ image because he is a historic figure. But he created a social revolution, he made good deeds, and he explained to people how they can change the country, so they can live better in it. What I was aiming to do was to oppose the “privatized territory,” or in other words – the church.”

Back then, Haderer’s book was published in seven countries – Austria, Germany, Portugal, France, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and South Korea, where over 100 000 copies were sold. Finally, Haderer wins the lawsuit and the distribution of his book was allowed.

Someone else decided for me how to think and act

Another example is censoring the Belgian visual artist Thierry de Cordier’s from the Outlook exhibition. The photograph, which turned to be the apple of discord, portrays a big cross and a penis. 45 days after the beginning of the exhibition, which was opened by the Greek president Konstantinos Stefanopoulos, the photograph was taken down based on the decision of the former Minister of Culture Evangelos Venizelos. After the photograph was seen by many Greek and foreign journalists and over 22 000 visitors, Mr. Venizelos said that “he is informed that the exhibition is displaying a photograph by a Belgian artist, which caused outraged reactions and is offensive to the cross—in other words for the symbol of the Christian religion.”

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