research & dramaturgy: Martha Bouziouri
sets and costumes: Eleni Strulia
video: Kostas Babis
sound design: Panayotis Manouilidis
lighting: Cecilia Tselepidi
assistant director: Paraskevi Lypimenou
assistant designer: Zaira Falirea
cast: Martha Bouziouri, Vasilis Kukhalani, Aris Laskos, Theano Metaxa, Giorgos Moutafis, Ynus Mohammadi
Performance in Greek with English and Polish surtitles
Taking the drowning of 11 people in January 2014 near Farmakonisi as his starting point, Anestis Azas and his cast and crew have created a production about the attitude of the justice system towards the major issue of refugees and migrants faced with a Europe of closed borders.
Following the tradition of documentary theatre, backed by many months of research, the play utilises the personal accounts of people associated with the event and lies somewhere between a reconstruction and on-stage testimony.
Anestis Azas, one of the most important young directors in Greece, has staged an act of desperation. Unflinchingly honestly. And radically personally. – Athens, July 2015. A group of young actors is rehearsing a play about the “Farmakonisi” case. A young Syrian refugee was sentenced to 145 years in prison for the death of eleven people on a refugee boat that sank in 2014; although allegedly the accident was caused by Greek border patrol guards. The actors restage the trial, hear witnesses and survivors; at the same time their own lives have long had few prospects: banks closing, the state crumbling, corruption and 50,000 refugees a month. They fight a tough battle for justice, even though they don’t even have the money for petrol. “Farmakonisi” is a testimony to the hope of Greece’s younger generation, who are defending their future and occupying the theatre as a space for political freedom.
Anestis Azas along with the social anthropologist and actress Martha Bouziouri are working on a performance that, starting from last year’s case in Farmakonisi, exposes the institutional- Greek and European- problem behind the easy aphorisms for racism and xenophobia in our country.
By Matina Kaltaki
Twelve people- three women and nine children- were lost in sea in January 2014 in Farmakonisi, when the boat that was transferring them from Turkey to Greece turned upside down while a Hellenic Coast Guard vessel was towing the boat. The young man from Syria, to whom the human smugglers had assigned the navigation of the boat through our territorial waters, has been found guilty and in this moment he is in the prison of Avlona where he serves a long prison sentence.
Having as a starting point the tragedy in Farmakonisi, Anestis Azas, following the way of the Rimini Protokoll, I wanted to address the hot issue- especially in recent years- of the influx of refugees and immigrants in our country. “This genre of performance requires a great deal of research and that is why I proposed to Martha Bouziouri, since she is a social anthropologist and actress that is working on this issue for years, to cooperate with me. The performance is something like a diary of the research we did using flashbacks on the course of our work that are always ending up in a scene of representation. What is very important is the participation of “specialists” that offer their knowledge upon specific aspects of the problem opening the frame from the very specific to something more general. We are trying the dramaturgy to be moving from a tree to the forest, and afterwards right back, from the forest to a tree, so as not to get lost in a topic that is very complicated, but to highlight as deeper as we can its different aspects” says the director.
Martha Bouziouri adds: “The particular case in Farmakonisi was closed with the conviction of the 19-year-old Syrian boy that was considered to be the “smuggler”- the scapegoat has been found. Therefore, in the performance we expose the rationale based on which this man has been convicted. And afterwards the “specialists” come and expand the topic in the general phenomenon: who the human smugglers are, what needs they cover, what the relevant legislation is and which penalties are imposed, how unfair those penalties, which assimilate the person (someone from the refugees/ immigrants) the businessman- smuggler puts in charge of the boat, are”.
Two of the refugees that were found in the boat of the particular case talk during the performance (video). Today one of them lives in Norway and he gives his testimony via Skype. The second one is the young man that was convicted as human smuggler because he was assigned the task to guide the fatal boat. Today he is found in the Juvenile Hall of Avlona given that when the shipwreck took place he was 19 years old, which means he was in the age limit, and that is why the mitigating circumstance of adolescence was taken into consideration for his sentence. Anestis and Martha managed to visit him after a quarter of the year due to bureaucratic procedures.
There are three more basic interviews from people that were involved with this case holding different positions. “They are performed by actors since they concern confidential data that were given to us privately in conversations with people that did not wish to give testimonies themselves- to record them or have them participate in the performance. The first one is concerned with the judicial confidentiality ( the judicial treatment of the specific case), the second one is concerned with the medical confidentiality (interview with a psychiatrist that has undertaken the psychological support of people that have suffered the psychic trauma of such an experience) and the third one is concerned with the Hellenic Coast Guard confidentiality (a senior officer in the Hellenic Coast Guard informs us about how the cases with boats reaching the territorial sea of Greece full of refugees or immigrants are treated)”.
In the material of the performance there are also included video recorded interviews with the lawyer and political activist, Ioanna Kourtovik, and with Maria Papamina, also a lawyer in the NGO Greek Council for Refugees, regarding the problem of the violation of human rights of refugees and immigrants.
“Two people will appear as specialists on stage and we are expecting a third one to agree, a German activist that will talk specifically about the global dimension of the problem. One of them is the photographer Giorgos Moutafis that keeps track of the “refugee issue” in the last eight years and the other one is Yonous Muhammadi, the Afghan President of the Greek Forum of Refugees that has personal experience as an immigrant himself, and has attended the case in Farmakonisi closely. We asked for their participation in the performance in order to introduce the topic, since the impact created from this case led to a change in the official politics and stopped the practice of refoulement. Besides the case was referred to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and a final verdict is pending” says the 37-year-old director.
I ask Martha and Anestis if it is fair and how fair it is to talk about racism and xenophobia in Greece that in those recent years has been found- as a basic country of entry- in the eye of the storm of an immense displacement of populations, when the other day, in an open letter of resignation from the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), Yascha Mounk, Lecturer of Political Sciences in Harvard, denounced the unacceptable treatment of Germany towards immigrants and those asking for asylum- that illegal immigrants are not accepted in German hospitals even if they are seriously ill- that there is a recent legislation that characterizes immigrants as “criminals”.
Martha answers: “There is a huge problem that is obviously not only Greek. It is expanded in our country because we are bound hand and foot by international treaties, like the Treaty of Dublin, that has specified terms for the management of the refugee/immigrant problem. In addition, there are European countries that refuse to share the refugee burden- it is very convenient, you see, mainly the countries of entry to bear the expenses. This hypocrisy is unbelievable. Let’s not forget that last April a plan from EU Governments was published regarding the systematic detection, confiscation and destruction of boats before their use by human smugglers- in other words we are talking about the absolute hypocrisy. Europe holds meetings and decides that the problem will be solved if the boats are destroyed!”
Anestis adds: “If you want to go even further there is the huge lobby of the arms industry that profits from a state of war within the country or between countries and prevents sustainable solutions. The “refugee” issue is “business”. Look, for instance, how much money has been given for the militarization and protection of borders- it is way more than that given for the management of the refugee/immigrant problem”.
I ask them which the aim of a performance like this one is.
Martha: “Let’s say that if the main narration connects the immigrant issue with the rise of the Popular Association Golden Dawn and with the feeling of xenophobia, we aim at highlighting the deepest reasons, the injustice that is institutionally rooted and victimizes vulnerable social groups that have no right in life, in mobility, in safety- that become victims of different kinds of violence automatically and they have no access to justice. Just consider that the Assize Court takes decisions having as a basic argument that the refugees are unreliable because they have an interest to stay in Greece. How can the fundamental human rights be protected when the institutions are biased right from the beginning? The understanding of the mechanism that retains the problem is an important step towards its solution”.
Anestis: “Nowadays the artist is also a researcher. If our world, our present is defined by some narrations, usually superficial and one-dimensional, here comes our own art of narration to add to the mainstream picture, to show its unknown aspects, even to cancel it. That is what we attempt to do in the performances we are doing with Prodromos Tsinikoris those last years. In the present case, the way the society treats the most vulnerable human shows the level of its culture. We want to shed light to the dark corners because we want to live in a better world. You are right when you say that the audience that will attend the performance is mainly consisted from people that are well-read, puzzled, sensitive to the topics we address. However, the performance we do is part of a constant struggle for the sustainment and expansion of democratic rights. One of them is to be able to discuss about those difficult topics in the public sphere. Theater is part of the public sphere and that is exactly what it needs to take advantage of. Moreover, the play, the text that has emerged has also the value of a historic document. When Brecht wrote in exile about what was happening in his country in Fear and Misery of the Third Reich, he was not able to stop Nazism. However, up until today this play constitutes an evidence for the History of that time”.