Hristos Hajipapas, Cyprus
I HOPE THE BALKANS DON’T PERISH FOR LACK OF SPIRITUAL GENEROSITY
When looking back, can you clearly see the importance of the Cypriot and Bulgarian book for you?
The Bulgarian book, mainly the poetry, was an oasis for me in the dry years during my studies in Bulgaria. As for the Cypriot book, I’d prefer the more general term the Greek book, it has indeed sustained and nurtured my intellectual and linguistic quests ever since my childhood. Since some of those books reflected a reality, which the world then represented for me (history, tradition, love’s excitement), they moved in parallel with the different stages of my maturing and the maturing of the world within me.
Which books have given you the most, and from which books have you been able to take more than you believed it possible?
Just as our idea of death changes every ten years, so the books, which have accompanied me in my life, have represented the hidden reflection of my life in those moments. Throughout the years of my loveless and godly youth, The Last Temptation by Nikos Kazandzakis would ignite in me the literary fire. Today, ungodly and perhaps knowledgeable of love, I doubt it he would attract my attention to read him again, just as my children, being a liberal generation, could not be fascinated by him… I owe him much, however, as well as all the other books, which have stirred me: from Dostoevski and the French classics, to modern classics of the world, from America, Europe, Japan and South Africa; without feeling burdened by these stones, I feel constructed by them.
What is the destiny of fine letters now and what could this destiny be in the near and the more distant future?
As much as we think the world of today is making progress towards complete self-satisfaction with its economic, technological, consumer and other components, fine letters will always lure human nature and undermine the haughtiness of the stupefied crowd. Gor Vidal and Chomsky will still be spiritual leaders tomorrow, when the insane look of the lord of the planet will no longer exist, except in the return films.
The cultural crisis of today has its causes and its signs, but it also has a remedy that is basically universal. Perhaps the purely Cypriot specifics of this remedy remain out of focus?
I have the feeling that for the past years Cyprus has seen two opposites fighting each other. On the one hand, the simple happiness through property, and on the other, a more rational and critical worldview. The second category fosters a pleiad of literary men, mostly poets, and other men of art such as theater and music, who have tried through art to set up a barrier against this economic satrapy which in Kavafis’s words is a kind of luxurious self-exile.
There are many secrets to a book and the author’s mastership tends to be among the most mysterious. Have you reached a conscious explanation for yourself of everything you have created – as creative art, besides a pure will, is also the product of the artist’s instincts, of the artist’s enigmatic and mysterious self that he deciphers only partially in his text to the reader?
Apart from the instinct of the writer, which is an initial gift of God, there is also diligent, hard work, which even though necessary, always moves along the unknown paths of the writer’s mind and soul. The sense of the humorous and the sad, self-sarcasm as creation and catharsis, the measure of quantity of words and the structuring of thought are all sacred instruments, which I don’t know to what extent can be borrowed or are partially innate.
What is your vision of Cyprus at the end of 21st century? What does Time mean to you?
I am afraid for two reasons. First, because the next generation grows up in the hands of servant-slaves, hired by the parents to do the most sacred job nature has set for them, to bring up their children. Second, for fear lest Turkey should be accepted in the European Union, so that Cyprus will forever remain a captive of the ill-fortune of the former empire.
Time for me is a blessed connective tissue between the most precious of all gifts, health, thought and love. I would like to have more time of my own. Without having to buy it like aspirin or a pill against blood pressure. In other words: to make use of it without having to make sacrifices to its Minotaur.
What is the weight of values created over the last 100 years and what is the burden that these years have placed on us?
The world, and mainly Europe, has hit rock bottom with the sins of two world wars, so that today it would take the shape of the angel of united Europe. This is a unique experience for mankind. Most of all with its progressive achievements: more rational patriotism, refining of religious affiliation (with the transcendental position of the individual and the abandonment of the secular image of religiousness), as well as renunciation of idle-talk…This makes me more optimistic in regards to the previous question, because Cyprus will be an official member of the European Community as of May 1, 2004.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the destiny of the Balkans and mankind? And why?
The more the Balkans draw nearer united Europe, the more optimistic I am about their future, although Europe is not a panacea.
Is there a peculiarity of your character that you freely joke about in public? And does it happen frequently?
I think self-sarcasm sometimes liberates me and the characters of my stories.
What would you choose – if you had to choose today – between a bag of gold and an eternal book? And what would have your choice been thirty years ago?
I would prefer the gold, so I can buy unlimited free time. This way I will choose and read through the eternal books. I am not sure about thirty years ago, perhaps I would have preferred the eternal book.
Do you think that in these times when the path to the reader is difficult and uncertain, new names could emerge? Could the experience with your own public recognition be useful today? How did you gain recognition, was it easy?
The times, the people, the thoughts, and consequently the approach to life of our contemporaries change. New needs emerge, which will inevitably be always satisfied, with regards to essence, form and bearer – that is the authors. Still, for a book to get first to the publisher, and then to the reader, it takes not only talent, but also a lot of hard work, which affects the authors as serotonin, the hormone of happiness. Since Cyprus is a small country and reader audience is limited, the fact my books get published by Greek publishing houses gives them a window.
Would you disclose your own anthology or collection of names of masters of the prose whom you hold in highest esteem – names from Cyprus and the world, including Balkan literature?
I wouldn’t like to compile an anthology, but among my favorite books I can point out the Cypriots Nikos Nikolaidis and Giorgos Philippu Pieridis, the Greek classics Emanuil Roidis, Kosmas Politis, Stratis Myrivilis, Ilias Venezis, as well as the more modern Dido Sotiriu, Thanasis Valtinos and Menis Koumandareas, the Bulgarians Elin Pelin, Yordan Yovkov, Yordan Radichkov and Vera Mutafchieva, from the world literature, for lack of space, I will only refer to a small drop: the Americans William Faulkner, Herman Melville, Ernest Hemingway, John Updike, a pleiad of Latin American authors and Europeans such as Thomas Mann, Hermann Hesse, Gustave Flaubert, Margarita Jursenar, James Joyce and the more modern Umberto Eco, Milan Kundera and many others.
Is there a refuge from the monologism and masochism of the Balkan people? What is it?
I would like to answer in the words of Margarita Jursenar that many peoples have perished for lack of spiritual generosity. Such is the case with the Near East. I hope the Balkans will be spared such doom.
Which authors – Cypriot, Balkan and world – would be essential for an imagined anthology of chauvinism?
I suppose Radovan Karadjic, the former prime-minister of Turkey and “poet” Bulent Edjevit (who ordered the Turkish troops to move into Cyprus), as well as another Turkish poet, whose name I do not recall, but who wrote the following poem, which decorated for a while the greeting cards of the Turkish-Cypriot politician Rauf Denktas:
“And if I do not cut down another thousand giaours’ heads,
I swear in the name of Allah, my hatred shall not pass…
And if I slay forty thousand with my saber
And if I send eighty thousand down to Hell,
And if I hang a hundred thousand on the gallows
I swear in the name of Allah, my hatred shall not pass…”
What cultural and literary complexes can you discern in Cypriots and their neighboring Balkan people? To what extent is that the result of the fact that the Balkan people missed the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Great Geographical Discoveries? How long will we continue to live as if we were alone in the wold, as if nobody else existed but us?
Since Cypriots received their independence as late as 1960, they have omitted several very significant stages of the evolution of European culture. They have omitted, for example, the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. A kind of an Enlightenment came later in a tragicomical way: due to their poverty and encouraged by the English, the Cypriots took part in World War II. They returned revolutionaries and broughtg along new ideas, which helped open the eyes of the Cypriot society and move forward. The Turkish invasion of 1974 wreaked havoc and greatly harmed the Cypriot people. The forceful chasing away of thousands of people from their homes and their coercive settling in the city deprived them of their natural environment and of their purity and innocence, of their simple-heartedness. The quick economic growth in the years to follow provided them with resources, prosperity, however, it provided no opportunity for them to assimilate their new status, which led to some very bizarre deformations in their character.
How do you assess the role of Balkani, the private publishing house, for the Balkan literary and cultural cooperation, especially the role of the Balkan Library Series? Such a comprehensive series of all Balkan authors has not been published in Bulgaria since 1878. What hatred, prejudice and ideological taboos, what loss of time…
What publishing house “Balkani” does will leave its mark not only on Bulgaria’s cultural landscape, but also in neighboring states with its efforts to surpass prejudice and nations to come to know each other through culture. Let its example be followed by other Balkan and South-European countries.
What do you think the Balkan people cannot divide?
I was in Denmark recently. I knew that part of old-time southern Denmark today lies on the territory of the Schleswig-Holstein province of Federal Germany. When I asked my host whether Denmark had any claims, he answered it didn’t. They lived nicely there, had all their rights intact, he said, even though the territory belonged to another country. If we achieve this here on the Balkans, there won’t be anything left to divide among our countries.
What bigger opportunities do you see in this initiative and what new partners and participants, besides your highly respected involvement?
You can expand this activity to include other countries, writers and literary editions.