Giorgos Moleskis, Cyprus
THE WAY OUT OF ISOLATION IS OPEN
When looking back, can you clearly see the importance of the Serbian and Bulgarian book for you?
Even the very first question Mr. Georgi Grozdev asks me made me realize how little I know of the Balkan literature and particularly about the Serbian and the Bulgarian ones. I felt terrible. It’s like living in a neighborhood and not knowing your neighbors. This condition, this mutual isolation is due to historical factors, as well as to our very selves. I can think of only few books from Bulgarian and Serbian literatures (as well as from other Balkan literatures), which have played a role in shaping my own literary horizons.
Which books have given you the most, and from which books have you been able to take more than you believed it possible?
When you have a philological education, it’s completely natural to be immersed in an ocean of books. And when you have studied a particular national literature, the place you have most often tramped, which you know best and therefore is extremely significant to you, is the ocean of that literature. I was fortunate to drift a vast, deep and boundless ocean, the Russian, and it gave me much. Along with it, however, everywhere I have been I have also brought with me the books with Greek folksongs. I think folksongs are saturated with the spirit of all Balkan countries, where you can also hear different versions of these songs. Apart from the works and folklore of Russian literature, I always have with me the Greek tragedies, whose worth is eternal for all nations around the world. After these come many works of poetry, prose, history, philosophy, and so on, works which have given me a lot. But it’s difficult to choose exactly which ones to mention.
What is the destiny of fine letters now and what could this destiny be in the near and the more distant future?
Literature now exists in a new surrounding dominated by the image. The Image aims at imposing its own logic on literature and using it. And it’s not difficult for it to do that, because man gets to the image through a more direct, shorter, and straighter way, while literature requires effort, energetic participation and knowledge. There is a hidden rivalry, a hidden conflict between word and image. In that conflict, image triumphs over a significant territory and succeeds in destroying part of literature, or taking advantage of and marginalizing temporarily certain important literary works. But still, I am optimistic about the future of literature. Its history goes back to the very beginning and genesis of man as a social creature that uses the word, which is the highest value and treasure, and everything, which leaves its mark on it, becomes part of the human mind and progress. Literature unravels many things to our contemporaries, but has left many things still hidden for our descendants. And it will go down the road hand in hand with society and man.
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 don’t know whether the cultural and social crisis we talk about today differs in any way from the previous ones. For sure, though, today we are paying more attention to it, we research it, comment on it, create theories, and ascribe an international character to it. Evolution, which no one can stop, enforces changes to many things in literature, too. But it does not destroy the old ways. Today’s concept of human rights, of democracy, of culture and difference compensate for much of the loss, they contribute to the creation of something new, which contains the old. You can see this today in every field of art.
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?
The mystery of creative work lies in that union between outer impulse and inspiration, which stirs inside you the saturated layer of emotion, thought, ideas, observations, images, the world of intellectual and spiritual reserves – both yours and those of your people, of your language. If there is something mysterious and enigmatic about creative art, it lies precisely in that original bang, caused by mixing the outer impulse with inspiration, which gives birth to a new world. The further development of this new world is influenced by other factors, through expression, but also intellectual goals, through which conventionality enters the work. So the reader is shown many things, but many remain hidden to him.
What has been the major source of hope and belief for you through the years?
I’ve always believed in man’s ability to better himself, and knowing and analyzing history, to realize the most important thing which unites people and prevents an ecological disaster.
What is your vision of Cyprus at the end of 21st century? What does Time mean to you?
For me personally, like for everyone else as an individual, time is an enemy. It is never enough to do everything you wanted to or felt you could do. At the same time, it flies quickly and suddenly you realize you are near the end. I wrote several verses about this in my last collection of poems:
Time is less than the desire
Like a skilful thief it descends the earthly slope
And swiftly blends with the horizon.
It feeds on my victories and moves on
Like an unscrupulous villain,
And the earth still turns in the universe.
This, however, is only one of time’s dimensions: the dimension connected with man’s existence as an individual. Its other dimension is that of continuation, of progress, of accumulating of experience and knowledge. It will heal the wounds and conflict among nations. In it lies my optimism about Cyprus in the XXI century.
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 last century shook up the history of mankind. The discoveries made in every field, the development of social ideas were so fundamental and innovative that in this respect that century surpassed all the previous ones. At the same time, though, it was the century of the most bloodstained wars and catastrophes, the century, which produced the biggest threat to man and nature. It placed upon our shoulders a great responsibility – to protect our planet – by making us realize more clearly than ever that it is our home and that it needs protection, most of all from us. But also in society, this century made us realize the whole world is one organism and no one can live in some ivory tower of their own. I think, for a great part of humanity what has been optimistic are the concepts of human rights, tolerance for the other, peace, and a concern with the environment.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the destiny of the Balkans and mankind? And why?
I think the development of cooperation, of common programs and of interdependence of countries is to everyone’s benefit. Balkan countries can no longer afford the luxury of keeping away from the general tendency. Cooperation will develop and everyone will realize they can only win from this mutual cooperation. But they also have to contribute.
Is there a peculiarity of your character that you freely joke about in public? And does it happen frequently?
My wife and my friends will better answer this question. I can’t think of anything worth mentioning.
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?
The question is very romantic, or maybe I don’t understand it. What would I prefer: To have written an “eternal” book or to own it as a reader? In either case, things are beyond comparison. I would paraphrase the question thus: What would I prefer: to have a fortune, but never to have experienced the excitement and knowledge of books, or to have these books and not be rich? What shall I answer? The second applies to me and I am fortunate.
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?
I said this in answering a previous question. The main rival of the book today is the image. I mean television in particular, but not computers. The book is words you have to reach using your own energy. The Image is a ready meal. Still, the endurance and longevity of literature, precisely because of its infinitely more comprehensive content, have made possible and will continue to make possible over the centuries the emergence of great writers. It is these writers who can in some way summarize the collective experience and dreams, and become a corrective for everyone. When, however, the writer comes from a small town and writes in a language spoken by few, reading becomes difficult even in his own country. Small-country writers are very well aware of this and accept it, otherwise they wouldn’t write.
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?
Yes, I would include several Cypriots, a number of Greeks and some from other Balkan countries, not many, because of the simple fact my knowledge of their literatures is unfortunately limited.
The same questions were answered by some of Bulgaria’s greatest writers, the so-called living classics, who participated in another book series “The White Series – an Autographed Book” in April 1999. You have been able to read their answers – what is your comment?
I haven’t read their answers.
Is there a refuge from the monologism and masochism of the Balkan people? What is it?
I am sorry but I don’t think I have the knowledge to comment on such an issue.
Which authors – Cypriot, Balkan and world – would be essential for an imagined anthology of chauvinism?
I don’t know enough to be able to compile such an anthology, and it wouldn’t be fair to mention the few I know. In any case, I would prefer such an anthology not to be compiled at all, even if it could serve as an example of the narrow-mindedness of our views, which have tormented us for so many years, of the mercantilism with respect to human suffering, or the belief in the great idea in the name of easy recognition and so on.
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?
Balkan nations have their own history, in and through which they have established their identity, with its unquestionable positive and negative qualities, tendencies towards isolationism and nationalism, chauvinism, etc. However, they also have their spiritual and social traditions which compensate for all of the lost things. From now on, the way out of the isolation is open to everyone. The sense of unity with the rest of Europe is growing stronger and I think that is what our future will be.
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…
I assess the role of “Balkani” publishing house extremely highly. It is a significant contribution to the communication and dialog among Balkan nations. This activity should spread in other countries and other languages as well in order to make communication more intensive. The dialog initiated by the Bulgarian people and its neighbors must encompass other people, too. We all need this today, in order to catch up for the lost time, and move on.
What do you think the Balkan people cannot divide?
The Balkan people cannot divide the common elements in their customs, folklore and mentality.
What bigger opportunities do you see in this initiative and what new partners and participants, besides your highly respected involvement?
The opportunities of the initiative of “Balkani” publishing house are, as I said before, to expand the dialog between the Balkan people with the future establishment of a multilingual Balkan library.