Luckily the blood does not get orders from the brain,
Luckily it has to deal only with the heart,
It is the heart that drives it,
because who knows how stingy it would be
what calculations at the crucial moment
when we should in any case have dyed the asphalt red,
when we should in any case have spattered the walls red
Cyprus revolt, from the book, "Moments" by Costas Montis
The roots of the Cyprus conflict lie in the
striving of the Greek Cypriot majority for unification, or enosis, with
Greece, an idea that emerged during the Greek War of Independence in
the 1820s and developed under British colonial rule. The overwhelming desire of the Greek Cypriots, over 80 percent of the population, was Enosis (union) with Greece. After World War II, a new conception of the empire emerged, one in which British influence and control were ensured by a series of strongholds such as Gibraltar, Malta, Singapore, and Hong Kong. Cyprus was to be the British base in the eastern Mediterranean, and in Parliament the foreign minister informed the members that Cyprus would "never" be let go. In addition, the Turkish Cypriots, about a fifth of the population, strenuously opposed union with Greece, as did Turkey itself. The Turks believed that the island should revert back to Turkey, from whom the British had taken it. The desire for
enosis erupted after the failure of non-violent attempts to gain independence. British officials echoed the refrain that " if the Greeks wanted independence they would have to fight for it" and so they did. On April 1, 1955, bombs destroyed the transmitter
of the Cyprus broadcasting station and exploded at British Army and
police installations in Nicosia, Limassol, Famagusta, and Larnaca. The
explosions signaled the beginning of a guerrilla war against the
British colonial administration that was to continue for four years and
claim some 600 lives. The Greek Cypriots fought under the banner of the
National Organization of Cypriot Fighters (Ethniki Organosis Kyprion
Agoniston--EOKA), led by Colonel (later General) George Grivas.
Although EOKA included only a few hundred active guerrillas, it enjoyed
wide support in the Greek Cypriot community and was able to tie down
about 10,000 British soldiers.
When EOKA finally called a cease-fire in March 1959, after the signing in February of the agreements that led to Cypriot independence, it could claim only partial success. The Cypriot tie to Britain was broken sooner than it would have been without the guerrilla struggle, but EOKA's goal of enosis remained unmet and the struggle for enosis would continue in the next two decades with disastrous consequences. For members of the Turkish Cypriot minority, who regarded Turkey as their motherland, enosis would have meant becoming a much smaller minority within the Greek nation. In the mid-1950s, Turkish Cypriots responded to the growth of EOKA with the formation of their own paramilitary organization, Volkan (volcano), which later became the Turkish Resistance Organization (Türk Mukavemet Teskilâtu--TMT). British authorities also armed a paramilitary police force composed entirely of Turkish Cypriots, the Mobile Reserve, to help in combat terrorism. The resulting intense intercommunal violence of 1958 implanted a bitterness in both ethnic communities and ensured post-independence strife and instability that would tear the young nation apart.
One of the most acclaimed and widely read books about the conflict in the English-speaking world was that of a British writer named Lawrence Durrell. Durrell moved to Cyprus in 1952,buying a house and taking a position teaching English literature at the Pan Cyprian Gymnasium to support his writing, followed by public relations work for the British government Information Office during agitation for enosis. He wrote about his time in Cyprus in a novel called Bitter Lemons. Durrell, who fancied himself a philhellene, became an apologist for the colonial administration in Cyprus and wrote a fictionalized account in the form of a novel to describe the "tragic" events during the liberation struggle. Unfortunately, his novel has assumed the role as the definitive work about the Cypriot Liberation struggle for most English speakers, viewed more as a non-biased historical account rather than a work of fiction. Durrell wanted to "study" the inhabitants of Cyprus and put them under the microscope. In so doing he depicts the Greek Cypriot villagers he comes into contact with as childish, simple-minded folk in need of the paternal advantages of English speaking colonial administrators much better qualified to run things. He laments the absence of a Socratic logic in the thought processes of the modern Greek, simultaneously claiming as his own a past that he did not create and relegating modern Greeks to the role of colonial subjects in need of the services of a beneficent colonial master. I first became aware of Durrell's other side after reading a post written by Demonax in the old Phylax Blog. It is well worth reading again for additional background. Coincidently, my recent introduction to the works of Costas Montis (again thanks to Demo) including his newly translated novels "Closed Doors" and "Afentis Batistas," piqued my interest and I decided to take a closer look.
The liberation struggle, led by the EOKA organization is replete with great moments of heroism not only of individual freedom fighters but of the people as a whole: the old, the young, the strong, the weak were all involved in some way. As in any violent struggle there were excesses on both sides. Costas Montis, the poet laureate of Cyprus, nominated for a Nobel prize and Roudis Roufos, a major postwar Greek writer who served as the Greek consul in Nicosia from 1954-1956, both lived through this turbulent period of Greek history. Both writers have written novels in response to Bitter Lemons. Roufos's response like that of Montis who wrote "Closed Doors" was in the form of a novel, entitled "The Age of Bronze." Both writer's refused to follow Durrell in allowing fiction to masquerade as truth. Unfortunately these books have had precious little exposure in the English-speaking world.
Roudis Roufos (1924-1972) was from the group of Greek writers who emerged after the Second World War. His major works of fiction are the trilogy Chronicle of a Crusade (in Greek—comprising The Root of the Myth, 1954; March in the Dark, 1955; and The Other Shore, 1958; it has not been translated) and the historical novel The Greeklings (in Greek; 1967). Although primarily a prose writer, Roufos also published poetry, drama, and translations from Ancient Greek. Like the famous Greek poet George Seferis, Roufos served in the Greek diplomatic service. Although the official position of the Greek government did not advocate Enosis, the union of Cyprus with Greece, in order to avoid antagonizing England, Greek officials unofficially encouraged the activities of the Cypriots. Roufos served as a conduit for communication between Athens and the Cypriot Enosis movement.
The following is written by David Roessel, who incidently, helped translated Closed Doors into English:
"Roufos met Durrell in 1954, soon after both men arrived on the island. Indeed, Roufos, helped facilitate Durrell's introduction into Cypriot literary society, as the two men had friends in common in Athens. Durrell's first year on Cyprus was a halcyon time. He met nearly all the Cypriot writers of note, such as Pantellis Mechanikos, Nickos Kranidiotis, and Kypros Chrysanthis, and received a warmer welcome than that given any other English writer. The end came abruptly when Durrell took the job as public information officer. The reason can be seen in a passage from The Age of Bronze, where the narrator visits Mantague's village and talks to the villagers about him. When the narrator suggests that Mantague speaks against Enosis because "he's an Englishman, he's working for his country," the villagers disagree. "No, Mr. Montague was not an ordinary Englishman. He said he was our friend, a friend of Greece. And now he has betrayed us and gone over to the other side." Durrell, it seems, presented himself as a different sort of Englishman, and the disappointment among the Greek Cypriots when they discovered he was not so different aft all was crushing.
Roufos's novel begins when Dion, who worked as a Greek diplomat on Cyprus and seems vaguely modeled on Roufos himself, Receives an autobiographical manuscript from a Cypriot friend con-demned to die fro his participation in the guerilla war against the British. Dion and another friend, Daisy, read the manuscript together, at times interrupting to add their own memories. Alexis, the writer of the manuscript, becomes a teacher at the Gymnasium in Nicosia, and his story relates how he evolved from indifference to the cause of Enosis to an active participant in the struggle. The fact that Alexis is made a teacher in the very school where Durrell taught indicates how The Age of Bronze functions as an answer to Bitter Lemons. Roufos gives a very different portrait of the students and their role in the struggle. Where Durrell suggests that the exuberant youths were excited beyond the control of the teachers who initially incited them, Roufos shows them to be quiet, serious, and careful to follow orders. Further, by depicting the difference between how the Greek Cypriots spoke among themselves and how they would dissemble to the English, Roufos slyly suggests that Durrell could not possibly be aware of their real views. The Age of Bronze is most effective when it allows the Greek characters to express their opinions, which are often very different from the opinions that Durrell has them express in Bitter Lemons. Another way in which Roufos attempts to correct the perspective of Bitter Lemons is by presenting a critical view of the author in the character of Harry Mantague. This picture of Durrell as a cynic who will say anything because he believes in nothing runs throughout The Age of Bronze. It may well reflect Roufos's real opinion of Durrell, but it is an effective weapon against Durrell's book as well. For if the writer of Bitter Lemons is simply a "pocket Machiavelli" (as Roufus suggests), then he would not hesitate to stretch the truth for his own advantage."
In his book "Closed Doors," which was first published in Greek in 1964 by the National Committee of Youth of Cyprus, Montis attempts to give context to the events he lived through and the emotions of those days. The title page of Closed Doors states that it is "An Answer to Bitter Lemons of Lawrence Durrell." It is basically a dialogue in which the other side has already spoken. At times Montis is strident, polemical, and unabashedly biased. He unashamedly and unapologetically gives the Greek Cypriot point of view that has for so long been unable to see the light of day in the form of literature. Montis serves in the role of the "empire writing back", a former subject of the crown going toe to toe with a former servant in the colonial government.
From Cyprus Today (April-June, 2005 issue):
"In Bitter Lemons, the armed rebellion is presented in consistently negative terms, as the work of "terrorists" who compel the populace, generally pro-British, to assist the revolt through threats of assassination. For example, Durrell said that "to the nauseating foulness of the street murder of soldiers and policemen was added the disgusting, typically Balkan, murder of civilians suspected of being traitors. Apart from this of course there was many an old score to settle in the name of Enosis. The black mask was protection. The dialogue between Bitter Lemons and Closed Doors has interest beyond scholars involved in Durrell research or postcolonial studies, for it is also a debate between two powerful artists who produced political books to influence the depiction of the narrative of the struggle for Cypriot independence. For Montis, Closed Doors was an attempt to reappropriate that narrative from Durrell, to present a picture of the struggle for freedom by a Cypriot who, as he says in his brief explanation, had lived through the entire four years of the revolt. In a discussion of Bitter Lemons in a suppressed section of his novel The Age of Bronze (1960), the Greek author Rodis Roufos wrote that "(a)nother book was needed to fill in the gaps, to give the Greek view", because Durrell "observes a prudish silence over some aspects of the repression" Where Durrell wants ambiguity, Montis appears polemical – his self-perceived function is to stress the torture chambers, curfews, communal fines, and black-hooded informers that were part of daily Cypriot life during the struggle."
Durrell never returned to Cyprus and Montis lived out his life on his beloved island, contending with the aftermath of the decisions made by the British colonial administration and Britain's ally the United States. He died in 1990 surrounded by his family, in the home he had lived in most of his life.