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Journalist, entertainer, host of the most popular French shows, writer of the books “Allez Voir Chez Les Grecs”, “Nikos Now” and “Notes of an Emigré”. A man who hosts some of the most famous people all over the world in his radio show on Europe 1; shinny celebrities we common people talk about.
Simple and friendly as friendly can be, Nikos Aliagas reverses the roles in today’s interview and becomes the star talking about common people like us; the proud people of Greece as he says.
How did you start #proudpeopleofGreece?
Mass Media all over the world were analyzing the Greek crisis on the wrong base. I read very disparaging remarks in French and English papers that I could only describe as irrational. I wanted to show, in my own way, that there was another side on all this as well. That of a silent force. Proud people who have nothing to do with the media, who never stole from anyone and who purely and simply cared for themselves in a humble and unpretentious way. People who resist by leading their life and not pretending to be anything more than who they really are.
So, #proudpeopleofGreece started last summer during my vacations in Greece when, on an afternoon walk in Missolonghi, I saw a man drinking water in a tavern and decided to take a photo of him. That man looked at me in such a proud way! Not wanting to prove anything. Not posing. “Here’s a man”, I thought “who is not posing! A man who is not carrying a hollow anger. A man who doesn’t want to run to the streets and vandalize everything like some do.” There is a silent and dignified resistance that is beyond any price and a Greek is also this; a dignified and free person! A man or a woman whose routine includes having their coffee in the same little café for the past 60 years. A person who has been greeting friends and acquaintances in the exact same way all his life; politely but a bit distant. A person wearing no mask imposed by social standards. Not caring about being liked. All he cares about is his land. The land he worked on with his bare hands. The land he sowed and protected from hail, fire, heat, thunders, and floods. If you take a close look at the deep wrinkles on his forehead, you are going to see that all the holes he has ever dug in his garden are engraved on his face. It’s his land you see on his face. That face is my inspiration and the one that moves me. This man has seen all kinds of people; those wearing suits, ties and briefcases, the ones waving plastic flags and sending out pre-election promises and those seemingly angry who want to tear everything apart. He saw all of them during the Junta, the Civil War, the Metapolitefsi (= regime change; a period in Greek history after the fall of the Greek military junta of 1967–74 that includes the transitional period from the fall of the dictatorship to the Greek legislative elections of 1974 and the democratic period immediately after these elections) and he even sees them now with the Troika. They are the same people.
Do you think we’ve sort of left that man behind us?
Yes, I do! His children and grandchildren live in the city, strangers among strangers. Almost depressed among other depressed people and have forgotten that they aren’t just anybody! They are Yianni’s, Kostas’ or Yiorgo’s children. Kids of proud, free people who continue struggling alone but dignified! Their kids left for the big city and in their efforts to fit and adopt the IN European style they became alienated. Of course, they need to evolve because society changes but they do not have the right to forget! I’m touched by people who do not forget. I was born and raised in France, learnt Greek here, have lived here with my family almost all my life, France is what made me who I am professionally but I never forget who I am or where I come from so that I don’t lose myself in this labyrinth….It’s a matter of identity.
Truth is that although you were born and have lived all your life in France, it is more than obvious that you are Greek.
It is indeed, but you know what? It’s got nothing to do with being folklore. It’s a personal choice, a matter of identity and resistance. It has nothing to do with being emotional. Many people follow my social media profiles because of the popularity I’ve gained through my work. They do so, in order to see material about celebrities I meet and so I thought that when uploading and sharing on the internet photos of stars like Shakira or George Clooney it would be a good idea to also toss in the photo of a man whose face has been burnt by the sun and who’s looking straight back at you in the most honest and dignified way.
Like this lottery-ticket seller I met on New Year’s Eve in Athens. “Come buy a ticket and I’ll make you a millionaire”, he said. That’s when I thought “How can this tired man who’s walked thousands of kilometres and spent 50 years selling lottery tickets around Athens want to make me a millionaire? How rich is the soul of this man?” I halted and talked with him and that’s when I understood. I understood through his view on life and society that his power and self-knowledge derives from his pride. An old man who has settled and provided everything for his children simply by selling a small piece of paper that is no more than a promise to become rich! This is the miracle for me! This Greek man who passers-by don’t even notice. These Greeks are the ones who are going to stand up for everybody when needed. I was looking for the signs on his face. All the years of Greece are engraved on his face and then I remembered my grandma who travelled everyday to the centre of Missolonghi to sell celery, basil and flowers and this is what helped her raise her children. We used to stay in her small hut every summer but this never stopped us from opening our wings and flying to different skies. And you know what? We were truly happy and never felt the need for more than what we already had.
Do you feel closer to those people or to the more “shinny” ones you meet through your job?
It may sound strange but yes, I feel closer to them! The ones who really know me also know that these are the kind of people who touch my heart.
Look at those hands. They are the hands of my cousin Chrysovalantis, who is younger than me, and who in my mind is still a young blond angel but look at his hands! I almost got crazy when I realised that that little boy is now a tired man. I can do nothing else but respect these hands. Seeing them I said, “Here’s a proud Greek!” One who knows nothing about deceit and asks for nothing in return. One you will never see demonstrating, protesting or shouting and oh please, do not mistake his silence for a lack of courage or apathy. In his very own and unique way he is active because his hands are full of life and I respect those hands and want everybody to see them. I want the 15-year-old who follows me in social media in order to see the photos of celebrities I upload there to see these hands too. Because the moment he will, he’s going to think “Wow, look at the hands of this young Greek! Respect Man, respect for the Greek people!” No whining, no moaning, no shouting just showing those hands and then you know we have not lost, we are still here and fighting!
I remember myself as a kid running after Leonidas Stoumbos, the man you see in this photo. I kept asking him “What are you doing there?” and he was simply shooting photos of birds, gypsy kids and antique chairs. He is the kind of photographer whose pictures you save in your mind’s hard drive and I really appreciate people who keep their memories alive. Nowadays, we are revising our memories and even emptying our hard drives to make space for modern. And what did we get out of it? We’ve lost our authenticity!
Could this be one of the reasons why Greece is going through the current recession?
The Greek problem is definitely a financial one but it has its roots in loss of identity which we need to regain. What kind of Europeans are we? What kind of Greeks are we? Who is the Modern Greek? What’s the heritage we want to pass to our children? How are we going to fit in the European family? Nobody ever asked us to become alienated or renounce our principles and beliefs. We wanted to be something else and whether that was right or wrong only time will show. We turned into something we are not and when we woke up, we found out that we were complete strangers with ourselves and family. Strangers to the person facing us in the mirror!
Going back to our basic principles has nothing to do with retrogression; it’s a necessary turn. It does not discredit our European beliefs or modern approach to life. We need to ask ourselves and revise our views on the kind of heritage we want to leave our children with as far as culture is concerned. Perhaps in this way we will help our children avoid wrong choices like the ones we made in the past and help them turn a deaf ear to demagogues, Cassandra (=daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy. Her name means ‘she who entangles men’ in Greek. She had the power of prophecy and the curse of never being believed) and charlatans of hate brought to us by recession. When you give culture, you give opportunities and above all the opportunity of choice!
Some people believe that all this behaviour and change was somehow imposed on us. I guess, you don’t agree with them do you?
That’s a mistake people anywhere in the world make and that has also been the case for us Greeks since the Metapolitefsi. However, it takes two to tango! We’d rather put the blame on others than shoulder the burden, which is much harder. We could have seen, perhaps in a blur way, but still could have got a glimpse of what was happening. The fact that we averted our eyes does not mean we do not have a share of the problem. It’s like those naughty children who when caught say, “It’s not my fault. They made me do it!” We need to mature and society cannot simply say we were under a delusion. Identity Crisis, and not the economic or political one which is a totally different matter, is about being uncertain of who we really are. Modern people coming from any part of the world have the tendency to go past the beauty surrounding them and neglect it. This is one thing that makes me sad. Being born in a foreign country and carrying the Greek heritage in my heart has helped me seek authenticity in every aspect of my personal life. We tend to take the world around us for granted when we ought to look for truth wherever it may lie.
Every time I visit Missolonghi I always go by the little store of Trikenes who’s been producing ouzo since 1901. Next to his store there are internet cafes and bars but I’d rather go to Trikenes’. Why? Because I prefer learning things from this authentic man. This is what’s going to help me not lose myself. Take it as a selfish act but this is the only way for me to get through routine and everyday life when going back to it.
Take a look at this waiter I saw in Zea and who is simply smiling. He didn’t have a lot or felt like a Jeune Premier but look at the energy he has. He was smiling and was happy.
On a Sunday morning at the end of August, a day before coming back to Paris from my summer holidays, I climbed the Acropolis’ hill and came across the Evzones (=Presidential Guards, an elite ceremonial unit that guards the Greek Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Presidential Mansion and the gate of Evzones camp in Athens. The Evzones are also known, colloquially, as Tsoliades) who were there for the ceremonial official raising of the flag. Those young men looked as if in a trance; lost in the unconscious. They were where they should have been because there, on the Acropolis’ hill, they could understand who they really are far from anything that has to do with chauvinism.
Greeks awake their consciousness when they migrate. When they live their own Odyssey. When they see things from a different perspective. When they can compare what they have to what others have. Otherwise we run the risk of turning into Lotophages (=lotus-eaters, a race of people living on an island near North Africa dominated by lotus plants. The lotus fruits and flowers were the primary food of the island and were narcotic, causing the people to sleep in peaceful apathy) and forgetting. Forgetting however, is not what should happen and I strongly believe there is a generation of young Greeks out there who are #proudpeopleofGreece. A very proud generation, leading a silent life, that is our duty to save.
How can we save them, Nikos?
We need to redefine who we are from every possible aspect. We need to see what we can offer and say as a society to foreigners visiting our country. Find what it is that makes us stand out from the rest. During the 15th century, the West used Greek standards but did not simply take them as they were; they interpreted them and even adapted them to their needs and standards. We need to go back to the beginning, the archetype. Not the one that turned into a stereotype but to the source of everything and please, don’t think I’m a dreamer or talk as a hopeless romantic. It’s a matter of identity and I truly believe that. We do not need to copy anything from other countries. We need to approach things in our own unique way even if the outcome is not perfect. For it is at least going to be authentic and reflecting who we are! Let’s not forget we are the people of light. Light lies inside us!
What is La Grèce J’aime to you?
Can I answer with just a short phrase?
Of course you can!
To understand what Greece truly is, you need to love it first!
PS I would like to personally thank Nikos for this interview and above all his trust and support to the project La Grèce J’aime and the goals we have set to achieve.All photos that appear on this article belong to Nikos Aliagas and are protected by copyright. They were “lent” to La Grèce J’aime to use for the interview and thus using them without visibly naming the source of both lagrecejaime.com and Nikos Aliagas or using them for an online advertisement fall under copyright infringement. When pictures and illustrations from this site are used in incorrect ways, legal steps will be taken. COPYRIGHT ©2013-2014 LA GRÈCE J’AIME