Thursday, January 26, 2012

“I have no use for your awards”

On January 23, 2012 the Greek Ministry of Culture announced the winners of the Greek State Literature Prizes for 2011. The Major Prize of Greek Letters was awarded to the poet Dinos Christianopoulos, who issued a statement refusing to accept the award. He could have rejected the Greek State Literature Prize by slightly paraphrasing lines from is poetry:"what shall I do with your prizes/ they are too sugar-coated/ they are better suited for spoiled brats/ they are not suited for me".

It is important to know who gives you the prize and why. In any case you have to be brave to reject prizes and even more brave to reject significant prizes. All over the world, there are only few “prize rejecters” in comparison to the millions of prizes which are given. Personally, Dino Christianopoulos’ gesture moved me. It is a lifelong outlook, subversive, deeply human - with the Christian meaning of the term. I expected this gesture to spark meaningful public debates about the “hazy” world of prize-giving in Greece, and above all, about meritocracy - especially in a country where many thirst for prizes, but where most have completely lost faith in meritocracy. This is perhaps the reason why such a debate will never take place or will remain on a marginal scale. Truth be told, in Greece there is a strong current which goes against those who are distinguished for their work and have been successful – a powerful wave that flows in favor of “equality for all.” This meaning of false equality, however, is unrelated to Dino Christianopoulos’ gesture. His gesture is not based on Christian ethics but simply and only on the ethics of envy, on the philosophy of “may the neighbor’s goat die.” In a country where meritocracy does not exist, one who succeeds on his own strengths and merit elicits jealousy, exclusion and suspicion. Certain people are allowed to “succeed” – only those who have connections, the right clientelistic network; those who belong to the right “club.”

Even though I deeply respect the poet’s position, I am in favor of the recognition of merit in others and of prizes. In terms of human substance, we are equal but we are not the same. We differ in the way we think, we create and we dare. In a society based on true meritocracy, we are not all equal but we all must have equal opportunities. This is in contrast to the current reality where opportunities are usually available only to the “favored few.” In such an environment, most do not know what the word “share” means: I share the city square, laws, anxieties, merits, commodities, prizes, creativity. In a society of so-called “equality,” each man is for himself, trying to strike down those who are beside him, in an unrelenting war of envy, corruption and resentment.

Translated and edited by Gigi Papoulias