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‘We are invisible’: Greece’s artists struggle for state aid amid Covid-19 pandemic

Musicians wearing face masks gather around the White Tower during a protest by workers in the music industry in demand of state aid to mitigate financial losses due to the Covid-19 pandemic in Thessaloniki, Greece on May 7, 2020.
Musicians wearing face masks gather around the White Tower during a protest by workers in the music industry in demand of state aid to mitigate financial losses due to the Covid-19 pandemic in Thessaloniki, Greece on May 7, 2020. © Murad Sezer, REUTERS

Despite being one of Greece's best-known folk singers, Natassa Bofiliou is among thousands of artists worried about the economic impact of coronavirus lockdowns that have only just begun to be eased.

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In a country where art is widely seen as a pastime, and performers have long struggled to secure steady pay and royalties, the closure of theatres and cinemas, and the cancellation of summer festivals has wrought havoc.

Having lived through Greece's 10-year economic crisis, 37-year-old Bofiliou is no stranger to job insecurity.

"For us, there is no return to normality," she told AFP. "The state has never really seriously concerned itself with the problems of artists, who often need to have a second job to survive." 

Unpaid or uninsured work is a reality for many in the profession, she notes.

With restaurants and hotels reopening in June, officials are now trying to salvage some of the season.

Greece's premier summer event, the annual Athens-Epidaurus festival, is set to open in mid-July, six weeks later than scheduled.

And organisers in Kalamata are "optimistic" that the international dance festival will begin on July 16 as scheduled.

The Thessaloniki documentary festival, originally to be held in March, will now be held online in late May.

The Greek culture ministry on Thursday announced a series of "corrective" measures to support artists after their apparent omission from income benefits sparked an outcry from opposition parties, and even Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis.

"I sincerely regret having lived to see that deeply obscurantist views still exist... in a civilised country, artists should be in the front row of appreciation," Theodorakis, the 94-year-old "Zorba the Greek" composer said in a statement last month.

When news broke in April that artists had been excluded from an 800-euro ($865) emergency stipend arranged by the state for furloughed employees, their representatives hit the streets in a symbolic protest outside the ministry of finance.

"Unfortunately, we are invisible to the government and culture ministry," said Costas Kehayoglou, head of the federation of Greek performers.

'People behind the puppets'

On Thursday, around 2,000 actors, musicians, puppeteers and other artists gathered outside the Greek parliament to protest the snub.

Some of the banners they carried read "Art's not dead", "We are not beggars" and "There are people behind the puppets".

Hours earlier, Culture Minister Lina Mendoni had announced that artists would be included in a 100-million-euro support fund, including 70 million specifically for staff.

"Our aim is to keep culture active... we don't want a scene without culture because of the pandemic," she told a news teleconference.

The performers' federation later called the measures "inadequate", noting that "those excluded are more than those included".

"Our civilisation is in peril," renowned singer Dimitra Galani told Athens municipal radio on Friday.

"Just look at how France and other European countries protect their national (cultural) product," she said.

Elise Jalladeau, director general of the Thessaloniki International Film Festival, warns that Greece's audiovisual industry will carry the effects of the shutdown for some time.

"The sector is more fragile than in other European countries where there is more structure, especially as regards the protection of artists' (intellectual) rights," she told AFP.

Greek artists have long struggled to secure decent pay for their work.

The Greek intellectual property agency collapsed in 2018 in a mismanagement scandal, owing millions in unpaid royalties, and a new structure has yet to take hold.

(AFP)

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