What was Manos Hadjidakis’ political identity? From the very beginning, he, himself, offered an explanation. It was inevitable that he should be misunderstood straightway. How was it possible for a Greek society of cursory and dangerous polarization not to raise an eyebrow at someone who blamed equally the Right and the Left? How judge a man who accepts a public position and rejects it the moment it ceases to measure up to his inspiration and mettle? How understand one who is a friend of a political ruler but at the same time defends the spirited spokesmen of minorities? More importantly, how tolerate a man who can clearly see where things are leading, who knows how to make an objective appraisal of the situation without being carried away by short-lived triumphs and life’s dramas?
Not that Hadjidakis doesn’t commiserate. And this, together with his insight, was recognized by another sector of Greek society that came to respect his political views even when not agreeing with them. It also shared the unanswerable questions of an anguished nineteen year-old Hadjidakis recorded in his diary. It was December, 1944.
Brotherhood, feelings, slogans, reactions: cheap goods strewn over the pavements along with real blood, real youthful bodies, real mouths of screaming human beings… And the priests on both sides monopolized Christ and secured His help, the ones for the nation and the others for the people… But on whose side is Christ? – On your side, I hear a caressing voice beside me. I am always on the side of those who inquire.
Only a year later, as a member of the United Panhellenic Youth Organization (EPON), he accompanies the United Artists Company of young actors as accordionist and composer of the music for the play Bury the Dead by Irving Shaw. After the first performance in Larissa, military policemen pounce on the actors and beat them up, Hadjidakis included.
A little later, in Athens, another security policeman stops him in the street. The shock is greater when twenty year-old Manos recognizes in his face a former member of ELAS (the partisan army during the Occupation), who used to brag about his accomplishments:
How many people they killed and how they were killed … and here he was now, standing right before me. A security policeman, asking with a smirk for my ID card, not having recognized me, of course…It dawned on me that my country was not that honest and innocent, and resolved to keep my eyes wide open. And what did he see? After the war, the traditional Right, on the plea of “danger” from a steady 11% Left vote, imposed a reign of terror on the nation, thus serving the interests of a dubious domestic nomenclature and relying mainly on quislings, treachery and petit bourgeois morality. So, in the name of a heinous nationalism, the country experienced an outrageous revival of sick fascist principles, which, instead of being punished, discovered their potentials and developed the first embryos of dictatorship and the Ioannidis-instigated terror in 1967.
Political terror had also an aesthetic side to it. The country was in ruins…and the then official Greek state sounded every so often a huge gong on the radio to remind us, in a thunderous voice, that we are three thousand years old, as if it were medicine or a prescription for advancement.Hadjidakis was among the first to react. Thus was born the need for whatever was small, genuine and humble: a sound reaction of enlightened individuals against flamboyance and atavistic obscurantism. Consolation came from an unexpected but refreshing source. If it weren’t for the baglama and the “carefree” bouzouki, without the addicted witch’s blues and the dancing of an Alexandrian woman fellah, we would have been sheep ready for the slaughter, in the name of the Father and of whatever son and every form of nationhood.
Kostas Tachtsis remembers:
“We set out together, with Manos Hadjidakis in the forefront, defying the scorn and contempt of the bourgeoisie and its lackeys, to create a new, genuinely Greek aestheticism which this time, we hoped, would spread – thanks to the ‘volatile’ music – throughout the geographical and social domain of Greece and, who knows, even beyond it.”
It appears that the restitution of the rebetika songs, with the famous lecture delivered in 1949 at the Art Theatre, had both aesthetic and political implications. The very birth of the modern Greek song, which led to the sanction of the laic song, was simultaneously a political act! But don’t think that Hadjidakis allowed us to glory for long in his achievement.… Consequently, the rebetika songs, having become as overwhelmingly legal as the Communist Party in our day, I renounce with abhorrence any connection with them. But we will come to this later on…