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Culture

Nikos Dimou’s On the Unhappiness of Being Greek

Nikos Dimou wrote his famous book On the Unhappiness of Being Greek during the military junta and published it after its fall.It became an international bestseller and was translated into several languages. It was published in a paperback English edition by Zero Books in 2013. As relevant today as it was when it was first published in 1975, the book still inspires an emotional response from readers who either love what Dimou has to say or hate it.

In recent years, the Athens-born writer became a member of To Potami (The River) party but resigned after his controversial remarks about Holy Fire at Easter and the cost of having a private plane fly from Jerusalem to Athens to bring it to the faithful caused an uproar. As The National Herald reported, he said he felt he had to step down from the party because of the negative publicity that his comments had attracted.

“I was just a simple member of the party but my name is well known and the media identified us as one and the same,” Dimou said in a statement in 2014. “That is how the party and I wound up in trouble.”

Perhaps best known for his non-conformist attitudes and resigning from mainstream media 11 times, Dimou, who speaks four languages (Greek, French, German, and English) also designed the famous Never Forget Cyprus image during his time in advertising. On his official website, he said, “The “Den Xehno” symbol was created on August 14, 1974, the day Attila II cut Cyprus in half. Hearing the news on the radio, I had an image of Cyprus being stabbed, and visualized the Attila line as a slow flux of blood ebbing down the island. I was the owner of an advertising agency – I called my art director Dimitri Georgiopoulos, gave him a map of the island and the copy. The rest is history.

“We printed a few thousand stickers, send them out to the media and we were overwhelmed with requests for more. We printed as many as we could afford, gave out copies of the artwork to anybody requesting the right to print, prepared translations in many languages (Greek students all over the world asked for them). We received hundreds of letters – the most important being one by Archbishop Makarios.

“This symbol has now practically become public domain – very few people remember its origins. But for me it remains something very personal: a tribute to the parts of Cyprus – Kyrenia, Bellapais, Salamis, Famagusta – which I had visited and loved three years before the invasion.”

In his book, Dimou challenges the reader to have an open mind about what it means to be Greek which can be difficult for those who love their culture, heritage, and language so profoundly. In the 2012 postscript for foreign editions of the book, he wrote, “People who enjoy reading this book are probably not Greek. For a Greek this book is painful. He may smile at some aphorisms, even laugh sometimes, but closing it, he will feel well …unhappy. It portrays the basic problem of his existence, his urge for more and his inability to cope with less. Conflicts undermine his identity, make him uncertain and changeable. He is divided between his glorious past and his meager present, between his Eastern mentality and his European aspiration – torn asunder by forces of tradition (like the Orthodox Church) and modernity. His is a difficult fate.”

On the Unhappiness of Being Greek by Nikos Dimou is available online and in bookstores and libraries.

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