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Society

Now Greece’s Arts Community Shaken by Sexual Harassment Claims

February 17, 2021

ATHENS — Coming hot on the heels of a former Olympic sailing champion alleging she was raped by a federation official, Greece’s #MeToo movement has spread to the arts world where a barrage of similar claims are being made.

Many famous actors and directors have been accused of harassment or assault and removed from their posts, some complaining of a near witch hunt like campaign targeting people with anonymous sources.

In a feature, The New York Times said prosecutors are looking into the most serious cases to see if anyone can be charged, unlike that of the Olympian, Sofia Bekatorou, who said her assault came in 1998, the statute of limitations having expired on prosecution.

A judicial official not named told the paper that he expected there to be more cases, although it was unclear how many would go to trial, given the passage of time since the alleged incidents and a lack of evidence and as a storm is swirling through a community dominated by men in positions of authority.

The paper noted that there has been an open secret of sexual abuse and harassment inthe arts sector of musicians, actors, actresses, directors, officials and others, whispered about in the wings but never acted on until now.

Bekatorou’s speaking out ripped down the veil of secrecy in a society where the paper said studies suggested as many as 90 percent of women are hit on by men in a number of professions, including media, sports and politics too.

The Greek actors’ union has received hundreds of phone calls in recent days from professionals alleging abuse, the report said, but almost all of it is coming in the kind of secrecy that surrounded the allegations against perpetrators.

Spyros Bibilas, the head of the union, told Greek TV that actors have called him “sobbing,” adding that many of the alleged episodes occurred during Greece’s decade-long financial crisis, when job insecurity soared and people were afraid of losing their jobs, willing to do anything to keep them.

In a statement earlier this month, another union representing drama students at Greece’s National Theater denounced “countless cases of workplace bullying and sexist violence” as well as racism, homophobia and other forms of discrimination, but it wasn’t clear if anyone was named or just blanket charges.

Greece’s Culture Ministry said it was creating a code of conduct for state-owned cultural institutions and, as Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis did after Bekatorou’s case, has urged the national actors’ union to report any instances of abuse to the authorities.

“There is zero tolerance toward the abuse of power, sexual harassment, bullying, discrimination, and all forms of violence,” the Deputy Minister for Contemporary Culture, Nicholas Yatromanolakis, said in an email.

“The cultural field is and should remain a place where dreams, not nightmares, come true,” he said, without explaining why if it’s not tolerated that critics said it’s everywhere.

The artistic director of the country’s prestigious National Theater, Dimitris Lignadis, resigned on Feb. 6 after reports suggesting he sexually harassed young actors, which he denied, but that has seen more reports against him.

In his letter of resignation, which was made public by the Culture Ministry,  Lignadis referred to a “toxic climate of rumors,” but didn’t say why if he was innocent that he was stepping down.

His lawyer, Nikos Georgouleas, said Lignadis was being unfairly targeted and vilified. Since his resignation, posters with his photo have been plastered on bus stops in central Athens, warning that he will “pay for everything.”

“He feels like he’s in the eye of this storm, with new rumors emerging every day,” Georgouleas told the paper, adding that Lignadis was ready to “offer any explanations necessary” to prosecutors but no report why he hasn’t then.

Messages sent to the Facebook accounts of other acting professionals facing accusations were not answered, and further efforts to reach them were unsuccessful, the paper said.

The allegations aren’t limited to women complaining about men. Harrys Tzortzakis, one of three male actors who accused film director Costas Zapas of sexual harassment, spoke of an “omerta” in the industry, a code of silence.

In a statement on his Facebook page. Zapas denied the claims, the details of which weren’t reported. “I have never pressured anyone to conduct themselves in a way that they do not desire,” he wrote.

Tzortzakis told Greek television last week, “We’re scared of naming names in case they sue us or who knows what else” and said the Culture Ministry should take a stand with alleged victims.

Three actresses issued a joint statement in late January accusing Kostas Spyropoulos, an actor and director, of sexual harassment, leading him to issue a statement apologizing for offending anyone.

But then he sued TV stations to keep them from mentioning his name with the statement that he issued, saying what he did was right but it would be wrong for them to mention he did it because it would violate his rights.

Jenny Botsi, one of the three actresses, thanked Bekatorou for what she did and said it had inspired her to come forward with her reports of sordid activities long being hidden.

“She doesn’t know how much good she’s done,” Botsi told Greek television. “She’s opened up a road and thankfully we’ve grasped the opportunity.”

Seven actresses have accused another prominent director and actor, George Kimoulis, of verbal and physical abuse, though not sexual harassment, which he said were “unacceptable and false,” and is suing at least one of them.

But organizers of the popular Athens and Epidaurus Festival didn’t wait for a resolution and fired him from a play scheduled to be staged at the ancient Epidaurus theater this summer, saying they had to do it because of “the heavy shadow of recent developments.”

For all that turmoil, it’s unclear whether anyone will be charged or if it’s still going on, people who said they were harassed or assaulted afraid still of speaking out despite the movement targeting alleged perpetrators.

Under Greek law, rape can be prosecuted for up to 15 years. As for sexual harassment, the offense expires three months after the incident if legal action is not taken and despite Mitsotakis’ defense of Bekatorou the New Democracy government hasn’t acted to toughen sexual assault laws.

Bekatorou said that was why it was important for victims to “break their silence without delay.” President Katerina Sakellaropoulou of Greece expressed her “great concern” about the wave of accusations still coming out.

“The one major benefit of this difficult period for the theater, and for other areas of the arts and other sectors, is the shaking off of fear,” she said.

It was equally important, she said, that justice is delivered “in order to restore the dignity and the influence of personalities and institutions that society needs so much.”

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