An interview to Elžbieta Banytė for the 30th literature festival „Druskininkai Poetic Fall“.

Poetinis Druskininkų ruduoElžbieta Banytė (hereinafter, E. B.): A few years ago, I saw “Burn The Script”, the Greek TV comedy series, where one of the episodes was “Germany vs. Greece”. You were born in Germany. Do you think this kind of humor has any good basis? Namely, laughing at cultural stereotypes (for example, at Germans, who are said to only walk when the light is green, while the Greeks don’t even bother to look for a zebra crossing). How do you understand the “Greek mentality”? If such a thing really exists, is it reflected in your creative work?

Danae Sioziou (hereinafter, D. S.): I had not seen this series before. I only watched it now. It made me very sad. It‘s not funny at all: this humor is primitive and cheesy, one that does not offer anything to me as a viewer. It does not cheer me up and does not give me the space to think. I guess stereotypes, fortunately, do not necessarily prove to be true. Moreover, they are merely an instrument for making a caricature of nations‘ peculiarities and cultures and, among other things, can open doors to dangerous phenomena such as the legalization of radical and racist attitudes in the minds of citizens. Television is a very influential medium, so I can’t treat it with indulgence. I’ve watched a lot of TV shows and films, and I‘ve read books and articles about the relations between these two countries. Sure enough, nations do have historical identities, but they’re made up of many components – and often, it’s not even a singular thing. However, people‘s everyday routines are constantly changing, so life can’t be based on stereotypes and oppositions. We must commit ourselves to protecting the fragile and truly not self-evident assets of peace and democracy.

When we moved to Greece – too late for me to be able to become a real Greek and too early to be just a German or a German Greek – something happened. There was a celebration of October 28th going on, and some child, mocking my accent, told me to go back to my homeland (he meant Germany), and I was a little disturbed and told him that my homeland was here. He gave me that interrogative look. This experience was not traumatic, but I remember it. Just as I recall the kindergarten teacher in Germany, who regularly compared the children of immigrants with the little Germans. But there was another woman who was good to us all, and spoke with everyone in his or her mother tongue. When we first arrived in Greece, I saw the Albanian immigrants who worked in the fields all day without a break and did not get anything to eat, who did not even dare to utter a word. The family women often gave us food that we could carry to them secretly because we were still small and could not be seen among the high corn cobs. We felt pity for the Albanians because we also had immigrants in our families, and, moreover, our previous generations were living in poverty due to the German occupation and the civil war that forced the part of my family who resided in the mountains to resettle.

As a child, I identified Greece with a paradise because we would come there only in the summer, and in my childish eyes, it all looked perfect and full of colors that I could not even imagine in Germany. One day, during a religion lesson, I was sharing the desk with D., a child whose family had just moved from Albania. I was the only one who knew his real name, because he kept it secret from others. When the teacher of religion asked what was paradise, D. and I responded with one voice: “Greece!” We were wrong. A few days later, he was brutally beaten at school, because he was a foreigner. I didn‘t get beaten and felt extremely lucky.

I think if some kind of mentality is visible in my poetry at all, it’s the mentality of a stranger – but one that goes beyond stereotypes. The one of a person who grew up and lived in different places – even though, in my own case, being partly privileged. The following quote from Camus expresses something about me: “On the contrary, in a world where the shadows of illusions and light splits, people become strangers. This exile is without refuge, because it does not contain the lost memories of the homeland or the hope of the promised land.” (The Myth of Sisyphus )

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