Accusations of Sexual Harassment Rock Greek Arts WorldFebruary 16, 2021
ATHENS — Less than a month after allegations of sexual assault by a Greek Olympic sailing champion spurred a national reckoning on a topic long considered taboo, the Greek arts world has been swept up in a torrent of accusations and denials.
A number of famous actors and directors have been accused of harassment or assault and removed from high-profile productions. The artistic director of the country’s prestigious National Theater resigned amid a barrage of reports accusing him of sexual abuse and harassment, which he has furiously denied.
The bulk of the accusations — from men as well as women — have surfaced in media reports. Prosecutors in Athens are handling the most serious cases and have vowed to investigate all credible allegations.
A judicial official, who would speak only on the condition of anonymity, said 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.
The storm of accusations against household names and respected figures in the Greek arts world comes in one of Europe’s most conservative societies, where such abuses have long been whispered about but never openly discussed, let alone prosecuted.
Last month, Sofia Bekatorou, an Olympic sailing champion in 2004 and one of the country’s most popular athletes, publicly accused a top sailing official of sexually abusing her in 1998. It was the first high-profile accusation of sexual assault and abuse of power in Greece since the #MeToo movement rocked the established power structures in many other countries.
Her decision to speak out opened the floodgates for similar claims and has spurred an uncharacteristically open and passionate debate about sexual harassment and abuse in Greece, where, studies suggest, up to nine in 10 women face unwelcome advances in media, sports, politics and other male-dominated sectors.
In the world of the performing arts, professionals say, the problem is acute, and men are being targeted too.
The Greek actors’ union has received hundreds of phone calls in recent days from professionals alleging abuse.
Spyros Bibilas, the head of the union, told Greek television that actors have called him “sobbing,” adding that many of the alleged episodes occurred during Greece’s decade-long financial crisis, when job insecurity peaked and people were particularly vulnerable.
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.
In response to the complaints, Greece’s culture ministry said it was overseeing an initiative to create a code of conduct for state-owned cultural institutions. The ministry 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.”
But some of the most high-profile figures who have been accused of abuse say they are victims of public hysteria, where guilt is presumed.
The artistic director of the country’s prestigious National Theater, Dimitris Lignadis, resigned on Feb. 6 after reports suggesting that he sexually harassed young actors. He denied those reports. Since he stepped down, more reports of sexual abuse have been leveled against him.
In his letter of resignation, which was made public by the culture ministry, Mr. Lignadis referred to a “toxic climate of rumors.”
His lawyer, Nikos Georgouleas, said Mr. 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,” Mr. Georgouleas said by telephone, adding that Mr. Lignadis was ready to “offer any explanations necessary” to prosecutors.
Messages sent to the Facebook accounts of other acting professionals facing accusations were not answered, and further efforts to reach them were unsuccessful.
Harrys Tzortzakis, one of three male actors who have accused the film director Costas Zapas of sexual harassment, spoke of an “omerta” in the industry, using the word for the Mafia’s code of silence.
In a statement on his Facebook page on Jan. 30, Mr. Zapas rebutted the claims.
“I have never pressured anyone to conduct themselves in a way that they do not desire,” he wrote.
Mr. Tzortzakis told Greek television last week, “We’re scared of naming names in case they sue us or who knows what else.” He called on the Culture Ministry to make it clear that it stands by victims.
Three actresses issued a joint statement in late January accusing Kostas Spyropoulos, an actor and director, of sexual harassment. He issued a statement to Greek media through his lawyer apologizing for offending anyone, then sought an injunction against Greek television channels to bar them from mentioning his name in conjunction with the airing of the statement, saying it was false and violated his rights.
Jenny Botsi, one of the three actresses, expressed gratitude to Ms. Bekatorou for breaking a broader silence. Ms. Botsi was one of many who said Ms. Bekatorou had inspired them to come forward.
“She doesn’t know how much good she’s done,” Ms. 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. He has rejected the accusations as “unacceptable and false,” and is suing at least one of the actresses.
Still, organizers of the popular Athens and Epidaurus Festival have removed Mr. Kimoulis from a play scheduled to be staged at the ancient Epidaurus theater this summer.
In a statement, the organizers said they acted because of “the heavy shadow of recent developments.”
While the public accusations and subsequent departures have caused turmoil in the arts world, it remained unclear if they would ever be litigated in the courts.
The main problem for the accusers, according to legal experts, is that many of the alleged abuses date back years and prosecution may be limited by the country’s statute of limitations.
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.
Although a debate has started about amending the law to bolster protection for victims of sex crimes, legal experts said it seemed unlikely that the government would make any sweeping changes.
Even Ms. Bekatorou’s case, which set off the current wave of accusations, has been shelved by prosecutors.
Ms. 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.
“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.”