After weeks of speculation and a heated discourse, the Greek Minister of Culture Aristidis Baltas proceeded to the dismissal of Greek Festival director Giorgos Loukos, pending an investigation regarding the organisation’s finances.
The move came after an inquiry by the General Accounting Office found the company operating on losses of over €2.7 million euros, triggering a probe by the Financial Crimes Squad (SDOE).
Four people, including Loukos, face felony charges in the case the ministry added.
The report was published by a daily newspaper, sparking debate among the arts community regarding the level of implication on Loukos who issued a statement, claiming that the losses occurred during the previous management of the festival. However, the ministry states that the losses were incurred following Loukos’s appointment in 2005.
According to some reports, the deficit is due to some festival suppliers using the expected payment from the festival as collateral for bank loans, defrauding both the festival and the lenders, as the festival ended up paying both the suppliers and the bank.
As news of the pending probe was made public, speculation arose regarding the dismissal of Loukos, who is also the artistic director of the Lyon Opera Ballet and who had been on the helm of the festival for a decade, credited with transforming it from a stale institution to one of the most important arts Festivals in Europe.
Originally known as the Athens Festival, the annual event was founded in 1955 and for decades was bound to tradition and to the presentation of ancient Greek plays.
It features mainly theatre and musical performances, in venues such as the ancient theatres of Epidavrus and the Herodeion in Athens.
Faced with decline and practically rendered irrelevant, the festival flourished under Loukos’ management, expanding to new venues, attracting younger audiences, featuring some of the most important theatre groups in Europe and opening to avant-garde projects and major international productions such as Kevin Spacey’s version of Shakespeare’s Richard III.
It is in this spirit that 128 leading Greek and international artists decided to sign a petition against his dismissal. Some have even gone further, accusing the Greek government for using the financial scandal as pretext to fire the director – who was offering his services pro bono – and replace him with someone closer to the ranks of the Syriza party.
No decision has been made yet as to the process of Loukos’ succession, as the ministry has been urged to launch an international open call for the position.