"Once, as I cleaned my grandfather's and my grandmother's shoes, I would sing the Czech national anthem. I was very young. And my grandfather said, 'That's a nice song. What kind of song is that?' I said, 'That's the national anthem. The national anthem.' - 'Nice tune. And what's it about?' I said, 'The Czech land, my home.' And Grandpa says, 'You sing that?' I said, 'Yeah.' - 'Well, you can't sing that. You mean your home is the Czech Republic? You'll go to the teacher, tell her you won't sing it.' I said: 'I can't do that, I can't change the anthem.' - 'You can, you'll sing 'The Greek land, my home.' I said: 'You can't do that.' So I was at school, and when we practiced and sang it, I always kept my mouth shut. When it was 'Czech land', I kept my mouth shut. And the teacher noticed and called me into the staffroom and said, 'Please, why do you stop singing? You have such a beautiful voice and you sing beautifully.' And I said: 'Grandpa forbade me to sing your anthem, this part about the Czech country. And he said if you'd let me put the Greek country in there...'
- 'You're going to change our anthem?! Have you gone mad?' So, of course, I went to see the headmaster, who went completely mad. He wanted to beat me up, he yelled at me... I told my grandfather: "Grandpa, what about it?" And Grandpa said, "You're not going to sing it, you're not going to sing it. You can't plant a tree or build a house here. One day, we will return home.'
So later, when we lived in the tenement house, I sang the anthem secretly, in the lavatory, and Mr. Novak said, 'You, Giori, don't be angry, but you can't sing our anthem in the lavatory.'
I said, 'But I like it very much.'
And he says, 'But you can't.'
And I said, 'But it's not my fault. It always comes out of my mouth.'
"So keep your mouth shut!"
"There's this story I remember: this relative of ours came to visit us. And he brought some sweets or chocolates. He came with his wife and we were sitting in the room. There were about twelve or fifteen of us. His wife, my aunt, stayed in the kitchen because she met a relative of hers there. And my uncle Dimitris came into that room, he had never seen me in his life, and he started feeding this other child. Then my aunt Marie came in and said, 'Why are you feeding that one, ours is this one'. So I started yelling, I would grab the chocolate from him... They kept us like sheep, we were all stuck next to each other."
"First they took the children away, then they took the grandparents, but it didn't make sense as they would end up in different countries. I was lucky enough that my grandfather and grandmother were in Těchonín. A lot of wounded people were concentrated there, as well as the elderly. So after that, through the Red Cross... I was in the orphanage in Veselíčko na Moravě, I've been there recently to have a look. After they found out that I had family, my grandfather and grandmother took me in. I remember - it's also in my feature film, which is called The Autumn Return - that they hung a piece of paper on a string around my neck that said, 'I am a Greek child and I am going to Brno to see my grandparents.'"
“A few months earlier, before the civil war ended, they came for [my mother] one evening... She worked in a factory, sowing military uniforms and stuff for soldiers. And they told her she had to leave, that she’d got straight to war. But she said: ‘But wait a minute, I have to... My husband was in the war.’ Her brothers were in the war. She said: ‘I have two children here. Who will look after them if I die?’ No, the communist party didn’t discuss that at all at the time. So they took her and she begged one soldier who was from our village, if she could, in the night, before she left, if she could go to say goodbye to her mother and to see us, me and Sophie. So the soldier told her: ‘Look, you can go, but come back, because if you don’t, they’ll shoot me.’ So she told me she ran to us... There was a children’s home where the children slept. A nursery or something of the sort. So she said she just entered the room and looked at me through a window, how I slept there, and at my sister. And that same night they took her to Greece. Basically in secret.”
“We had the fortune that it was a different time and age then, that the people were more sensitive. For instance, we had four or five teaspoons at home, and each of the teaspoons was different, each of them was given to us. Knife, fork... We hadn’t bought anything. We got all of it from the people who lived in our block of flats. There was some sort of feeling of co-existence between those people. I remember how Mr Novák brought us a stove that he had pretty much stolen from a scrapyard. I remember that I was there with him and he said: ‘Well lookit here, what’ you got, give it here, I’ll give it to the Greeks, they’ve got it cold there.’ So he told off the person who was collecting it there. Well, and that’s how we lived. Often, when the neighbours were baking buns, they’d bring some over...”
“I’d say that by closing the door, we were in Greece. When the door was opened, we were in Czechoslovakia. It was like that to such an amount, that Granddad listened to the radio every evening, and the songs, so we would dance, sing, speak in the Pontiac dialect, so I pretty much knew the dialect since childhood. Well, and I learned Greek... Well, actually, in fact, because [Granddad] told me a lot of lies about Greece, a lot of, I’d say, exaggerations. The trees were taller than here. Tomatoes were big as melons. Everything was sweeter, everything was bigger, everything was more beautiful. Well, so I lived with the idea: So what am I doing here. That have all sorts of things here, but in Greece we have a hundred times more. I’m under the impression that he didn’t do it on purpose, that it wasn’t a matter of rational intent, but a purely emotional thing, that in this way, basically, he gifted my subconsciousness with an amazing love for a country that I didn’t know at all.”
“You may not build a house or plant a tree here. We’ll be back one day.”
George Agathonikiadis was born on the 10th of August 1947 in the village of Megali Sterna in the Greek part of Macedonia. At the same time, his father was fighting on the side of the partisan army, the DSE (Democratic Army of Greece). He was named George after his uncle who had died fighting alongside the partisans. In 1948 his mother, older sister and grandparents had to flee in secret to the “Greek” Buljkes in Yugoslavian Vojvodina. A few months later however, his mother was also called upon to fight in the DSE. In September 1949, George, his grandparents and his sister arrived in Czechoslovakia. George spent several years in a children’s home in Veselíčko. He later left the home to live with his grandparents in Brno - his parents lived in the Uzbekistani capital of Tashkent. He first met with his parents and his second sister in 1965. After completing nine years of primary school, he trained as a lathe worker. Having extraordinary musical talent, he founded a Greek orchestra in Brno and came in contact with important personalities of the city’s spiritual and theatrical sphere (Skácel, Mikulášek, Donutil, Polívka). He returned to studying at secondary school at the age of 21 (design and costume art, Brno), and between 1973 and 1977 he studied directing at FAMU (Film and TV School of Academy of Performing Arts in Prague). He started working in the Brno studio of the Czechoslovak Television. He returned to Greece with his family in 1983, where he became Director of Drama Productions for the Greek television ET-1. In 1991 he directed the feature film Podzimní návrat (Autumn Return), a co-production of Czech and Greek Television, and in 2009 the film Hořký sníh (Bitter Snow). He is the author of several other documentary films about the lives of Greek emigrants in Czechoslovakia and about the relationship between Greece and the Czech Republic.