Visitors from all over Greece, but also from other countries, meet at the Butel cemetery in the city of Skopje, at the tomb of George Zorbas.

Among them, his great-granddaughter and travelers even from the far East…

Zorba’s fame goes beyond the European borders, the one given to him by the pen of Nikos Kazantzakis. He was the real man behind the fictional hero of Nikos Kazantzakis in the world famous “Life and State of Alexis Zorba”.

The approximately thirty people who are in the family grave of Zorbas are friends of the International Society of Friends of Nikos Kazantzakis (DEFNK).

Its members are fascinated by the special relationship between the two men and their shared path. Their meeting produced this wonderful novel, made Greek values ​​and the Greek way of life known internationally, and passed them both into eternity.

“This is the third time we have come and we are always moved. Zorbas was a man whom Nikos Kazantzakis loved so much and called him a Guru, an Elder. Who; The great thinker Kazantzakis. And this is touching”, says the president of DEFNK Giorgos Stasinakis to the Athenian/Macedonian News Agency. “Their friendship was something terrible. He was an intellectual who … lost it when he met a worker, because he was teaching him many things about life. He wanted to be Zorbas himself, but he couldn’t,” explains Mr. Stasinakis.

“If in my life I had to choose a spiritual guide, a “guru”, as the Indians say, an “elder”, as the monks on Mount Athos say, I would definitely choose Zorba. Because he had everything a squid needs to be saved”, wrote Nikos Kazantzakis himself in “Report on Greco”, in the chapter: “Zorbas”. His quote was read over the grave: “In my life my greatest benefactors have been travel and dreams. Of men, living and dead, very few aided my struggle. But if I wanted to distinguish which people left the deepest traces in my soul, perhaps I would distinguish Homer, Buddha, Nietzsche, Bergson and Zorba”.

“Zorbas helped him because he saw the life force he had, a force that those who sit and write do not have and Nikos Kazantzakis did not have,” says the Member of the Coordinating Committee of DEFNK and President of the Greek Branch Katerina Zografistou, who read the passage and adds: “Kazantzakis says that Zorbas was his teacher in life. He had what he himself did not have. He was a man of fun, feasting, singing, drinking, women… And Kazantzakis valued living people more, who grasp life by the hair, and educated people less.”

Routes Kazantzakis – Zorba

The members of the delegation started their same-day trip to Skopje by road, on Friday morning from the center of Thessaloniki, where they were for the “Meetings and texts of Kazantzakis for non-Greek writers and artists” Conference, which takes place today and tomorrow at the Center History of Thessaloniki.

The first stop was the University of Saints Cyril and Methodius, where an event on the life and work of Nikos Kazantzakis was held by the Embassy of Greece in Skopje and the Office of Public Diplomacy in collaboration with the Greek National Institute of Foreign Studies. In this context, a documentary of the N. Kazantzakis Museum was screened, followed by speeches about his writing and poetic work, as well as about the contribution of DEFNK to his global appeal.

This was followed by a visit to the Butel cemetery, where among the crowd, a group of Japanese commented on the work of the world-famous author, speaking to those around her in Greek.

“In 2018, our Company started organizing Kazantzakis – Zorba routes, i.e. visiting the places the two spent together and holding events”, says Katerina Zografistou. She is expected to be the next president of the International Society of Friends of Nikos Kazantzakis, after its founder, Giorgos Stasinakis, decided to continue serving as honorary president. After all, in the 35 years he was at the helm of the Company, he traveled to 101 countries where he organized events, conferences, workshops and gave lectures, making Kazantzakis’ work known. In fact, he has already sent his entire file – which is also the Company’s file – from Geneva, where he lives, to Heraklion, Crete, which will be the new headquarters of DEFNK.

Kazantzakis friends in Africa and Asia, DEFNK branch in China and Japanese in Thessaloniki

Today, the International Society of Friends of Nikos Kazantzakis counts more than 9,000 members in 131 countries and from five continents. “We have members from Burkina Faso. There, I gave a lecture attended by a professor and former minister, who told me that she had read Kazantzakis when she studied in Paris. Then she herself created a group of fifty people,” says Mr. Stasinakis. He remembers similar incidents from other distant countries, such as Paraguay or Iceland.

“We arrived in Iceland from Copenhagen at 1 in the morning and it was daylight because of the phenomenon there. Inside the hall were 250 people who loved Greece and Kazantzakis. We ended up having a department there as well”, adds the President of DEFNK.

“The first event for Kazantzakis in China took place in 2002 when Mr. Stasinakis came for the first time and gave a speech,” says Elena Avramidou, Member of the Coordination Committee of DEFNK and Head of the China Branch, who became a few years later, consisting of Chinese, but also Greeks who live, work or study there. “Kazantzakis has been translated into Chinese, he is the best-known Greek writer in China – along with Cavafy, and is taught in universities, in Greek studies departments, but also in philosophy departments,” he adds.

Elena Avramidou is in charge of three countries of the Far East: China, South Korea and Japan, where Fukuda Kosuke comes from, who is ready to create a strong team in the Land of the Rising Sun not only for Kazantzakis, but in general for the Greek culture.

The Japanese who speaks fluent Greek and loves the work of Kazantzakis

He himself stands reverently and solemnly in front of Zorba’s tomb. For the occasion, both he and his wife wear the traditional clothing of their country. The couple is accompanied by a compatriot who lives in Thessaloniki and studies at the University of Macedonia and a researcher from Japan, who studies international relations between Japan and other countries. The latter is the only one who does not know how to speak Greek, but he is interested in the work of Kazantzakis and that is why he arrived in Thessaloniki to attend the Conference, in the context of which he followed the mission to Skopje.

“At the age of about 23, I read Kazantzakis for the first time, specifically his translated books “Christ Recrucified” and “The Last Temptation”, the 33-year-old Kosuk tells APE-MPE. About three years later, he himself had contact with Giorgos Stasinakis, when the latter organized a conference in Japan. “In 2016 I came to Greece for the first time, when I was in the first year of the PhD program at Kyoto University. Since then I come to Greece every year, I try to maintain my Greek and collect many books, as many as possible”, says Kosuk characteristically, who now teaches Greek to Japanese at various universities in his country.

“Mr. Nikos” Kazantzakis who “stolen” Zorba and the two who ate stones

The participation of Giorgi Zorba’s great-granddaughter, Evitas Kehagia, who was accompanied by her husband Costas Varelas, gave special weight to the mission. Her grandfather, Kostas Kechagias, together with other expatriates from the Caucasus, were in Kalamata. There, George Zorbas chose him as the husband of his eldest daughter, Andronikis Zorbas.

“I outlived my grandmother, she was my father’s mother,” Evita Kehagia, now 65, explains to APE-MPE. “They called her the ‘female Zorba’ because she was very dynamic, very communicative. Because her own mom died very early, she played the role of mother in the family and was very close to her father and very influenced by him,” says Mrs. Kehagia. “In the 70s, a crew from Austrian TV came and interviewed her and all its members were speechless by this very lively woman and they certainly understood how Zorbas bewitched Kazantzakis…”, he says.

Grandmother Androniki, lived closely the close contact of her father Giorgis Zorbas with Nikos Kazantzakis and passed on to her granddaughter the climate she experienced. “The summer that Kazantzakis was with Zorba in Mani, she was also there, along with her younger brothers. My grandmother called Kazantzakis “Mr. Niko” and she even had a hard time with him, because he stole her father, as she said, after taking him with him many times on missions and missing several periods of her life.” he remembers. “Who could have imagined that after so many years, the name Zorba will be known all over the world and will move and inspire people…” comments Ms. Kehagia.

She also mentions incidents that her grandmother used to tell her, some of which are also written in the novel written by Kazantzakis about Zorba. “The two of them were isolated in Stoupa, in Mani, where Kazantzakis wrote day and night without caring what he would eat. But since Zorbas often took charge of cooking, he asked him “what are we going to eat tomorrow, boss?” and he was annoyed that she was interrupting him to ask him such questions”, he describes. “Once to the same question he got the answer ‘stones.’ Then Zorbas took a large pot, lit a fire on the beach, put water and stones and boiled them. And when at some point after 10 hours of continuous writing Kazantzakis got hungry, he asked “what are we going to eat?” Zorbas showed him the stones. That’s how he was, that’s why it made such a terrible impression on him. He was an earthly person, exactly the opposite of himself, who was a spiritual person and was not interested in everyday things, only the spirit, writing and ideas”, concludes Mrs. Kehagia.

The visit comes to an end. Enchanted visitors watch the darkness fall and images dance through their minds. Another era, but mores, but the memory remains alive, as does the inspiration given to them by Giorgos “Alexis” Zorbas. The Greek…