Cephalonia is home to people of all manner of political affiliations, in particular alignment with the monarchist Stamatis or the communist Kokolios. Yet despite spending years arguing with each other over the proper way to govern a nation, these two political theorists remain close friends and even die in each other's arms. The relationship between Stamatis and Kokolios is just one of a number of friendships in Captain Corelli's Mandolin that transcend political beliefs. Through Stamatis and Kokolios, as well as the friendships of young men like Günter Weber and Mandras, the novel makes the case that genuine friendship has the power to triumph over all manner of differences. Sacrificing one's personal relationships for the sake of party loyalty, on the other hand, is a ticket to a lifetime of regret at best.
Prior to the war’s arrival on the shores of Greece, politics and political theories fuel lively, good-hearted debate. Stamatis and Kokolios delight in arguing with each other, and Dr. Iannis, a Venizelist, is absolutely thrilled when he comes up with a scathing critique of communist economic practices with which to scorch Kokolios later at the kapheneia--and yet, all three men notably remain friends. Dr. Iannis also cultivates this kind of argumentative relationship with Pelagia, teaching her how to formulate a solid argument and successfully support her own political beliefs as she grows into adulthood. She clearly takes the necessity and the joy of argument to heart, as long after the war is over, Pelagia doesn't find her adult daughter Antonia's profession of being a radical communist surprising or a bad thing--and she recognizes that Antonia's views will likely change over time anyway. This assessment in particular suggests that in the Greek tradition, the political theories themselves don't matter as much as the respectful relationships people form with each other by talking about--and in turn, honing--their beliefs. It also implies that one's political views are, to a degree, fluid--they change over time with age and circumstances.
When the war arrives in Greece after the Italians torpedo a Greek ship and harbor, Stamatis, Kokolios, and Dr. Iannis put their political differences aside and come together to support their country, rather than argue about their individual beliefs regarding how Greece should be governed. This camaraderie in the face of political disagreement continues throughout the war and the Italian occupation. Carlo even joins in--he's a communist like Kokolios, and the two conspire to print and distribute an "Italian" pamphlet making fun of Mussolini and all of Italy's goals in the war, including the occupation of Greece. While a shared political bent is what presumably initiates this partnership, it's the friendly and caring relationships that the Greek residents form with their Italian invaders that allow this kind of friendship and conspiracy to take place at all. Further, the Italians in Cephalonia are vocal about the fact that they believe the Greek occupation is a fool's errand, which helps facilitate the friendships between the Greeks and the Italians. In other words, because of a shared political belief, the Italians and the Greeks are able to recognize each other as human beings and act on the realization that they actually have much more in common than it appeared at first.
While Carlo, Stamatis, Kokolios, and Dr. Iannis manage to form deep and lasting relationships despite their differing nationalities and political leanings, the German soldier Günter Weber provides counterpoints to the others' genuine friendships. Weber meets Corelli and Carlo when the Italians make an excursion to the shore with prostitutes, and Corelli immediately "drafts" Weber into his singing group La Scala. This becomes the basis for their friendship, and Weber soon becomes friends with Dr. Iannis, Pelagia, and a number of other Greek people. Despite their friendship--which is described as genuine--Weber is different from his Italian and Greek friends in one important regard: he believes fully in the superiority of the Aryan race and the Nazi vision of the future, and he prioritizes these political beliefs over the humanity of his friends. This ultimately leads Weber to follow an order to head the firing squad that murders Corelli's division, something that Weber regrets for the rest of his life--but something that he felt he had to do in order to uphold his political beliefs.
Mandras suffers a similar fate: though he did love Pelagia when he left to fight for Greece, his involvement in the Greek rebel group ELAS and his introduction to radical, violent communism changed him into someone incapable of recognizing Pelagia's humanity or even his own. He commits suicide after his mother Drosoula disowns him for attempting to rape Pelagia, suggesting that while political theory kept him going in the field, it's impossible for that theory to be the guiding force in his civilian life. With this, the novel makes it abundantly clear that it's exceptionally dangerous to divorce political ideology from humanity. Rather, it proposes that it's impossible to form meaningful, supportive friendships with individuals whom one doesn't consider human first and foremost--and that the alternative to recognizing others' humanity is death or a lifetime of regret.
Politics and Friendship ThemeTracker
Politics and Friendship Quotes in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin
We were new and beautiful, we loved each other more than brothers, that's for sure. What spoiled it always was that none of us knew why we were in Albania, none of us had an easy conscience about this rebuilding of the Roman Empire.
I know that the Duce has made it clear that the Greek campaign was a resounding victory for Italy. But he was not there. He does not know what happened. He does not know that the ultimate truth is that history ought to consist only of the anecdotes of the little people who are caught up in it.
"I have always been a Venizelist; I am not a monarchist, and I am not a Communist. I disagree with both of you, but I cure Stamatis' deafness and I burn out Kokolios' warts. This is how we should be. We should care for each other more than we care for ideas, or else we will end up killing each other."
"I just don't understand why an artist like you would descend to being a soldier."
He frowned, "Don't have any silly ideas about soldiers. Soldiers have mothers, you know, and most of us end up as farmers and fishermen like everyone else."
"You have to be firm with these people, or they start doing what they like...You won't believe this, but half of these peasants are Royalists. Just imagine! Identifying yourself with the oppressors!"
It had never occurred to Mandras to be anything other than a Royalist, but he nodded in agreement.
Weber was still a virgin, his father was a Lutheran pastor, and he had grown up in the Austrian mountains, capable of hating Jews and gypsies only because he had never met one.
It came to her that she could actually shoot him when he came through the door, and then run away to join the andartes with it. The trouble was that he was no longer just an Italian, he was Captain Antonio Corelli, who played the mandolin and was very charming and respectful.
But on that evening, one of the Venizelists who was about to risk his life by defecting to EDES came up to him later in the darkness, sympathetically offering him a cigarette, and explaining, "Look, you don't have to understand all that jargon from our sesquipedalian friend, because all it boils down to is that you've got to do just as he says, or he'll cut your throat."
But I know that she will never tell me that she is waiting for a new world where a Greek may love an Italian and think nothing of it.
No one could recognize anybody else, and Italian and Greek peered into one another's faces, denationalized by coughing, by grime, and by mutual amazement.
"I don't have your advantages, Günter."
"Yes. I don't have the advantage of thinking that other races are inferior to mine. I don't feel entitled, that's all."
"If he had an impulse that quickened the seeds of his inactivity, it was foolish hope and the desperate need to spare the blood of the hapless men he loved. He took a sightless road and shortly condemned them to a grisly doom, failing to see in the Nazi promises so thick a mask of falsehood that by trusting them he condemned his beautiful youngsters to abandon their bones..."
"I wish that you will have children together, and I wish that once or twice you will tell them about their Uncle Carlo that they never saw."
He did not know it, but he buried Carlo in the soil of Odysseus' time, as though he had belonged there from the first.