The Greek Association of Film Directors and Producers (ESPEK) held a press conference titled "Give a little loving to Greek Cinema ... or the need for a single cinematic policy" on Monday, November 26, 2018, in Athens, where film makers and producers expressed their views and concerns regarding existing mechanisms of state funding and cinema policy.
Film director Markos Holevas, member of ESPEK and director of the Hellenic Film Commission of the Greek Film Center (GFC) in 2007, welcomed attendants, while film director and ESPEK President Elina Psychou focused on ESEPK's view that there is no comprehensive and uniform national cinema policy. Ministries dealing with cinema have not managed as yet to formulate this much needed unified policy. Psychou explained that the term policy refers to the whole spectrum, from the education of the audience to watch Greek cinema, to film academies, the production of films as well as their promotion and distribution, both in Greece, as a valuable cultural product and abroad, as an exportable product.
Noting that nine Ministries are involved in cinematography - the Ministries of Culture, Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Information, Finance, Economy and Development, Labour, Citizen Protection, Interior, Tourism and Education - Psychou underlined the need for coordination between them.
Psykou also referred to the problems that have rendered the existing legal framework obsolete, commenting that the creation of National Centre for Audiovisual Media & Communication (EKOME S.A.) and the introduction of cash rebate is a positive, long awaited development. However, there is a gap between the amounts allocated for cash rebate (25 million a year) and the regular Greek Film Centre (GFC)budget (2.5 million). Psykou emphasized the necessity to raise the GFC budget.
Filmmaker Vassilis Kekatos ("The silence of the fish when they die", awarded at the Drama Festival and selected at this year’s Sundance festival) referred to the Greek state broadcaster’s (Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation - ERT) “Microfilm” funding program that has helped over the years in the realization of numerous short films and lamented its current static state. Kekatos also referred to the creation of a fund for short films announced by Deputy Minister of Digital Policy Lefteris Kretsos, noting it is an excellent development that the cinematic community had been expecting for years, but that it should not replace “Microfilm”.
Film producer Fenia Kosovitsa (Blonde productions), as the first producer who had applied for cash rebate, in her comments that were read by film producer Amanda Livanou (Nedafilm), said that the introduction of the new set of economic incentives and the establishment of the National Centre for Audiovisual Media & Communication (EKOME S.A.) were positively received by the entire cinema community, as such incentives has been a long-standing demand for years. The implementation of the measure applies not only to foreign but also to Greek productions that finally see the cash rebate as an additional source of funding in the difficult financial Greek cinema landscape.
Nevertheless, there are issues that need to be clarified, so that the Greek cinematic community will be able to make the optimum use of the funding mechanisms. Greek filmmakers need to understand that EKOME is not a bank and European funding mechanisms need to recognize cash rebate as secured money. Noting that the staff of EKOME works with passion and speed, she underlined that although the establishment of EKOME is a very positive step, it doesn’t mean that all problems were solved. “Many difficulties remain and we ask the State to support Greek Cinema with the same passion it supports the EKOME initiative”, she concluded.
Film maker Alexis Alexiou (“Wednesday 04: 45", Karlovy Vary Film Festival, Best Film Award by the Greek Film Academy) stressed that for every euro spent in Greece in film co-productions, three euros are reimbursed. The aim thus is to increase the money allocated to co-productions in order to increase the amount to be reimbursed to Greece.
Film producer Mary Drandaki said that apart from the delays in approvals and the lack of funding, there are problems caused by the bureaucracy of GFC and ERT, which reflects the lack of coordination between Ministries. Film maker and ESPEK member Holevas pointed out the absence of private television networks in the financing of Greek films. He commented that neither the State nor the private sector has realized the benefits of such an investment, nor has it put pressure on private law enforcement.
Dora Masklavanou, photo by Aris Rammos
Film director Dora Masklavanou referred to the necessity of changing the procedure of insuring auxiliary actors with a more flexible and less bureaucratic procedure. Film director Panayiotis Fafoutis talked about the need to create an educated public for Greek cinema. Markos Holevas referred to the Greek audience's mistrust of Greek films, while he pointed out the speed at which EKOME operates in contrast to the other institutions.
Read also in our Filming Greece interview series: EKOME President Panos Kouanis explains why Greece is your next filming destination (and yes, it has to do with money), Director Dora Masklavanou on giving voice to the outcasts, Film Director Timon Koulmasis on the crossroads between individual and collective memory, Film Director Elina Psykou: Riding on the winds of fantasy through dark times.
111 Places in Athens That You Shouldn't Miss, recently published by Emons Editions (Cologne, Germany), is a rather unconventional travel guide for the Greek capital. It forms part of the “111 Places Insider Guides” series of “guidebooks for locals & experienced travellers”: instead of the most famous attractions and touristy spots, the guide suggests interesting and unusual places not found in traditional travel guides, capturing the city’s true essence and offering an insight into the everyday lives of Athens-dwellers, all through the eyes of its three writers: Alexia Amvrazi, Diana Farr Louis and Diane Shugart.
Alexia Amvrazi is a full time & freelance writer and blogger; a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal Europe and Greecetravel.com, she has been writing about Greece for global media for over 20 years. Diana Farr Louis, who has been living in Athens for over 40 years, is a writer of guidebooks, cookbooks and articles on Greek cuisine and travels for multiple Greek and international publications. Diane Shugart is an editor, translator and writer on Greek politics and culture; she is the former editor of Odyssey, a US-based magazine about Greece. The book is also fully illustrated with 111 full-page colour pictures by Greek photographer Yannis Varouhakis, who has collaborated with various magazines and newspapers.
The guide has already drawn a lot of interest, and is now also set to appear in German. We spoke* with the writers about the value of discovering the stories behind the places one visits, their writing approach and criteria for choosing the sites they would include in the book, the lesser-known aspects of Athens, as well as the challenges and merits of being a traveller.
Left to right: Alexia Amvrazi, Diana Farr Louis, Diane Shugart
Your guide reads like a condensed history of the modern city of Athens, providing details regarding lesser known historical landmarks but also shops and parlours in non-touristy spots. How did your team find out about those places, a few of which are little known even to the average Athenian?
Alexia Amvrazi: There were places that I passed every day and was intrigued by, or others that I’d heard had an interesting story to them, so writing this book was the perfect way of diving into a deeper discovery of those. Meanwhile, while one is on a path of seeking one thing, many other new discoveries appear along the way!
Diana Farr Louis: Living here for over 40 years, I have my favourite spots and walking around almost always reveals something new and intriguing. But I also asked friends who live in the centre for some tips and following their leads turned up places even they hadn’t thought of. Athens can be compared to a family’s basement. It’s full of memorabilia from every era; not all of it is precious but most of it is fascinating. You just might need to dig a little.
Diane Shugart: That was one of the things that made working with Diana and Alexia fun: we each ‘know’ the city in our own way, from our own interests, so I think these complemented each other well.
What were your main criteria, when choosing which of all the places you discovered would make it to the “111” list?
Diana Farr Louis: Our publishers told us they were more interested in the story behind a place than its aesthetics. That synched completely with our own approach, but we were also careful not to put too many places in any one category, whether parks or bars, shops, eateries or monuments.
Diane Shugart: For me, one thing was whether I would want to see this if I was a visitor.
Alexia Amvrazi: For me it was the challenge of discovering, exploring and sharing places that were not commonly -or ever- found in an ordinary guidebook. It’s very refreshing for a visitor to be pointed to a new direction – even if it’s just a locked doorway, yet its history leads to a deeper understanding of the city it’s in.
By listing your suggestions in an alphabetical order, do you choose to avoid any classification imposed by status or importance?
Alexia Amvrazi: Yes, that’s a policy used by Emons in all their 111 Places books, and we agree with it.
Left: Diomedes Botanical Garden, right: Kypseli ©Yannis Varouhakis
You write about many important but relatively obscure places, like the Piraeus Archaeological Museum, while some of the most famous ones -such as the Acropolis Museum, the National Archaeological Museum of Athens or the Museum of Cycladic Art- are not included in the 111 places. Would you say that your book functions as a supplementary guide, for people who already have access to the basic, easy-to-reach info about the city, but also wish to really get to know its day-to-day life and vibes? Or do you think one can also get by without visiting the so-called "greatest attractions"?
Diane Shugart: I think most people who visit Athens have a fair idea of the city’s ‘greatest attractions’—after all, the Acropolis is probably the main reason people come. So I wouldn’t think of 111 Places as a supplementary guide, but more as a complementary guide, a guide that adds a bit more texture and a broader context to the “top sights”.
Alexia Amvrazi: Certainly it could function as both. How one chooses to travel and see a city is a very subjective matter. Personally I feel that if one were to travel to Athens using only our book as a guide they would be seeing many of the “greatest attractions” along the way, without us having to set them on their to-do-list.
Diana Farr Louis: I agree with Alexia. But if someone is interested only in the Greece they learned about in school, they’d do well to have a Blue Guide with them too. I think our guide is envisaged for people who already know a bit about Athens and want to dig deeper. But it’s not just for foreigners. Locals, even Athenians born and brought up here, can have fun exploring just as we did.
Even when including Athens’ most iconic landmark, the Acropolis, the book focuses on a lesser-known, human detail: a real-life story of star-crossed lovers and suicide. Are you intrigued by the ways in which a timeless, emblematic site can play a role in a person’s fleeting existence?
Diane Shugart: A city is also about people’s stories, and I think that is what we each tried to bring out in the places we wrote about.
Alexia Amvrazi: Definitely. Indeed, who knows how many millions of fleeting souls have been deeply touched by the Acropolis itself in some way or other. As Diane says, our greatest mission was to reveal the human stories related to each place above all. And Greece, the land of evocative ancient mythology, still has so many incredible stories to tell in its modern day.
Diana Farr Louis: What is a city without people? Just a collection of buildings and old stones. Stories give meaning to life, they connect us with each other. I was so surprised that in this city, which in many ways is so new, there were so many shops whose owners were third and fourth generation, with stories going back one hundred years. Or even more. They provide continuity and a glimpse of Athens’s more recent history.
The captivating pictures play an important part in illustrating your impressions of Athens. Did the photographer receive specific directions regarding your vision or did he personally choose the angles and the details he wanted to highlight?
Yannis Varouhakis: The authors provided me with their texts and some pointers on some occasions, from there it was a matter of visiting and revisiting locations, exploring and figuring out how to best show what each place is about. It was an amazing experience, trying to see familiar parts of Athens through the author’s eyes and in the process discovering a myriad of new ones.
Left: The Parrot Colony, right: Benaki Toy Museum ©Yannis Varouhakis
Is there something that particularly surprised or touched you, among the “secrets” you discovered?
Diana Farr Louis: Apart from the family histories I uncovered, I was also moved by the love stories: Vasso Mahaira whose shop To Kompoloi tou Psyrri is a memorial to her late husband’s passion for worry beads as a cultural phenomenon; the owner of the last chair repair shop on Odos Tournavitou, who told me the story of how the tiny street’s residents banded together to paint the facades of their houses different colors; Sophia Peloponnisou, who fell in love with Angelos and Leto Katakouzenos and their own love for Athens and has kept their literary salon in their period apartment off Syntagma alive and thriving.
Alexia Amvrazi: I was deeply touched by a great deal of the stories I uncovered behind the places I wrote about. The story of Loukanikos the dog, and how he was so loved that a memorial was created in his memory; the barber shop where the owner was inspired by his own childhood years in Egypt where his father took him to the barbers… And so many more.
Diane Shugart: Yes—that there’s still a lot of places that I don’t know. When we started this project, we thought we’d have a problem coming up with 111 places people didn’t know about; after all, this is Athens, one of the most photographed and written-about cities. But now, I can think of a dozen more. At least!
The whole guide series seems to be addressed to those aspiring, as the saying goes, to be “travellers, not tourists”. Given the limited amount of time (and resources) most people can dedicate to really knowing a place, plus the increasing number of overtly tourist businesses, how easy is it to be a traveller nowadays?
Diane Shugart: As I mentioned earlier, I live here and am constantly surprised by what Athens reveals. But I think if you set out to ‘know’ a place, you can do that -to a degree- even if you just have a day. You need to be curious. And you need to put aside your expectations or preconceived ideas about a place and open yourself up to it. Walk. Eat the food. Talk to people.
Alexia Amvrazi: Being a traveller requires more time, less planning, more adventurousness and even courage to get lost, or visit areas that people don’t commonly recommend, all with an open-minded and curious spirit. Don’t follow the crowds; sit where you see more locals than tourists; observe features beyond the obvious, like sky-line, and while you're at it look up at buildings right to the top rather than what just stands around you. As important and useful as they are, resources (such as money) don’t need to be the deciding factor – like the spirit of our book itself, a little out-of-the-box thinking can get one a long way.
Diana Farr Louis: I would encourage visitors to follow their own interests and not be stuck with what their app or Trip Advisor gives 5 stars to. Use this book for inspiration, find a spot you like and then follow your noses, your intuition, your spirit of adventure and discover something that may not be in anyone’s book. And don’t be afraid to talk. Athenians are apt to be friendly and most have at least a smattering of English.
*Interview by Nefeli Mosaidi (Intro photo: Gryllis Water Lilies ©Yannis Varouhakis)
Read also via Greek News Agenda: Athens: European Capital of Innovation 2018; Reading Greece | Athens - World Book Capital City of 2018; Lexikopoleio: one of the best independent international bookstores in Athens
Watch the video of the book presentation which took place on 13 November at Lexikopoleio international bookstore:
Dr. José António Costa Ideias is a Professor specialising in Modern Greek and Comparative Studies. He obtained his PhD in in Portuguese and Comparative Studies at the of NOVA University in Lisbon, where he is now Coordinator of the Modern Greek Language & Culture section at the University’s Language Institute (ILNOVA-FCSH/UNL), part of the Faculty of Social and Human Sciences (FCSH/UNL). He is also an integrated researcher in Culture and literature at the inter-University research unit Centre for the Humanities – CHAM.
Professor Costa Ideias is also a co-founder of the European Society of Modern Greek Studies (EENS, Greece) and of the Sociedad Hispánica de Estudios Neogriegos (Spain), andpresident of the Portuguese Section of the International Society of Friends of Nikos Kazantzakis (SIANK). He is an acclaimed translator, and a member of several translators’ associations, including the Portuguese Committee of EURODRAM. Focusing on fiction and theatre, he has translated works by many Greek authors of the language several Greek authors of the 19th and 20th century into Portuguese.
Professor José António Costa Ideias spoke to Greek news Agenda* about the presence of Greek language and literature in Portugal, the challenges faced when trying to promote Greek culture and the relations between the people of the two countries.
You teach Modern Greek at Universidade NOVA in Lisbon and also translate various contemporary novels from Greek. From your experience, what can you tell us about the presence of the Greek language, on one hand, and Greek literature, on the other, in Portugal?
As coordinator of the Modern Greek area (Official Higher Education in Portugal), Neo-Hellenist, comparatist (in the field of Literary / Cultural Studies) and literary translator, I am very interested in the promotion and dissemination of the Modern Greek language and literature. The presence of modern and contemporary Greek language and culture in Portugal is, unfortunately, very scarce, almost non-existent. In spite of the relevance of the Greek language and its cultural heritage in Western Civilisation, the presence of a living language and culture - Neo-Hellenism - has not really been felt, its presence and its affirmation being very “weak” (both on the academic, university and extra-university levels) in my country. Given the absence of an academic tradition regarding the Neo-Hellenic Studies at the Portuguese University, we have been fighting for more than twenty years now for the effective promotion and dissemination of modern Greek language, literature and culture, not only through regular teaching and researching at the Faculty of Social and Human Sciences of the NOVA University (FCSH/UNL) in Lisbon, where we coordinate the Modern Greek Programme, i.e., Modern Greek - Language and Culture (official programme), but also through a regular translation activity (and publication) of modern and contemporary Greek literary authors and texts, in the various genres (poetry, narrative and drama) which, in our opinion, must be available to the Portuguese readership. In this context we have also promoted contemporary Greek theatre in Portugal, with the translation (and staging by important Portuguese theatre groups) of renowned Greek dramatic authors such as Dimitris Dimitriadis, Andreas Flourakis, Andreas Staikos, Loula Anagnostaki, Erofili Lekka, among others. As President of the Portuguese Section of the International Society of Friends of Nikos Kazantzakis (SIANK), we have also paid particular attention to the promotion and dissemination of the literary work of the Cretan and universal author. We have, so far, organised several international colloquia and took part in several national meetings dedicated to the work of Kazantzakis.
Prof. Costa Ideias presenting Dimitris Dimitriadis’ Homeriad, which he translated into Portuguese (Lisbon, 2018)
How is this dissemination hindered and what are your suggestions in order for the Portuguese to better access modern Greek literary production?
In fact, the diffusion of Modern Greek literature (like that of any other national literatures) calls for the need for the valorisation of the translation activity, without which the texts do not circulate. The role of the literary translator here is fundamental. It is therefore essential to promote and project the visibility of translators (as cultural mediators), something which unfortunately has not happened in my country in an effective way. On the editorial level, commercial and economic reasons, often circumstantial, often impede the diffusion of foreign literature - particularly that of Modern Greek literature, conveyed by a lesser-known language. It is therefore necessary, in my view, to support the translation and editing of Modern Greek literary works, the effective valorisation of the translator as a cultural agent and his/her academic (linguistic and cultural) training and the wide dissemination of initiatives in this field.
Are you assisted and supported by the Greek state in your effort?
Unfortunately, support for teaching, translation, publishing and, consequently, dissemination and promotion of Modern Greek language, literature and culture, over here, in Portugal, has been virtually non-existent. We have not had, for example, any regular financial support (for purchasing books and teaching materials for the teaching of Modern Greek, even when we are the only Official Certification Centre in Modern Greek – “Certificate of Attainment in Greek “- FCSH -UNL / ILNOVA) under the tutelage of the Greek Language Centre of the Greek Ministry of Education.
Although the Greek and Portuguese people have a lot in common, including analogous historical experiences, I however think that they don’t really know each other. Could you give us the image that the Portuguese have of Greeks, in broad lines, and also tell us whether, and how, this image has been influenced by Greece’s recent financial crisis?
Yes, I agree that although the Portuguese and the Greeks have a lot in common (being both peoples of South Europe, both peoples of the diaspora), there is, in fact, mutual ignorance. I would say that the image that the majority of the Portuguese have of the Greeks (and of Greece) is an image resulting from the ignorance of the actual Greek reality. That is to say, for most of the Portuguese (less informed about Modern Greek culture), Greece “boils down” to a (precarious) knowledge of Greek Antiquity (Classical Greece), an “idealised” antiquity and to the image of a conventional tourist poster: the ruins, the sun, the sea, the islands…. A stereotypical image of Greece and its people that, after the year 2008 (the advent of the economic crisis), integrated a partial identification of a common destiny (both peoples -Portuguese and Greeks- are victims of the crisis) and, simultaneously, by the Portuguese, a denial of that common destiny ("We are not Greece").
How did you decide to focus your interest on Modern Greek?
History of love, of true passion. So many were the paths that led me to Greece. In the first place, the language and its charm, its poetry, its literary expression. Then its history, convulsed, passionate ... And then, the euphoric confrontation with Greek physical reality, its landscapes, the topos. A lifetime, a whole existence to know Greece and the immediacy of a brief moment to fall in love with her ... forever.
* Interview by Margarita Adamou, Head of Press and Communication Office, Embassy of Greece in Lisbon, Portugal.
Read also on Reading Greece: Professor Gonda Van Steen on her lifelong fascination with all things Greek; Riikka Pulkkinen on Greek Literature in Finland; Zdravka Mihaylova, translator of Greek literature into Bulgarian on literary translation as a platform of communication; Jan Henrik Swahn and Rea Ann-Margaret Mellberg on Greek literature in Sweden; Richard Pine on Greek-Irish Encounters; An Englishwoman in Evia: Publisher Denise Harvey on her love for Greek literature and culture
Dr Irini Sarioglou was born in Istanbul in 1972. She is Associate Professor of contemporary history at Istanbul University (Modern Greek Studies) and General Secretary of the Hellenic History Foundation in Athens. She specializes in contemporary Greek and late Ottoman/modern Turkish history (19th -20th century). Her filmography includes: Zappeion High School for Girls (Script-Research-Narration-Translation), The Ten Day Diary (Concept-Research-Script-Narration-Translation), The Exiled (Concept-Research-Script-Narration-Translation), The Silent School (Co-Directing-Script-Research), Imvros and Tenedos islands: A tale of memories (Co-Directing-Script-Research), Mikis Theodorakis’ Nea Smyrna, On the edge of the Aegean, Castellorizo (Co-Directing-ScriptResearch). She is the Director of the “Beyond the Borders’’ International Documentary Festival, Castellorizo.
In an interview published in the October issue of the Newsletter of the Press and Communication Office of the Embassy of Greece in London, Sarioglou explains that the idea of establishing the “Beyond Borders” International Documentary Festival on the island of Catellorizo was born upon the completion of a historical documentary about the island. Sarioglou notes that the Hellenic History Foundation in Athens founded the Festival, aiming to establish Castellorizo as a meeting place for makers of historical and socio-political documentaries and to attract important representatives of cinema and culture from around the world, and she elaborates on the steps taken to achieve it.
You are the soul and driving force behind Castellorizo’s International Documentary Festival. How did you come up with the idea of ‘Beyond Borders’?
The Hellenic History Foundation is indeed the organizer and instigator of the International Documentary Festival of Castellorizo ‘’Beyond Borders’’, held annually in the last week of August, under the auspices of the General Secretariat for Greeks Abroad and the Municipality of Castellorizo/Megisti. It was established in 2016 following the completion of our own production (On the edge of the Aegean, Castellorizo), a history documentary on Castellorizo island which won the First Prize in 2016 at the Greek Documentary Festival of London. We were really very impressed by the rich history as well as the cultural heritage of Castellorizo and we were keen to organize a special screening of our documentary on the island itself. So after a brainstorming session, we came up with the idea to establish this Festival (instead of organizing just one simple documentary screening) and at the same time have the opportunity ‘’to bring the world to the island of Castellorizo and take Castellorizo island to the world’’, as we plan to travel every year with the award winning films.
What other cultural activities are included in the festival apart from the documentary contest, and why did you choose Castellorizo as the venue?
The Festival has several other cultural activities such as book launches, painting and sculpture exhibitions, cinema workshops for children and adults, free diving lessons, theatrical performances, dancing groups etc. Our aim is to establish Castellorizo as a meeting place for the creators of historical and socio-political documentaries and to attract important representatives of cinema and culture from around the world. The usefulness of the Festival is not limited to the local community and its summer visitors. At a nodal point between East and West, very close to the Lycian coast, the Festival anticipates further cultural cooperation between Castellorizo and Kas. We chose Castellorizo mainly because of its uniqueness as a place, its rich history and impressive beauty.
How challenging is it to organise an international festival at a relatively unknown tiny island at the edge of Greece’s borders, with difficult transport, poor infrastructures and restricted resources?
Well it is not the easiest thing in the world… Having said that, I think our secret is our passion, our love and our determination to establish a high quality International Documentary Festival on the edge of the Aegean. It is amagic scenery and I think everyone falls in love with the island once they have a chance to travel to Castellorizo.
How difficult was it to spread the news for an international documentary competition at Castellorizo so as to attract global interest for documentary submissions?
Well, as the Hellenic History Foundation we have partners from around the world. Our newest partnership this year was with the Institute of Historical Research (IHR) of the University of London. This is why in late October we were invited by IHR to screen the award winning films of Beyond Borders at Curzon cinema. The director of Beyond Borders international development, Michel Noll, is a very experienced advisor not just on international productions but also on international documentary festivals. Although he is based in Paris, every year thanks to his invaluable connections we manage to get impressive publicity in Europe.
How have you come to develop cooperation and partnership with the Institute of Historical Research, University of London?
This year the, during the 3rd Beyond Borders - International Documentary Festival of Castellorizo, our honoured academic partner was the Institute of Historical Research. It is a partnership that will develop further in the years to come. During this year’s Festival, we also held an international panel on fake news. We had the honour to have as key speakers the Director of IHR Professor Jo Fox, Razia Iqbal from BBC as well as Markus Nikel from RAI, and Panagiotis Tsolias from ERT (the Hellenic Broadcasting Cooperation) which was this year’s honored media.
You recently held a screening at Curzon Goldsmiths cinema, Huseyin Tabak’s “The Ugly King”. How did the audience respond to this documentary about a Kurdish filmmaker from Turkey? Were they not likely to expect a film relating to Greece, maybe with a Greek historical or cultural personality?
Beyond Borders is an international film festival. Every year we receive more than 190 documentaries from around the world. The jury selects about 20 to compete in the Festival. Approximately 10 of them are Greek productions and 10 are foreign. Beyond Borders awards 2 prizes, courtesy of the Hellenic Parliament. The jury members are also Greek and foreign experts on documentaries. So the decision really depends on the jury members.
How do you plan to “bring Castellorizo to the world”?
We aim to screen all the award winning films, every year around the world. In April 2018, we were invited to Australia to screen Beyond Borders award winners. Last October we travelled to London and we will shortly be traveling to Cyprus and France to screen once again the award winning films from our ‘boutique Festival’.
After three successful festival organizations would you say that the festival has met its aims and fulfilled your expectations?
I don’t think so…We have a long way to go… So many of our dreams have yet to be realised…
How in your opinion has the Festival influenced Castellorizo’s inhabitants’ life?
Well, in the first year we did not have any other side events or cultural activities, only the screenings and I think that was quite boring for the inhabitants, particularly for the children. In the last two Festivals we managed to incorporate so many side events and finally Beyond Borders has, I believe, become something the inhabitants and the children of Castellorizo really look forward to experience …
What is your vision for the future of the International Castellorizo Festival?
I really hope that in the coming years Beyond Borders can grow further and travel worldwide to make the island and its rich history known to the world.
The Castellorizo Documentary Festival constitutes only a part of the Hellenic History Foundation (IDISME)’s activities. Could you please tell us more about the IDISME’s activities and its aims?
The Hellenic History Foundation (H.H.F.) was founded in 2008 by a team of researchers with the aim of preserving, documenting and disseminating Greek and European history. The basic objective of H.H.F. is to collect, archive, and study historical sources and artifacts. Its activities include the publishing of scientific and literary books and the creation of history documentaries, as well as the organization of scholarly meetings.
H.H.F. works with reputable research centres, both in Greece and abroad, to form an ever-expanding network of collaborators. With more than 45,000 members across Greece, the Hellenic History Foundation is trying hard to increase awareness on the importance of history, heritage and culture. There is no membership fee for people who become members of HHF. Our only source of income is through our publications and documentaries. Our aim is to make history the most popular subject in Greek schools.
3rd “Beyond the Border” International Documentary Festival Castellorizo photos by Yorgos Detsis
Dimitra Vassiliadou is a social and cultural historian of modern Greece, and has published on the history of the family and sexuality, the history of emotions, masculinities and autobiographical discourses. Currently, she is a Post-doctoral Fellow at the University of Athens, and teaches at the Hellenic Open University.
Her latest book “The Tropic of Writing: Family ties and Emotions in Modern Greece, 1850-1930” (in Greek: Στον τροπικό της γραφής Οικογενειακοί δεσμοί και συναισθήματα στην αστική Ελλάδα, 1850-1930, 2018) based on large collections of private letters of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, traces the emotional cultures of middle-class families in Athens. Her ongoing project “Forbidden Emotions: Melancholy and Family at the Turn of a Century” focuses on autobiographical discourses of melancholy, and explores the historical transformation of a disorderly emotion into a disease. As a member of a research team based in the University of Crete that works on the History of Sexuality in twentieth-century Greece, she is researching sexual violence in the Interwar period.
Dimitra Vassiliadou spoke to Rethinking Greece* about love as the prescriptive element of family bliss in turn of the twentieth century Greece, the Western ideal of the "emotional family", how ethnographies of rural families in Greece connect to her work on upper middle class families in Athens, individual and collective emotions as levers for historical change, the idea of "healthy" and rational love as the only path to a successful marriage, as well as the gradual acceptance of the corporality of marital love in early twentieth century. Furthermore, she discusses her latest research on sexual crimes in Interwar Greece and how victims and perpretrators alike navigated the legal system of the time. Finally, she talks about the organization of the recent Histories of Sexuality conference, concluding that the gender perspective is finally gathering momentum in Greece as more young researchers are using the analytical tool of gender in research and projects that can be categorized under the "history of gender" are proliferating.
The subject of your book is the formation of family ties, mainly within the Athenian upper middle classes, from the late 19th to the early 20th century, when the ideal of the ‘emotional family’ becomes dominant. Could you tell us more about this ideal?
In my work, I see the family as one of the emotional communities (an analytical concept introduced by medievalist Barbara Rosenwein) that people inhabit during the course of their lives. The emotional community of the middle-class family at the turn of the twentieth century in Greece fostered and encouraged specific emotional behaviors in its members, while it criticized or rejected others. The central working hypothesis that runs through the book is that "love", as a state of things – that is to say, as emotion, action and affinity – was firmly endorsed by the emerging Greek middle classes of the nineteenth century. Love represented a central metaphor and a symbol, and gradually became the prescriptive element of family bliss.
Nonetheless, the "emotional family" as an ideal is a construction of Western modernity: modern societies saw family as a world of affection and emotion, the idea being that this was not available in the past. The argument was that during the early modern period, parents were not emotionally attached to their children, as infant mortality rates were high. At the same time, marital affection and companionship were thought to have been only a sporadic and random phenomenon, as marriage was in most cases determined by economic criteria.
According to this scheme – that remained dominant among historians until the 1980s – the coming of the modern industrial era set forth the transition from the pragmatic to the emotional family. From this time onwards, free, individual choice of marriage partner prevailed, and family relationships were rife with rich and profound emotions. Positive emotional experiences were recognized as the gratifications and privileges of domestic life and were identified predominantly with women. At the same time, public life, male par excellence, was now perceived as an emotionally bare place of tough competition.
In recent decades however, historians of the early modern period have convincingly demonstrated that the "emotional family" was not new in the Western world. People expressed their emotions in earlier times too, but in distinct ways and means, i.e. using different emotional vocabularies. In addition, it became clear that emotions cannot be attributed exclusively to the private or the public sphere, nor linked solely to one or the other gender.
Rural Greece has been the inspiration for several social anthropology contributions to the analysis of gender and family relations (John K. Campbell, Ernestine Friedl, Juliet Du Bouley, Marie-Elisabeth Handman). How does your research on Greek urban upper middle class families relate to these works?
Ethnographers of kinship and family were the first who recognized the social character of domestic affairs, underlining that family ties are not "natural", a-historic entities with a fixed and universal content, but are constructed socially and culturally, and are therefore subject to change. Although primarily focused on small-scale rural communities in Greece, ethnographic research provided, from the 1950s onwards, an abundance of analytical tools for cultural understandings of kinship. Numerous studies have focused on the Greek family, its kinship systems and the ambiguous ways they operated across gender lines. These early ethnographers analyzed dominant perceptions of masculinity and femininity in kinship relations, identified family as a community of interest, perceived marital strategies as an exchange between groups, and, finally, conceptualized marriage as a reciprocal and complementary, albeit hierarchical, relation.
My conversation with these rich ethnographies has been effortless and productive. Let me elaborate on that, with an example from my research on middle-class Athenian families. Acknowledging the centrality of marriage, I turn to the dominant discourses of the time regarding spouse selection and the ambiguous and inconsistent correlations between "emotions" and "interests". The idea that deep emotions could jeopardize material aspects of human relations, as well as its opposite, the fear that serving material interests could lead to the corruption of moral sentiments, were both common beliefs of the time. In the end, families managed to harmoniously synthesize material interests with emotional needs. This line of thought draws on Bernard Vernier's findings from his ethnographic research on the 1970s island of Karpathos on first-born and last-born daughters. Vernier highlighted the ways in which last-born daughters who were forced to invest their interests in the household of their first-born sister, transmuted their exploitation and unpaid work to a selfless offering to their family: interests and emotions were inextricably linked.
But what can be said of this close affinity of historical research on the family relations of the Greek bourgeoisie in the late nineteenth, and early twentieth century with the ethnographies of rural Greece many decades later, and despite the radically different historical contexts? Does it give us an insight into the diffusion of cultural patterns among different social categories over time?
Your research seems to introduce a history of emotions approach to Greek historiography. What does this approach signify?
Over the last few decades the history of emotions has emerged as a dynamic field of historical research; emotions have ceased to be viewed as the poor relations of reason, as researchers today agree that dualities such as "reason/emotion" or "mind/soul" are culturally constructed, and stress the need to complicate these binaries in order to fully understand people and their societies in the past. The history of emotions leads us to the heart of human existence, recognizing that emotions, both individual and collective, are levers for historical change. In other words, if being human means to experience joy, pleasure, pain, sorrow, anger, etc., it is essential to acknowledge the different meanings attached to these emotions, the social values they reflect, the individual and collective practices they trigger (as emotions are not just something we "feel" but also something we "do"), and finally recognize how all the above, affected social, political and economic life in the past.
Up until now, this approach has been applied only sporadically in Greek histories and historiographies, meaning that a coherent analytical or methodological body of work was not available. However, since I am interested in the cultural formation of family ties in Greece from the mid-nineteenth, up to the first decades of the twentieth century, the history of emotions was the only plausible research path to follow. In my book I illustrate the emotional culture of family relations, reflecting on notions of gender and kinship and exploring the needs, expectations and hierarchies they expressed and/or produced.Furthermore, I query the emotional vocabulary individuals embraced, and, paraphrasing J. L. Austin, I seek how they learned to "do things with emotions" within the family realm. I attempt to answer these questions using the methodology of "history from below": Firmly grounded in five large bodies of family correspondence, I trace the individual voices of men and women, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers, lovers and spouses. The explicit choice of exploring human relationships through the intimate reading of private correspondence, offers rare insights into individuals reflecting on themselves, their relations with specific others, and the world around them.
The use of emotive language in family correspondence is ever-present and varied; however, the word "love", is often used excessively to signify whatever is understood as the essence of family ties. Love, whether conjugal, motherly, paternal or brotherly, constitutes a recurring pattern for people at the time, guiding their actions and forming the bedrock on which the complex and contrasting meanings of the family ideal are developed.
But, what kind of "love" and how much of it, was considered appropriate for a successful marriage? If we problematize the juxtaposition between reason and emotion, arranged marriage and free choice, appreciation and love, utilitarianism and altruism, we see that understanding these dualities as polar opposites obscures the complexities and ambiguities attached to choosing a life partner. It seems that for middle-class couples and their families, the boundaries between arranged marriage and free choice were in constant negotiation.
During that time, rational marriage was considered far superior and preferable than the emotional one, and this pragmatic vision of the bourgeois marriage imposed the total rejection of romantic love (eros) as "noxious”, devastating and uncontrollable. The need to ensure long-lasting and stable marital relationships dictated qualifying moral, logical and "healthy" love as more valuable. Besides, romantic love could break all established hierarchies and prohibitions, bringing together two incompatible people, with different upbringing, characters and social positions. A marriage union not based on socio-economic compatibility was doomed to fail and destabilize the very foundation of society.
During the second half of the nineteenth century, this kind of compatibility finds in Greece, as elsewhere, its absolute expression in the ideal of companionate marriage. This model identified distinct but complementary qualities in the two sexes that were, depending on the context, god-given, natural, or scientifically proven. However, this idealized image of the marital relationship, in practice condemned to obscurity the power relations and the hierarchies behind the moral values of companionship and reciprocity.
How did the gender transformations of the first decades of the 20th century in Greece (massive admission of women to the workplace, enrichment and intensification of women's demands) influence the expression of sexuality and the hegemonic patterns of femininity and manhood?
As mentioned above, during the nineteenth century, marital love was consistently understood as antagonistic to erotic desire and sexual longing, even if the only acceptable sexual activity at the time was conjugal sexuality. This uncomfortable co-existence was the reason for stifling any explicit written reference to corporeal erotic desire. This was especially true of middle-class women, who were described either as unable to control their lascivious nature or as completely impervious to sexual urges. Strongly influenced by the moral imperatives of a theological / ecclesiastical vernacular, the predominant discourses of the time normalized sexual desire by turning it into "love".
These beliefs seem to be shifting considerably in the first decades of the twentieth century, especially in the interwar years. The body is now resolutely present, not only in the letters but also in the lives of couples, as their love expands to include sexual desire. Perhaps, sexual relations are beginning to be perceived as ties that can further strengthen marital affection, where previously they were understood – at best – as its physical consequence.
These changes are of course connected to wider transformations that occurred in Greek society during this period. By way of illustration only, we can note the dynamic presence of women in the public sphere, now compounded by demands for participation in the workforce and politics, in practices of mass consumption and in commercialized entertainment. These phenomena could not leave the private sphere and everything associated with it unaffected.
The changes I observe in marital sexuality, the most common – as well the least divulged – sexual experience of people of the time, could be also associated with the proliferation of public discourses, especially in the field of medical science, advocating openly, perhaps for the first time, the need for some kind of a sexual education for men and women. Undoubtedly, these discourses were strongly tainted by the dominant anti-hedonist ethics of the time. However, no one could control how these texts would be interpreted by their intended readers and what personal practices they could lead to. For some people, instead of numbing their sexuality, these medical texts could instead have encouraged them to explore it.
Is the ideal of the emotional family still alive today in Greece?
I think there is one thing we can be sure of: even a cursory glance at past and present discourses on the family is enough to ascertain that intimate relations in Greece are normatively framed almost exclusively in positive terms. That is why, whenever positive emotions are absent from the family, this is condemned first individually, and then socially and institutionally. I think this dimension emerges very clearly in the proliferation of modern cultural texts on the dysfunctions of the Greek family, as demonstrated in the recent work of Dimitris Papanikolaou, "There is something about the [Greek] family". Reading his interview in Rethinking Greece, I realized that what we call Greek exceptionalism continues to shape the terms of almost every conversation on modern Greece, even when it is identified – as does Papanikolaou – as a cultural construction. I am in agreement with him that this is the most interesting aspect of Greek exceptionalism.
Moreover, for us historians, "Greek exceptionalism" is one of the most common discourses to be found in primary sources, as well as in recent scholarly work. It is, for example, the stereotypical answer to almost every question on individual and collective identities, offered as an explanation of either "Greek greatness" or "Greek misfortune" – depending on the context. In the specific field that I study, the cultural history of middle class families at that time, I was not surprised to find out that family relationships and their emotional economy in Greece were, far from any national exceptionalism, absolutely comparable to the examples of other Western countries of the same period.
But to return to the question of the "emotional family" ideal today. There is no doubt that the community of emotions constituted by the modern Greek family differs significantly from that of the middle-class family at the turn of the twentieth century. Even if we accept that "love" in the family is a pre-existing frame of meaning, we need more specialized research to reveal what kind of emotional economy it produces nowadays.
Your current project focuses on sexual crimes in interwar Greece. Would you like to talk to us about the primary findings of your research and the wider issues they highlight?
Very recently, as part of the research program of the University of Crete, “Towards a History of Sexuality of the Greek Twentieth Century: Practices, Discourses and Identities”, I have focused on the study of sexual violence in Greece from 1914 to 1940 based on court cases from the Aegean islands. Although I am still at the very beginning of what is shaping to be a much wider research project on sexual violence, and to the extent that our historical knowledge of sexual offenses in Greece is still almost non-existent, I posed some quite elementary questions. My main goal is to place the Greek case study within the context of international research on sexual violence, albeit not as a historical exemption but as a historical problem. Under the criminal law in force during the Interwar period, rape fell within a category of offenses against public morals, meaning that it was an offence against the state. We will have to enter the post-war period to recognize rape in Greek criminal law as an offence against the person (today, against sexual freedom).
In any case, rapes are part of what we call the "dark figure" of crime: not only because the incidents that come to be reported are scarce but also because even when rapes become the subject of a historical study, the trauma they caused is not easily revealed. However, if we associate specific court cases with the broader sexual culture of the time, we can see that some common discourses on rape that seem immutable and, therefore, timeless, actually have a history.
During the Interwar period, for example, the boundaries between consensus and coercion, violent sex and sexual violence in Greece were still blurred, which made it even more difficult for a woman´s complaint to be believed; there was no fixed distinction between rape, seduction, kidnapping, assault and misconduct. It is also clear that ethical concerns had a decisive impact on the outcome of a complaint. For example, some rape accusations were considered ploys of women attempting to conceal their supposedly immoral life.
Finally, the court records highlight the strategies pursued by the perpetrators as well as the victims and their families in their effort to make justice fit their needs – they were not merely subjected to it. Behind some rape accusations were "ruined" girls, often pregnant, playing their final and strongest card to be socially "rehabilitated", continuing, through the judicial process, efforts they had begun outside it. Cases like that are numerous in the source material, but the stories they tell are few, almost identical. However, they reveal how a sexual relationship is transformed from a private matter into a public, criminal litigation.
As a member of Historians for Research in Women's and Gender History, the Greek section of the International Federation for Research in Women’s History, you were one of the main organizers of the "Histories of Sexuality" conference. What were the key conference outcomes? What is the level of relevant research in Greece today?
The idea of organizing a scientific conference devoted to the history of sexuality was not new to our team. It kept coming back to our meetings over the last few years, as a desideratum, along with the awkward realization that there exist very few sexuality studies in Greek historiography. It would be worth considering the reasons behind the silence of Greek historians on this very central aspect of the human experience, especially since other fields of social sciences in Greece, notably anthropologists and linguists have already shown keen interest in sexuality, closely following relevant international research developments.
Drawing on a variety of sources, from archives and press cuttings, to travel journals, sexologists' treatises and oral interviews, literature and visual arts, the lecturers examined aspects of medical, legal, political or colonial discourse, referring to matters of contraception, prostitution, rape, venereal diseases and pornography, studied the paths and expressions of love, presented the action and the reaction of the subjects in specific historical and social contexts and identified changes through time. The conference closed with a speech by Professor Joanna Bourke, titled "Melancholic Narratives and Rape Trauma: A History of Psychiatry and Sexual Violence, 1870s to the Present". The difficult beginning was made, and the future of the history of sexuality in Greece now seems more promising.
Post 1974 Greek historiography has been mainly focused on economic history, political institutions and political crises like the civil war period, i.e. “masculine” subjects of research. Would you like to comment?
I am not a supporter of the argument that insists that "masculine" and "feminine" fields of research exist. Modern historians on the contrary redirect our focus onto how men and women have been linked “naturally” to specific and antithetical spheres of human activity, and how these categorizations shaped not only common perceptions on these issues, but also their understandings by contemporary researchers.
Let us also recall that in Greece, as elsewhere, feminist historians during the 1980s focused predominately on women's actions in the public sphere: namely political activity, nationalism, education and paid work.
On the one hand, it is somewhat true that these well-established fields of historical research (war, politics and the state), are still extremely attractive to experienced and younger researchers alike. On the other hand, in Greek historiographies, it can be very difficult to find gendered readings of the (masculine) area of politics, such as analyses of the competing masculinities that dominated the state and the central political scene, or how the masculine ideal was formed by political parties and ideologies.
Equally, we have not studied the interconnection between masculinity, war, nationalism and national ideology; these are fields of research that have known enormous growth in other historiographical traditions. We do not know, for example, anything about what impact WWII and the Civil War had on masculinities, or how gendered conventions and warriors' experiences shaped the perception of these wars, despite the flood of researchers currently studying the 1940s.
On the other hand, I think we are at a time when the social history of modern Greece has already accrued a significant body of work, as is evident in the recent round-table discussion among five historians published in Social History journal (The social history of modern Greece: a roundtable, 2017). In this debate it becomes obvious that there are quite a few Greek historians who use the analytical tool of gender in their research and that projects that can be categorized under the "history of gender" have multiplied (see for example reviews of the field by Efi Avdela, Eleni Fournaraki - Yiannis Yiannitsiotis and Nikos Papadogiannis). At the same time several relevant courses have been introduced to Greek universities. Something is happening with gender in Greece, there is no doubt about it!
Asteris Koutoulas. Photo by Guido Karp
Based on over 600 hours of filmed material starring Mikis Theodorakis in any possible situation, “Dance Fight Love Die: With Mikis on the road“ by Asteris Koutoulas is a hybrid film on the hybrid life of one of Greece’s most prolific figures, composer Mikis Theodorakis. For thirty years (between 1987 and 2017), Asteris Koutoulas organized many major Theodorakis concerts around the world, while he accompanied and occasionally filmed Theodorakis on his travels. This resulted in accumulated film footage of Theodorakis’ travels around the world. Koutoulas complemented this material with "fictional" shootings (filmed by DOP Mike Geranios) adding a subplot inspired by Theodorakis' autobiography "The ways of the Archangel". This docu-fiction film, an experimental portrait of the artist, offers an insight to lesser known aspects of Theodorakis' personality, while it cites the universal influence of his music.
Asteris Koutoulas is a Berlin-based Greek-German music and event producer, publicist, filmmaker and author. Born to Greek political refugees in Romania in 1960, Asteris Kutulas and his family moved to East Germany in 1968. He graduated from Dresden’s Kreuzschule and went on to study German philology and history of philosophy at Leipzig University (1979–1984). Since 1981, he has translated numerous works of notable Greek authors into German. Asteris Kutulas has been working as a producer in the events industry since 1979. In 2014 Kutulas produced “Recycling Medea”, his first feature film, and “Dance Fight Love Die - With Mikis on the Road” in 2018. He has also initiated Hellas Filmbox Berlin, the first Greek film festival in the German capital in 2016
Asteris Koutoulas talked to Greek News Agenda* about his latest film, elaborating how he and his co-screenwriter Ina Koutoulas picked a completely new aesthetic approach that could capture and convey the vast musical and poetic cosmos of Mikis Theodorakis in a modern cinematic form, where diversity and experimentation are focal elements.
Mikis Theodorakis & Asteris Kutulas, East Berlin 1985 Photo © by Privatier Asti Music
Your latest film is the fruit of your collaboration with Mikis Theodorakis since the 80’s. You have been filming a huge volume of footage over these years. How and when did you decide to make a film?
The film was made after my wife and co-screenwriter Ina, had sat day in day out for over 9 months sifting through the 600 hours of film material covering a period of 30 years and documented it in detail. Rather than leaving it at that, she felt, naturally enough, that I should do something with this footage. Ina expected me to come up with something and she convinced me to develop the concept for this film on the basis of her preliminary work. It took me about 2 years. However, you have to know that Klaus Salge and I had already produced a classic documentary about Theodorakis for the television station ARTE in 2010, which has been shown frequently on television and at various film festivals. It is called "Mikis Theodorakis. Composer". Apart from this there are more than 40 documentaries that have been made around the world over the last few decades, mainly on the biographical and political aspects of the extraordinary life of Mikis Theodorakis. So, Ina and I could now pick a completely new aesthetic approach that could capture and convey the vast musical and poetic cosmos of this unique artist in a very modern and meaningful cinematic form. This otherness, this enormous diversity had fascinated us for a long time, and we finally wanted to make it possible to experience it in a film which itself represents otherness.
Mikis Theodorakis 1984 Photo © by Privatier Asti Music
Mikis Theodorakis is one of the most prolific figures in Greece’s cultural and political life. How has the prospect of making a film about a living myth influenced your work?
For me, the film was a concept art project from the very beginning, more of an energy field than a movie. The birth of a film from the spirit of music. "Dance Fight Love Die" is an idiosyncratic portrait of an idiosyncratic artist whom we understand as a composite of poetry, music, philosophy, art, history and politics - or as Joseph Beuys said about Theodorakis: an example of a "social sculpture". The film corresponds to the anarchic spirit of Mikis Theodorakis. Ina and I - as co-authors and co-producers - have created a cinematic poem, a film about the power of the "universal harmony" of music and poetry. This is also the quintessence of what Mikis Theodorakis meant to us: An ocean of music, poetry and spiritual freedom, in order to capture a moment and say: "Stay a while, you are so beautiful" ... And of course, the film is also a sort of time capsule of Greek history, revealing a part of the DNA of Greece. It is an expression of "our" Greece, the spiritual Greek homeland, a place where we can meet many other people.
Johanna Krumin, "Dance Fight Love Die: With Mikis on the road" (2018)
Editing extensive material was a deciding factor in making this film. How did you work on it?
One of the most interesting and exciting experiences during my work on this film resulted from my decision to consciously mix different aesthetic elements during shooting and editing and to make them an important component of the film. The historical material that I had shot was edited by the extremely gifted young artist and musician Cleopatra Dimitriou - it took us more than a year to select and edit the 50 minutes for our film from the 600 hours of available footage, something that would not have been possible without my co-author Ina Kutulas. As I already mentioned, she had carried out the elaborate logging. The movie scenes, on the other hand, were edited by one of the best editors in Europe, Yannis Sakaridis, who is also a fantastic director ("America Square"). The third level of the film, that is, the cover versions of many Theodorakis songs by artists like Francesco Diaz, Alexia, Deerhoof, Dulce Pontes, Air Cushion Finish, Johanna Krumin, Sebastian Schwab, Microphone Mafia & Bejaranos, Melentini, Kaliopi Vetta, Maria Papageorgiou and others, I gave to various young filmmakers to work on or edit, people such as Stella Kalafati, Zoe Chressanthis, Antonia Gogin, Achilleas Gatsopoulos, Dimitris Argyriou etc. Moreover, James Chressanthis agreed to film and edit the Berlin scenes of our film. And let's not forget that it was crucial for the film that my relatively badly shot footage from 1987 to 2017 was counteracted by the professional filming by our DOP Mike Geranios of the scenes in the feature film. This strong qualitative and aesthetic contrast, which results from the contrast between my documentary material and Mike's wonderfully filmed scenes, gives rise to the basic framework of the whole film, so that it does not fall apart, but is held together as all the material is bound together by the spine provided by these scenes in the feature film.
Sandra Von Ruffin, Stathis Papadopoulos, "Dance Fight Love Die: With Mikis on the road" (2018)
What is the function of the marriage subplot?
The 10 feature scenes of the wedding story of Marina and Akar have a kind of multifunction in the film. They give the opportunity to experience the cinema of the 21st century and to bear the poor film quality of the historical material which I had shot with unprofessional cameras in the course of those 30 years. Because this old material, technically speaking, is not only decaying, but was also badly shot by me as an non-professional, the material had to be quickly edited and elaborately reconstructed. However - I could have made at most a 20-minute film out of it; one couldn't have endured more. The feature film scenes, shot magnificently in 4k by Mike Geranios with a RED Epic camera, give the film the necessary cinema format. On the other hand this fictional level allowed me to create epic film scenes (which would have been impossible with the other material) and to use as their musical foundation the great arias from the Theodorakis operas, which otherwise would not have been included in the soundtrack. And thirdly, these ten silent film scenes, played by the two fantastic lead actors Sandra von Ruffin and Stathis Papadopoulos, relate in a very poetic way the story of "love", "dance", "strife" and "death" in the work and in the life of this exceptional artist Mikis Theodorakis. Indeed in an abstractly artistic way, as a counterpart to the documentary shots - that's why it's a docu-fiction film. In terms of content, the story of Marina and Akar's wedding day, in which Panaretos appears as a third party, is inspired by the Rodolino story from Mikis Theodorakis's autobiography, "The Paths of the Archangel".
Sandra Von Ruffin, "Dance Fight Love Die: With Mikis on the road" (2018)
Your documentary is exploring a non - narrative, experimental film, combining genres and forms of art. Would you like to elaborate on your artistic choices?
The film is many things, but overall it is certainly a music film. And as I just mentioned, it's also a docu-fiction, because I combine documentary material with silent film scenes. "But "Dance Fight Love Die" is also an associative essay-film, as well as a road movie. Sixty different musical piecescorrespond to 60 short stories. Additionally, the film is a very distinctive artist's biography that tries to answer the question: What is Art? ... And with "Dance Fight Love Die" I also tried to establish a new music film genre, something I began with "Recycling Medea" (2014), and now want to continue with "Electra", our next film project. As I couldn't find any role models, I had to create something myself.
You have a prolific career in Germany. You are founder of the German-Greek Cultural Association. You also were the initiator of Hellas Filmbox Berlin as an opening for a constructive dialogue between Greece and Germany and as an affirmative artistic response to the wave of negative coverage of news from Greece in Germany. How has the perception of Greece in German society evolved over the last years?
Compared to the period 2010-2015, when Greece was an ongoing topic for Germany, these days one could almost get the impression that Greece is no longer an issue in Germany at all. While on some days the news about Greece used to arrive "almost every second", now it is only very sporadic. For us, however, the Greek-German reality is much more than just what is currently being discussed in the media. Germany, Greece: two terms pushed back and forth; unrealistically, in our opinion. It was unbearable to experience that at that time; Greece was only reported about in a negative way. For us, an unbelievable, an unacceptable process. In the meantime, alarm bells were ringing in Germany on a daily basis, with discussions on the rise of hatred and anger in Germany becoming a serious threat to democracy. It is not clear whether Germany will manage to save what still exists of its democratic conditions. Paradoxically (and tragically, of course), not only both countries, but the whole of Europe has this problem now. However, both countries also have outstanding artistic potential and are generate creative impulses. Art is still a corrective. That's why we went to the workshop together with many others and founded Hellas Filmbox Berlin. The film festival was supposed to be an opportunity to simply see a lot of films from and about Greece. Even if you think you can't change anything, you can still choose between falling asleep and staying awake. You can dance, fall in love, do something completely "different". All of that is necessary. As the title of our film underlines: "Dance Fight Love Die". That's what all the movies in Hellas Filmbox have to offer: Reason and emotion. Action and relaxation. Love and abandonment. Death and life.
* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi. Special thanks to Nikolaos Vlahakis.
Yiorgos Mylonadis, Adjunct Professor of Strategy & Entrepreneurship at London Business School, is a Strategy expert who specialises on business ecosystems, digital strategy, entrepreneurial communities, social enterprises, and methodologies for strategic thinking. A native of Greece and the UK, he has held appointments on the faculties of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and the Athens Laboratory of Business Administration (ALBA) before joining LBS in 2000 where he created Developing Strategy for Value Creation - the School’s first Executive Education Strategy Programme. He has also led large, multi-year advisory and teaching programmes for many major firms.
Mylonadis has also served as an advisor to the Reload Greece (RG) founding team since 2012 and as a Trustee of the Reload Greece Foundation until May 2018. RG is a UK based organization aiming to showcase the productive and creative side of the country and, above all, bringing together top professionals, entrepreneurs, economists and investors from around the world to discover ways to harness the power of the Diaspora to an impact in Greece. One of their main programmes is the annual RG Conference, launched in 2012.
RG’s 5th Conference, rebranded RG Connect18, took place on 6 October 2018 in London, under the tagline “Inspire | Learn | Connect”, and focused on the theme “Where Challenges Meet Solvers”: how challenges caused by the recession can be overcome through a ‘solver’ approach. Yiorgos Mylonadis participated in the Conference, at a panel discussion titled “Greece Beyond the Programmes: Investment & Entrepreneurial Prospects”, together with George Chouliarakis, Alternate Minister of Finance and George Houpis, Chairman of RG’s Board of Trustees. On this occasion, the Press & Communications Office at the Embassy of Greece in London spoke with Mylonadis on Greece’s current entrepreneurial potential, the challenges faced and the role of the Greek Disaspora.
RELOAD GREECE recently organised in London a very successful conference titled RG Connect18: Where Challenges Meet Solvers. The aim of the event was to bring together a community of international entrepreneurs, investors, academics, students, policy makers and other key stakeholders to discuss and plan the next big steps in entrepreneurship. How have you collaborated with RELOAD GREECE for the realisation of this conference?
My involvement with Reload Greece started in 2012, when I helped the co-founders of what was then a spontaneous movement organise their first conference. We later joined forces with the founding team to transform the movement into an organisation. We continued to run conferences while we established a governance structure, assembled a Board of Trustees, and recruited the CEO, who, in turn, hired the operating team. Three years ago, I helped establish an advisory board to provide guidance to the CEO about the conference. With Reload firmly established, in May this year I stepped down as a Trustee to make room for new people to contribute to the growth of the organisation. I believe that Reload serves an important role in building a community of entrepreneurs amongst the Greeks of the diaspora. It has been an exhilarating 6 years!
Interest in Greek entrepreneurship from the part of the Greek State, young people, society and other stakeholders has soared, especially after the financial crisis broke out in our country. Why do you think this was not the case before the crisis? Did it have to do with Greek legislation and red tape, with the structure and character of Greek businesses and economy, with the mentality of the Greek society, or with international factors (such as lower technological development).
It is important to remember that successful startups took root in Greece well before the crisis. However, any crisis forces people to question existing practices – such as the State-supported model of business – and look for new solutions. The inflow of JEREMIE funds catalyzed this search and led to the growth of a vibrant ecosystem around startup firms.
Is entrepreneurship the result of talent, mindset, ideas and intuition or is it the result of education, academic performance, hard work and patience? Can just anyone become a startupper or entrepreneur? Finally, among the young entrepreneurs who launch a new business, who are more likely to succeed?
Entrepreneurship starts with spotting a problem that needs a better solution than those currently available. It then proceeds with finding ways to accomplish more than is typically thought possible with the resources at hand. All the qualities you mention are useful but they do not guarantee success. Success in entrepreneurship involves copious amounts of trial and error or, as the saying goes, “you have to kiss many frogs to find a prince(ss)”. This requires a lot of persistence, often amidst adversity: diverse teams with the grit and willingness to seek out and use feedback, resolve conflicts, while also keeping the eye on the prize – which they need to clearly define.
It seems that Greek entrepreneurship has sprung out of the high youth unemployment rates in Greece. Some argue that because entrepreneurship is driven by necessity, the vast majority of new businesses are in the low risk and low innovation HORECA (hotels, restaurants, catering) sector. Would you agree with this perception?
Innovative businesses require more capital investment, which implies more risk. Greece did not use the opportunity of the crisis to reduce the very high levels of institutional uncertainty in the key areas of education, tax regulation, and justice. In addition, HORECA requires a physical presence in Greece while other types of business are more mobile and can be attracted to countries with more favourable institutional environment.
Entrepreneurship has to do with detecting, recognising and discovering opportunities in the environment for which someone creates a solution, or with creating a need they can afterwards fulfills. What new needs/opportunities would you think the crisis has created that Greek startups could build on? How successful are young Greek people in detecting and exploiting these opportunities?
Greece needs to focus its entrepreneurial energies in solutions that can be scaled to global levels. This requires both entrepreneurs and Venture Capitalists to adopt a global mindset and to up their game. The company Beat provides a good example. It started at about the same time as Uber aiming to solve a global problem. However, its limited funding curtailed its growth prospects. It was bought out for 40m Euro while Uber is planning for this year an IPO in the $100B range. This is not to downplay the great achievement of Beat but to illustrate the extent of the challenge Greek startups will have to manage in order to become global players.
Universities undoubtedly play a great role in promoting entrepreneurial ideas. However, Greek Universities are often not very well networked with institutions and big companies abroad to promote students’ innovative ideas, especially in technology. Suppose a Greek startup has a new innovative algorithm similar to Google’s. How is the startup supposed to gain recognition? How can this be tackled?
The short answer is, apply to join RG Challenge - Reload Greece’s accelerator programme. However, your point about Greek Universities is spot-on. Entrepreneurial companies live and thrive within vibrant ecosystems. Large businesses and Universities are key to these ecosystems. The areas around Cambridge University in the UK, Stanford in the USA, or the city of Basel with its pharmaceutical companies are good examples. Greek Universities are hampered by their antiquated governance. This makes them to be inward-looking and to lose sight of the international competition. In the area of technology, recent examples are Imperial College’s White City campus and MIT’s newly established $1B College of Computing. Would Greek Universities even consider these institutions as competitors? Probably not but, then, the competition between a Greek startup and one located in London or Cambridge, MA looks truly unequal!
What would you say is the prevailing profile/features of a young Greek start upper/entrepreneur in Greece and abroad? Are there differences?
A startupper in Greece who has been “trained” in the difficult regulatory and, recently, social and economic environment of Greece has the benefit of being agile and resilient. On the other hand, they are likely to be less exposed to global needs and markets and lack skills for partnering or selling to large corporates. Fortunately, the Greek diaspora is very well rooted in major markets and could provide a good way of addressing these deficiencies.
Greece has been experiencing for the last years a severe Brain Drain. How would you think this could be reversed?
It will be reversed when Greece realises that it is competing in an international arena for talent. It would then seek to compare its performance to that of its competitors and set targets for improvement. For example, in 9 years since the start of the crisis, Greece has yet to establish a target for improving its standing on widely used indices for competitiveness, ease of doing business, corruption, social justice, etc. These targets need to have wide acceptance by Greek society, including a wide spectrum of political parties.
Do you think that Greek society can ever overcome the instinctive fear of open markets to become a business-oriented society or will public sector employment remain the preferred professional option for Greek families and young Greeks?
It is certainly feasible. Israel has many characteristics similar to Greece and – as hard as it is to believe this today – until relatively recently “entrepreneurship” was considered a dirty word in what is now an entrepreneurial hothouse. However, bad habits are hard to die. It will take an amazing success story or two together with a determined effort from the Greek institutions to set establish new role models for today’s youth. We need our Richard Branson and our Steve Jobs. The recent influx of the Equifund capital, if used to establish globally competitive Greek startups, could provide a boost in that direction.
On the whole, do you believe that the crisis has assisted in spurring youth entrepreneurship? Would you think that Greece is currently ideal for innovation to grow? Taking into consideration the existing conditions, what steps and in what order should a young aspiring entrepreneur who wants to start something of his/her own take?
A young aspiring entrepreneur should hook up with a community of like-minded people, such as Reload Greece or the multitude of high quality similar organisations in Greece. In such a fertile environment, they can recruit people to work on their idea or join forces with others who they find inspiring. At best, they will have the time of their life. At worst, they will extract lessons that they can use in their next endeavor. So, go on and try it!
You can access all the videos from the speeches and discussions of RG Connect18 here
Read also via Greek News Agenda: Reload Greece: Enterprising Diasporas – from Brain Drain to Brain Gain; SEESOX Diaspora: New research project and website on Greek Diaspora; Vicky Pryce: “Greece has achieved a remarkable turnaround”; 2nd Athens Innovation Festival; Equifund: a fund-of-funds to support innnovation and SMEs; Funding Greek post-doc researchers: the best antidote to 'brain drain'
Riikka Pulkkinen studied Finnish Literature at the University of Jyväskylä (2005-2010) and has a master degree in Comparative Literature [her thesis is titled ’The experience of urbanization in the short stories of Konstantinos Chatzopoulos’]. In 2007-2008 she studied at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki as part of her Erasmus Program. She also studied at the Autonomous University of Nuevo Leon, Monterrey, Mexico (Jyväskylä University scholarship) in 2009 and at the Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic in 2010. She did her practice at the Finnish Institute of Athens, under the supervision of Maria Martzoukou (2012 – Erasmus scholarship, 2016/2017 – CIMO scholarship).
In 2014 she participated in the debate on modern Greek literature at the Helsinki Book Fair. In 2017-2018 she received a scholarship to attend the Education and Vocational Training Program for Young Modern Greek Language Translators (Kostas and Eleni Ourani Foundation – Haris Petrou Foundation). In September 2017 she created www.nykykreikkablog.com, where she publishes Greek literature translations, writes articles and introduces Greek writers to the Finnish audience. Within the framework of promoting young Greek writers she published the short story Ψυγείο [Fridge] by Dionisis Marinos in the literary magazine Nuori Voima in spring 2018.
Riikka Pulkkinen spoke to Reading Greece* about her interest in the Greek language and more specifically in the translation of modern Greek literature. She discusses the profile of Finnish readers that opt for Greek literature, noting that although there are many Finnish books translated in Greek, modern Greek literature is almost unknown in Finland both due to the decline of modern Greek studies and the suspension of the Greek translation funding program. She also comments on the challenges a translator may face when translating literature from Finnish to Greek and vice versa, as well as on the differences between the two societies, which are in turn reflected on culture and literature in specific, concluding that “indeed the two countries are unsettled and in a constant path of change, yet I am not sure where they are heading”.
What motivated you to turn to the Greek language and more specifically to the translation of Greek literature?
I have always been interested in letters and thus started studying Finnish Literature at the University of Jyväskylä. In the meantime, I came in touch with the Greek language and I was really drawn to it, self-taught at first, attending courses afterwards. So I ended up spending a year in Thessaloniki, where I had a crash course in Greek in parallel with my studies in English literature during my Erasmus. At that time I wasn’t able to read a whole novel in Greek. I then decided to continue my studies in Finland, where there were no Greek literature classes available so I petitioned for a free moving excange at the Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Rebublic, where I attended my first modern Greek literature courses. I had my master at the University of Helsinki, where together with comparative literature I also completed the courses corresponding to a modern Greek literature degree, some of them in Athens.
I have always been drawn to translation, so I also took translation courses. Yet, I had difficulty choosing what to read, as well as communicating with publishers. There was no interest whatsoever at the time. So I heard of the Education and Training Program for Young Modern Greek Literature Translators funded by the Petros Haris Foundation and the Kostas and Eleni Ourani Foundation, which has been operating since 2012 under the aegis of the Academy of Athens and I was lucky enough to be accepted. I reckon that this was the opening I needed to get to know the world of Greek books and their writers. I now know I am on the right track and I feel much more confident in what I do. Unfortunately the program didn’t took place this year.
You have recently created www.nykykreikkablog.com, which focuses on Greek literature in Finnish. How did you decide to embark on such a venture? What is its appeal to Finnish readers?
The idea came up last September when I started the aforementioned program of the Academy of Athens. Some other fellow students had started publishing their translations online, which was a good idea for a language like Finnish. At first, I thought it would be a kind of portfolio which would present Greek writers to Finnish publishing houses; yet, just a few months later, the blog attracted readers who were interested in Greece in general and my website was actually their only access to modern Greek literature. I often receive messages asking me where they can find the whole books or when the books will be published. Every proposal I make is accompanied by information on the writers and their works in their entirety so that publishers have access to more options. My aspiration is to cover more literary categories, which is quite a demanding task.
I am currently discussing a few books with some publishers. Some of them are quite interested, yet the difficulty lies in the fact that there are no translations available. I am running a blog fully aware of the challenges, and I try to present Greek writers and part of their work in Finnish so that they are known by Finnish publishers. It’s really interesting that many readers follow the site and express their interest to read more Greek writers and their books. What is actually missing is the publisher. Yet we are on track!
What do you reckon is the profile of the Finnish audience that reads Greek literature? And, in turn, what is that makes Finnish literature appealing to Greek readers? Are the major differences that exist between the North and the South reflected in what readers in both countries opt for?
I can think of three types of readers: those interested in ancient Greece, who are willing to know modern Greece as well, those travelling to Greek islands in the summer and enjoying the Greek landscape, and those, maybe younger ones, who have discovered Athens and are more interested in its urban landscape. Finnish people read a lot of literature from all over the world: in 2014, for instance, the Finnish population of 5.5 millions borrowed 91 million (!) books from public libraries, a figure that corresponds to 16.76 books per citizen.
There is of course a literature that is read because it comes from a specific place or because it focuses on specific issues; but there is also a literature that readers opt for regardless of the author’s origin. Maybe this kind of literature is easier to translate all over the world given that cultural and historical elements are often considered a burden, unless the way of writing is so attractive that the topic of the book is no longer what is advertised!
There are remarkable differences between Greece and Finland in this respect. First of all, there have been more than 10 years since a Greek book was translated in Finnish. In mid-1990s, thanks to the translator Reija Tanninen and the translation funding program of the Greek Ministry of Culture, some Greek books, such as part of Karyotakis’ and Engonopoulos’ works, were actually translated. At the same time the Finnish Institute of Athens supported the publication of a Greek short story anthology. Yet, when the translation funding program was suspended, there were no more publications.
In contrast, there are many Finnish books translated in Greek. Let me quote Aimilios Solomou and his research on the issue: “It’s strange that in a country that loves books, modern Greek literature is completely absent. The respective authorities are mostly to be blamed for the situation. It should be noted that until 1987 there were no translations of modern Greek poetry in Finnish (!) […] as Kimmo Granqvist eloquently put it, till the early 1990s “the majority of translations were based on a mediate language, especially French, English and Swedish”. This rather disappointing situation changed shortly afterwards when modern Greek studies flourished in Finland, with the cooperation of academics, modern Greek teachers and students. In late 1990s translations were finally based on the Finnish text itself. Yet, this considerable effort came to an abrupt end due to the decline of modern Greek studies and the suspension of the translation funding program”.
It is indeed quite difficult to establish a substantial communication between the two countries when such an effort isn’t supported at a university level. In Finland there are no more modern Greek language courses every year (only the basic language course is left, when there are enough students), while in Greece there was never a Finnish Literature department. Thus, there are no culture ambassadors, just scarce personal initiatives, as is the case of Maria Martzoukou, or myself that I am just starting my career on modern Greek literature; and the path is definitely quite a challenging one.
Yet, there are so many reasons for the two countries to establish such a communication. They both have a similar geographical location, no matter how different the weather is. It is exactly this location that has influenced the history and politics of the two countries in a comparable way. They both share similar war experiences, they suffered a civil war and all the divisions that such a war may leave behind, they are both small EU countries with a rich culture, yet a bit isolated from the rest of the world. I also reckon that arts also focus on similar topics – it is often argued that in Greece the current generation of authors writes about the civil war, and the same goes for Finland. The Finnish Institute of Athens is currently organizing an exhibition on the civil wars of both countries, as well as Spain.
I believe that such experiences should be shared through literature, without, however, disregarding the current situation in both countries. Greece is nowadays struggling with the crisis, as did Finland in the 1990s. Such experiences leave their mark and influence lives and families, which is, in turn, reflected on culture. Historical and social novels are quite popular in Finland as well. A case in point is Where Four Roads Meet by Tommi Kinnunen [Το σταυροδρόμι, Εκδόσεις Ουτοπία, translated by Maria Martzoukou] that sold 40.000 copies in Finland and will be published these days, which revolves around the same issues as Gkiak by Dimosthenis Papamarkos, which has also sold 40.000 copies in Greece. In Finland there have always been the classical studies and everybody knows something about ancient Greece; yet modern Greece has not attracted so much attention. Thus, it’s something quite unknown yet. And there are also a lot of people who would like to know more about the crisis and the respective developments.
Most scholars reckon that the content of a book cannot be separated from the particularities of the language that gave it shape. In this context, what are the peculiarities of translating literature from Finnish to Greek and vice versa?
Both languages have a special way of creating puns and I have noticed that their translation requires a deep knowledge of both languages. The text of course has to change a lot. In both languages, dialects are frequently used in literature and rendering their meaning is quite impossible – a soldier from Messolonghi cannot speak the same way as my grandfather on the eastern part of Finland. These elements constitute a major challenge for the translator, and unfortunately the translation often becomes problematic.
What’s also common in both languages is the use of notions that have no equivalent in the other language. In Greek, for instance, there are many traditional objects as well as words related to the orthodox church: τσολιάς, μπρίκι (a kind of coffee pot), the difference between a traditional coffee house (καφενείο) and a café, the tavern and beverages in bulk, traditions related to the Orthodox Easter, the carnival, the junk dealer (παλιατζής), λαχειοπώλης (a person who sells lottery on the street)…In a short story I recently translated I realized that the fact that the main character smoked a hand-rolled cigarette would create a completely different image to the Finnish, so I had to figure out a solution. Nikos Houliaras has written about those twists of luck: “such a strange thing luck is that it’s not at all weird that those who usually sell lotteries out on the streets are, as a rule, people injured by it”. (A story of the long winter, Nefeli, 1990). This image is difficult to be understood by someone who has never seen a Greek lottery seller in person.
In turn, in Finnish, we have many objects that are used for snow: tools to remove ice from cars, others to shovel the snow and clean our yards; there are various games that don’t exist in Greece as well as many references to the Finnish mythology (Τhe Kalevala, translated by Maria Martzoukou), which is less known internationally compared to Greek mythology; there are so many things in forests that have no name in Greek. In addition, the longer day of the year in late June has a completely different meaning to Finnish people. All these elements should be taken into consideration when translating, and not just οn linguistic terms. At a linguistic level, for instance, a thorny issue relates to fish! In Finland there are more freshwater fish, while in Greece some fish that abound in seas, may have no name in Finnish!
There is undoubtedly a stereotyped perception of Greeks abroad. Could literature be used to shake off these stereotypes and help form a new narrative about the country?
I am not sure this is the case anymore. Maybe this stereotyped perception has been related to a Cretan man like Zorbas, but this is not the dominant perception anymore. Greek people travel a lot and I am sure that Finnish people have met someone that proved that such stereotyped perceptions are not prevailing. During the first years of the crisis, Greek people appeared quite a lot in the Finnish media as well, yet even then, no new stereotypes were formed. Instead I personally saw a battle: some wanted to present the Greek people as rich and easy going, while others opposed such arguments by showing the real situation in the capital’s streets. The general perception nowadays is that the Greeks are undergoing harsh times; it becomes evident every time I discuss the Greek issue with a Finnish.
One of the reasons why Greece has attracted so much attention is exactly this battle. And this is where the voice of young Greek writers should be heard. Art has always constituted the most substantial means of communication among civilizations and its counterbalance is more necessary in the last decades than ever – and this is not only the case for Greece and Finland. I believe that the human voice should be heard, and this is exactly what literature does. I cannot say for sure which is the narrative that young writers would want to form about the country – and I am sure that there are major differences of perception among artists – yet what is important that they are heard to counterbalance impersonal statistics and news that just scratch the surface.
It seems that Greek and Finnish society differ in terms of their experience of modernity, their conception of family values and personal mentality. Yet a critic would argue that values are liquid and unsettled in both societies. Would you like to comment?
There are major differences indeed. Finland is considered a pioneer vis-a-vis technology, which is imprinted in cities, schools, houses...Things that don’t yet exist in Greece are considered self-evident to the Finnish. Children have entered the digital world to a greater extent compared to Greece; primary school children have their own smartphones and this is actually commonplace. In Greece, there are still blackboards and chalks. It’s a matter of personal preference which way you think is better, yet I personally feel relieved that things have not yet moved so fast in Greece.
There are also major differences as far as the family is considered and this is much related to the state. Although I cannot refer to official statistics, I reckon that family ties are much tighter in Greece, with grandparents actively participating in children’s lives. The three generations seem to be closer and spend much more time together. Let’s take a square in an Athenian neighborhood for instance. Children are in the same place as adults; a playground, a grandparent’s traditional coffee shop, a mum’s café, a ball-playing screen for dads and uncles, all co-exist in the same square and communicate with each other. Some children may have come with their parents and others with a grandparent. There are no such places in Finland. Already in early adulthood, the Finnish start an independent life, both on financial (state aid) and more general terms. And when they create their own families, grandparents play the role not so much of a basic family member but of a beloved visitor. In Finland the three generations lead quite distinct lives: children play at playgrounds in the presence of their mothers, adults hang out in places where children may not be allowed to enter, while the elderly have their own lives and it’s really unusual to live with their children. The state is organized in such a way so that a grandmother doesn’t need to pick her grandchild from school – and maybe this is why she doesn’t do it even if she wanted to; it’s quite unusual.
Such differences exert a considerable influence both at a personal and interpersonal level. Finnish people are used to be more autonomous, even lonely in family and working issues and they are quite unwilling to ask for help. I’m not sure if Finnish people themselves believe so, but after being in Greece for some years, the difference is quite intense. The same goes for their openness to discuss and share their personal issues.
Indeed the two countries are unsettled and in a constant path of change, yet I am not sure where they are heading.
*Interview by Athina Rossoglou
Nikolaos Vlahakis is a Greek poet whose works have been translated into English, Spanish, French, Bulgarian and German. He has also penned articles on literature, international politics and social theory, which have also been published in newspapers and magazines, in Greece and abroad. He was a guest poet at the 27th International Poetry Festival in Medellin, Colombia; excerpts from his first poem collection have been translated into English and Bulgarian and published in the magazine Literaturni Balkani, while some of his poems were recently published in the Franco-Canadian magazine Le Crachoir de Flaubert and in Variations, the literary journal of the University of Zurich.
Vlahakis was born in Crete in 1967 and studied philosophy at the University of Sofia, Bulgaria. He also studied public administration at the National School of Public Administration in Athens and obtained an MA in foreign relations and strategic studies at the European Center for International and Strategic Research in Brussels. He has served as Press and Communication Counsellor in various Greek embassies. He has released three poem collections: Tractates from a multinational force or Terra incognita (2002), The Bridge of the Eagles (2011), About turbulence and shadow - Idola tribus (2016), all by Gavrielides Editions.
Nikolaos Vlahakis spoke to Greek News Agenda* about his sources of inspiration, the poets that have influenced his work and his thoughts on the poetry in the digital era.
You have already published three poem collections and many of your poems are considered to be influenced by the great Greek poet Cavafy. Do you have other sources of inspiration?
Usually we have different influences, even those who do not write, but are just readers of poetry. It is true that some critics actually, have seen an influence of Cavafy, mainly in my second poetic collection The Bridge of the Eagles. Some others have traced the influence of Odysseas Elytis or, in general, the so-called generation of the 30s. And this is partially correct, although I can say that my concern is to look beyond the eyes of this generation. Several times I turned to the classic writers of Modern Greek poetry, from Solomos to Palamas, Cavafy, Seferis, Elytis, Ritsos, etc. This was inevitable in my effort to create a more personal style. In this effort I also had the desire to talk with these top poets. In the process, however, one should discover his own expression.
The same happens regarding the foreign influences, and especially in the languages you mentioned: Pablo Neruda and Lorca were the ones that attracted me the most in Spanish poetry, while French symbolism is in my opinion an unsurpassed model of poetry. Once I was passionate about Mallarme, Paul-MarieVerlaine as well as Arthur Rimbaud. As for the English speaking poets, I can confess that when I discovered Allen Ginsberg this was the reason to start writing poetry again after a long period I had interrupted. His poetry gave me the incentive to restart by doing some translations exercises. Later, I was also fascinated by William ButlerYeats. But the encounter with many other poets from different countries enriched my poetic course. The point, of course, is to transform all these different influences into your own “poetic idiom”, and this can only be done in your own "poetic workshop".
Odour of death
a small interrupted storm.
like a cleft in a rock
sisterhood of silences
and grasshoppers with instincts of a killer
and abandoned machine gun platforms
evacuation of maimed
and abrupt orders
to hotel girls
that I haven’t had enough of you yet
and now and tomorrow
the grand resignations.
(Translated from the Greek by Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke)
What was your first contact with poetry? What internal need prompted you to express yourself poetically and which are the sources of your inspiration?
My flair for writing, especially poetry, was developed at an early age. My family’s tradition is that my uncle, my mother's brother, published some very remarkable poem collections which he offered to us. In the island of Crete, where I was living at that time, I participated in some local literary contests at the age of 16-17, where I was awarded and my work was published. This was a strong motivation that maintained my interest in poetry. I started writing poetry again after a long period, mainly after my student years, but during my student years I was reading a lot of prose and novels. In Crete, however, where I grew up, the live folk tradition that derives from Erotokritos and continues with the rhyming couplets in form of a narrative or dialogue (mantinades), makes us all think like poets!
My inspiration derives from an attempt to express philosophical reflection in poetic form. An attempt to combine philosophy with the condensed form of poetry.
Due to your occupation as a Press and Communication Councellor at the General Secretariat for Media and Communication, you have lived many years abroad. Did you miss Greece all these years?
Yes and no. As my daily routine and my work was directly interwoven with the political and other actuality of the country, but also as a part of the country's public administration abroad, I would not say that I was missing Greece. Greece was constantly present in my mind. What I was missing was perhaps the landscape, my people, and my memories. This nostalgia, however, is a creative motivation for poetry.
What is the focal point of your poetry collections?
I consider my poetic work, published by Gavrielides Publications, as a trilogy, a repetitive reflection in Greek history, within space and time, as well as in Balkans and European history in general. Besides, my books are connected with the cities where I wrote them, when I served as a Press and Communication Counsellor at several embassies of Greece: I started writing my first collection in Tirana and I finished it in Brussels; the second in Sofia and the third in Budapest. They are in some way poetic chronicles of these cities, or that is how I would like to characterise them.
The first collection (Tractates of a Multinational Force or Terra Incognita) is in reference with a conceptualisation of the Balkans as a tough historical terrain which internalises or even imprisons objectivity into the inner sphere of the idea of an unknown land (Terra incognita is the subtitle). The second collection is a metaphor of the eternal returning in Time, through the gates of a bridge guarded by four imaginary eagles (The Bridge of the Eagles), which compose the chorus, whereas in the centre there is digression calendar of everyday life. I can say that it is a metaphysical view of history. In the third attempt, I make a poetic anatomy of our atavistic stereotypes, which is what the English philosopher Francis Bacon called "Idola tribus". Inevitably, this brings me to a self-conscious relationship with Greece and my homeland, Crete. In this sense, I see my work as a kind of political poetry, though not obvious at first glance.
Do you think that the digital revolution has affected poetic creation and, if so, in which direction?
Not so decisively, but I believe that it will influence every aspect of art and expression. And I do not mean only the way of circulation, publication and dissemination of poetic creation. It will impact it structurally. Let me give you an example: the haiku started to become a form of poetry with which more and more poets are engaged all over the world, going farther than the Japanese tradition which created them. This happens due to the fact that nowadays with a simple tweet you can spread your daily haiku. On the other hand this fact determines the way in which poetry is now written, with whatever impact this has, negative or positive. Poetry reverts to the forefront as Internet requires abridged communication and synthesis, as a sort of contemporary art form. Last year, I participated in the 27th International Festival in Medellin, Colombia, where I realised that modern trends in international poetry are combining multi-media, video art and performing arts in general.
Do you think that the recent economic crisis has influenced Greek poetry?
I think yes. The new generation has started to create the art of this period in every field. It is a collective experience that strongly defines the way we now detect our horizons. It is characteristic that when I was leaving Berlin, where I was serving recently, a German poet suggested me to compose together an "Anthology of Greek-German Poetry of the Crisis". Besides, it will be the mark that separates two periods of the recent history of Greece: The period of crisis from the period after it.
*Interview by Marianna Varvarrigou
Read also via Greek News Agenda: Reading Greece | Athens - World Book Capital City of 2018; Zdravka Mihaylova, translator of Greek literature into Bulgarian on literary translation as a platform of communication
Axel Sotiris Walldén (born 1949) studied economics in Sweden and France and was awarded a PhD from the University of Athens. From 1996 to 2014 he was an official at the European Commission, mostly dealing with EU enlargement. Previously, he had served, inter alia, as secretary-general at the Hellenic Ministry of National Economy and as a visiting professor at the Panteion University, Athens. He has also served as an adviser at the Greek Foreign Ministry.
He presently teaches a post-graduate course at the Institut d’Etudes européennes of the Université Libre de Bruxelles. He is the author of a large number of books and articles on EU enlargement, Balkan issues, Greek foreign and domestic policy and recent history. Walldén took an active part in the struggle against the Greek dictatorship (1967-74) and has since held leading posts in parties and organisations of the Greek Left. Being of Greek and Swedish nationalities, he has recently released three books on the issue of Greek-Swedish relations during the Axis Occupation and the Greek military junta (1967-74).
These books are From Lapland to the Acropolis : the European itinerary of a Swede in the 20th century (in Greek by Polis editions), Humanitarian Assistance to Occupied Greece. The Swedish Red Cross Mission 1942-1945 and Dictatorship and Resistance 1967-1974; a Personal Testimony (both by Themelio editions). Thanks to the first two of these publications, Walldén was awarded the 2018 prize of the Association of the Friends of the Swedish Institute in Athens (Föreningen Svenska Atheninstitutets Vänner) for his contribution to cultural exchange between Sweden and Greece. On this occasion, he granted an interview* to Greek Νews Agenda.
You were recently awarded the 2018 prize of the Association of the Friends of the Swedish Institute in Athens (Föreningen Svenska Atheninstitutets Vänner) for your contribution to the promotion of cultural exchange between Sweden and modern Greece. The basis for the Association’s award were your two recent books (From Lapland to the Acropolis and Humanitarian Assistance to Occupied Greece). Both these deal with Swedish-Greek relations during the Axis Occupation of Greece. Could you elaborate?
Greece and Sweden have a long-standing history of friendly relations. Two ‘moments’ of this history were crucial for the shaping of a positive image of Sweden in Greek collective memory: Sweden’s role in alleviating the famine in Greece during the Axis Occupation and its solidarity to the struggle against the Greek military junta in 1967-1974.
Sweden, as a neutral country during World War II, was mandated by the belligerents to lead what proved to be the largest humanitarian operation during that conflict: bringing food from the Americas to the starving people of occupied Greece and managing its distribution in cooperation with the Geneva-based International Red Cross. The two books of mine you mention focus on this operation, still little known, and hence they hopefully contribute to a better knowledge of its extent and details.
The book From Lapland to the Acropolis is a biography of your father. Tell us about it.
My father, Gottfrid Walldén, was a Swede born at the beginning of the 20th century in Swedish Lapland, who came to Greece during World War II with the Red Cross and eventually settled in Athens where he stayed until his death in 1967.
His biography falls under the category of ‘people’s history’, a narrative that attempts to account for historical events from the perspective of common people, rather than political or other leaders. The reader can follow his rather unusual itinerary, which includes early years in northern Sweden, two years at a high school in Normandy just after World War I and life as a bank accountant during the inter-war period in Central Sweden. However, the largest part of the book covers his stay in Greece in the 1940s, first as a neutral delegate of the Swedish Red Cross mission and then as a businessman, having decided to settle in Greece, a country which he comes to adore.
In my book, I try to picture the atmosphere and social environment of the respective periods and places where my father stayed, most crucially of Greece in the 1940s. The perspective of a Swedish national of modest origins who lands in the conservative upper-class Athens society during the Occupation, Liberation, the December 1944 uprising and the ensuing Civil War in 1946-1949 is, I believe, quite revealing.
The book also provides a concise picture of the Swedish Red Cross mission to Greece. In fact, my research on this topic went far beyond the biography of my father and led me to edit another volume, which deals with the humanitarian relief mission itself.
From the award ceremony at the Museum of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Antiquities (Medelhavsmuseet) in Stockholm
Let us come then to your book on the Swedish Red Cross mission to Greece during World War II. Could you briefly describe this operation?
The relief mission brought to Greece 650,000 tons of food from Canada and Argentina and organised its distribution to millions of people in most of occupied Greece. It was thus instrumental in avoiding a repetition of the deadly famine of the first winter of the Occupation. Sweden provided the ships that transported the food through zones of warfare and the Allied blockade of continental Europe. It also contributed witharound 30 delegates who, together with the Swiss, managed the vast organisation needed to ensure an efficient and neutral distribution of the goods throughout the country.
My book is a comprehensive description of that operation. The first part is a detailed account of the mission, written by Emil Sandström, the head of the Relief Committee (1943-1945). In a second part, I explore, based mostly on archival material, what I call ‘the sensitive issues’ of the operation. These include inter alia the often difficult relations between the Swiss and the Swedes in the mission, the issue of irregularities and corruption, but also a section on ‘the neutrality of the neutrals’, i.e. the attitude of the Swedish delegates towards the belligerents and towards the parties of the internal Greek divisions. Finally, the third part comprises documents, mostly unpublished and translated from Swedish archives, with reports and views of Swedish delegates and diplomats on the situation in Greece and the unfolding of the humanitarian mission.
Your two books rely on research in mostly Swedish archives. How relevant were these for the study of the history of Greece?
Indeed, I relied extensively on a number of Swedish archives, notably those of the Swedish Red Cross, the Swedish Foreign Ministry and the Legation of Sweden in Athens, all of which are deposited at the State Archive (Riksarkivet) in Stockholm. I also worked at the archives of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva. All of these sources provide precious information on the Red Cross mission, but also on the situation in Greece during the Occupation through the eyes of Swedish (and Swiss) delegates and diplomats. The Swedish archives, in particular, are not easily accessible to foreign researchers for linguistic reasons.
From the book presentation at the Greek Cultural Centre (Grekiska Kulturhuset) in Stockholm
Let me now come to your book on Dictatorship and Resistance 1967-1974, which is a narrative of how you experienced that period as well as of your participation in the resistance movement against the military junta. Tell us about your activities then, including during your stay in Sweden.
A military dictatorship ruled Greece between 1967 and 1974 in what was the darkest period in the post-war history of the country. At the time, I was a high school and then university student in Greece, Sweden and France and I actively participated in the resistance and solidarity movements from the ranks of the Greek Left. My book is a testimony of that experience which I still consider as my ‘finest hour’.
The book focuses mostly on the resistance in Greece, both underground and ‘legal’, with a key chapter on my role as the liaison between the student organisation ‘Rigas Feraios’ in Greece and the Party leadership abroad, during the student mobilisations that led to the Athens Polytechnic School uprising in November 1973. However, I also deal with the anti-dictatorship activities abroad, including in Sweden, where I was based from 1968 to 1972.
Sweden was probably the country that supported most the fight for democracy against the Greek military regime. The Swedish Government opposed the junta in the Council of Europe and supported the resistance movement. There was a broad and very active solidarity movement in the country, coordinated by a ‘Swedish Committee for Democracy in Greece’ where all parliamentary parties except the Right were represented. A bulletin on Greece, the Grekland-bulletin, was published in Lund and circulated in the whole of Scandinavia. Public opinion was favourable to our struggle and ordinary citizens participated in demonstrations and fund raising for the Resistance. My book provides a taste of all these activities.
I should maybe add that my book illustrates the fact that the struggle against the military dictatorship forged an anti-fascist unity of democratic forces throughout the political spectrum, despite important differences among them. This legacy is very much pertinent today, when we see extreme right and nationalist forces again on the rise just about everywhere in our continent.
*Interview by Nicky Psychari, Head of Press and Communication Office of the Embassy of Greece in Stockholm
Read also via Greek News Agenda: “12 October 1944 - Free Athens” The city commemorates the 74th anniversary of its liberation; 12 October 1944 - Free Athens: Interview with historian Yannis Skalidakis; “The Unknown Famine: Athens 1941-1942” Exhibition & Conference; Greece under the Nazis: The German soldiers' perspective; Military Dictatorship (1967-1974) in retrospect: New historical approaches; Military Dictatorship (1967-1974) in retrospect: The Greek visual arts scene