Miller intro1Dr Stephen G. Miller is Professor emeritus of Classical Archeology at UC Berkeley and Director Emeritus of Berkeley’s excavations in Nemea, Greece, who, after years of hard work, made headlines worldwide for the uncovering of the ancient athletic site where Panhellenic games were held. He is also former Director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (1982-87), founder and honorary President of the Society for the Revival of the Nemean Games and honorary President of the American Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures.

Having arrived in Nemea in 1973 and after more than 20 years of extensive and systematic excavations, Professor Stephen Miller uncovered the Sanctuary of Zeus and the ancient stadium that was built 400 m SE of the Temple. He has published a great number of scholarly publications, and popular articles, with a focus on the Nemea excavations. In 2005 he was appointed Grand Commander of the Order of Honour by former President of the Hellenic Republic Karolos Papoulias, and was also proclaimed Greek citizen.

Dr Miller was interviewed* by Greek News Agenda on the Nemea excavations, the foundation of the Society For the Revival of the Nemean Games and the cause of repatriation of Parthenon Marbles.

Dr. Miller, you were the director of excavations at the archeological site of Nemea, which have lasted for years. How did you feel when you uncovered, after so many efforts, the site where the Panhellenic games were held?

When I arrived at Nemea in 1973 to begin my work, there was one visitor all summer long to the three columns of the Temple of Nemean Zeus that had remained erect since their construction about 330 B.C. They were guarded by thistles and thorns.

Now, 45 years later, I look out the window of my office and see nine columns surrounded by a revival of the ancient sacred grove of cypress trees, and I see thousands of visitors. In the last three years, during the 26 months that the site was open, there has been an average of 3,626 visitors each month. They enter a site created by my purchase of property (about 40 acres) in the name of the Greek State, but with archaeological rights retained by the University of California. Three roads have been closed and the museum built and given to Greece on May 28, 1984. In that museum, and on the site and in the stadium, my discoveries are on display to the visitor (of all nationalities) who leaves Nemea knowing a little more about his own Hellenic heritage. This is very satisfying. My grandfather said that I had been given life for a purpose. I believe I found it.

Miller mikroutsikosMinister of Culture Thanos Mikroutsikos and Dr. Stephen Miller embrace as the latter turns over the Stadium to the former (1994)

What were the main challenges you faced during the excavations?

The first challenge was, and is, funding. In the half year while teaching at Berkeley, I had to find donors who would support my work. I was fortunate that so many shared my curiosity. Their names are on a series of marble plaques in the entrance to the museum.

The next challenge was to develop a local support and excavation team. Again I was fortunate, although there was some local opposition, but enough good and competent people emerged. Their help was critical to my success.

There was a constant challenge, in a village of 300 people which was not then fully electrified, to find housing for my American students. Most reacted positively and some were even sorry to leave Nemea at the end of the season.

Finally, there were the relationships with the representatives of the Ministry of Culture from which I needed permission to excavate each year. There were unhappy exceptions, but most of those people regarded me as a colleague who deserved their support, especially since the American School of Classical Studies at Athens gave me its blessing.

Miller templeThe Temple of Nemean Zeus from the southwest, 2013

Can you tell us something about the ancient Nemean games? Who were the participants?

Nemea was important in antiquity only for the Games. There was no permanent settlement here, no city-state in what was a marshy land every winter. The name comes from the verb "nemo" which means to graze (sheep, goats, etc.); Nemea was a good place for shepherds, but not for farmers.

In the summertime, every two years, the scene changed with the advent of thousands of athletes, and trainers, and spectators, and merchants for the Nemean Games which were a part of the Panhellenic (All-Greek) cycle of the Olympics, the Pythian Games at Delphi, and the Isthmian Games near Corinth.

Among other similarities, these sites shared a Sacred Truce, an Ekecheria, that allowed people to travel to and from the games in safety. Thus, for example, Athenians and Spartans might be throwing spears at one another one day, and the next be running naked side-by-side down the track of the stadium here. The truce only held for about a month each year, but it was the first time in recorded history that a whole nation entered a truce annually on a regular basis. Our excavations have revealed ups and downs in the execution of this idea, and that may be the most important part of my work.

Miller amphorYou are the founder and honorary President of the Society for the Revival of the Nemean Games. What is the goal of your society?

Our goal is the participation, on the sacred earth of Greece, of anyone and everyone, in games that will revive the spirit of the Olympics. We will achieve this by reliving authentic ancient athletic customs in the ancient stadium of Nemea.

                                Statement of the Purpose of the Society, December 30, 1994

Our Society has two basic guiding principles: authenticity and participation. We do not insist on complete authenticity: we do not run naked and we allow women to run. But all have to dress in plain ancient tunics and run barefoot, thus emphasizing our basic common humanity. Further, to change clothes in the ancient locker room, to walk through the entrance tunnel, to place toes in the same starting blocks where the ancients placed theirs 2,350 years ago, means a direct physical contact with ancient Greece. It is a learning experience, and shows that the ideals of the ancients still live.

The revival of the Nemead began in 1996 and the Games take place every four years. Are you planning to be in Nemea during the 7th Nemead that will take place in June 26-28 2020?

Since my retirement from UC Berkeley in 2004, I have lived much of every year here, in Nemea, working on research and publications, and the revival of the Games. Yes, I shall be here for the 7th Nemead – God willing – but probably working as a slave rather than appearing as an athlete.

Miller3And a final question: what is your opinion on the issue of the return of the Parthenon Marbles in Athens?

The Parthenon is certainly one of the greatest achievements of our human race – some would say the greatest symbol of our common Greek heritage regardless of our nationality. It is the physical representation of one of the highest achievements of civilization. I look at it and see Aeschylus and Sophocles and Euripides and Aristophanes and Thucydides and Socrates. I see the young Plato looking up at the new building – did it inspire him to tell us about his mentor?

To have this monument, this symbol of cultural accomplishment broken up and scattered around the world, to make its totality inaccessible to our society, says all too much about our own civilization.

I am not advocating that the Parthenon should be moved to London, but let us put it back together where Pericles and Pheidias built it nearly two and one half millennia ago. Can we not respect our own pan-humanity?

*Interview by Marianna Varvarrigou (Images courtesy of nemeangames.org)

Read also via Greek News Agenda: Sharon Gerstel: “Byzantine History opened my eyes to a culture that has long been marginalized in our studies”; Reading Greece | Professor Gonda Van Steen on her lifelong fascination with all things Greek; Study Archaeology in Greece: English-taught Undergraduate and Postgraduate Courses

 

Kallirroi Parousi was born in Ermoupoli, Syros, in 1988. She studied law, European civilization and literature in Athens, Thessaloniki and Paris. She lives and works in Athens. Her first book, a short story collection titled Κανείς δε μιλάει για τα πεύκα [Nobody talks about pines] (Kedros Publishers) received the ‘Anagnostis’ Award for Best Newcomer Prose Writer in 2017.

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Kallirroi Parousi spoke to Reading Greece* about the book, explaining that ‘pines’, which appear in all the short stories, symbolize “the promise of hope and at the same time its defeat”, adding that she “compiled and appropriated all those trivial and often seemingly insignificant incidents of the everyday life” in order to “literary capture the image of a society of puppets: a contemporary swamp that swallows everything”.

She also comments on the argument that Greek writers have a preference for short form noting that in Greece there is “a longstanding and rich tradition not only in short stories and poetry but novels as well” and that there are “exceptional novels” by young Greek writers. She explains that she is interested in “a literature that seeks to be a worthy opponent to the dominant discourse” and concludes that the role of a writer is often to hint at “the subversion of well-established conventions” and to “urge towards more groundbreaking approaches vis-à-vis conception, interpretation and reading”.

Your first book, a short story collection titled Κανείς δε μιλάει για τα πεύκα [Nobody talks about pines] received the “Anagnostis” Award for Best Newcomer Writer in 2017. What do pines, which appear in all of the short stories, symbolize?

The characters of the book, despite their distinct voices, all realize, justify and reproduce the conditions of slavery and collapse they experience being self-confined in an unbearable routine. They see their fantasies being shrunk; and the only thing that still connects and brings them back to reality is the evergreen pines, which symbolize the promise of hope and at the same time its defeat, since nobody talks about pines.

The ‘Anagnostis’ award for best newcomer prose writer is indeed a great encouragement to immerse myself deeper into prose and experiment with longer narrative forms, such as the novel that I’m currently writing.

ParousiPines2

To use Kostas Papageorgiou’s words, “her world is so real, almost televised or downloaded from the internet, yet so dreamy, that you get the impression that everything can be subverted, crashing against the wall of reality”. Which are the main issues your book touches upon?

Mr. Papageorgiou’s review of the book was quite insightful given that in Pines I used a somewhat risky coupling between the seemingly contradictory elements of the Internet language and the literary language, especially in the last short stories.

It was through this blending and experimentation that I tried to literally capture the image of a society of puppets: a contemporary swamp that swallows everything, an amalgam of voices and influences. Charming though it may sound as a narrative attempt, the unconditional inclusion in such a society may lead to self-destruction, as is the case with many of the characters.

In my first book, I opted for things I am really interested in narrating; I compiled and appropriated all those trivial and often seemingly insignificant incidents of the everyday life (for instance, a worker’s daily commute) which are worth paying attention to since they seem to have an impact on the mentality of the characters and appeal to those readers who have the ability to identify with them.

In his review of the book, Giorgos Perantonakis emphasizes on your long sentences, the alternations within the same sentences, the lengthy paragraphs, which are indicative of a language that does not fit in old molds. What purpose does language serve in your writings?

The contradictory forms and the inconsistencies of the characters constitute a way to portray cracks in their personalities. Through long sentences, alluded connotations and a selective linguistic experimentation (abrupt changes of place, time, perception and focus in narration), I tried to underline the fluidity of the characters, their volatile personalities due to the multiple stimuli they unquestioningly receive on a daily basis. Meanwhile, repetitions were often used as the binding thread between the short stories, attempting to emphasize on the underlying consistencies that exist among the heroes.

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It has been argued that Greek writers have a preference for short form and that short story collections have outweighed novels and longer narratives. How would you comment on this?

I believe that the debate on the lack of good Greek novels is far from constructive and shouldn’t be further nurtured. There are exceptional novels by young, both newcomers and not, novelists who excel at long forms. Cases in point are Maria Xilouri, Lefteris Kalospyros, Nikos Chrysos, Kallia Papadaki, Angela Dimitrakaki and so many others. In this context, I was astonished to read in Karen Van Dyck’s bilingual anthology on modern Greek poetry that “the Greek novel barely exists”. I find the assertive character of this phrase a bit problematic. And this is not only because there are indeed, as I already mentioned, exceptional novels by Greek writers, but also because in Greece there is a long standing and rich tradition not only in short stories and poetry but in novels as well.

There is no reason to draw here a list of all the emblematic Greek novels written in the 19th and 20th century, such as Πάπισσα Ιωάννα [Pope Joan] by Emmanuel Roidis, Η Ζωή εν Τάφω [Life in the Tomb] by Stratis Myrivilis or Μενεξεδένια Πολιτεία [Τhe Purple City] by Angelos Terzakis. Suffice it to say that we should not just focus on the works of our major poets awarded the Nobel Prize or to the much praised modern Greek poetic production. Let us also give space and voice to all those writers who opt for longer forms such as novellas and novels.

Which are the main challenges new writers face nowadays in order to have their work published? What role do the social media play in the promotion of new literary voices?

The internet offers an astonishing, almost magical, opportunity to access foreign literature, as well as texts and approaches that broaden the canon of domestic tradition. And in many cases it has been noted that foreign influences prevail over domestic ones. At the same time, at the touch of a button, writers may have their work known and accessible to a wider audience. Amid this tremendous variety of voices, it has become difficult to discern the one that really interests you and which has the potential to spread and be heard as a beautiful song played by a street artist. That’s why a publisher’s work has become increasingly demanding. Following publication of a book in print, the social media more or less play their own role in its promotion. Personally speaking, I am quite indifferent to literature as a social sports and book review as mere book advertising on the Internet, so I try to manage social networks with prudence and caution.

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I believe that the subversive function of literature lies in the attempt to bestow stereotypical concepts with new meanings”. Could literature offer new ways to imagine what can be radically different realities?

I’m interested in a literature that seeks to be a worthy opponent to the dominant discourse, namely a literature that dares, a literature that experiments and counters itself not only in terms of content but also in terms of form and narrative techniques.

I think it was Jan Fabre in Journal de Nuit who wrote that a theater set is the hidden actor which implies a certain mental state. I have the impression that this is often the role of a writer who, through writing, hints at the subversion of well-established conventions and urges towards more groundbreaking approaches vis-à-vis conception, interpretation and reading. The magic of a worth reading literary work, which moves between tradition while trying to stride over and get past tradition, lies exactly in that it tries to elicit our attention and even exacts our involvement in the creative act of reading.

I believe that through reading good literature, we may stay vigilant, striving with life! Yet, caution is required. Literature constitutes the catalyst, which may cause fermentation, yet real change is not just a question of reading, and certainly not a question of reading only literature.

*Interview by Athina Rossoglou

EVA PHOTO 2JPG"Images and Views of Alternative Cinema" Festival, an initiative of the Ministry of Education and Culture of the Republic of Cyprus, in cooperation with the non-profit organization Brave New Culture, returns for the seventeenth year in Nicosia, from 18 to 24 February. This year the Festival is supported by the Greek Ministry of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Information, in the framework of the promotion of the Audiovisual Industry in Greece and abroad. The 2019 edition of the Festival features homages to important experimental filmmakers and theorists, such as Guy Maddin, Jean Rouch, Laura Mulvey and Masaki Iwana. Its highlight is a masterclass and a retrospective of the films by a prominent figure of Greek documentary and experimental films: visual artist and documentary filmmaker Eva Stefani.

Eva Stefani has studied Political Science at the University of Athens, Documentary Filmmaking at Ateliers Varan (Paris), Cinema Studies at the Tisch School of the Arts (MA, New York University) and Documentary at the National Film and Television School (London). She is a PhD holder on Ethnographic Filmmaking from Panteion University. Her Filmography includes Manuscript (2017, 12’), Virgin’s Temple (2017, 3’), Incubator (2016, 8’), Ill Not Ill (2014, 19’), Dimitris Papaioannou (2012, 52’), The Return of E.C. Gonatas (2012, 38’), Bathers (2008, 46’), What Time Is It? (2007, 26’), The Box (2004, 11’), Acropolis (2001, 46’, 25’), Reveille (2001, 3’), Prison Leave (2001, 30’), Housemates (1998, 34’), Letters from Albatross (1995, 26’), Athene (1995, 36’) and  Paschalis (1993, 17’). She works as an Associate Professor of History and Theory of Cinema, Department of Theatre Studies, University of Athens, and as a Visiting Professor at Freie Universität Berlin, Institut für Griechische und Lateinische Philologie.

On the occasion of the Festival, in an interview with Greek News Agenda and its sister publication Grece Hebdo*, Stefani stresses that she always moves in a continuum between observation and emotional attachment to the people she films and explains how she uses cinema as a medium to freely approach her own difficulties and ambivalences. Finally, she underlines she sees documentary films as a life changing experience and not as a teaching act.

festival fb1You teach film history and theory. Does that affect your work as a filmmaker?

Both documentary filmmaking and teaching are fields based on a relationship of mutual trust and respect that you build with others. I have been doing both jobs for several years, and while I often complain that I am half-doing it all, I am believe more and more that these two are a feed each other back. My relationship with students is one of the most rejuvenating things in my life that makes me face questions, emotions and difficulties I normally try to avoid. Thiscontactmakesmeamuchbetterperson.

Your work moves between an observational mode of documentary filmmaking and your emotional engagement with the people you are filming. Do you want to comment on the balance between these two ends?

I assume you mean the separation between documentaries where the camera does not appear to take part (what we call direct cinema) and other films where the camera and the filmmaker have a more active role in the action, ask questions and give a more personal tone to filming, often with self-referential devices that refer to the production process. The latter approach is closer to Jean Rouch's "cinéma vérité". I do not decide a priori which of the two approaches I will choose. I always expect my subject and my relationship to that to guide me on how to approach it. Whenever I have done the opposite, it did not go well.

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"What time is it?", dir. Eva Stefani (2007)

Why are you moved by people who live on the fringe? What are you looking for and what links you to them?

I’m moved by all kinds of people, and the reasons why are not always apparent. It is not clear what e attracts us to others. Perhaps the only obvious explanation why these people move me is that I have also lived "on the brink" (in the sense that each one of us gives) during different periods of my life.

In an earlier interview you have said that "national symbols could be more widely approached in relation to power issues". How do you define power and why does it concern you?

Power is everywhere and everything. It’s you asking me questions, it’s me answering, it’s the gallery owner, the director, the viewer, the parent, the child that refuses to sleep, the neighbor who does not let me sleep because he is throwing a party, it’s me telling him to lower the music volume. What I mean by that is that power is everywhere and it is inevitable. Institutional power has been the subject of two of my films, the "Acropolis" and the "National Anthem", especially its relation to the regulatory use of national symbols.

bathersYou have described the kind of documentaries you work on as "potentially stupid and potentially brilliant", trying to cross "the land of insignificance into the world of the sacred." Is it inevitable for the beauty of life to go through contradictions, difficulty and pain?

I think that the cinema of observation could be a totally dull, pointless kind of documentary that insists on describing everyday life (something like a news report without interviews and voice over); it could however also transform into something revealing that reaches the innermost parts of the human psyche, with the latter being very difficult and rarely achieved. But I believe that the film should be moving in this direction and that the filmmaker should not be content with mere information gathering. The filmmaker should not be afraid of contradictions or try to encapsulate everything in one single message. Cinema, like art in general, is not a messenger but a field of experiences and senses. Documentaries and documentarists tend to forget that this is their primary role as filmmakers: To immerse the viewers in an emotional experience, not to inform them about something. Knowledge will come through experience and not the other way round. And here I would like to mention a quote by Frederic Wiseman, the famous direct cinema documentarist, about those who make films to "tell us" something they already know: "If you want to send a message, send a telegram, don’t make a film". A film is an exploration of the depth, where you invite the viewer to dive in with you, to be afraid, to be enthralled and when s/he comes out of it to be another person.

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"The Kiss", dir. Eva Stefani (2007)

What is the role of the female body in your work?

The female body inevitably plays a part in my work. I have always felt that I had a difficult relationship with my body and in my “experimental” short films I felt freer to explore it. In the “Acropolis”, the "Virgin’s Temple", "The National Anthem" and "The Kiss", pieces of the female body are depicted as if forcibly cut or removed from an imaginary "whole", linking desire to trauma.

Following your latest project "Manuscript", you said that you are preparing a documentary about the owner of one of the oldest brothels in Athens. Would you care to talk to us about it?

I have been working for nine years on a documentary about Dimitra, the so-called "sacred prostitute of Athens", owner of one of the oldest brothels in Athens and president of the union of Greek sex workers. The film follows Dimitra's life from 2008 to 2014, when the brothel closed due to the financial crisis, as well as her subsequent struggle to change the legislative framework that does not protect the profession and favors undeclared prostitution. Above all, however, the film is a portrait of a tough, intelligent and extremely generous woman who opposes all the stereotypes of the victimized prostitute. But I feel that I haven’t said enough about Dimitra. I hope the film can tell the rest.

* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi (Greek News Agenda) and Magdalini Varoucha (GreceHebdo)

See the Festival trailer:

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nikos labot1Her Job” is a film about Panayiota, a stay at home mum, set on survival mode for quite long and living with a domineering husband who is out of work. As the economic pressure increases on her family, semi-illiterate Panayiota will get a job for the first time in her life, as a cleaner in a mall. Stranded with what most would regard as a humble dead-end job, Panayiota will for the first time in her life feel a sense of autonomy, while she slowly gains some kind of visibility in her family.

By shedding light on the heart of the modest people, film director and co-scriptwriter Nikos Labot manages to draw quite a realistic portrait of a Greek low-income family whose life has become even more difficult on account of the crisis. And although the crisis is a focal point of the film, it is also the story of woman’s emancipation that has oddly been achieved through labour exploitation. If the protagonist finds joy in life through working overtime cleaning toilets, it makes you think about women’s position in contemporary Greek society.

Nikos Labôt studied film directing in Athens, Greece. He has worked on feature and short films as well as in television in Greece and France. He has directed a creative documentary, music videos, two theatre plays and three short films. His last short film “The Dog” (2009) participated in numerus international film festivals and won many awards. “Her Job” premiered in the International Competition section of Thessaloniki International Film Festival and won Best Actress Award for its protagonist Marisha Triantafyllidou. Nikos Labot talks to Greek News Agenda* about how he built his characters, the effects of the crisis on Greek society and why “Her Job" is a feminist and political film.

her job 2 creditPanagiotisZepposIn "Her Job" you’ve built a painfully recognizable portrait of patriarchy. Did you have a Greek background alone in mind when writing the script?

It is true that while working on the early script version we did dig into a certain family profile. Afterwards however I had to make this story mine, so I had to dig deeper into Panoyiota’s and her family’s world, in order to depict their reality. I observed, reflected on and borrowed instances from the lives, attitudes and behaviours of a number of people. I began with those in my close family circle, including my mother and other close relatives, because I could detect shared characteristics with the family in my film. I also met with cleaning ladies who told us their stories. I let them read the script and we discussed their working conditions.

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Marisha Triantafyllidou, "Her Job" (2018)

In your film, the dignity of work rubs shoulders with the dehumanizing capitalist practices that turn human beings into numbers. Which of the two prevails?

In the film we observe, without any exaggeration whatsoever, the working practices of several cleaning companies in Greece. Not all of them operate as such, but as I found out from research I conducted for years and from workers testimonies, many of them sign blank paperwork or documents declaring that they work fewer hours and paid higher wages than they actually work and earn. And all this takes place under pressure and exertion. If they don’t accept these terms, they will either not get the job or find themselves fired. More and more companies take this course of action on the pretext of the crisis, but this was certainly happening before crisis too.

At the same time, we follow the path of a housewife and mother who goes out to get a job for the first time in her life so as to economically contribute to her family. She really needs to get a job and then keep this job. And it’s interesting to see that through this process she discovers many things that will subtly change her. She makes friends, earns her first income, contributes to her family and gradually transforms into a different person. Despite the exploitation she endures, the injustice she witnesses and the humiliating working conditions, she gains awareness, earns the respect of others and discovers a different self. Thus in an odd way she experiences a kind of emancipation at the age of 40 instead of 20. She undergoes experiences that inadvertently give her strength for the future.

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Danae Primali, "Her Job" (2018)

There is an equally interesting subplot, the daughter’s story. She feels socially excluded, while her mother enjoys her fair share of daily struggles, with the Greek economic crisis always as a background. Would you describe “Her Job” as a feminist film or as political commentary?

The subplot concerning Panayiota’s daughter is decisive for Panayiota's own development. The subplot was originally broader, but I decided when editing to focus on Panayiota so that we could follow her closer. It is for the sake of her family, especially her children that Panayota initially decides to go out and work. Up to that point and after Panayiota gets the job, her daughter is mostly negative towards her, reacts against her, underestimates her and considers her partly responsible for her fate.

The story of Panayiota describes the injustice and absurdity of a system that is reproduced within the dominant patriarchal system of our society. The issues the film deals with are women's empowerment, their role in modern society, working conditions and how these connect.

"Her Job" is therefore a feminist (and obviously political) film, not only because it’s set during the crisis and depicts the image of a decadent society (through its social and labour relations), but also because it talks about women’s oppression in both family and working environment. Thus the issues raised by the film run deeper and are not relevant to the crisis alone, or just Greece. Similar stories could be found in several societies around the world, whether they’re undergoing a crisis or not.

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Marisha Triantafyllidou, Dimitris Imellos, "Her Job" (2018)

A key point in the film is the husband’s reaction. He undervalues his wife, and even when she becomes the sole breadwinner, his opinion does not improve. In “Her job” male chauvinism competes with capitalism when it comes to exploitation. Has the financial crisis exposed these dysfunctional family relationships or has it been a catalyst to make them even worse?

As far as Panayiota's husband is concerned, I’d say that while at first he does not seem to accept the changing situation, we do also see his more sentimental side. He takes a few small or considerable steps back as he sees that Panayiota contributes decisively, changing the family’s life. Hence there are minor improvements, but I’d rather not say more and let viewers discover for themselves.

Obviously, in the course of the economic crisis, many dysfunctions and deeper problems in family relationships have come to light, while at the same time the crisis aggravates the problems. We are constantly witnessing dreadful acts by men as well as women, and this usually involves lower-class, low-educated people who see no escape. Without a doubt, violence (psychological, verbal and physical) combined with depression is prevalent in many households, and there, unfortunately, is no state structure to help the situation at any level.

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Marisha Triantafyllidou, Maria Filini, "Her Job" (2018)

You prefer sensitive observation and reserved tones along with an open end. But still the spectator can’t help but identify with and feel for the characters, especially Panagiota. What are your cinematic influences?

I was always excited by the idea of making a movie where the viewer cannot make out if what he sees is fact or fiction. Consequently, I wanted to make an attempt to approach as closely as possible a situation which when seen on screen really touches viewers without them giving thought if these are actors, settings, costumes and so on. The only way to achieve this was to speak directly to viewer's sentiments, without much talk or explanation and the only reality being the film running on the screen, so that he could experience the same emotions, and not distance himself from the characters or judge them. Shortly before we finished editing, we conducted some restricted screenings in France and I was pleased to find that a lot of people were wondering if it was a documentary, or if this woman is the real Panayota and not an actor.

I consciously did not refer to any director or movie. There are, of course, a number of directors whose realism I enjoy, such as Kiarostami, Faradhy, the Dardenne brothers, Stéphane Brizé etc. and I suggested some of their films for the main actors to view. But I felt the need to create our own realism; otherwise there’d be no interest for me. In order therefore to achieve this realism and to capture these moments in life, I decided to follow my characters in their small, everyday, silent moments where intense feelings lurk but do not shout.Panayiota is a frightened, unconfident woman and has learned not to speak up much, because in this family the man always has the first say. Changes that come into her life come subtly and unknowingly, which she does not really understand nor does she know how to handle them. So she prefers to remain silent and do things quietly. In real life, we do not usually say our thoughts aloud and that was something I wanted to be evident in the film. A shot of silent woman is more powerful than the sound of her thoughts.

Read also reviews by Hollywood Reporter, The Playlist, Cineuropa and College Movie.

* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi

 

Hislop 1The International Tourism Exhibition WTM 2018 took place at ExCel, London for three consecutive days (5-7 November 2018). The Greek National Tourism Organisation (GNTO)’s surprise guest of was best-selling author Victoria Hislop, who has written several books based in Greece including the best-selling novel The Island, which has also been adapted for Greek television with huge success.

A journalist and an important contemporary literary figure that has forged close ties to Greece and its people over the years, Hislop addressed the audience at the GNTO Press Conference at WTM and revealed that she is hoping to work with the tourist board to transform some of her short stories into films that will “introduce people to a different side of Greece”.

Her short stories, which are due to be filmed next year and should be screened in 2020, areset off the beaten track in locations such as monasteries and small, little-known villages. “They will take people below the surface and introduce them to another side of Greece, away from the seaside resorts because it would be a shame to visit Greece and see only the beach,” said Hislop.

Victoria also spoke to the Press & Communications Office at the Embassy of Greece in London about the unique love that Greece has inspired to her, about her experiences from Greece as well as about Greece as a source of inspiration for her work of fiction.

Where does your passion for Greece stem from? Do you have Greek roots?

This combines well with the next question too! My first visit was when I was seventeen years old – I went to Athens with my mother and sister and I fell in love with the country immediately. It was unquestionably a keravnovolos erotas (love at first sight). From that year on, I visited every year, more and more so with the passing decades. That first trip really showed the contrasts of Greece to me. Athens was so different in 1977! I enjoyed the chaos (don’t forget this was pre-metro system, and my memory is that few signs were in anything other than Greek), the ancient culture, and unfamiliar food (in those days feta and watermelon were not available in the UK!). Then Paros: it was my first experience of going on a ferry and at that time there was no airport, so mass tourism had not really arrived. Everything was enchanting – swimming in the Aegean for the first time, finding minute white shells, eating fresh fish, feeling real heat.

I don’t have any Greek roots – but even back then, I had a sense of having arrived somewhere that I “belonged”. It was a warm feeling and I still get it every time I land in Greece.

How closely have you come to the everyday life of Greeks? And how do they usually perceive you? Have you ever felt being treated as “one of us” or as a foreigner who just visits their country and is fascinated by it?

I think I get as close to everyday life as anyone could who is not a full time resident – or who does not have Greek blood. I usually spend several months every year in Crete and most of my friends there are local people so I do all the things they do and go to all the places they go, and dance with them at glentia (fairs) and this is when I feel as though I have become an insider. I regard many friends there as my family, and they treat me like one of their own.

Some Greeks are mystified by my love of their country. They think I only see it through rose tinted lenses. And to some extent they are right – because I have the privilege of coming and going. London is my other “home” and putting the chaos of the Brexit situation aside, the UK during my life has been an organised, growing and thriving country – and London has become one of the greatest cities in the world. So yes, I know I am privileged to be able to come and go and to work in both places.

How has your love for Greece evolved over the years? Any peaks, fluctuations, setbacks or frustration?

Over my forty years of visiting, I have learned a lot about how things work in Greece and I appreciate that this is a country with its own modus operandi. When we were filming the television series of To nisi (The Island), I spent almost eighteen months there, on the set and of course there were some peaks and troughs then. This was a creative project but also a commercial one so inevitably there were moments of tension – but ultimately the best results we could have hoped for.

What led you to start learning the Greek language? Moreover, how and to what extent has it helped you gain a better insight into the country and its people? What is the most representative Greek word for you?

I began largely because I wanted to communicate with a particular person in Greece who was 80 years old at the time and did not speak English. He was Manoli Foundoulakis who had been a leprosy sufferer and we became close friends – he was an amazing person but I realised that I would only ever truly appreciate his humour and wisdom if I learned to speak the same language – having someone close by to translate is not the same. And given how much time I was spending in Greece researching and promoting my books – it was impossible and unsatisfying to do everything in English. I think you never get below the surface without the language. Also – of course – I have a house in Crete (ten years now) and there are so many practical things to deal with too – I need to explain things to a plumber and an electrician sometimes and that’s a whole other set of words!

I learned at the Hellenic Centre in London at the beginning – with an amazing teacher called Thomas Vogiatzis – who has a real gift for teaching. In my first lesson I told him that I had a target: to give a speech in Greece within three months and to do a radio interview. Thomas was undaunted – and because of him I achieved it.

Most representative word -and my favourite- is zaharoplastio – I don’t even have a sweet tooth! But it is such an exciting set of syllables, such beautiful sounds and a really seductive word. The English equivalent “cake shop” doesn’t really have the same ring, does it?

Hislop2Victoria Hislop with Greek Minister of Tourism Elena Kountoura

You have also visited and written about Mediterranean countries other than Greece. What similarities and differences have you detected?

There are definite similarities with Spain – but even these are very different countries. Perhaps on a slightly negative note, Spain has severe economic difficulties, but there is a much greater respect towards property and the environment that I don’t always see in Greece. In Spain you don’t get the same impression of anger and sometimes desperation that I sometimes detect in parts of Athens, for example.

In your mind, is there such a thing as “a Greek way of living”? If yes, what are the main components of this way of living?

I have never met anyone in Greece who lives to work. Greeks in Greece work to live. It’s a very different lifestyle. I would say this is the opposite in London, where many people are driven by career or a love of what they do and make this a priority. On average, most people I know in London work at least ten hours a day, maybe even twelve. This is totally standard, especially if you are working for yourself, running a business or ambitious. Apart from a few creative people, I don’t know anyone in Greece who works such long hours. I don’t make any criticisms of this, it’s simply an observation. And along with this, in the UK (London especially) people are compelled to work long hours out of necessity to pay a mortgage or their rent, which can easily take 70-80% of their earnings. So I think this allows a more relaxed lifestyle in Greece too – if you are paying 200 euros a month in Athens for your rent (as opposed to £1000 a month in London), you perhaps don’t have to be so driven. So many people I know in Greece have been given property by their parents – this is unheard of in the UK! So… even if many Greeks don’t appreciate it, their lifestyle can be quite a nice one.

Family is a bigger focus too – perhaps this defines life for many Greeks because they live closer to their family in many cases. And approaches to children – there is a hugely different approach in Greece. The Greek way of living is much more child-focussed. The very fact that children have long sleeps in the day and stay up all evening creates a very different ethos. I think it’s great in the summer, but I know I couldn’t have done it all year when my children were small. Our children happily went to bed at 7 in the evening.

I was with them for twelve hours a day, 7 until 7 and then had part of the day that was absolutely my own. This was when I read, went to plays, films, concerts and had totally adult conversation and talked about things other than children! I would never have written any of my books if my children had gone to bed at the same time as me – and to be honest to sustain any kind of life of the intellect, I think it’s crucial for adults to have some time for themselves.

Finally on this one. The UK style is to teach our children to be independent, and many of us send our children off at the age of 18 (often to South America or Australia) to learn independence and survival. We don’t try to keep them close. It’s painful when they leave the nest but we want them to be strong, to spread their wings and fly.

Apart from touring through the Greek islands, you have also taken your readers on a journey to Thessaloniki, the second largest city of Greece (The Thread, 2011). What do you find particularly inspiring about Thessaloniki and its history? Do you believe that Greece's mainland is undeservingly underestimated from a tourist’s perspective?

Thessaloniki is a fantastic city. I am very fond of it for so many reasons and spent a huge amount of time there researching The Thread. It has so many layers of history and perhaps most importantly a very successfully multicultural past, with its sizeable Moslem and Jewish populations. On an aesthetic level, it is in a very beautiful setting and to be in a buzzing and thriving city, and yet be able to sit overlooking the sea, is a huge pleasure. The huge student population adds a great deal to the energy of the city – I think that is a key ingredient too. I was recently given an Honorary Doctorate (at the same time as the Mayor, Yiannis Boutaris) by Sheffield University City College, so Thessaloniki has become even more important to me.

I think the majority of holidaymakers think of the islands rather than the mainland in the summer. And the islands are very beautiful, certainly. However, there are amazing landscapes and destinations that get missed – the Peloponnese for example is an incredibly beautiful area in itself but quite often people just make for the beach and stay there without seeing the interior. So sometimes I don’t think it’s underestimation exactly, but just not really knowing a place is there and being directed to the seaside resorts. And Meteora, another example, a truly spectacular landscape – but because it’s not close to the sea, I don’t know a single Brit who has been there.

In your latest novel Cartes Postales from Greece you cooperated with your photographer friend Alexandros Kakolyris who accompanied you to a tour in Greece. How did you come up with the idea of creating a book based on these photos?

For all my novels, I have taken thousands of photographs, put them on my walls and used them as inspiration. So the idea to include photography actually in a book seemed a very natural and obvious one. The development of the stories simultaneously with the taking of the photos, however, was a crucial factor. I didn’t want to send a photographer off once I knew the plot in order to take something after the event – so a photograph for example, of the man on the mountaintop in Meteora was absolutely ‘live’ as I thought up the story - the illustrations for this book are really integral, not an after-thought. Alexandros agreed to travel with me and in many cases saw something that I did not – and pointed me in the direction of a story through his images.

Hislop collageIn an interview that you gave for ‘Greece Is’ you have said that "We live in a world where we’re seeing things all the time, and a lot of the newspapers, magazines as well as non-fiction books have masses of pictures. Why should fiction be any different?" Do you think pictures could be an important part of adults’ fiction books?

I see no reason why not! I think words and pictures are a very natural combination! Photos can enhance a story without taking away from the imagination.

After your experience of writing Cartes Postales from Greece, would you attempt to write another book using the same technique?

Definitely. It was a huge success in the UK and many other countries and we have already begun work on a sequel to Cartes Postales.

In the introduction of the same book, you mention that the book's "pages tell the story of a man's odyssey through Greece; moving, surprising and sometimes dark." Is every journey to Greece an odyssey, and in what sense? What are the dark sides of such a journey?

On every journey to Greece there is a surprise for me, something unexpected that I really did not know or imagine. Even after literally hundreds and hundreds of trips and days spent there, there is always something new to learn.

Dark sides… Perhaps it is true that I have seen things through rose tinted lenses and gradually more light gets in.

Anthony Horowitz of The Telegraph wrote in an article that your books can turn someone into a "Hellenophile". How do you perceive this term and how does Horowitz’s remark make you feel?

That’s a great word – and I agree with him up to a point. I do perhaps make people love Greece, but more importantly I hope that I help people understand it too. For example, with The Thread, which traces the 20th century history of the country, many of my British readers really had no idea about the German occupation of Greece nor how harsh it had been. Nor about the civil war. So that, for me, was important to communicate: that Greece has endured extraordinary periods of hardship – much more than the UK – and this has had an impact on the present day situation.

How will your "love affair" with Greece continue in the near future? What to expect?

I think it will continue. My dream is to get a Greek passport – so my passion for the country definitely continues! I have just delivered a new novel (set in Greece of course) to my British publisher which will come out in English in May. And we are hoping to start filming some adaptations of my short stories next year in Crete – so my work in Greece goes on!

Not to mention my affection for Greek friends and “family” who are always there waiting for me. They are at the centre of my love for Greece.

Read also via Reading Greece: Richard Clogg: “I am continually struck by the ignorance of the recent history of Greece that exists in the UK”; Sharon Gerstel: “Byzantine History opened my eyes to a culture that has long been marginalized in our studies”; Professor Gonda Van Steen on her lifelong fascination with all things Greek; An Englishwoman in Evia: Publisher Denise Harvey on her love for Greek literature and culture

 

Richard Clogg portrait Richard Clogg, Emeritus Fellow of St Antony’s College, Oxford, is one of the most widely read British academics writing about Modern Greek history. He was previously Professor of Modern Balkan History in the University of London. He has written widely on the modern history of Greece and also on Greek politics. His Concise History of Greece (Third edition Cambridge 2013) has been translated into thirteen languages, including all the languages of the Balkans. His most recent publication is Greek to Me: a Memoir of Academic Life (I.B. Tauris 2018).

In an interview with @GreeceInUk* Richard Clogg talks about his travels and research in Greece and his decision to study the country’s “fascinating modern history”. He is struck by the ignorance of Greece’s contemporary history in the UK, noting that “the focus on ancient Greece, both in Greece itself and in the world in general, has sometimes been at the expense of understanding the rich, and at times tragic, history of the Greeks in modern times”. Moreover, he talks about the “bitterly fought civil war” (1946 to 1949) and the military junta (1967 to 1974) and calls for further research on the important role that the BBC Greek service played in the anti-Colonels’ campaign.

Coming to modern times, Clogg argues that the debt crisis that struck Greece has inflicted hardship on much of the Greek population, but reminds us that “Greece did prove to be able to recover from two earlier crises in the twentieth century.” He highlights the benefits from being part of the EU and welcomes the fact that “unlike the UK, there is no serious movement in Greece to leave the EU”. Speaking about the Balkans, he notes that “the Prespes agreement holds out the prospect of a peaceful settlement to a long-running conflict.”

In the first chapter of your book “Greek to me: A Memoir of Academic Life”, writing about your first encounter with Greece, you mention that “the beauty of Greece had been breathtaking and its inhabitants extraordinarily friendly and hospitable, and I decided that I wanted to learn more about the country”. Ηow did your studies of Greece affect you as a person and an academic?

I first visited Greece on leaving school in 1958, when foreign tourists were something of a rarity. There were two hundred and fifty thousand visitors in that year. In 2018, over thirty million tourists visited the country. I have always been glad that I chose to study the fascinating modern history of Greece. For many years I taught at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies where I was virtually the only person studying a country that was part of the ‘free’ world and a visit to Greece to carry out research was a positive pleasure compared to the grim conditions existing in many Soviet bloc countries.

Greek to meWhereas in Britain there is a long tradition of studying ancient Greece and much admiration about Greece’s classical past, there seems to be little knowledge about modern Greek history. How could interest in modern Greek history and culture be invigorated?

I am continually struck by the ignorance of the recent history of Greece that exists in the UK. A case in point was when David Cameron paid his first visit to the US after becoming leader of the Conservative party in 2005. He gave an interview on American television in which he spoke of the Americans fighting alongside Britain against the Nazis at the time of the blitz. The blitz began in September 1940, whereas the US did not enter World War II until December 1941. The reality is that Britain’s only active European ally in the desperate years 1940 and 1941 was Greece. I sought to correct this error in a letter to The Guardian.

You have done extensive research on the role of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), in giving aid and encouragement to the Greek resistance movement during World War II. How would you evaluate SOE’s contribution to the Greek resistance?

The Special Operations Executive was very active in Greece during the German, Italian and Bulgarian occupation. It achieved some spectacular acts of sabotage, but most of these required collaboration with the Greek resistance. It is a pity that most people’s knowledge in the UK of the resistance in Greece is limited to the famous kidnapping of General Kreipe in Crete in 1944, about which a film was made. This operation was carried out with great skill and bravery, but it served little military purpose and resulted in fearful reprisals. It is a pity that some of the other operations of SOE and its Greek collaborators are not better known.

During the junta (1967-1974), Britain seems to have been -to a certain extent- an ideological battlefield between apologists for the Colonels and campaigners against this “brutal, anachronistic and absurd” regime, as you describe it in your book. At that time you were a frequent broadcaster for the BBC Greek Service. What role did the BBC play in the anti-Colonels’ campaign?

The BBC Greek Service, together with the German Deutsche Welle, played an important role in sustaining the morale of the many opponents of the junta in Greece by providing balanced and accurate coverage of Greek affairs during the Colonels’ dictatorship. I was pleased to play some part in this coverage. The Greek Service encountered problems with the Foreign Office, which at that time had responsibility for financial support of the service. The Foreign Office’s policy was to retain what it termed ‘a good working relationship’ with the junta. This from time to time caused problems between the two organisations.

It occurs to me that a good book could be written about the history of the Greek Service. In the late 1960s and 1970s there were some individuals still alive who could have been interviewed about the Greek Service during the war, a time when the Greek Service employed the call sign of goat bells that had been used by Athens Radio in peacetime. But there is still a good amount of archival material available. Moreover, many of those who were working for the Greek Service during the seven-year dictatorship of the Colonels are still around to be interviewed.

1. Richard Clogg and Kevin Featherstone

Richard Clogg with Professor Kevin Featherstone at the launch of Greek to Me: a Memoir of Academic Life. The event was hosted by the LSE Hellenic Observatory in December 2018.

You often refer to the passions aroused by civil war in Greece many decades after its end in 1949. How far does the civil war legacy still affect Greek politics and society? Also, to what extent can the political use of history be avoided?

It was inevitable that the bitterly fought civil war between 1946 to 1949 should have cast a long shadow over Greece even after the end of hostilities. The Colonels’ dictatorship that misruled Greece between 1967 and 1974 can be seen, in some sense, as an attempt to stop the trend towards the liberalisation of politics and society that by that time was under way. But one consequence of the dictatorship’s downfall was the legalisation of the Communist Party of Greece, which was an indication of how much the political climate had changed in the country. It is important always to bear in mind the saying that history tends to be written by the victors.

You seem to adopt a critical stance towards the “progonoplexia” (ancestor fixation) and the “arkhaiolatreia” (excessive, obsessive reverence for antiquity). In a similar vein, you denounce the belief that there is an unbroken continuity between ancient and present-day Greeks, which expands well beyond the linguistic continuity to include race and culture. How has this belief affected Greece’s history and to what extent is it still alive and relevant today?

Given the extraordinarily rich heritage of ancient Greece, it is understandable that some Greeks are given to progonoplexia, which has been translated as ancestoritis. But the focus on ancient Greece both in Greece itself and in the world in general, has sometimes been at the expense of understanding the rich, and at times tragic, history of the Greeks in modern times. I try to avoid using terms such as Modern Greece and Modern Greeks. I prefer to use the terms Greece, Byzantine Greece and ancient Greece. I call my short history of Greece in modern times A Concise History of Greece, although it begins in circa 1770. An Oxford colleague John Boardman has written a book with the title The Greeks Overseas. One might expect such a book to be devoted to the world-wide Greek diaspora in modern times.   It is, in fact, a study of Magna Graecia, the Greek colonies in antiquity

In your book you refer to the controversy over the Macedonian issue. To what extent is this controversy related to the troubled history of the Balkans? In your opinion, how could the Prespes agreement affect the future of the region?

The Balkans have in modern times been a source of conflict. In the 1990s, following the disintegration of Yugoslavia, the region again erupted in violence. The Prespes agreement holds out the prospect of a peaceful settlement to a long-running conflict. Relations between the USA and Mexico are currently poor. The existence of a US state called New Mexico, however, is not the reason for this.

concise3Greece is recovering from an 8-year crisis which has had major effects on its political system and society. In the latest edition of your book “A Concise History of Greece”, updated in 2013, you expected the road to recovery to be “long, arduous and painful” but remained hopeful that “on past precedent” recovery could be achieved. Which historical precedents account for this optimism?

The current crisis in Greece has inflicted hardship on much of the Greek population. But Greece did prove to be able to recover from two earlier crises in the twentieth century. The first was the catastrophic defeat in Asia minor in the early 1920s, which led to the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey and the influx of over a million refugees into a country with an existing population of five and a half million. This caused considerable strain, but the resettlement of the refugees was a remarkable achievement. In fewer than twenty years, however, Greece was to experience a barbarous occupation by Germany, Italy and Bulgaria. This was accompanied by one of the most serious famines to occur in Europe in modern times. Alongside this was one of the most serious inflationary outbreaks ever recorded. Moreover, when the occupation ended, Greece experienced a bitterly fought civil war. But, despite the disasters of the decade of the 1940s, Greece in the forty years after the end of the civil war experienced a remarkable recovery, and went from being a poor country to a relatively rich one. In comparison with her Balkan neighbours during the same period, Greece was a marked success.

You have studied not only the history of Greeks who lived within the borders of the Greek state, but also the history of the large Greek diaspora. What is the contribution of Greece’s diaspora to the development of modern Greece? How could the ‘new diaspora’ – the large number of young Greeks who left Greece during the crisis of the last decade – contribute to Greece’s recovery?

Greece is a classic diaspora nation. Rather like Scotland in the 19th century, poverty gave a powerful impetus to emigration, which, is reflected in the sizeable diaspora populations in the USA, Australia and elsewhere. One of the great successes of the diaspora was that the Greek-Americans were able to mobilise and exert pressure to get the British government to partially relax its economic blockade at the time of the famine, enabling food to be imported. Sadly, one of the consequences of the recent crisis is a further migratory wave, which has led to significant numbers of young Greeks once again taking the path of emigration. Whether those making up this ‘new diaspora’ will in time return remains to be seen.

Greece’s historically close relations with Britain entered a new phase when Greece joined the EU in 1981. What has Greece gained from its EU membership?

Greece has certainly benefitted from membership of the EU, which, above all, has succeeded in keeping the peace in a continent devastated in two world wars during the twentieth century. It is noteworthy that, unlike the UK, there is no serious movement in Greece to leave the EU. In the current climate of instability in the world, Greeks have had the sense to realise that membership of such a union affords a degree of stability and protection which they would not have if their country were not a member of the EU.

You retired from St Antony’s College at Oxford in 2005, but you remain active in your field. What are you currently involved in and what are your plans for the future?

It’s an old cliché that a person is often never busier than in retirement. One of the advantages of academic life is that one can carry on working, writing and researching, if one wants to. I am currently working on what will very likely be my last book. This will examine the role of the Special Operations in Greece during the occupation, a project on which I have been working for many years.

* Interview by Nancy Andriopoulou, Press Secretary at the Press Office of the Embassy of Greece in London.

gerstel1Sharon Gerstel is Professor of Byzantine Art and Archaeology at the Department of Art History at UCLA. She is also the Acting Director of the UCLA Stavros Niarchos Foundation Center for the Study of Hellenic Culture (UCLA SNF), and former Associate Director of the UCLA Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

Professor Gerstel’s work focuses on the intersection of ritual and art in Byzantium and the Latin East. Her books include Beholding the Sacred Mysteries (1999) and Rural Lives and Landscapes in Late Byzantium: Art, Archaeology and Ethnography (2015), which was awarded the 2016 Runciman Prize, the inaugural book prize by the International Center of Medieval Art (ICMA), and the Maria Theocharis Prize from the Christian Archaeological Society in Greece. Gerstel has also edited several books such as Viewing the Morea: Land and People in the Late Medieval Peloponnese (2012); and Viewing Greece: Cultural and Political Agency in the Medieval and Early Modern Mediterranean (2016).

Gerstel has been the recipient of numerous awards, including a J. Simon Guggenheim Fellowship (2011-2012). As an archaeologist, she has worked at numerous excavations in Greece, both as a field director and as a ceramics specialist. She currently serves on the editorial boards of the journals Hesperia, Gesta, Viator, and Zograf and of the series Studies in the Visual Culture of the Middle Ages. Her current research focuses on the intersection of music, architecture, and monumental decoration.

Professor Gerstel spoke* to Reading Greece about her interest in Byzantine History, which has prompted her to examine multiple aspects of religious and secular life, art and politics in medieval and even modern-day Greece, often with a focus on rural communities. She also described the role of the UCLA SNF Center in the Southern California Hellenic community, and its collaboration with the Los Angeles Greek Film Festival.

gerstel2As an art historian, what was it that sparked your interest in Byzantium?

During my first class in Byzantine History, my professor broke down in tears as he described the effects of the Fourth Crusade on Constantinople. I was hooked. I couldn’t imagine why students in the United States, who learn all about the medieval West in high school, never encounter Byzantium. For me, Byzantine History opened my eyes to a culture that has long been marginalized in our studies.

In your book, for which you were awarded the 2016 Runciman Prize, you try to reconstruct the lives of the rural population in late Medieval Greece using a wide range of sources. In other books and publications, you also study various aspects of life in Byzantium, such as political agency or women’ position. Was it your research in Byzantine art that lead you to delve deeper into matters of ethnographic interest?

My work has always focused on people – medieval women, monks, farmers, etc. In my research, I try to interweave the lives of those who lived in the past with those who occupy the same spaces in the present. Even though the lives of villagers have changed considerably over the centuries, people living in small, traditional settlements still worship in the same churches, walk the same paths, use the same local words for plants and animals, and share the same core values. In the course of my work, there have been some surprising connections uncovered between the past and the present. The last name of a medieval monastic donor that I discovered in an abandoned church in Ano Poula, Mani, for example, is the same as the name of a pharmacist in Areopolis. The pharmacist was delighted to hear about this connection and I gave him photographs of someone who was likely his ancestor. These kinds of connections enrich one’s understanding of the continuities of life in rural settings and encourage modern-day Greeks to take an interest in their past. Some of my greatest insights into Byzantine rural culture have come from prolonged discussions with elderly villagers. In strange ways, these connections extend all the way to Los Angeles. The church featured on the cover of my book, the beautiful Agetria, is located on ancestral lands belonging to a family that partially lives in Southern California.

Together with Chris Kyriakakis (USC) you are co-director of the interdisciplinary research project “Bodies and Spirits: Soundscapes of Byzantium,” which concerns the acoustics of the Byzantine churches of Thessaloniki – another example of your wide range of research interests. Are you preparing any other projects as part of your research on the intersection of music, architecture, and monumental decoration?

We are preparing to continue the project as soon as the team frees itself from other obligations. In the meantime, I have been lecturing around the world about our project, including a recent lecture in Constantinople and an upcoming lecture at a Middle School in Texas! People interested in hearing more about the project can listen to a podcast at https://soundcloud.com/escape-velocity-197738573/episode-1-acoustic-museums. We have been in discussions with two monasteries and with several offices of the archaeological service about measuring sound. We look for buildings that are as intact as possible, that is, they preserve their original form of architecture, painting, and furnishings. One building of interest to me is the Church of the Dormition at Kalambaka, which preserves its medieval ambo. Several years ago, I had an amazing conversation with His Eminence Serafim, Metropolitan of Stagoi and Meteora, about the church. We sat at his desk for an hour and drew architectural renderings of dome profiles together. He was extremely interested in the project and encouraged us to measure churches at Meteora and elsewhere in his jurisdiction.

Gerstel3Pr. Sharon Gerstel with film director Tassos Boulmetis and CEO of Earth Friendly Products Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks

You are also the Acting Director of the UCLA Stavros Niarchos Foundation Center for the Study of Hellenic Culture; according to its mission statement, it aims to become “a vibrant cultural hub for the sizable Los Angeles Greek community”, in addition to its teaching and research mission. How would you describe its purpose? As part of its Faculty Advisory Committee, which are your aspirations for the future?

Our Center is looking at ways to think broadly about Hellenism and the connection of Greece to other cultures. An upcoming program on the Greek Village, for example, begins with ancient villages, before turning to Byzantine villages. The program incorporates anthropologists looking at traditional village culture and even a lecture on the Greek-American village. Like many of our programs, the symposium concludes with two short films, one about a village restoration project in Crete, and another about a church restoration project in the Mani. This deep engagement in Greece’s past – not only the ancient world, but what came after the so-called Golden Age – is critical to our Center. What is unusual about our Center is its mandate to engage with the Southern California Hellenic community. Many of our programs are intended to attract members of the local community and ask them to think more broadly about Hellenic topics. An upcoming performance that we are sponsoring of the Greek Rebetiko Trio, for example, focuses on the Yedikule in Thessaloniki. In addition to hearing music stimulated by the horrific conditions in the prison, a Greek actor will be performing dramatic readings from letters of the prisoners, and the audience will be seeing photos from the interior of the prison. Thus, we are asking the community not only to hear the music, but to step into the prison and hear the words of those locked behind its doors. All of our events are intended to engage the community at a number of levels – intellectually, emotionally, and through the senses. We hope our events offer something new and impactful. We are also reaching out into the community through collaborations with local organizations. We have held several events at St. Sophia Cathedral, and have collaborated on events with the Hellenic University Club, the Greek Heritage Society, and the Los Angeles Greek Film Festival. These collaborations enrich both the university and local communities.

What was the nature of the UCLA Stavros Niarchos Foundation Center’s recent collaboration with the 12th Annual Los Angeles Greek Film Festival? Is it set to continue in the future?

Our first collaboration with the Los Angeles Greek Film Festival brought UCLA alumnus Tassos Boulmetis back to his alma mater for the US premier of 1968. The reception of the film was so positive that UCLA successfully applied to the Onassis Foundation to bring Boulmetis to teach two courses in fall 2019. As Onassis Distinguished Visiting Professor, Boulmetis will be offering courses in the Department of Classics and in Theater, Film and Television. While in Los Angeles, he will also be screening 1968 for the Hellenic Society of Constantinople. We have already established June 3, 2019, for the UCLA opening of the Los Angeles Greek Film Festival in the Bridges Theater, and we are already in discussions about how to make this opening even more special than the last one. Our collaboration with the LAGFF extends past the actual days of the festival, however. The Festival will participate in our upcoming symposium, The Greek Village, and we have hosted other screenings on campus throughout the year, something we plan to continue. Considering our location in Los Angeles, our collaboration with the Los Angeles Greek Film Festival offers exciting opportunities for the campus and local community. Hosting Greek films and filmmakers on the UCLA campus provides an opportunity for students and faculty members to be exposed to Greek films, actors, screenwriters, costume designers and to think about opportunities to collaborate with their Greek counterparts.

gerstel4Pr. Sharon Gerstel with Metaxia Anapliote

In your opening for Rural Lives and Landscapes in Late Byzantium you write that you tried to view the Greek landscape “from the heart”. Would you like to elaborate on that?

My work for the book involved interviewing many elderly villages in the Mani, and these interactions profoundly changed my work as a scholar. The book opens with the story of an elderly Maniatissa, Mrs. Kanella Georgopoulou Kassi, who led me over very rough landscape to find a tenth-century church that was standing in isolation. Throughout our walk, we chatted about her village and about life in the Mani. I had occasion to visit her one time after our initial walk. My last interaction with her was to visit her grave, which led to a long journey of trying to discover where her bones had been placed after they were disinterred. My current project on the church of Hagioi Theodoroi, Vamvaka, began with a conversation with another Maniatissa, Metaxia Anapliote, who visited the eleventh-century church delay to fulfill a vow she had made to the saints. This beloved Maniatissa died tragically last February. I am currently trying to raise funds through a non-profit to restore the church of Hagioi Theodoroi, which would be a tribute to Metaxia and to other villagers in the Mani who have valiantly tried to preserve their cultural patrimony in very difficult economic times. I have been very blessed to be allowed to become a part of the fabric of the Mani – to respect the hard work of so many who live there, to be part of their conversations and be entrusted with their concerns, and to admire their intelligence and fortitude. I think it would be wonderful if every American child could be part of such a society, even temporarily. One program the Center is considering is to bring American high school children to live in a Greek village for several weeks in order to experience the profound love that villagers have for the land, their innate sense of philotimia, and their close family structures.

*Interview by Nefeli Mosaidi

Read also via Greek News Agenda: Reading Greece | Professor Gonda Van Steen on her lifelong fascination with all things Greek; Kevin Andrews’ journey into Greece;

Read also via Filming Greece: 12th Annual Los Angeles Greek Film Festival: Bringing Greek Cinema at the heart of Hollywood; Film Director Tassos Boulmetis: Strangely Enough, the Crisis Promotes Greek Cinema; Greek Film Festivals of the Diaspora: The Old and the New

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Alexis Heraclides is Professor of International Relations and Conflict Resolution at the Department of Political Science and History of the Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences. He has served as senior advisor on minorities and human rights at the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1983-1995) and has written about seventy papers in scholarly journals, as well as six books in English and thirteen in Greek, including, The Self-Determination of Minorities in International Politics (1991),  The Cyprus Question: Conflict and Resolution (2002) [in Greek], The Greek-Turkish Conflict in the Aegean: Imagined Enemies (2010), and with Ada Dialla, Humanitarian Intervention in the Long Nineteenth Century: Setting the Precedent (2015).

As a public intellectual Professor Heraclides often contributes to the debate on foreign policy issues in Greece with his -often considered controversial- opinion articles. Ηis most recent intervention was the publication of two books; one that offers an overall assesment of the Greek foreign policy ("National Issues and Ethnocentrism: A Critique of Greek Foreign Policy, 2018, in Greek) and one that provieds a historical and political review of the Macedonian issue (The Macedonian Question 1878-1918: From national claims to conflicting national identities" 2018, in Greek).

Professor Heraclides spoke to Rethinking Greece* about foreign policy formation in Greece on the basis of "national issues"; ethnocentrism as an obstacle to the resolution of these issues; Greece's historical advantage as the fisrt country in the Balkans to become an independent state; the difficult future of Greek-Turkish relations post-2015 Erdoğan; what he foresees in the Cyprus issue; his assessment of the Prespes Agreement as favorable for Greece and finally, the importance of establishing a secure national identity for the country, grounded on Greece's very worthwhile cultural and scientific contributions to the modern world.

Why two books, one Greece’s ‘national issues’ overall, and another for the "Macedonian Question" in the current conjecture?

“National issues” is a term routinely used in Greece, although in my research I found out that to a considerable extent, the term is also used in a similar manner in Turkey. In other countries, for example in the Philippines or India, ‘national issues’ refer to poverty, illiteracy, corruption and so on, that is issues that are of a domestic nature. Understanding foreign policy issues basically as national issues is the reason why Greeks have paid an enormous economic and diplomatic capital to defend these issues, and have done so, most of the time unsuccessfully, based on misperceptions.

Whenever a 'national issue' comes to the fore, like Cyprus Issue, the Aegean, or the Macedonian Question, it becomes very emotional, deeply affecting the Greek public and this does not permit the government in charge -or the opposition- to be more rational and balanced in its approach. If you want to succeed in foreign policy-making, you should go about it in a rational manner (the ‘rational actor model’ as it is known in foreign policy analysis), trying to limit the costs and increase the gains. However if emotions prevail, it is very difficult to do so. I think that the key reason for this malaise, which I used in my book on national issues, and which also pervades my book on the Macedonian Question, is “ethnocentrism,” namely Greek ethnocentrism.

Ethnocentrism is a concept conceived by William Graham Sumner, an American sociologist, more than a hundred years ago. It means that you regard your nation as the centre of the world and this applies to your viewpoint, that it is beyond reproach; and all the other nations are seen from this ethnocentric perspective and by and large in a negative light. And there emerges a kind of hierarchy: the adversaries are not worthy; they are morally and culturally inferior and so on. You obviously cannot solve a conflict if you regard your nation or state as being always on the right and just, and the other side by definition wrong, unjust or aggressive. I believe that ethnocentrism is the main reason why Greece has allowed all these ‘national issues’ to be with us, for decades, unwieldy, painful and unresolved.

My basic point is that if Greece resolves these questions, as hopefully is now the case with the Macedonian question, with the June 2018 Prespes Agreement, if it resolves its so-called national issues, it will come to be regarded as a very responsible, constructive and mature state in this region of the world and it will be able to attain ‘soft power’, and most important of all earn the respect and friendship of its neighbours, which is now in short supply.  

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Prof. Heraclides' latest books left to right: "The Macedonian Question 1878-1918: From national claims to conflicting national identities" (2018), "National Issues and Ethnocentrism: A Critique of Greek Foreign Policy" (2018) 

With the outbreak of the crisis in Greece, foreign policy issues took a backseat, as financial and economic issues monopolized the scene. This has changed in recent years with the Macedonian and Cyprus issues as well as the Aegean back on the agenda. What is your view about the level of public debate in Greece on these issues, by both journalists and experts in international relations?

The level of public debate is disappointing, though it is an improvement by comparison to previous decades, for instance as regards scholars who had been previously anti-Slav-Macedonian, some of them have switched their position. This is probably due the fact that the previous foreign minister, Nikos Kotzias, was able to convince some nationalists to accept the solution of the Macedonian issue as an ‘honourable compromise’. Some nationalists also happen to be pragmatists; they realize that if you have an unresolved issue since the early 90s, and 150 states have already recognized this country with its constitutional name (“Republic of Macedonia”) time is not on the side of Greece.

At the end of the day, the basic thrust of most Greek (or Greek Cypriot) nationalists is that if we are more patient, and wait a bit longer, the time will be ripe for ‘us’ to gain all that our heart desires on national issues. As regards Turkey and Cyprus, the ultra-nationalist Greek argument runs as follows: since president Erdoğan and Turkey are getting themselves into more trouble by the day, and there is also the awesome Kurdish issue to reckon with, at some point Turkey will become weaker, it will collapse and split into two or more parts (with the creation of a Kurdish state in the east). This would be the ideal situation for ‘us’ to have the whole of Cyprus (after all ‘Cyprus is Greek’ according to a well-know slogan). My counter-argument to the ultra-nationalists is that Turkey´s disintegration is highly improbable; but if, for the sake of argument, we accept this far-fetched scenario, a future smaller Turkish state would still be still be a very large state -60 million strong- still with geopolitical clout, given its geographical position; without the Kurds, it would be more cohesive, with a vibrant Turkish national identity and therefore, even more threatening to Greece. However, may I point out that in many scholarly works on Greek-Turkish relations and in my many articles in the press from the mid-1990s onwards, I have repeatedly pointed out that, until very recently, Turkey was not threatening towards Greece and had no aggressive or expansionist tendencies towards Greece. The so called “Eastern Threat’ was a Greek self-serving myth. 

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Another area where things are slightly better is the question of the Aegean: for instance the Kathimerini newspaper, which is conservative but prestigious by the standards of the Greek press, has come up with a number of articles in its Sunday additions that are slightly more favourable towards a solution, and take into consideration Turkey’s concerns as legitimate interests. The real problem with the Aegean standstill and the lack of solution boils down to the fact that for most Greeks - nationalists and including even non-nationalists - is that they tend to view the Aegean as a ‘Greek lake’ or ‘Greek Sea’; they somehow forget (there again we see Greek ethnocentrism) that there is another country on the other side of the Aegean with a very extended coastline on this sea. 

Nationalism has played a key role in  modern European history. Do you think that Greece is more ethnocentric than other countries?

That is a good question. Greece is definitely more ethnocentric than, say, the Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands or Belgium. But there are other nations or states that are similarly ethnocentric, such as the Russians, the Serbs, the Albanians, the Slav-Macedonians, the Bulgarians, the Israelis, and certainly the Turks. Thus I wouldn’t say that the Greeks are more ethnocentric. However I would say that they are more to blame for being ethnocentric. Let me elaborate this assertion of mine. Greece was the first state in the Balkans to become independent, the first nation-state in this part of the world; all the Christians of the Balkans at the time –apart from the Serbs– wanted to become Greeks, because as ‘Greeks’, be it in the Greek state or in the Ottoman Empire, they could experience upwards social mobility, from illiterate peasants that they were initially, they could attain the status of the literate middle or upper class.

Compared to other states which became independent much later in the Balkans and the Near East, Greece is in a much better position, and thus it should have been more relaxed and confident than it is. Experts on the Balkans, like Evangelos Kofos and academics such as Christos Rozakis, Thanos VeremisAntonis Liakos and others have pointed out that when, after the end of the Cold War, the other Balkan countries left the communist bloc, Greece didn’t promote good relations with them and instead of becoming  part of the solution, it became part of the Balkan problem. This is why I am blaming the Greeks. I regard it a responsibility on my part as a public intellectual to focus my criticism on my countrymen and countrywomen, rather than to blame other peoples and states. However, in my academic publications, when studying conflicts and trying to suggest win-win solutions for two adversaries, I have treated all ultra-nationalists as the main parties responsible for these unending ethnic or national conflicts, as for instance, with Serbia and Kosovo, Bosnia, Israel and the Palestinians and other cases across the world.  

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Battle Scene From The Greek War Of Independence, by German painter Georg Perlberg (1807-1884)

As you point out in your book on the national issues, Greek-Turkish relations have been cordial during certain periods of time, therefore they are not necessarily ‘doomed’ to be always tense and in a state of rivalry. But by now a huge psychological barrier has been created between the two countries. Can it be bridged? How do you see Greek-Turkish relations evolving?

The future of Greek-Turkish relations is bleak and almost alarming due to post-2015 Erdoğan. So long as we have Erdoğan as the Turkish leader there is little chance of relations getting any better. The name of the game at the moment is mainly skilful conflict management, so that things do not to get out of hand and we end up with a clash. His role is detrimental, primarily for his own country, at various levels (government, diplomacy, ideology, culture, even aesthetics).  So long as Erdoğan holds sway, no Greek national issue linked with Turkey (Aegean, Cyprus, minorities) can be resolved. But please note that the original Erdoğan was completely different, virtually someone else: he had switched Turkey’s negative position on resolving the Cyprus Problem (accepting the federal formula), he was ready to accept Greece getting more than six miles of territorial waters in the Aegean dispute, do away with the casus belli threat in the Aegean, and a more benign approach toward the Patiarchate and the Greek minority in Istanbul, not to mention his overtures toward resolving the Kurdish problem in Turkey. Not being a Turkish specialist, I have great difficulty trying to logically explain why this change has occurred since 2016 or since 2011 or 2012 to be more exact, given the fact that it is the very same person who suddenly joined the nationalist club. Previously he was not a nationalist, and as a result was supported by liberal and leftist Turkish intellectuals, as well as by many Kurds who actually chose to vote for his party, the AKP, instead of the Kurdish party. Perhaps his original posture was simply the result of him being surrounded by educated, open-minded and more sophisticated individuals within the AKP, such as Abdullah Gül, Ahmet Davutoğlu and others. At that time Erdoğan sincerely wanted Turkey to become a part of Europe, to join the EU, and he did other positive things as well, such as drastically diminishing the clout of the military. But he gradually changed, and now we have before us a mixture of follie de grandeur and corruption, and the question with corruption is, as Lord Acton had famously put it: ‘power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. And to think that originally, Erdoğan’s party, AKP, was the ‘white party’ in the sense that it was clean of corruption, like SYRIZA is today in Greece.

 
800px Treaty of Sèvres map partitioning Anatolia

Another matter is the ‘Sèvres syndrome” or ‘Sèvres phobia’, which I mention in my book on the Greek national issues. This is a kind of reflex activated in Turkey whenever things don’t turn out well at the international level: the Turks tend to blame the West for wanting to ‘dismember Turkey’, as it had happened with the Treaty of Sèvres in 1920, which went as far as partitioning even Asia Minor. That treaty provided for a Turkey that would been one fourth of the size of today’s Turkey, hence the Sèvres nightmare for the Turks. They have another nightmare, which is the bygone ‘Megali Idea’ of the Greeks (the irredentist Great Idea of Greece from the 1850s until 1922). If you ask Turkish university students what they know about Greece, at a minimum they will tell you two things:  that Athens is the capital, and that the ‘Megali Idea’ is still alive in Greece. As for the Sèvres syndrome, it is not a conspiracy theory of the people in the street who have no knowledge of international politics; it is taken on board by a great part of the elite, many hard-line diplomats and politicians and even by academics, and they sincerely believe it till this very day. That is indeed worrying. For if you feel threatened and cornered, however mistakenly, you may react unpredictably and aggressively.  

Thinking aloud I was contemplating the missed opportunities with Turkey, and that today’s Turkey is indeed how the Greek nationalists always wanted it to be. They have always dreamt of having a Turkey as bad as the one of today, from 2016 onwards, or even worse. Imagine if Turkey had become a part of Europe, say during the mid-1990’s, it would have not reached this dismal point; the power of the military would have been limited; the power of Islam limited;  and the country would have been more European and democratic than it is today. But who was responsible for not allowing Turkey to join the ‘charmed circle’ of the EU? Greece with its repeated veto throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

After the deadlock in negotiations between the President of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiades and  Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı in 2017, what can we expect next on the Cyprus issue?

I don’t expect anything positive to happen. It is going to be Plan B, a divided Cyprus with two states, hopefully as a result of a ‘velvet divorce’ and not an adversarial one. The ethnocentric approach on the Cyprus issue is the following, among Greeks and Greek Cypriots alike: ‘“Cyprus is Greek’. If Cyprus is Greek, then the issue is never going to be resolved, for it implies that the Turkish Cypriots should either be treated like a minority, or disappear into thin air, that is leave by boat or plane to Turkey. My first ever newspaper article on the Cyprus issue (1996, newspaper To Vima) was on how to resolve the Cyprus Problem and I suggested a loose consociational federation. At the time I was attacked by some Greek hawkish academics and by officials of the Cypriot Embassy as a traitor and pro-Turkish. I still believe that the best possible solution is a loose bicommunal bizonal federation. Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots have been living partially divided from 1964, and completely divided from 1974 onwards. I know the percentages are not helpful. Given the percentage of 80% Greek Cypriots and of 20% Turk Cypriots, it is not easy for the Greek Cypriots to accept the other side as their partner on the basis of equality. However, I believe it is the only way to bring the two ethnic communities back together.

I have told the Greek Cypriots from time to time, that in a loose federation they would be nominally (legally) equal, but in substance it’s going to be more like a firm with a senior partner and a junior partner. In my opinion, given the fact that the Greek-Cypriots are richer and better educated, it is the Turkish Cypriots who have to be protected, since they are obviously the underdog in Cyprus. I would say that the problem with the Greek Cypriots is that, alas, the majority (I calculate them to be 60 to 70%) is indeed hard-line and most of them are relatively well-off, so they have difficulty contemplating power-sharing with the poorer Turkish-Cypriots. 

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 Old map of Cyprus by Janssonius J., first edition: 1638

Τhe Prespes Agreement, singed this summer between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has caused political upheaval in both countries. How do you evaluate the agreement?

The best known Greek expert on the Macedonian question, who is now in his mid-80s, is Evangelos Kofos. He served as an expert at the ministry of Foreign Affairs for three decades. As the official historian of the Greek state on the issue of Macedonia he presented the Greek point of view, but in a sophisticated and subtle manner. In 1992 when the issue blew up under Antonis Samaras as Foreign minister, Kofos was sidelined. They didn´t want to listen to his advice, because his basic concept was that Macedonia was a geographical region, which in 1913 was divided among three states: Bulgaria, Greece and the Yugoslavia. Thus Macedonia is a geographical term that applies to all three of them; no country should monopolize the term Macedonia, so you need to add an adjective to be specific about which part of the region you refer to.

What I defend in my book on the Macedonian Question and in the relevant chapter in the book on the national issues, is a self-standing and viable agreement, ideally one that is either win-win or of the split-the-difference kind.  Usually what happens when a deal is clinched is that the two parties tend to see it as of split the differences kind, that is of having more or less equal gains and losses; the win-win perspective comes later, once the fruits of the resolution become more apparent, with good relations, economic exchanges, contacts and so on. My assessment of the Prespes Agreement is that it tends to be lop-sided in favour of Greece. Of course according to the Greek nationalists, this is not the case, because ‘we’ should not have given them the two things in particular: the ‘Macedonian language’ and the ‘Macedonian citizenship’, not least because it could imply also ethnicity or lapse into ethnicity or nationhood.

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Map of Greece, Benaki Museum

Now as for the Macedonian language, it has been recognized as such by the United Nations since the days of Konstantinos Karamanlis’ premiership. During a United Nations conference that took place in 1977, in Athens, the Macedonian language was mentioned as being a distinct Balkan Slav language by the Yugoslav representative and the Greek representative at the conference raised no objections. So we are not giving them anything on that score, it is theirs since 1977. As regards citizenship, they have accepted to change their name to North Macedonia, to change their name and their collective national identity which they have since 1944, for 75 whole years – we are talking about three generations who have known their country as Macedonia and themselves as Macedonians. This a great sacrifice for them. Hence they had to be given something in return, and that is at least their citizenship as Macedonian. Furthermore, they have to change a number of articles in their Constitution (something very unusual by the standards of international diplomacy, such a thing happens following a defeat in a war), as well as changes in the schoolbooks and so on. The burden is on their side; they have to do all this, and Greece got off scot-free regarding a couple of things that, to my mind, should have been included in the Prespes Agreement for it to have been better balanced and win-win for both parties.

For example, for some reason, I cannot fathom why, the negotiators on the other side, did not press the Greeks to include something about the famous ‘phantom minority’, as put by a Konstantinos Mitsotakis and other Greek politicians across the political spectrum. The members of this ‘phantom minority’ are Greek citizens, who reside in the north of Greece, in Florina, Pella and Kastoria. They are the majority in some regions and they happen to speak another language; Slav-Macedonian or perhaps a Bulgarian dialect is their mother tongue. They exist, they are there; you can go and see them and speak to them (they are bilingual). I reckon that roughly half of them regard themselves by now as Greek, because Greek identity, even today, like in the 19th century is more attractive than other Balkan identities -especially those of new and insecure national identities. They say that they are of Slavic origin but they are now Greeks, they have chosen to be Greek. However, the other half of these people, regard themselves as something different and remember how their ancestors were treated under the Metaxas dictatorship and in the 1950s. Half of them fled Greece at the end of the civil war; note that the Slavo-Macedonians were the majority of ELAS (Greek People's Liberation Army) in the second part of the 1940s, during the Greek Civil War. Their numbers now in northern Greece are very limited. So there is no threat whatsoever to the territorial integrity of Greece, a powerful country by Balkan standards, with a strong army, navy and air-force. How can it possibly be threatened by a country that barely has an army? I finish my book on the Macedonian Question by saying that if the Prespes Agreement is to be self-standing, duly implemented and so on, something should have been added with regard to that minority and I suggest the use of the term, not minority which is a loaded term in Greece, but ‘ethnic group’ or a ‘linguistic group’ for those of them that regard themselves as ethnically non-Greek, on the basis of the fundamental human right principle of self-definition.

Because a number of people in Greece are going to be furious with I have just said and written in my book, I added a footnote, in the last page of my book on the Macedonian Question: I point out that this was exactly my proposal to foreign minister Antonis Samaras almost 30 years ago, in February 1991 in a top secret document (which I called a non-non paper) which I sent him and which he did read. So if I may so, if I held that view then as a functionary of the Greek foreign ministry, I may be allowed to hold the same view now as an academic with far greater freedom of speech.

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Prime minister of the Former Yugoslav Republic of MacedoniaZoran Zaef and
Prime Minister of Greece Alexis Tsipras at the signing of the Prespes Agreement
(17.06.19 Credits: Athens News Agency)

What role can Greece play in its region (South East Europe, Eastern Mediterranean), especially in view of current geopolitical developments?

To the extent that it resolves its outstanding national issues -except with Turkey, as I said this is a special case due to the Erdoğan factor- but, if it resolves the issues with other countries like Albania and North Macedonia, Greece can play a very constructive role in the region. But it should leave aside its arrogance. Greeks, politicians and citizens alike need to understand that all the other countries, or most of them (except some ‘rogue states’ or ‘criminal states’) are equally important, and should be equally respected. This goes back to the theory of nationalism in the 19th century. Then there were two schools of thought on the matter within the spirit of nationalism: one was Fitchte’s, who advocated a ‘favourite nation’, in the sense that ‘my nation’ is better than other nations, it has a greater contribution to world civilization; and the other was the approach of Mazzini and partly Herder before him, that ‘all nations are important’, and worthy of respect qua nations, there can be no hierarchy among them. The moment you have a hierarchy, you have ethnocentrism and you make a mess of it, especially with your neighbours across the border; because other nations are obviously not going to agree with you when they realize that you regard yourself superior to them. Another problem with the Greeks, apart from believing they are the direct descendants of the ancient Greeks, who are unsurpassable as the cradle of European civilization, is that at the same time, they compare themselves with the great civilizations of Europe (from the Renaissance until today), the French, the British, the Germans, the Italians, the Russians. You cannot compare with them!

If we Greeks compared ourselves with smaller nations in our own league as it were, such as Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Romania, Serbia or Bulgaria, we would discover that we have done very well in modern times. For example, some important composers of modern classical music are Greeks, such as Nikos Skalkottas, Anestis Logothetis, Yiannis Papaioannou, Michael Adamis, Jani Christou and Iannis Xenakis. Modern Greece has had a very worthwhile cultural and scientific contribution to the modern world, despite its relatively small population. So there is no need for an insecure national identity that breads haughtiness and arrogance towards one’s neighbours.

Read more via Greek News Agenda and Rethinking Greece: 

*Interview by Ioulia Livaditi and Nikolas Nenedakis

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Historia (1892). Greek painter Nikolaos Gyzis (1842-1901). Oil on panel

androula 1Dr. Androula Nassiopoulou is Director of Research at the Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (INN) of the National Centre for Scientific Research “Demokritos”, coordinates the Nanoelectrinics, Photonics and Microsystems programme of the Institute and is the Head of the “Nanostructures for Nanoelectronics, Photonics and Sensors” research group. In November 2018 she was honoured with the “UNESCO Medal for outstanding contribution to the development of nanoscience and nanotechnologies” for her research in Si nanostructures for Nanoelectronics and sensors. She was the only woman among the ten recipients of the 2018 Award.

Dr. Nassiopoulou received a B.Sc. degree in Physics from the University of Athens and M.Sc. and Ph.D degrees from the University of Paris XI. She then became Associate Professor at the University of Reims, from where she received the habilitation to direct research in 1985. She joined NCSR Demokritos in 1986 and served as Director of the Centre’s Institute of Microelectronics (IMEL) from 1996 to 2009. Among other distinguished positions, she was also member of the board of Management of NCSR Demokritos in 1996-2009 and Vice President of NCSR Demokritos in 2001-2003, founder and first President of Greek Scientific Society “Micro & Nano” and member of the Governing Board of the European Institute of Nanoelectronics (Sinano), where she is currently Chairperson of the General Assembly.

On the occasion of her recent award, Dr. Nassiopoulou spoke* to Greek News Agenda on the evolution of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, the practical applications of the Si nanostructures fabricated by her research group and the prospects of this scientific field.

Mrs. Nassiopoulou, you have been recently the recipient of the UNESCO medal for outstanding contribution to Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, an award attributed to few scientists worldwide. How do you feel about this distinction?

UNESCO is the United Nations Organisation for Education and Culture, promoting peace and sustainable development for all, working for establishing the conditions for dialogue among people, civilisations and cultures. Science and Education are two very important pillars towards the above objectives. This is why I feel really honored and proud to be the recipient of an award from that organisation. At the same time I feel that this distinction creates me an obligation to contribute more actively to the above goals. I also believe that this award belongs not only to me, but also to all of my collaborators in research all over the years, to my Research Center NCSR Demokritos in Athens, Greece, but also to my family which always supported me in my work. It is my great pleasure to dedicate this award to all of them.

When did nanotechnology first appear, what does it target and in which fields could it be applied?

The field of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology is a very fast growing cutting-edge field, starting from the early 1990s, with novel applications in all fields of life. It emerged as an expansion of Microelectronics and Integrated Circuit technology, in which the search for faster, lower cost and smaller devices led to today’s very powerful Nanoelectronics technology. This has been achieved by just shrinking the critical size of active devices from the micron to the nanoscale. By reducing the dimensions, tremendous new possibilities in speed and functionality have been opened, based on the very different properties of materials at the nanoscale compared to those of bulk materials. Data processing, transmission of information and storage first profited from the above development. We all followed this revolution the last years in computing and communication systems. When reaching the nanometer scale of active electronic devices, we discovered that all low-dimensional materials - such as nanocrystals, nanofibers or films with nanometer thickness- have completely different properties from those of bulk three-dimensional materials. Differences relate to all their properties, including electrical, dielectric, optical (light emission and absorption, light reflectivity), thermal conductivity and other properties, as well as their compatibility and interaction with living cells and other matter. These new properties opened important new possibilities to design and develop new applications. Thus, a new science and technology branch, called Nanotechnology, came into being, which is a ground-breaking science in which all properties of nanometer-scale materials and devices need to be re-invented. The study and understanding of these new properties and the development of new applications has spread to all areas of human activity. Nanotechnology has been characterised as a cutting-edge enabling technology, which created a new industrial revolution based on high added value products.The first applications concerned information processing and storage technologies (microprocessors, electronic memories), with direct application to our computers and telecommunication systems, but they quickly expanded into a large number of novel devices, including high performance miniaturised sensors, biosensors, medical applications, biology, biotechnology, new complex construction materials with excellent properties, cosmetics, food, transport materials and equipment and in any other application in all fields of life. For the development of the above applications a multidisciplinary approach is necessary, involving scientists from all fields, physicists, chemists, engineers of all disciplines, biologists, biotechnologists, doctors and many others.

androula 2Dr. Nassiopoulou receives the UNESCO Medal

Together with your research group you were the first to develop Si nanowires, as well as innovative nanotechnology applications based on them. Could you explain us how useful these materials and devices are and where do they find applications?

In 1990, Leigh Canham, a British scientist, discovered that if we create random pores inside crystalline silicon by removing more than 60% of the material (porosity exceeding 60%) the resulting material, composed of a skeleton of interconnected nanowires and nanodots, exhibits intense photoluminescence in the visible range at room temperature. This property does not exist in 3-dimensional crystalline silicon. An enormous interest emerged from this discovery in using this property to develop silicon-based optoelectronic devices, fabricated on the same chip with silicon electronics, which was not possible thus far. In this respect, it was first of all necessary to understand the light emission mechanism from low-dimensional structures. The first European research program dedicated to light emission from silicon was thus submitted in 1992, with many partners around Leigh Canham and his team, including my group and our French collaborators from Grenoble. The first hypothesis was that light emission was due to quantum confinement of charge carriers in the tiny Si nanocrystals and nanowires composing the Si skeleton, which had increased probability to recombine radiatively and emit light. Our task as Greek team was to fabricate model structures (ordered silicon nanowires and nanocrystals in an insulating matrix) with a different technique than that used for porous silicon formation and to study their light emitting properties. This is how we fabricated our first Si nanowires worldwide, using a patterning technique that we developed. By studying their optical properties we discovered that they exhibited also other interesting properties different from those of bulk silicon. For example, porous Si shows a very large surface to volume ratio, which can be functionalised to fabricate different kinds of electronic devices, sensors and bio-sensors. It also exhibits very high electrical resistivity, as well as lower dielectric constant than that of bulk silicon. We used those two last properties to develop a local platform on the silicon wafer for the on-chip integration of efficient radiofrequency waveguides, radio frequency filters and high-performance miniaturised on-chip antennas. Another very interesting property of porous Si and other low-dimensional structures is its very low thermal conductivity compared to that of bulk Si. We used this property to develop silicon thermal sensors with improved performance, as well as efficient thermoelectric generators. Furthermore, we measured very low reflectivity from Si nanowires, used to improve the efficiency of Si photovoltaic devices. Currently we use 3-dimensional silicon surface nanostructuring by silicon nanowires to develop Si-based energy storage micro-devices with increased storage capability, which are very useful in energy autonomous microsystems, in combination with miniaturised energy harvesting devices.

Two characteristic examples of applications we have developed include the breath control system that uses our innovative thermal sensor on nanostructured local silicon substrate, and the air flow control system on a vehicle engine developed and tested in a truck.

To what extent, in your opinion, is European funding used in Greece to support businesses selling nanotechnology products?

There exist many innovative companies in Greece developing nanotechnology products. Some of them are spin-offs of Research Centers and Universities. For example, in the Attica Technology Park Lefkippos of my Research Center NCSR "Demokritos" there are several such spin-offs and start-ups. In general, these companies are very active in European research and development programs, securing important European funding.

What are the achievements of nanotechnology thus far and what can we expect in the future?

In addition to the amazing achievements in information society (computers, mobile phones, smart electronics), nanotechnology products can be found today in applications covering all fields of our daily life. To mention some concrete examples, I will take the case of porous silicon mentioned above and the field of medicine and health care. As I already said, porous silicon exhibits a very large internal surface area compared to its volume. By modifying and functionalizing this surface we can make it reactive to specific biomolecules, and can thus use it to fabricate sensitive biosensors or bioanalytical systems. Porous silicon nanoparticles can be also used as drug carriers in drug delivery systems, due to the fact that porous silicon is both bio-compatible and bio-degradable and dissolves slowly inside the body. This application has been developed for local tumor therapy. It is also an interesting material to be used in osteoplastic, in ocular surgery etc.

Nanotechnology applications are rapidly expanding in areas including the environment, health care and medicine, pharmaceuticals, transport materials, systems and equipment, household appliances, food chain, construction materials, toys and everything else one could imagine, enabling the fabrication of better products and “smarter” systems.

*Interview by Marianna Varvarrigou

Read also via Greek News Agenda: University of Athens Online Courses on Nanotechnology and Nanomedicine; Eleni Antoniadou: A Young Greek Scientist of Global Caliber; Hellenic Foundation for Research and Innovation to Strengthen Research across Greece; The Nanotechnology Boom in Thessaloniki

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krikriA murder and a loner with visual pleasures in between. What makes certain films distinctively charming? In “The Waiter"'s case it is an alluring mixture of an original protagonist, masterfully performed (by Aris Servetalis) and served by the film maker’s stylistic choices. Renos, the main character in Steve Krikris’ film is a waiter, maybe the metempsychosis of a devoted butler. Silent and detached, he meticulously serves customers, keeping his well ordered daily routine. Krikris puts together a captivating character study, leading the viewer to wonder what this enigmatic character thinks and feels and how he will react to an unexpected series of events.

Film Director, Scriptwriter and Producer Steve Krikris studied Film making at the San Francisco Art Institute S.F.A.I. He has worked in New York, in film production, mainly on TV commercials. He lives in Athens, working as a freelance Director and Producer. He has directed over 500 TV commercials. He has also directed a short film titled “Await", screened at Tangiers Film Festival, Drama Film Festival & Istanbul Film Festival and a short film titled "The Card Game" that won the second best film award at the 1st 48-hour Film Project in Athens. He directed a theatrical play titled “Petalouda se pigadi” written by Vaggelis Hatziyianidis and he was the Artistic Director & Co-Founder of the International Film Festival of Patmos which doesn't exist anymore.

"The Waiter" (2018), his debut feature film, was awarded the Greek Film Centre’s Best Greek Debut Feature Director Award as well as the Best Location Award for the film’s location manager, Dimitris Chalkiadakis, at the 59th Thessaloniki International Film Festival. “The Waiter” will also be screened at the 69th Berlinale EFM and at the competition section of the 23rd Sofia International Film Festival. Interviewed by Greek News Agenda* Steve Krikris goes into detail on how he created an Athenian heterotopia, which actively participates in the film plot.

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Aris Servetalis, 'The Waiter" (2018)

You have worked with Yorgos Lanthimos. Have you been influenced by the Weird Wave?

I met Yiorgos Lanthimos during his first steps in the business. He had a distinct style even when he was making video clips and TV commercials. He gave me a small role in his first film, “Kineta”, which was like an experiment that I really enjoyed. Then I got another small role in “Dogtooth’, which was made at that time with huge effort by a small group of Yiorgo’s friends and colleagues. Despite his difficulties, this film led him onto the bright career he has now.

A few years back – and while Yiorgos Lanthimos was making these films- the growing number of independent, strangeand eccentric new Greek films being made had led trend-spotters to herald the arrival of a new Greek wave, which some have called the «Greek Weird wave».

I don’t really think my film «The Waiter» falls into this category. It’s a genre film based and inspired by a true story, key elements that are not part of the “new Greek weird wave”.

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Yannis Stankoglou, Steve Krikris and Aris Servetalis on the set of  "The Waiter" (2018). Photo by Matgarita Nikitaki.

How has your experience in advertising influenced your work as a filmmaker?

Directing TV commercials for more than 25 years has been great training ground for me. You learn how to master the craft, all the technical aspects of filmmaking, dealing with time restrictions, being communicative and having the chance to experiment with different styles of telling small stories and getting paid well.

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"The Waiter" (2018)

The hypnotically beautiful photography of the film is infused in dark green hues, while retro Athenian architecture has its own special part in your film. Could you elaborate on your stylistic choices?

Finishing the script, I worked on the visualization of the film very meticulously. I found images, films that I related to, paintings, photos of locations that helped me bring to life the descriptions in script and also enabled me to share all this material with my colleagues in order to have a common “language” while making the film. Our aim was to film Athens in a way not easily recognizable, to create a micro world. We wanted to give a retro look to the interiors and the color palette of the film was carefully chosen so as to enhance the neo noir style of the film.

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Aris Servetalis, "The Waiter" (2018)

Your film is a “neo noir enigma”, a study of a character coming across extreme situations. Emotional detachment characterizes your protagonist, but he is still capable of self sacrifice. What does he stand for?

The main character, Renos, is a fictional character. Working with Aris Servetalis was a wonderful and challenging collaboration. Renos is a low key character with a specific routine in life. He is confronted with an extreme situation, concerning a murder and a love affair. His hidden moral side prevails at the end. I wanted to create a character without a specific agenda, who is unique in his own way, and unpredictable like life is.

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"The Waiter" (2018)

You were also the co-founder and artistic director of Patmos International Film Festival. Would you like to say a few things about it?

Patmos is a very special place for me. It is the place of my origin, where I have been spending my summers since I was a child. In 2010 we decided with a group of people to start a film festival, actually an international film festival, during the month of July- IFFP. I was very enthusiastic about being able to offer something to the island and its inhabitants, who are totally cut off from any exposure to cinema. On the other hand create a new venue for filmmakers, cinephiles and filmgoers to come to Patmos and be able to attend a «hand made» Film Festival while enjoying their holidays. Every summer, Patmos attracts numerous filmmakers, artists, musicians, writers, from around the world who embraced it. It was a great experience while it lasted.

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Chiara Gensini and Yannis Stankoglou,  "The Waiter" (2018)

You move between Greece and the US. How is your experience as a film maker in these two countries?

I lived in the U.S. for 11 years. I studied Filmmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute and I began my first professional steps in New York. Coming here in Greece in the early ‘90s, without really knowing whether I wanted to stay and work here, I found quite a fertile ground and started directing TV commercials. During those first years I went back and forth between Greece and the US, but later on, life made a choice for me. I feel working in Greece there is more freedom in a sense, working in the U.S there is a well structured system with a great deal of opportunities that doesn’t always allow you to be free. There are pros and cons in any choice you have to make. Right now I’m happy I finished my first feature film and looking forwards to the next one.

* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi

** The film was projected in the 59th Thessaloniki International Film Festival and was available in the international film viewing professional platform Festival Scope, a TIFF initiative for the promotion of Greek cinema abroad.