agrafiotisPublic diplomacy is a widely and frequently used term that “has been defined so many times over the years by different actors in different nations, that it is difficult, if not impossible, to establish a singular definition which reflects the broad array of interests and practices associated with it”[1]. The term “public diplomacy” was coined in 1965 by Edmund Gullion, Dean of the Edward Murrow Center of Public Diplomacy at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University[2]. Gullion, who believed that journalists and diplomats had much in common, defined Public Diplomacy as “dealing with the influence of public attitudes on the formation and execution of foreign policies”, which was further defined as “using modern instruments and techniques of communication to inform large or influential segments of national populations that may even motivate them to a particular course of action”[3]. In other words, Public Diplomacy’s ultimate aim is to gather international support for a nation’s foreign policy[4].

According to academics and observers in the business of government communication, globalization and a new media landscape have challenged traditional foreign ministry “gatekeeper” structures, and foreign ministries can no longer lay claim to being sole or dominant actors in communicating foreign policy[5]. As Melissen argues, the world in which public diplomacy was considered as one of the leftovers of diplomatic dialogue is rapidly disappearing. So is the world in which public diplomacy can easily be dismissed as an attempt at manipulation of foreign publics”[6]. The difference between public and traditional diplomacy is that public diplomacy involves a much broader group of people on both sides, and a broader set of interests that go beyond those of the government of the day[7]. In the course of time, Public Diplomacy has been gradually identified as a more democratic synonym of nation branding in the sense that it involves a two way model of communication.

What is the case with Greece and how is Public Diplomacy carried out and by what actors? Greece may be one of a few countries that has a highly specialized sector of Public Diplomacy officials, that of Press Officers. Press Officers occupy that space between diplomacy and journalism and work together with a variety of actors, using a wide spectrum of communication techniques to inform international public opinion about Greece. In their vast majority, they are graduates of the Department of Press Officers of the National School of Public Administration and Local Government (NSPALG). Based on the model of the French ENA, the NSPALG provides Public Administration with officials highly trained to competently deal with the arising needs of Public Administration and the country in general. The NSPALG accepts University graduates who have successfully passed its entrance examinations that are implemented by an independent Central Examination Committee.

Greek News Agenda interviewed* Panagiotis Agrafiotis, Director of the Media Diplomacy Department at the Secretariat General for Media and Communication (SGMC), on the way Public Diplomacy is exercised by Press Officers. Panagiotis Agrafiotis has studied political science and international law in Athens and Paris, is a graduate of the National School of Public Administration and has served as Press Counsellor and Spokesperson at various Greek Embassies and Permanent Representations in Belgium, France, Cyprus and Turkey. He has also served as Cultural attaché at the Ministry of Culture. The Secretariat General for Media and Communication of the Ministry of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Information is responsible for the strategic planning and implementation of the National Communication Policy.

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If we define public diplomacy as building relationships, understanding the needs of other countries, cultures and peoples, communicating our points of view, correcting misperceptions, looking for areas where we can find common cause[8], which are the competent authorities for the exercise of public diplomacy and how it is exercised;

I agree with the aforementioned definition, because it approaches public diplomacy as a two-way process that puts emphasis on dialogue and understanding the other side. The competent entity for the exercise of Public Diplomacy is the Secretariat General for Media and Communication, which is responsible for our National Communication policy strategic planning and realization. It aims at efficiently managing Government communication with international public opinion, promoting Greece’s image and positions abroad and offering information to the public. Communication diplomacy is a specific area of national communication policy and public diplomacy is a component of communication diplomacy

The officials responsible for the implementation of Public Diplomacy are the Press Officers, who are trained at the National School of Public Administration and Local Government and who practice it throughout the course of their careers. Two Departments of the General Secretariat are in charge both for reactive responses that help world media inform the international public about developments in Greece, as well as proactive actions with the same goal.

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As far as reactive action is concerned, our Department provides information material and facilitates foreign media for filming and photography in the production of documentaries and reports of informative, tourist, scientific and cultural content about Greece. It also assists requests for interviews with government officials and other official bodies. Allow me to point out here, for example, that in the last three years we have handled and successfully completed approximately 1,504 such requests from international media.

I should also mention that the Secretariat General is always the organizing force in major media events, facilitating for example the work of international media by setting up Press Centres where necessary, as was the case with the signing of the Prespes Agreement (12/06/2018). It also coordinates and facilitates the work of foreign journalists covering visits by foreign leaders in Greece, and where appropriate, Press Centres are set up in the framework of these visits. From 2015 to the present, we have dealt with over 50 such visits.

The SGMC also deals with the accreditation of foreign correspondents and the manifold inquiries and requests by international media in relation to the refugee crisis. Since 2015, a special Department of the SGMC has processed 2444 requests by international media to cover the refugee crisis (entry to refugee centres, interviews with competent authorities etc.). Moreover, we are involved in the organization of International Conferences on issues related to competencies of the Secretariat General for Media and Communication (GSMC) of the Ministry of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Information, in the framework of the interconnection of academic knowledge (technological developments and theory) with action in the field of Media and the co-organization of events with Foreign Embassies in Greece.

average years of working experience1As for proactive public diplomacy, the five foreign language platforms of the SGMC (Greek News Agenda, Griechenland Aktuell, Grèce Hebdo, Panorama Griego, Punto Grecia) targeting English, German, French, Spanish and Italian speaking readers, provide diverse original source material informing international public opinion on aspects of contemporary Greece. The aim is to shed light on the different aspects of a modern country that during a tense period creates, analyses, reviews and develops its national narrative.

These sites are not intended to become platforms promoting an idealized picture of Greece or reproducing one-dimensional stereotypes, but to be part of an open dialogue in regard to a country that has been at the centre of multiple global crises (economy, unemployment, refugees) and to highlight developments in politics, the economy and culture, as well as contradictions, potentials and weaknesses in an ever-changing international environment.

Through interviews with figures from the fields of politics, the arts and sciences, a more analytical approach towards contemporary Greece and its position in the world is attempted. At the same time, these five platforms aim at balancing reports and viewpoints so as to increase value and credibility to their content and add critical thought in an ongoing effort towards understanding and discussing better our differences and convergences by avoiding easy stereotypes and generalizations, in this rapidly changing world.

EDUCATIONRIGHTPress and Communications Offices abroad

Our most dynamic instrument in the exercise of public diplomacy is our 25 Press and Communications Offices abroad which operate mostly within and in direct collaboration with Greek Embassies. Their responsibilities are manifold and focus on communicating to the public factual, reliable and objective information on matters concerning Greece and policy positions, through traditional and social media as well as public events, but also on making Greece visible and intelligible to the world, promoting the country’s image. To this effect, they engage with local, national and international media, academics, think tanks, artists and other influencers.

Press and Communication Offices serve as a primary information link between Greece and local media, opinion leaders and the general public. They handle media enquiries and interview requests, and they inform public opinion on political, economic, social and cultural developments in Greece using a variety of instruments and methods ranging from personal contact and media interviews, press releases and articles, speaking engagements and participation in public events.

foreign languagesOur offices also inform our Embassy as well as the Secretariat General of Media and Communication on all matters of Greek interest in the country of accreditation, including the impact of Greece's foreign and domestic policy on local media and public opinion, as well as on all important political, economic, social and cultural developments. This task is performed daily with comprehensive press reviews and aims to bringing closer to home views, opinions and positions of the country of accreditation.

The development and cultivation of media relations is thus central to the task of furthering Greece’s image and policies abroad, and our officers work closely and consistently with the media, arrange press conferences for the Ambassador, prepare interviews for visiting officials etc.

Our offices also liaise and work with local Greek community organizations and media as well as Greek media correspondents. They are also tasked with assisting the mission of Greek media accompanying on official visits the President of the Hellenic Republic, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the House, Cabinet members, party leaders and deputies, Greek members of the European Parliament, as well as facilitating visitor contacts with the media, organizing press centres and conferences.

Within the framework of their duties, our officers are also responsible for representing Greece at various institutes and organizations, developing and liaising with representatives and members of non-governmental organizations and political parties, as well as think tanks and other educational, cultural, economic and research entities.

Moreover, our offices are responsible for the organization, or co-organization with other entities, of media, scientific and cultural events focusing on topical issues, politics, economics, culture, tourism, gastronomy, science, etc. In several instances, these take place on the occasion of a major event, tribute year etc. As regards cultural events, emphasis is laid on the promotion of contemporary artistic production (including Greek cinema, the contemporary music scene, new Greek writers), without of course overlooking Greek cultural heritage as a whole. Last year, Greek Press Offices organized over 110 such events.

In the context of achieving a better understanding between Greece and the country of accreditation, our officers draw up reports, analyses, briefings, press reviews, and respond to media reports with letters to the editor in order to clarify Greek positions and correct misperceptions. Press offices file some 10,000 reports and briefings.

average years of studyWhy are Press Offices necessary in the age of internet and modern technologies? Wouldn’t a simple subscription to online newspaper editions suffice for an understanding of international public opinion towards Greece?

The Ministry is naturally a subscriber to main foreign language media publications but I can assure you that no matter the progress of technology, it cannot replace the work of a Press Officer. As you can see from what we’ve discussed, and which represents only a sample of a press officer's public diplomacy duties, it is a hands-on, full-time job, requiring the committed attention and skills of professionals. Public Diplomacy cannot be performed from a distance; it requires interpersonal communication with a series of actors such as those mentioned above in order to secure an open channel of communication.

The personal presence of a press officer also means familiarity with the political atmosphere and general climate in which public communication takes place, which places him or her in a better position to assess the content of this communication

facebookWhat is the role of Social Media Networks in Public Diplomacy?

It goes without saying that Social Media Networks have become part of communication day-to-day practice, and it should be noted here that it was Press Offices that set up Embassy Facebook and Twitter accounts. Moreover, during the 2014 Greek Presidency, the Secretariat General for Media and Communication, in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, conducted the entire Presidency’s communication and it social media accounts had accumulated the most followers as compared to previous Presidencies; and all using our resources, without any additional financial burden.

Coming to the present, I should mention that our Public Diplomacy officers are continuously developing their methodology and techniques, and in this context all Press Offices have their own social networking pages, and the same applies to the foreign language platforms I mentioned above.

At the same time, our officers manage the Ministry of Digital Policy, Telecommunication & Information Facebook account @MinDigitalGr), as well as its Twitter account (https://twitter.com/MinDigitalGr). They also manage the Secretariat General for Media & Communication Facebook (@mediagovgr) and twitter (https://twitter.com/mediagovgr @MediaGovGr), account.

fbministryAfter the multiple challenges Greece faced in recent years, what is the importance of communication at a time when almost everything is determined by the economy?

And who said it’s not vice versa? To make myself clearer, let us take for example the period of Greece's negotiations with its creditors and the role of prestigious international Media in creating a psychological climate that to a degree bore an influence on economic decisions, as Serge Halimi, editorial director of Le Monde Diplomatique, noted at an event organized by the Secretariat General. I shall not go into this huge area of study on the relationship between communication and the economy, but I want to emphasize the importance of the communication sector as technological developments have made mediated communication increasingly influencial.

In conclusion, we should highlight the role played by Public Communication officers. They are certainly not miracle workers nor are they intended to be. However, a sector with such specialized knowledge and years of experience can only be an important tool in promoting Greece's image abroad but also a means of honest and reliable communication with international audiences in the framework of an open and democratic model of Public Diplomacy.

* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi


[1] James Pamment, “New public diplomacy in the 21st century: a comparative study of policy and practice”, Rouledge, Taylor &Francis, London, NY, 2013, p. 6.

[2] Guy J. Golan, Sung – Un Yang, Denis F. Kinsey, ‘International Public relations and Public Diplomacy: Communication and engagement, Peter Lang, NY, 2015, p. 1.

[3] Pamment, ibid, p. 6-7.

[4] Guy J. Golan, Sung – Un Yang, Denis F. Kinsey, ibid, p. 3

[5] James Pamment, ibid, p. 3

[6] Jan Melissen (ed.), “The New Public Diplomacy: Soft power in international relations”, Palgrave, Great Britain, 2005, p. 11.

[7] Mark Leonard et. al., “Public Diplomacy”, The Foreign Policy centre, NY, 2002, p. 8-9.

[8] Ibid, p. 8 

[8] Ibid, p. 8

frentzosedGeorge Frentzos has been working in cinema since 1982. He has worked as Director of Photography in short and feature films and over 3000 commercials. He was CEO of Cinemax production company from 1989 to 1996. His selected filmography includes “I dream of my friends” (1993), “The Bachelor” (1998) by Nikos Panagiotopoulos, “It’s a long road” (2010) by Pantelis Voulgaris and “J.A.C.E.” by Menelaos Karamagiolis. He is a member of European Film Academy. He is Deputy-Chairman of the Hellenic Film Academy and a founding member of Greek Society of Cinematographers.

Interviewed by Greek News Agenda* on the occasion of the tenth anniversary since the founding of the Hellenic Film Academy and the Iris awards ceremony on April 23, Frentzos talks about the activities and initiatives of the Academy, Greek cinematographers and what a cinematographer is or is not.

i dream of my friends

Lefteris Voyatzis in "I dream of my friends" (1993), dir. Nikos Panagiotopoulos

What were the reasons for founding the Hellenic Film Academy?

The Hellenic Film Academy was founded in November 2009 and is celebrating its tenth anniversary. The main reason was the need to unite film professionals under the same roof, in order to address the numerous issues that concern them. It’s important to note here that the Academy members - all 380 of them - are active in the film industry, which means that they face the same problems and share the same concerns regarding the trade. It all started with the movement called “Filmmakers in the Fog”. The main reason for the creation of this movement was the reaction against the State film awards in Thessaloniki. The HFA’s primary focus is to hold the Annual National Film Awards, also known as Iris Awards. The Hellenic film Academy created its articles of association having examined the statutes of other European Film Academies.

What are the criteria for the film awards?

First and foremost, only the Academy members vote, that is: film directors, actors, producers, directors of photography, makeup artists, production designers, cinema owners and film critics. So, experienced film professionals decide on each year’s best film, best cinematography, script etc. So, I think it’s quite a fair process, ascribing the status that the awards should have.

Block 12

On the set of “Block 12” (2012), dir. Kiriakos Tofarides

What about the other events the Academy organises?

The most important Academy event is the Iris Awards ceremony. Besides the awards, the Academy aims to inform its members on issues related to Cinema as well as to contribute to the education of film students and film buffs, it’s important to promote cinema-going. It’s something we’ve lost to television and due to the decrease of cinema halls in many Greek cities. In this context, the Film Factory is an important Academy educational activity that takes place at the end of each year, at different venues each time. Each year, the winners of the Iris Awards offer seminars and workshops, in their field of expertise. These seminars are open to the public for free and they attract both film students and film lovers who are interested in approaching cinema through a different perspective.

I have also worked on a program we run with the Ministry of Education, where film making is included in the courses taught in primary and high schools. Last year, we offered tutorials and instruction to about 350 teachers and high school professors on how to make their films. This is a very successful part of the Film Factory, because through teachers, we educate future cinema audiences and we encourage a love for Greek cinema. I would like to mention here that there was a teacher, who was so affected by this experience that he started studying film-making and I have helped him in his first short film, which currently is in the post-production stage.

I would also like to add that every year we have an honoured guest who is bestowed the Iris Honorary Award. We have invited Vanessa Redgrave and Alexander Desplat in the past, who had also offered a Masterclass, which was not in the film factory context, but followed the same rationale of informing the public on the art of cinema.

The Hellenic Film Academy in collaboration with the European Film Academy organises the “Young Audience Awards” where schoolchildren are invited to vote for the best films for young audiences. The HFA organises the screening of films for pupils, followed by an introduction to films and a Q & A. This event takes place in many European cities.

In collaboration also with the French Film Academy, the HFA organises “Le Nuits en Or” a short films Panorama. The short films that are awarded by Film Academies around the world each year are brought to Athens and their film directors come as well, and are screened during a three-day event. So we offer the audience the opportunity to find out about these films and their filmmakers for free. We also organise The Greek Cinema Party usually in October.

Let’s also mention that for three consecutive years (from 2015 to 2017), in collaboration with our sponsor Cosmote, (until last year), we organised the Film Factory Short Film Funds, a contest for short film scripts. Twelve finalists were chosen by the Academy members and they were offered mentoring on plot elaboration and production. The two best scripts were awarded 15,000 euro each for film production. Several short films came out of this procedure. Unfortunately, Cosmote is no longer our sponsor and this contest has stopped for a year, but I’m trying to find a way, in collaboration with the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT) and the National Film Centre to find the means to run this contest again, because its outcome is two films per year.

J.A.C.E. 2

“J.A.C.E.”, (2011) dir. Menelaos Karamaggiolis

The Academy celebrates its tenth anniversary. What has changed over these ten years?

To celebrate its tenth anniversary, the Academy organises a series of screenings through an event called “Ten Years. 10+1 Cities”. The screenings comprise films awarded by the Academy. This event enables a wider audience to watch Greek films that would probably not be distributed in small Greek cities.

The Academy has to think of its future and the ways to expand. The current statute provides that for a new member to enter the Academy, he/she must have made five feature films, which means they have usually reached a certain age before they enter the Academy. I believe that we should have more new members and more young directors. If a short film wins the Iris Award, the director automatically becomes an Academy member, according to the statute. If a film maker starts at forty years of age, when will he or she become an Academy member?

One of the most successful Academy initiatives was commissioning the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research with an in depth analysis of the domestic film market and its impact in Greece. It was a study that has been frequently quoted, especially now with the rightful action undertaken by National Center for Audiovisual Media & Communication (EKOME S.A.).

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"Fragma" (Dam), (2017), dir. Yorgos Teltzidis

You have been in the Greek film industry since the 80’s. You also were one of the founders of Greek Society of Cinematographers. What is the landscape of Greek cinematography?

I entered cinema as a cinematographer in 1981. I worked in commercials with many Greek film directors. All Greek film makers make advertisements. I gradually went on to features with film director Nikos Panagiotopoulos, whom I also met while shooting commercials. I made my first feature with Panagiotopoulos and we also worked together in four other films of his. The Greek Society of Cinematographers was founded in the same context as the corresponding societies abroad. All Societies of Cinematographers belong to IMAGO (International Federation of Cinematographers) that started off as a European association, and ended up as an international one for all societies of cinematographers. We attend the annual meetings of IMAGO and that gives us the opportunity to discuss the problems of our profession.

The term Director of Photography (DoP) is vague or completely unknown to a wider public. In Greece, by the term photography, most people think it means taking pictures, stills. The term can also be understood as merely operating a camera. Some other people have asked me if I own a cinema. Cinematographer is the term that defines more precisely what the DoP does in Cinema. The DoP tries through his tools, i.e. the camera, lenses and lights to visualise the film director’s vision. Before the coming of the digital age, the possibilities of photochemical material were limited. There was a lot of work on set and a lot of mystery, because one could only see the result of the cinematographer’s work during the screening. Digitalisation revolutionised everyday experience and demystified the DoP’s work. Everybody can work today on a digital camera with a mobile phone. Obviously going digital has revolutionised our work and has given us unlimited possibilities, which are multiplied during post-production. But the cinematographer’s work doesn’t stop there. The cinematographer must visualise the film script, he or she must create emotions through the frames, control the changes of light when shooting a scene takes a whole day. The cinematographer manages a big part of the film crew and will be the closest co-worker of the film director from the beginning to the end of the film.

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Thanassis Veggos in ‘’Ola einai dromos’’ (It’s a long road), (1997) dir.  Pantelis Voulgaris

During the last years, a new set of financial and tax incentives have been set to attract investment in audiovisual production in Greece. Some say that there are no experienced film crews in Greece. What do you think about that?

For many years, cinema had a marginal place in Greece as far as investment is concerned. There was no concrete cinematic policy. EKOME is the most positive development in Greek cinema in the past few years for cinema production. It is very important to have foreign productions here in Greece, the same productions that some years ago went to other countries that already had tax rebate policies. Greece is a country that has a big morphological variety in a small geographical area, great locations, sunny weather most of the time, and also reliable and highly experienced crews. I say that, having worked with foreign crews around the world (from New Zealand to New Orleans, from Iceland to United Arab Emirates etc). The problem is that there are not many such crews.

nyfes

Victoria Charalambidou  in ‘’Nyfes’’ ( Brides), (2003), dir. Pantelis Voulgaris

What is the relationship between cinema and advertisement in Greece?

Advertisers always work with cinema crews. I don’t see any difference between shooting an advert, a short film or a feature-length film. We use the same means: there is always a script we have to follow, a film crew that has to work. In advertising there is always a client that wants you to promote the product in the optimum way and because there is a substantial of money paid, you have to be very meticulous with details. Most film directors make commercials and it is the field where we experiment on new techniques, new lights and cameras and I can say that it is a sector that I love.

the weight of Sea

"The Weight of Sea", (2019), dir. Kostis Alevizos (pre production)

Have you been influenced by the work of your peers?

When you work in the film industry, obviously, it is a good idea to see as many films as possible. I cannot say that I have been directly influenced. I may adore the work of internationally acclaimed cinematographers, such as Sven Nykvist, but the same might happen with the work of a Chinese DoP. What is important for a DoP is to visualize the script in the right way. For me, success is when the audience comes out of a screening saying “what a great film!”. If someone says the film was nil, but the cinematography was great, for me the cinematographer has also failed in that case. I feel that what makes cinema such a difficult kind of art is that in a very defined (not by you) and limited point of time, a large group of people has to not only work together, but give its best as well.

Over the last two years as a cinematographer (and a producer), I have tried to help newcomers in film directing. This year, I have made six short films and there are more to come. I like to work with young directors, because I like helping them, but I also learn new things, which is very refreshing for me.

You have also worked on “Man Wanted” a stop motion animation by Irida Zhonga

Yes, I’m always trying to work on new and challenging experiences. Stop animation is very intriguing for me. It has many challenges regarding the light, the setting and the duration of filming. Cinematography is a profession that motivates and inspires you to try new things and experiment, and that is what I mostly love about it.

* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi

Read also: One more reason to film in Greece: A new legal framework of economic incentivesGeneral Secretariat for Media and Communication boosting Greek Gaming & AnimationLefteris Kretsos on bringing Greece on the global map of the Game and Film Making Industry.

Dimitris Petrou was born in Drama, Greece (1970) and he lives in Athens, Greece. He has written three poetry books: A' Pathologiki [Medical Ward A] (2013), Chomatourgika [Land works] (2016) and Mora (2018), all of the them published by Mikri Arktos editions.

PetrouIntro

Dimitris Petrou spoke to Reading Greece* about his three poetry collections noting that he considers them “a trilogy”, where “portraits, landscape and tradition shaped the wheel of a micro-history, which has gone full circle”. He explains that the common ground in all his books is “free verse, everyday non-poetic words and inner rhythm”, and talks about his “writing haunts”, “double negation to achieve positive meaning, small cracks to reveal something new, illusions and expectations intertwined, death as catharsis and catharsis as the ritual of healing”.

Asked about the influence the poets of the 1970s exerted on his writings, he notes that he does “feel emotionally engaged with their work”, but his concern is “to extend his reach and try to comprehend our poetry in its totality”. He concludes that “current Greek literary production seems to be promising”, yet “only time will tell whether the poetry of this new millennium deserves a special place”.

Your third poetry collection Mora was recently published by Mikri Arktos. What differentiates the book from your first two writing ventures both in terms of form and content?

Free verse, everyday non-poetic words and inner rhythm create a certain atmosphere in my books and that’s their common ground I believe. To comment on the differences among them, in terms of context, my debut poetry collection A’ Pathologiki (Medical Ward A) was a close up on the interpersonal pathology of the family and its individual members in an attempt to achieve self-realization.

In my second book Chomatourgika (Land Works) I am an overwhelmed observer staring at the scenery of northern Greece in Macedonia with awe and dread. That was a way to talk with respect for the land, its harvest and also think of the landscape as a geography of the human heart and soul.

Now, my recently published third book, Mora is a story about loss, death and revival. Mora, the central figure of the book, is the bringer of nightmares, the dark female spirit found in legends and mythologies around the world, which disturbs people at night. Mora comes to people while they sleep, sits on their chest so they cannot move or breathe until dawn. For me, Mora is a symbol of the subconsciousness and a synonym for anything or anyone who can make our lives unbearable; an alter ego, a trauma, a crime, a mistress or even poetry itself.

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Although, our imagination can run wild, collective memory runs faster. That’s why I’ve chosen to pay a small part of the enormous debt I owe to folk poetry and demotic tradition. Mora’s voice comes from that tradition and in terms of poetic form that’s the main difference between the third book and the previous two.

I consider those three books to be a trilogy. Portraits, landscape and tradition shaped the wheel of a micro-history, which has gone full circle.

Illusions, ruptures, expectations, negation, death and catharsis. Would you agree that they constitute recurrent themes in your writings?

My writing does feature recurrent topics or emotional tensions. The themes, or to be more accurate, the conditions you mentioned can be considered as “haunts”, writing haunts which give you insight about yourself, your poetry and the story you are trying to tell. I’ve learnt not to fear them, as long as I’m crafting fresh context for them. Double negation to achieve positive meaning, small cracks to reveal something new, illusions and expectations intertwined, death as catharsis and catharsis as the ritual of healing.

To use Barbara Roussou’s words, «Petrou manages this coupling which makes his poetry both realistically confessional and highly perceptive”. What purpose does language serve in your writings?

Poetry is a separate language, a language within a language. Ordinary speech – both written and oral – is simple, straightforward and it’s meant to communicate a message. On the contrary, poetic expression purposefully includes imagery and figurative language to convey a deeper meaning. So, if my work has been received as realistically confessional and perceptive at the same time, it’s only because I’ve been trying to find and offer something heartfelt and solid.

How do you respond to those who argue that your poetry has been greatly influenced by the late works of poets who belong to the generation of the 1970s?

Poets of that generation are among my personal favorites. I do feel emotionally engaged with their work and I have to admit that there are whole books truly valuable to me as a reader and re-reader. However, this generation is not the immediately preceding one. Important poets appeared the following decades and from the writer’s perspective, my concern is to extend my reach and try to comprehend our poetry in its totality. I mean its continuity, the inside narrative of it.

DimitisPetrouBooks

What is the effect of reality on poetry? And, vice versa, how is reality re-formed/trans-formed in poetry?

The bad news is that reality is too persistent. Poets, though, are lucky enough to fit things into their version of reality. Are they disillusioned, disheartened? No – they just choose personal truth over stark reality. An old proverb says ‘who’s talking the truth, does not need a lot of words’ , neither poetry, I would add.

What most distinguishes the poetry of this new millennium from that which came before is, on the one hand, its diversity – there are no clear-cut schools or factions – and, on the other hand, the cultural conditions that it takes for granted”. How would you comment on current literary production in Greece?

Current Greek literary production seems to be promising. It moves fast, it has diversity and it is independent. I’m not sure if these qualities are enough to keep poetry getting richer. This frantic pace reminds me of the always present quality/quantity debate. Most books have a shelf life of 30 to 60 days and even a committed reader can miss out on pleasures of reading a good book. Only time will tell whether the poetry of this new millennium deserves a special place.

*Interview by Athina Rossoglou

Vince.BG.cc.mtgVincenzo Le Voci is the Secretary-General of the Club of Venice, the network of the communications directors from the European Union member states and institutions and from countries candidate to the EU membership. He has fulfilled this role since 2011. He is a longstanding European civil servant, having worked for the General Secretariat of the Council of the EU for 26 years. Since 2001 he is in the Directorate-General of Communication, where he is currently responsible for Transparency and Information Policy matters. Before joining the EU he worked 7 years for NATO in administration management and logistics, as a US Air Force - DOD official. He owns a Master degree in foreign languages and literatures and attended courses of modern history, European Integration and management in Belgium and at Maryland and MIT universities. He is giving lectures to universities and contributes articles and essays for communications books and magazines. In 2018 he was conferred by the University of Calabria and the Municipality of Ventotene (the home of Altiero Spinelli's Manifesto) the Europa Prize in recognition of his high commitment to communication and information aimed at encouraging and strengthening public and diplomatic relations between government and institutional communicators.

Vincenzo Le Voci spoke* to Greek News Agenda about the Club of Venice, “government communication”, European elections, euro-skepticism and migration. Asked about the migration crisis he stated that “you cannot solve such big crises with one-shot intervention. You need to make sure you resolve contingencies, emergencies, but at the same time you need to be able to stop the occurrence at its roots”.

What exactly is Club of Venice, what is its purpose and what has it achieved so far?

The Club of Venice is the informal network of the communication directors and other senior communication specialists, founded in 1986. Basically this is the 33rd year of its activity. It was the term of the Italian presidency of the Council of the EU, and the Director General of the Press and Information Service of the Prime Minister had this idea to convene with his colleagues from the other countries of the EU to share information and best practice in the field of communication. The member-state countries were 12 at that time, including the newest members of the family: Greece, Spain and Portugal.

The Club consists of communication directors, senior communication executives and senior communication specialists. Its main objective is to strengthen cooperation and work in synergy, drawing inspiration from the respective plans and activities, to improve the way each country communicates with their own citizens about both national policies and the EU agenda.

How does Club de Venice cooperate with EU member states and Greece in particular?

We have a set plan of plenary meetings (twice annually) and thematic seminars (usually two or three times every year). The Club aims to bring these professionals on board and exchange information about what would be the best instruments for communication, what they are developing alone or in cooperation with other countries or institutions in order to see what models best to apply to their countries. So I would say that this is basically an exchange of ideas of specific partnership models, which could help increase cooperation as well asbenefits for citizens in both the communication of policies and citizen participation. Communication also facilitates the rapprochement of different players in the business.

club of venice meetingClub of Venice thematic seminar at the Ministry of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Media, (Athens, GREECE 5-6/4/2019)

Could you elaborate on the term ‘government communication’?

Each country has different priorities and different political agendas, supposedly based on a perception of citizens’ expectations and needs. On that basis, ideally each government should prepare a short action plan of whatever needs to be done with regard to specific priority topics and of course these policies need to be communicated so that citizens understand what goes on, what the government wants to do to meet their expectations, and, to the degree possible, to involve citizens as individuals or as civil society from a wide spectrum. It’s not a one way action but an issue of cooperation, so that citizens feel represented in an appropriate way and feel that they have an input, with their view being truly taken into account.

You mentioned Greece. It’s clear that Greece as a Mediterranean country has certain type of prospects, future plans about how to develop its own economy, its wealth and other sectors like education, investments, possibilities to offer a better future to its people and specifically the younger generation as well as to set in motion initiatives that can help the country grow. After all, one of the main objectives of the EU is sharing, alleviate imbalances, and assist in areas where the economy is not adequately developed so that citizens are offered more opportunities for mobility, investments and to choose their own future here or somewhere else. The same philosophy applies to every country.

The future is undeniably digital. How does Club of Venice promote issues such as cyber security, transparency, and open data?

Since 2009, meaning ten years ago, the Club of Venice has been holding events to discuss what we call in general terms ‘capacity building’, which means enabling governments to communicate and to better identify the right instruments for the job. We all know that digital era is expanding rapidly. At the same time, we need to make sure that digital capabilities become available to everyone, so outreach needs to be assessed. We know that not every person in every periphery of a country can benefit from the digital era. So, first of all, we need to take into account all different kinds of existing communication tools and try to ensure inclusiveness, so that all categories of people are involved. We have developed a kind of doctrine to follow developments on social media and other new internet strategies especially launched by member states and institutions and we are trying to broaden the discussion about how to exchange best practices concerning multimedia projects that are promoted, either at European level or in specific countries. For this purpose, we organize specific seminars and workshops focused on web communication, open data and open government. "Open Government" constitutes a future opportunity for governments to be much closer to citizens, to offer better chances through open data portals and other web improvements to reuse the information in a better format. This could also be an incentive to create more job opportunities, to have better availability of the same data to more people, to enrich communication and definitely to reinforce outreach and participation. We will continue to do this in our plenary and in our seminar events. Last but not the least, regarding cyber-threats, we need to keep the discussion alive on this subject and we are doing this in the context of counter disinformation approaches at European, national or multinational, cross- border level.

On the road to European elections, the agenda of most EU parties seems to focus on national issues -such as pension cuts rather than on European ones. As a result, European elections end up being a vote of confidence to national governments. How can the EU effectively communicate the message that European elections should be considered as such and not as national elections?

This has always been the big issue. The EU has been there since the fifties. However, there has always been a huge difficulty in bringing the European agenda into the national agenda. This is a kind of historical issue; a historical problem because governments always consider that discussing less popular issues would affect their own national political image. So very often in the past, the present and maybe also the future, many governments will continue to hesitate in bringing into the agenda items that are difficult or controversial. It’s important, though, to note that this is not done as some kind of political depreciation of the European agenda. It’s only domestic political pragmatism. And I don’t think that this should be considered a controversial issue to which we cannot find a solution. Take for example the three main institutions, i.e. the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Council of the European Union. When people are represented in each of these institutions they need to be able to connect with their own respective authorities which are in the countries. For instance a member of the European Parliament should be sure that, through his constituencies and through his connection with the European Parliament, she/he is able to convey the message and push the European agenda that it is on the table. They have to spend all their energy in doing this, because otherwise it will be difficult also for the new generations to understand what is going on. And whilst it is true that, through the internet, youngsters can be quickly acquainted and understand what is happening, it is quite a different feeling having someone representing your country in such an institution. Having this person talk to you and provide evidence of what goes on in the EU, show his involvement, the objectives and the challenges, you feel a little bit more responsible, engaged. And only then you can see that kind of call coming for your support. I’m talking about the European parliamentary representatives, but it’s exactly the same with the European Commission. Once the Commissioner is elected, he/she by definition becomes neutral. We are not talking about an Italian or a Greek commissioner, but someone representing the EU for a specific policy - and that person is responsible for all of Europe. And when taking part in any debate or event, he/she needs to speak concretely, showing as much as possible his/her knowledge and the capacity to grasp the problem - I mean, being well prepared in relation to the expectations of that country. You cannot handle an event facing citizens and talk in abstract about general values because everybody knows values such as democracy, solidarity and so on. You need to connect with facts, connect with the reality. And the same goes for the Council. The Council is basically governments, governments who have their own representatives referring to their own Ministry of European Affairs or Foreign Affairs or Ministry for a specific policy.. They need to be able to convey clear and inclusive messages and enable their citizens to understand and feel involved in the public debate. In other words, when they are called at national level to discuss in public and address audiences, as well as when they feed digitally their own platform, they need to be clear about what is happening and communicate the position of the government so that people understand what the challenges are.

european elections collage 1(pexels.com)

Greece has experienced various crises, such as the economic and the refugee crisis. Is Greece’s foreign communication policy sufficiently addressing these issues?

It’s true that you had one crisis after the other. But the crises have never been a Greek crisis; they have always been European crises. The thing is that communication policy needs to be revisited and reassessed and we need to go back to the roots of each and every crisis, understand why it happened, who the people or organizations responsible for the crisis are, where the problem comes from. Once you identify this, once the government clearly identifies the causes, you need to find what the possible means to solve the crisis are and what the necessary resources are. Once you identify the roots, if you identify the objectivesand then understand who could be the potential players that could help us solve the problem internally and externally at EU level, then you basically need to set up a plan. Without planning you cannot solve any crisis, not even help through communication, because you cannot solve such big crises with one-shot intervention. You need to make sure you resolve contingencies, emergencies, but at the same time you need to be able to stop the occurrence at its roots. It may be about migration, it may be about the economy, it may be another issue that that is even more complicated and dangerous such as terrorism. You need to prepare yourself, to prevent, to monitor, because if you don’t do that you will never be able to attack and counter the phenomenon at its root. You need to build a solid platform and plan around this; otherwise the problem will never be solved definitely.

Euroscepticism is rising given recent developments such as the refugee crisis or Brexit. Additionally, issues such as migration are dealt with at a national rather than at European level. What tools does the EU have in order to address this?

The tools are of a different nature. You have, first of all, monitoring tools of public opinion, such as Eurobarometer, but you also have other relevant surveys which have been run by private organizations and by national institutes. Thus a communicator needs to know how to analyze all of these, without necessarily trusting only one of these instruments in isolation, but several of them combined: you need to cross check, to come out with a neutral and objective idea about what public opinion expects and how it perceives Europe. Then of course you cannot deny that, in several countries, attitudes towards the EU have recently changed because of the several crises, but I think also because the old generation of real believers, the ones who founded the EU, have gone. This generation does not exist anymore and unfortunately there was no continuity in a way, we were not essentially able to transmit these principles to the new generation. This is one thing that’s absolutely necessary because it’s there, whether you see people’s euro-skepticism or not. The problem also concerns governments, not only people, some governments that were always pro-European and have lost their impetus. Europe has lost pro-European leaders of caliber and I’m not talking about the ones who founded Europe but about people like, for instance one person who really stays in my mind forever is Vaclav Havel, the former Check Republic President. He was not even a politician, he was a man of culture, of theatre, of arts and after being imprisoned for his ideas he became president of his country; like Lech Walesa, who is still alive but not in politics any more. So these were people who could pass the message to the younger generations, who could communicate what is happening. To deal with euro-skepticism, you have to trust the right people to counter it and of course you have to hope that governments don’t take extreme positions, because if a government is officially against Europe then it becomes an issue. You need to find other possibilities to inform public opinion, use all the different communication tools to convey the message, make sure that you can balance the message - that you convey the real facts and the real values. Then it will be up to the citizens to decide. We all know what is happening in some countries that the EU is closely monitoring. There is a kind of drift basically towards a certain non-EU line. And there are legitimate means also to recall these countries, like the European Parliament has been recently doing, to certain values that were subscribed within the so-called "acquis communautaires" as pre-condition to acquire EU membership.

Does the EU have a common policy regarding migration? If so, how is it communicated?

EU has a specific policy about certain issues, like the Dublin convention. But we had to deal with a huge phenomenon like the migration waves in the last three years. Europe clearly was not prepared to face with a phenomenon of such wide dimensions. But at the same time I have to say that progress has been made. There was a migration package, there were agreements made with other countries and there are operations being run in the Mediterranean to monitor the process. This is a way just to monitor what is going on and try facing the problem knowing all its features. First of all, identify where the contingencies are, where the migration flows continue to remain. Then you have the multiple aspects of the refugee issue and the huge issue of fighting the phenomenon in its roots. That is a sort of multi-action plan that Europe has put together. It is not easy, because the phenomenon has massive components and of course migration is not the only priority we have. Meanwhile, you have to work for the EU citizens in terms of offering them better job perspectives, employment and investments, to relaunch the economy and to recover, given that in some areas there is still difficulty in creating the framework for people to stay in their own country, to avoid the brain drain and so on. So the priorities are numerous as regards migration and they are to be handled while taking care of the other national priorities of a strong social connotation. I think there are certainly a lot of things going on and the European migration agenda was the mix of knowledge and action in all different aspects of the phenomenon - through the European Council and the Council of Foreign Affairs the momentum is there. We need to convey all these actions into one single package; we need to see if people can understand and appreciate the EU’s actions. And of course adjust each and every part of this plan to all the needs depending on how the issue is progressing. Because again you need to form alliances basically with the countries that the phenomenon derives from, you need to monitor what is happening now. In the Mediterranean for instance, you need to know what to do with people that are already here. It’s really a huge issue, which of course includes the humanitarian aspect strictly linked to contingency, and I believe that responding to the different sides of the question is already a good step, and recalling from time to time the principal values determining how this job must be done, together in alliance, this is also the other important issue, without which Europe would not have been able to handle the problem for a long time.

*Interview by Christina Fiorentzi

Read also: Kevin Featherstone on LSE's Hellenic Observatory and the concept of 'union' in the EU

 

Petros Golitsis was born in Thessaloniki in 1978. He studied economics at the University of Thessaloniki, at Birkbeck College of the University of London and at the University of Sheffield. He is the author of four volumes of verse: Paper’s memory (2009), The abrading of time (2013), The flesh of the temporary (Gavrielides Books, 2015) and Bursting with meat (Thraca Books, 2017). His poems have been translated into English, German, Italian, Spanish, Finnish, Romanian, Bulgarian, Portuguese and Serbo-Croatian.

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Petros Golitsis spoke to Reading Greece* about the main themes his poetry delves into, noting the “issues in his poetry and his poetic obsessions relate to ‘from where’ and ‘as what’ he is talking”, and on the purpose that language plays in his writings explaining that he perceives and works on “language as a plastic matter, in the artistic sense of the term”, “as a potentially explosive matter” in this respect.

He also comments on the way the present interweaves with the past and the future in his poetry, “within the framework of an inextricable ontological short-circuiting”, as well as on the interrelation between poetry and painting, “using the elements of nature to give light and movement in open spaces”. As for the relation of poetry to the world it inhabits, he notes that “everything in art is politics”. “A case in point is our stance, both in the heat of the moment and in retrospect, vis-à-vis the shocking event of the fire that burned Notre-Dame in Paris in 15 April; a reaction which, cultural or religious though it may seem, is political in its essence”.

You have published four poetry collections so far. Which are the main themes your poetry delves into? Are there recurrent points of reference in your writings?

Τhe issues in my poetry and my poetic obsessions relate to “from where” and “as what” Ι am talking (and this is set each time anew, without however parting with my dominant predisposition). As a non-flora species – let us assume 94% as a homo sapiens and 6% as a neanderthal – without bearing the whole or participating fully identified with the chemical and other elements around me and abiding by the natural laws over which I exert no control. Thus, partly discernible, I cross the world as an event and I appear upon and not within the event – as a digested part of it. And that’s where the poem acts as a leverage, which sometimes multiplies this unfamiliarity, while at others it makes it possible to reconcile and co-move with the world’s unfamiliar, chaotic and monstrous.

 “What makes Petros Golitsis a major poet is the way his words invade a deeply-rooted image of the world, just to turn it upside out”. What purpose does language serve in your poetry?

I perceive and work on language as a plastic matter, in the artistic sense of the term. And, let me add, as a potentially explosive matter. My poem ‘Reality’ from The flesh of the temporary comes to mind: “I placed a dynamite between her legs / and set fire to it. / “You whore of a reality,” I uttered, / “I’ll blow you to bits!” and I did so. / She stared at me – as if sad – / but she put herself together again / nothing really changed / as if to say: “What if I was amputated? / You first were blown to pieces between my legs. / What if I was scattered – for a while – you hermaphrodite? / With my entire body will I again continue”.

These words ("What makes me a major poet") belong to the very good poet Giorgos Lillis. I appreciate his poetry, I have read him (I also met him once following his review) and I am honored by his words; yet our attention should be directed not towards the poet but rather towards the poem and its verses as you aptly note. So let me focus on what follows: “his words invade a deeply-rooted image of the world, just to turn it upside out”. By pulling the cosmic rug under our feet. ”Don’t think. Look!”.

GolitsisBooks

How does the present interweave with the past and the future in your poetry?

One of my verses fully suits the case: “with a boulder (a big stone) I’ll bring down the sky’s entire showcase”, that is as an acceleration, as a call or as an act of breaking the deadlock and thus as a conclusive solution of the mystery (which of course remains unattainable with our means and «such» a brain).  Of course, the partly procedural use of the world as an event could potentially lead to (my) not wanting any more to be part of the world as a movement, and thus to the acceptance of complete fusion and to the subsequent definite and irreversible disintegration/defeat of (my) being in the ‘zone’ of absolute immobility; where all relationships, both potential and actual, are dismantled. That’s where the fair and childlike and skyish (‘sky-blue’) light of Vizyinos falls down and – through a temporary stay in the nuthouse, in ‘such’ an entryway – crushes. What force brings into existence and calls a halt to the flowing, floating and deferred play both within and upon light?

Everyone’s volition and definitely mine – in this case – towards the entirety and complexity of the world as an event, appears and should be prepared, in practice, for a momentary revelation as well as for the conclusive disappearance of the being, the form and the conscience, or for its repetition and re-appearance within the world of movement; within the framework of an inextricable ontological short-circuiting. Such is my relationship with the past, the present and the future.

To use Dimos Chlopsioudis’ words, “in a dynamic expressiveness that focuses on the figurative use of speech, [Golitsis]  uses the elements of nature to give light and movement in open spaces”.  Where does the poet meet the painter in your work?

In the momentum of the previous question – Ι will come to painting – in case the supernal was love (what a noble conception and gesture the preeminence of love, and what act of ultimate despair and deep consciousness of the dead end do the embodiment of the divine and the abnormal, absolute absurdity of resurrection constitute), so in case the supernal was or supposedly is love, then God as a punisher or judge does not exist. An anthropocentric god – always in the context of a passage – might have been concentrating on our aforementioned volition, while a ‘gravitational’, i.e. physicochemical – let’s say – hyper-entity (or should we say hypo-) would be regularizing our momentary deviation. Such is the relation of my poetry with painting, and most importantly such is my predisposition when I attempt to "use the elements of nature to give light and movement in open spaces". Ontological, geological, cosmological, those open spaces.

What is the relationship of poetry to the world it inhabits? Can poetry act as a political paradigm? Is it in the capacity of poetry to be ‘politically militant’?

Stalin’s thick fingers, the poet wrote about, lead to rough socialistic realisms. At the opposite side, on the other side of the Atlantic, Pollock is based upon and institutionally normalized within the framework of other political and state priorities, emergencies and rearrangements. Everything in art is politics. Just as ‘innocence is not enough to plead not guilty’, an art that appears not to be politically militant, de facto is; given that it both directly and indirectly defends a political stance or a number of varying affiliations. A case in point is our stance, both in the heat of the moment and in retrospect, vis-à-vis the shocking event of the fire that burned Notre-Dame in Paris in 15 April; a reaction which, cultural or religious though it may seem, is political in its essence.

How would you comment on current literary and artistic production in Greece? Which are the prospects of the new generation of Greek writers?

Currently, I would rather play and draw with a three-year old monkey or accompany its parent, who has the same age as me and has already surpassed – in the majority of the species – the expected age of death at 40, than hang out with living poets or artists. In other words, I feel a bit tired of my ‘trade’, which, however, I continue to review, both in terms of essay and poetry, acting above all as a poet. Or else, we have all contributed in various ways and means to increase his/her poetic (artistic) capital adequacy. From then onwards, he/she seems to manage the supply and demand of his/her titles, works and character on the market and the Internet quite successfully. The target price of his/her literary-artistic stock value is still positive. Recommendation: buy, or at least hold, shares, urine or liquids. And, then, of course, split and bail in, our case is definitely not a bail out one. Are we playing now? Thank you.

*Interview by Athina Rossoglou

 

Gafam1Nikos Smyrnaios is Associate Professor at the University of Toulouse, member of the Laboratory of Studies and Applied Research in Social Science (LERASS), and also affiliated to the Group of Interdisciplinary Research on Communication, Information and Society (CRICIS) of the University of Québec in Montréal (UQAM). He also teaches at the Communication & Journalism Masters Degree of the Open University of Cyprus. His research focuses on the socioeconomic stakes and political issues of the Internet and digital media, as well as the political use of social media.

Greek News Agenda and Grèce Hebdo spoke* with Smyrnaios on the occasion of the publication in Greek (by Metamesonykties Editions), and presentation in Athens, of his book Internet Oligopoly: The Corporate Takeover of Our Digital World (Les GAFAM contre l'internet : Une économie politique du numérique), where he addresses the rise of giant Internet companies (often grouped under the acronym GAFAM) and the political implications of the oligopoly they have created.

Your research suggests that, over the last thirty years, some large internet and digital technology companies have gradually established an oligopoly. Which may be the conditions that have led to the emergence of this oligopoly?

It's a long process. The original project of the Internet is the product of particular historical and economic circumstances: the post-war boom period known as the “Thirty Glorious Years”. This was originally a target financed by public money to serve the public interest. It's an ideal type, but in broad terms, that’s what it was about. Then the network was developed by communities - scientists, hackers, and hippies -and they have built upon it since the 1970s.

It is important to keep in mind that the network’s infrastructure was funded with billions of dollars’ worth of public money. This goes against the discourse that only the markets are capable of innovation. Even Silicon Valley is the product of public investment and venture capital, which has allowed and still allows the growth of start-ups; it is a creation of the US government.

Gafam collageIn the context of the 1980s and 1990s and the triumph of economic deregulation and neoliberalism, we move to the next stage in the history of the network, based on privatisation, deregulation and financialisation. This is the moment when ultra-liberal ideology becomes prevalent: we are once more faced with a purely political question. Liberalism promotes less state, but it’s the State that imposes deregulation and privatisations.

It seems that in your opinion the social and political issues concerning the Internet and digital sector differ in comparison to those of other economic sectors. What makes for that difference?

Take the example of "fake news": when we take into account the impact that they may have on public, economic and political life, we are entitled to regard this as a public issue. One that should be dealt with as such, by involving citizens and democratic institutions. But no, it’s Mark Zuckerberg who says that Facebook will do what it takes to solve the problem. Without any transparency. Do we acknowledge that these actors have a social and political responsibility, yes or no? If so, then regulatory mechanisms should be put in place. The Internet, connected computing, these were originally considered public services. Today, Google and Facebook perform these functions without any democratic control.

Your work provides a critical analysis of the economic processes and strategies that shape the global management of the Internet today. At the same time, doesn’t this also reflect a certain configuration of power on a geopolitical level, especially the dominance of USA companies?

This is indeed a global oligopoly, even if there are other actors in China and Russia. All services are designed in Silicon Valley and sold worldwide without any adaptation to local markets. Knowing whether my personal data will be stocked by a French capitalist or an American capitalist will not change much. For me personally, the prospect of a European Google, for example, doesn’t seem realistic or desirable, unless it adopts radically different operating principles. For me, the solution would be to impose democratic control and transparency on algorithmic transparency by creating an independent regulatory authority, by doing reverse engineering to determine their functioning, etc.

Gafam3Photo: Tookapic (Pexels.com)

Your book opts for a long-term analysis that highlights the work of millions of people who create value in the digital world, as well as the public investments that made it possible. Isn’t this perspective contrasted with analyses that often emphasise the importance of iconic figures in the Internet sector?

Exploitation of millions of people’s work is one of the unprecedented profit factors of GAFAM. The rate of return of Google or Facebook stocks varies between 20 and 40%. The Wall Street average is barely 10%. Thus, in 2018, among the world’s six largest capitalisations we find the five GAFAM companies. Their profitability is also accounted for by the new working arrangements they have managed to put into practice. They make a huge amount of money with very few in-house staff. The five GAFAM combined have fewer employees than Volkswagen, and just a little more than Carrefour. Apple manages to generate more than € 2 million in revenue per employee per year. Labour is outsourced to subcontractors of subcontractors working under precarious conditions, pressured, underpaid by the task, by the click. They reduce work to digital crumbs; the exploitation of human labour has never been so sophisticated. Especially since a great part of Google and Facebook’s value of comes from the free work done by their users. To start with, Facebook is empty. Users and editors generate value for the platform without working directly for it; thus without costing anything to the company. And, on top of that, all these actors also implement a particularly aggressive tax optimisation.

Gafam5Electronics factory in Shenzhen, Photo: Steve Jurvetson from Menlo Park, USA (Wikimedia Commons)

It looks like you consider the Internet and digital communication technologies to be of key importance in global economic processes. So does it still make sense today to dissociate the Internet from the so-called sphere of the real economy?

Obviously not. I'm not technophobic, nor do I believe that in the 1990s, when there were only a handful of media, information was better. But we must keep a critical eye. Especially since the state of the Internet today is not immutable and reflects a context; namely a dominant neoliberal capitalism. This can change, but not without a balance of power. There are some positive signs; users become aware of the exploitation of their personal data and are increasingly blocking advertisements. Researchers are also addressing the issue. On the other hand, it would be naïve to rely on the emergence of a new actor, like when Alta Vista was replaced by Google in the 1990s. We are no longer there. The power of GAFAM today is comparable to that of the automobile industry in the twentieth century. They will not disappear tomorrow. The ambiguous nature of this digital capitalism lies in that it will use everything it can to maximise its profits, it is extremely predatory and increases inequality, but at the same time it prove liberating. The yellow vests movement and even the Arab Spring or the Indignados Movement might not have been as massive without the social networks. Facebook is primarily a means of exploitation, but it can also promote emancipation. This is why we must focus on the political power of GAFAM.

*Interview by Dimitris Gkintidis, translation into English by Nefeli Mosaidi

Read also via Greek News Agenda: Sissy Alonistiotou: "Media literacy is a fundamental tool for combating bias and hate speech"; Christophe Leclercq, founder of Euractiv, on Europe's reaction to fake news

ΗΡΩ ΣΙΑΦΛΙΑΚΗIro Siafliaki was born in Thessaloniki. She studied Cinema at E. Hadzikou Film School (Athens) and Philosophy at Sorbonne University (Paris) and holds a PhD on Art, Philosophy and Aesthetics Studies. Her filmography includes : “Zones and passages” (2018, 109’) ; “I remember tomorrow” (2015, 9’) ; “Geneviève Clancy, Instants of Life”(2013, 76’) ; “Nights” (2010, 20’) ; “Nico Papatakis – A portrait” (2009, 45’ co-directed with Timon Koulmasis) ; “Michalis” (2007, 26’ co-directed with Timon Koulmasis) ; “Martha” (2006, 26’ co-directed with Timon Koulmasis) ; “Passing by Jenine” (2005, 10’) ; “Meeting G.C.” (2005, 15’) ; “Exils” (2005, 58’) ; “Ways of Rebetico” (2003, 64’ co-directed with Timon Koulmasis) ; “Kontra-tempo” (2002, 30’) ; “Sinasos, a survey of memory” (1997, 60’ co-directed with Timon Koulmasis) and “Invention” (1990, 20).

Iro Siafliaki was interviewed by Greek News Agenda* on the subject of her latest documentary “Zones and passages”, a film aboutprecarity as a result ofthe economic crisis in Greece, but also about the movements triggered by the resistance to this new situation of uncertainty, insecurity and exploitation in the Greek job market. Siafliaki talks about the artistic choice of having VIOME factory workers film a big part of their story themselves, subverting the terms of cinematographic narration in the same way they deconstucted the old hierarchies and operated in terms of direct democracy in their work place and their life. Siafliaki also elaborates on the means she used in order to avoid approaching poverty and unemployment as a spectacle.

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"Zones and Passages", dir. Iro Siafliaki (2018)

What prompted you to make this film?

The starting point of the film was our need to contemplate on an extremely pressing situation, the notorious crisis.We believe that the problem of unemployment and that of labour conditions, which is already very acute, lies at the heart of this crisis. Or, as philosopher Anselm Jappe says in the film: A society where you have to sell your labour-power to live, unless you are the owner of capital, no longer needs this labour-power. We tried to film this as a catastrophic situation that risks becoming commonplace, banal, as well as the movements that experiment with ways to respond to it.

Moving from one situation to another is not easy, so the two parts of the film are very different to each other ; the poetic mode of the first part is followed by a totally different style of narration denoting urgency in the face of an emergency. In the first part, filming takes place in areas of Athens where the scars of unemployment are evident; the  Shipbuilding Zone at Perama pose the question of what the impact of constant job insecurity on peoples’ lives is. What does it physically mean to those once toiling with both pain and pride to be now doomed to inaction?

In the second part of the film, the case of the VIOME factory in Thessaloniki that is self-managed by the workers themselves, subverts the concept of labour, workers deconstuct old hierarchies and operate in terms of direct democracy. It also refers to the conflict stirred by the particularly damaging exploitation of the gold mines in the Skouries forest, on the pretext of job creation. If the film ended with the Perama story, it would merely have concluded that that the job market has shrunk; by continuing with the efforts of resistance against resignation and people’s attempts to find themselves and others in this new landscape, the film takes the risk not to provide answers, but to leave the discussion open.

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"Zones and Passages", dir. Iro Siafliaki (2018)

Where are the results of unemployment felt more intensely, in French or Greek society?

Our view, as reflected in the film, is that although in Greece the problem of unemployment is particularly intense, the situation is not much better in France and elsewhere. We all see evidence of a new form of poverty progressively rising even in the more affluent countries where increasingly more people suffer from unemployement, while those who work are forced to work more and more intensively.Thus, while the film refers to the crisis situation in Greece, we have interposed scenes of the heated reactions against the 2016 controversial El Khomri Labour Law Reform in France.Let’s not forget the yellow vests movement currently underway in France, which is rising against precarity caused, among other things, by decreases in employment, austerity and the neoliberal deregulations entailed.

VIOME reflet DIM camera ed

"Zones and Passages", dir. Iro Siafliaki (2018)

In your documentary, the workers of VIOME experiment with self expression. Would you like to elaborate on that choice?

Preparing the part that concerns the self-managed VIOME factory was particularly decisive for the film. Since 2014-15, the film editor Bonita Papastathi and I have shared with VIOME workers talks, actions and slices of life. A year after our first meeting and realizing how their deeply political struggle was open to all aspects of life, we suggested the adventure of self managing their own image.

The idea of the participation of the subjects filmed in the construction of the film had been tested during the 60’s in the case of the Medvedkin Group in France. The workers voted in favour of the proposal in a meeting. While not self evident, there was a direct relation in the way VIOME workers subverted the normal work context and the way they subvert the relationship between subject and object in the filming process.

Depicting the filming process didn’t serve as a narration device. What we suggest by letting VIOME workers narrate their own story by filming it themeselves is the experience of a film that interferes with the whole film, as a documentary on the relationship of the employees with cinema and images. Filming some parts of the shooting process by the workers themselves (as for example when they suggest how it should be done or when expressing doubts or their critique on the initial editing) enabled us on the one hand to define a path and certain issues that had to be taken into consideration. On the other hand it made us change our preconceptions.

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"Zones and Passages", dir. Iro Siafliaki (2018)

How did meeting your protagonists influence you?

We devoted a lot of time to this film. It wasn’t easy to meet people truly unemployed or people being tested by theunclear boundaries of a temporary employment. During the four years of filming we came across situations and things different to what we were examining when preparing the script, while more came up in the editing stage. But I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said that the film was co-built with all those who took part, and things that we may have felt would’ve gone unrecognized without their input. It is a very important experience when people entrust parts of their life to you and you move from your positions to “celebrate” this encounter.

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"Zones and Passages", dir. Iro Siafliaki (2018)

In your documentary you show various forms of resistance. Do you think they are utopian?

It may be a bigger utopia to think that the crisis is temporary and that the situation will magically improve for all those condemned to poverty or for our planet itself. The radical thinking of those opposed to this allows at least prospects to remain open far beyond the "realistic" proposals that claim that increases in unemployment benefits or the development of technology will eventually solve the problem.

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"Zones and Passages", dir. Iro Siafliaki (2018)

How easy is it to avoid poverty-porn when dealing with issues of unemployment?

The difficulty with hot issues such as poverty is to ‘liberate’ them from systemic media spectacle traps that provide unforgettable 'spectacles’ which these media themselves help to be forgotten. Quite often, the narration that accompanies the images, or the relationships that editing creates between them serve to distance us from the unbearable the moment it is exposed.

Perhaps a way of avoiding degrading images in a spectacle, 'poverty porn' etc is to turn into witnesses both those who compose the work and those who encounter it, in the essential sense of the word; to make them feel that what goes on concerns them utterly and to look for those conditions that would make it part of the world. It is necessary therefore to go beyond or to lay into doubt the stereotypes that make us not see the world anymore but only its representation, at the expense of the immediacy of its experience. In our case, the particular aesthetics of the film were chosen to blur these stereotypes, towards which purpose the tools used were drawn from the cinema arsenal. The key was to depict the subjects in a different manner so that we may feel the burden of such work or of its absence, as well as their extraordinary sense of dignity, their generosity with life which we often witnessed during filming. Pity or fear are too often used as means of narration…

* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi

Watch the trailer ZONES AND PASSAGES by Iro Siafliaki on Vimeo.

Read also: VioMe Coop: A factory under workers' control

Fanis Papageorgiou was born in 1986 in Athens. He studied economics in bachelor and master’s degree and holds a PhD from the National Technical University of Athens in the field of political economy. He has written three books of poetry in Greek: Πλυντήριο άστρων [Laundry of Stars] (Logotechnon Editions, 2013), H θάλασσα με τα 150 επίπεδα [The sea with the 150 levels] (Κοukoutsi Editions, 2015) and Διώρυγα μεταξύ νεφών [Canal between clouds] (Τhraca Books, 2018). His first book was shortlisted for the newcomer poet award of the Hellenic Authors’ Society. His poems have been translated in English and Spanish. He is currently working as a lecturer at the National Technical University of Athens.

fanis papageorgiou

Fanis Papageorgiou spoke to Reading Greece* about his latest book Canal between clouds, in which he “attempted for ‘simplicity’ both in terms of ideas and form”, as well as on the main themes his poetry delves into, that is “how we live, who we are, how the world is, which are the universal values and so on, in order to ‘turn the world upside down’”.

Asked about the meeting point between poetry and political economy, he explains that “poetry, fighting against the dominant discourse of power, moves in parallel with political economy”, and concludes that “by using new ways of expression while staying vigilant against the possibility of dominant discourse prevailing anew, we can put poetry at the forefront of questioning the existing and building a ‘new’ man, who will unmediatedly converse with his needs and the others, so that poetry coupled with political practices turns the world upside down”.

Your latest poetry collection Canal between clouds was recently published by Thraca. Tell us a few things about the book.

It’s always difficult to talk about your works.  What I can say for sure is that the book attempted for ‘simplicity’ both in terms of ideas and form. It tried to be simple without becoming simplistic; I hope it worked this way. It is, after all, the product of a socio-economic conjuncture during which things seem to settle, without, of course, being fully solidified. 

In her review of The sea with the 150 levels, Maria Koulouri characterizes your poetry as “a madness pulp”, “a desperate attempt to exist, since madness is a way out, one last effort of being, a complaint against legitimacy and an urgent need for change”.  Which are the main themes your poetry touches upon? 

Maria Koulouri’s comment is quite insightful in that it bridges the artistic subject with the political one, madness with existence. Against the attributes of dominant discourse, individualism, economic rationality, discipline, it’s sometimes madness, artistic creation or political discourse that come to meet each other.  In other words, political discourse and artistic creation should converge with utopia, with all the things that exist outside this world and its values. They should talk about things in a way that has never been used before. 

This transcendent course may look to some as a void of meaning voluntarism at best, or as madness in the worst. This course towards things that “don’t exist” may be found in Gorgia’s “non-being”, that is things that even if they existed, couldn’t be perceived, known or understood, nor would someone name or transmit them in linguistic terms (ca. 485–380 BC; see also Andersen 2008; Reinertsen 2015). This course towards meeting all those things that have not been said comprises both discourse movements and practices.

For Sol Funaroff, an artist’s role is to transform himself from the distant recorder of individual events to the person who participates in the creation of new values and a new world, to the poet who proudly gives voice to the new experience (Hickman 2015). Along similar lines, Bezzel (1970, p. 35) explains that “a revolutionary writer is not the one who semantically devises poetic proposals that refer and aim to highlight the necessity of revolution but rather the one who uses poetic means to render poetry a model of revolution”. Therefore, my themes delve into how we live, who we are, how the world is, which are the universal values and so on, in order to turn “the world upside down”.

PapageorgiouBooks

How are the strong surrealistic influences that characterize your poetry reflected upon your poetic language? What purpose does language serve in your writings?

This is quite a difficult question to answer! At times I have caught myself making up words by following their sound or their origins, while at others I insisted on literal meanings. Metaphors and similes certainly facilitate metonymies about the world and render surrealistic references more concrete. As for the importance and aim of language, it may sound commonplace but poetry itself is a linguistic process, albeit not an absolutely ‘rational’ one. Thus, ontologically, there can be no poetry without language. It’s one of those experiences that, unless mediated in language, cannot be considered experiences.

Poetry and political economy converge in that they both fight for the re-invention of society”. Could you elaborate on that?

Getting back to the second question, I consider that poetry, fighting against the dominant discourse of power, moves in parallel with political economy, at least the way I perceive the word while working in the respective field, that is as a philosophical narrative, which refutes the instrumental, economistic, individualistic, disciplinary discourse of the economic science. In other words, philosophy and poetry both fight against the same thing, perhaps with different tools.

The re-invention of the world is the crucial issue here. It is clear, I think, that the new world will not emerge from nowhere, but will form through the non-acceptance of the existing one, on the fringes of such refusal. Of course, this cannot be achieved automatically but through collective imagination, whether it occurs in poetry, science or in everyday life. Breakthroughs and discontinuities often cut into the rails of continuity. Yet, it’s not enough to just refuse; we have to envisage what comes next, what is ‘non-being yet’. Refusal may be a step towards emancipation but not an end in itself. 

I personally reckon that the crucial point in this fight refers to the concept of hegemony, that is to make a puzzle whose pieces will comprise all those aspects that oppose the dominant discourse, to make a creative collage of all the things that we currently consider crazy, voluntaristic or unthinkable. To focus on how we want to live.

Vassilis Lambropoulos notes that “of all the arts, poetry has been identified as the most representative of the current national crisis. It constitutes the major cultural domain where the Greek emergency and/or exception are being negotiated”. What is the relationship of poetry to the world it inhabits?

Vasillis was among the first to discuss such issues and has been prolific in his writings. The crisis condenses and confirms the spatial, generational and temporal similarities, thus leading to some kind of intersubjectivity, that is common notions and representations, or concluding that social relations “bear more truth that the subjects they connect” (Bourdieu, 2007). Yet, I should mention that it is necessary, albeit difficult, to fully understand this dialectical movement in which poetry reflects the evolution of the world in which it is born, while, it can at anytime, and through hegemony, define “language”, though not so successfully nowadays.

After all, for Marcuse, art is a phenomenon deeply rooted in society, while an artistic work forms part of a social entirety (Marcuse 1973, p. 108). In addition, Burger considers that every individual work is conceived and intertwined to a social reality, to which it owes its creation as part of a dialectical relationship, while for Calas, the social, historical and moral dimensions of being inevitably leave their mark on art. Finally, for Dilthey, “we don’t study history, we are history”. In other words, the past and present life experiences are connected through the current of history of which we are all part (Zimmermann 2015, p. 29). The crucial issue, as I already mentioned, is to compose an hegemonic discourse for the world, a discourse which, in its abstraction, will allow and call each one of us to take a stand vis-à-vis the questions of life; a discourse which, in its specialization, will allow and ask for the deconstruction of the dominant discourse, while being pleasant and emotionally motivating. After all, a discourse which will be unmediated by the values of today’s reality.

In recent years, there has been an extraordinary burgeoning of poetry in every form: graffiti, blogs, literary magazines, readings in public squares to mention just a few. How is this trend to be explained?Could poetry offer new ways to imagine what can be radically different realities?

Massiveness is sine qua non for hegemony. Massiveness, however, comprises ontologically deeper levels vis-a-vis the dominance of power’s discourse. I reckon that the current conjecture demands that we be simple without becoming simplistic. To pose questions but also to come up with answers. By using new ways of expression while staying vigilant against the possibility of dominant discourse prevailing anew, we can put poetry at the forefront of questioning the existing and building a ‘new’ man, who will unmediatedly converse with his needs and the others, so that poetry coupled with political practices turns the world upside down.

*Interview by Athina Rossoglou

Michalis Papantonopoulos was born in Athens in 1980. His books include: Δ [D] (Erato Editions, 2006), Συμεών Βάλας: Ένα σχεδίασμα [Symeon Valas: A draft] (Melani Books, 2010), Οι Δώδεκα: Μια ημιτελής συμφωνία [The Twelve: An Unconcluded Agreement] (Αigaion/ Koukkida Editions, 2011), Βόλια [Volia] (Typothito Editions, 2015).

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In 2016, together with Labriana Oikonomou, he founded ‘Κοβάλτιο’ [Kovaltio Editions]. Books published by Kovaltio Editions include: Βορτιστικό Μανιφέστο [Vorticist Manifesto] by Ezra Pound, Wyndham Lewis and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, a typical example of the 20th century avant-guard poetry, Περί Τρέλας [On Madness], thirty four letters by Artaud, Woolf, Nietzsche, Poe and Shelley, the agonizing call of the outcast spirit to society; Περί Χρήματος  [On Money], essays by Aquinas, Aristotle, Kotoku, Marx, Baudelaire, Warhol, Tolstoy, which demonstrate that money mainly apart from a means of exchange, mainly constitutes institution; Σάντιτον [Sanditon], the last novel of Jane Austen which thoroughly criticizes the moral philosophy of gender, amid a world that is rapidly changing; Βίος και πολιτεία ενός ηλίθιου [The Life of A Stupid Man], a collection of the best short stories of Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, the ‘father of the Japanese short story’; Bαραββάς [Barrabas] by Georg Trakl, a book that includes prose written by the major Austrian poet; Ονορέ ντε Μπαλζάκ: Ένα επεισόδιο από την εποχή της Τρομοκρατίας και Το κόκκινο πανδοχείο [Honore de Balzac: An Episode Under The Terror and The Red Inn], two amazing realistic short stories about the ‘society’ of ‘Human Comedy’.

Michalis Papantonopoulos spoke to Reading Greece* about the main themes his poetry delves into, noting that every time, he tries to “compose a puzzle of the being at a historical time”, and that “there are repetitive images and words coming back, yet in an unexpected syntax or by distorting grammatical rules”, “an attempt towards linguistic freedom”.

Asked about Kovaltio Editions, which he founded together with Labriana Oikonomou in 2016, he comments that “Kovaltio Editions is an act of self-determination vis-à-vis our literature aesthetics”. He concludes that “in difficult times, culture, in various forms, is to be affected by the bureaucratic folly of the state. If this is the case, the state would better withdraw, so that the book market may self-requlate and operate on its own. Contrary to this, the extent of collapse may crush any defense”.

You have published five poetry collections. Which are the main themes your poetry touches upon? Are there recurrent points of reference in your writings?

Every time, I try to compose a puzzle of the being at a historical time. Of course Every book has elements in common: specters that are raging; pieces lost and pieces found along the way; new combinations in familiar molds. The puzzle is either finished or abandoned and taken to pieces. In any case, the poet reinvents the way to make thing happen.

In this sense, there are repetitive images and words coming back, yet in an unexpected syntax or by distorting grammatical rules: as if they exist in isolation in personalized linguistic construct, where they can acquire unusual meaninings or differentiated function compared to their use in texts outside the construct. It is an attempt towards linguistic freedom.  

PapantonopoulosBooks

You have translated major writers such as Trakl, Poe, Rilke, Yeats, Wilde among others. Which are the main challenges a translator has to face and what constitute your primary translation goal?

In the end, it is always the text itself that is intriguing: to creatively transcribe the text is challenging. The translator has a task: to harness, both fiercely and creatively, the voice, the story and the passions of the text; not the writer’s. As a matter of fact, translation has a purpose: to creatively find the Greek equivalents to the original text; the aesthetics of speech. It is there that the limits, whatever is gained, whatever is lost, are tested. Far more than this, there is also a gift: the balance that translation offers. In a sense I feel part of the ‘immortality’ of the texts. Mortality is inherent to the art of translation. As a consequence, translation is a valuable reminder of artistic immortality.

What is the relationship of poetry to the world it inhabits? Can literature be used to create a new narrative about Greece?

The words of Abidin, when the Turkish poet Orhan Veli Kanik ‘was trying’ to understand the social importance of mustard, come to mind: “One can’t/ Live/ Without mustard/ Abidin was saying/ the same thing/ the other day/ to those/ who understand/ Deeper Things./ I know I don’t need to say this-but/ May God let no one/ be without mustard”. Literature is part of our narrative about the world: the same way as household aesthetics, pivotal events in the ‘showcase’, the ‘fitting rooms’ and ‘warehouses’ of political life and History, exceptional circumstances and suffocating habits. After all, literature is not the outcome of supernatural, but the attempt to form a narrative about people risking (for) the bliss.

In 2016, together with Labriana Oikonomou, you founded ‘Κοβάλτιο’ [Kovaltio Editions]. How did you decide to embark on such a publishing venture amidst the crisis? What is to be expected from Κοβάλτιοin 2019?

An era has its own difficulties. This shall not prevent people from fulfilling their wishes. We shall not conform to the pessimistic ‘normality’ imposed by economic crisis. Kovaltio Editions isan act of self-determination vis-à-vis our literature aesthetics.

As far as concerns forthcoming publications, in 2019, the following books are to be published:: The Philosophy of Dress and Furniture with essays by Oscal Wilde and Edgar Allan Poe respectively, translated by Labriana Oikonomou; a selection of short stories by the Russian writer Daniil Kharms translated by Giorgos Blanas titled Falling old ladies and other stories; Tales for the Underworld by Hans Fallada, translated by Angeliki Korre.

Kovaltio Books

How do you respond to those that argue that the crisis has broken the ties that connect readers with the choices and orientation of traditional publishers, creating an aesthetic and intellectual space that remain to be filled?

The crisis has deeply disturbed the publishing market: the need for financial liquidity was transformed to ‘an aesthetics’ condition’. Yet, quite significant works continue to be published, new editions start business, the level of translated works into Greek is, for the most part, highly satisfactory, while typography standards remain high.

There is a space to creatively think and work as editors. Being active participants in the book market is an ongoing process that comprises elements such as publishing vision, typographic perception, lust for the text.

It has been argued that what the Greek book market lacks is a concrete and purposeful state book policy. What should be done at an institutional policy level for the promotion of Greek books?

To a considerable extent, the state book policy should, at least, reduce the number of economic ‘absurdities’, in many business sectors as well, while they affect the citizen. Ill practices in the book market are intensified by countermeasures. There is a dominant trend in the book market; the editors publish books paid by the author to ensure volatility; furthermore, the editors seek cheap or even free collaborations. Thus, people unfamiliar with book production (notably specialists employed in other, well-paid business sectors)  enter almost unthinkingly literature aesthetics and publications standards. Consequently, the reader may get a book of poor quality.    

In difficult times, culture, in various forms, is to be affected by the bureaucratic folly of the state. If this is the case, the state would better withdraw, so that the book market may self-requlate and operate on its own. Contrary to this, the extent of collapse may crush any defense.

*Interview by Athina Rossoglou

 

balourdos ekkeDionisis Balourdos, demographist and economist at EKKE (National Centre for Social Research), recently directed a study on the aging population problem in Greece on behalf of diaNEOSIS. As things stand, Greece has recorded an extremely low fertility rate over the last thirty years, a trend that’s been further reinforced by the recent economic crisis. Greek News Agenda and its sister publication Grèce Hebdo* spoke with Dionisis Balourdos on the relationship between the economic crisis and demographic trends, as well as fertility policies in Greece and Europe.

For the last few years, Greece has had one of the lowest fertility rates in the world - 1.35 children per woman in 2017. Can you explain to us the causes and consequences of this phenomenon?

The financial recession -usually linked with higher unemployment rates, job instability, increased financial and job insecurity for young adults and decreased real income- directly affects family income and the opportunity cost associated with childcare, thus likely resulting in a significant decrease in birth rates. Many couples postpone having children waiting for the economy to improve and this, in some cases, eventually takes a toll on fertility. Continuing population aging and inversion of the population pyramid are a direct result of this development which, among other things, leads to an increase in health and long-term care costs.

balourdos2(Mike Chai for Pexels.com)

Do recent demographic changes in Greece reflect shifts in the structure of the Greek family? To what extent does the Greek case reflect wider trends in Europe?

In most European countries, families are not stable, their average size is shrinking, and there are more late marriages and more divorces. There is an increase in cohabitation outside marriage as well as a rise in the number of people from all age groups living alone. There is also an impressive increase in the number of children living with a single parent (the overwhelming majority of these parents are women) and a decrease in the number of couples with children. It is indicative that women have children at an older age. In general, these developments are observed in all European countries, with variations in pace and intensity. It is however worth noticing two major differences or "extremes" in our country. The first has to do with out-of-wedlock births, which accounted for 10.3% of all births in Greece in 2017 – the lowest rate in the EU-28. In other European countries it was over 50% (Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Portugal, Norway, Estonia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, France, and Iceland). The second has to do with "final childlessness" for women. Things look worrying. This is a rapidly growing phenomenon. Looking at women born in 1965, we see that 16.3% did not have children, while the percentage was relatively smaller (10.3%) in women born in 1960. The increase in childlessness in Greece is associated with a smaller percentage of women with only one child. It is very likely that among women born in the 1970s and 1980s, final childlessness will increase due to bad financial circumstances and other factors associated, for instance, with gender equality, barriers to labour market absorption etc.

balourdos3(Alain Schroeder for European Communities)

The recent study by diaNEOsis examines the correlation between low fertility rates and the economic crisis. To what extent do recent changes in fertility resemble those taking place in past crises?

Periods of economic crisis usually go hand in hand with periods of constraint and fertility decline. However, each period must be examined taking into account the specific financial and social-demographic conditions of the time. For example, the Great Depression in 1930s USA has had a strong negative effect on fertility. There was a postponement and low birth rates that lasted quite some time. In addition, it took place at a time when, on the one hand, fertility was high (over 2.5 children per woman) and, on the other hand, its decline was already underway for two decades due to the wider access to contraception.

In Europe, the effects are mitigated and depend on the generosity of social welfare systems and the responses in each country. The relative increase in births in the early 2000s came to a halt when the economic and financial crisis began. Increased inequality and high unemployment rates among young people and women are among the main factors behind birth decline. In this context, fertility began to decline drastically and to range below 1.5 children per woman in countries like Greece.

Your research makes extensive reference the "Low-Fertility Trap" hypothesis. What are the main mechanisms defining this phenomenon?

The demographic situation in Greece as well as in most of the countries of the European Union is described as a "Second Demographic Transition". This is an approach which perceives sub-replacement fertility levels (below 2.1 children per woman) as an irreversible fact. At the same time, it provides a conceptual framework for interpreting new demographic behaviours (i.e. cohabitation outside marriage and out-of-wedlock births). It is in fact argued that once fertility falls below a certain level (1.5 children per woman) and stays that way for a prolonged period of time, as is the case in our country, a self-reinforcing demographic regime (Low-Fertility Trap) is established, from which it is hard to escape, and goes like that: due to past low fertility there will be fewer potential mothers in the future. It is obvious that fewer women will give birth to ever-fewer children. This leads to changes in social values ​​and creates new family models (i.e. a smaller real and, consequently, ideal family size). At the same time, young people, particularly in the period of financial recession, are unable to fulfill their expectations from a financial-consuming point of view and resort to the postponement of childbearing for a later stage. This precisely is the main reason for low fertility (including in Greece), i.e. postponing having children until the economy improves.

Low fertility levels lead to a cumulative acceleration of the above-mentioned mechanisms, creating a trap making recovery very difficult. Let's not forget that Greece has been in this trap since 1987/88 (about 30 years).

balourdos4(European Communities)

A society’s demographic situation is directly associated to women’s position and their rights. In what ways are fertility policies required to take into account women’s physical burden, but also their reproductive rights?

Although the answer could be much more intricate, I will focus on the approach which uses as its point of reference the issue of gender equality and the shift in women’s roles in society and institutions within a Second Demographic Transition. Although in some countries women are presented with better options and opportunities, gender inequalities in the labour market still exist and are caused by childbirth and time off work. In other words, women suffer a kind of "motherhood penalty". In other cases, however, the increase in education level amongst women has led to a demand for more equality within the small family nucleus. The current institutional framework can, nevertheless, form a key component of positive upward trends in fertility, as in the example of France and the Nordic countries. We’re talking about places where families are entitled to a high level of state aid, especially in the form of childcare services and “mandatory” paternal leave (particularly in Nordic countries) and where the general policy formula supports equality and employment for women. As a result, women's economic activity rates in these countries are high, and so is fertility. Equality also covers other important matters such as efficient protection against and condemnation of violence against women, their reproductive rights, etc.

By contrast, in countries like Greece for example, where family support is essential (in matters of childrearing), while policies supporting more traditional gender roles are backed by institutions and values, the conflict between new roles, opportunities and possibilities for women, on the one hand, and the “motherhood maternity" and intra-household gender inequality, on the other, is forcing women to delay and / or completely renounce childbearing.

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Do child benefit policies constitute a comprehensive response to the problem of low fertility in Greece?

Modern policies have moved away from the one-dimensional benefit programme, which is considered inefficient and clientelist. A widespread trend in the countries of Europe is the use of a combination of measures with an emphasis on reconciling career and family life and inciting people to work. This targeting is a special type of family policy, in the sense that both parents are increasingly encouraged to be economically active, by facing fewer burdens linked with childcare. This may be the best long-term strategy to boost fertility levels. The examples of France and some Nordic countries demonstrate that this is not impossible. It requires a combination of policies and incentives provided by the state and statutory regulations allowing mothers to remain a part of the workforce and have their own income.

Policy also values the father’s role. For example, Germany's traditional child support model (single allowance) was customarily given to mothers, who were the caregivers – often because they had lower wages. Now, the parental leave system allows both parents to be entitled to two-thirds of their previous earnings while on parental leave. This policy forms part of a groundbreaking (favourable) legislation that gives families more flexibility in the distribution of responsibilities concerning newborn care. This is particularly important in the process of deciding to have a first or second child, especially when it comes to two working parents and / or middle-class parents. At the same time, there is improved access to services oriented to children's social rights (i.e. pre-school and other educational services as well as healthcare services) and an emphasis on parents' responsibilities, particularly fathers’ financial obligations. As a result, the fertility rate in Germany in 2016 rose to 1.59 children per woman (a figure that hadn’t reappeared since 1982).

In Greece, we need a comprehensive and effective policy. It should not be one-dimensional (based on allowances or patronage) but, instead, founded on a package of measures on the basis of gender equality, with clear objectives, not simply assessed by cost but also evaluated and with their effects continuously monitored. After all, what matters eventually, apart from the evaluation and the extent of the impact of those policies, is their symbolic effect and how it is perceived by parents.

*Interview by Dimitris Gkintidis, translation by Nefeli Mosaidi.

Read more via Greek News Agenda: Maria Petmesidou on the past and the future of the Greek welfare state