Vangelis Raptopoulos is one of Greece’s most notable contemporary writers of fiction. He published his first book, a short story collection, to wide acclaim at twenty years of age, and has since been a steady presence in Greek letters, with over twenty-five books. He writes mainly novels and short stories, but has also published collections of essays and articles. With studies in pedagogy and journalism, Raptopoulos has also worked as a publisher’s reader and script reader, as well as a radio broadcaster, and has also been a regular contributor to many newspapers and magazines of wide circulation.
Raptopoulos has taught creative writing in various colleges and institutions; his novel The cicadas (1985) has been translated in English, and The Incredible Story of Pope Joan (2000) has been translated into Italian. His first two books have been adapted for television, while his 1993 novel The bachelor has been adapted into an award-winning film by acclaimed Greek director Nikos Panayotopoulos. Raptopoulos has become known for his personal style of writing, often creating a mixture of tragedy and comedy, deliberately verging on parody. This is particularly obvious in his latest novel, The man who burned down Greece, an alternative history book inspired by Greece’s financial crisis, which has already been praised as one of his best.
The book’s protagonist is Dimitris Apostolakis, whom the author himself describes as a “modern day Don Quixote from Greece”. Born with the rare gift of pyrokinesis, the hero often sets fires unintentionally, usually under stressful or unsettling situations; for him, it is a deeply soothing experience yet with a frightful outcome. During the Greek financial crisis, Apostolakis loses his job and eventually abandons his family to go live on the streets.
Caught in a maelstrom of misery, resentment and, in the end, fury, the hero -who has now managed to master his own powers- decides to go on a mission, targeting buildings he views as symbols of capitalist injustice; he sets a number of destructive wildfires that trigger massive popular revolts in Athens and all major Greek cities, resulting in extensive damages and multiple deaths – including his own. Vangelis Raptopoulos spoke* to Greek News Agenda about his latest novel, his thoughts on contemporary Greek reality and fiction, and the symbolic theme of pyrokinesis.
Your book is written in epistolary form – where did this idea come from? In fact, it shares many common traits with Dracula, one of the most widely acclaimed novels of the horror genre, which is also directly referenced in your book: it predominantly consists of diary entries but also letters (e-mails), newspaper clippings, messages, transcripts, etc. Was Dracula a strong inspiration for you?
With regard to the novel’s form, or rather its structure, my initial inspiration came from the rather unknown in Greece psychological thriller What She Left, by first-time novelist T.R. Richmond. It is a contemporary epistolary novel, a patchwork of Facebook posts, forum comments, tweets, emails, text messages etc. This book further reminded me of another celebrated debut novel, this time by one of my favourite authors: Stephen King’s Carrie, which in turn seems inspired by Stoker’s Dracula – and not just regarding its structure. Dracula, probably the most compelling novel I have ever read and one of horror fiction’s quintessential works (together with Shelley’s Frankenstein and Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), manages to make a convincing case for one of speculative fiction’s most incredible subject matters, thanks in great part to its composite, fragmented structure. King uses a similar structure and technique to convince us of the existence of his telekinetic heroine, I use it to make my pyrokinetic hero’s existence convincing.
Photo: Urs Voegeli
Generally speaking, you do not try masking your influences. Books, films, songs, mottos that are likely to spring to the one’s mind while reading your novel are often referenced by the characters. Do you intentionally use these direct allusions, as does Brian De Palma for example, famous for recreating scenes or plots from Hitchcock or Eisenstein in his films?
This choice is as deliberate as is anything resulting from one’s disposition or temperament. In other words, there are writers who are secretive and others who are very open regarding their sources of inspiration, but I guess no one gets to chose which will be his type. This streak in me was sharpened from one point onward, as I incorporated many pulp elements in my work in order to more profoundly express not just myself, but our times as well. A time bereft of values, ideals and a slave to money; a time of which we cannot talk by means of the high art of the past, making it almost imperative that we approach it through popular genres, starting from crime and horror fiction all the way to pornography. These choices have put me in the line of fire of literary critics and the literary status quo, so I found it necessary to inform my readers about my influences and my intentions, which the critics either overlooked or were simply unaware of.
One the novel’s central themes is the growing number of homeless people in Greece, as well as their social status. In the hero’s first-person narration you include some very disturbing details about life on the streets. Where did you draw such knowledge about the homeless’ living conditions in such detail?
Some of the homeless characters portrayed in the novel are based on news stories from the media, as I mention in my postface at the end of the book. Other details I drew from my own keen observations of the homeless in the centre of Athens, mainly between 2012 and 2014. Nonetheless, I would say that, as always, most of the work was done by my imagination. The same more or less happened with Loula (when readers consistently asked how I knew so much about female orgasm) and Lesbian (questions this time focusing on my knowledge of homosexuality), just to mention two blatant examples. A novelist observes his surroundings and then imagines the rest, that’s how it always has been and always will. A novel in Greek is very aptly called mythistorima, combining the words “myth” and “history”: it is partly an invention, a tale, and partly history, reality. As for the homeless, they constitute the essence not just of this novel, but also of the financial crisis. In a country where owner occupancy is still the rule (and where as a rule all institutions but the family are imported and impaired) there is no greater misfortune than to not have “a roof over one’s head”. Finally, I think that, if family wasn’t as important as it is in Greece, then the crisis wouldn’t have just increased the number of the homeless, it would have literally wiped us out.
In your postface you note that a major inspiration for your book was the (Greek) Left’s fixation with fire, as well as “the obsession of almost all of today’s Greeks with wanting to see the world burn”. Following the hero’s path into utter deprivation, the reader empathises with his eventual catastrophic outburst; can we assume that you partly justify his destructive urge – and, in particular, his desire for catharsis by fire? Or do you agree more with the fictional commentator's claims that no substantial change can come from destruction?
Surprisingly, I agree with both these views. After all, this is one of the privileges of writing a novel; it gives you the space to elaborate on opposing and contradictory opinions (something strictly forbidden in real life by threat of being labeled schizophrenic, at best). Our lives in this tiny corner of the globe can often become unbearable, unlivable actually, due to certain, apparently systemic, social defects and afflictions that plague us. Especially in these times, Greece can be surrealistically dysfunctional and wretched, whilst the prevalent unfairness, favouritism and apathy can often drive you to the end of your rope. So leveling everything to the ground may seem like the only solution and way to catharsis. On the other hand, I don’t believe there’s anyone in Greece who believes that this would actually change anything and bring deliverance. If you just think about it, my novel falls into the genre of political fiction or alternative history, and yet it chronicles an imaginary, invented uprising, after which everything falls back to normal, as if nothing had happened; this is quite original. In novels of this category the hero travels back in time to, say, kill Hitler’s parents and spare the world of WWII. In my novel, we pant and gasp all over again, like Sisyphus, rolling the same boulder up the hill, no matter what or how much we’ve tried to change our fate. As if we are doomed to perpetually bear our burdens, whether we fight back individually and collectively or not.
Before embarking on his ultimate arson spree, the hero, Apostolakis, has a shave and haircut and a long hot shower, bringing to mind the Spartan custom before battle. Regardless of the final outcome of his rebellious mission, do you think of Apostolakis more as a fighter, like the anarchist organisations view him, or as a madman, as his own daughter describes him? Or, possibly, as a part of you which you are struggling to leave behind, as does Apostolakis’ widow, who wavers between her guilt of betrayal and desire for a new life?
Once again, I think that he is in fact all of those things. And above all, I believe my hero is still a part of me that I myself have mocked, scoffed and scorned as much as I could. However, if I had to choose just one answer, the version I would point to would be that of a comic yet tragic hero, a noble madman, a naive rebel, a romantic radical. Dimitris Apostolakis is a modern-day, Greek-born, Don Quixote, like any self-respecting hero in a novel since the genre itself was introduced by Cervantes. Just as the other two heroes, his wife, Lena Apostolaki, and their friend, Giorgos Theodoridis, can’t help but exemplify a dual, two-headed, Sancho Panza. Maybe this is inevitable and there is no other possibility for human existence. Not to mention that, in fact, each of us incorporates both sides, Don Quixote and Panza, or else we are not humans, but monsters.
Mourning is another pivotal theme in the novel; the hero mourns for his parents as well as for his victims, while his own loss (made known to the reader early in the book) is mourned by his loved ones. In your postface you claim that what triggered the idea for this story was the loss of your father. You also say that pyrokinesis is the ideal metaphor for the process of writing; does this have to do with a book’s ability to spark thoughts like flames, or rather with writing as a soothing energy discharge that relieves one’s pain, reminiscent of the alleviating effect that the fire-starting occurrences have on the hero’s psychology?
It is true that mourning is a pivotal theme in the novel (although this could sound misleading since this isn’t an elegiac novel but rather a black comedy); especially mourning, one could even say, for the absence of a massive uprising, a reaction against the crisis that has crushed us all these years. And, of course, mourning for the human losses caused by the crisis. As for the writing metaphor, I believe that almost all paranormal abilities are ideal for this purpose. Especially telekinesis, since the writer essentially controls the heroes with his mind, and we have the feeling that this psychic power has been invented just to express the creativeness of storytelling. The same is more or less true for pyrokinesis, and other such paranormal powers as well. I refer to the fact that these powers are obviously fictional (as are literary heroes and their actions) as well as the fact that the creator, like a small god with supernatural powers, controls his brainchildren like a puppeteer. What’s good about metaphors is that they are open to countless interpretations which are all legitimate. For instance, I had never thought of “a book’s ability to spark thoughts like flames”, as you said, but it really befits pyrokinesis as a metaphor for writing. And, of course, this is even truer for your other suggestion, i.e., what better way to describe writing and creativeness in general than as a “soothing energy discharge that relieves one’s pain”? What’s even better however is that any other interpretation you think of for a metaphor is also true. In other words, welcome to the infinite, perpetually expanding, and thus ever uncharted realm of metaphors and their interpretations that compose and comprise the unchildlike game that is fiction.
In your novel you reference Stephen King, especially in relation to his book Firestarter, however by the end there are strong allusions to Carrie: we empathise with the tormented hero (like the bullied and domestically abused Carrie) using psychic powers to wreak havoc terrorizing the just and the unjust, and leading to his own demise. However, the story ends with the ominous revelation that those same powers have manifested in someone else. Is this a warning: “As long as injustice prevails, there may well be another fierce reaction”?
It is obviously a warning on the eternal perpetuation of events, on the endless rebirth of the notion of rebellion against authority. And, above all, it is another turn of the screw in the black comedy that is my book, as are our lives. It is also a sticking out of the tongue in front of a mirror, against even my own self, a taunting, sarcastic sticking out of the tongue by the subconscious, irrational part of me against the sensible, Apollonian, logical and reasonable part of me. This latter part of me, of each of us maybe, is the part that thinks of the future reappearance of those pyrokinetic powers in the population as something ominous. On the contrary, our fiendish, Dionysian and rebellious part is absolutely delighted at the prospect, since this would actually be its own resurfacing from the dark vaults of the subconscious. So the end of the novel tries to warn rational readers and citizens that they shouldn’t rest assured, evil lurks, sneaks and creeps, ready to rise again from its ashes like a phoenix, at any time.
Photo: Argyris Giaitzoglou
Having just released an epistolary novel, your next project is a publication of your written correspondence with your mentor and close friend, celebrated writer Menis Koumandareas (1931-2014). How long did this correspondence last? What can the readers learn about both of you through this volume, and what insights would you wish them to gather from it?
My correspondence with Menis Koumandareas began in 1979, before I even published my first book, and continued until 2001, the time of the publication of my eleventh book, the short novel Black wedding. Yet, most of it comes from a period of barely over a year - 1981, when I lived in Sweden. The book’s title will be Confession and tutelage - because this is exactly what we did through those letters; in fact this was a mutual confession (although his reached deeper, due to his age and experience) and a mutual tutelage (because, even though I was the novice, the apprentice, Menis possessed the rare gift of not being patronising, and of constantly trying to learn, even from a beginner like me). In addition to a preface, written by me, the book will also feature an essay by Antigone Vlavianou, an academic who, by good fortune, was also a friend of Menis. Readers will know more about Menis through this book, since at the time he was one of our most prominent prose writers in his prime. As for myself, I think it’s obvious in the correspondence that I was already resolved on following the literary path I eventually took; or, to say it differently, that even when taking his first steps, a prose writer is more or less already shaped. However, what I really hope the readers will get from this publication is a feeling that its first two readers -my wife, Stavroula Papaspyrou, and Antigone Vlavianou- told me they got: they were moved by this 400-page volume, now under publication, because, apart from its literary value, it never ceases to be a deeply emotional book, bringing a male friendship to life.
You have also recently released a reprint of your book A bit of Modern Greek Literature History, featuring 39 interviews and essays on 82 contemporary Greek writers -from established figures such as Andreas Frangias and Thanasis Valtinos, to representatives of the younger generation, such as Vangelis Hatziyannidis, Angela Dimitrakaki and Sophia Nikolaidou- published between 1985-2005. Revisiting those texts now, with the benefit of hindsight, what is your assessment of that period’s literary production? Do you subscribe to the often-repeated belief that Greek fiction is overshadowed by Greek poetry, taking into account the latter’s broader international recognition thanks to our two Nobel Prize winners in Literature?
Fiction in Greece is no longer overshadowed by poetry. Not because contemporary poetry is inferior to that of the past, but because it has been marginalised in our unpoetic times. Especially lyric poetry, which had brought both local and international fame to our literary production in the recent past. I explicitly express these thoughts in an essay on the death of Odysseas Elytis, featured in this volume. The problem with prose produced in our times is that readers and good literature seem to have divorced: On the one hand, readers have developed a consumerist approach, and only look for escapist fiction of no real value, which in Greece means either historical novels or romances, whilst on the other, novelists of a certain calibre often flounder between experimental writing exercises and obsolete viewpoints or choice of subject. The result is that important works of fiction do not reach their natural readership, since readers are faced daily with piles of books that are trivial or just pointless. The last essay of my book bears the ambiguous title “The royal path”. When I began publishing my works some fourty years ago, the writer revered by the literary world of the time was Kostas Tachtsis, who had published only a few books, while the prolific Vassilis Vassilikos, who remains one of our most translated writers, was sneered at. My colleagues praised the first for his aristocratic approach to writing, and dismissed the latter as perfunctory. As things stand, it is obvious that life followed the path of the latter, hence the wordplay (vassilikos means royal in Greek); Tachtsis as a paradigm seems to be definitely a thing of the past.
*Interview by Nefeli Mosaidi (Opening photo by Katerina Raptopoulou)
Read also on Reading Greece: Thanasis Valtinos, A Highlander at the Academy of Athens; Vangelis Hatziyannidis: "Writing for an opera was like a puzzle I really enjoyed"; Angela Dimitrakaki on Subjectivity in Global Landscapes; Sophia Nikolaidou on the Representation of Greece’s Political Past in Contemporary Literature
Gregory Paschalidis is Professor of Cultural Studies and Director of the English-taught Master of Arts in Digital Media, Communication and Journalism at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Τhe School of Journalism and Mass Communications of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, established in 1991 offers a full-time, four-year long BA degree program as well as a Master's programme in Journalism and in Mass Communications. In 2015 the Univesristy established the English language Master’s program in the areas of Journalism and Communications, the first of its kind among Greek public Universities. The MA offers three pathways: ‘Digital Media, Culture and Communication’; ‘European Journalism’ and ‘Risk Communication and Crisis Journalism’.
Professor Paschalidis spoke to Greek News Agenda* on the course's structure, aims, professional and research prospects, on why study journalism in Greece and specifically in Thessaloniki, the dynamic created by the course's international students and finally, he offers his take on how social media have shaped nation branding and cultural policy.
What was the idea behind establishing an English-taught MA in Digital Media, Communication and Journalism in Thessaloniki, Greece? Why would a foreign student choose to study media and journalism in Greece?
In the late 1990s, our School organised an undergraduate English-taught course package for the benefit of the incoming Erasmus students. This proved hugely successful, and, before long, we had 25-30 students from all over Europe studying at our School every year. Many of them expressed their wish to continue their studies at our School on a graduate level and this is what originally gave us the idea of organizing an English-taught MA. In 2011, when the law regarding higher education allowed Greek Universities to set up graduate programs in the English language, we decided to go ahead. During the planning stage we investigated thoroughly and idenitified which graduate specializations would give us a edge in the highly competitive and diversified field of graduate studies across Europe. Subsequently, extra care was given to preparing all aspects of the MA programme (structure, course contents, website, student services, etc) taking into account the best international practices. The success of our MA program in attracting high-calibre students from abroad was largely due to those two factors: offering innovative graduate specializations and having an up-to-date model of graduate studies and services that makes sense and can be appreciated by foreign students. According to the regular student evaluations, another crucial factor of the program’s appeal is the high cost/quality ratio, in other words, a highly satisfactory academic experience for a relatively very low cost. Last but not least, Thessaloniki as a vibrant, low-cost, youth-friendly city certainly has its own significant contribution to our success so far!
What has been your experience after three years since the establishment of the MA programme? Which countries do foreign students come from? Where are your graduates employed?
Perhaps the most intriguing experience I had in these three years was the way the Greek students (there are quite a few) are inflenced by their interaction with the foreign students, by the fact that they participate in an internationally oriented programme. They have a discipline and a work ethic that is quite rare to see amongst Greek graduate students, and they quickly develop a visibly more dialogic and cosmopolitan attitude. They are literally transformed! As regards our student intake, most of the applicants come from non-EU countries, mainly USA, Turkey, Russia, India and China. Most of the EU applicants, on the other hand, come from N. European countries. Most of our graduates are employed in the fields of journalism, digital communications/marketing, non-profit organizations and NGOs. Many, however, are already employed and take a year off to upgrade their skills and competencies.
The Aristotle University of Thessaloniki is a leading university in South Europe. Has the School of Journalism and Mass Communications established parternships with other universities in the region and / or throughout Europe and internationally?
Our School has placed a priority in developing international partnerships. We have Erasmus contracts with a wide range of Jourmalism and/or Communications Shools abroad, and are active in the European Journalism Teaching Association. The presence of a sizeable cohort of foreign students – both on undergraduate and postgraduate level – the regular presence of Visiting Professors from abroad, as well as the international Summer School in Global Journalism we organize with the cooperation Deutsche Welle, provides us with live, active bridges with the international academic and professional community.
What are the areas of research the School of Journalism and Mass Communications focuses on?
Just as any other Journalism/Communications School in the world, our School is highly multi-disciplinary and that reflects not only on our teaching programmes, but also on the variety of our research interests and projects. Amongst them special mention should be made to data journalism, journalistic cultures, fake news, media/cultural consumption, popular television, narrative journalism, photojournalism, documentary, advertising history, health communication, science journalism, public campaigns, peace journalism etc.
One of the three pathways offered in the MA is “Digital Media, Culture and Communication” and your research interests include cultural and visual studies and cultural policy. Do you believe that the predominance of social/digital media has made it more difficult to implement concise ‘nation branding’ and cultural policies?
There’s a lot to be said about the impact of social/digital media on nation branding and cultural policy, but I will limit myself to just two recent developments: Most nation branding campaings, nowdays, involve some sort of crowdsourcing and/or web-facilitated public vote! What used to be the marketing specialists’ domain, has largely moved into the public sphere. At the same time, there is no form or level of cultural policy that has not been fundamentally upset by the radical changes in the areas of cultural creativity, distribution, communication and participation instigated by the rise of social/digital media. In an era when rearticulation of the relationhsip between society/culture/communication, cultural policy-making needs to reivent itself.
*Interview by Ioulia Livaditi
Social Hackers Academy is a non-profit organization based in Athens, whose mission is to provide refugees and other socially vulnerable groups with comprehensive software engineering skills and to assist them with finding work. Sister publication GrèceHebdo met with the Social Hackers Academy founders to learn more about this different kind of school that has just completed its first “academic year”.
Tell us a bit about Social Hackers Academy. What was the idea behind its foundation? How easy was its implementation?
Million of refugees arrive everyday in Greece and unfortunately our country's infrastructure cannot fully support their integration inτο our reality. Thus, several NGOs are focusing their operations on covering their basic needs, but other needs such as education, or guiding them through job research process are not adequately coverd.
And this is the gap that Social Hackers Academy wants to fill: to educate, help integrate and find employment for people from vulnerable groups, including refugees, long-term unemployed citizens and people with disabilities. Our co-founders, Damianos Vavanos and Chris Owen are passionate about social impact and software programming, so they decided to combine those two and create the first coding school for refugees in Greece.
The implementation of our idea was not that difficult, since there is a growing need for good programmers in the job market worldwide. Our expertise and solid knowledge in the software development field helped us build partnerships with tech companies in order to achieve our mission and expand our operations.
Why a school for refugees & other social vulnerable groups?
Our main target audience is refugees, as Greece currently hosts approximately 50,000 refugees, 70% of whom will remain here. We were feeling so frustrated with the deadlock they are facing, so we thought of creating a school that would help them in a more sustainable way, by educating and helping them unlock their true potential, so that they can rebuild their lives.
We also do not like the fact that there are 100,000 Greek STEM graduates who can not find a job, and we believe that this is due to our educational system’s insufficiency in adequately preparing students for the job market. We want to fill this gap by offering training forskills that companies today need. Through technology and programming, we can create a hub in Greece where big companies can open branches that will operate for as long as developers need it. This trend is recorded in many surveys and it is estimated that by 2020 the world market will need 20 million developers.
How easy is it for vulnerable groups and refugees to learn about education programs in Social Hackers Academy?
Well it is not that easy. It’s hard to take a person who is still suffering from trauma and “convince” them that a different life is possible. They also hear that the economic situation here is not the best and so everybody just wants to leave the country.
One of our initial mistakes was that we were pitching our beneficiaries by saying that we’ll train you in software engineering for 6.5 months and then we’ll get you a job. That was a disaster as we got people who were in need of work at that very moment and didn’t have the time to wait for 6.5 months. To support our students we provide a integrated program by offering Life Coaching, LinkedIn Coaching and Soft Skills courses and trying to cater to each person’s unique needs.
How does Social Hackers Academy operate on a daily basis? Which are the impressions and outcomes of the first round of web-development sessions?
Following the successful example of similar educational projects abroad (Hack Your Future - The Netherlands, Gaza Sky Geeks - Palestine), we deliver a comprehensive education programme in software engineering, including courses as Full Stack Web Development, Wordpress (front end web development) and Computer Literacy (basic skills). Our key differentiating point is our employment-focused approach and comprehensive support for each student’s unique needs. Our holistic services include: LinkedIn, business, and job interview coaching; soft skills seminars; study groups/tutoring; access to ethical micro-loans from Pythea’s Path.
Courses are provided free of charge at BIOS Romantso Incubator in Athens and range in length from 2 weeks to 6.5 months. We provide students with laptops for the duration of the course so that they them to study and complete assignments. The lessons are taught by volunteer professional developers, not teachers, so that they can better acclimate the students to the “real world”. Courses start every 2-3 months and we expect to start 5 cycles next year. The duration of the courses is five and a half months and another one month for the final project.
The first course has begun in September 2017, with students from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It was our pilot and we expected to make many mistakes and face major challenges. This effort was greatly helped by our partners in the Netherlands, Hack Your Future, as well as a network of similar schools in Great Britain and Denmark.
Do other initiatives, similar to yours, take place abroad?
Similar initiatives to SHA are also running abroad due to worldwide lack in tech education and efforts in the integration of social vulnerable groups. Thus, we are part of a six-countries network of schools who share knowledge, curriculums and teaching methodology, with one goal: to educate, develop and enable people to find placement in the job market and provide value for themselves and their host nations.
Read more via Greek News Agenda: Teaching refugees in Greece how to code; June 2018 Newsletter on the refugee-migrant situation in Greece; Rethinking Greece: Lina Venturas on Greek migration, population movements and integration policies for refugees; Health care and children’s education are Greece's priorities for refugees; Online language classes for asylum seekers on Lesvos
*Interview by: Maria Oksouzoglou
Zdravka Mihaylova is an accomplished and prolific translator of Greek literature into Bulgarian. She was born in Sofia and is a graduate of the Sofia University School of Journalism and Mass Media. She has worked as a journalist for the Bulgarian State Radio and the Bulgarian News Agency (BTA). Since 1994 she has been working at the Greece & Cyprus desk of the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, while continuing to write articles on Greek literature and cultural heritage. She has, to date, had three postings at the Embassy of Bulgaria in Athens (1995–1998, 2002–2005, 2009–2013).
As is a literary translator from Greek and Bulgarian, she has translated 45 books of contemporary Greek writers as well as some books from Bulgarian. In 2010, she received Greece’s State Translation Award for the translation of a work of modern Greek literature into a foreign language, for her anthology of poems by Yannis Ritsos «Η Γραφή του Παντόπτη» (Stigmati Publishers, Sofia: 2009). Zdravka Mihaylova spoke* to Greek News Agenda on literary translation as a platform of communication between cultures and peoples.
How known is Greek literature in Bulgaria?
Looking back at the reception of Greek literature in Bulgaria, one could say that in the 18th and 19th centuries highly educated Bulgarians used the Greek language as a conduit for communicating with European culture. This is the reason that not only ancient Greek classical writers and philosophers have been published in Bulgarian in repeated editions, but there is a significant and sustained tradition of translating modern Greek literature.
Works of Greek prose were translated abundantly, particularly in the period 1960–1990, but also in the new market conditions after 1989. Along with the quartet of Greek poets known by every well-educated Bulgarian reader – Cavafy, Seferis, Ritsos and Elytis – Nikos Kazantzakis is the most well-known, translated, widely read and best-selling Greek author, with more than a million copies printed.
Kazantzakis’ oeuvre in Bulgarian language is inextricably linked with Georgi Koufov (1923–2003), a devoted translator and a connoisseur of the author’s work. Koufov’s output includes also translations of works by Kostas Varnalis, Emmanouil Roïdis, Dido Sotiriou, Dimitris Hatzis, Stratis Doukas, Maria Iordanidou, Menelaos Loudemis, and many others.
Bulgarian readers are also familiar with classical works of Greek literature, such as Stratis Myrivilis’ Life in the Tomb, Grigorios Xenopoulos’ Rich and Poor, Ioannis Kondylakis’ Patouchas, Andreas Karkavitsas’ Words from the Prow, in several translations. In 1963, on the hundredth anniversary of Cavafy’s birth, a collection of translated poems by the great poet was published in Bulgarian by the largest – at the time – national publishing house Narodna Kultura, which had a great impact on the Bulgarian public.
How would you assess the interest for translations of modern Greek literature today?
During the last years there has been a steady interest in all Balkan literature, including Greek. After 1989, and following a brief switch of readers’ attention to banned-until-then works by Western writers, interest in modern Greek literature has been reinvigorated. Since 2000, many Greek writers and poets have appeared in Bulgarian translations: Ioanna Karystiani, Dimitris Kalokyris, Margarita Karapanou, Rea Galanaki, Thanassis Valtinos, Takis Theodoropoulos, Zyranna Zateli, Ismini Kapandai, Elena Houzouri, Dimosthenis Kourtovik, Kostas Kalfopoulos, Thomas Skassis, Yannis Varveris, Michalis Ganas, Takis Sinopoulos, Nikos Karouzos, Haris Vlavianos. There also playwrights, whose work has been translated and featured either as separate publications, or in literary journals or who have appeared as guest lecturers in Modern Greek Studies departments. These include Pavlos Matesis, Dimitris Kechaidis, Vassilis Ziogas, Marios Pontikas, Loula Anagnostaki.
How do you think literary translations affect communication between peoples?
We must acknowledge the great value of literary translation in facilitating acquaintance and communication between different cultures and peoples, especially in the Balkans. Communication between the Balkan peoples is still difficult, mainly because of the language barrier, which prevents us from realizing the existence of a common, fundamental Balkan civilization among all the peoples of the peninsula. Indeed, the peoples of the region have little knowledge of the peculiarities of their neighbors or their literary landscape. The channels of cultural communication between them had, until fairly recently, usually passed through the major European centers of art and creativity, such as Paris, London, Moscow or Berlin. For a work to be translated into one of the Balkan languages, it had to have already received the imprimatur of critics or to have attracted the public’s interest in one of the major European languages. Direct translation from Greek to Bulgarian, and vice versa, has sought to symbolically remove this communication barrier and constitutes a first-rank cultural event. In view of the prevailing domination of the major languages, literary communication between the so-called "weak languages of limited dissemination" is a palpable manifestation of the significance, autonomy and cultural specificity of the "small" or less spoken languages of Europe that deserve to be supported.
Finally, since we are talking about the importance of literature and literary translation in fostering communication and acquaintance between different cultures and peoples, how well-known, or maybe not, is Bulgarian literature in Greece?
The relation between Bulgarian titles translated into Greek and Greek literature, whether ancient or modern, available in Bulgarian, is somewhat unbalanced. Many more Greek authors have been translated into Bulgarian than the other way around. Classic Bulgarian novels like The Peach Thief, Anti-Christ, The Legend of Prince by the renowned-abroad writer Emiliyan Stanev have not been available in Greek since the 1980s. One of the iconic works of Bulgarian literature, written by its patriarch Ivan Vazov - Under the Yoke - would grab the interest of anyone interested in historical novels, with its exceptional writing and suspenseful plot. It is out of print too, as is the novel Tobacco by Dimitar Dimov, which refers to a complicated period in the history of Bulgarian-Greek relations: the Bulgarian occupation of Eastern Macedonia and the Greek part of Thrace (1941–1944).
More recently, I recommend a more contemporary Bulgarian author – Vera Mutafchieva – more readily available in Greek editions. Her books directly relate to Greece and its history: to ancient Greece, to the glory of Byzantium and to Ottoman intrigues. Bay Ganio, a venerable text satirizing an uncouth, nouveau-riche Bulgarian character during the era shortly after the Bulgarian liberation from Ottoman rule, who tours Europe trying to sell his rose oil, or embarks on political intrigues while in Bulgaria, will soon be translated by Vaïtsa Hani-Moÿsidou.
Poems by the Bulgarian poet Kiril Kadiiski are available in a discrete edition. I have presented many others, both poets and prose writers, at literary festivals – for example, Todor Todorov, a short story writer, and poet Nadezhda Radulova at the ‘Logotehniki Skini’ Festival in Kalamaria (2013); the poets Sylvia Choleva, Patricia Nikolova, and Yordan Eftimov at the Transbalkan Poetry Festival under the aegis of the Thessaloniki International Book Fair; Ivan Theofilov, Sylvia Choleva, and Palmi Ranchev at the Rhodes International Writers’ and Translators’ Center; and five Bulgarian poets at the Prespeia Festival (2000). Very recently, Georgi Gospodinov (born 1968), one of the most talented and translated modern Bulgarian writers, was introduced to the Greek readership with his last novel, which had already appeared in English as The Physics of Sorrow (2015).
Well aware of the importance of organizing events that bridge our two cultures, the Museum of Byzantine Culture and the General Consulate of Bulgaria in Thessaloniki co-hosted, in December 2017, a double book presentation of a Greek and a Bulgarian title respectively: the classic collection Balkan Legends and Myths by Yordan Yovkov (2016) and The Death of the Knight Celano and other stories by Thessaloniki-born Theofano Kaloyanni, published in Bulgarian in 2013. The two books, though very different, have Balkan myths and legends as a “common denominator”.
Finally, it would be an omission not to mention, with well-earned respect, the contribution of such profoundly knowledgeable translators of modern Bulgarian literature into Greek as Panos Stathoyannis, Dimitris Allos, Hristos Hartomatsidis, Vaïtsa Hani-Moÿsidou and others.
* Interview by Evgenia Kampaki, Press Officer at the Embassy of Greece in Bulgaria, on behalf of Greek News Agenda
Sozos Yiannoudes (Cyprus, 1946) is a graduate of the School of Fine Arts. From 1972-2004 he taught fresco painting and portable icons technique in the Athens School of fine Art. In 2004 the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew honored him with the title of Grand Master for the 10 years of missionary service in Korea. He has worked in Greece, Cyprus, Korea and England. In his interview with Greek News Agenda* he talks about his experience as an iconography teacher in Korea. The initiative of these workshops was taken by His Eminence the Most Reverend Metropolitan Ambrose (Zographos) of Korea who,in addition to his service, is also full professor at the newly established Department of Greek Studies at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in South Korea.
How did you decide to come to teach iconography in Korea?
It was in 1994 when former Metropolitan of Korea, and current Metropolitan of Pisidia (Turkey), Mr. Sotirios Trambas, invited me to paint the Metropolis of St. Nicholas in Seoul. I always wanted to go on a mission trip and so I accepted his invitation. Since then I have painted around ten churches in all of South Korea.For the implementation of this difficult project, I worked with a team of students from the Athens and Thessaloniki Schools of Fine Arts, various other collaborators and my children. We all worked on a volunteer basis.His Eminence the Metropolitan, strangled to find sponsors both in Greece and abroad to cover our travel and subsistence expenses. In exchange, we decorated the churches that the Metropolitan had so painstakingly built during the previous years. When the economic crisis hit Greece, sponsorships came to an abrupt halt. As a result, iconography in Korean churches stopped for a long period. Two years ago, I received a request from both the former and the new Metropolitan of Korea, Mr. Ambrose Zographos, to organize a one-month byzantine iconography workshop in Korea. We are now on our third year and the interest is great.
What is your impression of the Korean Orthodox community?
My experience from the Orthodox Community in South Korea has profoundly marked my life. The community has currently 6500 to 7000 adherents, many of whom used to be atheist, areligious, Buddhist, Protestants or belonged to other religions. Their love for our Orthodox Church has impressed me very much. There are worshipers who travel up to four hours just to come to the Sunday mass. They sing with devotion, they know the service, the psalms and the order of the canons. The majority has received formal music education and they contribute to the service in an effortless manner. Sometimes I feel awkwardly when I realise that they know so much more than I do. They love their community that revolves around the church, which they consider their refuge. The decisions are always taken collectively. They discuss things and together they reach a decision. When I first went to work there, they told me what kind of religious paintings they wanted me to paint. I had to follow the byzantine style of course, but, at the same time, take into account their tradition, their customs and their experiences. For instance, they feel fear when the eyes of the Saints look at them straight in the eye or when the scences are too densely painted. They also do not like colours when they are too bright. I respected all that. I also give my own intepretations. One would be that in the entrance of the Buddhist temples, there are the so called "protectors of the temple", four figures on the right and left of the entrance with fierce looking faces and protruded eyes. Also, the Buddhist temples are very densely painted with very bright colours. It is possible that the Orthodox Community does not want its churches to look like Buddhist temples.
What is the profile of your Korean students? What do they seem to appreciate the most in byzantine art?
The people who take part in the workshop belong to different religions and are eager to learn more about the interpretation and the symbolism of each icon. Many are Fine Arts graduates so they already know how to draw and how to use color and composition. Thus, they are able to quickly determine the subject-matter. Nevertheless, through the workshops they try to approach the symbolism, the style and the expression of the Byzantine icon and to appreciate its transcedental and rich content. My students are mostly Koreans. They are diligent, organised, meticulous, kind and they appoach what they do with great respect and love. Their love for the environment and nature is also remarkable. At this point, I would like to take the opportunity and talk about something that impressed me a lot. After the war, both South and North Korea were completely burned by Napalm bombs. Once a year, everything used to be closed by law so that the citizens could go and plant trees. This law was abolished almost twenty years ago but by now the country has been fully replanted from one end to the other. I wish our beautiful country would follow the example of Korea. I try to do so by planting trees inside and outside my house even though I have received not only positive but also negative comments about it.
What deeply impacts my students as they immerse themselves in the expressive richness of the icon, is the diversity and the explanation behind each brushstroke that is charged with symbolism. Once they understand the icon, my students get to love it so much that I feel they take something away from my own immense love for it. In order to appreciate the byzantine icon, they need to understand its philosophic interpretation: the illustration of any natural or perishable element is to be avoided; the illustration of a sainctified, transcedental face is very different from a common portrait or photograph; the rule of the two dimensional illustration with the abolition of dephth and perspective; the beauty of the illustrated face which is understood once we analyse the proportions and the inclination of the face (always in three-quarter view). Finally, the rich colour palette that is used for the dresses as well as the way a woolen dress is differenciated from a silk one are some of the various elements that highlight the unique artistic expression of the byzantine icon and raise many questions with my students.
Have the workshops inspired your students to learn more about Greece and the Greek culture?
Koreans know a lot about Greek civilisation and culture and want to come to Greece to see for themselves all the things they have read about or learned during the workshop. For instance, they are familiar with Manuel Panselinos, Theophanes the Cretan and Theophanes the Greek, the teacher of Andrei Rublev. They also express great love for the ancient civilization and a great interest for its continuation, the Byzantium. Many ask me to be their guide when they visit Greece. They are good-souled people, eager to enrich their knowledge of the Greek civilisation and tranfer it to their own country.
I would like to digress a moment to note that in the basement of the Metropolitical Church of Seoul there are a lot of plaster casts of ancient works of art (donated by Melina Mercouri when she was Culture Minister). They include works of Cycladic, Minoan, Archaic, Classic, Hellenistic, Roman and, of course, Byzantine art that is taught up to date. A result of that teaching is the decoration of the Metropolitan Church of St. Nicholas that was completed in three phases of 20 days each.
Are there similarities between byzantine iconography and Korean traditional painting?
There are indeed some similarities between the Byzantine and the very old Korean and Chineese art. An exemple would be the halo that we find in both Buddha and Jesus. Of course the halo is something that exists since the Hellenistic times, and it is to be found around the heads of Dionysus and Apollo (see the mosaic of the birth of Dionysus, in Paphos, Cyprus) and other Greek Gods. Other similarities would be the fine, clear line, the pastel coulours, the flat surfaces in the dresses and faces. Also, the casual placement of the figures on the surface, like a child who places all figures in the foreground. On the other hand, there are huge differences that have to do with the symbolism and the dogmatic interpretation of the two arts.
*Interviewed by Lina Syriopoulou
Kalamata International Dance Festival, the most important contemporary dance event in Greece, returns for its 24th edition in the city of Kalamata, in the picturesque region of Messinia. For ten days, on July 13-22, 2018, acclaimed Greek and international dancers will present their work to art lovers from around the world. The programme includes indoor and outdoor performances as well as workshops.
This year’s edition features performances by Greek and foreign internationally recognised dancers and choreographers, in performances that range from contemporary circus to street dance. For the first time, outdoor performances free of charge will also be taking place daily in the city’s central square. The programme also features workshops by dance masters (including one for children and one for people with disabilities), a photography exhibition and a Latin/jazz evening.
The Festival is an initiative of the International Dance Centre of Kalamata, established in 1995 as part of the Municipal Society for the Cultural Development of Kalamata. Its aim is to support and promote the art of dance and the organisation of the Festival has become one of its central purposes, helping it place the city on Europe's cultural map. The Festival’s artistic direction was assumed in 2017 by Linda Kapetanea, who was the one to introduce the outdoor dance performances.
Linda Kapetanea (photo: Mike Rafail)
Linda Kapetanea is a dancer and choreographer, with studies in Athens and New York. She performed with several dance companies in Greece and abroad, including the Flemish company Ultima Vez for three years. In 2006 she and Jozef Frucek formed the dance company RootlessRoot as a vehicle for their own productions, research and teaching. Together they have developed Fighting Monkey, a practice with applications in various fields such as dance/movement therapy, sports and art. We interviewed* Linda Kapetanea on her aspirations for this year’s edition of the Festival.
What did you have in mind when you put yourself forward as a candidate for the position of artistic director? Do you feel that the programme of the Festival’s 24th edition fulfills your vision?
I wanted to show the audience and young dancers my perception of contemporary dance. I have witnessed its power, and I wanted to share with others what I have seen and been touched by.
(Photo: Didier Carluccio)
I have the feeling that this year's Festival will leave a strong imprint on the city and on Greek cultural life. My vision stems from the ways young people learn how to move, dance and perceive life through the art of dance, as well as the ways in which the audience reflects on dance. I would like for the Festival -and not just this year’s edition- to function as a school for everyone, for both audience and dancers.
The Kalamata Dance Festival is an internationally acclaimed institution. How did you manage to successfully organise an event of this calibre, while also a practicing dancer and choreographer with the Rootless Root dance company?
The overall success of the event will be evaluated in the end. Thus far, we can talk of specific accomplishments. As far as my other endeavours are concerned, I think one can see that I engage in activities that stimulate and invigorate. This is the way I live. For now, I have sufficient stamina and, of course, excellent colleagues, wonderful friends and immense support from my family.
(Photo: Saris & den Engelsman)
Is this experience as fulfilling as your more physical ventures as a dancer / choreographer? Did it open up new artistic perspectives?
There are many instances of stress and anxiety, a lot of work to be done and a great deal of communication with people who understand things very differently to the way that I do. All this has been a great source of knowledge.
A new initiative of yours has been the public outdoor performances: every afternoon, in the central square of Kalamata, a dancer or a group of dancers taking part in the Festival will be offering a free performance. How did you come up with this idea? Do you think that we lack initiatives of this type, bringing the general public in contact with contemporary dance?
I wanted to do something for those who consider dance boring and would not be willing to buy a ticket, as well as for those who would love to watch dance performances every day but could not afford to so. The central square of Kalamata is ideal for opening the city to the art of dance. I had experienced this practice as a dancer many times in various European cities and I really loved it.
(Photo: Mario Arturo Martinez)
Do you already have some thoughts regarding the Festival’s future editions? Will it still be priority for you to attract young people?
I am drawing a plan as regards the style and character I would like next year’s edition to have. Yes, young people and children are among my priorities because I am concerned about the way in which the next generation of dancers and spectators will develop.
*Interview by Nefeli Mosaidi
Remember MacGyver, the 80’s action series about an inventive guy who could make explosives with chewing gum? What would MacGyver do in the YouTube era? Film maker Dimitris Tsilifonis offers an answer to this critical issue in his film titled “Do it yourself”. “DIY” is an escape film about a small-time crook, Alkis, who agrees to star in a video that will be used to restore the public image of a corrupt businessman. When Alkis realizes that his accomplices are going to kill him, he only has a few hours to organize his DIY escape from the porn studio in which he is imprisoned, using his wit, digital skills and a toothbrush.
Dimitris Tsilifonis probably doesn’t know MacGyver. He was born in Athens, Greece in 1991. He is an American Film Institute fellow, holds a BA in Communication, and has worked extensively in the film industry. “Do it yourself” is his directorial debut feature. It received the Special Youth Jury Award at the 58th Thessaloniki IFF.
Tsilifonis talked to Greek News Agenda* about “Do it yourself” underlying his intention to mock the unrealistic expectations that pop-culture films build up expectation in the viewer. As “DIY” is an intertextual film full of references to other films and viral videos, Tsilifonis stresses that he makes no effort to hide his cinematic influences as a film director. The same goes for the characters in his film, who feel very wary of the situations they are in, comparing them to their favourite crime dramas. Tsilifonis concludes that through its mocking of cinematic conventions, “DIY” is exploring what is real in the “fake news “ era and tries in its own way to urge the audience to “Search for yourself”.
Konstantinos Aspiotis, "Do it yourself" (2017)
What made you decide to do a Greek action film?
Well, I wouldn’t necessarily characterize it as an action film, although there are action scenes in it –but I get your point. I wanted “DIY” to be a mainstream, yet entertaining cinematic experience. The whole film in a way mocks the unrealistic expectations that pop-culture films build up in viewers. I thought the tragic consequences of pretending to be “James-Bondish”-awesome, would be interesting grounds to explore. I mean, our biggest inspiration with our fight choreographer, Chris Radanov, were Jackie Chan and the Bridget Jones fight scenes. At every opportunity, we tried to infuse comedy into them. “The dudes, who don’t know how to fight, but are trying their best”, that was our motto. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iapVomK4eFA)
Christos Loulis, Mirto Alikaki, "Do it yourself" (2017)
What are your cinematic influences and how did you incorporate them in your film, which as you have said, is a very personal project?
Themis Panou, Konstantinos Aspiotis, "Do it yourself" (2017)
How did you overcome budget limitations?
By planning. A LOT. Me and my Director of Photography, Angelos Papadopoulos, knew very well that time and money weren’t on our side, so creating detailed shot-lists as well as visual photoboards was the only way to achieve the shots and performances we hoped for.
Our preproduction lasted a bit more than 3 months, and it focused on specifying exactly what we would do each quarter of our 20 shooting days. I think at the end, 70% of our shot-list ended up making into the film, exactly as it was photographed. Finally, the script was written intentionally in a way that afforded us to save money on the majority of the movie, but allowed us to “splurge” on the bigger heavy-action set pieces.
Makis Papadimitriou, Argiris Xafis, "Do it yourself" (2017)
The vast majority of the personae in “Do it yourself” love videogames, technology and refer to films or viral videos. Are these mostly characteristics of the millennials? What do you think is the influence of digital technologies in everyday life?
I feel it depends on how a person chooses to lead their life. For me, a big immersion breaker is when characters inside movies pretend they’ve never watched a movie before. Zombie/ Alien invasion films are usually the biggest perpetrators of this. So, I wanted my characters at least, to feel very wary of the situations they were in. They had sort of seen these circumstances play before in their favorite crime dramas. As for the influence of digital technologies in everyday life, I am not sure. I only have anecdotal evidence, but I feel there is a healthy majority of millennials, who aren’t necessarily involved with videogames and/or films. More and more people become tech savvy, millennials and older generations alike. I have to admit that it was a very pleasant surprise, when a lot of people in their 40s or even 50s approached me and told me how they spotted some of the most obscure references I had placed inside the film. So, yeah, I don’t think I have a good answer here.
According to Collins dictionary, “fake news” was the word of the year 2017. “Do it yourself” is at heart a film about fake news. Would you like to comment?
Yeah! It’s funny cause I wrote the first draft in 2014, and even then, I felt it was a prevalent topic. We’ve yet to find a good way to combat fake news, and it doesn’t look like we’re near a solution. Critical thinking is the foremost important element we all need in our lives. In its own way that is what “DIY” is trying to urge the audience to do. Search. “Search for Yourself”. “Investigate for Yourself”. “Do It Yourself”.
What are your future plans?
Right now, I am developing a near-future science fiction VR film and working on my next screenplay. It’s hard to say, what’s going to come first, but I promise it will be worth the wait!
* Interview with Florentia Kiortsi
Ithaca laundry is a mobile laundry service aimed at homeless people in Athens: a van fitted with washing machines and tumble dryers, collecting unwashed clothes from people residing in the streets and returning them clean and dry. It has been founded by a group of young people and operates thanks to the support of partners and sponsors and to the work offered by volunteers. The Operations Manager for Ithaca, Dimitra Kountourioti, spoke* to Greek News Agenda about this initiative, which was recently featured in a short documentary film by Nick Holland for BBC World Hacks.
When and how was the mobile washer launched? How was this idea concieved and to whom does the initiative belong?
The organisation was founded in 2015 by a group of three people, Thanos Spiliopoulos, Fanis Tsonas and Andili Rahoutis. Thanos was inspired by a similar initiative in Australia and, given the socio-economic situation in Greece, he decided to create a mobile washer for the homeless of Athens. We ran as a pilot programme from April to December 2016, and since January 2017 we have been operating regularly, 5 times a week.
How did you join the group?
I started in January 2017 as Managing Director because Thanos and Fanis had to perform military service. Since then, I have taken up the duty of running the day-to-day management and operation of the organisation on all levels, and the founding group has a predominantly advisory role and is actively involved in the decision-making process (board of directors).
How does it actually work? How do people who are in need of your services become aware of your actions?
At this point, we operate 5 days a week, based on a specific schedule and timetable. The van has 2 washers and 2 tumble dryers, washing takes 40 'and drying another 45'; those who come to us give us some contact info and get a queue number. Those benefitted by the service have come to know us and there is a steady turn-out.
At each spot, we work together with partners and groups that provide additional services to the people we tend to (food, medical assistance, psychological support, etc.), so it's easier for people to know about us.
How many are now involved in the project's operation? Does the team include only volunteers?
Since January 2017 we have created, apart from my own post, two more part-time jobs that were given to people from socially vulnerable groups. Specifically, our first employee, Christos, was benefiting from our services at Athinas street, where we operate every Wednesday and Sunday.
Our goal is to give them an actual job opportunity, providing them with the necessary support for a period of 10-12 months so that they can be reintegrated into society and the workplace, and become able to get a full-time job. In April 2018, Christos already found a new job and two new employees were recruited to fill his position.
Of course, we also have a team of 15 volunteers who either run the mobile unit every Sunday, or work in other positions (photographer, driver, social media manager, administrative support, etc.). Volunteers are vital for our operation, because they are active members of civil society and play an important role in exposing and fighting against the social exclusion faced by the homeless.
How do you manage to provide these services for free? Have you received support from private and / or state institutions?
Since the beginning we have received support by sponsors and donours. Also in the spots where we operate, water and electricity are provided by partners (organisations and municipalities). The main sponsor is the company LG, which, in addition to providing the appliances we use in our mobile unit, has also supported us financially to create the first job positions.
We have a lot of support from other companies (P&G, SANITAS, ENDLESS, COSMOTE, etc.) and we are trying to attract more donations from institutions and individuals. We must also mention that an important factor in our development was the fact that for our first 2 years of operation, our offices are hosted by HIGGS, an NGO which aims to support and reinforce other non-profit organisations.
How many vans do you have now? Is the existing number sufficient or are you hoping for further additions?
At this time we have a mobile unit with two washers and two tumblers and we operate 5 days a week. At present, it is sufficient for the number of people who seek our services. Soon we hope to add two more operating spots to reach even more people in need of our services, and then we want to carry out a survey on their needs as well as on possible new operating spots.
In what ways can one contribute to your project?
What is the most valuable lesson or experience you have gained from the project? Is there any advice for someone who would like to launch a similar initiative?
I think I learned my most important lesson by people who have worked for our group, who were long-term unemployed and either were homeless or faced the risk of being. I saw how important it is to give someone in dire need the opportunity to reintegrate and become an active member of society. We witnessed obvious changes in the psychological state and self-confidence of our first two employees already within their first 3-4 months with us. They now show more faith in themselves and have regained the courage to try and improve their everyday life.
Also, providing cleaning services to people who do not have access to something most of us take for granted, proves the great importance of hygiene in reclaiming one’s dignity and self-esteem. One recent example was a message sent to us by a former beneficiary, who had found himself displaced in our country; he was thanking us very warmly and telling us how important our services had been for him, at a time when he was struggling to survive this hardship.
My only piece of advice to someone with a similar idea is to give it a try, because it is important to offer to others and try to help them overcome the problems they face in our society.
*Interview by Nefeli Mosaidi
Read also via Greek News Agenda: Thomas Maloutas on the “Athens Social Atlas” project; Teaching refugees in Greece how to code; Social Solidarity Policies: Establishing a Welfare State that Contributes to Development
The Annecy International Animation Film Festival, established in the 60’s, is the top reference for animation worldwide, while its International Animation Film Market (Mifa) is the animation industry's foremost showcase in terms of co-producing, purchasing, selling, financing and distributing animation content for all broadcasting platforms.
For the second consecutive year Asifa Hellas - Hellenic Animation Association will participate in the Festival, with 16 projects which include 4 feature and 4 short films with the support of the General Secretariat for Media and Communication (GSMC) of the Ministry of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Media. GSMC is actively committed to the development of Greek audiovisual production, with a focus on animation and video games and it has undertaken a series of initiatives for the promotion of Greek Video Games and Animation community, including the new legal framework for the development of the country's audiovisual sector (L. 4487/ voted by the Greek Parliament in August 2017) and the establishment of the National Center for Audiovisual Media & Communication (EKOME S.A.).
“Man Wanted”by I. Zhonga, Stop Motion Animation, 9 min
During a press conference that took place at the GSMC, the Anima Syros team that will travel to Annecy -Vassilis Karamitsanis, President of Asifa Hellas and the Anima Syros International Animation Festival + Agora, Panayiotis Kyriakoulakos, Vice president of Asifa Hellas and lecturer at the School of Engineering of the University of the Aegean, and Marineta Kritikou, film, stage and multimedia director and Agora moderator, who will promote the Greek projects at the Annecy Film Market (Mifa) - presented Asifa and its work.
Karamitsanis presented the results of the cooperation between the GSMC and Asifa Hellas, emphasizing the support that the GSMC has offered aiming at the export of Greek cultural products and the attraction of foreign investments. Asifa Hellas is the Greek branch of Asifa International and represents Greek animation. It cooperates with the GSMC in the context of the National Plan of Action for Animation and Games. A product of this cooperation was the campaign #GreekAnimation Rocks in a series of actions promoting Greek animation.
“Markos”, by Th. Kunstler, stop motion animation, 105 min
Panayiotis Kyriakoulakos further elaborated on the actions of the Greek Animation Rocks campaign for the year 2017, namely the first Greek participation in the Annecy Festival (June 12-17. 2017), where Greek Animation Rocks presented the history, the present and the near future of Greek animation, unveiling a cultural and business plan for its development, showcasing the projects and creators who dare to overcome the nation’s socioeconomic crisis and aspire to the development of international co-productions. The action was supported by the Hellenic Secretariat for Information and Communication, the Greek Film Centre, the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT), and the French Institute of Greece.
“Tag! You’re it” by M. Kakaridi Deligianni, 2D Animation
ASIFA HELLAS also supported the introduction of a 25% cash rebate scheme for all audiovisual production expenses in Greece. AH supported five projects at the Pitching Session of the Animasyros 10th International Animation Festival’s Agora (Syros, Greece 27 September - 1 October 2017). Moreover, it signed a cooperation protocol with ASIFA China to strengthen bilateral business and cultural ties in the field of Animation (Xiamen, China 12-17 October 2017). It also organized a celebration of International Animation Day at the French Institute of Greece. And in cooperation with the Thessaloniki International Film Festival (TIFF) it showcased the results of Greek Animation Rocks so far at the 58th TIFF (Thessaloniki, Greece 2-12 November 2017).
“Karim and Hercules” by T. Deligiannis and V. Tsiouvaras, 3D Animation, 8 min
Marineta Kritikou stressed that this year’s Greek presence in Annecy will be more powerful and presented the 16 projects that will travel to Annecy this year, which include
4 feature films: “Markos”, by Th. Kunstler, stop motion animation, 105 min, “The Night with the Kalikantzarous”, by Sp. Siakas, 3D Animation, 70 min, “Walie Walnut and the Christmas tree” by T. Ioannides, musical animation, 70 min and “Tag! You’re it” by M. Kakaridi Deligianni, 2D Animation
4 short films: “Same Life, Different Day”, by K. Economou, Live Action/Digital Drawings, 6 min 30 sec, “The animated story of Breaking Bad”, by A. Smirniotis, Rotoscope, 1 min 10 sec, “Karim and Hercules” by T. Deligiannis and V. Tsiouvaras, 3D Animation, 8 min and “Man Wanted” by I. Zhonga, Stop Motion Animation, 9 min;
3 TV series: “Mentor”, by A. Rouvas, 3D & 2D Animation, Special TV, 30 min “Future postman”, by S. Kotsovoulos, 2D computer/cut-out, TV series, 13 X 5 min, “The treasure at the roots of the tree of earth” by V. Karadimas, 2D CG / Digital Puppetry, TV series, 17 X 7 min;
2 miniseries: “Save your planet" by T. Kotsiras, 3D animation, TV series, 20 X 2 min and “Month” by A. Dimitra, 2D Animation, TV series, 12 X 2 min;
a pilot episode: “Mythland” by Kl. Kyriakides, 2D, 3D, Puppet, Hand draw animation, Pilot TV episode, 12 min 31 sec
and 2 interactive web flipbooks: "A Letter - A story" by A. Papadaniel and S. Madouvalou, interactive web-based animation and Telis” flipbooks, “Pocket Cinema” series by A. Papadaniel, 2D Animation, Prod: Syllipsis Ltd
Interview with Vassilis Karamitsanis
Greek news Agenda interviewed* Vassilis Karamitsanis on the current Greek animation production, the cooperation between Asifa and GSMC and his expectations from the Greek participation at the Annecy Festival.
Born in Athens, 1976, Karamitsanis is a lisenced attorney-at-Law by the Athens Bar Association He has a degree in Law from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and completed his post-graduate studies in the Universities of Rotterdam, Hamburg and Aix-Marseille III. He's president to ASIFA HELLAS - and Animasyros International Animation Festival + Agora. He was recently elected member of Board of Directors of CIFEJ (International Centre of Films for Children & Young People).
“Mentor”, by A. Rouvas, 3D & 2D Animation, Special TV, 30 min
Law 4487, voted by the Greek Parliament in August 2017, sets the new legal framework for the development of the country's audiovisual sector. How do you think it will help animation production?
The new legal framework set out for the support of audiovisual productions is the first one entirely treating cinema as a vehicle of social and financial development. This is a very encouraging fact, as we all know that cinema in low-capacity European countries like Greece has been rather underfinanced by both private and public sources over decades. More precisely, in the field of animation, we believe that the new incentive providing a substantial cash rebate of 25% will soon bear fruit. Especially for international co-productions, as well as large-scale national initiatives, the rebate may prove to be a long-term tool for better produced and distributed animation works that could turn our growing animation community among the most dynamic players in our region.
“The treasure at the roots of the tree of earth”by V. Karadimas, 2D CG / Digital Puppetry, TV series, 17 X 7 min
Would you like to tell us a few things about ASIFA's collaboration with the General Secretariat for Media and Communication of the Ministry of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Media? How did it start and what are its accomplishments so far?
Since its beginning in the 00's, ASIFA HELLAS - Hellenic Animation Association has been forging ties with competent public authorities in Greece and the EU, aiming both at financial support and the endorsement of joint activities for the promotion of Greek Animation. 2015 was a milestone year for us, since it marked 70 consecutive years of Greek Animation history. It was on this occasion that, together with the competent General Secretariat for Media & Communication, we outlined a multi-year development plan for the strengthening of our community, the enhancement of its actions worldwide and its gradual evolvement into a considerate international player. Since then, we’ve had the pleasure of reaping an impressive number of rewards, most notably the hosting of numerous selected Greek Animation tributes around the world at festivals and other events, the successful launching of our ongoing multi-action campaign #GreekAnimationRocks and, of course, the radical increase of Greek Animation visibility in media and audiences globally.
"A Letter - A story", by A. Papadaniel and S. Madouvalou, interactive web-based animation
What do you think about current animation production in Greece?
We are very optimistic. Greece is at a developing stage towards becoming a regional player in the animation industry, thanks to a large number of avid, highly-educated animators becoming active along the way. We are delighted that new animation businesses start up every year in our country. To be honest though, it’s been a decade now that Greek Animation has been growing increasingly important in the international animation scene. The interest of a global audience at last year‘s #GreekAnimationRocks at Annecy has been remarkable. We still have a long way to go however, as we join forces with all stakeholders and the Greek State striving for a better future for our national animation community.
“Same Life, Different Day”, by K. Economou, Live Action/Digital Drawings, 6 min 30 sec
What are your expectations from the Annecy Festival?
It is the second time that the Greeks peacefully invade the French Alps. Following last year's positive outcome, this June we plan a stronger presence at MIFA, the Annecy festival's market. We have a larger and better placed pavilion, we produced a comprehensive printed Hellenic Animation Guide for the first time and we’ve scheduled a range of communication events throughout the Festival’s duration. With a rich portfolio of completed works and works in progress from Greece, Cyprus and the Greek Diaspora, we intend to make our presence more powerful this year, building links with existing and new partners, enhancing the visibility of Greek talent worldwide and discussing synergy schemes to be developed in time.
“The animated story of Breaking Bad”, by A. Smirniotis, Rotoscope, short film, 1 min 10 sec
You are the President of Anima Syros International Animation Festival and Agora. What is its contribution to the enhancement of Greek Animation?
Since its establishment in 2008, Animasyros International Animation Festival + Agora has been advocating the empowerment of Greek Animation by showcasing the best of our national animation cinematography. We have been lucky enough to witness an impressive growth of national production over the years. Furthermore, we’ve organised a number of initiatives bridging Greek animators with key-players of the global industry. Our most important achievement is the establishment of the Agora in Syros, a unique regional market place for animation professionals from Europe and around the world. For the first time this year, we host the Athens Animation Agora just prior to the festival in September 2018. In this new endeavour, we are proud to receive the endorsement and support of the Hellenic General Secretariat for Media & Communication.
* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi
Read also: General Secretariat for Media and Communication boosting Greek Gaming & Animation, Lefteris Kretsos on bringing Greece on the global map of the Game and Film Making Industry, One more reason to film in Greece: A new legal framework of economic incentives, General Secretariat for Media and Communication boosting Greek Gaming & Animation, Lefteris Kretsos on bringing Greece on the global map of the Game and Film Making Industry, 10 Reasons to film in Greece, “Filming Greece”: our new series of interviews on Greek Cinema.
As of September 2018, Dr. Gonda Van Steen takes on the Koraes Chair of Modern Greek & Byzantine History, Language & Literature at the Department of Classics of King’s College in London, at the same time assuming the directorship of the Centre for Hellenic Studies. Professor Van Steen is a devoted scholar and avid researcher of the language, literature and history of Ancient as well as Modern Greece, whose interests, research and publications cover a vast area, from Classics and Archaeology to chapters of 20th-century Greek history, obscure to most people outside Greece.
Having graduated with an M.A. in Classical Philology in her native Belgium, Van Steen continued her studies in the USA, where she went on to pursue a brilliant academic career. She is the current holder of the Cassas Chair in Greek Studies at the Department of Classics and Center for Greek Studies of the University of Florida. She is also an esteemed member of the Modern Greek Studies Association of North America, where she served as President (2012-14) and currently holds the position of Executive Director. Apart from her knowledge of Ancient Greek, Gonda Van Steen is also fluent in five modern languages, including Greek.
The modern interpretation of classical theatre has been a major theme in several of Van Steen’s publications, such as Venom in Verse: Aristophanes in Modern Greece (Princeton University Press, 2000), which was awarded the London Hellenic Prize, and Theatre of the Condemned: Classical Tragedy on Greek Prison Islands (Oxford University Press, 2010) which discusses the production of ancient tragedies by the political prisoners of the Greek Civil War. Her current book project, Adoption, Memory, and Cold War Greece focuses on Greek adoption stories that become paradigmatic of Cold War politics. Professor Van Steen spoke* to Greek News Agenda about her interest in Ancient and Modern Greek culture, and the ways these can affect our perspective today.
How did your interest in the Ancient Greek language and literature begin?
As a teenager, I was interested in the myths and monuments of Greece. That fascination led me to the Ancient Greek language, itself the key to Ancient Greek literature, which I have loved ever since. I studied classical languages through middle and high school, and I continued on in college in Belgium and through graduate school in the United States. But my interest really piqued as soon as I was able to travel to Greece, which is also what opened my eyes to the need to study Modern Greek. Since my first trip to Greece in the early 1980s, I have fostered a lifelong fascination with all things Greek, starting with the Classics and with archaeology, language, and literature, to then discover Byzantium, Modern Greece, and the complexities of their contemporary histories and cultures.
Gonda van Steen with staff and students after an open workshop at the Faculty of Theatre Studies, UoA in June 2018
So it was through your classical studies that you discovered Modern Greece. However, although many non-Greek nationals engage in the study of Ancient Greek Culture, few have examined the intricacies of 20th-century Greek history.
Indeed, I followed the path of the classicist who discovers the richness of the Modern Greek language and culture. For me, however, that encounter with contemporary Greece was a path of no return, and I threw myself wholeheartedly into the study of everything Modern Greek but especially of the theater, history, and politics of twentieth-century Greece.
You don’t hesitate to explore sensitive issues, such as the recent history of Greece: the military dictatorship and the Civil War, a touchy subject for many. Is your interest in the political as strong as your love for the artistic and cultural aspects of Modern Greece?
I like to approach Greek politics from a somewhat oblique angle, such as through the lens of theater, which I see as a mirror of and on contemporary society and intellectual life. Also, I find myself attracted to topics that have not yet been properly explored, such as the theater of the prison islands of the Greek Civil War, or the performance and censorship phenomena of the Greek military dictatorship. Overall, I shy away from “loud” politics, but I relentlessly pursue the study of the impact of politics and the arts on the margins.
One particularly interesting publication of yours was Theatre of the condemned, a study on the performance of Greek tragedies by political prisoners in Greek internment camps during the Civil War period. How did this subject come to your attention, and what can be learned through this research?
I had read bits and pieces about theater productions staged on the prison islands of the Civil War and its aftermath. But I felt that these performances needed to be studied in their own right, not as vehicles for partisan political comments. That is how I started to read historical and political works on the time period in question and also many memoirs written by the political prisoners themselves. In addition, I conducted numerous interviews with former detainees and was constantly struck by how they felt that theater and culture, and the group collaborations they required, had sustained them through one of the most trying ordeals of their lives. I learned that, among the isolated or the “condemned,” the collective effort that a theater production demands, can be one of the most inspiring and also gratifying commitments.
You are currently studying another issue linked to that era: the mass international adoptions of Greek-born children by USA citizens in the 1950s and 1960s, a fact unknown to many. You have actually been involved in this issue in a more personal manner, rather than purely academic – what made you passionate about it?
I started pursuing the topic of the Greek-to-American child adoptions as another inroad into the politics of mid-twentieth-century Greece. But I soon discovered how much potential this international adoption movement, as a historical and again understudied phenomenon, holds for a deeper engagement with the (most intimate) social history of postwar and Cold War Greece. I offer a historical study of the what, why, and how of this Greek adoption movement that placed hundreds of children in the USA and also in the Netherlands. I delve into Greek, American, and Dutch archives to present a complete historical record. Once again, however, I enrich this study with, and I have personally been much enriched by, the many conversations with Greek-born adoptees, now American and Dutch adults who are looking for their roots in the home country to which they have never been thoroughly exposed. These adoptees’ quests and their first adult experiences of Greece open up a chapter in transnational studies and in “life writing” that is again worth investigating, by lifelong students of Greece and by the broader public alike.
You have recently been appointed to be the next Koraes Professor of Modern Greek & Byzantine History, Language & Literature at King’s College, London. What do you hope to contribute to this position? You stated that you intend to “delve deeper into twentieth-century Greek social history”.
At King’s College, I hope to offer courses in reception studies, language, and literature, and I will indeed delve deeper into twentieth-century Greek social and family history. I am excited to start working with graduate students and colleagues in KCL’s Centre for Hellenic Studies, and I aim to build bridges across UK campuses, to the Greek diaspora community in Britain, and also to the rest of Europe, while maintaining professional contacts with colleagues in the USA.
My prior book and article publications have foregrounded Modern Greek receptions of the Classics. Most recently, I published Stage of Emergency: Theater and Public Performance under the Greek Military Dictatorship of 1967-1974. My current book project, entitled Adoption, Memory, and Cold War Greece, is the above-mentioned Greek adoption ethnography, which is set against the backdrop of the global Cold War. This project is taking me into the new, uncharted terrain of Greek adoption stories that become paradigmatic of Greek postwar history and international Cold War politics.
What do you believe the study of the social history of Modern Greece can offer to people from the rest of Europe and the world?
The study of Modern Greece and of its social history, especially, is one that offers deep perspective, a rich vantage point of comparison, and also a complex warning signal of how to read and what to negotiate (or avoid) when it comes to state or private interventions (whether the handling of the current economic crisis or the condoning of the mass adoption movement of the postwar past).
You are the Executive Director -and also a former President- of the Modern Greek Studies Association, a US-based institution aiming to “showcase the merits of the Modern Greek tradition and contemporary Greek culture”. Would you share with us a few words about the MGSA’s initiatives and the ways it advances research in this field?
The Modern Greek Studies Association of North America functions as a professional organization of all those involved with the study of contemporary Greece and Cyprus. The MGSA’s journal, the Journal of Modern Greek Studies, is a highly acclaimed, peer-reviewed periodical that features scholarship across various disciplines but always related to the Modern Greek world. It is a truly interdisciplinary journal, and that cross-disciplinarity is also reflected in the spirit in which our biennial symposia, or three-day conferences, are conducted. The latter feature presentations by neohellenists from across the globe and also promote the participation of graduate students in the field of Modern Greek Studies. The MGSA further functions as a clearinghouse of information related to the field and devotes special attention also to the teaching of Modern Greek as a second language. The association was founded in 1968 and celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this year.
*Interview by Nefeli Mosaidi
Read also via Greek News Agenda: 100 years from the founding of the Koraes Chair at King’s College, London; Rethinking Greece: Roderick Beaton on the study of Greece and modern Greek achievements; An Englishwoman in Evia: Publisher Denise Harvey on her love for Greek literature and culture