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Whether a gamer or not, everyone is familiar with digital games such as, for example, Candy Crash Saga. The digital Game industry is a fast growing global market that annually generates more than 100 billion dollars, twice and even higher the global cinema turnover. The Athens Games Festival, part of a series of events titled "Digital October" organized by the General Secretariat for Media and Communication of the Ministry of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Media, is the first international game business conference in Greece and will take place 28-29 October 2017, at the Helexpo Maroussi exhibition center in Attica. Video game developers from Greece and Cyprus and from all around the world, along with international game studios, will gather for a two-day conference that will bring together industry professionals, stakeholders, publishers and the media.

Even those who are not professional gamers can enjoy retro games, as well as to find out about new games applications in education and medicine, or to be informed about the career options they present. But first and foremost, the Athens Games Festival is an incentive of the Greek state to put the Greek gamers community on the global map. The exhibition consists of over 60 kiosks where game professionals will present their new products. Representatives of leaders such as Amazon, Facebook and Unity will demonstrate best practices and hold professional meetings with game developers, while academics and artists will talk about game narratives and games as a form of art, initiating a dialogue with the public.

Greek News Agenda interviewed* Lefteris Kretsos, General Secretary for Media and Communication, on the Athens Games Festival. Lefteris Kretsos holds a PhD in Employee Relations and until his appointment as General Secretary for Media and Communication he was a Senior Lecturer of employment relations and human resource management at the University of Greenwich (Greenwich Business School, Department of Human Resources and Organizational Behaviour). He underlines the importance of the event and the opportunities it offers to gamers, stressing that it is the outcome of the experience gained by participating in important conferences abroad. He outlines the comparative advantages of Greece as a filming location, as well as the new strategy making Greece a “film friendly” country, through a system of subsidies that will attract investments from the film industry.

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The Athens Games Festival, to be held on 28-29 October, is the first major event by the State to boost the gamer community. What are the expectations from this event?

The Athens Games Festival '17 is the first major event organised by the State for digital services and products, as well as the first business conference in the field of digital gaming organized in Greece in general. Very interesting game events are organised annually in Athens and Thessaloniki, and, this year especially, new events such as GROW and Digital Expo took place, which offered new Greek game developers a platform to showcase their work. These are initiatives that the General Secretariat for Media and Communication does not only welcome but supports in practice. The Athens Games Festival has a different profile, which I believe we must emphasize, as the event follows the standards of international B2B events (business to business). Our goal is to develop synergies between home providers, facilitate communication between professionals, institutions and stakeholders, while also investing in the know-how introduction through our guests who are representatives of tech moguls such as Amazon, Facebook, Google, Unity or even King, the company behind the famous Candy Crush Saga game. At the same time, we aim to organize an event that will convey the following message to the international community of the game industry, i.e. that Greece has an active community of creators and that Athens can turn into a hub of innovation and creativity. And I think that although this is the first time this festival is organized, we have taken very important steps in this direction.

However, the General Secretariat for Media and Communication has participated in other major events in Greece and abroad (Global Game Jam 2016, 2017, Get in Games from Innovathens, Participation in the White Nights conference in Prague, St. Petersburg and Moscow, Nordic Game in Sweden). Which conclusions have been drawn from previous events?

All previous events, and in particular our participation in business conferences abroad -Prague, St. Petersburg, Moscow and Sweden, as you mentioned earlier- has played a decisive role in the way we organised our next actions.

What we realised in the course of those events was that while in Greece we have been focusing on retail sales of video games, buying software and hardware or even eSports, we have tended to overlook the fact that Greece, from a country consuming digital products (we rank 50th in a list of 100 countries) could become a country of production and distribution of digital games just like Britain, France, Germany and many others. Our participation at such conferences abroad has taught us that big market players are looking for new talent and collaborations at annual professional events such as White Nights and Nordic Game. We saw that through such events, companies like Ubisoft or Wargaming, with a 2016 turnover of 2.985 and 2.179 billion Euros respectively, come into contact with the domestic market and if they find a favourable economic climate and domestic market for professionals, they establish new company branches in these countries.

We believe that Athens Games Festival, which we have organised with the help of White Nights and with the support of Nordic Game, will give us the opportunity to participate on an equal basis with other countries in the global digital games market.

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AGF is part of the Digital October events. What are these events about?

The General Secretariat for Media and Communication has organised “Digital October”, a series of events taking place throughout October. The series concerns digital culture, digital literacy and the modern digital tools we dispose today that can improve our work, our quality of life and enable us to have a more substantial participation in modern digital society. For Europe, October is a month dedicated to cyber security (European Cyber Security Month), while from 7 to 22 October we celebrate Europe Code Week, which we consider to be of major importance. Within this framework, we organized a seminar on Data Journalism for young journalists, an event on post-journalism and how the new digital era influenced journalism as a profession. Of course digital games and the Athens Games Festival is an integral part of Digital October, which will be completed with an interesting event about security issues concerning Internet of Things (IoT).

Nordig Game contestantMonsters presenting Apocalypse Cow Contestant at the Nordic Game Discovery Contest

As you have said, "Greece is preparing to enter the Global Movie Business in 2018 ". What are the strategies in this direction and how will the provisions of the new law on strengthening the production of Audiovisual works in Greece contribute?

In the past few years, there has been widespread disappointment at the fact that big film studios, although initially interested in filming in Greece, end up filming in other countries like Croatia, Malta and Hungary. Let’s not forget the case of Mamma Mia 2, where producers eventually turned to Croatia. Of course, there are many problems, including the lack of any investment incentive for film productions. Croatia offers 20% cash rebate in film productions, Malta 25-27%, Serbia 20%, Ireland 32% and the list goes on.

So, it becomes clear how fiercely competitive the climate is between countries. At the same time, we understand that our impressive natural landscapes, natural sunlight and the rich color palette of Greece are not sufficient in their own right to attract film productions, if there is no subsidy and/or facilitation for producers. The passing of Law 4487/2017 of the Ministry of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Information and in particular Chapter D, which concerns the Establishment of an Institutional Framework to Enhance the Production of Audiovisual Works in Greece, is a game changer. It gives the opportunity to producers of films, documentaries, animation, as well as educational video game designers to qualify for grants, in the form of cash rebates. The grant that may be awarded concerns specific categories of eligible costs to be incurred in Greece, a proportion of which will be subsidized after the completion of production (20% of eligible costs). This is a law that will be implemented as of the beginning of 2018 and has already attracted the interest of many producers.

Read also: General Secretary for Media and Communication Interview with European Business Review: Lefteris Kretsos: Greece is preparing to enter the Global Movie Business in 2018

* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi

eirinakis455Nikos Erinakis has studied Economics (AUEB, Athens), Philosophy and Comparative Literature (Warwick) as well as Philosophy of the Social Sciences (LSE) and holds a DPhil from the Universities of London and Oxford. Erinakis is Director of Research at the Institute for Alternative Policies (ENA), a newly founded Athens-based “progressive and left” think-tank that perceives itself as part of a wider movement of ideas for changing society.

Nikos Erinakis spoke to Greek News Agenda* about ENA’s goals and political orientation, the need to re-examine the left-wing concepts and politics in the light of new emerging social needs, ENA’s Economic Development Bulletin, as well as the character of the Greek public debate, and the role of propaganda in the formation of international public opinion about Greece.

The Institute for Alternative Policies (ENA) describes itself in its founding declaration as “non-politically neutral”, and progressive in character. Could you tell us more?

The idea of ​​creating the Institute was born out of a necessity. Both Greece and Europe are now at a critical juncture. As the current era is extremely uncertain and characterized by great changes, various ideas and thoughts are formulated about our present and future, but there is no organized, structured, and scientifically documented public analysis and discourse that detects differences between the old and the new, conservativism and progressivism, based on the coexistence of a renewed way of our collective coexistence at the level of society, economy and politics. Thus, we wanted to explore how the Greek society imagines its future.

Our goal is to operate as a left-wing think tank in Greece and Europe, seeking to fill the lack of well-founded scientific analysis that we believe exists in the representation of the wider field of ​​the Left. We aim at the creation of an original field of research, study, dialogue and action on policies in favour of social needs and the interests of the subordinate classes, that is, at the exit from the multilevel crisis towards a new socio-economic reality of equality and justice.

In Greek political science and public discourse, the country’s  so-called ‘underdog’ culture is often considered as a source of opposition to the processes of modernization and “Europeanization”. What is your opinion concerning this type of approach to the Greek social formation?

We believe that this well-known dichotomy is a simplistic way to describe a rather complex situation, e.g. the evolution of the Greek social formation throughout the years. Moreover, it constructs two hyper-historic categories that seem to apply to all the phases of Greek history and favour a very specific and biased interpretation of Greek history and its conflicts. Thus, the term "underdog" is elitist and extremely derogatory. We believe that the recognition of the complexity of the Greek social formation and a self-critical spirit - which means facing and deconstructing your own political biases - constitute two concrete methodological foundations in order to answer questions of this kind.   

ena567You seem to give a special emphasis to social subjectivities, emancipatory politics and “new” political content(s). What is the exact place of these notions within ENA’s research programme?

The main finding of our first survey, which was presented in July, was the lack of citizens' trust towards "traditional" political or social actors, as well as a tendency to seek progressive responses to modern dilemmas. At the same time, there is a sense of perplexity and puzzlement. The social majority seems to be increasingly following alternative formations of political thought and analysis, and is willing to participate more in the community, but it does not seem to know how. Nevertheless,it is still a process in progress. This "how", thus, is what we attempt to explore and express by looking for the forces that will truly manifest the new.

Alternative policies, on which our research programme focuses, are policy proposals that aim at social, economic, ecological and institutional transformations. They respond to specific social needs, always having as a prerequisite the active participation of society. Focused on the widening of equality, social justice, solidarity, innovation and fair development for the benefit of citizens, they are alternatives mainly to neo-liberal hegemony, but also to historically outmoded models of progressive, political age.

By this we mean that more is required than simply the defence of classical progressive prepositions. Besides, left-wing politics of the past set the same identities as a point of reference, albeit with outdated tools today. An overflow, a re-examination of these concepts in the light of new emerging social needs is therefore required. A redefinition of existing policies based on modern data on needs and available tools to meet them. These are the pioneering "alternatives" that we will try to identify and highlight, while exploring how they can be implemented. Emphasizing collective points of reference and key concepts for us, such as the public interest and public goods.

You recently launched a monthly Economic Developments Bulletin. How does it differ from other widely used bulletins like those of Eurobank and IOBE?

The Economic Developments Bulletin is now already in its 3rd issue. It is updated on a monthly basis by the Economic and Social Analysis Group of ENA. All data derive from official sources. Through the scientific interpretation of the indicators and the holistic presentation of trends, we aspire to offer the reader a balanced approach to reality critically recognizing both positive and negative developments. Given that we are neither a financial nor a public institution, we gather information from a great variety of fields and therefore we do not focus merely on strict financial, positivistic indicators like bulletins by banks, businesses or public institutions do.

The aim of ENA’s Economic Development Bulletin is not only to provide valid, systematic and comprehensive information on the trends and developments of the Greek economy and society but also to capture the social footprint of economic policies on sustainable and just development. As we state in our founding declaration «ENA’s work is not politically and socially neutral; through scientific documentation and experimentation, it aims at strengthening the political conditions of social justice, defend general interest and eliminate inequalities». As part of this work, the Economic Development Bulletin is a promising tool for proving that a modern think tank in Greece can have a strong political and social standing without lacking scientific credibility and objectivity.

Ιn addition, we issue the Bulletin on European Affairs, through which we opt to take part in the public, and often controversial, debate on European affairs. The Bulletin will be issued twice a month and will not stand politically and socially neutral, but will seek to explore responses to the diverse challenges of our time for Europe. The fundamental question that motivated the decision to create the Bulletin was not the often postulated “more or less Europe”, but “what kind of Europe do we want” and how can this be achieved.

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It is often argued that the Greek public debate lacks factual analysis and concrete policy proposals - especially as far as the Left is concerned, while the country's most influential think tanks (like ELIAMEP in the field of European and Foreign policy, and the recently founded diaNEOsis) are rather located on the centre-right of the political spectrum. Would you like to comment?

Public debate is indeed monopolized in our country very often by theoretical approaches and opinions that repeat the basic imperatives of neoliberal/conservative ideology. Left perspective is under-represented, especially in projects of documented scientific analysis and elaborated policy-making. As a result, we decided to found ENA; our aim was to set up an alternative, left and progressive think tank in order to cover the gap of representation of the broader area of the Left. 

At the same time, we wanted to give the possibility to those young scientists and researchers that are actively involved in the defense of public interest and public goods, in the strengthening of social justice and democratic participation, in the promotion of innovation and fair development.  Our goal is to make the most out of the knowledge produced today in Greece and which is not diffused to the public sphere.

In other words, our intention is to highlight the social dimension of the economic and political developments and the quality characteristics of the economic and political conjunctures that are often ignored or passed over in silence by the think tanks mentioned. 

Our ambition is to work on alternative proposals of realistic policies serving specific social needs fora new model of social organization. In this context, our main concern is to clearly define concepts that are socially and politically charged, such as "new production model" or "sustainable growth", in order to draw more accurately the dividing lines between the really progressive and the neo-conservative approaches often in disguise.

You have contributed to Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung’s fact sheet about “Greek politics: checking the facts - What Greece has actually done to tackle the crisis” (June, 2017). What, do you think, has been the role of propaganda in the formation of international public opinion about Greece and are there any means to counter its dire effects?

It would not be an exaggeration to argue that there exists a missionary zeal with which certain interested circles in European and International politics, the business sector and the media, have been circulating tendentious portrayals, distorting facts and even slanderous statements. One of our aims is to highlight some of these alleged truths about ‘the Greeks’ that have been loudly proclaimed and are still persistently being peddled today, and examine them objectively in order to establish how true they actually are. In other words, we aim at counteracting such fake news, depreciative clichés and preconceptions about Greece, without beautifying or putting a gloss on anything, and to gather true facts which must be presented all the more systematically in today’s allegedly post-truth era.

*Interview by Nikolas Nenedakis

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Thomas Maloutas is Professor at the Department of Geography, Harokopio University. Former Director of the Institute of Urban and Rural Sociology of the National Centre for Social Research (EKKE) and General Secretary for Research & Technology (2015-2016). His work is related to the changing social structures in metropolitan areas in the era of capitalist globalisation with a focus on issues of segregation and gentrification related to housing and broader welfare regimes. His research and published work refer mainly to the South European urban context and especially to Athens.

Professor Maloutas is the chief editor of the Athens Social Atlas project that aims at highlighting and critically analysing topics concerning the social geography of Athens through multiple perspectives, focusing especially on the past 20 years. It contains texts and supporting material concerning the historical development of the metropolitan area from the 19th century on, the city’s social stratification, its governance, its international economic role, migrant groups, housing practices, the daily transport of its residents.

Thomas Maloutas spoke to Rethinking Greece* about the background and methodology for the "Athens Social Atlas" project, Athens' isolationist and cosmopolitan characteristics, its social and professional stratification, its suburbanization, the decline of its centre, the high rates of home ownership and how construction in the 50s and 60s destroyed the face of the city. Maloutas underlines that nowadays “Athens has more problems than one can see with the naked eye” and that there is need for a consistent housing policy, as well as new social solidarity policies to accomodate the increasing numbers of refugees living in Greece and those in danger of losing their homes.

maloutaspr8What is the level of scientific and public awareness concerning matters of social geography of Greece and most specifically of the city of Athens?

There is an increasing awareness of matters related to life in the city as well as to social geography. The spatial dimension of social issues is more obvious in an urban context, where one could observe contrasting situations juxtaposed in close proximity, as for example, poor neighborhoods right next to wealthy ones, diverse nationalities and people living side-by-side, etc.

As people move around and travel much more than in the past, they are able to directly compare diverse social circumstances, which in turn increase their awareness of deepening inequalities in the last 15-20 years or so.  Social issues are thus more visible to the wider public.

What is the purpose of the "Athens Social Atlas" project?

The Athens Social Atlas is a research based project, although not a scientific one per se. All contents originate from serious research projects, small and large, individual and collective. The Atlas is a compendium of work in concise form, where methodological analysis is not excessively detailed and chapters outline the broad shape of the matter, the supporting empirical data, as well as the corresponding political dimensions. It’s a collective effort in which 75 authors have already contributed, with numbers increasing as the project is ongoing.

At the outset we thought we would be making a typical Atlas in printed form. For example, back in 2000, I’d edited what was thought to be the first volume of an Atlas called The Social and Economic Atlas of Greece, which focused on cities, whilst subsequent volumes were to be on rural areas, industrial activities and tourism respectively. Sadly this project was never completed, but a more comprehensive French edition of that Atlas was published in 2003 (with Michel Sivignon, Franck Auriac, Olivier Deslondes and myself as editors) called “Atlas de la Grèce” that included cities, rural areas, industrial activities and tourism. 

These days however we can have an online Atlas that can be updated on a regular basis. Hence, this new Atlas is a work in progress, and as such, it functions as a kind of a forum as well. The only limits imposed by the project’s editorial board relate to contributions of material and arguments being founded on research. The Atlas is supported by the Onassis Foundation.

athensprmalCan you tell us a few words about Athens as a city and an urban phenomenon? What are its special characteristics? 

In a very broad sense, each city is unique; however, modern cities studied by disciplines such as urban social geography, urban geography or urban sociology are industrial cities. Moreover, cities like Athens have the disadvantage of not being situated where urban theory is produced. Accordingly, when looking at a city like Athens through theoretical lens developed elsewhere for differenttypes of cities, it is quite likely that what is being seen is not really understood.

In the course of the 20th century, Athens became a large metropolis of almost 4 million people, evolving from a small town of roughly 100,000 at the turn of the century by way of an atypical process, i.e., insofar as this didn’t take place through the characteristic process of industrialization. Here, other historical factors had been at play, from the designation of Athens in 1834 as the capital of the newly independent Greek state and the subsequent attempts at city planning by the Bavarian monarchs that indelibly affected both the way the city developed over time and how different social groups established themselves in certain parts of the city. 

Other major events played part, as for instance the aftermath of the Asian Minor expedition in the early 20th century that led to the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey, whereby close to 1.5 million of people of Greek origin from Asia Minor moved to mainland Greece with a vast proportion concentrating in Athens. The sheer scale of this intake as well as the way these refugees were distributed in various neighborhoods surrounding Athens irrevocably affected the social fabric of the city.

This upheaval was followed by World War II, followed by a Civil War and a huge rural exodus mainly towards the big cities and Athens. Thus, in the postwar decades there was an enormous inflow of people from the countryside to Athens and to a much smaller extent to Thessaloniki; at the same time, there was a massive, almost equal in scale, wave of emigration from Greece to West Germany. Moreover, some migrated, either internally or externally, due to political reasons: for those defeated in the Civil War, it was not easy to live in small villages, where they were extremely visible. Another factor driving people out of rural areas were the dire economic conditions that led families to develop their own strategies in orderto help their members get back on their feet: for instance, a part or branch of the family would move to the city, while another would move abroad. These were not necessarily desperate solutions, but choices of accommodation and rational use of resources.

Athens thus became a place that received people fleeing from elsewhere. Whilst in most of Western Europe or North America we observe urban centres attracting people on the basis of their industry and economic development, this was not the case in Greece.

athens19According to French Geographer Guy Burgel, Athens has been “a city of peasants and an introvert national capital” although with some cosmopolitan features. Does this account still hold? 

Many things have changes since the mid-70s when Guy Burgel made that statement; I certainly do not believe that this account stands today. Since the 80’s we have stopped witnessing that constant stream from rural to urban areas; there as a geographic stabilization of population within the national territory, and the policies of the governing PASOK socialist party in that decade played a part. Moreover,a society cannot be on the move forever, and eventually urbanization trends become more or less stabilized. In Athens, for the past 20 years the population in terms of Greek nationals has stabilized, if not declined. Overall, there is a small increase in the total population of the city, mainly due to migrant inflows. To a certain extent, it is also the case for other Greek cities. Consequently, we can no longer speak of Athens as a city of peasants. The generation of peasants that came to the city is now at the end of their biological cycle. The new generations are autochthones, Athenians.

As far as the city’s cosmopolitan features are concerned, there is this debate whether Athens is an introvert city, as the capital of a country isolated by its shared borders with countries either till recently in isolation because of the cold war or with which there have traditionally been difficult relations. With the exception of Italy, Athens does not have a hinterland outside the national territory and cannot easily connect with other big metropolises. On the other hand, there is a certain cosmopolitanism because Greek people tend to move for work and studies around the world, experience, bring back and transplant other cultures. So we have a city which is not very well connected globally, but its people have visions and images of the outside world. In Athens you thus have a kind of cosmopolitanism and an isolation at the same time.

With the dramatic increase in the brain drainsince the beginning of the crisis, now there are ten times more young people with high skills leaving Athens to seek work elsewhere; this is an intricate problem. I believe that in the 2021 census the scars of this phenomenon will be visible in the structure of employment, in the economically active population of this country.

What are the main characteristics of social and professional stratification in Athens? How is Athens evolving in this respect?

The general view according to some scholars -as for example Saskia Sassen, who has visited Athens- on the future shape of urban societies is that they tend to become polarized: the wealthy, as well as the poor become more numerous, while the middle class is shrinking and income distribution is taking the form of an hourglass instead of an onion, as it was before. This is interpreted as the result of moving from industrial economies to post-industrial service-based ones. However, this theoretical model has been seriously questioned as to whether it actually applies to all cities or only to very special places like New York or London.  

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Empirical studies for Athens do not reveal a substantial widening of the gap between the rich and the poor, ad this is so for many reasons: One, because Athens has never been a locus for big corporations to establish their business here or to at least develop important activities. This means that Athens does not attract a corporate elite, young people with very high academic credentials and very good salaries, who form this kind of upper caste in most of the cities discussed in Sassen’s model. In Athens, the corporate elite is anemic. As far as the number of poorer people is concerned, it was shrinking until the late 80s due to upward social mobility. However, with the massive arrival of immigrant groups, poorer classes are becoming more numerous. In a nutshell, even though we don’t have a widening gap between rich and poor, the number of poor people is indeed increasing. 

As far as gentrification is concerned, this is mainly a process evident in the English-speaking world, especially in the New World, where the elite, during the advance of the industrial revolution, decided to leave the city centre and live in the suburbs. When industrial development came to an end, it created increasing vacancies in the inner city areas, so you have reinvestment and the return of a portion of the middle classes. However, this happened mostly in the English-speaking world: in cities like Paris or Vienna, the elite had not left the inner city in the course of industrial development, so there was no space for cataclysmic changes through gentrification. 

Gentrification in Athens is not related so much to housing, as to the changes of use of public space in some areas like Metaxourgeio, Gazi or Psirri, where local artisans and small scale industry were replaced by leisure activities, such as restaurants and bars. This also changes the city, but it's not the usual type of gentrification.

It seems that the centre of Athens has experienced a decline after the 1980s…

The decline of the centre of Athens began in the mid-70s, in a gradual process that is still going on. According to data from the last census (2011), the municipality of Athens has lost almost 150,000 inhabitants as compared to 2001. Without the influx of migrants in the city centre, the loss would have been much greater.

athenspl3Usually, suburbanization is due to industrial development. In the case of Athens, middle and upper middle classes have begun moving to the suburbs because they themselves had overinvested in inner city construction, making it too densely built and insufferable. Construction, since the 50s and during the dictatorship (1976-1974), had been encouraged as a means to heat up the economy and ensure political gains. In 1968 for instance, the military regime, in order to gain the favour of land owners, relaxed prevailing limits on construction space as percentage of land by a further 20%. This was implemented without serious town and street planning. Thus in Athens overall there was short-sighted approach to construction seriously lacking planning, especially during the dictatorship years. 

Does this over-construction of Athens begin before the 1967 dictatorship, that is, in the Konstantinos Karamanlis era of the late 50s?

Τhis is an issue of contention: On the one hand, there were very high construction rates in the 50s and 60s that destroyed the face of the city, when neoclassical and other architecturally significant buildings were knocked down and replaced by much bigger modern apartment buildings, while on the other you have the production of very affordable housing. So, there was a socially positive outcome in terms of housing and a socially negative outcome in terms of the layout of the city and living conditions. After over-building neighborhoods like Patissia, Kato Patissia, Kypseli, and a few other middle class and sometimes upper middle class neighborhoods, they became degraded and the more affluent households who were partly responsible for that decline gradually began moving to the suburbs.

In Greece, the housing sector was the driving force of the entire economy. In industrial societies, it is commonly industry that produces goods and creates wealth that triggers construction; in the case of Greece,it was a little bit the other way around. An immense development in construction demanded the production of goods for housing, from furniture to building materials and set the economy in motion.

Crisis-struck Athens is commonly depicted in international media with abandoned buildings, vacant shops and homes. What social problems lie behind these images? 

Let's say that Athens has more problems than one can see with the naked eye. On the Atlas website there is a chapter on vacant dwellings with maps showing not only holiday homes -mainly situated on the coastline of Attica- but for the first time we witness a large number of vacant homes in central Athens. Vacant buildings however could be a resource for the city, creating available space for housing homeless or other vulnerable groups of people.

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In Greece, the vast majority of landlords are not companies, banks or corporations but mostly older people who invested in property. The majority of homes also owner-occupied: home ownership is about 70% in Athens and over 80% in Greece as a whole. Overall, landlords do not own more than one or two apartments other than own residence. Such property owners have also been hit by the crisis, losing their income from property either because of loss of tenancies or undelivered back rental payments or serious decreases in rental charges as tenants are unable to meet rental costs.

The existence of many vacant dwellings on the one hand and homeless people on the other begs for a policy that combines needs with remedies. Can homeless people be housed in those empty homes? These properties are privately owned, but owners are themselves in danger of losing their property after years of not being able to pay their property taxes and accumulating debt.

To face this problem, new policies need to be implemented in order to coordinate assistance for people with housing needs, while facilitating small property owners to keep their property. One idea would be to rent these homes at a price  much lower than market value and ask tenants  to provide another kind of social service  for others in need. This way, social relations could be rebuilt on the basis of solidarity rather than just generosity, which I believe is the only way to shield poorer neighbourhoods from the infiltration of xenophobic or racist groups, including neo nazi party elements (Golden Dawn).

I believe we should salvage social relations by implementing social policies that bring people from different backgrounds closer together.  Helping each other is something that Greeks do, but it is usually kept inside the family. However, new social solidarity policies are needed at this juncture, given also the large numbers of refugees living in Greece. In this framework, Athens’ empty apartments could also be used as a means of solving social problems, without stigmatizing people or turning whole neighbourhoods into ghettoes.

*Interview by Nikolas Nenedakis

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As the countdown has begun for the 58th Thessaloniki International Film Festival (November 2-12, 2017), the biggest celebration of cinema in Greece, Greek News Agenda interviews* Orestis Andreadakis, TIFF Director since May 2016. Orestis Andreadakis was born in Heraklion, Crete, in 1963. He studied cinema in Athens, as well as French literature, art history and film theory in France and Switzerland. He worked as a film critic for various newspapers and was editor in chief of Cinema magazine from 2007 to 2016. He was also a film critic for Greek TV station MEGA from 1995 to 2016. In 1995 he took part in the establishment of the Athens International Film Festival Opening Nights, where he served as artistic director from 2007 to 2016, while in 2011 he participated in the establishment of the Athens Open Air Film Festival. In 2013 he was honoured as Chevalier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

With long experience in directing the biggest film festivals in Greece, Andreadakis referred to the elements that render Thessaloniki International Film Festival - the major South Eastern European film festival and annual platform for Greek productions - a unique cinematic experience for viewers as well as professionals: its international programming that aims to unveil new fascinating worlds to the audience, while the Agora film market is where film professionals from Greece and around the world meet and prepare new films. Moreover, TIFF’s rich programme of events and discussions offers a rounded cinematic experience, going much further than simply showcasing films. Asked as a veteran film critic about the effects of the crisis on Greek film production, he stressed that it has brought Greece in focus, inspired international artistic and festival interest on what the cultural product of this crisis will be. He also underlined that there is a new talented and highly qualified generation of filmmakers and artists in Greece that responded to the crisis in a creative and innovating way.

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The concept behind TIFF58’s poster(s): "The film frame is the field of the frame ‘maestro’, the director, who uses it to form the pictures, the shots of the film he envisioned. The frame is part of the reality and also the base of fiction filmmaking. Within its borders, big and small miracles are produced and deduced."

What is your vision for the Thessaloniki International Film Festival?

My vision includes three focal points: Firstly, engaging as many people and institutions of Thessaloniki as possible. We wish that the festival be a part of the city’s life during the events of November and March as well as throughout the year, because TIFF has a year round activity with four cinema theatres, the only cinema museum in Greece (the Cinema Museum of Thessaloniki), a series of educational programmes, Thessaloniki Cinematheque events, our summer screenings and so on.

Secondly, we hope to strengthen even more the trust of the film industry, that is, to be able to show as many Greek films as possible, to bring in contact the creative teams behind these films with guests from the global film market so as to provide a fertile ground for dialogue between Greek filmmakers and their foreign peers. We want to help filmmakers find future collaborators and Greek films to be distributed in cinemas and TV networks around the world.

Last but not least, we want the Festival to further reinforce its distinct artistic identity, to further strengthen and consolidate it so that it stands on its own against other European Festivals of similar status.

What is the main focus in TIFF’s programming?

As suggested by its title, the Thessaloniki International Film Festival is International. We focus on films from around the world and in the previous years we have presented very important films from Latin America, Asia, Russia, the Middle East. We often show filmsfrom countries whose location or political system is perhaps unknown to the audience. These films however unveil fascinating new worlds and show that people around the world share the same concerns, dreams and hopes.

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Would you like to talk about TIFF’s AGORA department?

It is the most dynamic part of the Festival, although it is not as visible, because it does not concern the audience. The Agora department is in essence an incubator for future productions: like a laboratory, where experiments are carried out, it may not be of interest to the general public, but the experiment results affect everyone. The same applies to Agora: it is the place where all new productions are processed, both artistically and financially. Film professionals come from around the world with their ideas and projects; they meet with each other as well as with Greek producers and directors and prepare new films. Agora has cemented its status over the years and the proof for that is the considerable number of films participating in prestigious international film festivals around the world which have begun as projects at Thessaloniki International Film Festival’ s Agora.

How did the economic crisis affect cinema attendance and film production in Greece?

The economic crisis has seriously affected film production, distribution and box office performance both in Greece and abroad, but other means of distribution, platforms such as Netflix, legal or illegal downloading, have also played part. A large part of the audience, especially the young, is interested in cinema, they watch films, but they do it mostly at home, not in cinemas. All these factors have worked against film theatres, but they have not diminished audience interest for the moving image, which is why I believe a Film Festival such as Thessaloniki’ s must reinforce its image not of a mere film distributor but so as to offer a complete cinematic experience. For us, Festival goers do not attend for the sole purpose of watching a film, but so as to participate, to talk about the film after viewing and to think about the film the day after. Thus, at the Festival we always offer round table discussions, master classes, parties and other events that contribute to a rounded cinematic experience.

posters58Before the economic crisis, Greek films were accused of poor scripts. In the crisis years Greek screenplays have won prestigious awards. Has the crisis treated Greek screenplays?

I don’t think that the only problem faced by Greek cinema were poor scripts. One cannot judge a screenplay per se, and the only way to evaluate it would be to read it. What we see on screen is the final product of the combination of dialogue, cinematography, acting, cinema sets, costumes etc. In the context of the crisis, Greek filmmakers were motivated to work on issues that interest more people. What I really think was influential is that the new generation of filmmakers is highly qualified, i.e., they are well travelled, they have studied abroad, they had more opportunities and were more open to influences from peers. These I believe are reasons that have made Greek films in Europe more powerful.

Greek films, as you noted, have come under the radar of International Festivals. What makes Greek films attractive for foreign audiences?

The crisis has brought Greece in focus. People interested in art are intrigued to witness what the cultural product of this crisis will be, not only in cinema but in all other art forms in Greece.Moreover, as a result of the crisis, all artists are in deeper need for expression and because they are very highly qualified, as I explained earlier, we have a very interesting artistic product.

Is there something that you are particularly proud of in this year’s event?

The human capital of the Festival: this extraordinary Festival team, with its impressive knowledge and skills; that is the main reason I’m proud to be directing TIFF.  

Read also: TIFF latest Press ReleasesTIFF 58 International Competition. Proposing a subversive approach to cinema: Simone Weil’s The Need for Roots, TIFF58 focus on Greek Cinema

* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi

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p Nektarios Tavernarakis2Nektarios Tavernarakis is the Chairman of the Board of Directors at the Foundation for Research and Technology-Hellas (FORTH), Research Director at the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (IMBB), and Professor of Molecular Systems Biology at the Medical School of the University of Crete. He is also an elected member of the Scientific Council of the European Research Council (ERC). For his scientific accomplishments, Nektarios Tavernarakis has received several notable scientific prizes, including an innovation-supporting ERC Proof of Concept Grant and two ERC Advanced Investigator Grants. In July 2017, he received the prestigious Helmholtz International Fellow Award.

FORTH, established in 1983 in Heraklion, Crete, is one of the largest research centers in Greece with well organized facilities, highly qualified personnel and a reputation as a top-level research foundation worldwide. It includes six Research Institutes in different parts of the country.

Professor Tavernarakis spoke to Greek News Agenda* about the present situation of research in Greece and the country’s great capacity in that field. He notes a change in the national research policy, welcomes the increase in public spending for research and suggests ways in order to turn Greece’s “brain drain” into “brain gain”. He underlines FORTH's strategic planning as well as its aim to expand into emerging and exciting research fields.

FORTH and you personally have received numerous international awards and recognition for your work. Where does Greece currently stand internationally as far as research is concerned and what are its perspectives for the future?

There is definitely capacity to perform high level research in Greece. This is exemplified by the numerous publications of Greek researchers working in Greece, in high-impact, peer-reviewed journals. In fact, with regard to publications in top tier scientific periodicals, Greece is doing quite well, and in a recent Nature survey it came on top of countries that are traditionally considered highly productive in terms of research output, such as Canada, France, Italy and others. This suggests that we have, in Greek Research Institutions and Universities, what is sometimes called as “Pockets of Excellence”. If anything, these examples indicate that there is no inherent inability to carry out internationally competitive research in Greece. Another indicator that points in the same direction is the success of Greek Researchers and Institutions in attracting external competitive research funding. FORTH has ranked 15th in the list of the top 50 most competitive European Institutions in terms of securing funding from the previous 7th Framework Programme of the European Commission, and has actually improved its position, now number 10, in the current Horizon 2020 Framework Programme. Several other Greek Institutions are also performing well in this respect. The above being said, however, Greece is still well below the European average in the overall scientific output. I think it is important that Greece manages to realize its full research potential. There is still a long way ahead before this goal can be achieved. It will require the coordinated efforts of both the National Government but also the Scientific Community in Greece and the scientists of the Greek diaspora.

According to data, R&D spending in Greece has been growing steadily in recent years. But there is also the belief that underfunding, among other problems, prevents Greek R&D from reaching its potential. What is your opinion? What is the role of the State? Can you detect a change in policy?

Indeed, notwithstanding the current financial challenges and the crisis in Greece, there has been an increase in public spending for Research, both percentage wise but also in absolute terms. This is of course a very welcome development, but there is still a long way ahead of us before long-term regularity and sustainability of research funding is achieved. Funding also needs to increase further if we are to approach the current European average. Nevertheless, I believe that there are clear signs of a change in national policy with regard to Research. Greece’s research portfolio is now handled at a Ministerial level instead of at the level of a General Secretariat, which used to be the situation until recently. This, to me, indicates that the Greek Government recognizes the value of Science and Research as a key pillar of socio-economic development, and an essential tool towards overcoming the crisis. Recent measures and the legislation that was passed for Research are steps in the right direction but there is still a lot to be done. Looming problems that need to be addressed in the short-term, are the extremely complicated bureaucratic system for handling and dispensing research funds, as well as, limitations imposed on hiring new researchers and university professors. I hope that the current momentum does not dissipate, and these initial steps are followed up by the implementation of an even more research-friendly policy.

For years, Greece has been suffering from “brain drain”. Recently, PM Alexis Tsipras said that “brain gain” is a national goal for the next 5 years. Under what circumstances can this be possible?

The phenomenon of young scientists and researchers moving abroad after finishing their Bachelors or PhD studies in Greece is not something new. People have been doing this exercise almost forever and it is not necessarily bad for the country. If anything, this could even be beneficial for Greece; under the condition that at least some of the people also come back. Such a reciprocal movement has the obvious advantage of enriching the Greek Scientific Community with state-of-the-art knowledge and expertise. The detrimental trend that has been transpiring in recent years is not that people are leaving – this, as I said, has always been the case – but that very few, if any, come back. This is where we are losing the game. I believe that if we are to also have “brain gain” and not just “brain drain” we should establish an environment in Greece, a research ecosystem, if you will, that would be favorable for people who want to come back. We should be able to provide the means (facilities, infrastructure, legislative framework etc.) for these people to carry out their research programme, essentially as they would outside Greece. I am confident that if this is done, we will see a lot of brilliant scientists coming back. In fact, in a recent call for researcher positions at FORTH we witnessed an extremely high interest by people abroad, with more than 70 applicants for each position and many of them outstanding scientists who could easily be hired in top US and European universities.

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What is/should be the relation between FORTH and the private sector? Are there any examples of successful cooperation?

FORTH has always fostered close relations with the industry and the private sector. Over the more than 30 years of its existence, FORTH has been the cradle of many successful spin-off companies, and productive partnerships with the private sector. FORTHNET, the company that literally brought the internet to Greece, is a prominent example; there are numerous others. In addition, FORTH has demonstrated its determination towards further strengthening relationships with the private sector and the industry by creating the PRAXI Network, which is a highly experienced and well-stuffed technology transfer unit. Through the efforts of the PRAXI Network, many productive partnerships between research teams from all Institutes of FORTH and companies in Greece and abroad have been established. FORTH also operates in its premises the Science and Technology Park of Crete, an incubator of start-up companies that seek to maintain close ties with the academia and research groups at FORTH. This symbiosis provides ample opportunity for fruitful interactions. Finally, I would also note the example of Crete University Press, a high quality publishing house established and operated by FORTH, which provides excellent scientific and other literature editions to university students and the Greek general public.

Tell us a few things about FORTH’s next projects.

We have several strategic plans for the future. We want to see FORTH maintain and enhance its excellence, as well as, expand into emerging and exciting research fields. We follow closely contemporary developments in various areas of research, relevant to the activities of all FORTH Institutes, and we aim to initiate related research activities. As an example, we intend to establish a new Center for Personalized Medicine and Genomics, which will provide state-of-the-art services to patients from all over Greece, but also nurture research collaborations between clinicians and basic scientists. Genomics technologies that will become available in the framework of this center will also be useful in the Agro-Food and Culture Sectors, which are of vital economic importance for Greece. I should note that FORTH (the Institute of Biology and Biotechnology) has already created the first ArchaeoGenomics (Ancient DNA) Lab in Greece. This is one example of how modern technologies can contribute to a better understanding and appreciation of our rich cultural heritage. Furthermore, we plan to complement this center with a state-of-the-art Biomedical Imaging Hub that will incorporate a PET/CT imaging system. This capacity is not currently available in Crete, and will be a highly valuable asset, even at the national level. An additional initiative that we have already undertaken at FORTH is the creation of the first Institute of Astrophysics in Greece. The infrastructure is already in place; as you many know, FORTH together with the University of Crete are operating the Skinakas Observatory, which is equipped with the latest observation and analysis instruments for Astrophysical studies. In addition, a group of highly talented and motivated Researchers is already active in this area of research, at the Institute of Electronic Structure and Laser of FORTH. Thus, we hope that the Institute of Astrophysics will soon become FORTH’s 7th Institute.

*Interview by Yanna Kakalidi

diskos1Foundation for Research and Technology-Hellas | Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology: Tavernarakis Lab

lendorf67Steffen Lehndorff is an economist and research fellow at the Institut Arbeit und Qualifikation (Institute for Work, Skills and Qualification) at the University of Duisburg/Essen, Germany. His research focuses on employment relations and working time at organisational, national and international levels and includes comparative research into European employment models and industrial relations systems. Steffen Lehndorff was a keynote speaker at the 23rd Conference on Alternative Economic Policy in Europe, dedicated to the question: "Can the EU still be saved? The implications of a multi-speed Europe", held in Athens, 28-30 September 2017.

In an interview* with Tassos Tsakiroglou, political editor of the Athens daily "Journalists' Journal" (Η Εφημερίδα των Συντακτών), he estimates that Angela Merkel will be pressured from within to move right, while pointing out that EU-level alliances are needed to achieve progressive changes:

How do you see Germany's post-election political landscape and what can it mark for Europe? 

It’s terrible, but in a way we are getting closer to what has become normal in numerous other EU countries. By German standards the situation is somewhere between complex and chaotic. It will take long before we have a new government. In the meantime, one may think that a weaker German government makes it easier for others, for example the French, to overcome the «democratic scandal» (as Moscovici put it) in the Eurozone. But on the other hand one should realise that there will be strong pressures on Merkel within her own party to shift more to the right. So honestly, I don’t know.

E.U, as you’ ve mentioned, has fallen into the trap of an “austeritarian regime”, from which it seems almost impossible to escape. What’s the future for the european peoples and what’s the task of the left and progressive forces? 

Bottom-up pressure for progressive reforms at EU level must be rooted in stronger pressure for reforms at national levels, in particular in Germany but also in other EU countries. In the bigger countries we must be aware of the simple fact that we won’t achieve at EU level what we can’t achieve in our respective countries. Unfortunately there is still a long way to go because Social Democracy has weakened itself substantially in some politically and economically important EU countries like France, Germany, Italy or Spain, while large parts of left-wing parties can’t decide whether they want to focus on protest, propaganda, or change. The latter would require much greater efforts on real policy alternatives which would make it easier to form broader political and social alliances for democratic, social and ecological growth models in their own countries, which could become a basis for progressive changes at EU level, too.

Lately we have seen a multitude of "visions" for Europe, such as Jean-Claude Juncker’s or Emmanuel Macron’s, the common feature of which is that they express the political plans of the elites. We do not, however, see political plans or visions from the bottom-up. What’s your explanation? 

For most people it’s too far away from their daily life and problems. In German we say, “my shirt is closer than my jacket”. You know this is something typical not only for Germany. As I have just mentioned we so far have not found a left-wing solution for that. Large parts of the left, as I see it, focus either on the EU level or on the national level, but even if they suggest reasonable progressive reforms they fail to link these two levels. Of course this is very difficult. But to give just one example: Even in Germany it would be necessary for progressive changes to form alliances at EU level for joint profit and wealth taxation standards. It is this link between the levels of conflict that will count in the future, I think. Let me add a short remark on the ‘visions’ for Europe you mentioned. The current debates reflect a deep insecurity as well as enormous fissures and cracks amongst the political elites. In his own country Macron has a neoliberal agenda, but at EU level he wants to escape from the iron austerity cage. We should not hesitate to take advantage of the smallest window of opportunity when we want to change the course of action in the EU.

Although the economic effects of the neo-liberal doctrine have increased inequality and poverty internationally, we are faced with “its strange non-death” (Colin Crouch). What about this contradiction? 

Public debt which soared in the course of the financial crisis was used as a lifebelt by neoliberals. Before the crisis the rationale behind neoliberal policies was the “free market”, now it is the alleged need to reduce public debt. The justification has changed, but the policies and their outcomes have not.

Τwo years have passed since SYRIZA was defeated and capitulated to the lenders in 2015. What is your own assessment of the so far governance of Alexis Tsipras and how does it influence the developments in Europe? 

All of us who fought in solidarity initiatives in Germany and elsewhere were also defeated two years ago. But to say the truth, at least in Germany many of us were disappointed but not surprised. We knew our government, and from the beginning we fully aware of the imbalance of powers in the EU. Of course we had hoped that social movements across Europe can outweigh to some extent this imbalance, but altogether we were simply too weak and none of our governments could be forced to be more flexible regarding the demands of the Syriza government. The Memoranda reflect the current political leeway of an isolated left-wing government in a small and economically weak EU country. I understand the turn of the Greek government in the summer of 2015 as an attempt to avoid the worst, and my impression is that they are trying very hard to find and use the smallest loopholes for moderations of the unevitable. I imagine how painful it is to suffer from the outcomes of these bad «compromises» in the MoU. But I have no doubt that the suffering would have been even worse, much worse, when ND or Pasok had still been in office. Even if it hurts, we should not forget who caused this terrible situation before 2015 — in Berlin, Brussels and elsewhere, but also in Athens. 

Η Μέρκελ θα δεχτεί πιέσεις εκ των έσω να μετατοπιστεί δεξιότερα / Angela Merkel will be pressured from within to move right (29.9.2017)

Novel Encounters, a festival celebrating Greek and Irish fiction, will take place from October 18 to 20. Organised by the Durrell Library of Corfu and the Department of Foreign Languages, Translation and Interpreting of the Ionian University, Novel Encounters aims to create a forum for Greek and Irish writers to discuss the issue of ‘Writing and Identity’. The festival will present four Irish novelists – Katy Hayes, Deirdre Madden, Mia Gallagher and Paraic O’ Donnell – and four Greek novelist, namely Christos Chrissopoulos, Panos Karnezis, Sophia Nikolaidiou and Ersi Sotiropoulos. The festival will also showcase translations relating to two Corfiot writers, Konstantinos Theotokis (1872-1923) and Theodore Stephanides (1896-1983) and translation will be discussed as a means of communication between cultures.

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Reading Greece* spoke to Richard Pine, Director of the Durrell Library of Corfu (formerly the Durrell School), which he founded in 2002. Richard Pine was born in London, and educated at Westminster School and Trinity College, Dublin. He worked as an administrator and editor in Radio Telefís Éireann (the Irish national broadcasting service) until his early retirement in 1999, in addition to pursuing his interests in music education, theatre history and media studies. He has presented and appeared in over 100 radio and television broadcasts for Radio Telefis Éireann and the BBC. He was for many years a trustee of the Royal Irish Academy of Music (of which he is an honorary Fellow), and deputy music critic for The Irish Times. He is also an obituarist for the Guardian newspaper.

His twelve books include The Diviner: the art of Brian Friel (1990, 2nd edition 1999), The Thief of Reason: Oscar Wilde and Modern Ireland (1995), The Disappointed Bridge: Ireland and the Post-Colonial World (2014) and Greece Through Irish Eyes (2015). He lives in Corfu and writes a regular column on Greek affairs for The Irish Times; he was also a frequent contributor to the Anglo-Hellenic Review until it ceased publication in 2015.

Novel Encounters, a festival celebrating Greek and Irish writing, will focus on writing and identity. Tell us a few things about the scope of the festival.

The central theme is “encounter”: for the first time, four Irish novelists and four Greek novelists will meet and share their ideas about their writing and their place in their respective societies.

Each novelist will make a statement on the theme “Writing and Identity”. They will then read from some of their latest work. For the past few months, students at the Ionian University (Dept of Foreign Languages, Translation and Interpreting) have been working on translating these pages and this is a central part of my philosophy – to involve Corfiot people in anything that we organise in the Durrell Library. Also, to reflect on Corfiot culture; in this festival, we have a special focus on translations of, and by, two Corfiot writers, Konstantinos Theotokis (1872-1923) and Theodore Stephanides (1896-1983).

The Irish participation is made possible by funds from the Irish Embassy but unfortunately no Greek funding body could give anything to pay for the Greek writers, so their expenses are paid by the Rothschild Foundation. It seems that at a time of austerity this kind of cultural funding is reduced or even disappears and this is entirely misguided: at a time of austerity, cultural funding should be increased, in order to make people more aware that there is a life beyond economics.

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You have stated that Greece Through Irish Eyes was “the result of an urgent need to explain this country to Irish readers”. Greece and Ireland: Where do the two cultures converge and what are the main points of divergence? And, in turn, what are the main misconceptions about Greece in Ireland and in Anglo-Saxon countries in general? How has the narrative about Greece changed over the years?

I think from my long (50 years) experience of Ireland and my new (15 years) of experience of Greece, that the central issue in common for both countries is: where do we, and our distinctive cultures, belong? Joining the EEC (now the EU) was a major step for both cultures and their economies. When Karamanlis stated “Greece belongs to the West” he really started a great debate about the character and destiny of Greece. Is Greece really “western” in the implied sense of being “modern” - or is it irrevocably a Balkan country  (arguably the focal point of the Balkans) with a very unWestern mindset that is not necessarily “eastern” either? Much “East-West” tension is misguided: east and west can live together and understand one another, but Greece is both east and west and should not be forced to choose between.

In the same way, Ireland is in many ways different from the mainland of Europe. It's on the west, of course, but the “Celtic fringe” of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, even Brittany and the Basque country, has a celtic heritage that is quite different from the dominant culture of central Europe and the “great” powers that have dominated history and continue to dominate politics today. This distinctiveness should be maintained and celebrated.

Irish people probably thought very little about Greece except as a holiday destination until the economic crises made both countries very aware of each other. I don't mean just the way Irish and Greek people experienced financial loss and insecurity. I mean something much deeper – the growing awareness that here are two peoples, on the peripheries of Europe and the EU, which they have never really been able to understand. They each have a huge mythology from prehistoric times, a strong relationship with the sea, a very significant diaspora, due largely to emigration during previous periods of crisis (such as famine), the experience of foreign domination and a war of independence, a civil war, and the transition from a rural way of life to urbanisation and a money economy. There is a very fertile imagination that makes their storytelling very vital, very persuasive, very resonant in the minds of all people who come from marginal cultures which are nevertheless deeply meaningful in terms of spirituality, chthonic presences and the relation of the individual to society.

The Irish poet Seamus Heaney became aware of the writings of George Seferis and understood this deeper level of appreciation of “topos” - of “where you are defines you”. And they both won the Nobel Prize to acknowledge this unique gift of conveying depth of meaning into the lives of ordinary people. I found the same characteristics in the writings of Alexandros Papadiamandis and Liam O'Flaherty (from the Aran Islands on the west of Ireland) – the same attention to small personal details, the same worship of the local, the same understanding of small things, so I drew them together in a chapter of my book The Disappointed Bridge: Ireland and the Post-Colonial World.

I continue to write a monthly column for The Irish Times on Greek affairs – and when he launched my book Greece Through Irish Eyes in Athens in 2015 the Irish Ambassador at the time, Noel Kilkenny, said that I was the main source of information about Greece for Irish readers. Some Irish readers criticise me because they think I am blind to Greek faults (which I am not!) and because they think Greeks have brought their troubles on their own heads and don't require sympathy. But my answer is that I “love and mourn Greece” - that is, I celebrate what is great and beautiful about Greece and the Greeks, and I criticise where it is necessary, especially the burden of bureaucracy, the lack of planning in areas like tourism, and the failure to support cultural initiatives except with lip-service that doesn't work.

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In 2001 you founded the Durrell School of Corfu that, for thirteen years, hosted seminars on literature and the protection of the environment in the name of the brothers Gerald and Lawrence Durrell who had lived in Corfu in 1930s. How did you embark on such a venture? What about your experience after more than 15 years in Corfu?

I knew Lawrence Durrell quite well, and I wrote a book, which is the only comprehensive study of his work – including the unpublished work and his notebooks (Lawrence Durrell: the Mindscape, 1994, second edition 2005). I knew that I wanted to set up a “Durrell School” to explore the work of both brothers, Lawrence and Gerald, through the medium of international seminars and publications, and this succeeded for 13 years – about 25 seminars and seven books, including Theodore Stephanides' Corfu Memoirs and a volume of essays on The Ionian Islands: their history and culture. These were important because I had the same philosophy right from the start: to involve Corfiots in our discussions and to reflect on the Corfiot heritage. This continues today in the “Gerald Durrell Week” in May each year, exploring the flora and fauna, which he celebrated in My Family and Other Animals. - this is supervised by Lee Durrell, Gerald's widow, at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust in Jersey.

I decided that Corfu was the most appropriate place because they had both lived here in the 1930s, each of them had, at that time, decided on the direction of their life's work, which they owed to their experience in Corfu, and also because Corfu is such a cultural centre with such a fascinating history. I love this island and its people, and I'm going to die here and be buried here. I love the parts of the island interior that have not yet been spoiled by tourist development or the get-rich-quick boys showing off their new-found wealth, and especially I love Corfu city, a cosmopolitan centre of literature, music, painting, culpture for many centuries.

This festival is a new initiative of the Durrell Library, but I hope we will get the funding to follow it next year with a “Music Encounters” event bringing together Irish and Greek musicians and composers in association with the music department at the Ionian University - one of the best music departments in the whole of Greece. The new Irish Ambassador, Orla O'Hanrahan, has already identified cultural relations between Ireland and Greece as a key priority in her agenda, and we hope to work with her and her team in supporting this priority.

And then in 2019 I will be involved in a major new idea: creating a Chamber Orchestra of Irish and Greek music students. This is envisaged as a pilot project leading to the creation of an international training centre for the very specialised type of chamber orchestra playing, based in Corfu and run by the Royal Irish Academy of Music and the Ionian University, and involving students throughout Europe, but especially from Albania and southern Italy (with which Corfu has strong ties) as well as Ireland and Greece. But for this we have to find a major sponsor!

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Many of the problems that have arisen in the country’s dealings with its European partners over the last few years stem from the inability of non-Greeks to understand what Greekness is”. In your opinion, what are the constituent elements of Greekness?

In brief: first, the sense of a topos – of “being here”. Second, a commitment to family. Third, the deep sense of honour (filotimía) and dignity, and relationships outside the family, especially when they involve obligations such as debt - ipochréosi. Fourth, a sense of the past and a distrust in the future for themselves, but a sense of hope for their children.

I am an atheist, but, at the risk of sounding “old-fashioned”, these to me are “spiritual qualities” that are, as you say, “constituents” of Greekness, but let's go further and say that they are the “heart” of Greekness. Even in today's world of globalisation, multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism, it's not shameful to acknowledge a sense of place, a set of cultural and ethical values and a way of living one's life by those values. And I think Greeks demonstrate this more easily than most people.

One of the items in my wish list is for more Greek writers to get translated into English”. Would you say that the Greek crisis has ignited the interest of foreign readers in Greek literature? And, in turn, does Greek literature have the potential to attract a foreign audience?

YES YES YES!!!! Not only do non-Greeks want to read the “great” or “classic” novels that they already know about (Kazantzakis, in particular) but they are now discovering what a huge wealth of literature exists. And if you look for example at the novels of Konstantinos Theotokis (recently translated by my friend Mark Davies, including Slaves in their Chains) or the stories of Alexandros Papadiamandis, you realise that although they were written a century ago they are still vibrant indicators of modern Greece and of all societies emerging from the mysteries of the past into the mysteries of tomorrow.

Because I can't read Greek very well, I have to rely on translations. I once asked a friend why there are so many novels about war and misery – why not girls, and chocolate, and sunshine? His answer? There are of course these books in Greek but they don't get translated because good news doesn't travel so well as war and misery. And now? Due to austerity the funding for translation has disappeared! This is yet another example of the wrong-headed policy of retrenchment. There should be a multiple of the funding to create as much awareness as possible of the literary greatness of modern Greece among readers throughout Europe and the rest of the world.

And I don't mean only “literary” work. I mean the thrillers by writers like Petros Markaris with Inspector Charitos, and someone I discovered the other day, Leo Kanaris's Codename Xenophon – not only a good thriller but a sceptical view of the current crisis.

But in answering your question, let me say that, in bringing together the Irish novelists and the Greek novelists, there could be almost no end to the Greeks we could have invited: I personally am fascinated by works like Fotini Tsalikoglou's The Secret Sister and the novels of Ioanna Karystianni and Yiorgi Yatromanolakis, and luckily these are available in translation. But there are so many more and the Greek authorities are not doing enough to make us aware of them!

*Interview by Athina Rossoglou

Read more: Reading Greece: Ersi Sotiropoulos on the Correlation between Art and Life and Literature as a Way to the Non-Existent and the Inevitably Potential; Reading Greece:  Sophia Nikolaidou on the Representation of Greece’s Political Past in Contemporary Literature, the Prospects of the Greek Educational System and Literature as a Human Learning Experience; Reading Greece: Christos Chryssopoulos, Writer at Home, Photographer at Large

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The draft law on legal recognition of gender identity passed in the Greek Parliament this Tuesday 10/10/17 with 171 MPs supporting the bill in principle and 114 voting against. Article 3, for the right of persons to change their legal gender at the age of 15, was passed with 148 votes in favour out of a total of 285 MPs present. Ruling coalition leader SYRIZA and the Potami party voted in favour of the bill in principle, as well as the individual articles. Main opposition New Democracy, Far-right Golden Dawn, the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and the Centrists Union voted against the bill in its entirety while the Democratic Alliance voted in favour for everything except article 3, where it abstained.

Maria Yannakaki, Secretary General for Transparency and Human Rights at the Ministry of Justice, Transparency and Human Rights that intoduced the bill, spoke to Greek News Agenda*, about transgender rights as humans rights, the most important changes introduced by the new law, the problems trans people face in Greece and finally, the importance of bringing "taboo" discussions into public debate in order to challenge misconceptions and move society foward.

The legal recognition of gender identity has been a long standing claim of the LGBTQI+ community. Can you tell us why this is a human rights issue?

Social justice only stands when all citizens are treated equally and are protected as citizens; even though they may belong to groups with characteristics that differentiate them from the social majority. Such a group is our LGBTQI+ fellow citizens. There were numerous occasions where these citizens were a target of racist behaviour - be that verbal, psychological or physical abuse. Additionally, and deeper into societal justice issue: Due to the social stigma they faced if they came out, these people often suppressed their own true selves and tried to live under an identity that wasn’t their own, in order to achieve what all other citizens are entitled to, such as get a home to live in, get a job, get equal treatment in any public aspect of their lives. The core purpose of the gender recognition as law is exactly that: to abolish the administrative reasons underlying the unfair treatment of these citizens and to allow them to live their life as the person they feel they are. Respect towards human values, without any exceptions and exclusions, is the foundation of our democratic culture and it does not come a la carte, but as a duty of our State. Not a moral one, but a constitutional one. And the constitutional confirmation and protection of Human Rights is at the core of our political identity as a government.

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What does the bill include? Which are the most important changes it introduces?

The most important change this bill introduces is the fact that a person who would like to legally proceed to a gender transition is no longer obliged to go through a surgical operation or get medical approval to do so. The way the person experiences their gender identity, the person’s own free will, is the only factor taken into account to legally proceed with gender transition and the procedure is the same one that applies to any other case in which a citizen of this country wants to change a part of identity information, such as their name. This bill, in a few words, gives the chance to anyone who wishes to correct their “official” gender information without them having to go through an undesired sterilization or surgical process. Furthermore, the bill also includes the right of persons between the age of 15 to 17 to proceed with the correction, provided they have their parents’ or legal guardians’ consent and the approval of a medical board.

The LGBTQI+ community has expressed concerns about certain elements of the bill, such as the maintenance of the judicial procedure -rather than a simpler administrative act- and the exclusion of married people from the process. How do you comment?

The judicial procedure is necessary to keep the same procedure for all citizens who want to proceed with any kind of legal change in their identity information. It is the same procedure someone follows, for example, to change their name, even for a trivial mistake, such as a typo by a police officer taking down a name during an ID card issue procedure. Keeping this procedure for gender correction is the meaning exactly of equal treatment of citizens. Anything else would raise reasonable arguments about a la carte handling of citizen issues by the State.

Is Greek society conservative? What do you think of the level of public debate and the reactions of opposition parties and church to the bill?

I will be absolutely honest in answering this: Greek society is quite conservative, in its majority and one can easily realise that, we all live in the same country and know what we are talking about here. Our society, behind the façade of traditionalism -which helps to uphold family values and this is undoubtedly important- has also kept social groups in the dark, in closets, or simply in roles that were constraining for the persons themselves. Take for example the difficulties faced by women, in the job market, in high ranking positions etc. Greek society is not only conservative towards the LGBTQI+ people, it remains conservative in other aspects as well, despite the progress we have made along decades, after difficult battles fought by activists. And there have been tough clashes for stuff we now take for granted. Such is the case of LGBTQI+ rights as human rights.

Public debate always serves a purpose, it is very important in itself, regardless of the outcome. In our case, it was mainly characterized by loud voices raising moral issues, on the grounds of ethnic traditionalism rather than constitutional equality. But the debate itself shows how far we have come, although there remains double and triple the distance to cover. Issues that were taboo in Greek households, have now reached the parliament and are discussed in the streets. This is the biggest essential victory, because every time such a so called moral issue becomes part of the public debate, the next time it is going to be discussed, the starting discussion point will always be more progressive, people will be used to the idea of discussing such things.

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Trans rigths activists celebrating the passing of the bill in the Greek Parliament
(Photo: Argiris Makris, INTIME sports & news photo agency)

 As for the opposition parties in the parliamentary discussion of the bill: All I have to say is that the moment of truth is when it comes down to a vote and hands will be raised or will stay down. When a political party claims to be pro-European, progressive, an ardent defender of human rights and this is claimed to be a core of its political identity, there is no room for cheap oppositional tactics. Human rights are protected globally and universally and cannot be measured in terms of political games.

As for the church, I personally had no illusions or great expectations for it to remain silent or even moderate, although I acknowledge the fact that not all clergy is the same. But I certainly do not see any reason why the church would be an official stakeholder in this. Faith and its practice is a personal issue, it is not to be brought up every time we try to settle civic issues. But this leads us again to what I said earlier about traditionalism and its interference in social justice issues.

What are the most important problems trans people face in Greek society? What are the most common misconceptions about gender identity?

It is truly horrifying for someone to realise the everyday issues trans people have to deal with, things that every other citizen takes for granted, things that are otherwise so trivial and simple technicalities, that most of us don’t even bother to think about. Transgender people face problems with simple procedures such as getting a driver’s license issued, obtaining their travel documents etc. I cannot even begin to imagine how stressful my life and everyone else’s would be if we had to face such issues every day. We are talking about people, citizens, who want to live their day to day routine like the rest of us, in the same terms the majority does. We were not letting them do even that without having to put their personal dignity aside and pretend to be someone they are not, forcing them to even dress and look like someone they are not, in order to be able to proceed with trivial issues of everyday life. Never mind the racist behaviour they occasionally faced, precisely because not even the State itself recognized till now their right to live with dignity.

As for society, unfortunately there is a very large part of it that still has not grasped the fact that gender identity and sexual orientation are two different things. The most common misconception is definitely this. There just isn’t enough information available to the people, so that they get to learn these differences, and I understand that this is partially our fault, as a State, but also a result of what I was saying before about taboo discussion issues in Greek society.

A large section of society is not deeply negative and “morally” opposed to the gender recognition law. If someone provides them with detailed information on what this bill includes and how these are civic matters, they will understand that this is about equality. Hypocrisy and fear of those different from us, the ones outside society norms will always be there. Unfortunately, there are still too many people who just don’t have the appropriate education and information about these things and we are on that, trying to make these issues visible and provide the right information to those who want to listen. I believe that a whole new starting point was set after the extension of civil partnership to same sex couples in 2015. Since then, the public debate has moved forward, even though some voices, or rather shouts, still remain the same.

How do you evaluate the government's work in the field of human rights? What challenges lie ahead?

This government is very proud to have taken legislative steps in the last 2,5 years in the field of human rights, that -otherwise unfortunately- had not been taken earlier for decades. More specifically, we expanded the application of civil partnership to same sex couples as well, enforced antiracist legislation and legislation against any form of discrimination, and formed a National Council against Racism and Intolerance to compile a national strategy for tackling and preventing these issues, in cooperation with civil society and state authorities.

Also, with Law 4443/2016 for equal treatment, we brought important changes to legislation, as the law applied to a broader frame of cases, the Ombudsman’s responsibilities increased and private sector cases could now be examined by it. We proceeded to the designation of Special Prosecutors responsible for cases of racial violence, in the cities of Athens, Piraeus, Thessaloniki, Patras and Irakleion, and to the abolishment of article 347 of the Penal Code. We took measures to make the life of prisoners better, respecting their rights as humans as well.

Last but not least, the Legal Gender Recognition bill is a Greek State law as of last Tuesday. The fight for human rights is a constant one. I’d like to say, that, as long as there is humanity, this will be a never ending fight. Are the aforementioned taken steps enough for the protection and promotion human rights? The answer is definitely “no”. But we are making progress; we are taking measures in the right direction that should have been taken a long, long time ago. When only 3 years ago Greece was the black sheep in these issues, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe Muiznieks remarked last summer that Greece is the friendliest country regarding human rights. We intend to remain that kind of country.

*Interview to: Ioulia Livaditi

ELINA PSYKOUed“When we were watching these movies we were looking for something we hadn’t seen before. We unanimously agree that one film challenged us to see in a new way, and we were seduced by the surprising humanity of its difficult characters. The direction was assured, its tone unique, and we look forward to seeing Elina Psykou’s next work” said the Tribeca Film Festival International Narrative Feature Competition Jury President Willem Dafoe, awarding the Best International Narrative Feature Award to “Son of Sofia / Ο Γιός της Σοφίας”.

Born in Greece in 1977, film director and producer Elina Psykou studied filmmaking and sociology in Athens and continued her studies in cultural history in Paris. Her first feature, "The Eternal Return of Antonis Paraskevas", won the Works in Progress Award at the Karlovy Vary IFF in 2012 and premiered at the Berlinale Forum in 2013. Her second feature, "Son of Sofia", has won so far the Works in Progress Award at the Les Arcs EFF in 2015, the Special Jury award at the Los Angeles Greek Film Festival, the CICAE - Art Cinema award at the Sarajevo Film Festival and the Grand Prix of the International Film Festival “Eurasian Bridge” in Yalta.

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Victor Khomut, "Son of Sofia" (2017)

Influenced by Ingmar Bergman, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Austrian contemporaries Michael Haneke and Ulrich Seidl as well as Sofia Coppola, Elina Psykou sets a scenery of magical realism in her “Son of Sofia”, a coming of age film about 11-year-old Misha who arrives from Russia in Athens, during the 2004 summer Olympic Games, to live with his mother, Sofia to find out that there is a father waiting for him there. While Greece is living the Olympic dream, Misha will get violently catapulted into the adult world, riding on the dark side of his favourite fairy tales.

Interviewed by Greek News Agenda* Elina Psykou talks about the ever present protagonists of her films, location and television, stressing that she is intrigued by the interaction of her characters with space, which brings forth feelings of loneliness and alienation. At the same time, Psykou explains how space in “Son of Sofia” excites her young protagonist’s fantasy which has a catalytic role in his formation of identity. Psykou also emphasizes that she believes in the power of emotions as it is the only weapon we have against the hostile environment of the crisis. Asked about the term weird wave used by critics to describe the new generation of Greek filmmakers, she says that exploring weirdness is one of the main elements that prompt her to make films, but it does not constitute a canon among her peers.

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Victor Khomut, "Son of Sofia" (2017)

How does the enclosure of the heroes in a dark apartment work in the “Son of Sofia” plot and its balance between magical realism and social criticism?

The main location in both my movies works like an additional character. In my first one, it is an out of action empty hotel somewhere in the countryside and in this movie it is a big old apartment in the centre of Athens. It is like the fourth character next to the three main protagonists. As locations are so important for me, the selection of them is one of my main priorities during the pre-production and it is a procedure that usually lasts a lot of months. But also during the shootings, I am interested a lot in the way that characters interact with space. So, the exact position of each one character inside a room and finally inside the frame plays a great dramaturgic role. In this way, the enclosure of heroes into immense places adds to the dramaturgy. Moreover, isolation and loneliness are the emotions which dominate all my movie characters and these emotions become more intense via their interaction with the locations. Fantasy can be there explored. Long corridors, locked doors, empty rooms can create a magical realistic set, which can excite feelings and the imagination. Finally, all these huge and often dark spaces carry a past luxury, a splendour that doesn’t exist any longer, something that works like a metaphor for the past glory of our society and country. So, in “Son of Sofia” magical realism meets social observation (not criticism) in a dark old apartment.

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Victor Khomut, "Son of Sofia" (2017)

Issues of identity are in focus in both your films “Son of Sofia” and “The Eternal Return of Antonis Paraskevas”. How does fantasy affect the process of identity formation in “Son of Sofia”?

Misha, the protagonist of “Son of Sofia”, is an 11 years old boy. He is at this sensitive age, that he is no longer a kid, but not yet an adolescent. In this age, his identity is still under construction. At the same time, as all of the same age, Misha has a great fantasy. He uses his fantasy to escape from reality, to confront his fears, to find solutions and answers to his questions. At all crucial moments of the narration, at all turning points for Misha, his imagination is there to give him courage to continue, to show him the path, to make him stronger. After the end of each magical moment, Misha makes some more steps towards adolescence; he approaches adult life a bit more. His fantasy’s sequences form his identity, they work like transitions. At the end of the film, Misha will not be a kid any more, and the ages of innocence would have been passed for ever.

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Thanasis Papageorgiou, Valery Tcheplanowa and Victor Khomut, "Son of Sofia" (2017)

As you have said in an interview“, for me, TV is like a personal obsession. I like to use it in most of my works”. How does it affect the protagonists of your films? 

You can say that TV, like locations, is also a character in both my movies. Some of my heroes work or used to work on TV as journalists, show presenters, even as extras in TV series. My heroes also watch a lot of TV, which is their way to be informed, to be amused, to be educated. It is their job, their everyday life and company, but also their illusion. In all ways, it is a constant presence in their whole lives.

You keep your distance from your heroes, allowing the spectator become the creator of meaning. Are human beings capable of building deep emotional ties in the hostile environment of the crisis?

It is true that I keep an emotional distance from my heroes - because I don’t want to criticize their actions - but in the end I believe my movies explore and provoke emotions and have something deeply human.

The era we live in is strange. The more people struggle to cover their basic needs, the more it becomes difficult for communication and expression of feelings. Every one of us becomes more and more introvert, sinking in our own problems and anxieties. Moreover, the antagonism between people becomes more evident. Nevertheless, I believe in the power of emotions, and that the only weapon we have against this hostile environment is our feelings.

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Valery Tcheplanowa and Victor Khomut, "Son of Sofia" (2017)

Contemporary Greek cinema has gained momentum and critics talk of the New Greek Weird Wave. Nevertheless, none of the Greek directors seems enthusiastic about the term Weird. What do you think about that?

Personally, I don’t believe in labels like these. This kind of classification helps journalists and film critics to categorize movies, making their job easier. There are many talented Greek directors, with no common characteristics, with different styles in terms of narration and aesthetics. There is no common philosophy between them, like there was in Danish dogma for example. As far as I am concerned, of course I am part of this new generation of Greek filmmakers, but this doesn’t compose a school or a wave.

As to the term “weird”, for me, it is not a taboo, I like weirdness and weird characters, there are a lot of them among us, and in a way, this is one of the main reasons I make movies: To explore weirdness and darkness in the common people’s everyday life. As weirdness was in my mind before journalists discovered and named it, for me it is a lot more than a term, it is my code for understanding life, communicating, laughing and crying. Finally, you can also find weirdness in some old Greek movies and not only in last years’ productions; there is weirdness in world cinema too, not only in Greek.

What are your future plans?

I am working on my first documentary Europe, Oh Europe which is already supported by Creative Europe and Eave. It is about five Europeans, who, due to legal restrictions in their countries, seek to cross European borders to accomplish their dreams of gay marriage or fertility treatment and find solutions to their life struggles through abortion, euthanasia and cremation. I’m also writing the script for my third feature.

Read also: Elina Psykou’s Interview with Cineuropa: “It is a game of metaphors and symbols”, “Son of Sofia” Synopsis and cast, film review by Cineuropa, Little White Lies: 25 new films by female directors you need to see, Variety film review, Let the movies move me film review, and Psykou’s interview with Marvin Brown.

* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi

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The number of Greek agri-food businesses represented at the Greek national pavilion of the upcoming Anuga 2017 exhibition, the world's largest and most important trade fair for food and beverages, is set to increase by 30%.

The Greek pavilion, organized by thestate trade and investment agency, Enterprise Greece, and covering an area of roughly 2,800 square meters, will host 160 businesses showcasing a wide range of Greek food products. The fair, held once every two years, is set to take place Oct. 7-11 in Cologne, Germany and is visited by around 160,000 visitors who discover the latest and most innovative products of over 7,400 exhibitors.

Under the slogan “Invest in Taste”, the Greek presentation will convey the message that choosing Greek products is an investment in taste, quality and well-being. At the same time, it is an open invitation to foreign investors to invest in the promising and dynamic agri-food sector of Greece, one of the fastest growing business sectors in the Greek economy.

In addition, Enterprise Greece, will outfit an especially designed “Greece Gourmet” room. The venue will provide visitors with the opportunity to enjoy Greek cuisine, conduct business meetings, learn about the competitive advantages of Greek food producers, and get to know the Greek exhibitors.

Greek News Agenda* interviewed Christos Staikos, Chairman of Enterprise Greece on the reasons of the rise and the expectations from the Greek Participation in this year’s Anuga World Food Fair.

anuga1What are the reasons for the increase of Greek participation at a major event like the Anuga 2017 World Food Fair?

The main reason is on account of the increase in Greek exports. According to the Hellenic Statistical Authority, exports increased in the first six months of 2017 approximately 6% in value terms compared with the same period in 2016 (excluding petroleum products), and reached 11 billion euros. The significance of that increase needs to be viewed in the context of Greece's circumstances these past few years. We regard that as an achievement and Greek exporters should be congratulated for their efforts.

During the period 2009-2016, food exports increased from 3 billion euros to 4 billion euros showing a remarkable resilience. For the last two years (2015-2016), exports in food and wine have increased approximately 15%, a very positive development for the Greek agro food sector and the Greek economy in general. The German market is the second largest market for Greek food products in value terms after Italy, totaling 720 million euros in 2016. In retail sales terms, the German market may even be the biggest market for Greek food products given that a large portion of the exports to Italy are of unbranded agricultural products [wholesale agricultural products].

Because of that, along with the fact that ANUGA is the biggest commercial event in the world, those are the main reasons why Greek participation has steadily risen in the last few years.

Moreover, in 2015, Greece was the honoured country at the exhibition, which helped in particular with promoting Greek food products. As a result, many exporters are hoping for a big turnout at the national pavilion and for further increase in their exports around the world.

Naturally, the excellent work done by our agency in organizing the Greek participation is yet another incentive for exporters to take part in ANUGA.

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What are the expectations arising from Greece's participation in Anuga?

First of all, we would like to see an overall strong national presence that would demonstrate how our country has something to offer at a global event like ANUGA. The presence of almost all our traditional exporters, as well as many start-up companies makes us optimistic that our exports will continue on their upward path in the years ahead.

At the same time, it is a very good opportunity to promote Greek gastronomy through the promotional activities we plan at the GREECE Gourmet space, where Greek exhibitors and their foreign partners will be able to sample Greek dishes made with love from the finest Greek ingredients.

What are Greece’s competitive advantages in the agro - food sector?

What we have been saying for years now: the quality. The progress that has been made in the last few years in branding Greek food products will help them succeed even in the most difficult markets in the world. The spread of the Mediterranean diet is the best advertisement. With the slogan ‘Invest in Taste’, we invite consumers from around the world to buy Greek products and recognize that it is worth investing in their incomparable quality and high nutritional value.

Enterprise Greece is the official agency of the Greek State, under the supervision of the Ministry of Economy & Development, to showcase Greece as an attractive destination for investment and to promote the highly competitive products and services produced in Greece for export. The establishment of Enterprise Greece is the result of the enlargement of Invest in Greece S.A., incorporating, among others, the mandate of the Hellenic Foreign Trade Board. Enterprise Greece assists foreign investors and enterprises to do business with Greece, troubleshoots issues related to public administration, provides key information about Greece as an investment destination and promotes the investment sectors in which Greece excels. In addition, it promotes Greek products and services to the global marketplace, helps Greek businesses reach new markets, find new business partners, and become more competitive and attractive.

* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi

Read also: Greek Food and agriculture sector, Chairman of Enterprise Greece: "Greece today is ready to turn the corner", Enterprise Greece 650 investment opportunities presented in Greece, “Three-generation” Greek Golden Visa programme for real estate investors in Greece