Germans feel that crises do not affect them, Axel Troost said, interviewed by Kaki Bali for the Sunday edition of Avgi newspaper (10.09.2017). Troost, member of the Bundestag and deputy chairman of Die Linke (The Left) Party, has an active interest in Greece, manifested in his frequent articles and his paper “The facts about Greece’s policy: What Greece has actually done to deal with the crisis”. On September, 9, die Linke with European United Left/ Nordic Green Left European Parliamentary Group (GUE – NGL) organized an event tittled “Solidarity against Austerity! - Solidarity with Greece” in which Troost and Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs, Giorgos Katrougalos, among others, participated. In his interview Troost analyses the stakes of the German elections and the ability of Left to formulate its own proposals for overcoming global crises, or forge alliances at European level.
We have the feeling abroad that nothing is changing, that people in Germany don’t see an alternative to Angela Merkel, and that they don’t wish for any other alternative. Is that true?
Unfortunately, there is no mood for change. People realize that there are many crises around the world: political crises (Trump, Brexit, Turkey…), military crises (North Korea, Ukraine, Middle East), financial crises (Southern Europe), the migrant flows etc, but still, they do not feel the crisis in their daily life. The situation in Germany appears good, given that with the high tax revenuesand the low interest rates, the Government has attained unexpected surpluses with which it can finance other needs. In the opinion of many Germans, Chancellor Merkel and her Government are keeping the crises away and guaranteeing their well-being. On the other hand, it is not that easy for the people to comprehend the crises, because there are so many crises and conflicts that can hardly be rationally explained, and people have to decide according to their personal feelings and the development of their personal living conditions.
What do you expect from the 2017 federal elections? What do you wish to change and how will you convince the people?
We wish to achieve a better result than the 8.6% achieved in 2013 so as to be the third Party in the Parliament again. Therefore, if there’s a coalition government again, then we will be the biggest Party in Opposition. There are people in Germany who suffer because they are unemployed, they have bad jobs, they suffer old-age poverty. Τhere are also many people who are unhappy because they have to reorder their lives according to social pressures or employer demands, and wish to be emancipated. We work for social justice, for a strong community of solidarity, and last but not least, we are the only Party in favour of Peace and Disarmament.
When Martin Schulz was declared SPD candidate, an intense discussion began regarding a “red-red-green” governing Coalition (SPD, Die Linke, Die Grünen). Is there any point to this discussion today, just before the election?
Martin Schulz was the surprise pulled out of the SPD hat. As former Speaker of the European Parliament, he came from abroad (and not from the Federal Government), on whom many people projected what they wished to see, a different another SPD of which they had great expectations from. In opinion polls, the SPD had reached 10% and thus a “red –red –green” option then seemed a feasible one.
Subsequently however the SPD lost in the regional election and is now lagging as far behind the Christian Democrats in the polls as it did before Schulz’s nomination. In terms of polling average, the “red-red-green” Coalition (the Social Democrats, the Left and the Green Party) appears to secure about 40% of the vote, while the Union (Christian Democrats) and FDP around 48%, so the numbers do not add up. The SPD could still perhaps close that gap with an aggressive election campaign for the “red- red- green” Coalition, but neither Schulz nor the rest of the SPD leadership seem committed to do so, given especially that only but a few remain committed Leftists in the SPD. Moreover, many of the Green Party would rather be in government the Union than with “Die Linke”, with which they have problems.
Supposing that the voters give you the chance, would you be ready to participate? And under what conditions?
If there was to be a “red-red-green” majority (SPD, Die Linke, Die Grünen) then we would seriously negotiate such an alliance. There would be obviously be no agreement to be in government at any cost. An important condition for us would be the reintroduction of a wealth tax, which has not existed in Germany for the past 20 years. We would not agree to any military interventions of the German armed forces. We would also introduce improvements to social benefits and pensions.
Global problems, such as wars, migration, injustice, changes in employment due to digitalization etc. demand global solutions, and Internationalism was always a part of the Left. Can you see the Left formulating its own proposals for overcoming global crises, or striving to forge alliances at European level?
The Left has always been talking and arguing about these issues, and still insists that we need a different international financial order, a different policy for Peace, for the Environment, for Growth. To this purpose, there many and varied approaches that need to be further developed by all Left Parties together with social movements, NGO’s and other allies. Ideologically speaking, Neoliberalism has lost its charm some time now but continues to be strong, whilst lately there have been more and more authoritarian and nationalist political approaches. This is a challenge for us; I am all in favour of international cooperation and also believe that we are in need of institutions that would replace the neoliberal ones. I believe that Europe should play an important part in the solution of global problems, but this could only happen in the near future only through the EU.
The EU is in deep political and economic crisis but I don’t think we should break it down in the belief something new would emerge from its ruins that could meet our expectations. I believe that instead we should reform the EU. It is very important that we restructure the Monetary Union so that the common currency unites rather than divides Europe. To this end, I have, along with others, elaborated very specific proposals that I am willing share and discuss. An exchange of opinions has to a point already begun. Instead of austerity we propose a European Investment Programme, a common lending policy, the decrease of economic imbalances from countries with surpluses such as Germany, the strengthening of the EU’s social dimension and the democratization of the EU with an upgraded European Parliament.
Read also: Restart Europe Now: Re-seeking employment, solidarity, prosperity, A Europe built on solidarity is possible; What Greece has actually done to deal with the crisis: Common beliefs and their refutation, Syriza wollte Einschnitte mildern Interview mit Axel Troost (26.4.2017)
F.K. & A.P.
Yiorgos Chouliaras is a Greek poet, prose writer, essayist, and translator. Born in Thessaloniki, he studied and worked mostly in New York, before returning to Athens from Dublin. He has worked as a university lecturer, advisor to cultural institutions, correspondent, and Press Counselor at Greek Embassies in Ottawa, Washington, DC, and Dublin. His books include: Iconoclasm (Thessaloniki: Tram, 1972), The Other Tongue (Athens: Ypsilon, 1981), The Treasure of the Balkans (Athens: Ypsilon, 1988), Fast Food Classics (Athens: Ypsilon, 1992), Letter (Athens: Ypsilon, 1995), Roads of Ink (Athens: Nefeli, 2005), and Dictionary of Memories (Athens: Melani, 2013).
He was a co-founder of the influential Greek literary reviews Tram and Hartis and an editor of literary and scholarly publications in the United States, including the New York-based Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora and the Journal of Modern Hellenism. He has been an advisor to cultural institutions, including MOMA, the Cultural Capital of Europe, and the Hellenic Foundation for Culture, and has helped organize hundreds of literary & scholarly meetings, exhibitions, concerts, and other cultural events in major museums and academic institutions in North America and Europe.
In 2014, he was awarded the Ouranis Prize of the Academy of Athens for his alphabetical anti-memoir Dictionary of Memories and his work in its entirety. His poetry in translation has been published in major periodicals and anthologies, including Harvard Review, The Iowa Review, Ploughshares, Poetry, World Literature Today, and Modern European Poets, and in Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Italy, Japan, and Turkey among other countries. He has been elected President of the Hellenic Authors’ Society and to the Board of other literary and scholarly associations.
Yiorgos Chouliaras spoke to Reading Greece* about what changed and what remained the same since his first book Iconoclasm in 1972, noting that “writing is a conspiracy of immortality, a failing effort to cheat death by slipping messages to the future”, and that “no language can sustain itself without literature and there is no life without language”. He also comments on the so-called generation of the 1970s, explaining that “it was a generation of poets who grew up writing in times of constraints and frustrated expectations” and that “initial abstention from publication was coupled with renewed commitment to writing”.
As for the role of the Hellenic Authors’ Society, he notes that it “remains engaged, collectively and individually through its members, in events of major cultural significance and Greek interest whether inside or outside the country, and as a representative of Greek authors in European and international initiatives”. He concludes that “the complex – rewarding as well as frustrating, utopian as well as dystopic – relation Greeks have to their past remains of paradigmatic interest to those struggling to make sense of their lives” and that “as a country of the imagination and a widely recognized point of origin, Greece is a place where you can discover yourself and the world”.
From Iconoclasm in 1972 to Roads of Ink in 2005 and Dictionary of Memories in 2013: What has changed and what has remained the same in these forty years? How are notions of love, memory, and death dealt with in your writing?
Nothing has changed, though everything has. Continuity is established through discontinuities. This is the case for individuals and their history as well as history at large. Moreover, there are two types of memory: What others remember about us and what we forget about ourselves. The fact that death is possible at any age is a simulation of immortality as you grow older and this event becomes more probable. With symbiosis equally impossible and necessary, love remains a guiding principle, as long as love of others and love of things, also called curiosity, somehow modulate love of one self. Keep trying, keep failing, fail better, Beckett suggested. Do not approve. Do not disapprove. Prove. Search for the kind of humor Kafka demonstrated. Avoid insincere seriousness in any serial of yourself. Be self-sarcastic. The tragedy of human life is that it is a comedy. Do not imitate yourself. Keep fighting with and against those icons, images, words that could be your friends. Someone else may be better suited to write your autobiography. Are you post-modern? I was asked in an interview in the U.S. No, I’m post-ancient, I said.
Writing is a result of reading, which is a result of writing. Both skills are learned and, in that sense, unnatural, though, as with all skills once learned, it becomes impossibly difficult to imagine what it was like before you came into them – in part accidentally and by imitating elders in the tribe, but also through schooling, in schools or outside them. No one is born a writer, as one person’s life is too short to invent writing, even though we seem to re-invent the wheel every day. Writing is a conspiracy of immortality, a failing effort to cheat death by slipping messages to the future. Written words set up islands in the vast archipelago of the spoken word. This is why poetry must always pretend to return to its oral origins. Listen to the music of what is being transcribed. Even if people imagine that writing is a hidden way to reveal yourself, it remains the most revealing way to hide oneself. Poetry, as a womb of all writing, issues the stuff angels and demons are made of. This involves words and numbers, love for which is a precondition of creation, even when it must be tough love. Writers continue to write to the extent no one, including them, grasped that first poem they wrote. No one stood under it. The immateriality of speech is the kind of material we make.
“Literature is not, as it should be, just consolation and recreation or entertainment of the soul. Literature, as a utopia, is also criticism of a real topos.” What was the contribution of poetry and literature in general to the formation of the Greek nation? What role is literature called to play nowadays?
Greece was generated by poetry. Despite any hyperbole, this is historically grounded on distinct ancient and modern instances. Carried along by Aristotle’s student Alexander, Homer’s epics created and selected bonds among Greeks from Ithaca to Asia Minor and from islands in the south to Macedonia. This is how nations were formed before nationalism. Much later, by assuming the exemplary role of a bard from whose verses the national anthem was derived, Solomos imagined a reincarnation of Greece as a modern state. At the same time, Byron expended his life for the place that made him a poet, he claimed, while his comrade Shelley, who never visited the country, proclaimed that “we are all Greeks.” Poetry became what I have described as “a regulating discipline,” with Cavafy and two Nobel laureates broadly defining Greece’s share on the modern map of world culture. Comparisons for offspring of renowned parents only lead to disappointment, however, while poetry is generally regarded as in retreat in destitute times, in Hölderlin’s formulation. A strategy of measured expectations is called for. Regardless of the quality of what may be produced now, it could never compare favorably with the distilled best of what came before. Literature is no exception. All the same, no language can sustain itself without literature and there is no life without language.
It has been said that you belong to the so-called generation of the 1970s. What makes this generation different from what preceded and what followed it?
This was a generation of poets who grew up writing in times of constraints and frustrated expectations. The military dictatorship repressed promises of political normalization and social perforation coming up after the civil war, the only extended one in a European country after Nazi defeat. A process of postwar “cultural reconstruction,” as I have called it, was blocked, even if it was very difficult to have access to outside trends already before the junta years. Initial abstention from publication was coupled with renewed commitment to writing. There was a range, from direct protest to the development of allusive writing that could escape the censors’ radar. Surrealist poems appeared as allegorical as folk songs. It was a Western version of an East European experience that further confused the compass regarding East and West or North and South. Younger writers started to become visible, surfing on the same wave, though quite differently among themselves. This is why I was critical of such a notion of a “generation” that corresponded only to publication synchronicity and became an excuse to ignore previous writers. Once the wave passed, however, it no longer appeared fair to criticize underdogs, even if I personally prefer cats, as they seem more independent.
During the 1970s and 1980s, you co-founded and edited major literary magazines, such as Tram and Hartis. How would you comment on current literary and artistic projects in the era of online communication?
Indispensable as they are, books are better suited as an end rather than a beginning of a process that includes periodical publications, both print and electronic now. Periodicals reflect the vitality of a cultural moment. Incomplete as all revolutions, the electronic revolution is the kind of blessing and curse that literature & the arts cannot stay away from. It’s still early though, with few projects exploring the possibilities of this medium or message that has not been decoded. It still is as if people were filming theatrical performances thinking they were making movies. Yet, involvement must be encouraged. I know there is fragmentation. I know there is trash. But I refuse to assume the position of older people criticizing younger people for the kind of music they listen to. They have the right to be wrong.
What is the role that the Hellenic Authors’ Society is called to play especially at times of crisis? What about the prospects of Greek literature and the new generation of Greek writers in this respect?
The Hellenic Authors’ Society was established after the collapse of the dictatorship, with Odysseas Elytis as its first honorary president, to bring poets, prose writers, essayists, translators, and literary critics together in defense of freedom of expression and in support of their creative and professional interests. These objectives are always current, while the Society, as the principal association of Greek writers, remains engaged, collectively and individually through its members, in events of major cultural significance and Greek interest, whether inside or outside the country, and as a representative of Greek authors in European and international initiatives. At the same time and with very limited resources in crisis conditions, the Society must address existential questions in the very mundane sense that health insurance, pensions or taxes affect the very existence of writers in pernicious circumstances. This is not a simple set of issues to be dealt with by an elected Executive Board of unpaid volunteers who must also balance conflicting demands of encouraging the election of younger writers as new members, but in accordance with a peer review process required for their election. It must be added that, although writers may continue to write under trying circumstances, the contemporary impact of their presence in a national setting and internationally depends on the kind of support they receive as individual creators and as members of their associations.
Though also conceived as a disorder, bipolarity makes the world go round. People may be familiar with this particular condition from celebrated instances that include George Seferis, Pablo Neruda, and Octavio Paz. There is a textual connection, in fact, considering that the word “diplomatic” in the sense of international relations evolved in the eighteenth century from “diplomaticus” in modern Latin titles of collections of international treaties, where the word referred to documents and charters, from Greek “diploma,” which originally meant paper folded double. Such a double or twin predicament could describe diplomacy, as those exercising it must represent their country wherever they are accredited, while also presenting the host country back home. Poetry is a country of the sounds and meanings of words. Poets are those who try to represent it to an outside audience. Writers live in a language (or sometimes in more than one), which is their home and exile simultaneously.
In 1986 you suggested that “modern Greek culture may be considered paradigmatic… [representing] the fundamental impulse of modern cultural life…” How would you comment on the modern Greek experience 30 years later? What is Greece’s place in world imagination today?
We constantly rewrite the past in an effort to get ahead of the future. The complex – rewarding as well as frustrating, utopian as well as dystopic – relation Greeks have to their past remains of paradigmatic interest to those struggling to make sense of their lives. Moreover, much of the crucial vocabulary for thinking and acting these things through – from politics to physics or metaphysics and from theory to practice – first evolved in Greek or in subsequent interaction with it through neologisms. As a country of the imagination and a widely recognized point of origin, Greece is a place where you can discover yourself and the world. The gift involved in this is immeasurable. But so is everything that goes with it, as out-of-size gifts tend to make life difficult.
* Interview by Athina Rossoglou
Marsa Makris has studied theatre directing and acting at the Stella Adler Conservatory, in New York. She subsequently pursued filmmaking studies at the University of California Los Angeles.
Her filmography includes short fiction films “A minor parallax” (1986), which won the second prize at the Drama short film festival, “Against the wall” (2003), which won best prize for original soundtrack at the Drama short film festival, and “Dry cleaning” (2005). Makris is mostly known for her short fiction, "To Tameno"/ “Offered boy” (2002), about a young monk discovering the real world, which was officially selected for the 56th Cannes film festival-2003, as well as at the International film festivals of Ismailia, Tehran, Alpe Adria Cinemay, Bilbao, Fajr, while it was also the Greek Film Centre’s entry for the European Academy Awards-Felix.
"To tameno"/ “Offered boy” (2002)
Her first feature film, “Ierosyloi” (Sacrilege), co-produced by the Greek Film Centre & ERT (Greek National Broadcaster), has just been completed. In "Ierosyloi"/ “Sacrilege”, the two protagonists, a beautiful woman (played by Loukia Michalopoulou) and a sick bed-ridden man (played by musician and performer Blaine Reininger), share their common life, caged in a large and decaying labyrinthine penthouse, cut off from a crazy and threatening surrounding world that they spy upon through the window's grilles and slots. Together they fall into a world between fantasy, history and reality. Fear, anger, illusion, ridiculousness and wonder interchange constantly in a frantic psychological twist of obsessive faith and the need of salvation. They are “The Beauty and the Beast”, but with the absence of Love. The third protagonist is a Byzantine icon of St-George, which was stolen by the male protagonist and hidden in a secret spot inside the apartment.
Interviewed by Greek News Agenda* Makris describes the difficult journey of filming "Ierosyloi"/ “Sacrilege”. She notes that confined characters provide both the filmmaker and the viewer with a variety of opportunities to explore all kinds of extremities and aspects of human existence. Asked how she works with the banality of objects and banality in general, she underlines that the placement of banality in a wider context helps one to contemplate the priorities and necessities in life. Makris also stresses that a cardinal point in her work is the sense of ambivalence, both in life and art, because “in the end, it is the question, the enigma that feeds imagination”.
Loukia Michalopoulou, Blaine Reininger, "Ierosyloi"/ "Sacrilege" (2017)
Self confinement and its repercussions on the state of mind is a recurring theme in cinema. How does it function in your film?
I guess the attraction to the confined-cornered, as I prefer to see them, characters, provides both the filmmaker and the viewer with a variety of opportunities to explore all kinds of extremities. It may have to do with the exploration of those underlying aspects of human existence that have always been present throughout time, aspects which we prefer to regard as primitive in our anxiety to disassociate ourselves from them.
Fear, obsession, oppression, fixation, delusion and a perpetual search for love, justice, catharsis and liberation are the recurrent themes in the crossings from darkness to light and vice versa, where we have to dig in, if we want to make any sense of it all. In the case of "Ierosyloi"/ “Sacrilege”, it is the paranoiac nature of all characters involved in the narrative, through their relation to faith, history, love, family ties and even public space that are in a sense left deserted in the empty shell of a life, full of objects and symbols that try desperately to articulate a coherent story. Pairs and opposites, at the same time eating their guts.
The apartment, the universe of the characters is a jumble of banal and rococo artefacts in a way that becomes familiar to the viewer. How do you work on banality?
There is only one way, Comedy... Self sarcasm also helps. There is a representation of quite some bits and pieces of our Greek history, arrangements of contemporary urban abandonment, as well as 'cute' female elements creating an interesting chaos in the film setting. I believe that the placement of banalities into a larger context creates a canvas worth experiencing. In any way, I think it makes you wonder about the necessities and priorities in life.
Ersi Malikenzou, Olga Damanis, "Ierosyloi"/ "Sacrilege" (2017)
What is the influence of the Byzantine iconography in your films? How does the intertextuality of visual arts manifest in "Ierosyloi"/ “Sacrilege”?
For better or worse, Byzantine imagery is a big part of who I am. Besides aesthetics, this influence also affects the way I “sketch” my characters: as almost two dimensional characters, without the emotional burden (or mess) of contemporary western narration. I try to avoid manipulating viewer feelings and I find this a very Greek way to go.
In my short film “To tameno" / "Offered boy”, I believe that we have also achieved a deep relevance to iconography. However, in this film I tried to incorporate a sense of Mediterranean rococo-baroque and a vivid palette of electric colours in the imagery, that I think work well in underlining the delirium of the main female character and the constant fluctuation from dream and time confusion to a so-called reality. Even though part of the plot is the "rescue" of an icon of St George, it is to the very end of the film that clearer Byzantine aesthetic elements emerge again.
Loukia Michalopoulou, "Ierosyloi"/ "Sacrilege" (2017)
As in Offered Boy, religion, ranging from faith to fixation and delusion, is a central element of the plot. Would you like to elaborate?
There is a great paradox in our relation with God. Our nature contradicts the basic principle of faith and the teachings of organized religions, loving and respecting God’s greatest manifestation, Life. I find it fascinating to plunge into the muddy waters of ambivalence. We are complicated beings and as far as telling a story about it, the challenge for me is to arrange parts of this sort of inherent madness, as an allegory, a metaphor, whatever...
Let's say it is the big framework, where the drama of my characters is not the sacrilege against a religious artifact or ceremonial purity, but rather our crippling inability to selfless love and offering to each other. It's never boring; it may be right, it may be wrong. In the end, it is the question, the enigma that feeds the imagination.
"Ierosyloi"/ "Sacrilege" (2017)
Your film was supported by the Greek Film Centre and the National TV Broadcaster ERT. Based on your experience, what was the effect of the economic crisis on Greek Film production?
I am thankful for their support. However, we have actually received the minimum possible. I am reluctant to say how much that was. There was also the time when the National broadcaster was shut down by our benevolent leaders of the time.
The initial approval from the Greek film Centre, which is the one major pillar of financial support for cinema in Greece, was announced while the second pillar (ERT) operated in a zombie like state. Then we had to wait again... It was an unforgettable nightmare. Of course that changed in the summer of 2016, when ERT once more provided invaluable and necessary support to many productions including ours, allowing us to move on.
Loukia Michalopoulou and Marsa Makris on the set of "Ierosyloi"/ "Sacrilege"
Apart from the aforementioned support from the Greek Film Centre and ERT, it was through the miraculous and crucial gesture that was offered by three major companies from abroad that provided us with top of the line equipment, which was necessary to maintain an aesthetic standard. However, all that would not have been enough if it wasn't for the extra support provided by some younger friends in the filmmaking industry of Greece and without of course the collaboration of other artists that added their personal creative forces for the realization of my personal vision. Anyway, the truth of the matter is that Greek Film production is a painful story and was long before the recent crisis of the country.
Ιerosyloi/Sacrilege, 2017, 89'
Dir. Marsa Makris
Scr. M. Makris & Vangelis Hatziyannidis
Mus. Nikos Xydakis
Pr. Greek Film Centre, ERT SA, with the support of Arri-Rental,Thales-Angénieux, Luma-Tech, Authorwave
With: Loukia Michalopoulou, Blaine L. Reininger, Ersi Malikenzou, Yorgos Kontoyannis, et al.
* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi
Read also: Greek Cinema 2017: New and Upcoming Films
Nectarios Santorinios, Deputy Minister of Maritime Industry & Island Policy and MP for the Dodecanese with SYRIZA, spoke to Greek News Agenda* on the need for an insularity clause at the national and EU level to ensure the equitable development of island regions, the government's effort to modernize the current institutional framework in order to tackle issues such as the islands' connection to the mainland, transport, accessibility to public services, and supply of goods. Santorinios further mentioned several government projects such as the Special Development Plan for North & South Aegean that will finance major infrastucture projects, or the target to achieve water autonomy for all islands by the summer of 2018.
Historian Ruggiero Romano and other thinkers, such as Spyros Asdrachas and Angelos Elefantis, viewed the Aegean archipelago as a dipersed city. Insularity is a salient morphological feature of Greece. What are its specific characteristics in Greece?
The blend of characteristics that make up insularity, a concept sometimes grueling, other times redeeming, are essentially small size, long distance from places of supply of goods, seasonality in social and economic life and vulnerability to environmental challenges.
At times when insularity is experienced as redemption, the islands become pioneers of extroversion in trade and interaction with other cultures. During tougher times, insularity is experienced as isolation from current developments, like for example from the digital era.
The view of the Aegean as a kind metapolis, the promise of a different kind of city, is based on island features, such as their encirclement by the sea, the arid, dry landscape, the clarity of the sky and the seasonality of their visitors. We must keep in mind though that a major characteristic of urban centers is that they function as melting pots, merging various civilizations together. In the Aegean islands, however, one can find different cultural elements like costumes, dances, products and folk speech that have been preserved in time, precisely because of the lack of connections with the mainland or the neighboring islands.
Stratos Kalafatis photography project "Archipelago" was originally commissioned for the Greek participation at the 10th Edition of the International Architecture Exhibition in Venice 2006 ("The Dispersed Urbanity of the Aegean Archipelago")
What are the main challenges insular countries like Greece have to face? How have are they been dealt with so far from a policy point of view?
The challenge all island regions face is depopulation. The same applies to Greece, of course. Especially in times of economic recession, this trend is widening. Fortunately, we are essentially talking about islanders, people who have a particular emotional connection to their homeland, even though they travel more often than most of us; however, we cannot rely on this connection to curb the phenomenon of depopulation.
What we have to do is respect it practice the islanders΄ longstanding demand for equal social treatment: this is both a challenge and a mission for the ministry of Maritime Affairs and Island Policy. The islanders’ particular living conditions require special considerations from the part of the state. That is why we are talking about an insularity clause that would ensure that any law of the Greek state or the EU must be adjusted so that it can be applicable to island life.
What is the European dimension of the issue of insularity? EU cohesion policies are designed for land territories and Greece is a country with 277 inhabited islands. How can island regions be developed on an equal footing with land regions?
In the Treaty of Lisbon, the objective of strengthening economic and social cohesion is described as: “The EU shall aim at reducing disparities between the levels of development of the various regions and the backwardness of the least favoured regions. Among the regions concerned, particular attention shall be paid to rural areas, areas affected by industrial transition, and regions which suffer from severe and permanent natural or demographic handicaps such as the northernmost regions with very low population density and island, cross-border and mountain regions.”
Postcard: The port of Hermoupolis on the island of Syros
Therefore, cohesion policies based on modern tools and indicators, such as the human development index, the social welfare index and the regional competitiveness index are key for the equitable development of island regions.
Another defining factor for linking the Greek islands to the European commerce flow are trans-European networks. In Article 170 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (2007) it is mentioned that, “the Union shall contribute to the establishment and development of trans-European networks in the areas of transport, telecommunications and energy infrastructures.”
Furthermore, in article ΙΙΙ-144 of the Draft Treaty Establishing a Constitution For Europe (2003) it was mentioned that “Within the framework of a system of open and competitive markets, action by the Union shall aim at promoting the interconnection and interoperability of national networks as well as access to such networks. It shall take account in particular of the need to link islands, landlocked and peripheral regions with the central regions of the Union.”
One big concern for smaller islands is infrequently serviced lines during off-season periods. What are the solutions you propose?
At present, through state subsidized lines, the so-called "nonprofit” lines, we ensure - although at a great cost- that each island will have a stable, and as much as possible frequent connection to the major ports of the country.
However, this policy is under review and the institutional framework is being modernized along the following axes: Improving accessibility through better interconnection with the mainland, optimizing the design of the coastal routes in order to reduce the cost of nonprofit lines, striking a better balance between passenger and freight traffic, strengthening commercial and tourist activity and promoting combined transport.
The Valetta Declaration, adopted this March, mentions “equal growth for islands and insular regions.” What are Greece’s goals as far as insular policy in the EU after the Maltese Presidency?
The objective remains to create a common framework for island policy at the European level, in accordance to Article 175 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union for “reducing disparities between the levels of development of the least favoured regions” such as islands, as that will lead to the adoption a separate package of actions to tackle the issue of insularity.
Fields that call for direct developmental interventions are education, health, administration, entrepreneurship, basic infrastructure and the transport of islanders.
What are your plans and priorities for this year?
For the current period, the Government's plan is focused on promoting economic and development opportunities for the islands. More specifically:
The Special Development Plan for North & South Aegean, with an initial budget of 50 million by the National Investments Programme, is going to finance major infrastructure projects for the islands.
The Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Islands Policy collaborated with the Ministries of Development, Infrastructure and Home Affairs, to create a dedicated unit that will support the municipalities of small islands in designing and completing infrastructure projects using the NSRF, the National Investments Programme and other funds.
On the initiative of the Ministry of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Information, and in collaboration with the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Islands Policy, a program to improve public administration in the islands and make islanders’ access to public services easier is being implemented.
For a better balance in the supply of goods, a collaboration has been launched with the University of the Aegean to prepare a study which will set down ways to reduce the cost of transporting people and goods to and from the islands.
The Ministry of Energy, in cooperation with Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Islands Policy has introduced the innovative concept of “energy communities” in a draft bill currently under consultation. We aim to promote such projects so that islands can become energy self-sufficient.
However, the most important and urgent task is achieving water autonomy for the arid islands. By the summer of 2018 we plan to have a desalination plant on each island, providing sufficient drinking water for the needs of the island so that water tank become a thing and local communities start examining more advanced forms of water supply for the future.
*Interview by Ioulia Livaditi & Nikolas Nenedakis
The top international sailing event in Greece, the Aegean Regatta is organised by the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Island Policy
Sotiris Walldén studied economics in Sweden and France and has a Ph.D. from the University of Athens. From 1996 to 2014 he was an official at the European Commission, mostly dealing with enlargement. He has also served, inter alia, as secretary-general at the Ministry of National Economy, as counsellor to the foreign minister and as a visiting professor at the Panteion University, Athens. Today, he teaches a post-graduate course at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. He is the author of a large number of books and articles, mostly on the Balkans, EU enlargement and Greek foreign and domestic policy issues. Active in the anti-dictatorship resistance (1967-1974), he has since militated in parties and organisations of the Greek Left.
Sotiris Walldén spoke with Greek News Agenda* on the Greek debt issue, austerity policies, the SYRIZA government agenda, EU enlargement fatigue, and the current crisis of the European project:
You have recently noted that the Greek case is the most vivid expression of a course of Europe that is untenable and that the rise of a radical left party (Syriza), that remains pro-European, is probably the best of possible options for the country. Can you tell us more?
The Greek crisis was the result of bad economic management during the 2004-2010 period, but has its roots in long-standing structural problems of theeconomy and society. However, the crisis was precipitated and aggravated by external factors: the world financial crisis and deficiencies in the construction and management of the Eurozone.
Equally importantly, the medicine administered by the country’s lenders as of 2010 in the form of unprecedented harsh austerity had disastrous effects on the economy, the social tissue and on the democratic political system. The measures imposed were inspired by the neo-liberal philosophy and national egoisms prevailing in Europe. These have had negative effects, albeit less acute than in Greece, practically throughout the continent: high unemployment, pressure on incomes, increasing inequalities and insecurity as well as curtailment of the welfare state.
Unavoidably, the above mentioned policies generate reactions, and these have as a rule been hijacked by anti-European, xenophobic, extreme right forces. In the case of Greece, while we have witnessed the rise of a thuggish quasi-Nazi party, protests have mostly turned towards a pro-European radical left which is now in power. This, in my view, should be cause of relief, and not only for supporters of the left.
The present government is of course itself a product of the crisis: it came to power riding on a populist wave, it lacks experience, it carries remnants of mentalities from the time it was a small leftist group, and it has committed a number of mistakes, including the grave one of miscalculating the power of the German conservative establishment. It has an awkward populist right partner in government. And its ambitions are crushed under the programmes imposed by the lenders. On the other hand, SYRIZA is firmly pro-European and has a progressive social agenda, similar to the one of European social-democracy. Its people have not been corrupted by decades of power.
The alternative to the present government would be a coalition of the two parties that ruled the country, in alteration or together, during the last forty years; parties that bear the bulk of the responsibility for leading us to catastrophe. Their cadres are identified with corruption, clientelism and arrogance. The main opposition party, conservative New Democracy, is an incoherent mixture of neo-liberals and far-right populists. Their credibility for bringing the country back to a sustainable economic and political path is close to zero. And, of course, the New Democracy agenda is no choice for progressive citizens.
It is in this sense that I do believe that SYRIZA is the best of existing alternatives. Having said this, I also believe that the present government is far from satisfactory. To a large extent this is due to the imposed policies, but time for the government is running out and there is no room for complacency. Among other things, I think it should aim at disentangling from its unseemly junior partner and associate with forces of the centre-left.
Regarding the debt issue and IMF’s stance, you have referred to the risk of a ‘compromise’ with Berlin at the expense of Greece. Does current Greece's strategy to regain access to international bond markets create room for optimism regarding end of memoranda?
A compromise at the expense of Greece was already reached. This was the essence of the deal by which the IMF agreed in principle to participate in the third programme, once Athens accepted to adopt what amounts to further austerity measures. The Fund’s attitude is an extreme case of hypocrisy and opportunistic horse trading with Germany. It started out by declaring the Berlin line of demanding from Greece exorbitant primary surpluses ad infinitum as unrealistic. Greece cannot sustain further austerity, it rightly pointed out. Then it settled for a deal that does just that, extends and increases austerity. Clearly, a deal with Mr.Schäuble, be it wholly at the latter’s terms, was assessed as more important than consistency, let alone care for the Greek people.
Regaining access to international bond markets will by definition facilitate the country’s exit from the quasi-colonial state under the memoranda. In this sense the government’s strategy to that end –and the first successful step that was recently made- is welcome. Nonetheless, a so-called “return to normality” under the present quasi-permanent straitjacket of austerity, is highly fragile and probably unsustainable in the medium term. As I see it, only a substantial lightening of the country’s debt burden would allow a recovery based on solid economic, social and political foundations.
It has been argued, as far as policy implementation is concerned, that, under the current circumstances, Syriza cannot put forward even a moderate social democratic agenda (regarding e.g, welfare state policies) and that unavoidably its governance will further enhance and legitimize austerity policies and neoliberalism. What is your view?
I am afraid I will have to agree that a social-democratic agenda, however moderate (as long as we do not mean a disguised neo-liberal one), can hardly be implemented under the draconian measures imposed on Greece by its lenders. Indeed, I suspect that Berlin also has a party-political aim in mind in its strategy towards our country. This is one of the reasons why the main battlefield for a policy change has to be at the European level.
Does this mean that SYRIZA has no margin to implement a progressive policy? Well, to a certain extent, yes. Of course, SYRIZA does not need to “legitimise” austerity and neoliberalism, as long as it makes clear the circumstances under which it has no choice but to comply and provided it avoids triumphalism when it succeeds in implementing the diktats. More importantly, there are quite a few areas and policies where a government of the Left could and should make a difference: some aspects of education and health system reform, cleaning the media landscape, fighting corruption, foreign policy (notably vis-à-vis the Cyprus issue and Macedonia), civil rights including Church-State relations, etc. Unfortunately, the government’s record in these areas is at best mixed. True, SYRIZA faces many constraints: the pressure from the economic policies it has to implement, its partner in government, its own inexperience. Nevertheless, it is progress in such areas that will largely decide whether or not the SYRIZA experiment, quite unique in Europe, will be a success –against all odds.
You have noted that undeniable negative effects of the EU enlargement “are rather the result of its instrumentalisation by the prevailing extreme neoliberal response to globalization”. What exactly has happened with the EU’s enlargement agenda during the last decade?
An inclusive European project was part of the vision of its founders. The EU “belongs” to all the democratic European countries and peoples that wish to be part of it, not to some selected few. Hence, I believe the 2004/2007 enlargement had to be done. So has the completion of this process with the Balkans. Excluding countries from the European process is a dangerous open-ended venture and we Greeks strongly oppose the “Europe of the fittest” concept which was behind the aborted 2015 Schäuble plan for Grexit.
On the other hand, we have to acknowledge the fact that a majority of Europeans have turned against enlargement, past and future. Part of this opposition reflects ethnic prejudice, isolationism and xenophobia, currents that merge with anti-migrant opinion throughout Europe. These should be resolutely combatted.
Nonetheless, just as Euroscepticism, “enlargement fatigue” has its roots also in real problems. People rightly realise that enlargement was used to deepen the neo-liberal model of governance. Lower wages and taxation of capital and the rich, less labour market regulation, weaker trade unions in the new member states were all used to put pressure on the European social model. Integration brought benefits to large firms, but contributed to lower incomes, more unemployment and insecurity, less social protection for many workers in the incumbent member states.
Defending social and regional cohesion in the context of enlargement was simply not part of the EU enlargement agenda. On the contrary, negative effects were often labelled advantages, in line with neo-liberal concepts on competitiveness. As a result, a growing number of Europeans have come to see enlargement as the Trojan horse of globalisation, a globalisation which they have experienced mostly in its negative dimension.
Then there is the issue of democracy. Its derailment in Hungary and Poland as well as institutional dysfunctions in Bulgaria and Romania are evidence that the quality of these countries’ democracy should have been scrutinised more closely before they were admitted into the EU. Also, authoritarian trends in some Western Balkan countries (not to mention Turkey) would definitely have to be arrested before these countries join.
On the other hand, anti-democratic currents, populism and xenophobia are not the privilege of “new” member states or candidates. These are Europe-wide and global trends, the deeper causes of which are related to global developments, but also to the specific way Europe and the West have been addressing modern challenges. It would be grossly unfair to attribute these problems exclusively to the enlargement countries.
Also, with respect to the Western Balkans and Turkey, the EU has a part of the responsibility for their democratic backsliding. All too often, the EU has recourse to double language, pretending the European course of candidates solely depends on their fulfilment of democratic criteria, while in reality other, less noble, reasons are behind “enlargement fatigue”.
Be it as it is, the EU’s enlargement agenda is in my view stuck. Its narrative is artificially kept alive for geopolitical reasons, a largely irrational anti-Russia crusade and concern over the refugee waves. However, further enlargement seems unlikely. This is unfortunate with respect to the remaining countries in the Balkans, but a revival of the policy can only be conceived within the framework of broader policy changes in the EU, changes that should undermine Euroscepticism.
Would you like to comment on the “potential future state of the EU” as presented in the European Commission’s five scenarios?
In recent decades the policy of major member states has been to deprive the Commission of any leading role. This is a key symptom of the deepening crisis of the European project. The Juncker Commission has attempted to regain some of the territory lost by its predecessors, but was repeatedly reminded of its limited relevance. The ‘five scenario’ paper simply reflects this sad state of affairs; the Commission refrains from taking a position on the future of Europe and merely presents possible options to the member states.
In my view the method of focusing the debate on options along a unidimensional axis of “more or less Europe” is deeply flawed. Faced with the present widespread Euroscepticism, this method unavoidably excludes the option of “more Europe” from the realm of realism. Yet, “more Europe” is a prerequisite for overcoming the present crises and successfully addressing global challenges. The relevant question is, however, “more Europe to do what?” and “in what way?”. As long as people understand more Europe to mean more austerity, more insecurity, more inequalities, more bureaucracy, more German hegemonism, Europe will have no future. If, however, instead of putting the cart before the horse, we formulate a clear project and vision for a Europe based on development, solidarity and democracy, then the need for “more Europe” will appear natural and will regain legitimacy. Unfortunately, this is not the approach of the Commission paper, nor of most European leaders.
*Interview by Nikolas Nenedakis
A vibrant capital in the midst of economic and migratory crisis, a metropolis of contrasts, a cultural hub in constant flux, Athens’ many facets are what make it one of the most interesting cities in Europe. A few days after the end of the Greek leg of Documenta 14 - "Learning from Athens" (8.4-16.7.2017) Greek News Agenda and Grèce Hebdo* interviewed sociologist Nikos Souliotis, Research Fellow at the National Center for Social Research (EKKE).
Nikos Souliotis spoke about Athens’ modern cultural identity, its new public and private cultural infrastructures, how social life in city has changed after the 60’s, the transformation of the city center through its rehabilitation and the development of cultural and leisure activies in the 90’s, the "labour division" between public and private funding for culture, and what kind of impact can major cultural events, such as Documenta 14, have on Athens:
What is the imprint of culture in Athens life today?
The crisis has hit a large part of Athens and Greece´s cultural industry, while public funding for culture has shrunk. Yet, lifestyle and urban dynamics associated with Athens, such as the transformation of the city centre through entertainment and culture, have not changed much when compared to what was happening fifteen or ten years prior to the crisis. At the same time, Athens remains closely linked to globalized culture, without however being in its avant-garde. A new element in Athenian life is the multiplication of artistic initiatives coming from below, promoted by well-educated young artists with a cosmopolitan outlook. These initiatives often have a socio-political orientation, which was less the case in the years before the crisis. Their emergence coincides with that of social solidarity endeavours; these represent efforts at self-organization, following the weakening of public structures of support.
Another important element marking Athenian cultural life today is the strengthening of the role of private cultural foundations, either through the funding of cultural activities - often projects by young artists - or through the establishment of new metropolitan infrastructures. Finally, it should be noted that Athens has the sad privilege of attracting international attention because of the crisis; hosting Documenta 14 for the first time in the Greek capital is a typical example of this.
During the 1960s, Athens basically consisted of an agglomeration of families resettled here from the countryside. What does the Greek capital represent today? What does the way that leisure and entertainment have evolved tell us about the changes in the organization of life and social relations in the city?
In the first decades following World War II, the population of Athens tripled as a result of the great migration from rural areas to the capital. This demographic transformation was also the cause of a cultural transformation in the city. The new populations that settled in Athens gradually adopted urban lifestyles, which were themselves changing due to economic growth and rise in consumer spending. There were, however, other elements that ran against the shaping of urban cultures, such as social class divisions, cultural and social links with places of origin in the provinces, and the relatively limited number of cultural infrastructures in Athens.
Things changed a great deal since the late 1970s. The rural exodus was now over and there were new generations that were Athens born-and-bred, who developed an identity-based interest in Athens, its city centre, its history - or at least in the idealized images of the Athenian past - and in the relationship between Athens and other metropolises of the Western world. This interest has played a fundamental role in the “return” of the middle class to the city centre since the early 1990s. The cultural transformation of the city centre has brought about two trends: the rediscovery of the Athenian past and attempts to associate Athenian cultures with trends in European and American metropolises. Going through media articles of the 1990s, it becomes evident that the city of Athens is increasingly compared with international capitals in terms of culture, lifestyle, entertainment, etc., a pattern that is still valid today.
At the same time, since the 1980s, the public and private sector have continued to add to the city's metropolitan cultural infrastructure, the latest three significant additions being the new National Museum of Contemporary Art, the Onassis Cultural Centre, and the National Opera and National Library at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center complex. These institutions play a fundamental role in shaping and reshaping Athenian cultures; they constitute public spaces that "educate" the public and contribute in the development of a collective consciousness. They also make it possible to better integrate Athens into international cultural flows, thanks to their capacity to host demanding events. However, these centres also increase the centralization of cultural production and consumption, creating a kind of control over artistic opportunities that did not exist before. The relationship between public and private sectors is fundamental in this respect.
The construction of the new facilities of the National Opera and the National Library. Source: Athens Social Atlas
In fact, in Athens and generally in Greece, as far as culture is concerned, there exists a particular “institutional order”: the state monopolises antiquities, identified as an important area of national identity, while private agents and members of cultural elites have invested symbolically and materially in other cultural fields (popularization of science, modern art, contemporary art). This division has its historical roots in the Greek Diaspora of the 19th century and continues to persist, in more or less different terms, to the present day. It is, in fact, impossible to understand the cultural life of Athens from an institutional point of view without taking into consideration this division of labour between the state and the private sector. Naturally, there are no impregnable boundaries; yet there is a strong tradition that explains why, for example, the state delayed the creation of a Museum of Modern Art and a Museum of Contemporary Art, and why we are witnessing today the birth of new private cultural institutions like the Onassis Cultural Centre.
Another development that should be mentioned is the relative shrinking of class divisions in culture. The National Centre of Social Research recently completed a survey under the scientific direction of Dimitris Emmanuel, based on 2,500 questionnaires about cultural consumption in Athens. This study has shown that while upper classes are more likely to consume goods of so-called "high culture" (classical music, jazz, experimental theatre and dance, alternative cinema etc.), what we call “pop culture” (international and Greek popular music, commercial cinema and theatre) is addressed to all social classes, with the partial exception of the most disadvantaged strata. One reason for this is that after decades of social mobility, the social structure of the city changed as the working class shrunk. Moreover, in Athens you have places that function as "melting pots" frequented by people from different social classes sharing common cultural experiences.
The escape to the suburbs began at the end of the 70's and has not stopped since; at the same time we are witnsessing a boom of cultural and entertainment activities in the otherwise "decayed" centre of Athens. Would you like to comment? Is this a precursor of gentrification in Athens?
All this has undoubtedly transformed and is still transforming the centre of Athens, giving the city a cultural verve and nightlife that has been almost constantly changing for the past two or three decades. But can we say that this is gentrification? With this term we usually mean a process of transformation of a neighborhood, often through the establishment of cultural and entertainment activities, which is followed then by the influx of new, more affluent residents. These new residents are usually middle class and their presence increases rental and real estate values, which in turn, leads to the exodus of the area’s original, poorer inhabitants. Researchers, such as Thomas Maloutas and others, studying the housing market and demographic movements in decayed downtown neighborhoods in Athens, have not found evidence of a massive resettlement by new middle class residents. Thus there is no gentrification process, in the strict sense of the term; there is a process of economic reinvestment and reintegration of certain neighbourhoods into urban mobility, but typically gentrification describes something else that is not found, at least not to a large extent, in the centre of Athens.
So, since we don’t have gentrification, how has the growth of entertainment (bars, restaurants, cafes) and cultural activities (theaters, galleries, cultural venues) changed the centre of Athens? What has been the impact of the economic crisis?
The economic crisis has unevenly affected cultural and entertainment activities. As a recent statistical study carried out by a Panteion University scientific team (V. Avdikos, M. Michailidou, G. Klimis, A. Mimis) revealed, sectors such as publishing and media were severely struck. In contrast, entertainment, bars and restaurants, as is visible in downtown Athens, carry on. There are three reasons for this: Firstly, Athens increasingly attracts more and more tourists as a result of the rehabilitation of its historic centre, a growing offer of cultural activities, and the geopolitical turmoil affecting tourism in neighbouring countries; Secondly, as statistics show, in times of crisis, local consumers do reduce their spending in entertainment as much as they do in other areas, such as clothing. This shows the psychological value of entertainment and its importance in maintaining a social life. Finally, entertainment offers entrepreneurial opportunities during a crisis: to open a bar or a cafe, you don’t need specialized knowledge and you can rely mainly your own resources (personal work, personal networks, etc).
Can a major international exhibition such as Documenta influence the identity of a city like Athens?
Documenta is a large-scale event that embraces the majority of important cultural spaces of the city, attracts international visitors and provides visibility for Athens. However, I do not think that an event, however important, can change the cultural identity of a city. Cultural identity depends on more structural conditions, such as the existence of local artistic scenes whose products can be exported abroad, the involvement of a more or less broad public that is educated and interested in culture, the availability of public and private funding for cultural activities and the existence of cultural infrastructures. An event like Documenta can work as a catalyst when some of the above structural conditions are met, but this is as far as it goes.
One should address with certain realism the cultural impact Documenta had on Athens. In general, such exhibitions could have symbolic and /or organizational impact. From an organizational point of view, Documenta has created a precedent, in the sense that it has shown to the international artistic world that Athens has the infrastructure to host such a big event. This is important, but it should not be overestimated. From a symbolic point of view, I fear that the impact is more limited. Documenta came to Athens under the slogan "learning from Athens". This interest in "learning" from Athens is related to the crisis, rendering the Greek capital as an almost exotic or experimental space in socio-political terms. In fact, Documenta’s interest in Athens is part of a wider international interest from journalists, researchers and activists who visit ‘Athens of the crisis’, write about it etc. From this point of view, there is nothing original in Documenta’s concept of “learning from Athens”.
What we should comment on is the way in which Documenta integrates ‘Athens of the crisis’ in its symbolic strategies. According to organizers, choosing Athens as the second site for Documenta 14, utilizes the "tension between Athens and Kassel" in order to create "a critical space for the design of a collaborative, artistic and activist project beyond the nation-state and enterprises". For Documenta 14 itself, this is important because it renews its artistic-cultural identity by referencing resistance against neoliberalism, as Documenta 11 did, when, from a postcolonial perspective, it included non-European cities in its programme. Athens also provided a framework for creating site-specific art.
My point is that Documenta utilizes “Athens of the crisis” in artistic and identity strategies that are addressed to the international art world and not to local society. Documenta’s interventions in local social life are insignificant from the point of view of the inhabitants (one can see for example the small Documenta restaurant which offers free meals at Kotzia square, in a city where various organizations have been offering thousands of free meals since the beginning of the crisis). In addition, although several Documenta works have a socio-political content, they employ, like a good part of contemporary art in general, an artistic language inaccessible to the general public. In fact, I think that if there is a symbolic impact of Documenta on Athens, it concerns mostly young Greek artists: because of the crisis, Greek artists have fewer opportunities to travel abroad and Documenta was an opportunity for them to attend a major contemporary art event and to get to know international trends right here in Greece.
*Interview to Ioulia Livaditi, Magdalini Varoucha / Translation from French Ioulia Livaditi, Magdalini Varoucha
Yiorgis Yerolymbos is a photographer and architect with a Ph.D. from the School of Art and Design of the University of Derby, UK. His photographic work has been published in a number of books on landscape and architectural photography. His work focuses on the interface of nature and culture as it can be exemplified in contemporary topography. He photographs landscapes under transition, places that have sustained changes in the face of modernisation and optimisation of land exploitation.
His research interests include the process of beautification of landscape in contemporary photography, the construction of identity through lived-in space. In 2008, supported by a Fulbright scholarship, he travelled the US by car from East to West and back focusing on the American landscape and how its visitor-user perceives it. He has participated in the Venice Biennale of Architecture twice: in 2012 with large-scale works of the city of Athens and again in 2014, with landscape images of Greece. In 2013 his photographs were included in the main exhibition Everywhere but Now of the 4th Biennale of Thessaloniki, curated by Adelina Von Fürstenberg. Since 2007 and for a decade, he has been the official photographer of the construction of Renzo Piano’s Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC). He recently presented his work in MoMA, New York.
Yiorgis Yerolymbos views the 20th century Greek city as a museum for the next generations and tries to give to the world his whole self while photographing. He spoke with Greek News Agenda* about his work on the construction of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, architectural photography, photography in Greece, Athens’ image and the Greek urban landscape:
You were asked to capture the work at and the construction of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center? How would you describe this experience?
It was an incredible experience and granted me the best decade of my life. I enjoyed it enormously, and had fun while working. I had the opportunity to meet thousands of people and make friends for life. On its heyday, we had more than 5.500 people in the construction site of all nationalities and backgrounds, people from India and Pakistan, from Germany, Italy, Albania and Poland; I worked with every single one of them, and consider myself very fortunate to have done so, I was somehow a privileged spectator of a closed environment which was not accessible to the general audience due to safety reasons. As you can understand, a construction site is always secured; one cannot enter without clearance, and has to wear a helmet, a jacket or special shoes in order not to step on something. It is a protected environment and I was privileged to be one of the very few witnesses of its day-by-day changes. They were so fast to take place, ephemeral in a way that they could not be found the very next day. The photographs taken are the only proof that they ever existed.
What does a building like the SNFCC add to the image of Athens?
I would say the world for a number of reasons, but most importantly, I think that Renzo Piano’s Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center adds a modern contemporary building to this city that already had enough ancient ones to demonstrate.
In Athens, as one easily imagines, there is no lack of ancient locations and sights to visit. What was missing was a building of contemporary architecture of the highest level, a signature building if you like. And, before the Niarchos Centre, we could only find that in power buildings of restricted access. For example, the Ethinki Bank's Mario Botta building in Kotzia Square or Walter Gropius' the American Embassy. So, I would consider the Niarchos Centre as the first signature building by a star architect that belongs to everybody and it is there for everybody. I think this is quite significant at this time and age.
What led you into photography? When did you realize that this is what you want to do with your life?
I was trained both as an architect and a photographer. I chose to become a photographer for two main reasons. First, being that with photography you to get to visit other people’ s worlds, which helps one enormously to broaden ones horizons. You find yourself in a environment of constant learning. For example, you get to an oil refinery to take photos, you meet the people there, you understand the process and you spend time with them, and this is a rare opportunity that very few people have. Again, you have a privileged point of view. Whatever subject matter you approach, you find yourself in multiple worlds so to speak, thus enriching your experience. Secondly and most importantly, I wanted to have a chance to see the world. It may be incredible, but the quality of world-seeing that photography provides is unparallel to any other profession, one could argue, and I think I am intitled to say so as photography has taken me everywhere in Greece, although I am pretty sure I have missed some parts (Amorgos comes to mind...). I have seen my fair share of the world precisely because I had to photograph it.
What is photography for you? What do you express through architectural photography?
Somebody far more intelligent and far more eloquent than myself gave the very definition of what photography is. It was the great Robert Adams, one of the photographers from the New Topographics movement in the 1970s, who said "what photography traditionally tries to do is to show what is past, present and future in one shot". For a photograph to work you need ghosts of the past, the daily news and prophecy. So I think this is what makes a photograph interesting. In a successful photograph, you recognise the updated information of the current world, and at the same time you trace the past and from a proposal for the future. It goes deeper than the visual surface and that is, to my mind at least, what makes photography interesting.
As far as architectural photography is concerned, architectural photography is exactly what the title describes. It is photography of architecture and at the same time the architecture of photography itself, a structured photograph if you like and it is precisely this that takes a lot of time to reach. You need follow a very slow and careful process, you work with a tripod, you need to have a big view camera, and take your time; and through this process you methodically compose your photography. You look at the world in a completely different pace and you give it your whole self. And this puts you, at the end of the day, in an extraordinary position to appreciate the world far more than the average person who shoots thousands of photos a day and then moves on to the next point of interest.
If I have to photograph a monument, it will take me hours and hours to set everything, to look at it, to take my time and as a result I start to experience it differently. That is what architectural photography offers, in my view.
What are your thoughts regarding photography in Greece?
We really have photography of the highest level in Greece and there are fellow photographers whom I highly appreciate. If one would like to point out a problem is that photographers they will go as far as their own strength and means go, there is no institution to support or back them up. Artists of the medium will have to do everything by themselves and unfortunately the same applies to all kind of art in our country.
And this is not the case abroad, for example, all the established photographers that we know from the US or Germany enjoy the support of a number of institutions that help an artist to advance his or her work beyond his or her own reach; museums, galleries, collections that support the work and help an artist to get to the next level.
We, also, experience the same problem in education. The education system in photography, for example, is a very poor one and therefore only you have to be really exceptional to survive once you left school. Unfortunately, most of the people in photography once they earn a degree, they find themselves in a position were they have to make a living by doing something else, and practice photography as a hobby instead of a full time profession. I am afraid that the same applies in the overwhelming majority of the creative, so to speak, professions. We are alone. So if somebody has the determination and the strength to go down a lonely path, fine, we hear from him. If not, that is pretty much it.
What does the Greek city mean to you? How would you describe it?
Well, it depends really. I recently had the opportunity to describe Athens as a frozen wave, seen from a distance. If you go up the hill on Ymittos or Lykavitos, the city resembles like a huge wave of cement frozen in its current form. The city has sped basically towards all directions: it knows no barriers, no limits; and you can literally see it everywhere. It expands. There is no planning or anything of the sort. To be frank, the city is as important to me as it is to most fellow Greeks, it is our chosen habitat. The majority of us, we are people of the cities; half of the country’ s population lives in Athens, one million lives in Thessaloniki and most others live in the major cities around the country. And although we do not value Greek cities, it would be fair to admit that it is just the outcome of our own actions. We the people are responsible for the way Greek cities look like. It is our doing, our making, like looking into a mirror: it is us, whether we like what we see or not.
In the Greek urban landscape there are elements that characterize it and attribute to the Greek particularity and make it special. What is Greek particularity for you and where do you find it?
I have been a landscape photographer for the last 22-23 years and I had the opportunity to visit every single part of this country, so I would say an extraordinary diversity found within short distances. Our planet is beautiful everywhere, but the one thing I believe can be particularly distinct in our country is the variety of our landscape in such a small part of the world. For example, if one drives from Athens to Thessaloniki, one will experience mountains, lakes, and seascapes every 50 kilometres, to experience the same in France one would have to drive for a day and a half to see the scenery change. The same applies in the US, in Kansas, for example, I drove for 3 days through cornfields, 3 days of driving in flat. From the valley of Thessaloniki where everything is also flat to mountain Olympus which can be found only 30 minutes down the road, to Iliki Lake and to the Pindos mountain range, this diversity in such sort distance is literally amazing. It’ s an exceptional characteristic that inspires travelling and makes this country an attractive destination to visit again and again.
The tension between Greekness and modernity is an important aspect of the Greek urban landscape. Typical examples are architects Dimitris Pikionis and Kyriakos Krokos, whose work has references to the Greek architectural tradition that tries to emerge through the modern waves. How do you feel about the contemporary discourse between Greekness and modernity? How does Greek modernity exist in the urban landscape and where can it be found?
In many people's view, there is no clash between modernity and locality; Greekness is the subject in hand. It was actually one of the founders of the international style, the modern movement, and Bauhaus' director Walter Gropius, who argued that the modern movement in architecture celebrates locality. The more successful a modern style is, the more it transcends, celebrates the local elements and features.
Now, where can Greek modernity be found in the urban landscape? Should we refer to the very successful example of Thessaloniki’s new sea front? We should be reminded that there was a huge battle at the time when plans for the new sea front were unveiled, and most of the people initially thought of it as too western, too modern, by arguing that the Byzantine past of the city has not been celebrated. Both the architects and the architectural community responded by saying that Thessaloniki had already enough of beautiful Byzantine architecture and is, certainly, in no need to add more. What it lacked, on the other hand, was a contemporary public space.
In short, we don’ t need to create everything in the form of the Cycladic house. We can experiment with new styles and ideas and, having said that, it was Le Corbusier who was gravely impressed by Cycladic architecture and used it to create the international style. So, I would go back to my point that modernity and locality, when applied successfully, intertwine. They become one interesting new form that pushes the envelope forward. Otherwise we go round the same thing again and again without really going anywhere.
What does the human-altered landscape mean for Greek Modernity? What in particular characterizes this man altered Greek landscape?
The human-altered Greek landscape is a landscape in an interim phase. It is stuck in the middle. It’ s not a pure landscape, pristine and beautiful, and it’ s not an urban environment either. For every single illicit cement structure to house a rent-a-bike or rooms to let facility our institutions were unable to stop it on time, or fix it afterwards. It seems we are bound for ever to live in an environment cement "skeletons" will be a permanent part of our landscape. This can, also, be found in our cities, everywhere around the country you can see these leftovers marring the landscape. I would say that the foremost characteristic of the human altered landscape in Greece is precisely this - stuck in the middle, in an interim phase, it doesn’ t go back and doesn’ t go forward. It is there, in many respects and works as a metaphor for what we experience right now in every single aspect of our lives.
The urban landscape has changed. In the 70’s we already had a plethora of apartment buildings emerging. The apartment buildings are a distinctive feature of Athens. How do such buildings shape the image of the city?
They do so and, possibly, in a very constructive way, as far as I am concerned. What do I mean by this? It has been argued by a number of architects and historians among whom, Jean Sauvaget and Aldo Rossi that has said that architecture represents the petrification of a society. In a few words, architecture freezes time and what can one discover of the construction of that era is the circumstances and values of that era. For example, Paris is the petrification of the 19th century and the same can be argued about London for example and the Victorian period. Equally, Athens will be the petrification of 20th century.
How did these buildings come about? Constructors approached small homeowners and offered 2 or 3 apartments for their land, on which they would built apartment buildings making a profit from the sale of the rest of the apartments. In the course of time this period ended and now, Athens and every single Greek city have frozen in a time period that reminds us of the 60’s, the 70’s and the 80’s, working, so to speak, as a living museum of that particular time frame. People will be visiting Athens in 200 years time to see how people lived in the 20th century, in the same way that we visit a medieval city in Italy.
We are used to seeing Greece projected abroad through photography in a romantic way. In your work, it’s a different case. You show that great projects exist but also continue being built. We see imposing buildings, great architectural buildings that stand out. How does all this happen? What makes you project Greece that way?
Frank Gohlke famously said that “where we live is far more important than where we visit”. You go to a mountain, you take a shot of a beautiful landscape and then you go back to a small alley in Pagkrati or Kypseli or anywhere in the suburbs and you don’ t appreciate that as a landscape. You look at a mountain or cove and that is the only landscape you acknowledge as important, your everyday surrounding are pale in comparison, or so you think.
Truth is that landscape is where we live, not where we visit, and it is the most important landscape of all exactly because we are shaped in it. So, if it looks like a environment consisting of cement buildings in an alley with a few or no trees at all, then this is the defining landscape for us You don’ t have to disregard it or throw it away. And that, I think, explains to a large extent why I photograph Greece in a way different to romantic portrayals: because I don’ t visit it, I live it, it is mine as I am hers, I am not a visitor or a tourist, it is my home.
We have reached a point in our recent history where we constantly complain about literally everything: we think ourselves as the best, we blame others for our shortcomings and I honestly think I had enough of this attitude. Considering myself a person with love of country - defining such a person as somebody who wants his country to be better, not necessary recognizing it as such- I would like to see it to a cleaner, more structured and lawful, a better place for everybody to come and visit time and time again.
And in that respect, I point my camera towards our county's best parts. I want to show it as the dynamic, interesting and diverse country that I hope it is, that I wish it to be. I photograph multiple aspects and visit many of its parts, even the now so interesting ones, which can disappoint at times, but insist that if we look at it in a more constructive way, we will appreciate it more and eventually take good care of it. That is why I photograph what I consider interesting architecture from exciting young Greek architects that I consider worth promoting: as many of my photographs are published in international magazines, I would love to do my part for the world to see that this country produces interesting architecture and art of the highest quality.
*Interview by Veroi Katsarou
More Yiorgis Yerolymbos Interviews: Uncube; arcspace.com; lovegreece.com; Bookshelf: Orthographs - The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center
Lina Venturas is director of the Research Unit for the History of Migratory and Refugee Movements at the Panteion University and she has been scientific coordinator of the "Migration Management and International Organizations: A history of the establishment of the International Organization for Migration" (MIMIO) research Programme. She is also head of the Ministry of Education Research & Religious Affairs Scientific Committee for the integration of refugee children in education.
Professor Venturas spoke with Rethinking Greece* about the waves of Greek emigration to the US, Northwest Europe and Australia as part of wider population movements from agricultural economies to industrial countries, the key role human mobility has played in the development of the modern and contemporary world, the programme for integration of refugee children in the Greek educational system and the importance of according legal status and other socio-economic rights to refugees and migrants.
Overall, both the turn of the 20th century movement to the USA and post-war emigration, form part of broader population movements from agricultural economies to countries with a strong and expanding secondary sector. These movements were largely dictated by the receiving states’ labour market needs; they mainly involved peasants from agricultural countries who settled in urban areas of the host countries and were transformed into proletarians. In the post-war era these overseas movements continued; some 140,000 Greek migrants settled in the USA, 175,000 in Australia and 86,000 in Canada. But, after the enactment of the German-Greek migration agreement in 1960, Germany became the main destination of emigrants. 61% of post-war emigrants went to Northwestern European countries, while emigration to West Germany alone accounted for 53% of the total number of emigrants in the period 1960-1977. There was a significant change in the geographical provenance of post-war migrants to Europe as they now departed mostly from the North of Greece: Macedonia contributed 36% of all migrants and 44% of those who went to European countries during the post-war era.
Post-war immigration to Western European countries was subject, much more than migration to other continents, or during other periods, to a policy of organised labour importation, drafted by the host countries’ governments and employers and regulated bya temporary contract labor system, bilateral migration agreements and the implementation of welfare policies. Many young Greeks were persuaded to leave the country through the combination of active recruitment by Western European countries and especially Western Germany, the wages these countries offered (which were three times higher than in Greece) and the relative security of an employment contract and the various social benefits.
Whereas overseas emigration was seen by receiving countries as largely permanent, outflows directed to Germany and other European destinations were intended to be a temporary import of cheap labour. Therefore, although immigrants that settled in European countries were accorded social rights, they were not naturalized, due to the receiving states’ policies. Greek immigrants in European states secured jobs and steady incomes and enjoyed a significant improvement in their standard of living. Nevertheless, deindustrialization and the economic transformations instigated by the oil crisis of 1973, did not allow for significant social mobility. Furthermore, both the receiving states and Greece adopted policies concerning the education of migrants’ children which did not facilitate their upward mobility.
Safeguarding the right of refugee children to education has been a major concern of the Greek Ministry of Education, teachers, academics and many others. The objective of the Greek state is to ensure psychosocial support and to integrate refugee children in the Greek educational system, without burdening schools with an excessively large number of children who do not speak Greek and have not been appropriately prepared to attend a Greek school. In March 2016, the Ministry of Education Research & Religious Affairs set up a Scientific Committee to form a plan for the integration of refugee children in education; this plan had to be designed in such a way so as to increase the chances that refugee children succeed at school and do not abandon it.
For the school year 2016-2017, the Scientific Committee considered the specific need refugee children had due to the fact that they were experiencing a transition from war to normality. Furthermore, owing to wars and being continuously on the move, a significant percentage of refugee children had been outside the school environment for years, and many children had never attended school, although they were of school age. Additionally, many children are burdened by psychological traumas. In order to meet their needs, emphasis needed to be placed on their adaptation and familiarization with the school environment and on cultivating a sense of security, communication and acceptance. A transitional education program was also considered necessary as these children do not speak Greek and many had to cover gaps in their education due to their long absence from schools.
The refugee population living in Greece is quite heterogeneous in terms of characteristics and fluctuating in numbers. So, predicting the exact number of children that will stay in Greece is not easy; neither is the duration of their stay or their place of residence. Therefore, the Ministry of Education Research & Religious Affairs had to take into account the insecurity and instability of the situation and prepared for multiple scenarios in terms of the numbers and locations. An additional issue making planning difficult was the fact that the children who will probably stay in Greece belong to different legal status categories: There are children whose parents have been accorded refugee status; others that are waiting for relocation or family unification without being sure about their departure or the departure date; also children whose families have submitted an application for asylum that is yet to be considered, others who live on the islands, unaccompanied minors etc.
With the exception of the children whose parents have been given refugee status, it is impossible to predict if and when the status of the others will be regulated, or when and how many of them will be relocated. However, given the fact that we are talking about children, the needs of the entire potentially existing population had to be provided for and covered. Furthermore, as shown by a number of studies, the trend in the migration and asylum policies of the EU is the long wait of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers under a quasi-precarious regime.
How does this uncertainty impact the refugees’ attitudes towards formal education?
Refugees that crossed to Greece did not aim at settling here; fully aware that it is almost impossible to find work, they aimed at moving to other European countries. Remaining stranded for a long time in Greece caused insecurity, either because they were waiting for an answer to their for asylum/relocation request or because those refugees who could not look forward to these solutions were looking for other ways to leave the country. After the closing of the borders and the European Union-Turkey agreement, the legal status and the relocation prospects to another country of the various refugee groups -in mainland Greece and on the islands- started to change. Under these conditions, the refugees’ attitude towards formal education was, and still is, ambivalent. The feeling of precariousness is, still today, intensified by the fact that a significant percentage of refugees still live in Accommodation Centers and, what is more, they are frequently moved from one to another. With a view to remedy this situation, many refugees have been moved for some months now by the High Commissioner or other agencies to flats, hotels and shelters in Athens, Piraeus, Thessaloniki, Livadia, Kilkis, Arta, etc. The Ministry of Migration Policy aims at expanding the accommodation program in such urban facilities and decreasing the number of refugees living at Accommodation Centers.
Now that the school year is over, what is your overall assessment of the program for the education of refugee children in Greece?
The effort to integrate refugee children in the educational system for the 2016-2017 school year, was not without difficulties, mistakes and omissions, there were however, equally significant achievements. The basic omissions concern the non-implementation of the Scientific Committee’s proposals for the operation of kindergartens and non-mandatory education programs for children over 15 years old. The organization and operation of obligatory schooling also faced many problems, weaknesses and delays as all refugee children had to be vaccinated. Furthermore, there was a relatively high percentage of dropouts, while irregular attendance was also registered (although the percentages were number similar to those of other countries), mainly due to the unstable and adverse conditions under which refugees live, which are intensified by institutional and educational omissions and deficiencies.
Finally, there was inadequate and delayed information and sensitization of several local societies and, as a result, there were few, but vociferous local reactions which were reproduced by the media. Nevertheless, in laying down the foundation for school attendance and social connection, the Ministry of Education Research & Religious Affairs took the first step in the integration of refugees. The social and political bet of getting refugees out of the ghetto of camps, bringing back some normality to refugee children’s life, familiarizing them with the school system, and finally, making refugees more visible in Greek society, has been won to a great extent. All this has occurred against a difficult background, if we look at the wider European and international reality right now. These achievements are important, given that refugees have limited opportunities for interaction with Greek citizens and social integration in general. These accomplishments are also of great significance because they constitute a starting point for the greater acceptance of refugee rights and their integration in Greek and European societies.
Thessaloniki Museum of Photography: Another life: Human flows / Unknown Odysseys
Integration is an open-ending, multi-factorial social process that extends over time. Global and local asymmetries, international and social hierarchies, combined with transformations in the economic sphere and labor markets, play a major role in processes of social and cultural integration. Most of all, integration depends on whether refugees and migrants are accorded a legal status and rights and are able to gain a decent living in their host country. So, residence and work permits, social and other rights, along with economic relations and the structure of the labor market in host countries, are of great importance. It is of great importance that refugees and migrants feel that they are recognized and respected as human beings, like the citizens of the host country: when they are stigmatized and scapegoated, collectively condemned for the acts of an extremist or a criminal with the same national/cultural background, then they rightly feel that whatever their personal views and actions are, they will be excluded from society.
Instead, when people reasonably aspire to live with dignity, safety and make a decent living, when they have opportunities to improve their families’ future, then they are motivated to learn the language of their host country, to adapt to new conditions and to participate in society. Both the UK and France are relatively affluent consumerist countries with a colonial background that, since the 1980s, have adopted economic, social and political measures that lead to the exclusion of a significant part of their citizenry from the labor market and social benefits. Furthermore, the EU, during the last decades has adopted neo-colonial policies vis-à-vis developing countries and a hostile stance towards the refugees and migrants coming from them. In both the UK and France islamophobic discourses have been legitimized by several politicians and media. These factors and their economic, social, political and cultural consequences weigh, in my opinion, more heavily than multicultural or assimilationist policies on social relations and integration processes.
*Interview by Ioulia Livaditi
Evi Sachini is the Director of the National Documentation Centre (EKT), the national institution for documentation, information and support on science, research and technology issues. She is also member of the board of directors of the National Hellenic Research Foundation and member of the Board of Directors of the Greek Network for Research and Technology (GRNET). She holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the National Technical University of Athens. Dr. Sachini has substantially contributed to the cultivation of the Greek knowledge ecosystem and has led a number of important initiatives in the area of reliable digital content. As a national expert and representative to the European Commission and OECD, she has advised on issues of R&D and Innovation, management and exploitation of knowledge capital. She has published a series of reports relating to areas of research policy, development and innovation.
Founded in 1980, under the United Nations Development Programme, the National Documentation Centre is integrated with the National Hellenic Research Foundation and is supervised by the General Secretariat for Research and Technology (GSRT) of the Ministry for Education, Research and Religious Affairs.
Dr Evi Sachini talked to Greek News Agenda* on the role and activities of the National Documentation Centre, which include accessibility to digital content regarding scientific research, production of the national statistics for Research, Development and Innovation and connection of research and innovation to entrepreneurship. Dr Sachini also stressed EKT’s contribution to the preservation of the Greek cultural heritage through its portal, searchculture, which offers access to digital cultural content from 55 collections of 43 respected institutions. She further elaborates on how EKT helps Small and Medium Enterprises, including start-ups, to innovate and grow internationally. Dr Sachini underlines that EKT supports a virtuous policy making and entrepreneurial decision-making circle by providing research, technology and innovation statistics and informed analyses. Finally, she stresses that the national policies on Research, Development and Innovation, the highly skilled R&D human resources and high scientific quality research that is performed in specific niches of excellence, make her optimistic for the future and for the ability of the country to integrate its research and innovation dynamic in its new growth and productive model:
What is the role and main activities of EKT as regards the diffusion of knowledge?
Knowledge-intensive activities are a major source of potential economic growth for Greece as a means to exit the economic crisis. Towards this goal, and in accordance with our mission to collect, document, manage, disseminate and preserve quality digital content and data produced by the Greek scientific, research and cultural communities, EKT performs the following actions.
Firstly, in terms of digital content, a) we make available digital data and information accessible within the scientific, research and cultural communities (eContent), b) we disseminate and promote trustworthy Greek content on an international level, c) we have developed electronic infrastructures with an effective mechanism for collecting and searching content and data (Open Access, Open Science), and d) we provide SaaS services (Software as a Service) including digital repositories, such as openABEKT.
As the designated organization responsible for the production of the national statistics for Research, Development and Innovation (RDI), EKT is very actively pursuing the enhancement of understanding of the national innovation system. To meet this end, EKT not only provides statistical data on various aspects of the national and regional research, technology and innovation system, but also puts data into context. In other words, it places statistical data within a geographical, sectoral, etc. context via dedicated and in-depth analysis of various RDI-related topics, and thus aspires to assist policy-making by the provision of up-to-date and comprehensive information.
On an international level, EKT participates in scientific conferences, presenting its contribution to RDI relevant issues (RDI statistics, public policy, dimensions of national innovation system, etc.). Lastly, EKT being a member of the Enterprise Europe Network, provides consulting services for international business partnerships, information on European policies, innovation and technology transfer and fosters the participation of SMEs in European Programmes for Research and Technology.
How is EKT contributing to the preservation of Greek cultural heritage?
EKT has been actively involved in the preservation and dissemination of cultural content for years. One of our first cultural content projects was Pandektis, the digital library of the National Hellenic Research Foundation’s Institute of Historical Research collections. Last year we completed the development of a suite of comprehensive services initially offered to Cultural organizations that were beneficiaries of the last “Digital Convergence” Operational Programme Calls. These cloud services are offered on a Software as a Service model, enabling Greek cultural organizations to navigate the modern information environment, where everything is interoperable and connected. We developed a workflow for digital cultural content that includes safe long-term storage, quality control, standards-based documentation and aggregation.
End-users can now search for cultural content via our portal, SearchCulture.gr, an aggregator of cultural heritage content. SearchCulture.gr offers central access to and single search of digital cultural content of more than 160,000 documents from 55 collections of 43 respected institutions, ranging from museums and folk heritage organizations to archives and local cultural collections. It also establishes interoperability with major 3rd party search engines and portals like Europeana, thus making quality Greek cultural content more accessible and exploitable.
To further help safeguard Hellenic digital heritage, we provide a repositories service which is a comprehensive content publication service for authorised content producers. Various cultural organizations have used the service: the Acropolis Restoration Service has two repositories we created the one hosting their restoration archive and the other their educational content. We are also developing repositories for academic Art History collections, manuscripts, local art collectives and oral histories collections, Faculties of Art etc.
How does EKT measure the output and outcome of the Greek Research, Development and Innovation system?
Since 2012 EKT has been a member of the Hellenic National System (and by extension of the European Statistical System) and has been tasked with the provision of the official statistics on Research, Development and Innovation in Greece. In this capacity, EKT undertakes a series of Eurostat-approved and synchronized surveys on concerning research spending, personnel and innovation activities.
In addition, EKT is responsible for measuring a range of other research enablers and outcomes. For example, on matters of scientific publications, highly educated human capital, the performance of domestic research and business institutions in European research projects, the research infrastructure, female participation in research activities, the career of PhD holders, Greek participation in competitive EU R&D calls (under Framework Programmes /Horizon 2020), etc.
How is EKT supporting the collaboration between academia and businesses and the networking of Greek research organizations with those abroad? In what ways can innovative start-ups receive assistance from EKT?
By way of the provision of statistical data as well as via informed reporting and analysis, EKT supports the relevant policy makers in helping them make decisions based on updated information. By being coordinator of Enterprise Europe Network - Hellas, EKT provides a wide range of value-added services for SMEs using the concept of "one-stop-shop" and under the guise of a unique organizational mechanism-network. This can be broken down into three groups of related services. 1) Providing information to enterprises regarding European issues, such as finding foreign business partners and supporting outward-looking entrepreneurship. 2) Offering innovation and technology transfer services. 3) Promoting aspects of the knowledge triangle in Greece, focusing on higher education institutes’ third mission and their contribution to national production and, 4) helping in accessing European funding, finding the appropriate partners, submitting proposals and helping in project implementation.
As regards innovative start-ups, let me start by saying that innovative SMEs, including start-ups, are claimed to play an important role in generating growth and employment, throughout Europe. According to Eurofound’s latest annual report, young innovative SMEs with high international potential are the biggest recruiters in the European Union. Their growth is also expected to support the shift of the EU economy towards more knowledge-intensive activities.
The National Documentation Centre, as National Contact Point for Horizon 2020 and Coordinator of the Enterprise Europe Network-Hellas supports SMEs, including start-ups to innovate and grow internationally. For example, Enterprise Europe Network-Hellas is a successful strategic alliance of business support organizations and networks, helping Greek business grow faster through commercial partnerships, access to finance and tailored support. It is a nationally distributed infrastructure of institutions and expertise, with extensive experience in cooperation at national level and distinguished performance in global networks. As a member of the Enterprise Europe Network, it collaborates with more than 600 organizations in 60 countries to find the best opportunities for Greek enterprises to grow.
During the period 2008-2016, Enterprise Europe Network-Hellas produced 740 international partnership agreements. 1,960 Greek profiles were disseminated in more than 60 countries. 645 company missions and brokerage events were organized and supported by the Enterprise Europe Network-Hellas.
How does EKT support evidence based policy making for research, technology and innovation and the transition to a knowledge-intensive development model?
Incentivizing sustainable and long-term economic growth is primarily based upon a policy mindset that takes into consideration the range of available quantitative and qualitative evidence relevant to each occasion and sensitive enough to adapt to societal and economic fluctuations. EKT being a provider of research, technology and innovation statistics and of informed analyses supports a virtuous policy making and entrepreneurial decision-making circle, by way of providing up-to-date evidence on the range of the topics involved. Indicative of that is the effort made to support the implementation and monitoring of smart specialization strategy in Greece, by providing regional RDI-relevant indicators, elaborated specifically for the purposes of the national strategy for growth.
What are the main characteristics of the Greek RDI system?
Greece has been experiencing a rapid deterioration of a number of several macroeconomic and quality of life indicators since the onset of the financial crisis. Despite the fact that the Greek RDI system has been under pressure, national expenditure rose in absolute and relative value (e.g. R&D intensity). Additionally, other initiatives, such as the appointment of a Deputy Minister for Research in 2015 (for the first time since 1985), the implementation of a National Strategy on Smart Specialisation or the mobilization of Regional authorities to support research and innovation may be considered to be signs of the higher priority that the RDI sector is given on the national policy agenda.
This positive juncture for RDI in Greece, combined with the capable R&D human resources and research of high scientific quality that is performed in specific niches of excellence, make us optimistic for the future and for the ability of the country to integrate its research and innovation dynamic in its new growth and productive model. This can be seen from the latest R&D indicators for spending (R&D intensity) which shows an increase to 0.97% of GDP for 2015 from 0.84% in 2014. In addition, domestic SMEs exhibit a healthy/robust attitude towards innovation – for example, Greece (0.87%) outranked the EU average (0.69%) in terms of non-R&D innovation spending as % of turnover for 2012.
Similarly, the domestic scientific and research base is increasingly internationalizing. The number of international scientific co-publications has been systematically rising during the last decade indicating the growing networking of the international science base. Also, Greek actors have been systematically excelling in attracting competitive European research funds.
Are Greek organizations successful in participating in European research funded programmes or are they lagging behind?
To elaborate more on my last point, one of the clearest indications of Greece’s great research potential, is manifested in terms of Greek domestic scientific, research and business participation in EU Framework Programmes. European Framework Programmes are the major funding mechanisms for increasing the scientific and technological capacity of the member states on behalf of the EU.
As such and according to the latest data (Horizon 2020), Greece is ranked 9th in the number of signed contracts and 12th in budget share. This is very important given that 28 countries are members of the EU. Greek organizations exhibit an equally good success rate in H2020 (2014-2020), while, the success rate of Greek participation (in terms of number of Greek participations) reaches approximately 13%, a rate which is even higher for specific programmes, such as Research Infrastructures or Space. Greek organizations have attracted more than €437 million euro with 312 Greek SME participations attracting approximately €83 million euro.
What is EKT’s strategy for the future?
In answering this question it should first be noted that EKT is one of the (very) few organizations in Greece that has undertaken the difficult task of setting a carefully crafted and comprehensive strategy until the year 2022 that builds upon the current developments. In accordance to the Centre’s central objectives, and in the broadest terms, EKT aims to increase the volume and quality of the Greek digital scientific and cultural content that will be made freely available for use and re-use by all interested parties, supporting actively open-access policies. This will be achieved by making use of state-of-the-art technologies.
Secondly, EKT will safeguard the production of the national RDI statistics by accomplishing all the relevant milestones. In addition, new metrics and RDI-relevant publications addressing various and currently-hidden aspects of the national and regional innovation system will be brought out. Thirdly, emphasis will be put on matters of incorporating new knowledge produced by the domestic science and academic system into innovation-intensive business ventures, and facilitating the interplay between academia and the private sector.
* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi
Learn more about EKT’s strategy (in Greek). Read also: "Research - Create - Innovate": Connecting R&D with Enterprises, Summary of the Operational Programme 'Competitiveness, Entrepreneurship & Innovation', Doctorate holders in Greece: Highly competitive, highly mobile, Historic high in research spending, Industrial scholarships to boost research in Greek enterprises, Hellenic Foundation for Research and Innovation to Strengthen Research across Greece, New Initiative on Research & Development funding, new era for Universities and SMEs
Stavros Papagianneas is Managing Director of StP Communications consultancy. He has previously served as Communication Officer at the European Commission and as Press Officer and Spokesperson to various diplomatic missions in Brussels. He specialises in PR, strategic communications, public affairs, digital communication, social media and media relations. He is the author of several articles in EU media like New Europe, L' Echo, De Tijd, Communication Director and Research Europe. His recently published book “Rebranding Europe” explores the future of communication in Europe and illustrates how Europe can be rebranded by providing key recommendations on how to convey the added value of the EU in the daily lives of its citizens.
Asked by Greek News Agenda* how can communication overcome economic and policy problems in the EU, Papagianneas says that Europe needs to present a narrative that answer citizen's concerns, but underlined that communication cannot work properly, if it is not backed by real reforms and political will and elaborates on the interaction between communication and policy. He comments that the negative representation of economically weaker Member States in the media had a negative effect for the entire European Union. Regarding the lessons learnt by the previous months’ elections he concludes that the populist wave wasn’t as strong as it was feared to be and that Emmanuel Macron’s strategy is an example that EU should follow.
In your recently published “Rebranding Europe” you explore why EU communication fails and how to make it succeed. How can communication overcome economic and policy problems?
Communication cannot work properly because there is a weakened sense of citizenship and political engagement brought about by: a decreasing interest in politics; a lack of knowledge of political processes; a lack of a common European public sphere; the use of jargon; the absence of professionalism in EU communication and low levels of trust in politicians. The European political system suffers from insufficient communication and missing links between its political institutions and the citizens. In addition, the existing links between EU and the people are not working efficiently. The EU needs to challenge the myths that surround the Union by presenting stories that answer citizen's concerns. It needs a real communication revolution if it wants to highlight its achievement and value.
However, branding and communication cannot work properly if not backed by real reforms and political will. The EU should send out a message of unity and recovery, to show that it's coming out of the crisis and focus on what matters to the people e.g. employment, education, security, etc. If the EU could communicate a unified story, a shared vision, a common future - something in which both politicians and citizens could believe - many economic or policy problems would find a more coherent platform for being resolved. In other words, people need to realise that the EU’s problems are the problems of all Europeans.Therefore, there is an urgent need of a long-term national and supranational strategy to communicating the EU through Europe and the world. An innovative and sustainable public-private partnership, between the EU , the Member States, civil society, academia, political parties, media and the main economic sectors, committed to a dedicated brand, seeking to collaborate with the citizens and make a meaningful difference in their daily lives.
Part of communications involves crisis management. How does this concept work with the Greek crisis and rebranding Greece? What was the result of the way media treated Greece for the rest of the EU members?
Crisis management of the eurozone crisis failed considerably. Negative media reporting has led to increased Euroskepticism.Despite being widely considered to be derogatory, the use of the highly offensive and inappropriate term PIGS/PIIGS by the media has contributed to a huge negative perception of the entire EU. The eurozone crisis and the bashing of the PIGS/PIIGS has played into the hands of those campaigning against the EU: the populists and the neo-nationalists. In particular, the anti-Greece campaign of mainstream European media took on grotesque proportions. The media seemed to lead public opinion to conclude that the whole country is populated by lazy and corrupt people. A headline in the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf on 19 May 2011 is characteristic: “Kick them out of the eurozone. Our citizens no longer want to pay for these wasteful Greeks.” Germany’s best selling tabloid Bild Zeitung has been the champion of the Greek-bashing campaigns. This kind of actions against economically weaker Member States has a boomerang effect for the entire Union. “Greece is de facto a colony,” Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszcykowski said in an interview with POLITICO, explaining his country’s resistance to joining the euro. “We don’t want to repeat this scenario.”
In what ways may “Brexit and the Trump paradox turn the tide towards a better Europe”?
Brexit and Trump’s election seemed to herald a new wave of nationalism and populism. However, this did not happen. In France, Marine Le Pen's Front National almost disappeared from the political scene. In the UK, Theresa May saw her attempt to strengthen her position fail. The attitude towards the EU has warmed significantly in many EU countries after Britain's Brexit vote to leave the Union and the isolationism of Donald Trump and his verbal attacks on Europe. The result of the developments in the UK and the US has been a sense that Europeans do share a common destiny and that what happens in one EU Member State has a direct relevance on what happens in another. The Union will now for example be moving ahead with closer defense and security cooperation, which London had long blocked.
Would you like to comment on the results of the elections in the UK, France and the Netherlands? What do their campaigns regarding the EU teach us?
The lack of trust in the political establishment has never been greater in Europe and the world. Nevertheless, thepopulist wave that seemed to be sweeping in the West turns out to be merely a storm in the Anglosphere. Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders both fared worse than expected in France and the Netherlands. The election of Macron gives hope to millions in the EU and the world at a moment when apathy and political despair have been gaining ground in the Western world.. Macron did what successful entrepreneurs do: he developed the brand En Marche! and kept promoting it. He created a dynamic of change by aspiring to the role of a unifying European leader, a highly desired model in a Europe going through its worst identity crisis. As Europe is facing anti-establishment politics and reduced trust in politicians, it is Macron’s vision of political reform and his plan to make politicians more accountable that should be the example to follow. He has set out an agenda for institutional reform. He has pledged to concentrate the government’s energy on key priorities and to limit bureaucracy. This is exactly what Brussels has to do. History, especially during periods of constant change like the one we are living in, is often shaped by random events. Taking a more serious approach to communication could stimulate the engagement of citizens and restore public approval.
* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi
Read more on strategic communication by Stavros Papagianneas here.