Ioanna Bourazopoulou is a Greek playwright turned novelist. She has written five novels: The Boudoir of Nadir (2003), The Secret Water (2005), What Lot’s Wife Saw (2007), The Guilt of Innocence (2011) and The Valley of Mud (2014), the first part of the Trilogy The Dragon of Prespa. What Lot’s Wife Saw, awarded with the prestigious 2008 Athens Prize for Literature, was among the Best Science Fiction Books of 2013 according to The Guardian and was translated into English and French. The Valley of Mud received the Kostas and Eleni Ourani Foundation literary award in 2015. Ioanna Bourazopoulou was among the Greek writers who represented the country in the 29th Moscow International Book Fair, where Greece was the Guest of Honor.


Ioanna Bourazopoulou spoke to Reading Greece*about her latest book The Valley of Mud, commenting on how her books combine fantasy and symbolism with political allegory. She characterizes words as the “tools of her art”, noting that during the current crisis “words have been manipulated to support conflicting arguments and to make up for the lack of reasoning”. Arguing that novels constitute byproducts of the crisis, she concludes that what literature needs today is a new language, which may in turn lead to a new life approach.

The Valley of Mud – the first part of the trilogy The Dragon of Prespa – received the Kostas and Eleni Ourani Foundation literary award in 2015, a daring choice for an established foundation. What is the theme of the book? Why did you choose the area of Prespes as the setting of your trilogy? What about the next two parts?

Great Prespa is a lake shared by three small Balkan countries – Greece, Albania and FYROM. The lake, which constitutes their natural border, both unites and separates the three countries. It constitutes a long-suffering crossroads whose populations have been plagued by world wars, ethnic divisions and international power games, while they have been confronted with prejudice, migration and the ferocity of national fanaticism.


It is in those water borders, according to the book, that a mythical monster, a dragon, appears; nobody has seen it in person but everybody feels the destructive consequences of its presence. Fortunately (or not), the dragon attracts the interest of global capital, which hurries to invest in the region. Hope is rekindled in the three small countries, which start to compete in order to ensure the exclusive rights to the disastrous monster.

The first part, namely The Valley of Mud, describes what goes on in the southern bank of Prespa, the Greek side of the border. The next two parts depict the events that take place on the lake banks in the other two countries. Each part offers its own answers to the mystery of the dragon according to the viewpoints of the citizens of each country. Yet, when reading the trilogy in its entirety, it becomes obvious that events are interrelated and that reality is much more complicated.

Perhaps reality is but a mass delusion,” muses detective Phileas Book, in the opening sentence of What Lot’s Wife Saw. How are fantasy and symbolism combined with political allegory in your books?

Realism edited

Hopefully in tandem, as each enriches or restrains the other so that narration is at the same time realistic and magical. Fiction allows me to lay out fascinating worlds without being patronized by the preoccupations of current affairs or the banalities of reality; on its part, political allegory helps keep my inspiration within the framework of realism so that the reader doesn’t feel intellectually offended, while symbolism ingeniously unites dreams with experiences. It’s a mixture that as a writer I find liberating and at the same time self-restricting; it works for me and I hope that my readers enjoy it the same way I do.

Words are my whole existence. I think, feel and breathe through them, although they still deceive and terrify me […] And when the words you know are not enough, invent the words you need, give them the strength that you miss”. What drove you to writing? Is it necessary to come to a standstill in order to invent or express something new? Do your “new words” require a new approach to life as well?

Words are the tools of my art; without them I have no voice let alone any thought. As long as words are filled with meaning, what I create is full of liveliness, when words are repeatedly abused or distorted notions seem weak and annoying.

Crisis edited

The current economic crisis has led to a social crisis, a crisis of values, which has in turn influenced public discourse, news reporting and everyday communication. Political notions have lost their meaning the same way that bank notes have, given that words have been manipulated to support conflicting arguments and to make up for the lack of reasoning. Now that the economy is in search of new rules and society is in pursuit of new political ideas, what literature needs is a new language. I agree that a new language presupposes a new life approach, but at the same time I believe that it can provoke a new life approach itself.   

We are a country of dead heroes and kings, drawing its self-esteem from a glorious past. Preoccupied with proving what we once were, we are unable to see what we have become: a boat full of weary companions heading towards an even more distant Ithaca”. Tell us more.

I wish we would love our country and ourselves for what we are now, not for what we once were, because this is the only way to learn from our mistakes and soberly deal with the challenges that lie ahead. We honour our past but we are not oppressed by it, nor are we deluded by big words and shortsighted pursuits. The ever-changing global social and political environment asks for intellectual flexibility, presence of mind and maturity, traits that can in no way flourish when pursuing nationalistic fantasies.

You have said that your work as a public servant and writing are ‘communicating vessels. Is writing a way to balance your everyday reality? Would you ever consider writing a realistic novel?

Greeknoir edited

Writing science fiction helps me keep alive my faith in people, in dreams and miracles, every time reality puts me down, confines or disappoints me. On the other hand, I would never look for a way out in literature were it not for the stimuli of reality. When I was younger, I was convinced that the two sides of my life – the professional and the artistic – were in constant conflict and that they would eventually tear me apart, but as I grow older I have come to realize that they are complementary, safeguarding my internal balance. This is actually the reason why I have never been tempted to write a realistic novel.

Is it true that Greek noir has become increasingly popular in the last few years? Is this growing appetite for a dystopian, rather dark landscape in Greek fiction associated with the broader socio-economic environment?

The crisis has undeniably pervaded our works, whether we like it or not. In the last decade I have never come across a novel written by a Greek writer – at least the ones I have read – that is not imbued with the grey shades of our national adventure, irrespective of the topic at hand. Our novels constitute byproducts of the crisis and they definitely resonate through the crisis, even if they are not solely focused on it.


*Interview by Athina Rossoglou

mannette groth 01Annette Groth is the spokeswoman on human rights for the Left Party (Die Linke) parliamentary group in the German Bundestag and a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons.

Annette Groth looked into at the situation of the refugees in Greece over the course of two visits. In mid-May 2016 she was in Athens as the chairwoman of the German-Greek Parliamentary Friendship Group, and at the end of May she visited the country with a Council of Europe delegation.

Annette Groth spoke with Rethinking Greece* about the policy of austerity and the Troika’s treatment of Greece, Syriza in the face of power balances in the European Union, the recent EU-Turkey agreement and the most urgent problems faced by the refugees and the administrative and humanitarian challenges for both the Greek authorities and the European Union.  

DIE LINKE has voted in the German parliament against the successive Greek bailouts in the past. What is the party’s position toward the July’s 2015 compromise and Syriza’s policy ever since?

It’s not for me to comment on tactical decisions by the Greek Left from a German perspective. I strongly believe, however, that the misguided and undemocratic Troika policy that forced one austerity programme after another on to Greece in recent years has continually worsened the financial and economic situation in the country. In Germany I am fighting against the dictatorship of the ECB, IMF and the EU Commission and try to actively contribute to bringing as swift an end as possible to the austerity policy of the Federal Government and the EU institutions. At the same time, however, I am aware that the Left currently does not have the power in EU member states to significantly change the policies of the imperialist centres. In a situation like this, left-wing parties must assess for themselves how they can best fight for the interests of workers and of the socially marginalised, and for social and environmentally-friendly development in their countries with the current balance of power in the European Union.

The economic and social situation in Greece makes it clear that the policy of austerity and cuts forced upon the country by the Troika does not work: the economy has been shrinking for years, public debt continues to rise; despite the destruction of increasingly large parts of its public infrastructure, the country continues to face a bleak financial situation. The latest dictates of the Troika, that force the Greek government to sell more public property, the opportunities to enact social and fair policies in Greece are further restricted.

What, do you think, is currently the state of the Greek-German relations in the Government level? What is DIE LINKE’s position concerning the issue of Greece’s debt reduction and how would you comment on the relevant EC-IMF different approaches?

Cooperation between the Greek and German governments is not based on a partnership on an equal footing. The Federal Government uses its economic and political power within the international institutions to push through the export-oriented capital interests of Germany and major international banks and financial institutions. This policy has radically exacerbated the social and economic situation in Greece. The difficult situation of the refugees in Greece is also a result of the EU’s irresponsible policy of austerity.

You have stated that Greek government's demands concerning Greece’s forced loan to Nazi Germany and war reparations "are justified." The German Government seem to be in denial about the existence of this debt. Can this attitude be changed?

I have been campaigning for many years for the Federal Government to find a mutually acceptable solution together with the Greek government to allow the legitimate claims by Greece to compensation for its payments to the German Reich during the fascist era to be honoured. Greek leaders are right to point out the injustice of the Nazi period, during which hundreds of thousands of Greek people were persecuted, countless murdered and the country systematically financially exploited. I consider it a scandal that Federal Governments have refused to even talk about the resulting injustice for Greece for over 60 years. I expect Germany and Greece to finally seek a joint solution, one that the Federal Government commits to reaching, in the next legislative term.

fahne dielinke 680x400Germany has been since the 1950’s a major receiving country for migrants. DIE LINKE has recently issued a 10 point paper which includes concrete suggestions for more humane policies toward refugees and migrants as well for the fight against racism. Can you tell us more?

By closing the Balkan route, the core EU member states have managed to shift the consequences of the movement of refugees back to the EU’s peripheral members. Tens of thousands of refugees are now once again waiting in Greece to continue their journey. Central European states make it repeatedly clear that they have ruled out reopening the borders, and that countries must adhere to the Dublin Agreement. In doing so, they move the responsibility for refugees on to countries such as Greece and Turkey and accept that the situation in these places will deteriorate dramatically.

Germany has been a country of immigration for many years as a result of its economic situation. Nevertheless, governments since the 1970s have not formed any policies for integration and political equality for those coming to Germany. People with migrant backgrounds and without a German passport remain second-class citizens even today, with fewer rights in Germany, without the right to vote, and who are frequently marginalised in public debates.

Since the arrival in Germany last year of refugees from Syria and the crisis zones of the Middle East, a policy of deterrence and isolation against these refugees has once again found its way into German politics. This has been the approach in Germany and the EU for decades.

Those fleeing have never been welcome in EU countries. It has been the policy of the EU for many years to keep refugees out of the EU to a large extent by systematically shutting its external borders. A key instrument in deterring refugees is the European Border Protection Agency FRONTEX, created in 2004. Hundreds of millions of euros are being poured into building border posts and fences, installing high-tech surveillance and forcing people into the sea. Since 2009, the annual budget for FRONTEX has been almost 90 million euros.

Through their racially motivated refugee policies, EU member states have actually restricted the right of asylum to such an extent that it has become impossible for the majority of people to flee persecution, war and hunger in their home country and seek asylum in Europe. The Left Party parliamentary group and the Left Party itself have fought against this inhuman policy for years and call for open borders for people in need. The party has outlined the possibilities for a refugee policy based on human rights in its 10-point paper. Today, I argue for this policy to at last become a reality in many international bodies. I expect governments that include left-wing parties to campaign for fundamental changes to refugee policy and to include the rights of refugees to a greater extent in the focus of their demands from national and European policy.

You regularly visit centres for refugees and migrants in many countries, while your report ‘A stronger European response to the Syrian refugee crisis’ was adopted by a large majority at the Council of Europe (21.4.2016). What is your assessment of the recent EU-Turkey agreement?

In order to close the EU’s external borders, EU states have reached an agreement with Turkey. For Turkey, three areas were important here: first, speeding up its accession negotiations with the EU; secondly, the fact that visa liberalisation measures for Turkish citizens are to be introduced as part of the agreement on the readmission of refugees from the EU, and thirdly the deal that around three billion euros are to be provided by the EU as an “initial contribution” towards providing for the approximately 2.2 million refugees.

In return, Turkey has declared it is willing to control its external borders more strictly and prevent refugees making their way in boats to Greece across the Aegean Sea. At the same time, refugees coming from Turkey who reach Greece will be returned to Turkey. To this end, the EU member states, including Germany, have classified Turkey as a “safe country of origin”.

Like many other prominent organisations, Amnesty International has pointed out that “Turkey is not a safe country for refugees and migrants”. Amnesty International went on to describe any readmission process resulting from the agreement as “flawed, illegal and immoral”. Doctors without Borders president Loris De Filippi has also described the agreement as cynical and has accused leaders of having “completely lost touch with reality“. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi has said he is “deeply concerned about any arrangement that would involve the blanket return of anyone from one country to another without spelling out the refugee protection safeguards under international law”. The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muiznieks, has even described the plans as “illegal”, as they run contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Council of Europe has also examined the topic intensively with a report and a resolution. On the one hand, the report titled “The situation of refugees and migrants under the EU-Turkey Agreement of 18 March 2016” states that “returns of asylum seekers, whether Syrian or not, to Turkey as a ‘safe third country’ are contrary to European Union and/or international law; as Turkey does not provide them with protection in accordance with the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees”. Specifically, the report calls for “children and vulnerable persons to be promptly excluded from detention and referred to appropriate alternative facilities”. Members of the Council of Europe viewed as important the recommendation to “refrain from involuntary returns of asylum seekers to Turkey under Article 38 of the Asylum Procedures Directive”.

The Council’s report and resolution clearly show that politicians in its member states view the situation for refugees most critically. Nevertheless, the report, which was adopted by a large majority, is yet to achieve anything. It would be more than desirable for members of the Council to also drum up support for these recommendations in their national parliaments.

The recommendation that “family reunion of refugees be allowed without any delay or complicated procedures, in order to prevent family members from being forced to take an irregular route to reunification” also shows that the parliamentarians are very aware of their responsibility. Yet as long as such recommendations fail to resonate in national legislatures, the recommendations of the Council remain a sheer waste of paper.

The resolution by the Council of Europe under the title “A stronger European response to the Syrian refugee crisis” also states its terms clearly. For example, the Parliamentary Assembly recommends that members “refrain from returning refugees to Turkey, as Turkey cannot be considered a safe third country for refugees” and calls upon the EU member states to “comply immediately with the decisions on relocation of refugees from Greece and Italy as adopted in September 2015”. The human rights commitments anchored in the Convention on Human Rights must also apply to refugees without exception. The news that deportations to Turkey have been stopped as a result of action taken by Pro Asyl before the relevant appeals body is thus very welcome indeed.

With its recommendation to “refrain from any onward refoulement of asylum seekers returned from Greece and ensure access to the asylum system and to an effective remedy with a suspensive effect against removal as required by the European Convention on Human Rights”, the Council of Europe has taken a clear stance. Now, the next step must be to persuade parliamentarians to speak out for refugees in their national parliaments, too.


DIE LINKE incorporates a strong feminist perspective in its policy suggestions and general political critique. What do you think is / should be the feminist element in the European Left political actions and discourse and especially in southern Europe?

The Left Party’s European platform calls for a European Union that is “feminist, free of exclusion measures, free of patriarchal power structures, free of exploitation and social inequalities. We want a European community where everyone can live freely, on their own terms and equipped with minimum social security standards – regardless of their gender, sexual identity, skin colour, age, social background, level of education, religion or ethnicity.” This fundamental policy orientation towards implementing a fairer society requires a complete overhaul of current EU policy. As long as the EU is designed to primarily assert capitalist profit maximising strategies for multinational corporations and the so-called free movement of capital constitutes the focus of European treaties, radical change in EU policy will have little chance of success.

The example of Greece has shown that implementing left-wing policy against a conscious boycott by EU bodies and the other EU governments is virtually impossible. That is why our main task in the EU’s largest economies is to create a social climate in these countries that forces their respective governments to support progressive policies in southern European countries instead of boycotting these.

European Left has been historically diverse with important schisms and often strong political distrust (e.g. Between Social Democrats and the Radical Left). Do you see any opportunities for broader left wing coalitions in Europe and especially in the European South?

The decision regarding what possible constellations of left-wing parties might work together in southern European countries cannot be made from Germany. Instead, we on the left in Germany, which has the strongest economy in the EU, need to focus on ensuring that the framework conditions of the European Union are changed in such a way that there is space for a left-wing social project.

Modern European culture is largely based on the democratic autonomy postulate, while what has happened in Greece the last 7 years revealed the power of the  international financial elite and European political conservatism. How can we rethink Greece and Europe in this situation?

The Troika’s treatment of Greece is absolutely unacceptable. Only once the power of these institutions has been successfully broken will more room be created for left-wing policies in countries such as Greece, Portugal and Spain. The German Left is fighting to achieve this.

*Interview by Nikolas Nenedakis. The interview was taken in early June 2016. Many thanks to Nikolaos Vlahakis, Press and Communication Counsellor - Embassy of Greece in Germany

PACE, Mediabox interview with Annette Groth on the adoption of her report “A stronger European response to the Syrian refugee crisis” at the Council of Europe’s  Parliamentary Assembly April 2016 plenary session in Strasbourg:

Ersi Sotiropoulos is an acclaimed Greek poet, novelist and short story writer. She studied philosophy and cultural anthropology in Florence and worked with the Greek embassy in Rome. She published her debut novel, The Trick, in 1982. Zigzag through the Bitter Orange Trees [In Greek: Ζιγκ Ζαγκ στις Νεραντζιές] was acclaimed on publication in Greece as “the best novel of the decade” and became the first novel ever to win both the Greek national prize for literature and Greece’s preeminent book critics’ award in 2000. Her novel Eva won the Athens Academy prize for best novel in 2011, and her book of stories Feel blue, dress in red won the National Book Award in 2012.


Her short fiction has appeared in the Literary Review, the Brooklyn Rail, Harvard Review, Circumference, SmokeLong Quarterly, Words Without Borders, Metamorphoses, Absinthe, and Two Lines. She has been a fellow at institutions and universities around the world, including the Rockefeller at Bellagio, Bogliasco Foundation, Sacatar in Brazil, University of Iowa’s International Writing Program, Schloss Wiepersdorf in Germany and Princeton University. Her books have been translated in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian and Swedish.

Ersi Sotiropoulos spoke to Reading Greece* about her latest book, which focuses on the Greek poet Cavafy’s stay in Paris, how physical desire may evolve into creative impetus turning a minor romantic poet into a prominent writer, as well as the correlation between art and life noting that “there is a defect behind art and the artist, a complex, a trauma, something missing that enables you to write, to create”. She also comments on how “reading literature can help us distrust clichés and stereotypes, to become aware of the small details that either determine or undermine the vision of the whole”, and how poetry and fiction “help us formulate a conception of the non-existent and (the inevitably) potential”.

Your latest book – What’s left of the Night- is about Cavafy’s stay in “fin de siècle” Paris. How did you decide to write about one of the less known periods of the poet’s life? Was Paris actually the place where Cavafy was transformed from a minor symbolist and romantic poet into a prominent writer?


It is difficult to dissect and analyze the creative process. I am not the one deciding to write about a specific topic, it’s writing that decides for me. Sometimes it begins with a recurrent image, maybe still blurry, or even a fleeting conversation – like when you haven’t heard something properly but it’s still imprinted in your head – that suddenly comes back. Even when I have to write about something specific, for a commission for instance, the tone will be given somehow outside of the topic, offering that special nuance that will pervade the text, and that’s a process I really enjoy because it gives me the chance to discover new things while writing.

For What’s left of the Night, I was rather driven by questions. There was very little known about Cavafy’s stay in Paris. I was thinking of that young man (whose future course we all know very well), his trip to Paris at a special moment in time, his passion for writing, his anxiety to find his own voice, and how he was tormented by sexual desires forbidden back then. I started to imagine him at that unique crossroads with Alexandria - both old-fashioned and cosmopolitan - in the background, Greece - humiliated and once more destroyed – further away, and finally Paris, illuminated, at the height of its glory. During that process Cavafy turned slowly into a fictional character.


But we who serve Art/ sometimes with the mind’s intensity/ can create—but of course only for a short time—/pleasure that seems almost physical”, Cavafy wrote in “Half an Hour”. Is this physical desire that permeates Cavafy’s works a driving force in your work as well? What is after all the relationship between art and life?

“Half an Hour” belongs to Cavafy’s hidden poems, the ones that the poet refused to publish during his lifetime; it’s the lyrics of those poems that acted as my lighthouse while I was writing the book. What interested me from the very start was to capture the moment, that exceptional moment when physical desire turns into creative impulse. As for the relationship between art and life, a lot can be said, most of which commonplace. Yet, the fact remains that it is as if there is a defect behind art and the artist, a complex, a trauma, something missing that enables you to write, to create. It might sound a bit simplistic but l truly believe this. Aside from the joy οf creating a whole new world… Lacking something can be a strong trigger. Like love. Reciprocated love quickly fades away; on the other hand, when the object of your desire remains elusive, the flame keeps burning.


Zigzag through the Bitter Orange Trees was acclaimed on publication in Greece as “the best novel of the decade,” while it has been said that what makes your stories memorable is that “at once familiar and troubling, compelling and unapproachable, they give us a new way of seeing”. Can literature free us from the shackles of our certainties about life, revealing other angles under which it is possible to we see the world?

Reading literature can help us distrust clichés and stereotypes, to become aware of the small details that either determine or undermine the vision of the whole. I think that art can change us -- the best fiction and poetry do change who we are. They helps us formulate a conception of the non-existent and (the inevitably) potential.

To write, I need to distance myself from things … As the years go by, I feel a greater need for silence and isolation …Few are the stimuli that still tantalise me. And they usually come from art, where else?’ Tell us more.

Art is inspired by art, and even more so by life itself. That’s what Cavafy is reflecting on in the novel. I have been reading books since l was very young, and I still have that feeling of sheer pleasure every time I immerse myself in a book I really enjoy, when I listen to a music or see a piece of art that intrigues me. When I write – when people write – inspiration comes from deep inside, like an amalgam of what they have lived and read; a book l once read and think l’ve forgotten may in a subtle way prove much more decisive compared to a more recent or intense personal experience.

Collapsing City

In your essay “The view from Greece” you refer to Athens as ‘a collapsing city’. What does that mean? How is what’s happening due to the current socio-economic crisis come into your writing? What has been its effect on cultural and intellectual terms?

I used the expression “collapsing city” not just literally to describe the degraded urban landscape with buildings collapsing, stores closing and the once luminous Olympic installations utterly abandoned. What is also collapsing as a result of the crisis is social cohesion. Despite the important work of social solidarity initiatives, it’s undeniable that poverty and despair are followed by spiritual impoverishment. Arts, the book market, were among the first victims of the crisis. Yet, many young people seem to display a creative energy in recent years. They strive to acquire whatever they can amid the crisis, to leave their own imprint, turning their backs to the anxieties and inhibitions of older generations.

I grew up reading literature; I became a writer by reading other writers, mostly translated from other languages. […] Without the translators behind those books I would be a different person, completely fucked up. Reading literally saved my life.” What about the new generation of Greek writers? Is there a voice for them in Greece or even abroad?

Not just one voice but many. The first that come into my mind are Ignatis Houvardas and Glykeria Basdeki. Both have written exceptional texts.


*Interview by Athina Rossoglou

Sophia Nikolaidou was born in Thessaloniki in 1968. One of modern Greece’s most significant young novelists, she has published two collections of short stories - Fear Will Find You and You Will Be Alone (1999) and Blonde Run Over (1997) - and four novels - Planet Prespa (2002), The Purple Maestro (2006), No friends tonight (2010), The Scapegoat (2012) - which have been translated into eight languages. She has also published a non fiction novel So far so good (2015), studies on creative writing and on the use of ICT in education and translated ancient Greek drama into Modern Greek. She teaches literature and creative writing and writes criticism for various newspapers, including Ta Nea. Her novel, No Friends Tonight won the 2011 Athens Prize for Literature, and The Scapegoat was shortlisted for the 2012 Greek State Prize for Fiction.


Sophia Nikolaidou spoke to Reading Greece* about how The Scapegoat, recently translated in English, captures the political adventure of Greece and the way the country’s difficult past is represented in contemporary Greek literature, drawing interesting correlations to the present. She also explains the impact her fight with cancer had on words, in the way she “perceives and names things”, while commenting on the general trend towards a more realistic approach in literature.

In her capacity as teacher, she talks about the role and prospects of the Greek educational system, noting that young people should be taught that reading literature can be ‘a gratifying experience’. “From the moment you get acquainted with intellectual pleasure, there is no way back. And as you know, when you breathe through art, you don’t age easily. You continue to have that creative mood regardless of age and problems. And this amounts to the greatest gift”.

The Scapegoat – recently translated in English – delves into Modern Greek political history, bringing together the Greece of the post-World War II era with the Greece of today, a country facing dangerous times once again. Tell us a few things about the book.

The Scapegoat is the second part of a trilogy about the adventure of a city (Thessaloniki), a country (Greece), an era (20th-21st centuries). It unfolds two narrative threads in two different historical periods (a now 2010-11 and a then 1948-49), which intertwine in the end.

a. 1948-49: WW2 has ended, around the world. However, fighting continues in Greece. The Greek Civil War (1946-1949) was bloody and ferocious. In May 1948, the body of an American journalist was found floating in the bay of Thessaloniki – that of renowned CBS reporter George Polk (journalism’s prestigious Polk Awards are named after him), who had been investigating embezzlement of U.S. aid by the right-wing Greek government. Polk didn’t know how to keep his mouth shut, and during that period of tension, silence was considered a real virtue in Greece. Nobody spoke out loud about the terrible things happening, including the killings of innocent people, blood and corpses in the streets. According to Polk, US dollars of the Marshall plan were travelling abroad hidden in travel bags. They were credited to Greek politicians’ accounts and not used to help the destroyed country.


The Foreign Office didn’t like Polk either. He was messing British political plans in Greece. The timing of the murder was really bad. The country was at civil war, the British and the Americans were trying to increase their political influence in Greece, and the country needed money to make ends meet. The US media was crying out that money was being donated to help Greeks and they in return killed a young American man. State officials demanded that the Greek government find and punish the killer immediately. They came to Greece to supervise the interrogation. The Greek government wanted to close the case and placate their allies, and, in case they didn’t find someone to blame, they could still accuse an innocent.

Grigoris Staktopoulos was a Greek reporter. In my novel his name was changed into Gris – that sounds like the name of Greece and holds the grey scale color of his surname in the Greek language. Gris was walking in the grey zone of history: for some he was a communist, for others an anti-communist; he cooperated with all Greek papers no matter what ideology they carried, in order to earn money to support his family. Although there was no evidence of his guilt, he was an easy target for the government. All the other suspects had somebody to help them. Staktopoulos was alone: he had no powerful friends. His confession was signed after brutal torture.

You never know what will turn on the lights in an author’s mind. What provides the intellectual fuel for writing a novel. I started studying the Polk case – the Staktopoulos case, as I called it, because the great issue for me was how we administer justice in a country that is a toy in the hands of great powers. It could have happened to anybody. You’re waiting for your bus, a policeman says to you “follow me, it’ about a case of yours”, you go to the police station and you return home 12 years later. It could happen to anybody. It could happen to you, it could happen to the person who is sitting next to you. It’s not you who decide. Life does. It’s a matter of historical or geographic timing – maybe a matter of misfortune.

b. 2010-2011 (Greek crisis): a rebellious young high school student is given an assignment for a school project: find the truth. He begins to make a series of discoveries – about history, love, justice, truth, sacrifice and how the past is always with us.

I was really interested in putting together two different ages of Modern Greek history. I wanted to capture the historical adventure of my country. Some things change, because circumstances around us have changed as well. Other things remain hidden and unpunished – they poison everything. Some are carried from one generation to the next. We think that we have left our past behind. Alas, we always find it ahead.


In The Scapegoat major questions arise, while times are changing and one generation passes on the torch to the other: What happens to a country where silence is hereditary, like genetic material? What would have happened, if Greek politicians had more backbone and the great powers less of a tendency to impose their will? What happens if someone avoids the lesser of two evils, but never aims for the best? Does the past teach us lessons? Is passivity in the face of injustice a crime? Why is it so difficult to teach a smart kid?

In his review for The Scapegoat, Theo Leanse commented that “the picture of generations-old moral compromise in a Greece belittled by foreign interest cuts close to the bone”. How is Greece’s difficult past represented and interpreted in contemporary Greek literature? Are there interesting correlations to the present?

Modern Greek History has everything: civil war, innocent blood, foreign power interference, intrigue. That’s why so many Greek novels focus on our historical wounds.

The American title of my novel (The Scapegoat) underlines the connection between the two eras (a now 2010-11 and a then 1948-49). Karen Emmerich says in her Note from the Translator: “In putting the story of Manolis Gris alongside the current crisis in Greece, Nikolaidou implicitly argues that the injustices of the past are still with us, and that scapegoating of all kinds – of political opponents, of immigrants, of the youth who will bear the brunt of the current financial crisis, even of Greece itself within the European Union – pervades the current moment” (p.241).

She couldn’t have said it better. I believe that the parallels between the civil war period in Greece and the current situation in my country are simple: Both then and today basic political decisions are taken somewhere else. It’s a bit like a game of chess or monopoly. Some are playing the game, miles away from Greece, and their moves determine everything in the country. Thus: Are money and influence –that is, everything- at stake? That’s the question.

When life takes the lead, literature remains silent […]With cancer I did what I know best: I sat opposite him, looked him in the eyes, put him into words and then moved forward”. How did you decide to turn your fight with cancer into a book? Has this experience turned you into a different person or even a different writer?


The day I was diagnosed with cancer, I remember myself returning home on foot. I was walking on the beach with the results in my hands and a light breeze on my face. I was crying and the tears were drying on my cheeks. And at that moment I found myself thinking: this could become a good book. It may should childish but that thought felt quite comforting. So I started to write So Far So Good. The chronicle of cancer in my breast is a health diary; written in the heat of the moment, day to day. It captures events, thoughts, and feelings from the moment I was diagnosed to the last chemotherapy. In more cinematic terms, I would say that this is my own documentary. A book I wrote with my body. Literally.

As for the disease, of course it changed me. When you have walked through the dark, light can be so glaring and self-fulfilling. When dilemmas come down to yes-no, life-death, you cease to be bothered with trivial things. You get rid of unnecessary burdens. You learn to live for the moment. You make no long-term plans.

And this, I believe, has an impact on words; in the way one perceives and names things. It changes the author’s perspective. Because words may be good and fiction quite entertaining, but what happens when one is in pain? Can words cling on things, name the ineffable and comfort? Can they help us get by in difficulties? In my case they did. And this is no mean feat.

There seems to be a general trend away from fantasy and towards a more realistic approach in literature, with more and more writers incorporating autobiographical elements or testimonies in their books. How is this trend to be explained?

Writers have always incorporated autobiographical elements in their fiction (quite evident in some cases or so disguised in others that they go unnoticed). Since Truman Capote recording reality - either as a narration that incorporates autobiographical elements or as a testimony – has been not just a kind of literary gymnastics but a different way of viewing the world. At times, the pretext “let me tell you a real story” is used, while at others there is the reading bait saying “I have lived this story”. What is certain however is that - whether biographical, autobiographical or historically recorded - an event which is turned into a narration ceases to focus on truth and rather relies on plausibility; and this is what literature has been after since ancient times. After all, memory itself (whether personal, historical or collective) has been a ‘contraption’ that offers meaning to what - often incomprehensible - we experience, hear or see.


If parents do not read books, if teachers do not love literature, if most people believe that reading is a luxury activity rather than a human need, why should children think different?’ What is the ‘key’ for young people to turn to literature? What future lies ahead for the ‘traditional’ book in a highly digital era?

Your question is the first question parents usually ask a teacher – the same parents that either for work or for pleasure spend their whole day in front of a computer J. I don’t have all the answers or a magic wand. What I try to do at school – not for repute or out of a learning desire but because of a deep conviction of mine – is to try to show children that reading literature can actually be a gratifying experience. Of course literature stands for many more things: it constitutes the deepest human learning experience. Literature offers us the chance to live not just our own life but a thousand more. It opens up our senses in unexpected ways, while it broadens our perception of the world. For me, things are simple: in case you want more joy in your life or you want to feel and think in the deepest way possible, you incorporate art (not just literature) in your daily life. From the moment you get acquainted with intellectual pleasure, there is no way back. And as you know, when you breathe through art, you don’t age easily. You continue to have that creative mood regardless of age and problems. And this amounts to the greatest gift.

As for technology, you are asking the wrong person: I am a gadget lover. I don’t believe that paper is what is to be saved. The technological revolution is mutatis mutandis of the same (cosmogonic) importance as the revolution of typography. The use of computers and the internet have affected writing and reading in sweeping ways, which is not necessarily bad. Imagine what writing might have meant for the great novelists of the 19th century and the way the use of technology affects the constructive part of literature today in the big hybrid compositions and the narrative montage. We write and read literature in a different way from those writing with pen on paper. I don’t belong to those who are grieving for what is lost. From caves to Facebook, there is a dimension of literature that cannot be lost. It’s what grandmothers use to say “come close, my child, I have a story to tell you”.  


How is history taught and written? How can the rise of the far-Right, especially among young people, be explained and fought against? What about the role of the Greek educational system?

History is a narration, so – whether consciously or not – it is written in narrative terms: someone just decides the beginning, the middle and the end; he chooses the protagonists and the events that he wants to incorporate in his narrative plot. Thus what we consider an “objective History” is yet another construction, obeying its respective terms and conditions.

As for the rise of the far-Right, I see it at school, its penetration among young people is quite strong. There is a reason why and it doesn’t just relate to Greece. When the world turns upside down – and we are actually living in turbulent times, when what we regarded as stable and eternal is overturned – the first instinctive reaction is denial: we refuse to acknowledge that there is a new reality, we come together in what we know and we develop an aversion to what is different or unfamiliar. We opt for destruction instead of creation. What is even more dangerous is the discrediting of institutions: “everybody does it, so I’ll do it myself”, “they are all the same”, “there is no salvation, so let’s burn everything down”.


The educational system and the health system are the first victims in times of crisis. Given that I know them quite well – the former as my working environment and the latter due to my treatment for cancer – I am of the opinion that their non-collapse to this moment is due to the self-sacrifice of employees, doctors and teachers. I know it’s easier to just denounce evil: the doctor who is bribed, the teacher who delivers private lessons and is indifferent to his students at school; yet the silent majority is that which keeps schools and hospitals alive at the moment. The educational system – that faceless thing we call educational system – doesn’t refer to school walls and curriculums. It refers to students and teachers. What the school should do is to try to awaken children’s minds. To provide stimuli. To hear what they have to say. To pose questions. I don’t know if it “raises awareness”. What is certain is that students spend half their day at school. Thus, they should be taught not only infinitives and equations, but to discuss what happens around them. To sit before teachers who won’t try to patronize or indoctrinate them into their own beliefs, but who will be in position to provide them with the cognitive tools to help them form their own personality in conditions of freedom. If that’s not a democracy lesson, I don’t know what is.


*Interview by Athina Rossoglou

Amanda Michalopoulou was born in Athens in 1966. She is the author of six novels – God’s wife (2014), How to hide (2010), Why I killed my best friend (2003), Paliokairos (2001), As often as you can bear it (1998), Yantes (1996) – three short story collections – Shining Day (2012), I’d like (2005), Life is colorful out there (1994) – and a series of children’s books. Her stories have appeared in Harvard Review, Guernica, PEN magazine, World Literature Today, Words Without Borders, Asymptote, The Guardian among others.

amanda intro

One of Greece’s leading contemporary writers, Michalopoulou has won the country’s highest literary awards, including the Revmata Prize (1994), the Diavazo Award for her novel Yantes (1996) and the Athens Academy Prize for her short story collection Shining Day (2013). Her short-story collection, I’d Like, was longlisted for the Best Translated Book Award by the University of Rochester, USA. Her novel Why I Killed My Best Friend was published in English by Open Letter in 2014. Her books have been translated in twelve languages.

Amanda Michalopoulou spoke to Reading Greece* about how her writing evolved during the years, literature’s ‘innate quest for form’ and non-linearity in a post-modern era, the way ‘psychogeography’ plays into her writing and how ‘what is embedded in our life is also embedded in our fiction’. She also comments that in order to “grasp the human soul, the Greekness of the experience, we’d better aim to the universal feeling of what it means to be in crisis, in pain, or at a loss” and how the current crisis may act as “a big opportunity of self- and social exploration and revaluation”.

It’s been twenty years since your first novel Yantes, while your work also includes short stories and children’s books. How would you characterize your writing career so far? How has your writing evolved during the years?

As we evolve in life our writing changes too. It happens to everybody. In my case I feel writing has been less sarcastic with time, I probably lost the audacity of my youth and replaced it with other values. I am less cruel with my characters and it is difficult for me to describe violence. I guess there is so much violence around that I want my writing to be a sanctuary. People hurt themselves of course in my fiction and they hurt others but I am more compassionate with them, hopefully in life too. We bring to the writing, in a fictionalized process, themes and ideas that are important to us. As for me I try to be more to the point, focus to the story, exclude what doesn’t belong to it naturally.

Non linearity2

…There isn’t such a thing as a linear life anymore, and fiction always imitates life…”. Would you say that your novels fit in the category of metafiction? Is non-linearity a technique best suited to the particularities of a post-modern era?

I feel every book dictates the way it would be written, in stylistic terms also. If I start with an idea like “I am a metafictional writer” then I don’t respond to the inner life of the work, I just make judgments and try to respond to them, and consequently I block the creative energy of what is to be written. And I have done this a lot in the past! Writers write a book to find out what will happen next and in this they remind us of the reader’s procedure, this unsure step towards an unknown text, when you start reading a book, like walking on a path that someone else has dug for you and which is not always obvious.

Now about linearity; I believe that we are not living the way mankind used to live, finish something and then start something else. You open a link in a text that leads you to another link and then you don’t remember how it all started. Like free association of ideas. This can be enriching but it can also be an obstacle to thought and to responding to life with alertness and mindfulness. It is always interesting to see how literature responds to this innate quests of form. I am thinking about Borges and Bioy Casares, about Cortasar and Italo Calvino and Clarisse Lispector, some of my favorite writers who dealt innovatively with questions of time and space and form. I follow their example.

You have said that almost all of your books are finished or, at the very least, written partly outside of Greece. Does ‘psychogeography’ play heavily into your writing process? How does the theme of displacement functions in your work?

Displacement in space creates also a psychological displacement, like if you look at yourself from above or behind. This is what I look forward when I write. Not to think about others, about what they would think about me. Be in a neutral environment where I can research again what it means to be human and how to function in the world. When it happens it is pure creation, from the deepest source of creativity, from our inner hidden landscape of ideas and wishes. Of course the most mature way is to achieve this wherever you are, to feel free even in your small flat, in your neighborhood. I am not there yet.

Do you feel that your writing has a Greek or a Mediterranean aspect to it or that you belong to a national literature? What do you consider to be the appeal of Greek writers abroad?

I don’t believe in national literature. I don’t read Kafka because of his nationality but because of what he brought to the exploration of the human fear and loneliness. Some writers write about a specific island or town, I have done that too, but if you write trying to sell your country, the Greek salad that your characters are eating, then it is forced and not authentic. I think Elena Ferrante is so much appreciated not because of what she writes about life in Italy in the 50s and Mafia and poverty, evocating the life of the South, but because of the way she writes. The style makes the issue bright or dull. Same with Kazantzakis or Elytis. Same with amazing writers and poets of today like Ersi Sotiropoulou, or Dionysis Kapsalis. If we want to find out what happens in Greece we can read the news. But to grasp the human soul, the greekness of the experience we’d better aim to the universal feeling of what it means to be in crisis, in pain, or at a loss.


When I think of Athens, my mind always goes to Exarchia […] I may live in the suburbs now, but to write I book, I always go to my small office in the city center, where the Athenian life really takes place […] Sometimes I feel ashamed to witness despair from a distance, but that’s my job”. How has the current socio-economic crisis been embedded in your books?

What is embedded in our life is embedded in our fiction, not always in obvious, pragmatic ways. I wrote a short story collection, “Bright Day”, about people who miss something, who have an experience of loss. I invoke the crisis, but not as a journalist. This would be an article then, not fiction. I also wrote a novel in 2014, “God’s wife”, about how the wife of God questions Creation. This would seem irrelevant but it isn’t. This is what every Greek went through the last couple of years; they questioned their existence. If you break the ice of surface and go deeper very strange questions and stories come around. Crisis is ultimately existential.

You have recently written a number of articles for 'Tagesspiegel' commenting, among others, on current developments in Greece. Where is our country heading to? What is to be expected at a cultural and intellectual level?

I honestly don’t know. What history has taught us is that life goes on in circles. This is a big wave now and it will probably calm down at a certain point, only to come up again later in history. Most important is how these waves are received, what they teach us about survival. And also about ambition, corruption, honesty and responsibility. If we get out of this crisis wiser, then it is a big opportunity of self- and social exploration and revaluation.

Now about writing at Tagesspiegel; it is difficult to write about your country and keep a healthy balance. Not being too judgmental but still giving some honest information and also provide what is most difficult, an explication about why Greeks are the way they are and how politics and social institutions shaped their experience and their lives. I am grateful I was given this opportunity to write as Greek and as European and explore in written form what it means to be Greek today.


*Interview by Athina Rossoglou


Despina Lalaki is a sociologist who works in the areas of historical and cultural sociology, social theory and Modern Greek Studies. She is particularly interested in long-term social and cultural changes, the changing modes of consciousness, the history of the state and its ideological and cultural foundations, the role of the intellectuals. Parts of her research results have been published in The Journal of Historical Sociology and in Hesperia, The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens.

Despina Lalaki received her Ph.D. in Comparative Historical Sociology from The New School University in New York. She has also studied History of Art and Architecture at SUNY-Binghamton University and Archaeology and Art History at the University of Athens, Greece. She has taught at New York University and the A.S. Onassis Program in Hellenic Studies. She currently teaches at CUNY-The New York City College of Technology.

She also writes for newspapers and magazines and contributes commentary to radio, TV programs and social media on current developments in Greece (Greece in Crisis: An Interview with Despina Lalaki- Boston Occupier, The Greek crisis as racketeering-Al Jazeera).

Despina Lalaki spoke with Rethinking Greece* about the image of antiquity in the Greek national narrative and identity, Greek archaeology and the idea of Hellas, the transformations the notion of Hellenism underwent during the twentieth century, the cross-cultural fertilization between Greece and the United States, Hellenism vis-à-vis modernization and cold war politics, Greece’s international image campaigns and heritage industry, the “cradle of democracy” as post WWII American and European  construct, as well as the political imperative for social sciences to offer critical and practical reappraisal of the EU center-periphery relationship.

Archaeological discourse seems to hold a central place in the Greek national narrative and identity. In what terms can/should archaeologists and social scientists review such issues in the current context?

Nations are made of the stuff that archaeology produces. Archaeology itself would look very different, had it not been born in the age of nationalism. After having for a long time been considered an aid-science to history, archeology was quickly incorporated in the national agenda in search of origins; ethnic and racial groups were believed to be associated with specific material cultures. In the case of Greece, archaeology provided the material evidences, the histories and genealogies that connected the Modern Greek state with a past already sanctified in the political and cultural imagination of the West. Most importantly, it helped to create a unified and unifying symbolic language that was terribly important for the cultural integration of the modern nation-state and the formation of a national identity. Upon the destruction of older social structures, classical antiquity -with the help of archaeology- provided the necessary means for national integration, through the creation of a new type of consciousness.

The Modern Greek state, not unlike other nation-states, found in culture a way to establish the loyalty and cooperation of the new political entity’s members. As Hobsbawm has suggested, it was in connection with the emergence of mass politics that rulers and middle-class observers rediscovered the importance of “irrational” elements in the life of human collectivities, in order to maintain the social fabric and the social order. In this top-down process, which worked well beyond merely enabling political consolidation and domination, archaeologists played a decisive role in articulating an image of antiquity that is so central to the subjective idea of the nation. What we could identify as “professional” and “policy archaeology” worked hand in hand with the Modern Greek state to develop a body of knowledge and public policies that sanctified classical antiquity – often to the detriment of other periods. They promoted a Helleno-centric reading of Modern Greek history, while sharing in western discourses about the preeminence of western civilization. I think it is important that social scientists and archaeologists engage with what we could call “critical” and what is known as “public archaeology,” if we are interested in re-examining the foundational premises of our fields of knowledge, while also engaging with a broader audience. It is my belief that the democratization of knowledge on the field can only come about through an intense dialogue among these various aspects of archaeological labor. Certainly, archaeology in Greece has been slowly opening up to various critical approaches. Institutional efforts such as the Archaeological Dialogues - an initiative by Professor Yannis Hamilakis - that have already been warmly embraced by the academic community but also the general public, constitute a move in such a direction.

pericles3How has the notion of Hellenism been defined in the 18th / 19st centuries? Which were the historical circumstances that made it necessary and to which political needs did it respond? What was the role of archaeology in its shaping?

Historical trajectories and origins matter. The continental beginnings of Greek archaeology had their roots in Hellenism – this convoluted set of meanings and symbolic codes which allude to the importance of ancient heritage for western civilization. Born at the intersection of Enlightenment, Romanticism and the Philhellenic frenzy of the early 19th century, Hellenism largely expressed European fantasies about the revival of Classical Greece through a national liberation movement. It provided Greek archaeology with a horizon of affect and meaning, the cultural landscape against which institutions and individual actions are shaped and from which they draw their significance. Antiquities provided the ‘hard evidence’ and material expression of the European nostalgia for an idealized past, emancipated from the Roman and Catholic traditions and ample of symbolisms for their ideological struggles against the old regime of ecclesiastical and secular authority. Subsequently, the modern Greek state, established in 1830, fully engaged in the institutionalization of archaeological practices and appropriated Hellenism to articulate a modern Greek identity as the progenitor of western civilization, while rupturing ties with its Ottoman past and hesitantly fitting the Byzantine Orthodox tradition into a linear national narrative.

Critical approaches to the history of Greek archaeology (rooted in multiple intellectual traditions such as post-structuralism, Marxism and critical theory, and the sociology of scientific knowledge) have largely sought to understand it as reflection and mediation of larger sociopolitical interests and ideologies, its results often harnessed for identifiable political ends. Yet, it is important not to reduce Greek archaeology to the mirror image of these interests and ideologies. Furthermore, provided the history of the field, one can go beyond the nation and national ideologies as the starting point of analysis. I favor an approach that prioritizes civilization as a historical and analytical category that focuses on the interplay between various national institutions and agents in the field, its relational dynamics and the shifting networks of interdependent actors and institutions. Following agents of the field around, trying to establish causal relations, and recreating the historical record, but also understanding the meanings and ideas produced as a result of ongoing struggles and interactions, may better help us to account for the full spectrum of debates taking place over long periods of time or archeology´s impact on the configuration of larger cultural ‘products,’ such as that of western civilization.

Did the notion of Hellenism remain analytically relevant in the twentieth century? How were post-war American visions of development and modernization related to Modern Greek imaginaries? What has been the role of the Greek-American Diaspora in that context?

The social history of Hellenism, while significantly transformed, continued to unravel well beyond the nineteenth century in the intersection of state-building, trans-national politics and market networks. It is important to remember that state-building in Greece has never been a Greek matter alone, since the Greek cultural heritage continues to be of great symbolic, political as well as economic significance. During the last century the idea of Hellas changed from being employed as a critique of the effects of modern civilization – primarily informed by German visions of self-improvement, disinterested Wissenschaft and cultural reform – to an expression of instrumental rationality, cultural commodification and liberal democracy. Post World War I aspirations, for instance, of an international civil society expanding through the means of culture and the free market, as conceived by influential parts of American society, made considerable inroads in Greece, building upon the tremendous symbolic capital of antiquity.

Beyond the influences in popular culture we have paid very little, if any, attention to the processes of trans-valuation and cross-cultural fertilization between Greece and the United States, despite the prominent role the latter has had in the most recent political and social history of the country. The interest that the United States has taken in Greece, especially following World War II, has not been solely on the level of “high politics” or economics, because the idea of Hellas has had a strong hold on the relationship between the two states. In post war Greece, the American policies of economic liberalism and social democracy – a kind of New Deal world policy – for full employment, modernization of ruined economies, and communist containment invested symbolically as well as in economic terms in Hellenism, while radically transforming it in the process. The rationalization and promotion of the ancient cultural heritage, primarily via tourism, was meant to lead to economic and consequently political stability, modernization and therefore the elimination of the communist threat. Hellenism, well removed from the romantic visions of the nineteenth century, was now reimagined in very pragmatic terms as the country’s propeller into the future.

The work of American educational and research institutions, cultural foundations, philanthropic agencies and organizations in Greece has been greatly understudied. During the war, complex networks of scholars and academics, administrators, and old as well as emerging economic and cultural elites – including the Greek-American diaspora – emerged in response to the urgency of the times. Subsequently, these networks further expanded to assist with the reconstruction of the country and its ideological realignment. Institutions such as the American School of Classical Studies, for instance, which I have closely studied, and its staff of archaeologists became, rather inadvertently, central nodes in these networks, while the Greek-American diaspora, especially new wealth entrepreneurs, constituted almost a natural pool of resources. So, regarding the contribution of the Greek-American diaspora in the efforts for Greece’s post-war reconstruction there is still great room for in-depth research.


How did democracy become part of the “we images” and ‘‘we-feelings’ of the Modern Greek identity? How do they relate to American and European perceptions of democracy?

The cradle of democracy” – the way we perceive our identity as treasurers of western civilization’s political foundations – is largely a Cold War construct that carries the imprints of modernization theory and European hegemonic social hierarchies. Most importantly, a whole set of ideas associated with this construct, conditions and constrains our cultural dispositions and political imagination to this day.

The struggle for democracy defined the twentieth century; democratic frameworks were really secured only in the wake of the Second World War. Yet, there was nothing natural or inevitable about democracy in Europe, or anywhere else for that matter, as Geoff Eley explains. It did require conflict and violent confrontations. It was not the result of a natural process or economic prosperity, nor the inevitable byproduct of individualism or the market. It was rather the outcome of collective and mass mobilizations on a trans-national scale. In Greece, however, there was something inevitable about democracy. The British military intervention against the National Liberation Front, (EAM), in favor of the old regime, the subsequent heavy-handed American political and economic interference and, later on, the admittance into the European family were events directly related to broader socioeconomic and geopolitical configurations which, however, carried a strong ideological imprint; the cradle of western civilization and democracy could not be abandoned to communism or the influence of a semi-European culture.

While self-determination and equality were the basis of the republican strand of Greek nationalism, democracy nevertheless was not prominently featured in the state’s representational agenda until after the end of the Second World War, when the struggle between the old political establishment and the communist insurgency was still raging. The term of Democracy itself, a rather empty signifier at the time, became a rallying cry against communism and the Left more broadly. In the process, Hellenism was further employed to shape new ontological and epistemological distinctions between the Democratic West and the Communist East, normalizing the postwar political and economic status quo and offering legitimacy, first to American hegemony and later on, to the European integration project.

eot5It seems that Greece’s international tourism and heritage industry as well as its international image campaigns have largely been based on Ancient Greece. Which are the underlying ideological parameters?

The image of Greece as the cradle of Western civilization and democracy was consolidated not at the excavation site, the museum, or even the lecture hall, but in the tourist campaigns of the Greek Organization of Tourism (EOT), in the brochures and advertisements of travel agencies, and on the Hollywood big screen. Tourism, as a mechanism of representation, has had a profound effect on the process of objectification of national collective consciousness.

Tourism can be defined as a particular species of industry which, more than any other form of capitalist industry, sells not only commodities, but also worlds of meaning and experience, marketed so as to create very specific and at the same time, highly idealized representations of places, cultures, nature and people.  The ideological power of such an agency was early on identified by Ioannis Metaxas, who placed the post of Undersecretary of Press and Tourism under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. EOT, established later on, could be identified as one of the most powerful agents in the construction of national identity in the postwar Greece. Until the 1980s, Greece was primarily marketed to the American consumers, initially as the ‘cradle of Western civilization,’ placing emphasis on its ancient cultural heritage and increasingly as a summer vacation destination and a retreat from the hustle and bustle of modern civilization. As soon as the two oil crises had run their course and European consumers gained buying power, Greece, the ‘cultural park of Europe’ as UNESCO would describe the country, would start targeting the European market for consumers. “Greece – The Europeans’ European Vacation,” as EOT advertised in 1988, was marketed as the preferred choice by smart travelers, while gradually shifting from a mass tourism policy to a more locally-integrated and less invasive tourist development model.

Tourism is a way of representing the world not merely to others but to ourselves as well. Time and again Greece has been promoted as the destination where cultural sophistication meets a landscape untouched by modernization, the land where Western civilization took its first steps and the inhabitants maintain something of a more carefree and simple past. Either directly and programmatically through assertion, or indirectly by implication, we have been reproducing -and in the process internalizing- narratives that date back to the nineteenth century, while suffering the effects of the tension between the much celebrated ancient ancestors and the indolent descendants.

cropped cropped imperial federation map of the world7According to some scholars, the current crisis revealed Europe’s ‘crypto-colonialist’ traits. What can social sciences do for a critical / practical reappraisal of the relation between European core and European periphery?

These scholars, notably anthropologist Michael Herzfeld, who first introduced the term, correctly suggest that massive economic dependence has curtailed the political independence of the Modern Greek state from its inception. Modern Greek national culture was also largely fashioned along the lines of western fantasies and expectations, rendering Modern Greeks wanting in the process. In nineteenth century terms, one could describe this relationship as “crypto-colonialist.” At this historical junction, however, I think it is important to talk about neoliberalism as opposed to colonialism, or even crypto-colonialism, if we wish to better understand the evolution of the European project during the last thirty years or so. Despite the constitutive role of colonialism in the development of mechanisms that supported global capitalism, colonialism and neoliberal capitalism are politically distinct projects with significantly different characteristics.

The current crisis laid bare the anti-democratic foundations of the European Union, its anti-internationalism, racism and imperial nostalgia. What is also important to note, is that the inability to perceive alternative modes of political and social organization beyond the onslaughts of neoliberalism under the mantle of European integration, is intrinsically connected and closely intertwined with identities that are far from being as immanent or as primordial as they appear. They are, instead, socially and historically grounded on configurations and events following the Second World War; they constitute responses to the European Cold War order, fierce anti-communism, transatlantic militarism and free market economy – albeit moderated by a welfare state, destined to succumb to the onslaughts of neoliberal capitalism. Austerity Europe would not have been possible without a set of narratives capitalizing on misrecognized cultural cleavages between the European North and South and invented, long internalized genealogies. In the case of Greece, the charter myth of Hellenism has been re-deployed as a legitimizing ideology for the bourgeois Greek state as well as the western European establishment steering, once again, Greek democracy’s course. 

The political imperative for social sciences to offer critical, but also practical reappraisal of the EU center-periphery relationship, differs for each scholarly field. Specifically for comparative historical sociology, the perspective from which I talk, I argue that the imperative is not to provide direct answers to private or state-administrative queries related to the crisis, but analyses rich-in-detail and interpretation, causal explanations from a macro point of view as well as parallel investigations and comparisons. If the objective is to intervene and fight the crisis that appears to disrupt long established social structures, institutions and organizations, or to change those structures, it is imperative that we have a deeper understanding of the complex social processes in which this crisis is embedded. Historical sociology is ideally positioned to seek causal relationships behind important social phenomena or to provide explanation regarding issues such as the democratic deficit of the European Union, the rise or decline of labor organizing or the social origins of fascism, for instance. In the process, engagement with various perspectives in the European periphery, might lead to methodological innovation and a historical sociology that is both richer in theory and empirical evidence.

It is, of course, the case that offering in-depth objective historical and sociological research and analysis may not be sufficient, if social change is to be a part of social sciences’ objective. It is important, I think, that we carefully reconsider our relations to the centers of power, as well as what our audiences are. We should bear in mind that our scholarly practices have a strong social dimension, while our scholarly work is accountable not only to peer review but also to the publics it serves.

*Interview by Nikolas Nenedakis and Athina Rossoglou 

Watch Despina Lalaki talk at Brown University / Watson Institute Conference (Crash Culture: Humanities Engagements with Economic Crisis, April 2016 - from: 00:58:30):



anagn10Yiorgos Anagnostou is Professor of Modern Greek and American ethnic studies at the Ohio State University. He has published widely on ethnicity and immigration in various scholarly disciplines, including ethnography, folklore, sociology, and diaspora and cultural studies. His latest books and papers include “Contours of White Ethnicity Popular Ethnography and the Making of Usable Pasts in Greek America” (2009), “Διασπορικές Διαδρομές” (Poetry in Greek, 2012), “Re/collecting Greek America: Reflections on Ethnic Struggle, Success and Survival” (Journal of Modern Hellenism, 2015), and «Λόγοι Χ Επαφής, Επιστολές εξ Αμερικής» (Poetry in Greek, 2016).
Professor Anagnostou regularly writes in his personal blogs “Immigrations–Ethnicities–Racial Situations” and  “Διασπορική Σκοπιά“ (in Greek) about Greek American Studies, Transnational Greek Worlds, Greek-American literature, and poetry.
Professor Anagnostou spoke with Rethiniking Greece* about the need for empowering Greek American Studies; third-generation Greek America and their “struggle and success” narrative; the encounter of Greek immigrants with U.S. racial hierarchies; American Hellenic identity and various interpretations of classical Greece; and finally the hybridity/syncretism element of the diasporic experience and how it relates to what scholars in Modern Greek studies propose as a fruitful concept through which to understand Modern Greece. 
anagn14You have made the case for the development of Greek American studies as a distinct academic field. Why study Greek America? How can this field contribute to discussions about ethnicity and Diaspora? 
First and foremost, it’s necessary to discuss the significance of Greek American studies in relation to the power structures of the academy. The field generates knowledge about the history and cultures of Greek America, a subject matter whose value is belittled or even utterly dismissed by certain disciplines. For instance, it’s not uncommon for some sociologists in the United States to speak of the assimilation - and therefore somehow cultural irrelevance - of European Americans. Or in contrast, if scholars of ethnic and racial studies happen to display an interest in this subject, it tends to focus on the ways immigrants from Europe and their offspring contribute to structures of racial oppression. Yet work produced in a spectrum of genres, from autobiography to fiction, from poetry to film to community activism, not only introduces unique Greek American narratives, signaling a sort of cultural vitality, but many of these narratives also specifically critique and challenge racial hierarchies within American society.
All-in-all there is a shortage of currency for Greek American studies in the academic marketplace, both in the United States and Europe. As I have written elsewhere, Greek America is neither exotic nor culturally thick enough for anthropology; it is too cultureless or anti-minority for ethnic studies; not multilayered enough for literary studies (unless a Pulitzer prize turns it into American literature); not textured enough for film studies; not adequately victimized for academic multiculturalism. For these reasons it has only been allotted a narrow space within the University, endangered now in an environment of fiscal constraints.
Safeguarding an institutional space and devising strategies to empower this field is therefore vital. Without Greek American studies, who will place Greek America at the center of research projects? Who will illuminate it using angles that established disciplines overlook? The field, engaging critical debates and versed in “scholarly imagination,” has much to contribute to work concerning diasporic identity, postethnicity, usable pasts, translingualism, citizenship, and cultural syncretism, among other topics.
Also, in the context of the Greek debt crisis, dense flows of capital, expertise, and human resources continue to enrich the existing transnational terrain comprised of the United States, Greek America, and Greece. Greek American studies is positioned to contribute to the understanding of this phenomenon.
There is also the question of the links between Greek American and Modern Greek studies. Because of the transatlantic dimensions of its subject matter the former field presses for the transnational orientation of the latter; Modern Greece cannot be understood in disconnection from Greek America. Their transnational interconnections include regional societies, remittances, humanitarian relief at times of crisis, heritage tourism, political advocacy, US Modern Greek studies programs, film production, poetry written in the US in Greek and poetry written in Greece in English, academic collaborations, and economic partnerships. In addition, there have been several examples where fiction and photography intertwine American and Greek literary and visual perspectives respectively. This framework of course should also include wider US–Greece linkages. For this reason, Greek American studies shifts the scope of Modern Greek studies from nation-centric to transnational. In the United States, the call to transnationalism brings the two fields under the common academic rubric of Modern Greek programs, which, given the realities of the academic marketplace, enables a strategic coexistence. This alignment eschews further fragmentation, a necessity given the already limited human and institutional resources. The dwindling of academic spaces for practicing Greek American studies - the grave scarcity of jobs of Greek Americanists is ominous - magnifies the urgency to exclusively promote this field. It is in this context that I have made the case for endowing chairs or creating research institutes devoted to the study of Greek America, not unlike what Italian Americanists have admirably accomplished in their respective field. 
amstportDo third-generation Greek Americans still have a distinct ethnic identity? What does being Greek American mean nowadays?
Our understanding of third-generation Greek America is rather skewed and certainly limited. Sociologists have mostly documented rates of language loss and Greek cultural attenuation while registering, however, the persistence of Greek identity. But it is necessary to explore this identity beyond approaches that measure it in relation to generational distance from the immigrant culture. The youth population reinvents identity in unexpected ways, including use of satire and irony. It combines and recombines cultural forms, vehemently rejecting certain immigrant pasts, parodying some, creatively appropriating others. The complexity of these cross-fertilizations requires matching conceptual sophistication from those who undertake work on this topic, whether academics, authors, journalists, or filmmakers. It is encouraging that Greek and European foundations allot precious funds to writers for research on this topic; I had noticed a wave of support late in the first decade of 2000. We are still waiting for the results of these projects, and I want to assume that the delay in actual publications stems from a sense of critical responsibility from the part of grant recipients to portray the next generation as responsibly as possible. Time will tell.
Another interesting development is that a vast institutional investment has been put in place to promote and shape Greek American identity among the new generation, connecting Greek American political and cultural figures with Greek American youth. The project, parts of it available online, documents narratives of identity; it links entrepreneurialism with heritage; it brings into the fore questions of leadership and cultural preservation; and it sponsors study abroad heritage programs in Greece. But it’s important to note that though the initiative is promising in many ways, it also regulates the boundaries of identity when it privileges certain versions of cultural expression and sidelines others. Many members of the Greek American community, young and old alike, for instance, contest overly idealistic or canonical representations of Greek America. The controversy over the MTV show “Growing up Greek” in particular alerts us to internal disagreement (within Greek America) over the meaning of this identity. Challenges to the scripted identity of the family-oriented, religion-centered youth are not uncommon. To return to your previous important question, if Greek American studies does not engage this immensely political cultural field, who will?
yayaYou have mentioned that “in addition to ethnicity, racial issues also shape Greek American lives.” Can you tell us more?
The United States’ history is racially charged, and it is impossible to extricate issues of difference, otherness, and assimilation from racial issues. We cannot speak of Greek America as a diaspora without examining the larger issues of belonging in the host society, in which race and ethnicity play a key role, not only historically but also in the present moment. Race therefore enters Greek America inescapably. Thanks to “whiteness studies,” a field of inquiry that examines the centrality of the social construction of race in the immigrants’ Americanization process, it is no longer viable to examine American ethnicities solely in terms of culture (values, beliefs, expressivity). Instead a key question is how and why immigrants from Europe largely aspired to or resisted “whiteness” - the power and privileges conferred to people ascribed as whites within a hierarchical system of racial classification. The encounter of Greek immigrants with U.S. racial hierarchies in the early twentieth century and the ensuing negotiations to enter, consent, turn a blind eye, or in some cases challenge whiteness speaks volumes about the importance of race in Greek American history. At stake in these negotiations were privileges associated with the right to citizenship, union membership, access to middle-class white neighborhoods as well as social networks of power, including intermarriage. Not many Greek American cultural producers - academics, filmmakers, journalists - venture to explore this politically loaded terrain.
The question of race must be raised because it speaks to how the social power of whiteness has shaped the experiences and histories of various people differently. To mention one example of race as a mechanism of differential exclusion, Asian Americans were granted naturalization rights - and the political power that derives from this legal status - decades after this privilege was granted to southeastern European immigrants. Understanding the disadvantages of non-whiteness is necessary to complicate the simple claim that all immigrant groups faced similar challenges and therefore their “struggles and successes” must be evaluated using similar criteria.
Enjoying the privileges of whiteness, Greek American lives today are largely unencumbered by discriminatory practices. They are spared, as a result, the emotional, psychological, and social burden associated with the microaggressions and often overt violence to which African Americans, for instance, are subjected daily. This privilege entangles Greek American lives with other people’s lives in an ethicopolitical manner. As citizens who have experienced stigmatization in the past, Greek Americans are more urgently obliged to take a stand on the problem of Black lives still being battered by racism. Making race a component of Greek American scholarship is one way to responsibly explain interracial issues. But this political territory remains under-researched. 
immigrants 1906It has been recently argued that the dominant “struggle and success” story for Greek Americans obscures other narratives that focus on class and gender. How can we re-conceptualize Greek American identity after these critical elaborations?
As a cultural myth, the idea that values of perseverance, endurance, and hard work (struggle) alone lead to socioeconomic mobility (success) permeates Greek American self-representation. The popular imagination commonly takes this truth as self-evident. Doesn’t it accurately reflect, many argue, real heroic sacrifices to realize a measure of middle-class comfort out of dire immigrant poverty? Canonical historiography organizes the telling of Greek American history accordingly. Cultural studies, however, interrogate this reasoning because of its ahistoricity, and its power toerroneously shape how the public understands poverty, particularly race-based poverty.
The narrative appears innocuous and is celebrated, but it in fact functions as a pernicious ideology. It hides the structures that prevent mobility (racism, class-specific unequal distribution of resources), and in doing so implicitly blames the poor for their own plight. In fact, as scholars show, this Horatio Alger story contributes to the power of whiteness by explaining poverty among people of color as a result of their (supposed) cultural deficiencies. Those who have failed to escape poverty, the reasoning goes, have only themselves to blame. When we elevate the model white ethnic American family as a success story we implicitly, without even mentioning other races, subordinate the poverty-stricken African American family, which is then seen as dysfunctional and pathological. Race appears invisible when in fact it imbues the narrative.
Bringing into focus how lack of mobility is a function of class inequality obviously challenges the myth of struggle and success. Expanding the analysis to include how gender and race intersect with class offers a richer understanding of the issue. Demonstrating how the struggle and success narrative works to injure vulnerable populations urgently calls for us to rethinking how to best represent Greek American identity in a politically responsible manner.
If the variables of class, gender, and race complicate the notion of “struggle” (who struggles, in what context, and under what conditions), the focus on gender has also been utilized to complicate the notion of “success.” The immigrant narrative of success as socioeconomic mobility is a male one. Women, in contrast, speak of success in terms of civic and community contributions, offering alternative ways to imagine citizenship. Re/collecting Greek American history along these lines, as I have recently written, will expand the ways in which we speak and practice Greek American identity and citizenship. 
How have American ideals related to ancient Greece become important in the formation of the Greek American identity?
The initial encounter of Greek immigrants with American modernity included the experience of this modernity’s embracing of Greek classical ideals. The recognition that the host society values a heritage so central to the Modern Greek identity provided a historical opportunity for the immigrants to claim a fundamental compatibility between Hellenism and Americanism. Thus the subsequent forging of an American Hellenic identity early in the twentieth century reconciled the two, advancing the claim of the fundamental Greek immigrant belonging in the United States at a time of rampant nativism that dismissed the Greeks as incompatible with the American polity. The classical past, in all its positive, erudite and prestigious associations, serves as invaluable cultural capital to Greek America and therefore an enduring core identity. What interests me about this question, though, goes beyond the classical past as a source of distinction and ethnic pride. Literature and film feature Greek American characters who draw from the classical heritage to position themselves against class exploitation and issues of social justice. This political reading of the classics is worth pursuing in scholarship to investigate how various interpretations of the classical may inspire citizenship as duties and obligations to a collective. This is a significant counter-narrative to the proliferating narratives that promote citizenship as personal fulfillment and entrepreneurialism.  
ohioHow do you understand “diaspora”? What is the place of hybridity in the diasporic experience? How can we rethink Greece, Greek America, and the transnational through diasporic hybridity?
The way we experience diaspora depends on a variety of factors: our larger communities, our socioeconomic status, our education, our ideology, and our interactions with members of different cultural backgrounds. But we are often in one place with an awareness, whether implicitly or explicitly, of the other. Some might speak about this position as “inhabiting two cultures”; of cultivating connections with the historical homeland while making a place for oneself in the host society.
This experience of relating to two places may bring about ambivalences, internal clashes, and cross-fertilizations. A diasporic perspective focuses attention on these tensions. It makes visible the process of negotiating two cultural affiliations, which often entails not only adherence to cultural intimacies but also cultural rejections, as well as selective retentions and the mixing of disparate elements. Intense cross-cultural contact, as I mentioned, is an integral component of the diasporic condition. It may entail playfulness and creativity, but it may also provoke anxiety and deplete vast energies. But it is productive, in the sense of making something anew and therefore opening ways of understanding and inhabiting the world differently.
The diasporic perspective probes us to reflect on situations wherein elements from two (or more) different cultures coexist. In this context I am very much interested in the question of agency: how one person or an institution grapples with this terrain to shape its expression, direction, and boundaries. This is a dynamic process and, I should add, a political one, always historically specific. Bringing two languages into tension with each other, as in a bilingual poem, for instance, may function as an adversary to narratives demanding linguistic or national purity or to ideas positing culture as a seamless whole. In hosting multiplicity simultaneously, the diasporic resonates with syncretism, the tense co-existence of disparate elements, a wider process that scholars in Modern Greek studies propose as a fruitful concept through which to understand Modern Greece. Some use syncretism and hybridity interchangeably but others object to this conflation.
It must be clear that understanding the diasporic in a syncretic manner decisively departs from the view of the diaspora as the organic extension of the nation. The latter is a nationalistic reading that homogenizes and biologizes diaspora as omogeneia. It obviously promotes sameness. It cancels out how the diasporic is dissimilar from the nation, and hides the internal heterogeneity of a diasporic collective. It also obliterates a diasporic subject’s possible multiple cultural affiliations and open-endedness.
It would be rewarding to reflect on your question by considering how the diasporic position could inflect our rethinking of Greece and Greek America. Let me preface my answer though and say that any conversation along these lines should take as its departure point the view of Greek America as a cultural formation in its own right, not as lesser Greek, not as non-authentic Greek. When Greek Americans in Greece display politeness in public, keep one’s place in the queue, and refrain from littering - and then expect the Greeks to do the same - they are often dismissed as paternalistic “Amerikanakia.” Working against narratives of purity, a diasporic position in Greece would have situated this Greek American civic ethos as an object of deliberation, of public conversation. Or even incorporate it as a component of the education curriculum to agonistically coexist with cultural forces that oppose it.
The diasporic perspective as syncretism is already present in Greek music, language, cuisine, literature, and the arts overall. The question of making the Greek diasporic central in the rethinking of Greece invites inquiry on the ways in which it operates and the ways it is expressed: where, and to what end. The way it specifically manifests itself in the arts, popular culture, and people’s lives, and who promotes its expression and, in turn, who opposes it. A public discussion on how these issues play out at an institutional level will be useful. How might the educational system, literature, the media, museums, and the academy imagine the circulation of the diasporic in Greece and Greek America? To what extent, for example, could a cultural history - or a genealogy - of Greek transnational literature, be incorporated into Greek and Greek American curricula? Transnational collaborations among authors, scholars, artists, and institutions offer a route to amplify the circulation of the diasporic perspective. This is a cultural project, raising the issue of institutions opening up to the idea of the diasporic, and as such, it presents itself as an agonistic terrain.
*Interview by Ioulia Livaditi  
Here's some songs from and a profile of Greek-American band Annabouboula taken from a BBC documentary made in the late 1980s, early 1990s on what various ethnic groups were up to musically in New York City at the time. The first song Annabouboula plays is the classic rembetika/Smyrnaic song Lily Skandalaria (Scandalous Lily), composed by Panayiotis Tountas and originally sung by Roza Eskenazy

Read also: Immigrations–Ethnicities–Racial Situations: Annabouboula and NYC's Greek Musical Scene

Stephanos Papadopoulos was born in North Carolina in 1976 and raised in Paris and Athens. He is the author of three books of poems : Lost Days, Hôtel-Dieu, and The Black Sea, as well as the editor and co-translator (with Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke) of Derek Walcott’s Selected Poems into Greek (Kastaniotis Editions, 2006). He was awarded a Civitella Ranieri Fellowship for The Black Sea and in 2014 he was awarded the Jeannette Haien Ballard Writer’s Prize selected by Mark Strand.


His poems and translations have appeared in journals such as The New Republic, The Yale Review, Poetry Review, Stand Magazine and he writes regularly for the Los Angeles Review of Books.  He has translated works of Greek poets, Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke, Yiannis Ritsos and Kostas Karyotakis among others.  His own work had been translated into Greek by Katerina Anghelaki–Rooke, Italian by Matteo Campagnoli and Spanish by Rodrigo Rojas.

Stephanos Papadopoulos spoke to Reading Greece* about his most recent collection The Black Sea, a long poem-cycle exploring the histroric “great catastrophe” of the Pontic Greeks of Asia Minor in the 1920s, “the human condition” as the inspiration behind his poems, how cosmopolitanism has affected his poetry and Athens “the place he calls home”. He also comments on the appeal of Greek poetry abroad, noting that “more should be done in Greece to promote young poets and encourage translation as well as something to counteract the dismal publishing scene for poets” and on how poetry influences the way Greece is perceived by foreign readers.

Your most recent collection The Black Sea – recently translated into Greek by Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke – is a long poem-cycle exploring the historic “great catastrophe” of the Pontic Greeks of Asia Minor in the 1920s through a series of “sonnet-monologues” or voices from the past. Why does such a major historic moment interest you?


I started thinking about voices speaking from the past when I discovered an old photo album from the 1920’s in a drawer in my father’s studio. My Grandfather was born in the city of Samsun, formerly Amisos, and so my family history was inextricably tied to the eradication of the Greek communities in Asia Minor. There were some recognizable family faces and lots of anonymous stares. The Black Sea, for me is a kind of cinematic experience. The poems began as “sonnets” because the sonnet reminded me of a snapshot––the shape, the concision, the compression of lines into a frame. It was a case of function dictating form. I didn’t set out to write The Black Sea with a concept.

I never much liked “concept” collections and I think American poets are now turning it into a cliché. Poets write poems, not books. But after five or six poems came about, I realized I wanted a more extended picture of what I imagined those people went through, and the historical context of the population exchange between Greece and Turkey was intense enough to sustain it. I decided to explore the region myself, to get closer to the landscape and so I took my motorcycle from Athens and rode through Anatolia, and then all the way back along the entire southern coast of the Black Sea, exploring villages, monasteries, and hanging out in the ports. If I ask myself whether I have the right to address such an issue, or whether I did justice to the memory of those people, I’m terrified.

As Anne Born eloquently put it, “there is sometimes a nicely melancholy tone to Papadopoulos’s work which puts him in the great tradition of poetic sorrows.  But the elegance and flair in these poems makes the reader look forward to his next volume”.  Where do you draw your inspiration from? What are the main themes of your poems?

I've said this before, so at risk of sounding repetitive, I truly believe poetry is about the same handful of subjects, again and again, through the millennia. What were Shakespeare's themes? What did Sophocles write about? Dante? Rimbaud? Villon? Cavafy? Auden? Yeats? It's all the same story, the human condition.


Your identity has been forged in a trilingual household that moved between America, France and Greece. Yet it’s Athens “the place you call home”. How has this cosmopolitanism affected your poetry? Does poetry actually constitute a kind of country for you?

Yes, a very strange country where one lives alone! It's actually more like a "spiritual place", a religion for atheists, a place which is yours and you carry with you wherever you are. Poetry is not a job, it's a vocation and it's a form of prayer-- that is something Derek Walcott has written about beautifully. My father never spoke English and my mother, who is American, never spoke to me in Greek. In the beginning, their only common language was French. I'm fluent in Greek, but English is the language I was schooled in and it’s my mother tongue, it’s the language in which I first read The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, Crime and Punishment, Look Homeward Angel, etc. I’m basically an American poet who is Greek, but it's a very schizophrenic scenario because I feel very much at home, and very much apart, in both countries. You don’t choose these things. I spent all my early childhood, adolescence and early adulthood living in Athens. It’s absolutely natural to me to describe the place I grew up in the language that I also claim as mine.

Living in Athens can be like sleeping with a complicated lover; at some point, you will wake at dawn and lie there, eyes open, not quite sure who the person sleeping beside you really is. […] there is no logic in this place I still call “home,” even though I come and go, making and breaking promises with every return”. What does Athens represent for you? How has this city of contradictions changed over the years?

Athens is my home and the place I feel most comfortable in. Even more crucially, the house that my grandfather built in the 1920's is still our family home and is the axis to which I continually return. Objects hold memories and much of my childhood is caught up in the streets of that neighborhood. A real city has to break through with a kind of honesty in moments, a revelatory flash in which the truth is briefly exposed-- this could be a smell, a face, a shout or a peal of laughter, it can take any form. Athens does this, it breaks through to you if you pay attention. Faulkner said famously, "the past is never dead. It's not even past", which is how I see memory interacting with the present.

Athens is a massive contradiction, a city of immense beauty and incredible ugliness, it's modern yet entirely backward, a European capital but also a Balkan backwater. I find most Athenians are unable to talk about the place objectively--- the city suffers from an inferiority/superiority complex in equal measure, but I love every inch of it, even when I hate it, and no one can ever call it boring.


You have translated works of Greek poets - Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke, Yiannis Ritsos and Kostas Karyotakis among others – while you are the editor and co-translator (with Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke) of Derek Walcott’s Selected Poems into Greek. Is there an interest in Greek poetry abroad? Does this poetry influence the way Greece is perceived by foreign readers?

There is a great interest in Greek poetry abroad, at least by people who read poetry (but those are sadly quite few) and there are some excellent translators at work. Greek literature in general, including the Classics is read with interest, but most of it is centered on classicism, two Nobel laureates, Cavafy and Kazantzakis. Writers such as Karyotakis, Kalvos or Solomos are almost entirely unheard of outside Greece. This is a problem with Greek artists as well, who are rarely considered alongside their European counterparts. Contemporary Greek literature is relatively unknown outside of Greece with the exception of some recent efforts by Greek poetry festivals and publications as well as a number of anthologies by foreign presses and universities. More should be done in Greece to promote young poets and encourage translation as well as something to counteract the dismal publishing scene for poets. The fact that Greek poets have to pay publishing houses to produce their own books is unforgivable.

But Greek literature has definitely shaped how the country is perceived, and that goes all the way back to Homer. That poetry also exerted and enormous influence on other poets, from Byron to James Merrell for example. Even Derek Walcott's Caribbean has been deeply marked by a sense of "Greekness". Kazantzakis created Zorba, a poet at heart, and that romantic persona has come to embody the idealized sprit of Greece. It's part fantasy and part reality. I just hope we don't lose that joy as we descend deeper and deeper into a culture of worry and distress.

Are there any new ventures underway? What are your readers to expect in the near future?

Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke's translation of The Black Sea was recently published by Kastaniotis and I'm finishing up a new collection of poems in the USA. I'm also working on some prose, an experiment in process, but where that will lead remains to be seen....


*Interview by Athina Rossoglou

Read also: Grèce Hebdo - Stéphanos Papadopoulos: «La beauté exige notre vigilance» (Interview in French) 

KatsoularisIntroKostas Katsoularis was born in Arta in 1968. He studied in Athens, Thessaloniki and Paris. He is the author of three novels – To Syndromo tis Margaritas (1998), O Paratheristis (2001), O Antipalos (2005) – two novellas – Istories apo ton Afro (1997), The Man who Loved my Wife (2010) and two collection of short stories – Mikros Daktylios (2007) and The Night Current (2015).

His short story, “The shoes and the Trousers”, from his collection Mikros Daktylios, was included in ATHEN. Eine Literarische Einladung, published by Wagenbach in 2008. His novella, The Man Who Loved My Wife –a deep exploration of male jealously– was translated into Turkish by Heyamola Yayinlari in 2011. His latest book, a collection of short stories titled, The Night Current was the recipient of the Anagnostis Literary Review Award 2016 for Best Short-Story Collection. The novella “Dead Dog at Midnight”, which forms part of the collection, was translated into English, Spanish and Hebrew for online literary magazine, Maaboret, The Short Story Project in June 2016.

Kostas Katsoularis spoke to Reading Greece* about his latest book, Athens as the backdrop of his stories, his heroes who “deal with reality as a mystery that needs to be resolved”, while also commenting on what makes a good book, his stance towards literary critics, and people who read literature, “an ‘anthropological type’, a ‘species’ in danger from the onslaught of easy readings and of technological facilities that indeed need some kind of protection”.

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Your short-story collection Night Current has just won the 2016 O Anagnostis Literary Award for Best Short-Story Collection, while one of the stories, “Dead Dog at Midnight”, was the first Greek short story to be selected, translated and published by the Short Story Project. Tell us a few things about the book.

The Night Current is composed of four, quite long short stories. One of them, the one you mentioned, “Dead Dog at Midnight”, would come close to being called a novella. I begin with this observation, given that this is rather unusual in Greek literature, where there is noted preference for shorter stories that in a wink of an eye narrate their subject. On the other hand, I am more attracted to prose that focuses on characters, plot, on multiple levels, on the development of secondary characters. All four stories are irrigated by the big and mysterious current of realism, even if internal realities are more highlighted than social ones or even dictate them.

Amir Tzukerman has described you as an “Athensnographer”, since the plots of many of your stories take place in the heart of Athens, and your central characters are residents of the city centre. What do you find intriguing in Athens? How has the Athenian way of lifeevolved in the last decades?

It is true that all four short stories, as well as those in my other books, take place in Athens and are in an open dialogue with the city in multiple and unforeseen ways. I live in Athens and I like to think of the city as a «scene» where all the action relating to my characters takes place. Very often, I like to restrain them in city centre, in places of strong social and historical impact, like Exarcheia, Kolonaki or Kypseli. That said, I would not adopt the characterization of Athensnographer for myself. The term implies a sort of genre approach, a kind of old fashioned prose which I do not think suits me.


In his review, Alexis Panselinos wrote that you are “a master in describing people”, commenting on your accuracy in “understanding and expressing the inner voices of different characters”. How would you characterize the protagonists of your books?

Alexis Panselinos, a very good writer himself, was quite courteous and generous in his comments. Anyway, if there is something specific that characterizes my heroes it is that they deal with reality as a mystery that needs to be resolved. Usually, towards the end of the story - whether a short story, a novella or a novel - my heroes realize that the enigma they are trying to solve does not have a single answer and that everything is constantly changing depending on what stance they take on every occasion. On top of that, they are people with moral concerns that try to do the right thing, despite the confusion they are often led to

Good books are living organisms, they change as we do. Each time we open a book is never the same as the previous one”. What makes a good book? How would you characterize the new generation of Greek writers? Have they managed to overcome stereotypes, ‘writing’s biggest plague’?

I absolutely agree with this ascertainment. This is what books do. Books actually reborn each time they are read, which is something wonderful because it gives good books the chance to live hundreds or even thousands of lives, to converse with many and very different people through time. In that sense, 'good books' are those that can unlock various and quite unexpected readings. They are the books that challenge the reader to talk on topics apart from their subject, topics that their reader would never even think about if it had not been for a certain book. Finally, as far as contemporary Greek writers are concerned, I believe that we are going through a phase of fermentation that has already led to the production of very promising results.


You have stated that the quality of book reviews in a country reflects the quality of its literary production. What is your personal stance towards literary critics? Do negative reviews influence you?

Not all literary critics are the same, as not all writers are the same. Some critics are the best and most profound readers I know, who write reviews that are a pleasure to read, even when they include negative comments. There are others, fewer, who use clichés, as if they write about the same book ever time. I follow critical discourse closely and I am quite concerned about its retreat, while brief reviews and book presentations or notes not requiring full justification are more frequent. More traditional critics, although they may have many flaws, are by far more preferable.

What about book readers? Are they “a species facing extinction”? If this is the case, what may or should be done at an institutional level to ensure their ‘survival’?

Readers in general are not a species under extinction. The question concerns a certain number of readers, those who read literature. Those readers are able to receive a text that does not flatter them or that might even create a feeling of estrangement but in the end rewards them abundantly. I refer to those book lovers who read a considerable number of books every year and do not jump from page to page with their mind flying elsewhere. In that sense, people that read literature – a few thousand in Greece – are more or less an “anthropological type”, a 'species' in danger from the onslaught of easy readings and of technological facilities that indeed need some kind of protection. That 'protection' is not something that can be given in a simple way. Multiple interventions are necessary from state institutions, with campaigns and coordinated actions similar to those the National Book Center used to organise in the past.


*Interview by Athina Rossoglou

Fotini Tsalikoglou studied psychology at the University of Geneva and is currently a professor of psychology at Panteion University in Athens. She is the author of many celebrated novels published in Greece, including The Daughter of Anthi Alkaiou, Eros Pharmakopoios, I, Martha Freud, I Dreamed I Was Well, Bertha’s Gift [shortlisted for Readers’ Award of the National Book Center of Greece in 2011], All the ‘Yeses’ of the World, The Happy Island and ‘What if? (with Margarita Karapanou). The Secret Sister – her English Language debut – was included in World Literature Today’s list of ’75 Notable Translations’ for 2015.


Fotini Tsalikoglou spoke to reading Greece* about how immigration has intermingled with Greece’s history over the years, how the words ‘Greece’ and ‘Greeks’ evoke conflicting images and associations, Greek society’s long history of contradictions and complexities, and the way her books attempt to ‘probe into the inevitable transmutations of the sense of belonging that is so deeply ingrained in the Greek psyche’.

She also comments on the current socio-economic and existential crisis, where ‘what is lost is the illusion of safety; what has hopefully been gained is the recognition that safety itself can ultimately be scary’ and how defying the crisis can constitute a revolutionary act. ‘Literature is a form of action, offering us not the hope of an elusive ‘idea’ but the only thing that truly matters: Cavafy’s hope that the voyage to Ithaca is a long one’.

The Secret Sister – your English language debut – is an exploration of the spaces between the past and the future through an intimate glimpse at the lives of immigrants both leaving and returning to their homeland. How has migration intermingled with our country’s history over the years?

Migration and Greece represent the two faces of Janus. We cannot conceive the history of Greece without taking into consideration the role that migration played in the struggle for a better future, a struggle suspended precariously between hope and despair. In their plurality and complexity, the wounds of migration are the wounds of Greece.


Mary Kitroeff's translation of the book was included in World Literature Today’s list of ’75 Notable Translations’ for 2015. Do you consider that the current crisis has rekindled the interest in Greek literature abroad?

It may very well have done so—an antidote to the negative national stereotypes that have emerged in the international media. Ironically, such stereotypes manage to survive in the midst of enduring visions of the ancient Greek ideal. It should not be surprising, therefore, that the words 'Greece' and 'Greeks' evoke conflicting images and associations, as aggression turns out to be the dark side of idealization.

On the other hand, Greek society has its own long history of contradictions and complexities. I believe that it is through art and literature that these problems can be brought on the surface with a renewed relevance and urgency. It is somehow true that ‘literature turns blood into ink’. My book attempts to probe into the inevitable transmutations of the sense of belonging that is so deeply ingrained in the Greek psyche, and to show how difficult it is, especially in times of economic crisis, to distinguish between nostalgia and hope.

One of the recurrent themes in your books is the mother-daughter relationship. As you have said, in this relationship, ‘there is played a game between life and death’. Would you like to tell us more?

‘Mother’ is the very first object of love in one’s life. In Winnicot’s words, ‘There is no such thing as a baby’: it is through the relationship with the mother or her substitute that an infant exists, fed not only with milk but also with a sense of warmth, of belonging, of safety. Τhis is the paradise of non-differentiation, the bliss of unification that lasts only a few months, yielding eventually to feelings of frustration, disappointment, sorrow, and betrayal.

Mother is now another person, unable to fulfill all our desires: alterity hurts. Yet without this anxiety of separation, without the recognition that the pleasure principle has its own limits, we would remain infants in search of a lost paradise. Without this incessant interplay between Eros and Thanatos, between life and death, there would be no life.

StoaCollage In your recent series of lectures at ‘Stoa tou Vivliou’, you urged people to get over our ‘national mourning. How can we defend our right to life and creativity when loss, violence and depression loom around us?

In the Seminar Hall of the Athens Free University at ‘Stoa tou Vivliou’ I had the opportunity, with a large audience of different age and background, to share what it is like to live in the midst not only of an economic crisis but also of a psychological and existential one. Loss aims at reparation, mobilizing imagination and nurturing creativity along the way.

Loss makes us painfully aware of our vulnerability, but it is this awareness—manifested especially through art and literature—that protects us from the hubris of perfection and omnipotence. As Emily Dickinson reminds us, ‘I like a look of Agony, / Because I know it's true’. It is this ‘look of Agony’ that makes me write novels.

Eventually you realize that the life-jackets we were travelling with in a supposedly undisturbed sea are full of holes and that the sea is actually a rough, inhospitable sea […]. You are all grown up. You don’t need life-jackets to float […] This is what motivates me in recent years to refer to the ‘hidden gifts of loss’. In what ways has the socio-economic crisis disrupted the relationship we maintain with ourselves and others? Is there a way out?

A crisis may be disruptive, but at the same time it offers the opportunity to re-invent our inner selves, allowing for a healthy distance from circumstances that we once took for granted and regarded as self-evident. What is lost is the illusion of safety; what has hopefully been gained is the recognition that safety itself can ultimately be scary.

HappyIsland Collage

In your most recent book Happy Island, the concluding message is that ‘everything is possible’. Does defying the existing order of things constitute a revolutionary act? Is there hope for Greece to become a ‘happy’ country?

Defying crisis does indeed constitute a revolutionary act. In that sense, it is not enough to understand how the economic crisis works its way into the fabric of society; we must also take the necessary steps to translate theories into action. And even if it s true that ‘between the idea and the act falls the shadow’ literature is a form of action, offering us not the hope of an elusive ‘idea’ but the only thing that truly matters: Cavafy’s hope that the voyage to Ithaca is a long one.

Concerning your question if there is hope for Greece to become a ‘happy’ country I will ask affirmatively by paraphrasing Pascal s wager: ‘Although we cannot prove the existence of God we have all reasons to bet on his existence. If he exists we win everything. If he does not exist we have lost nothing’. In that sense I would say ‘Yes, there is a Hope for Greece to become a happy country’ whatever this elusive and fictional word ‘happy’ means….


*Interview by Athina Rossoglou