Kallifatidis intro2Acclaimed Greek writer Theodor Kallifatides, who has been living in Sweden since 1964 and whose books have been translated and published in more than 20 languages, spoke to Greek News Agenda (GNA)* about some painful childhood memories and how it all began, what it means to be a bilingual writer, and how it feels to be called a “migrant writer”. He also shared his views on Greece’s brain drain, the refugee crisis, and Greece’s image abroad.

Q: It has been 40 years since you started making a living exclusively from writing. How did it all begin? At what age, and instance, did you feel the need to write for the first time?

A: It all started when I was very young, 5 years old to be exact. My father, who was a teacher, had already taught me how to read and write. It was during the Occupation of Greece in WWII. The Germans executed a man in our village, and to set an example, we were all forced to observe the execution. My father was already imprisoned. My older siblings were away. Thus, it was I and my mother who was holding my hand that watched the execution. I watched the man fall, and saw his dying gaze. That evening, I didn’t go out to play. I stayed in, and for the first time, without knowing why, I wrote something about that execution.

Q: You belong to that rare species of bilingual writers. What does it mean, in practical terms, to write in a language that is not your mother tongue?

A: It implies a constant insecurity, which is positive however, because one is always alert and in search of every word, writing with difficulty since nothing flows with ease. All this is good for a writer; ease and convenience are not, they’re an enemy. I have to know exactly what I want to say, without any rhetorical tricks. Writing in Swedish has forced me to be honest.

Q: A recurring theme in your novels is migration. How has it affected your mentality, your frame of mind as a writer? Do you accept the term “migrant writer” (invandrarförfattare) that is widely used in Sweden, or does it bother you?

A: The term “migrant writer” bothers me. I am a migrant, but this is not why I am a writer, irrespective of whether emigration was and remains an experience of decisive importance in my life.

TK collage5Q: One of the consequences of the Greek economic crisis is emigration, especially of young and educated people (brain drain) leaving Greece in search for a better future abroad. However, this option is not always that simple or easy. Having gone through this yourself, what would you say was the hardest part and what would your advice to those opting for this path nowadays be?

A: Only if you know why you are leaving and are certain that there are no other solutions, only then would I recommend this path, emigration. Living in a foreign country entails many challenges and ordeals; it requires giving it all to survive. Determination and drive, perseverance and commitment, hard work and self confidence; you have to know who you are so as not to get lost.

Q: Another side of migration that Greece is facing nowadays is that of refugees from the Middle East coming to Europe with hopes for a better life. What is your view on the running public debate in Europe concerning the refugee crisis?

A: Europe is not dealing with how to help these people but with how to avoid them. It is shameful and idiotic because huge human potential that we’ll need one day is being wasted unreasonably.

Q: In what ways and to what extent do you believe that the image of Greece in Northern European Media and public opinion has been affected in recent years?

A: Unfortunately, a great deal of goodwill towards our country has been lost, and this is not only on account of any mismanagement of the situation, but because of the intransigence of the Institutions as well.

Q: You have now lived for over 50 years in Sweden, where you have enjoyed a successful career, have been awarded with honours and prizes and, above all, have gained the respect and appreciation of the Swedish public. Do you consider yourself in a way as an ‘ambassador’ of Greece abroad?

A: I don’t consider myself as an ‘ambassador’ of Greece, but I always defend the Greek people. This does not mean that I am blind to what’s wrong with us or others. But you don’t strike one who is down; you help him stand on his feet.

* Interview by Eleftheria Spiliotakopoulou

TK collage4Theodor Kallifatides was born in the village Molaoi of Laconia, Greece, in 1938. In 1946, he and his family moved to Athens where he finished high school and studied at Karolos Koun’s Art Theatre school. He immigrated to Sweden in 1964, where he has lived ever since. He studied philosophy and worked as a lecturer at Stockholm University between 1969 and 1972, and then as chief editor of Bonniers literary magazine “Litterära Magasin” between 1972 and 1976. Kallifatides made his literary debut in 1969 with a poetry book, but gained recognition mainly through his subsequently published novels. He is one of the most acclaimed contemporary writers in Sweden and is considered the most prominent example of writers from migrant background in the Nordic countries that have chosen to write in the Nordic languages. Since 1994, he began writing in Greek as well. In total, 18 of his novels have been translated and published in Greece (mainly by Gavriilidis Editions). His autobiographical work “The Past is not a Dream” was published in 2012, and his latest novel I will Always Return was published in 2015. He has published novels, poetry collections, travel essays and plays, and has received numerous awards for his works which usually revolve around memories of his homeland and his life as a Greek abroad. He has also written film scripts and has directed a film

Read more: Leaving, Losing, Letting Go: Some Steps in Bilingual Transformations in the work of Theodor Kallifatides (Modern Greek Literature: Critical Essays, 2003)

Watch video (in Greek): Theodor Kallifatides - Writer (produced by ERT, the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation, 2011)

a.xatzis4

Aristides Hatzis is an Associate Professor of Law & Economics and Legal Theory at the University of Athens (Department of Philosophy & History of Science) with a doctorate on Law & Economics from the University of Chicago, founder of the GreekCrisis.net blog and the Athens-based John Stuart Mill research group. 

He is the co-editor of Law and Economics: Philosophical Issues and Fundamental Questions (Routledge, 2015), Economic Analysis of Law: A European Perspective (Edward Elgar 2017).He is a member of the Editorial Board of the European Review of Contract Law, a fellow of the European Law Institute, a member of the scientific board of the Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP), as well as a member of the National Council for Research & Innovation.

Professor Hatzis op-eds have been published by the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, the CNBC and other major international and Greek media (Ta Nea, Protagon). He has also given interviews to major international media outlets: Bloomberg News, Economist, Euronews, BBC, Financial Times, Guardian, Spiegel, U.S. National Public Radio, Time, Voice of America, Belgian State TV, Finish State TV, Swedish State Radio, etc.

Aristides Hatzis spoke to Rethinking Greece* about his department research and academic performance, his initiative to launch the Greekcrisis.net blog, the liberal heritage of Greece and the study of liberal political thought in Greece, the need for pro-free market reforms in Greece, as well as the state of today’s centre-right political parties in the country.

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You teach Law & Economics and Legal Theory at the University of Athens. What are the dynamics of academic research of this particular field in your department (History & Philosophy of Science) and in Greece generally? What do you think is the level of the study of Philosophy & History of Science in Greece and what are the career prospects of Philosophy graduates in the country?

I am teaching law & economics at the Law School and Legal Theory at my department, the Department of History & Philosophy of Science. This is not a new department. It was established, more than two decades ago, in 1994. It is justifiably considered, academically, one of the best departments in Greece. This is not a subjective view. It was the conclusion of the external evaluation report for my department: “The Committee’s overall assessment of the Department is very positive. It is something of which the University of Athens and the Ministry of Education should be proud.” This is the result of an emphasis on academic excellence, a close, almost personal relationship with the students, a curriculum which is up-to-date and an atmosphere of tolerance and cooperation. One wonders what’s the future of a philosophy graduate in a country with almost 60% unemployment among the young. Happily, our students are regularly being accepted in graduate programs in many areas, in Greece and abroad. Their employment rate is more than the average and they are among the most satisfied students in Greece with the level and quality of their studies. Unfortunately, our students with the most impressive careers don’t live in Greece anymore.

My course is a mix of legal theory, political philosophy and institutional theory. It is a course on the history of the liberal constitutional democracy and the development of the rule of law, from Ancient Athens to the early 20th century. With references to the issues of the freedom of speech, the debate on self-ownership and human dignity, the relationship between law and morality (with a lecture dedicated to Nuremberg trials) and economic inequality. In this course and a sequel, in the form of a seminar, we deal with all the above plus current issues, like the integration of Muslims in western societies, police violence and torture, the freedom of the press and the contradictions in a liberal democracy. Every year we see 8-9 movies, we attend at least one theater play and the students organize 12-18 debates.

Law & Economics is my area of research for the past 25 years. I got my doctorate on law & economics from the University of Chicago under the supervision of Judge Richard Posner. Law & Economics (and the economics of institutions in general) is a relatively new field of study. It tries to answer questions like, what’s the suitable institutional framework for economic development, how to make the justice system more efficient, how to interpret legal rules in contracts, torts, antitrust in order to regulate behavior successfully. The Law and Economics approach is the opposite of a stagnant and barren legal formalism, which is still dominant in Greek legal theory. However, for the past ten years a great number of young scholars, colleagues, lawyers and judges are interested in the field. We have a rather large and lively community and we organize a very successful annual conference for young scholars.

One last word about research. Research in Greece is like a hurdles race, especially in social sciences. It is underfunded, you can’t organize a lab, you can’t help young scholars, you can’t invite a colleague, you can’t travel to major conferences, you have to spend most of your time in clerical work. I am trying to minimize cost by integrating my research and my teaching. This has some beneficial side-effects. My first audience is my students. And the feedback is invaluable.

crisis.net1

You have launched the GreekCrisis.net blog which offers a variety of perspectives into the Greek crisis, mainly through International Press articles and commentary. Can you tell us a bit more about this initiative? How do you assess the public’s response to it?

This is a joint project. We started it with Dr. Yulie Foka-Kavalieraki, my wife, 6 years ago. It started very modestly, as a clearinghouse of information for the Greek Crisis. The great success was rather shocking to us. I remember that in the summer of 2012 we took some time for vacation and we started receiving emails from hedge fund analysts, bank managers and journalists asking us why “our service” had stopped. We have now 3.200.000 individual visits, almost 13.000 posts and a faithful audience. You can also find there all my opinion pieces published in the New York Times, the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal but almost everything you need to know about the Greek Crisis, including bibliography. Funny, and not expected, fact: only 14% of our visitors are Greeks! This is a public, pro bono service. We don’t have any kind of help, we don’t receive any kind of funding or donations and we don’t have advertisements. Our only hope is for this blog to become redundant. But I am afraid that this crisis will last longer than expected or feared.

It seems that there is a growing interest for the study of the liberal political thought and particularly British - American liberalism in Greece, reflected in initiatives such as the Liberty Forum of Greece and the John Stuart Mill research group, among others. Is it a trend, or a phenomenon with deeper roots?

Greece had a very strong liberal tradition, especially in the 19th century. Greece was founded as a liberal democracy by liberal politicians with strong ties and personal relationships with leading liberal intellectuals and politicians in Britain, France, Italy and the U.S.A. Unfortunately, this tradition was forgotten under the fever of the irredentist nationalism of Megali Idea for many decades and then by the bloody antagonism between communist left and conservative right after World War II and the ensuing ferocious civil war. After 1974 a number of liberal intellectuals tried to reintroduce liberal ideas in Greece, after almost a century. They had their failures but they managed to create a fertile ground for such ambitious initiatives as the Liberal Forum of Greece (of whose scientific board, I am a member) or the “John Stuart Mill research group”, another project my wife and I founded and organized with the help of my current and former students. Its success was unprecedented. We have 1.200 members, mostly students (from every Greek university) and young professionals, 70% of whom are young women. Our events are so successful we keep booking ever larger venues. This is also an initiative based on purely voluntary work. We don’t receive any funds, our events are free, we don’t have a budget.I believe that classical liberal ideas are going to exert a much greater influence in the not-so-distant future in Greece. Because these are ideas of the open society, emphasizing liberty, rationality, individual rights, the rule of law, political equality, free competitive markets and civil society. Greece is deficient (more or less) in all the above and this is the root-cause of its problems. The modernization of Greece entails embracing these ideals.

jsmillHow can we assess Greece performance taking into account its liberal heritage? And what is the depth and quality of Greece’s bond with Europe and its ideological and political dilemmas?

Greece was not only founded as a liberal democratic state, but also as a genuine European state. Of course there was always a great gap between political ambition, intellectual wishful thinking and the grim reality of a backwards society. Nevertheless, the Greek political elites managed (with a few exceptions) to keep Greece in the right side of history – “right” also meaning “winning”. The young Greek state was attached to the British empire, when the empire was powerful. In every European conflict Greece was always with the winning side (Balkan wars, World Wars, Cold War). Greece became member of the most privileged and powerful “clubs” (recently NATO, OECD, European Union, Eurozone). That is why Greece cannot imagine itself outside of European integration, even when this process has serious structural problems, even when Greek people are dissatisfied with their partners. Greece’s ambition has always been to be a part of the Western Europe. This was a challenging ambition but a wise and worthy one.

What kind of reforms does Greece need? And what is the reform capacity of the Greek society and the Greek political system, especially under the current circumstances?

Greece still has the least free economy in the European Union, one of the less free economies in Europe. It is still not competitive, despite the steep decline in labor cost, because it is also not supported by an economically-efficient institutional framework. The administration of justice is ridiculously slow. You need 4,5 years to enforce a contract, 3,5 to finalize a bankruptcy procedure. It is still hostile to investment due to overregulation, corruption, a nefarious macroeconomic environment, a banking system in disarray, costly energy and substandard infrastructure. Greece needs urgently radical pro-free market reforms. Unfortunately, this kind of reforms have very powerful enemies, the strong pressure groups – in the case of Greece and in order of importance: powerful cartels, professionals and public sector unions. Most Greek identify reforms, erroneously, with the extreme fiscal measures (tax hikes, across-the-board salary cuts) which were both inefficient and unfair. Consequently, we have the phenomenon of “reform-fatigue” without real reforms.

How would you translate the state of the liberal political ideology and centre-right political parties in Greece today? What does it mean for New Democracy as the main opposition party to have Kyriakos Mitsotakis in its helm? What are the consequences for the Greek political spectrum?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ election was a surprise to me. He is the first leader of the conservative party who can be characterized as liberal, after 23 years. However, I should emphasize that the party is not liberal. The liberal faction is rather weak and marginalized. Mitsotakis was elected by the Greek centrists who went enthusiastically to vote for him. He has to control his party and establish his dominance to win the elections, especially if the next elections are close. I think that his most important contribution would be to transform the party into a genuine European center-right party with a strong liberal element.

His election challenges the undisputed political hegemony of Alexis Tsipras (winner of four elections in a row). Now Tsipras has a formidable opponent. Mitsotakis can become Prime Minister in two ways. By behaving opportunistically, waiting political cost to undermine Alexis Tsipras or by persuading the Greek people that the liberal alternative is the only real alternative for growth, jobs, and the restoration of the rule of law and Greece’s reputation. The second option is the most difficult, but at the same time the most rewarding and sustainable.

*Interview by Vasiliki Diagouma and Nikolas Nenedakis

Watch Aristides Hatzis' interview with Crisis Observatory (In Greek with English subtitles, 28 November, 2014):

In an interview with Greek News Agenda, Nikolaos Stampoulopoulos, founder and creative director of New Diaspora – a participatory narrative hub relevant to the current Greek migration flow, its causes, its consequences and its future – discusses the idea that sparked New Diaspora, its mission and future goals and comments on how we can turn “brain drain” into “brain gain” and redefine the Greek collective identity.

Stampoulopoulos

What is the idea behind New Diaspora? What makes this initiative so important?

Over the last seven years of continuous recession, nearly half a million Greeks have abandoned their country; adding up to thousands of their compatriots who moved abroad before the crisis officially broke out. Most of those people are young, educated and multilingual. In my opinion, if we don't manage to reverse this massive 'brain drain' or tap on it from a distance, the prospect of a successful productive restructuring of Greece seems exceptionally difficult, if not impossible. The same goes for the redefinition of a collective identity that is not determined by obsolete, and sometimes negative, cultural stereotypes.

Launched in March 2013, New Diaspora started out as a bilingual digital storytelling platform, focusing on the personal stories of the new generation of Greeks living abroad during the crisis. Since then, it has grown into a participatory narrative hub, relevant to the current Greek migration flow, its causes, its consequences and its future. New Diaspora's mission is to bridge the gap between Greek 'neomigrants' and their birthplace, empowering both sides by becoming a point of reference and social synergy, that encourages the members of an international community to connect to each other, share experiences and ideas, collaborate and pursue common goals.

Apart from telling stories that matter, we try to provide people with useful information on moving and finding work abroad. We also partner with numerous other initiatives and organisations, in an attempt to facilitate the need for international networking and promotion of extrovert and innovative Greek business and cultural activities. Our ultimate goal is to help as much as we can in creating incentives for the return of expatriate Greeks, eventually reversing the tide and turning the 'brain drain' into a 'brain gain'. The current developments in Greece and the rest of Europe make this a formidable task, to say the least.

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New Diaspora has received wide Greek and international media attention, your social media reach is constantly growing while new partnerships are inaugurated. What comes next? Are there new projects under way?

To this date, the entirety of New Diaspora's content and activities has relied on volunteer work, and that also includes the mini documentaries I have directed and published online for free. We are now in the process of securing funds from institutions and private sponsors, in order to hire people who will redesign our website and make it more interactive, and also help us increase our content flow and community engagement. In the near future we want to co-organise networking, cultural and academic events in various countries, starting from the most popular destinations in Europe. In addition, we are hoping that our proposal for a new series of mini documentaries about Greek 'neomigrants' around the world will find the necessary financial support. The platform is already there to promote such a series, as well as to discover people who have compelling stories to share.

The economic crisis has sparked a massive wave of ‘neoemigrants’ in what is called the “Greek brain drain”, often recorded and commented in the Greek and international press. What differentiates New Diaspora in the way it presents and promotes the stories of these neoemigrants?

New Diaspora's unfair advantage is its dedication to the cause of recording a migration wave as it happens, without trying to beautify or sensationalise anything. We care for all kinds of stories and opinions, instead of selectively focusing on the exceptionally successful and exceptionally unfortunate that Greek media seems to prefer featuring. Moreover, by letting expatriate Greeks tell their own stories in an unmediated way, we believe we can inspire people to discuss issues, seek solutions and become the change they crave for.

There are many people interested on this subject, both in Greece and abroad; and I'm not referring to Greeks only. This is a case study on an altogether new type of workforce and entrepreneurial mobility, and no one knows how it will evolve and influence the shape of things to come.

NewDiaspora4

You have been living and working in Amsterdam since 2009. What’s your own story of migration? How has it influenced your perspective?

I lived for five years in the Netherlands, where I worked as a freelance filmmaker, made new friends and got used to riding a bicycle instead of driving a car. While the crisis was escalating back in Greece, it sometimes felt like I was living in a parallel universe with a totally different economy, mentality and climate. It wasn't always easy to stay focused on building a new life in a place I knew from the start I will never belong to as much as I belong to my homeland.

During my stay in Amsterdam, I realized that the growing influx of my compatriots was a story no one else particularly cared to tell, so I started filming my friends and my impressions of my life abroad. I still struggle to organise all this footage, hoping to create a feature length documentary on the period "I went Dutch". Meanwhile, the preparation and management of New Diaspora became a full time obsession that led me to the decision of returning to Athens at the end of 2014; seeking funds and partners to carry on from there. The timing was far from perfect, but I haven't regretted it yet.

You have stated that redefining an obsolete collective identity – that somehow seems to be stuck in the “Zorba” cliché of the 60s – is absolutely necessary in the attempt to rebrand Greece, an undertaking that cannot be achieved by the ones who are left behind. Which would be the core elements of a new Greek collective identity?

The whole notion of a collective identity is that it takes a living community to define it. When that community breaks up, its identity inevitably gets fragmented and distorted, ending up like a blurry reflection of an idolised past. I don't think there is anything wrong with the ancient and more recent Greek heritage, as long as we keep reinventing it and adding to it. If the crisis and the migration it causes make us too depressed or alienated to do so, we become trapped in a stagnant narrative.

We live in the age of internet and mobility, however, and it's up to us to stay connected and exchange ideas and experiences that will tell the future generations who we were and what we achieved. Therefore, I prefer to be an optimist who sees an opportunity for renewal in this gigantic brain drain, providing that both the ones who left and the ones who stayed behind (or came back, as it is in my case) will work together and produce economic and cultural wealth. I wish I knew what will be the specific characteristics of the civilization we will leave behind. My hope is that they will include equal rights, cultural diversity, freedom of speech and uncompromising democracy.

Interview by Athina Rossoglou

Read more: Engaging Greek Diaspora to Highlight Greek Talent & Entrepreneurship

tziovas8Dimitris Tziovas is Professor of Modern Greek Studies at the University of Birmingham, UK and General Editor of Birmingham Modern Greek Translations. His publications include The Other Self: Selfhood and Society in Modern Greek Fiction (2003), Greek Diaspora and Migration since 1700 (Editor, 2009), The Myth of the Generation of the Thirties: Modernity, Greekness and Cultural Ideology (in Greek: Ο μύθος της γενιάς του Τριάντα, Νεοτερικότητα, ελληνικότητα και πολιτισμική ιδεολογία, 2011), and Re-imagining the Past: Greek Antiquity and Modern Greek Culture (Editor, 2014).
 
He is also a regular contributor of commentaries regarding various aspects of Neohellenism frequently focusing on the “international image of Greece” theme in Το Βήμα daily. He has been recipient (2012) of the Diavazo award for the best Critical Writing Prize.
 
Professor Tziovas currently leads a networking project on ‘The cultural politics of the Greek crisis’ (September 2014 - August 2016) which aims to stimulate debate among academics, research students, journalists, artists and writers on the implications of the economic crisis for Greek culture and identity.
 
Dimitris Tziovas spoke to Rethinking Greece* about the theory of cultural dualism, Greece's cultural gravitas, the narratives on the Greek crisis and the reinvention of Modern Greek Studies:
 
You have recently (Η γοητεία των σχημάτων, Το Βήμα, 21.2.2016) referred to Patric Leigh Fermor’s “Helleno-Romaic Dilemma”, the “perpetual conflict between the glory that had been Athens and the sorrow that was Byzantium”. Is this narrative still relevant to the western imagination of Greece and the self-understanding of the Greeks?
 
One of the most enduring and influential interpretations of Greek cultural and political developments since independence is that of cultural dualism, based on the assumption that two opposing trends or forces are vying for supremacy. The traditional and pre-modern segmentary society, broadly associated with the East, is contrasted to the civil society and western models of administration (which in the case of Greece were championed by diaspora and modernising elites). Cultural and political dualism, in its various forms, has emerged as the dominant model of and for the post-junta period but also for the earlier history of Greece. It has been adopted in different forms by anthropologists, political scientists and historians and has framed the discussions of political and cultural developments in Greece. This dualism continues to inform the way Greek culture is analysed and Greece is presented as poised between a troubled tradition and a desired modernity. The resilience of the dualist approach as a useful analytical tool has something to do with the fact that the notion of modernisation, in the sense of ‘catching up with Europe’, has increasingly entered debates on national identity as representing a break with the vestiges of the country’s ‘Ottoman’ and ‘oriental’ past. Though the theory of cultural dualism has been employed widely in the recent years, it obscures ambivalence and hybridisation. This ambivalence has led to the treatment of the state as both a source of secure employment (a survival of the earlier clientelist mentality) and as an adversary (a result of the rising of the anti-systemic discourse of the underdog culture). It seems to me that during the crisis this ambivalent attitude towards the state has been extended to the EU, leading to its being considered as both saviour and enemy. The crisis simultaneously strengthened and profoundly undermined the authority of the modernising discourse. It also exposed the inadequacies of cultural dualism as an interpretive methodology and questioned its evaluative implications and political uses. Greeks, for example, may simultaneously admire and hate anything associated with modern Europe. They aspire to be Western while at the same time looking down on Westerners, saying: ‘when we were building the Parthenon, Northern Europeans were living in the trees’ in the same way as they treat their ‘homeland’ as a ‘whore’ and a ‘Madonna’. 
tziovas12Does the “Generation of the Thirties” and its modernism still inform contemporary Greek social and political consciousness? In what ways should we read / watch those authors and painters today?
 
Apart from their contribution to art and literature the so-called generation of the Thirties foregrounded the issue of cultural identity seen from a new perspective. To put it briefly, until the 1930s Greece was torn between East and West, but following the Asia Minor Disaster Greece abandoned its Eastern aspirations and has tried to define its identity primarily as part of the West and in an extrovert/competitive manner, exploring its modern distinctiveness and highlighting it in contrast to the ancient legacy and perceptions of western supremacy. This is summed up by Yorgos Theotokas in 1929 when he lamented that ‘the weakness of Modern Greek literature is not that it has received many influences, but that it has given nothing back’. This attempt at self-definition has not been an easy task and has been constantly debated over the years. 
 
According to social anthropologist Michael Herzfeld “Western moralism about alleged Greek “corruption,” “laziness,” and “irresponsibility” occludes the West’s own complicity in generating these attitudes”. Would you like to comment on this?
 
Many Westerners have indeed revived their stereotypes about the lazy, feckless Greeks and argued that the idea that Greece’s troubles are externally imposed allows many Greeks to depict themselves as blameless. On the other hand, some Greeks developed a sense of victimhood, often reinforced by references to history. The combination of victimhood and conspiracy theories is a symptom of a national narcissism and reactivates feelings of ethnocentrism or even racism, pointing to the importance of cultural attitudes in coping with the crisis and the role of the media in promoting such responses.
 
It could be said that Greeks continue to see modern Europe in nineteenth-century terms, as when Delacroix depicted the ‘Massacre of Chios’ and Byron, Shelley, François-René de Chateaubriand and Victor Hugo expressed their philhellenic feelings. Philhellenism has become an integral part of the modern Greek identity, and the crisis has enhanced a sentimental and romanticized approach to international relations. European leaders are judged by their philhellenism, and the purported statement by the former French president Valéry Giscard d’ Estaing that ‘the descendants of Plato cannot play in the second league’ has received wide publicity in the Greek media. 
 
The crisis has also sparked off a debate about Europe and a rethinking of its cultural values, politics and orientation. Harking back to an elusive ideal of European humanism, which has been gradually eroded due to neo-liberal austerity and the shrinking of the welfare state, it is claimed that the crisis precipitated the clash of two visions of Europe: an older and rather idealized Europe of human solidarity and democratic values, and that of the technocrats and managers, leading to social exclusion and restricted access to education. This clash suggests that for many Greeks Europe is gradually moving away from past ideals, and its future unity and identity is increasingly in doubt. The past humanist aspiration of an integrated Europe seems to be contrasted with its uncertain future undermined by nationalism and the South–North divide.  
idealgrReferences in the international media to the classical Greek past are often deployed in a condescending way. What does this attitude mean for the international perception of Greece?
 
During the crisis many foreign commentators and journalists have used ancient Greek mythology or imagery in order to illustrate the dire economic situation of the country and the predicament of its people. It has been claimed that ancient myths lend context to the swirl of acrimony and austerity, bailouts and brinkmanship, and have plenty to say about hubris and ruin, order and chaos, boom and bust. It is clear that Greek antiquity functions as a crucial symbolic resource in the annotation of modern Greece. It is a trope through which the western media, and by extension the West, approach and portray Greece in crisis. The ‘glorious’ ancient Greece is contrasted with modernity while the ancient past is set against the ‘failures’ of modernity with a sense of irony. Antiquity is used to exclude modern Greeks from the discourse of Hellenic civility, to constitute them as the inefficient ‘other’ and to disengage the country’s mythic status from its precarious present. The Greek crisis is translated against a Hellenic ideal, or even against an antique stereotype. This frequent reference to the ancient Greek world in relation to the crisis is rather surprising considering that in other areas the ties between classical and modern Greece are presented as tenuous. Though the notion of a cultural continuity has been promoted by the Greeks, it has been consistently resisted by many westerners. It resurfaces only in periods of crisis and for the purposes of unfavourable reporting or commentary. Ancient myths might offer journalists and commentators the opportunity to illustrate their stories and perhaps make them more appealing to their audiences, but this deceptive connection aims to draw an implicit criticism by contrasting ancient glory with contemporary failures. In spite the fact that Greece represents around 3 per cent of the European economy, its cultural gravitas in the European project is much greater than its economic weight. Another country of similar size might have been forced to leave the eurozone, but Greece still occupies a special place in the European imaginary.
 
Greece has been haunted for 6 years now by the “pro-memorandum” vs “anti-memorandum” narratives and the associated finger-pointing in the public sphere. Is there an alternative to this mode of thinking and debating?
 
The narratives on the Greek crisis follow the division of the Greek people into supporters and opponents of the bailout agreement. What is interesting is that both narratives have a time dimension in the sense that they see the crisis either as a relatively synchronic event or as a culmination of a long process of incompetence and state failure. Between these narrative polarities, there is a third narrative that attempts to apportion blame between Greek politicians and voters and Greece’s European partners and the EU institutions. Along with the inadequacies of the Greek administration, it is acknowledged that the crisis brought to the surface the imperfections of the EU. The crisis has made many talk about a new ‘narrative’ for Greece, a departure from the failed practices of the past, a kind of national catharsis and replenishment. It has also induced Greek society to rethink its values, to revisit its founding myths and to re-examine its earlier certainties. This involves to a certain extent a narrativization of the traumas of history, an interrogation of past practices and a critical searching for what went wrong, using the past as a guide. As a result the past is destabilized and at the same time acts as a source of strength. 
hands culpolgreekcrisis“The cultural politics of the Greek crisis” project runs its 3rd and final workshop (University of Oxford, 17.3.2016). What is the significance of such initiatives and can they be useful for the better understanding of Greece by international publics?
 
First of all it is significant that this project, hosted by the University of Birmingham, has received funding from the Arts and Humanities Council of the UK and is the first of its kind. A range of scholars, artists, critics and students contributed to the three workshops (London, Birmingham and Oxford), which were well attended.  The project through its workshops and the contributions to its website has explored the impact of the crisis on various areas of Greek cultural life such as book production, literature, cinema, museums, media, photography, heritage, festivals, street art and attitudes to the past. We also developed contacts with other research projects, academics, artists and cultural agents in three continents and shared with them ideas about the cultural impact of the economic crisis and the politics of austerity.  Using a questionnaire available on the project’s website we have also surveyed the attitudes of a number of young Greek professionals who have left the country to seek employment abroad and the challenges they faced in their host environment. Respondents to the questionnaire included diaspora Greeks from the UK and other European countries as well as Australia.
 
You have once stressed that “the history of Modern Greek Studies is a story of… emancipation from the classical ideal and from its ethnographic idealization as exotic land…”. What can Modern Greek Studies teach us concerning Greece’s public diplomacy and international communication in general, especially in view of the current crisis?
 
In an article (The study of modern Greece in a changing world: fading allure or potential for reinvention?) to be published in the next issue (April 2016) of Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies I argue that the discipline seems likely to move from Modern Greek Studies as we know it today to a range of diversified discourses and studies on Greece emerging from different areas of academia. Archaeologists, historians, political scientists, film, media and drama scholars have built up a corpus of studies on Greece which could help researchers to study the country or to include it in comparative studies without knowing Greek. This in turn raises another question: what makes a subject ‘trendy’ and brings a country to scholarly attention? In the past it was its alluring traditionalism or ‘orientalism’ that made Greece a charming country in the eyes of foreign visitors and scholars, or else the image of a nation fighting against conquerors, invaders or oppressive regimes. Exoticism and resistance gave way to conflicts and crises, which helped to maintain Greece at the forefront of scholarly attention. For example, the disintegration of Yugoslavia brought the Balkans to the fore, the turbulent decade of the 1940s and the challenge of Europeanization produced a decent scholarly output, while the economic crisis in Greece has also generated a good deal of debate and numerous publications. The growth of studies on Greek-Turkish relations and Cyprus reinforce the view that areas of conflict foster academic scholarship and attract international interest. Are conflicts and crises sufficient to make Modern Greek Studies attractive in the twentieth-first century? It seems that we are moving towards post-national and trans-cultural studies covering wider areas or themes across several countries rather than focusing on national cultures or histories. Broader themes or questions are given priority while secondary importance is assigned to case studies or paradigms in illustrating these themes and tackling the questions. 
 
*Interview by Nikolas Nenedakis
 
“The cultural politics of the Greek crisis”, Workshop 1: Greece: From Junta to Crisis, Session 2: Cultural dualisms (20.9.2014):

Dimitriadi introDr Angeliki Dimitriadi, Research Fellow at the Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP) and Visiting Fellow at the ECFR Berlin Office since November 2015, spoke to Greek News Agenda (GNA)* and shared her views on how Greece, Germany and EU are handling the refugee and migrant issue. Dr Dimitriadi, whose research focuses on the management of irregular migration, commented on Turkey’s role, burden sharing between EU member states and third countries, as well as possible ways forward to manage the situation.

Q: How do you think Greece has handled the migrant and refugee issue so far? What could the Greek authorities have done more and what may be done now to better manage the situation?

A: I think the Greek state responded with significant delays, was mostly absent in the first months of 2015 and late in addressing the situation on the ground. But its European partners were also late in assisting a country that is in a particularly vulnerable position due to the economic crisis. The hotspots should have been in place since September- they were part of the European Agenda on Migration and are important in terms of screening and registering arrivals. It took too long to set up reception places and still a significant number of arrivals primarily of non-critical nationalities (Pakistanis, Afghans etc) are outside the scope of the reception facilities. Even if they will be returned they still need to be housed and cared for temporarily while under Greek jurisdiction in humane conditions with respect and dignity.

On the other hand, the search and rescue operations of the Hellenic Coastguard have been admirable and the efforts by some NGOs as well. Civil society carried and continues to carry the burden of response on the ground. The response has been impressive but for me it is also slightly problematic. Civil society replaces state mechanisms because the latter are either absent or ineffective. As a result no one fulfils their expected role. The state and civil society should be working together and in parallel but not replacing each other. Which is why from the beginning an independent authority should have been put in place coordinating NGOs, volunteers, ministries and agencies but also municipalities. This is apparently something that will now happen and is a welcomed move. The reality on the ground is that there are a million different needs from area to area and nationality to nationality and what we need is an organized structure that functions like an umbrella- and is able to pin point at any given time what the needs are, be able to allocate funds, material and personnel.

Migrants collage UNHCR Hellenic Coast GuardQ: What is your view on EU's handling of the refugee crisis, especially in view of the relocation system and the creation of hotspots in Greece? Does this solution ensure the sustainability of efforts needed to deal with the migrant flows?

A: The EU’s response has been fragmented. The Syrian conflict is entering its sixth year, which means we are five years late in preparing adequate response and burden sharing mechanisms to deal with arrivals we knew would eventually reach Europe. Absence of a solid and united response resulted in what we are seeing today; ‘coalitions of the willing’ but also ‘coalitions of the unwilling’. On the other hand this is not entirely surprising; The EU has a tendency to react fairly late to crises.

The hotspots are in the right direction- we need to know who enters the country and especially so when we are dealing with vulnerable populations, so that we can also ensure their protection. Relocation is more complex. The number agreed upon is realistically very small however; if the process worked it would have established a positive precedent of burden sharing in the EU. The failure of relocation in my view has to do with the fact that no wide political consensus was reached prior to the Commission’s proposal. It is emblematic of a wider problem at present in the Union; member states may commit but there is no mechanism in place that can ensure they implement their commitment. Additionally no alternatives were offered to those members unwilling to relocate refugees and by alternatives I refer to other means of contributing, perhaps more money, perhaps more specialized personnel in critical areas, equipment etc..

However relocation is only one measure and it was never designed to address the full scale of the migratory flows. The situation at present is much more complex within and outside Europe and will require a multi-pronged strategy to address the needs.

Q: What role could Germany play in the progress of the relocation system, and more generally for a fairer burden sharing between EU member states?

A: Germany has tried to lead extensively and it has also tried to assist Greece. The Chancellor remains the staunchest supporter of relocation and burden sharing. However, the recent results in the three state elections in Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saxony-Anhalt are a reflection of the pressure Chancellor Merkel is under but also the increased division within Germany as regards the refugee policy. There is a gradual acknowledgement that relocation, as originally proposed, is not working. Hence the shift of focus to Turkey and the EU-Turkey deal as a last solution to address incoming numbers. This does not mean that Germany will not continue to assist or seek a European response but it will require allies and more importantly it will need to be able to point to progress on the ground.

I am not sure there is fertile ground at present for a fairer burden sharing between EU member states. At best we may hope for coalitions of the willing, to split tasks and responsibilities though in the long term that’s unsustainable. It is very difficult to achieve political agreements during a period of crisis and where events progress quicker than policy.

Q: How do you comment on recent discussions in certain circles in Europe regarding the Schengen zone, increasing border restrictions and imposing a cap on asylum applications? Could they possibly reflect a potential political rift within the EU?

A: This is not the first time Schengen is brought up following a migration ‘crisis’. We should not forget that after events of 2011 in Lampedusa at the height of the Arab Spring and following the Franco-Italian rift over the border crossing of Tunisians, EU leaders amended the Schengen code to include the re-imposition of internal border controls as regards a Member State, if there are persistent serious difficulties or deficiencies detected in that Member State’s control of external borders. At present the impression in Europe is that Greece cannot protect its borders. Realistically, there is very little one can do on the maritime border. The legal framework in place (and correctly so) prohibits push backs and requires rescue and safe disembarkation. The land border is a different issue and there I do think there were alternative ways for Greece to negotiate the wave through of the refugees to other countries. Obviously Greece could not and does not have the capacity to keep almost 1 million refugees in the country but a more organized and methodical manner of border crossing would have helped, regulated from the Greek side to avoid this impression of utter chaos. As things stand today, the discussion on Schengen and Greek membership hurts Greece at a political level. I agree that border restrictions and the asylum caps demonstrate a political rift in the Union but for me the question is between which countries. Irrespective of what is being said and done, the Visegrad states need Germany, the western Balkans traditionally look to Austria and Germany. The danger is that the inability to manage the refugee flows will isolate Greece further and that will have broader geopolitical and strategic implications for a country already fragile and already carrying a significant burden.

Migrants collage AthensNewsAgencyQ: How significant is EU’s and Greece’s cooperation with Turkey on the issue?

A: Turkey is a crucial partners in this by virtue of its geography. However, Turkey has showcased a remarkable ability to instrumentalise migration, i.e. it is using the issue of refugee and migrant flows to further its own political and strategic agenda. Thus, any cooperation should be treated with caution because for Turkey the Syrian refugees are a small part of a much broader issue as regards Syria and Turkey’s role in the region. We need cooperation but on equal terms and with respect to human rights. Greece also needs to carefully walk the line between cooperating and safeguarding its own national interests.

Q: What scenarios do you see unfolding for the refugee issue in the future? What could be a realistic way forward?

A: At present there are various potential ‘hot spots’ that can produce significant numbers of refugees, including Yemen, the Lake Chad region, and of course Afghanistan remains a source country. We will have to talk about legal means of entry especially for asylum seeking populations directly from third countries and reach a consensus and a way forward. It is unrealistic for Europe to expect third countries alone will carry the burden. It is also imperative to strengthen Jordan and Lebanon to continue hosting the refugee populations and improve living conditions. We also will need to discuss openly integration in Europe and address the present gap in integration capacity member states have. And we need to move beyond crisis-mode. The numbers that reached Europe since 2015 are undoubtedly significant and at times appear overwhelming but this is because we failed to cooperate with each other. 1 million people in a Union of 500 million inhabitants do not make a crisis.

On Greece I think the immediate concern should be to strengthen the Asylum Service, particularly first instance to avoid any potential back log. As regards the way forward Greece by virtue of its geography will always function as an entry point. This means that Greece has to develop a coherent asylum system that moves beyond protection and is linked with integration, offers assistance to those who receive protection until they can become self-sustained, create reception facilities and a humane return program. All the above require financial investment which Greece does not have. However it is an area where the Commission has expressed willingness to assist. Realistically all member states will have to realise that in one way or another they will have to undertake some form of burden sharing and that in the case of Greece a portion at least of those who arrive will have to stay in the country. But this can also be a huge opportunity and resource for the country if addressed correctly early on.  

Angeliki Dimitriadi earned a PhD in Social Administration with a focus on irregular migration from Democritus University in Greece, a MA in War Studies from King’s College London & a BSc in International Relations & History from the LSE. Her areas of expertise are: Irregular migration, asylum, securitization of migration, Common European Asylum System, Afghanistan and Greece. She is also co-Investigator to the ESRC Urgent Research Grant (University of Warwick and ELIAMEP), entitled 'Crossing the Mediterranean Sea by boat: Mapping and documenting migratory journeys and experiences’, monitoring current refugee flows and is working on a monograph on the governance of irregular migration at the borders of the European Union, to be published by Routledge in late 2016.

* Interview by Eleftheria Spiliotakopoulou (& Ioulia Livaditi)

More @ Greek News Agenda: ELIAMEP Think Tank: Analyzing the Refugee Crisis, Opinion: Global Cooperation Key for Refugee Crisis, Opinion: No Scapegoating in a Real EU policy for the Refugee Crisis; Fact sheet: Greece Dealing with the Refugee Crisis

 

 

valt2A Peloponnesian highlander by birth (born in the mountainous village of Kastri, in the region of Arcadia in 1932), the President of the Academy of Athens Thanasis Valtinos was at primary school when the Nazi invasion of 1941 threw Greek provincial life into disarray, soon followed by protracted civil war.  He migrated to Athens in 1950 and studied cinematography.  The brutality surrounding his formative years haunted the fiction he began to publish sporadically from the late 1950s onwards. His literary output gathered pace in the 1970s, interspersed with translations of ancient drama and well received screenplays directed by Karolos Koun. He has also written film scripts in collaboration with film director Theodoros Angelopoulos, most notably the award-winning Voyage to Kythira (1984). His novel Data from the Decade of the Sixties won the National Book Award for Best Novel in 1990. The publication of Orthokosta (1994) was followed by many reviews and articles in the literary and daily press (the "Orthokosta controversy") which announced the beginning of a larger and complex debate about the Greek 40s and Greek Civil War, which still continues in Greece.
 
Thanasis Valtinos has been president of the Hellenic Authors’ Society and has been elected in the Chair of Prosewriting at the Academy of Athens in 2010. He  has been translated into many languages and his inaugural address to the Academy (The Last Varlamis) was recently published in English by Birmingham Modern Greek Translations, while Orthokosta will be published this summer by Yale University Press with an introduction by Political Science Professor Stathis Kalyvas
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Thanasis Valtinos spoke to Greek News Agenda and Grece Hebdo* about his life and literary work, Greek society and  the Greek "ordinary man".  
 
Which of your books would you suggest for readers who would like to get acquainted with your work?
 
This is an unexpected question. No doubt my books are linked to history and a certain chronological order. So I would suggest The Legendary of Andreas Kordopatis (1972) that focuses on the beginning of the 20th century.
 
Among your books which one is your favorite?
 
I would say that I certainly have preferences considering my books, but I cannot talk about them, just like a mother cannot publicly admit which one is her preferred child.
 
Should literature respect the historical truth?
 
Literature and history refer to two different worlds. But when literature uses history for non-literary purposes, the result is bad literature. However, a writer should take account of the historical truth in order to construct his own “truth”, that is the literary truth.
 
Common people occupy a central place in your work. Why?
 
I'm not interested in heroic figures. What really attracts me is the ordinary man, the everyday man who has experienced suffering.
 
What has happened to this ordinary man after the dictatorship?
 
I think he has changed following the transformation of Greek society as a whole. I keep the memory of the common people who were spontaneous and who knew how to sing and dance. They have become mere radio listeners and TV watchers losing their capacity to communicate and express themselves in an authentic way. They have “softened” and absorbed by consumerism. Their “liberation” took a wrong direction, one that lacks spiritual discipline. As a nation, I don’t know if we can nowadays produce the kind of consensus and common spirit that we once produced, for example at the time of the Axis invasion in 1940. During the current crisis, common people became victims of manipulation by political elites and they seem to react only occasionally as it is the case of the protests regarding pension reductions. Literature can certainly play here a certain role here but the number of the people that are really interested is limited and bad literature is gaining ground.
 
How did you become a man of letters and literature?
 
It was rather a matter of coincidence. We went through our adolescence without being properly guided by the school of the time. Our teachers were not educated enough or able enough to guide us toward reading quality Modern Greek literature and poetry e.g. Seferis or Elytis. When, by pure chance, I started to read Kazantzakis, I was dazzled.  And then I started to frequent Tripoli’s (capital of the region of Arcadia) public  library, where I read the work of Grigorios Xenopoulos as well as France’s pornographic literature. But without help or guidance from anyone.
 
What does it mean for you to be a Greek highlander?  
 
My formative years in the Peloponnese were marked by the German occupation and the civil war. I have developed a highlander’s capacity to hold up in the face of adversity.
 
What do you mostly appreciate in Greece and the Greeks?
 
Few things, but they are things that I like enormously.
 
For example?
 
The sense of simplicity and direct reaction to difficult situations. And the dignity which is especially visible in people of a certain age.
 
And what is your political orientation in general?
 
I followed my family’s tradition, which was located at the centre of the political spectrum. I was also influenced by certain texts that I found fascinating, among which the Bible - I consider the Old Testament as one of the most poetic and erotic texts, as well as  Greek demotic songs and melancholy love songs and laments on death (mirologia). And I should certainly add, the memories of the soldiers of the war of independence against the Ottomans, namely Kolokotronis and Nikitaras.
 
What are your plans concerning the Academy of Athens?
 
As President of the Academy, I want to open the Academy to the public through seminars, literature and art presentations so that it is no longer regarded as a closed and obsolete monastery. However, the lack of financial resources remains a major problem.
 
* Interview by Nikolas Nenedakis (Greek News Agenda), Costas Mavroidis and Magdalini Varoucha (Grèce Hebdo) in the presence of the poet Yiorgos Chouliaras
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roussos4Sotiris Roussos is Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science and International Relations of the University of Peloponnese; Head of the Centre for Mediterranean, Middle East & Islamic Studies (CEMMIS), and Coordinator of the Centre for Religious Pluralism in the Middle East (CRPME).

From 1997 to 2003, he served as Senior Middle East Expert at the Greek Foreign Ministry. During the same period, he was a member of the Organising Team for the Athens Meetings between Israelis and Palestinians MPs, a member of the Task Forces for Water and Refugee Issues of the EU Special Representative for the Middle East, and the Greek representative in the Informal Group on the Religious and Cultural Aspects of Jerusalem. In 2009 he was appointed Personal Envoy for the Mediterranean Partners of the President-in-Office of the OSCE. Sotiris Roussos has written extensively on regional security and international politics in the Middle East, political Islam and the Christian communities in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Professor Roussos spoke to Greek News Agenda* about the study of the Muslim World, the Syrian crisis and its repercussions, the Islamic State, Turkey, Iran, and the European stance on the refugee crisis:

You are involved in two major initiatives in Greece regarding the study of the Muslim World. The Centre for Mediterranean, Middle East and Islamic Studies (CEMMIS) and the recently established Centre for Religious Pluralism in the Middle East (CRPME). Can you give us some more information on those two initiatives? What is their purpose?

We are talking about two distinct and at the same time interconnected initiatives. The Centre for Mediterranean Middle East and Islamic Studies (CEMMIS) has been, for ten years now, researching and reporting on the Middle East and the world of Islam. CEMMIS is the only centre in Greece dedicated to the study of the Middle East producing more than a hundred reports, bulletins and multimedia presentations. Established in the Dept. of Political Science and International Relations of the Univ. of Peloponnese and affiliated with the Athens based Institute of International Relations, it has trained more than eighty interns and researchers on Middle East Affairs.

The Centre for Religious Pluralism in the Middle East (CRPME) came to fulfill the need, highlighted in the Athens International Conference on Religious Pluralism in the Middle East, to establish a follow up mechanism in Athens, which would examine the situation in terms of freedom of religion or belief and cultural pluralism, would codify the various problems and would elaborate concrete proposals and viable solutions. CRPME's website and newsletters report on the social and economic conditions of the religious communities  in the Middle East, the cultural production, the demographic situation, the conditions under which religious rights are exercised and the relationship of these communities with the world and the communities of the diaspora.

CRPME3It seems that the Syrian crisis is the result of a power vacuum in the Middle East,  which in turn is due to the transition from a bipolar to multipolar international system. Do you agree with this approach? How do you think this that this vacuum manifests on a domestic, regional and international level? 

Some American analysts tend to describe this period as "politics of incoherence" meaning the transitional period when the old has gone but the new has yet to come. What we encounter is the ascent of various regional powers struggling for hegemony in their near abroad. The only and lonely superpower seems ready to accept a kind of regional hegemony while these powers cannot threat US global supremacy. In such a transitional situation, Washington can also tolerate relatively  ungoverned zones, if there are no vital American interests under threat. Syria is a case in point where the US initially allowed for regional powers such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia to take the lead.
 
During the Syrian conflict, the Kurds have played a key role in combating ISIS. Do you think that in the near future Kurds will have an opportunity to establish a Kurdish state in the region, one that could unite the Kurdish people leaving today in four different states?

The Kurdish autonomous self-government in Syria seems to be the only alternative paradigm to both the Arab Baathist nation-state and Islamist extremism. However, I am afraid that no major power has any intention "to die in the ditch" for the Kurds. In other words, Washington would face no dilemma if they had to choose between Ankara and the Syrian Kurds. And Russia would not alienate Iran (suspicious of any Kurdish entity) for the shake of the Kurds. It is difficult to find any trustworthy allies for the Kurds in the Syrian endgame.

The latest developments in the Syrian conflict have put Turkey in a difficult position. Do you think that Turkey can continue its aspirations to play a key role in resolving this conflict? What will be, in the long term, the consequences on Turkey’s role as a regional power?

There is no doubt that the Russian military intervention in Syria has seriously curtailed Turkey's ambition to play a decisive role in the Syrian endgame. However the country's geostrategic position, in conjunction with the refugee issue, gives Ankara a certain leverage. It seems that Erdogan will use this issue to gain not only financial aid, visas and re-kindling of the Turkey's EU Accession process but, most importantly,  the European support for a safe zone along the Syrian-Turkish borders. With the pretext of establishing a safe haven for refugees, Turkey will be free to thwart Kurdish plans for autonomy in Northern Syria.

iran2What is the importance of PM Tsipras recent visit to Iran? Do you think that Iran is changing?

Certainly Iran is changing. The lifting of sanctions will bring serious changes in Iranian economy and society. It will terminate the conditions of the "war economy" that has shaped both politics and social hierarchies. Greece can only benefit from closer relations with Iran. Unfortunately these relations have been somewhat neglected for the past ten years and Athens has taken steps that could have been misunderstood as unfriendly to Tehran. But I am sure that the visit of the Greek Prime Minister has done a lot to dissipate such concerns and I hope that the visit is going to have the appropriate follow-up, in terms of concrete agreements and common projects.

How do you judge the European stance on the refugee crisis? Do you think that the EU relocation/resettlement proposals are viable?

The European Union sense of security was anchored on two main elements. The first was the American politico-military umbrella, which was necessary even during the post-Cold War era. The second was the interventionist welfare state, which was built due to the Social Democratic political and ideological hegemony. When both of these elements waned, they were replaced by greedy and barbarous financial markets producing a gigantic precariat, feeding individualism, social Darwinism, xenophobia and racism. Under such circumstances the refugee issue is not examined objectively, but under the pressure of social barbarism.

What scenarios do you see unfolding for the Islamic State? You have referred to an ongoing “perceptions war”, can you tell us more?

My prediction is that the Islamic State won't last more than two years. This means that there will be a military defeat in conventional terms. Even so, I am afraid that without a new home-grown paradigm of state-building in the region, the 'perceptions war' conducted by the spiritual offsprings of ISIS will last much longer.

*Interview by Nikos Papadopoulos & Nikolas Nenedakis

Read CEMMIS' Middle East Bulletin (Greek Review of Middle Eastern Affairs, January 2016):meb

beaton1Roderick Beaton is Koraes Professor of Modern Greek & Byzantine History, Language & Literature, Director of the Centre for Hellenic Studies at King's College London and Fellow of the British Academy. His research spans Greek literature, history, and culture from the 12th century to the present; classical reception in the formation of late medieval and modern Greek identity; and the Greek novel since antiquity.
 
 
King’s College London is one of only two British universities that have an established professorship in Modern Greek. The Koraes Chair was established at King’s in 1918.
 
Professor Beaton spoke to Rethinking Greece* about the study of Greece internationally, Greek national identity, Greek exceptionalism and the Greek achievements in the last two hundred years:
 
Since August 2015 the King’s College Department of Classics merged its teaching and research supervision with the Centre of Hellenic Studies forming a single unit for the study of Greece and the Greek World. Can you tell us more about the history of Greek studies at King’s, the Koraes Chair and its prospects?
 
Ancient Greek has been taught and studied at King’s since the College first admitted students, in 1831 – just at the time when Greece itself was first recognised as an independent sovereign nation. Then in 1918 the Koraes Chair of Modern Greek History, Language and Literature was added. In the 1970s this in turn became the nucleus for the Department of Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, which functioned until 2010, and was responsibile for teaching up to 40 students per year at all levels from beginners in modern Greek language to PhD students. Many of its alumni are now in distinguished positions in Greek universities – others include the Athens correspondent of The Guardian and the current UK ambassador to Greece. Recent years have seen a steep decline in the number of undergraduate students in UK universities specialising in modern foreign languages; degree programmes in Modern Greek are no longer sustainable. But at the same time there has been an impressive rise in the number of students wishing to study individual courses (within a programme of study in e.g. English, History, Comparative Literature or Classics) in which they are introduced to the history, language and literature of modern Greece. The study of Byzantium continues to flourish within our department of Classics and also of History. The key position in all these developments is the Koraes Chair, which will soon be celebrating its first hundred years. The College has recently launched an appeal to foundations and interested individuals to raise 1.64 million pounds to ensure its future for the next hundred years. Thanks to generous sponsorship, almost one third of this target has been reached already.
kingsGreek national identity constitutes a focal point of your recent academic interests and work. What is the importance of the Greek national experience and how does it relate to Europe and other European nation states? In what ways literature contributes to the formation of national identity in Modern Greece?
 
Greece was the first new nation-state to be established anywhere in Europe after the upheavals of the Napoleonic wars, recognised by an international protocol of 1830. All other modern nation-states have followed the example of Greece. People don’t realise this, because the Greeks, and their foreign supporters, were so eager to present their achievement as something different from what it was, as the return to an ancient past. But modern Greece (the nation-state created out of the Revolution of the 1820s) I believe is a new creation, not a revival at all. The story of nation-states in the world today begins with that achievement of the 1820s in Greece. It’s a cliche to say that modern Europe is indebted to ancient Greece (because all our culture began from there); but Europe owes a debt to modern Greece too, to those who fought to set Greece free and all those (both Greeks and foreigners) who have consolidated that achievement ever since. Because, as the historian Paschalis Kitromilides has argued, Greece represents the ‘paradigm nation’, the one that, historically speaking, set the example that all others have followed since.
 
“Zorba the Greek” is an archetype of Greekness originating from Nikos Kazantzakis oeuvre. How has this influenced the image of Greek identity beyond literature? To what degree Kazantzakis incorporates a modernist approach in his oeuvre and how does this resonate with European modernism?
 
Zorba is an odd representative of ‘Greekness’ – ‘the Greek’ isn’t even part of the book’s Greek title. It was thought up by a translator who was helping Kazantzakis in his efforts to win the Nobel prize. And in the film which is even more famous than the book, neither of the two male leads is played by a Greek actor. So Zorba, in reality, isn’t that ‘Greek’ at all. On the other hand the book, the film, and Theodorakis’ music for the soundtrack, have all become world-famous, and in doing so have created a partly false idea of Greek identity. That said, Kazantzakis himself was profoundly conscious of his own identity as a Greek, and much of his writing does explore that in much more serious ways. He also projected a very specific Cretan identity, based on the history, language and culture of his native island. According to Kazantzakis, Crete lies at the meeting point of three great continents: Europe, Africa and Asia, and its people represent a unique and creative mingling of the three. As a writer he was influenced by all the great movements of modern European literature, including Romanticism and Modernism. I believe that the Modernist, experimental side of Kazantzakis’ writing has not been given the recognition it deserves. He was a fearless innovator, and I would suggest that some of his work even hints towards the Postmodernism that would develop worldwide during the 1970s, after his death.
 
What is the Byron’s legacy to the present-day Greece? Are there continuities or ruptures between 19th century Greece and today’s prospects and dilemmas?
 
Byron was the most famous of those outsiders who came to Greece during the Revolution – philhellenes, as they were called – because they believed in political freedom and saw Greece as the place where that freedom could become a reality. Byron himself went further, and even foresaw that the Greeks would develop a whole new kind of politics, that would then be emulated by the rest of the world. In a way, though not quite as he envisaged it, that is what has happened, as all other nation-states in Europe have followed in the footsteps of Greece in achieving national self-determination and unification. The heroic legend of his willing self-sacrifice for the cause of freedom in Greece played its part in securing victory for the Greeks, and is an enduring part of what we might call the ‘national myth’ of Greece today. But Byron’s more fundamental legacy lies in the way Greece’s political relationships have developed, ever since his own day. Byron was one of those who insisted on sound diplomatic and economic relations with other states. He embarked upon a pragmatic campaign to win power for a government in Greece, based on democratic principles and above all on the rule of law. He was not alone in that, of course, but his voice and influence empowered those Greeks, such as his friend and associate Alexandros Mavrokordatos, a later prime minister of Greece, to steer the country in the direction that we know today – with all the problems that that entails, particularly in recent years.  
beaton4How does the current crisis affect contemporary Greek poetry, prose and artistic output, in general?
 
This question has just been addressed in a book of essays published in English, mostly by leading Greek prose-writers, edited in 2015 by Natasha Lemos and Eleni Yannakaki, Critical Times, Critical Thoughts. The editors argue that literature doesn’t just reflect the reality of times such as these, but also by its nature has a transformative power. Exactly how literature will be seen, in hindsight, to have transformed the present crisis is very hard to see right now. It’s a process that takes time, and no one knows how the crisis will end or what further horrors it may bring in its train. Even a year ago, nobody could have foreseen that migration across the Aegean would have reached the levels it has today. If it seems facile to suggest that literature can ‘solve’ intractable problems like these, we should nonetheless think of something that Byron wrote, almost 200 years ago: ‘But words are things, and a small drop of ink ... produces / That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think’. And more tendentiously, his friend the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, another philhellene, wrote that ‘Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.’ It’s not obvious how  - but there’s hope for writers and literature yet!
 
In what terms can we rethink Greece and Greek exceptionalism after six years of intense economic and political crisis and the relevant European debates?
 
Well, for what it’s worth I’ve always thought that Greek exceptionalism (the idea of treating Greece and Greeks as a special case, set apart by a uniquely long history) has been part of the problem, not part of the answer. Not being Greek myself I’ve no right to prescribe how Greeks ought to define themselves. But I do believe that the opportunity to take a justified pride in the achievements of modern times might become part of a solution when Greece does finally begin to pull itself out of crisis. I’ve already spoken about the achievement of a brand-new nation state in the early 19th century, one that has proved an enduring model for others. Another would be Greek shipping – the wealth it has generated, and the lasting influence too, through the charitable and educational foundations set up in memory of the great ship-owners of the last century, men like Aristotle Onassis and Stavros Niarchos. And what about Greek achievements in the arts in the 20th century: Nobel prizes for Seferis and Elytis, the worldwide fame of Kazantzakis and Cavafy; musicians like Hadjidakis and Theodorakis; artists like Hadjikyriakos-Ghika, Theophilos, Engonopoulos. And these are just a few. It’s not just the Acropolis, the Parthenon, the endless reproductions of red-figure vases and miniature sculptures that you see in tourist shops all over Greece: the ancient past is part of the story, of course it is. But that’s an old story. The new story that needs to be told is how much Greeks have achieved for themselves in the last two hundred years or so.
 
*Interview by Aikaterini Papalouka & Nikolas Nenedakis 
 
 
Roderick Beaton, speaking on "Zorba and the Greeks: Nikos Kazantzakis and the Greek Tradition" (Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957): The Luminous Interval, International Symposium on the occasion of the 130th anniversary of the birth of Nikos Kazantzakis, London, 2013): 

See also: UK's Society for Modern Greek StudiesJohn Kittmer, UK's Ambassador to the Hellenic Republic: Gennadius, the Koraes Chair and the state of Modern Greek in Britain

On the occasion of the current Dutch Presidency of the European Union, the new Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Greece, His Excellency, Caspar Veldkamp, shared his views with Greek News Agenda

athanasiou1Athena Athanasiou is Associate Professor of Social Anthropology at Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences. She has authored the books: Life at the Limit: Essays on Gender, Body and Biopolitics (Athens, 2007); Crisis as a State of Exception: Critiques and Resistances (Athens, 2012); and she has co-authored, with Judith Butler, Dispossession: The Performative in the Political (Polity Press, 2013). She has also edited: Feminist Theory and Cultural Critique (Athens, 2006); Rewriting Difference: Luce Irigaray and 'the Greeks' (co-ed. with Elena Tzelepis, SUNY Press, 2010); and Biosocialities (Athens, 2011).
 
She is a fellow at the Center for the Study of Social Difference, at Columbia University, Vice President of the Athens-based Nicos Poulantzas Institute, and member of the National Commission of Human Rights, Greece.
 
Athena Athanasiou spoke to Rethinking Greece* about social struggles in Greece and internationally, critical resistance, progressive reforms and the need for a European re-assemblage:
 
You co-authored with Judith Butler "Dispossession: The Performative in the Political". Can you tell us more about the book's content and perspective?
 
We tried to reflect together on how dispossession --as a power configuration of neoliberal capitalism, colonialism and neo-colonialism, apartheid, nationalism and racism-- calls for a critical re-engagement with, and re-imagining of, the political, especially in times of crisis. So, we ask: how does the crisis work to reproduce, complicate, alter and/or intensify the terms through which subjects become gendered, racialized, and classed? And how might this question be asked from the perspective of a resistant performative politics of reclaiming public spaces and liveable lives?
 
Exploring the concept of dispossession outside the logic of possession, we tried in our conversation to conceptualize its links to relationality, precarity, biopolitics and collective protest. In dealing with the question of what makes political responsiveness possible in these precarious times, we focused on the double valence of dispossession –as the violence of disposability, but also as integral to processes by which subjects are formed in loss and in relation to one another. As it marks the limits of one’s own self-sufficiency, it becomes an occasion for the collective political work of transformation. So we took up current predicaments as an occasion to explore what it means to think about the subject as one of induced precarity, but also as one of “being-with”. In these times of crisis, when certain groups are rendered disposable and exposed to the biopolitical economisation of life, racism, state abandonment and the decimation of public spaces and services, we tried to reflect on how “we” (with all the trepidations and impossibilities that mark this “we”), engage with an agonistic way of reimagining and prompting the political imaginaries of radical democracy today. It is in this sense that in this book we take up the political as performative. 
 
It has been one year since the national elections that brought SYRIZA in power. How do you evaluate this year’s achievements (if any)?
 
Syriza became the first left government in the European Union. This event presented a great threat to the rule of conservative authorities and unelected functionaries of EU. Syriza’s coming to power opened the existing balance of power as a site of political contest and a horizon of possibility for introducing dissent and the claim for social justice in the EU orthodoxy. Its aim was, and still is, to call for another democratic configuration of politics in Europe. Needless to say, however, this is hardly a finalized achievement. Rather, it is about an unstable and contingent process, without predetermined end. Twenty-five years after the notorious “end of history”, the compulsory economization of the political terrain aspires to take the place of a new «grand narrative» affirming the axiomatic inevitability of global capitalism.
 
Since the night of July 12-13, 2015, when massive pressure was exerted over the Greek authorities to compel the country out of the Eurozone or agree on a punitive austerity package (a forced «agreement» that the left government could not accept but also could not refuse under those circumstances without certain grave risks), the European Union is a different place: one marked by the surrender of liberal democracy to authoritarianism. In this context, Syriza chose not to leave the battlefield. Appreciating the political significance of such choice requires breaking through both celebration of resistance as invulnerable and deploration of injury as depleted of agency.We need to remember that resistance is, in many ways, always already dependent on power. One of Marx’s most compelling insights is that “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.” (The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, 1852).
 
As we are reflecting and struggling to process today the devastating defeat that the left government in Greece suffered in the hands of global finance capitalism, we have yet to make way for acknowledging that it was despite, and even through, that «defeat» that the debt question was politicized, the normativity of the EU as an extra-political, post-democratic project was put in question, and an increasingly divided Europe’s (dis)order of things was pushed to its own limits.
 
It seems that the crisis as a “state of exception” is becoming the rule throughout Europe, while some of the parties that participated in the indignant movements of 2011 have been integrated into the political system (Podemos, SYRIZA). Do you think the emancipatory potential of those sociopolitical movements is still alive?
 
The state of unending crisis is a way to regulate what forms of the political are made permissible and possible. Breaking the vicious circle of intensified conservatism, currently manifesting in austerity obsession and securitarian border closures, requires questioning crisis as an apparatus of power and knowledge. It requires, crucially, another configuration of politics in Europe, based on inclusive, post-territorial citizenship and participatory democracy. 
 
I wouldn’t agree with the statement that “the movements of 2011 have been integrated into the political system”. In Greece, in any case, the state is not controlled by the Left and neither has the Left been integrated by the status quo. Étienne Balibar1 has taught us that governmental power does not amount to taking the power of the state apparatus. Governing this way requires institutional imagination, imaginative institutional critique, critical interventions, collective intellect and reflective action, alternative sensibility and responsiveness. What is needed is an equivocation between two antinomical forces of politics: namely,«insurrectional» and «constitutional» politics, to recall Balibar again .
 
The new configurations of anti-capitalist political mobilization that we witnessed during the past few years in several settings have inscribed a popular discontent with the status quo in the midst of violent dispossession, disposability, despair, and injustice but also in the midst of neo-Nazi and far-right violence. They have made us wield the possible in the actual, albeit without guarantees and without programmed outcome. As present regimes of governance increasingly and differentially expose people to the injuries of poverty, demoralization, and racism, a performative politics of protest has emerged, one which mobilized the potentiality of transforming such injurious interpellations. I think that the transnational reverberations and translations of these movements and struggles, as they traverse regional and national boundaries, have assumed critical urgency in our times. 
 
At this distressing moment for Europe, critical resistance includes resisting the assumptions that underlie the neoconservative manufacture of consent around the narratives of austerity capitalism, securitarianism, and nationalism. Critical agency then pertains to the question of how subjects, through our plural and differential embodiedness and embeddedness, might contest with others these unjust and injurious terms.  
athanasiou2On the one hand, Europe has been deemed a “positive influence” on Greece, in terms of gender and human rights issues, as some progressive reforms in these areas (i.e. the recent civil partnerships law) have been defended as “encouraged” by the European institutions. On the other hand, the European institutions also demand austerity measures and tighter control on borders and refugees. How do you judge this contradictory influence of Europe on Greece?
 
Let me reply to your question with two points and self-positionings, in a nutshell: First, I don’t subscribe to the uncritical Eurocentric conception of white bourgeois Europe as the enlightened cradle of human rights. And second, I defend and affirm gender equality and genderqueer politics that are not associated with the production of new devastating injustices and violences, such as anti-immigration nationalism. 
 
It is clear to me that human rights in Europe are today, and have been in the past, put at risk. There are EU governments that set aside human rights in the name of sanctified “security”, in contexts of combating terrorism. Anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiments and violence, as well as abusive asylum procedures and detention conditions, are widespread across the continent. In “fortress Europe”, which witnesses the callousness of closed borders and a neo-Nazi upsurge, the cynical politics that produces superfluous and desperate people is intricately related to fascism, racism, and the extreme nationalist definition of homogeneous and exclusive community -with all its fundamental implications of capital, gender, sexuality, and ethnicity. 
 
So I think it is important to reply to the question: what alternative and critical form of non-eurocentric, non-alienating «Europe» and its infrastructural conditions would be embodied by refugees and undocumented migrants who cross the Mediterranean waterways in leaky and overcrowded fishing boats hoping to reach European shores and being let die in the attempt? What claims to the institutional conditions for livability do they enact, every time they encounter barricades, racist attacks, and military institutions of securitization instead of conditions that allow for safe crossing, welcoming, and equal belonging? 
 
I am convinced that there is an urgent need for a process of restructuring and re-founding of Europe and in Europe, beyond territory. A Europe committed to, and ruled by, the neoliberal agenda and its concomitant destitution, inequalities and discriminations should give its place to a social and political Europe of rights, participatory democracy, and inclusive citizenship.
 
Can we still re-think Greece as a country of progressive reforms within the current economic, social, and political constraints?
 
Under harsh pressure, Syriza government has passed laws that bear clear democratic left valence. Its record of progressive reforms includes a law that provided relief from humanitarian crisis by offering free food, electricity and public health access to those who have been mostly affected by the austerity policies; the citizenship law which granted nationality to all second-generation immigrants and first-generation immigrant children who had five years of schooling in Greece; the law designed to democratize penal law and to ensure the humane treatment of those incarcerated in the country’s prison system; the law on civil partnership with no gender and sexuality exceptions, and many others. 
 
At the same time, short of adequate local infrastructures and EU support, and also despite and against border closures mandated by other European states, the Greek government seeks to undertake efforts that could respond to, and counter, the intensifying anti-refugee policies in Europe. Again, this is not (only) about Greece. Europe is at the edge of a collective disaster: an appalling mix of rapidly rising nationalisms, disintegrating democracy, heightened autarchic governmentality, and deepening economic inequalities. 
 
The question is how to derive transformative potential from constraints; how to provoke shifts in the terms through which the political is articulated in Europe today. Whether, how, and at what cost Syriza can hold on and promote egalitarian policy under the tutelage of the austerity memorandum, is to be seen. This, of course, relates to a broader question: is it possible to go beyond the normative horizon of capitalist globalization within a nation-state in light of present conditions of impossibility – capitalist crisis, securitization, rising nationalisms, and the post-colony? This would arguably require building transnational alliances and coordinating social struggles and movements. It would require more courageous solidarity and more consistent mobilization among the peoples of Europe. In order to turn the tide across the continent, we urgently need a European re-assemblage. Not an easy task.
 
1.Étienne Balibar, «The 'impossible' community of the citizens: Past and present problems», Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 30 (3): 437-49, 2012
 
*Interview by Ioulia Livaditi 
 
 
Watch Athena Athanasiou's lecture: "As if it were possible": Performing the Institution in the un/common space of the Polis" (3rd International conference of the Group for Social Engagement Studies, University of Rijeka, How to Act together: From Collective Engagement to Protest, Belgrade, November 19-21, 2015):