The Secretariat General for Media and Communication is hosting an event – tribute to Yannis Behrakis, photojournalist with Reuters for the last 20 years and Guardian photographer of the year 2015. On this occasion, Greek News Agenda (GNA)* interviewed Yannis Behrakis and presents “the man behind the image”.

BehrakisFotor 5

Q: You have been a photojournalist for more than 25 years. How did it all start?

A: It basically started from my dream to understand humanity and discover foreign places and cultures. I decided to learn photography at the age of 24 and use photography as a tool to fulfill my dream. I worked for a year or so, as a commercial photographer building a good career. Then one day I went to the movies to see “Under fire” with Gene Hackman and Nick Nolte, a movie based on the real story of a journalist and a photographer who covered the events in Nicaragua in the 80s. The photographer had pictures of soldiers executing his colleague. After risking his life numerous times, the photographer managed to get the footage to the United States and it was broadcast on national TV. This changed the foreign policy of the U.S. towards Nicaragua and within a month dictator Somoza was ousted and justice prevailed. When I walked out of the cinema that evening in 1984, I knew what I wanted to do in life. I truly believe that photojournalism and journalism in the right hands can make the world a better place.

Q: Is there a single picture or day from your work in the field that stands out to you? How has it changed your perspective?

A: Many moments and days and pictures. And I hope there are many to come.

Q: You have been in the front line of war zones around the world and witnessed crimes, genocides, death and despair. Have you ever considered not to capture a moment of atrocity? Why?

A: My mission is to witness and share all the moments of humanity and inhumanity.

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Q: You’ve witnessed the refugee drama in different places around the world. Now the story unfolds in your country and you were awarded Guardian’s Photographer of the Year Prize for your breathtaking pictures. How challenging was covering such a story? What’s your opinion on initiatives such as the nomination of the Greek islanders with the Nobel Peace Prize?

A: The emotional impact was devastating. I suffered from nightmares and insomnia. At times I felt guilty for not being able to do more to help these people. I have witnessed the exodus of refugees in several places around the world over the past 25 years and I know well how difficult it is for the majority of those who are forced to flee war, poverty and persecution. My experience covering the refugee crisis this year was, at the end of the day, very rewarding. I discovered yet another time that humanity is alive. Hundreds of Greek and foreign volunteers flocked to Greece to help. Millions of people worldwide helped one way or another. Many of those who had helped the refugees acknowledged that my pictures and the pictures of other colleagues pushed them to get involved. Europe is in the midst of its biggest migration crisis since World War II, according to the United Nations, and the number of people forcibly displaced worldwide is likely to have surpassed 60 million last year. I believe the mass movement of people is very important news for everybody around the world, from ordinary people in Asia to big corporations in Europe. A movement of this magnitude is evolving the human and cultural landscape of our world.

Q: How do you respond to criticism addressed sometimes to photojournalists that, instead of assisting people in need, they focus on their photographic mission? Does a code of ethics apply to photojournalism? Where do you yourself draw the line?

A: If I feel that I must get involved practically in helping people, I do it without any hesitation; I believe the same for the majority of my colleagues. If for example a raft comes ashore and volunteers and life guards are there to help them and the circumstances are normal and the people are not in any immediate danger I just take pictures. I know that these pictures have inspired many people to come help, this is my mission. My work is based in my personal values as human and in the highest journalistic values.

Q: Do you still find yourself walking in “unchartered waters”? Have you ever considered walking away from your mission?

A: I love “walking” on “unchartered waters”, unfortunately I would have to stop one day but I hope to inspire others to continue.

* Interview by E. Spiliotakopoulou, V. Diagouma, A. Rossoglou

See also from Greek News Agenda: Yannis Behrakis Named Guardian Photographer of the Year 2015

Kalandides7Ares Kalandides is a Berlin-based urban planner and consultant in place branding. He is the founder and CEO of INPOLIS a Place Management & Spatial Planning consultancy that offers services to cities, neighbourhoods and regions. He has been a consultant to Berlin Partner (the city’s marketing organization) since 1996 and has consulted various districts, cities, and regions in Germany and worldwide. 
 
Kalandides is a director of the Institute of Place Management (Manchester) and editorial member of the Journal of Place Management and Development. He is currently a professor in Metropolitan Studies at NYU Berlin and the editor of the blog Places.
 
Ares Kalandides spoke to Rethinking Greece* about  the Greek-German connection, the current crisis narratives, and how to rebuild  Greece’s reputation.
 
Hans-Werner Kroesinger’s GRAECOMANIA 200 years performance (currently on stage in Berlin) tries to encapsulate the so called love-hate relationship in German-Greek history. How would you describe the German-Greek relationship/connection?
 
I think it is impossible to talk about the German-Greek relationship without discussing perceptions, i.e. how Greece is viewed in Germany and vice versa. We could trace the beginnings of that story at the end of the 18th century and the rediscovery of an (imaginary) ancient Greece during German Classicism. Goethe probably captures best the era’s nostalgia for a lost golden age in his Iphigenia in Tauris when he talks about: "Looking for the land of the Greeks with the soul” ("Das Land der Griechen mit der Seele suchend"). Yet, only a few decades later, in 1830, Jakob Philipp Fallmerayer develops a theory according to which "the race of the Hellenes has been wiped out in Europe" and what is left is a mix of Slavs, Turks and other ethnic groups.
 
I would say that Greece’s image in Germany still oscillates between the Goethe/Fallmerayer poles: admiration for (an idealized and selective) classical Greece on the one hand, and a contempt for (or relative ignorance about) modern Greek culture on the other. While several German museums and architecture in some German cities still bare witness to the former, interestingly enough the Fallmerayer theory pops up regularly in German media (it did so in an article in the national newspaper Die Welt as late as 2015). Somewhere in the middle lie oversimplifications of folklore clichés: ouzo, souvlaki, retsina and syrtaki against a backdrop of bright skies, blue seas and whitewashed houses. 
 
It was the wave of Greek migration to Germany since the 1950s that added that latter image on top of the existing ones and brought Greeks and Germans into direct contact. The Gastarbeiter, was the personification of the poorly qualified Greek who came to work in the industrial zones of the country bringing with her traditional customs, unfamiliar music and a new culinary tradition. In the opposite direction, the waves of German tourists who started visiting Greece in growing numbers at the end of the 1960s, were probably looking both for Goethe’s Greece and the new folklore. 
 
What has prevailed since the crisis is what I would call, following Edward Said, the “orientalist” view: stories of laziness, corruption, lack of discipline, profligacy and deceit.  This general concept of “backwardness” of course encompasses a much larger geographical area and includes other southern European countries, the Balkans, the Arab world and what we often call “the global South”. 
 
In Greece, see certain distinct eras that define the imagery on Germany: 1) monarchy and the presence of Bavarians during the founding years of the Greek state; 2) World War II with the German occupation and the atrocities committed during that time; 3) the post-war era with mass migration to Germany (s.Gastarbeiter above) and the growth of mass tourism. The large number of German tourists who visit the country, produce a very mixed image of Germans with highly educated, individualist explorers and amateurs of the country on the one hand and binge-drinking, mayhem-inflicting mobs on the other.
 
Germans are viewed in Greece with a mix of admiration, fear and hatred: organizational skills, technological and economic power, discipline and thrift are envied; blind obedience to power or stinginess are ridiculed; arrogance and superiority are feared; an unresolved Nazi history is still the source of hatred. I don’t think that this has changed much since the crisis, though the negative side probably prevails amongst a large part of the population.
 
That being said, let’s not forget that many young highly qualified people who’ve left Greece in the past few years go to Germany and especially to Berlin. The city is now perceived by many of them as a metropolitan, open-minded world capital of creativity, i.e. almost an aberration of the prevailing German image. It would be very interesting to record their experiences, which are not always positive, as I believe that this phenomenon opens up a new chapter in the relationships between the two countries and marks a different type of migration.
 
Pleite Griechen eng 2It seems that during the crisis years a certain interaction between the Greek and foreign media has enhanced Greek exceptionalism and over-moralizing narratives about the “lazy Greeks”, Greek society’s pathologies etc. In 2011 you had questioned the “Germans who are ants and Greeks who are grasshoppers” myth. Would you like to elaborate on these issues?
 
Well into the debt crisis, I had started getting very irritated with the way Greece and Greeks were portrayed in the German media (one could argue that the same thing took place in Greece, but I happen to live in Germany so it concerned me directly). In particular, the myth of the lazy Greek and the hard-working German was so present everywhere (s. above my remark on Orientalism), that even high-ranking officials, including the German Chancellor, did not refrain from using it. This lie was repeated even after figures and statistics were produced that clearly proved how flawed this narrative was. There were some serious attempts on the German side to address this issue that was clearly damaging the relationship between the two people. The best one I know is a small leaflet published by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation debunking the lies one by one. In a 2011 blog entry, inspired by an article by Yanis Varoufakis, I used the famous myth by Aesop, “The Ant and the Grasshopper”, as a metaphor, arguing that there were indeed hard-working people and parasites, but it’s not a division among nations we should be looking for: there are ants and grasshoppers in Greece as there are in Germany. Yet, I’m afraid that the damage that was done at that point is almost beyond repair in the short term. 
 
Is it possible to influence the way the mass media present and comment on a specific country? Could there be a national strategy to this end?
 
I think it is only possible up to a point to influence the way mass media present and comment on a specific country. The way that the German media, in particular the Axel-Springer complex, have been constantly portraying Greece since 2010 is not due to misinformation, but to a strategy. I don’t know exactly what and why, but not seeing that there is a hidden agenda there would be naïve. So, is it possible to influence what they write about Greece and how they portray the country, its government and its people? Probably only marginally and it would have to go through individual journalists. 
 
Yet, there are certain things that can be done and a national strategy is indeed necessary. German embassies and Greek ex-pats can become very important allies in collecting information and diffusing differentiated messages. This cannot be generated by some abstract scheme or some automated address list on some computer. It is part of a diplomatic effort that follows many different channels, including personal connections. Also, we should talk about the role of cultural diplomacy here, as culture in general ‘travels well’. Is there, for example, a strategy to use the momentum that will be created by the Dokumenta exhibition (documenta 14: Learning from Athens, Athens 8. 4. – 16. 7. Kassel 10. 6. – 17. 9. 2017) and turn it into a bridge to transport positive images of Greece to Germany? There are many examples like this that often go unnoticed. 
 
Also, please notice that I am not talking about a promotion campaign. I’ve not talked about logos and advertising, but about much more sophisticated tools. That does not mean that there should not be a dialogue between tourist promotion and the rebuilding of the country’s reputation – because the latter is exactly what we’re talking about here. 
 
There are probably few countries in Europe right now with a worse image than Greece. You have noted that Place branding is useful if the people living there are convinced that a place is better than its reputation. Is this the case for Greece?
 
I don’t think it is possible to answer with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Indeed, there are probably areas where reputation is worse than reality or vice versa and of course, somebody will always contest even this assessment. Part of a national strategy should be to analyze precisely that gap. This means a) a systematic research on the country’s reputation in defined areas, b) a realistic analysis of the country’s qualities in the same examined areas, c) an assessment of the difference between the two. Only such a systematic approach will permit us first to identify the areas where reputation needs management and then look for the right tools and channels.   
grecomaniaIs there such a thing as city / country identity? Is there an Athenian / a Greek identity? What do you think can be done to promote / develop Greek cities and regions?
 
I think that there is something we can call place identity (of a city, region or country), but its definition is extremely difficult, as it’s questionable whether places are ontological entities. Contemporary geographical theories see places as constituted by social relations, which are by definition multiple, conflicting and constantly evolving, yet embedded both in the material world and in history. Also, as soon as we try to distinguish between the “real world” and our “perceptions” of a place we see that, although analytically we can tell them apart, in reality one defines the other. For example, just consider how a neighbourhood’s bad reputation actually influences what the neighbourhood will become, as it’s reputation that may define real-estate prices and attracts or keeps away particular social groups. Reputation can thus become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because of this complexity of place identity (material world, human relations, representations, perceptions, history, mutability) I have found that art is usually better positioned than science in conveying a sense of place. 
 
Place branding can support other development strategies (economic, cultural, social), but cannot constitute a strategy in itself. So the question should always be to look at the visions behind other strategies, try to align them and see how reputation management can support them. Unfortunately place branding is usually limited to logos, advertising and promotion campaigns, which I think are absolutely pertinent to destination marketing, but have a very limited effect on place branding. 
 
Public and cultural diplomacy are the two fields that I believe to be most effective in creating, maintaining and managing a place’s, in particular a country’s, reputation. 
 
Place / Nation Branding theory emphasizes on coordination and a single message. Yet, modern democracies are based on argument, strong debates and distinct political positions. How can this issue be managed in the process of branding a place / nation?
 
Let’s look at the two different aspects of this apparent contradiction: 
 
1) Coordination does not go against strong debates, democratic processes or even conflicts – quite the contrary. One skill in democracies consists in coordinating difference, which is not the same as creating homogeneity out of heterogeneity. It is an endless power-game where lines of division are constantly renegotiated and boundaries are moved back and forth. Coordination in place branding is inscribed in exactly the same context. Place branding is profoundly political, even if marketing gurus want us to believe the opposite. 
 
2) I don’t think that the communication of a single message is possible in place branding. The intricacy of place identity, the political nature of social relations and a constantly changing reality make it impossible to reduce such complexity to a single, simple or straightforward message. There will always be a bunch of messages present at the same time. Although ideally they should correspond, we should not be afraid to leave space for internal contradictions. Stories generally work better for places. A narrative allows for variations, leaves openings for more complexity, even conflicting versions of the same story. Yet, we should not have any illusions, as even narratives are selective: There are always storytellers and their particular points of view.
  
What would you do, if you were asked to rebrand Greece?
 
I think at this point the term reputation management would be more exact. The country has experienced a serious damage in its reputation, but as I said above, this is not innocent: part of the damage reflects the real situation, part of it is politically motivated and part of it follows the path of word-of-mouth, reproducing itself. If reputation reflects reality, then we seriously need to work on that reality. If it is politically motivated, then we cannot be looking for solutions in place branding, but in politics. What we may be able to influence is the reproduction of that bad reputation. A robust assessment of the gap between reality and perception in particular areas, the identification of centres of information and opinion-makers, the activation of possible institutional allies and key individuals, coordination and cooperation among different sectors, design of a serious public and cultural diplomacy are only some of the steps needed in that direction. This challenge is far too complex for a small team, let alone for one person. What we need is a multi-disciplinary task-force able to tackle it.
 
*Interview by Nikolas Nenedakis
 
la cigale et la fourmi
 


Martin Wolf
, chief economics commentator at the Financial Times, distinguished author and expert on specific issues related to the developments in the crisis-hit countries of the Eurozone, was interviewed by Greek News Agenda on the current prospects of the Greek economy.   

voglis2Polymeris Voglis is Associate Professor and Director of Prostgraduate Studies, Department of History, Archaeology and Social Anthropology, University of Thessaly. He studied history at the University of Athens and the European University Institute. He has published the books Becoming a Subject. Political Prisoners during the Greek Civil War (New York, 2002), The Greek Society in the Occupation, 1941-1944 (in Greek, 2010), and The Impossible Revolution - The Social Dynamics of the Greek Civil War (in Greek, 2015). His research interests concern the 20th century social history, the Occupation and the Greek Civil War, and postwar history. He is also among the main organizers of the “Rethinking Europe” project, supported by the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung and the Athens-based “Defense of Society and Democracy” initiative.
 
Polymeris Voglis spoke to Rethinking Greece* on the Greek 40’s, social inequalities, democracy and the fragility of Europe:
 
The Greek 40’s have been the focus of your research as well as an arena of intense public history debates in Greece for some time. Why does this particular period attract so much attention nowdays?
 
Τhe 1940s is one of the most important periods in modern Greek history, one that shaped the developments in Greek society and politics for at least forty years after the end of the Greek civil war in 1949. It is impossible to understand the military dictatorship (1967-74) or the political culture of the 1970s if you don’t take into account what happened during the Nazi occupation and the civil war. For that reason the history of the 1940s has always attracted the interest of a wider public in Greece. What has changed is that in the last 20 years a considerable number of scholars started to study this particular period and to debate in public about the 1940s and that fuelled the interest of the wider public. The intense public history debates show that the 1940s is still relevant for the contemporary political identities; both the Left and the Right need to have a narrative for the 1940s.   
 
You refer to the Greek civil war (1946-49) as a “revolution”. Can you tell us why? Can we study the civil war as a part of Global / European history of revolutions? 
 
The Greek Civil War was a violent conflict that concerned the future of Greece. I used the term “revolution” because the goal of the Greek Communist Party after 1947 was the radical transformation of the society and the establishment of a socialist regime in Greece. In my book, I argue that the Communist Party had not set this goal from the beginning, that is in the Resistance movement in occupied Greece, but gradually and with many reservations decided to engage in a military struggle. The decision to follow the revolutionary path was a result of the ruthless persecution of the Left by the royalist-Right in the post-liberation era, of the culture of armed struggle that was developed in the Resistance, and of the establishment of socialist regimes in the Balkans. The civil war was intertwined with revolution, and this is not a Greek phenomenon, in fact this happened in many countries, like in Russia, China, Cuba, Nicaragua, and elsewhere. From this viewpoint, the Greek civil war belongs to the revolutionary tide that swept Europe, Asia and Latin America in the 20th century. 
 
Social inequalities and political autocracy have characterized Southern European countries from the 1930’s until the 1980’s. What are the consequences for today’s political situation and dilemmas?
 
The postwar “miracle” in Europe was based on the welfare state and an “inclusive” societal model. The demise of the welfare state in the last decades has led to an “exclusive” model. More and more people are excluded; they are unemployed or only temporary employed, have no health-care and insurance, live in impoverished neighborhoods, etc.   We need to realize that social inequalities are not only a social and economic problem but a political problem as well. To put it bluntly, the ever growing social inequalities put democracy at risk. This can happen in two ways. On the one hand, governments facing social discontent and protest become increasingly more repressive. Instead of putting forward reforms that would improve people’s lives regarding employment, health care, education, etc., government policies are restricted to monitoring and policing the “excluded”. On the other, many of the “excluded”,  disappointed by the political elites look for a “strong man” to save them from their predicament, or put the blame on immigrants and refugees, lending their support to xenophobic and extreme-right wing parties. These developments are very dangerous for democracy.
 
voglis4“Rethinking Europe” is an ongoing project and a series of lectures on Europe’s future organized by the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung and the Athens-based “Defense of Society and Democracy” in which you actively participate. What is its main concept? 
 
The initiative to organize these lectures started a year ago, after the January 2015 elections. These elections had sent a very clear message against the prevailing neo-liberal policies, the austerity measures and the demise of the welfare state in the EU. The idea behind the Rethinking Europe project was to open the discussion about the consequences of these policies on the peoples of Europe and on the future of Europe as well. We should not take the unification of Europe for granted and the recent developments regarding the refugee crisis (closing of borders, refusal to receive refugees, plans for revising the Schengen treaty, etc.) demonstrate how fragile the EU is. The future of Europe is dependent on the idea of what kind of Europe do we want. If current policies drive Europe into a dead-end, then we should put forward an alternative vision for Europe and for that purpose we organize a series of lectures that will go until the summer.
  
In what terms can we re-think Greece and Europe after the Syriza government July 2015 compromise?
 
Many people say that the July compromise was a defeat of the Syriza government. I think that it was a defeat of democracy in Europe. Greek people voted against the austerity in January 2015 and again in the July referendum. The EU ignored the vote of the Greek people and imposed a new austerity program threatening that otherwise Greece would be forced out of the EU. If the EU ignores the will of the people, then what can be the future of democracy in Europe? If the policies, decisions, measures are fixed and set in advance, then what is the point of doing elections? In the past there was the discussion about the “democratic deficit” in Europe. We passed that point. The July compromise showed that the neoliberal orthodoxy is stronger than democracy. This is a good reason to start rethinking what Europe has become and how it should be.    
 
*Interview by Nikolas Nenedakis
 
Watch video: "Rethinking Europe - Lecture 01 Saskia Sassen – Greek Crisis: Norm or Exception in Europe?" (June 2015)

kalyvas1Professor Stathis Kalyvas leads the Yale University program on Order, Conflict, and Violence. He is the author of “The Logic of Violence in Civil War” (2006) and “The Rise of Christian Democracy in Europe” (1996), as well as co-editor of "From Stagnation to Forced Adjustment: Reforms in Greece, 1974–2010" (2013). He recently published "Modern Greece: What Everyone Needs To Know" (2015) combining up-to-date economic and political-science findings on the current Greek crisis with a discussion of Greece's history.
 
Professor Kalyvas, together with University of Macedonia Professor Nikos Marantzidis, sparked in the early 2000s a major debate on the origins and political nature of the Greek Civil War. Co-founders of the Greece-based “Civil Wars Study Group,” Kalyvas and Marantzidis recently published a comprehensive account of the Greek Civil War ("Εμφύλια πάθη: 23 ερωτήσεις και απαντήσεις για τον Εμφύλιο") that is being widely discussed in Greece.
 
Professor Kalyvas is an active participant in Greek public discourse as a regular contributor of commentaries in Greek in Kathimerini daily and via comments on Twitter. He spoke to Rethinking Greece* about Greece's Centre-Right, the Greeks’ self-perspective and the country's historical trajectory: 
 
Centre-Right political discourse in Greece blames the Left’s ideology and “populism” for the country’s difficulties. You seem to share this judgment especially in relation to the Greek government’s “miscalculations” during the recent euro zone negotiations. Can you tell us more?
 
Populism is a fuzzy term, widely debated by political scientists and sociologists.  At its most basic, it refers to a political analysis and public discourse that relies on the nebulous category of “the people” which includes pretty much everyone, in contrast to a tiny “elite.” In the case of Greece, this type of analysis has blamed (and explained away) the crisis by pointing to a few corrupt politicians and businessmen who have raked up an unsustainable debt to benefit their own economic fortunes, usually with the assistance of foreign powers. The problem with this belief is that it bypasses fundamental problems of the Greek economy which have led to a wide mismatch between its productivity on the one hand and the standard of life enjoyed (and expected) by Greek society, on the other.  My point is that unless Greece addresses these fundamental underlying problems, it won’t be able to exit the crisis successfully.
 
The Greek 1940s and the Greek Civil War have been the focus of a vivid debate among historians and political scientists in Greece, especially during the last fifteen years. Why does this debate persist? And to what extent is it relevant to political discourses involving the ongoing crisis?
 
For the same reason that the French still debate the French Revolution and the Americans the American Civil War.  These are just critical issues in a nation’s history and are, thus, destined to generate a quasi-perpetual public debate. This does not mean that scholarly research cannot proceed, but that it will never have the ability on its own to settle matters of public and political interest in a definitive matter.
 
During the crisis, highly inflamed references to the civil war surfaced as a way to spearhead partisan arguments.  The central role of Germany in that crisis offered a unique opportunity to populist politicians and opinion-leaders, who were able to amalgamate contemporary Germany and its WWII’s Nazi counterpart, as well as a large swath of Greek public opinion and the wartime collaborators of the German occupation of Greece.  This type of discourse proved to be a key resource in the rapid  political rise of SYRIZA, but has since turned into a liability, following SYRIZA’s government policy turnaround to implement austerity. 
kalyvas9You have published a book on Christian democracy and its importance for European politics. How does the Greek Right relate to the European conservative and liberal political traditions? And what does that mean in terms of current prospects?
 
When I studied the history of many European right wing parties (often called “Christian Democratic”), I was surprised to discover that their origins were to be found in the Catholic movement of the second half of the twentieth century. This movement was initially anti-liberal, but the parties that sprang from it ended up moving toward the center of the political spectrum and became mainstays of European democracy and the European welfare state. The origins of the Greek Right are very different, both in terms of political theology (i.e. the absence of a Catholic tradition in Greece) but also politically, given that Greece never really experienced the level of industrialization that shaped West European societies. Nevertheless, after 1974, the Greek Right also moved toward the center of the political spectrum and, in this respect at least, it is no different to its West European counterparts.
 
In your recent book on Greece you argue that the country is (macro-historically) a success story. But how does the ongoing crisis inform Greek identity/ies, and do you think Greeks can reconstruct their self-perception in a positive perspective under the circumstances?
 
The crisis is not a uniform process and it has affected public perceptions in Greece in a variable manner throughout the past six years. I have the feeling that after a period of denial, there is at present a process of reconciliation with the hard economic reality, which is a precondition for making the necessary changes. Of course, whether these will take place is a completely different story.  If Greece succeeds, however, this will likely shape the self-perspective of Greeks in a more positive direction, stressing the (presently feeble) ability to self-correct in the face of adversity.
 
yalehellHow does the crisis influence the interest in Greece and Modern Greek Studies in the US, including Yale University in particular?
 
Perhaps the only positive side effect of the crisis so far, has been the incredible level of global attention devoted to Greece, both by the mass media but also by scholars. This interest has been obvious in my home institution as well, where the Hellenic Studies Program has successfully organized a broad set of activities, from the organization of conferences and lectures to offering classes specifically tied to the Eurozone crisis and the outsized role of Greece in it.  I feel that we have  been able to supply our audience with a much more nuanced and sophisticated view of the developments in Europe and Greece.
 
Greece has been at the center of a most crucial European public debate over the last several years to the extent, as you have argued, that “the Greek crisis brought to the surface glimpses of an emerging European Demos.” Can we now re-think Greece beyond Greek exceptionalism, in a more comparative/European/global framework?
 
The historical trajectory of every country is composed of both domestic/endogenous processes and international/exogenous ones. Greece is no exception, if to some extent in the huge international interest it has managed to generate, in various key points of its history. For instance, its war of independence in the early 19th century was a process that fascinated European public opinion, its Civil war in the 1940s was a key moment in the Cold War, and its role in the Eurozone crisis after 2009 was equally prominent, as we all know. In my book, Modern Greece: What Everyone Needs to Know, I attempt to explain how such a small country has managed to play such an outsize international role. My explanation points to the interaction of domestic and global processes in order to explain outcomes specific to Greece. In this sense, I highlight features that are, if not unique to Greece at least quite unusual comparatively speaking, but I explain them using general theories and processes.
 
*Interview by Nikolas Nenedakis
 
GrKalyvas
 
karpozilosKostis Karpozilos (Ph.D. in History, University of Crete) is an A.G. Leventis Fellow at SEESOX, Oxford University, UK. He is the historical consultant and scriptwriter of the documentary Ταξισυνειδησία / Greek-American Radicals: the Untold Story as well as the editor of a book on the Cretan socialist intellectual Stavros Kallergis. Karpozilos has written extensively on the Greek crisis, the European Left and the limits of political imagination in the post-1989 world and he is currently working on an international history of the Greek Left.
 
Kostis Karpozilos spoke to Rethinking Greece* about Greek-American Radicalism, the current internationalization of the Greek story and the need for progressive reforms within a European radical project: 
 
As the historian behind the “Ταξισυνειδησία / Greek-American Radicals” documentary you brought forward an alternative vision of Greek-American history that focuses on class and radicalism, challenging the more traditional “Struggle and Success” narrative. How did the Greek-American Community respond to this approach?
 
The realization that the Greek-American community is not a monolith was one of the most refreshing aspects of my experience with the Greek-American Radicals documentary. Its reception illustrated the multiple and diverse worlds of diasporic communities. The official institutions and organizations -that claim to represent the community- have proven to be quite indifferent or hostile to any narrative challenging the dominant “struggle and success” story (which in the meantime has transformed to  “success and success”). On the other hand, in more than one occasion, I had the opportunity to engage in dialogue with a multifaceted Diaspora that associates its ethnic origins with contemporary social and political movements. Many Greek-Americans were active in the Occupy Wall Street movement, supported the documentary, organized screenings and more importantly, contributed with their own experiences and memories to the debate generated by the documentary itself. In a way their input reaffirmed one of the main arguments of “Greek-American Radicals”: that the untold stories of immigration and Diaspora deserve a place in history.
 
What is the connection, if any, to the history of the International, European and Greek Left? How does “Ταξισυνειδησία” touch upon the links between labor immigration and the contemporary global financial crisis?
 
In these past few days I have been writing the introduction to my forthcoming book on Greek-American Radicalism (Crete University Press, 2016). My opening scene draws a parallel between The New Colossus -the poem engraved on the Statue of Liberty- and The Internationale, the global hymn of the socialist movement. Both are written in the 19th century and make a call to the “wretched” of the earth. The geographical New World, the United States at that point, appears in dialogue with the socialist New World. This interplay between population movements and emancipatory narratives is integral to understanding the history of the Left. In the United States of the late 19th and early 20th century, labor migration proved to be pivotal in restructuring labor unions and radical politics. Being the wretched of the earth, the immigrants’ actions and visions transformed the American social landscape and gave rise to a phenomenal multiethnic working class movement. We cannot repeat history. What we have to address though, is why it is difficult to imagine contemporary refugees being at the forefront of a European Left in the years to come. This lack of imagination, I am afraid, illustrates a Left that has internalized its inability to listen to the voices of the “wretched” and, in turn, inspire a novel emancipatory narrative of social equality.
 
spartacusYou are currently working on an “international history of the Greek Left” project. Can you tell us more? Do you believe that the Greek Left constitutes a distinct case in the history of European Left or is it just a typical example?
 
What I have been thinking of, is a concise history of the Greek Left demonstrating how, in pivotal moments, developments in the Greek Left encapsulated broader European and global transformations. Let me give you an example: the first socialist representatives in the Greek Parliament came from the multiethnic radical movements of Thessaloniki amidst the Balkan wars (1912-1913). Should we view this story -which remains largely unknown- as merely a Greek one, or should we see it as a Balkan moment that illustrates the demise of the multiethnic world of the Ottoman Empire and the collapse of the Second International? In the same manner I intend to discuss the Greek Civil War (1946-1949) as a key episode in the Cold War, the education of Asia Minor refugees in the Communist International schools in Moscow, the activities of Greek radicals abroad and the constant shaping and reshaping of the Greek Left as a national and international project. We should not forget that the Greek socialist movement was formulated in diasporic and immigrant communities and therefore, the networks connecting Greece with radicals abroad were consistently revitalized. Even today, the generation of intellectuals leaving the country due to the crisis has proven seminal to the internationalization of the Greek story, to linking the Greek crisis with the global capitalist crisis. This is by no means an exception- one can detect affinities with the Spanish or the Italian case, or even more geographically remote examples, as in the anti-imperialist and anti-colonial movements that were shaped by students and intellectuals in Paris, London and New York. The Left is by default an international and transnational phenomenon.
 
The SYRIZA government has been in power for almost a year in Greece, do you think that it still can reshape the austerity agenda?
 
This is indeed a difficult question. Just one year ago, even those of us who are quite skeptical, were temporarily convinced that there was a prospect for a meaningful change. This prospect did not only entail the anti-austerity agenda, but expanded to anticipating a radically different situation, with social movements generating dynamics in all spheres and transforming Greek society from the bottom-up. One year later this anticipation is in limbo. The setback in the financial negotiations is not the only reason. More importantly SYRIZA has proven to be very consistent in maintaining continuities with the existing state-structure and in doing politics in a old-fashioned way. Therefore the social, cultural and political movements that had flourished during the crisis are in crisis. In my view, this situation illustrates the problem of the Left being in power: our horizon has shrunk and we can only imitate the past; we don’t seem to be able to propose a vision for the future. SYRIZA, being supported by a popular majority, opted for a painful stability. In this context, I am afraid the main issue is not austerity; it is whether the Left is willing and able to propose radical reforms that will revolutionize conditions in Greece and challenge the long-standing inertias that remain in power.
taxisinidisia6The financial and refugee crisis highlight Greece’s involvement in Europe’s contrasts. Can we re-think Greece as the country of progressive reforms within a European radical project?
 
In order to do so we definitely need a European radical project. At this stage there is none. The Left is failing to transform the social discontent with the European Union policies into a vision for a different Europe. In all its versions the Left appears to be trapped in history: either in nostalgia for national sovereignty or in the acceptance of the European Union as an indisputable structure. Both stances are vulnerable: reactionary euro-skepticism has been much more effective in raising notions of nostalgia for a seemingly harmonious past and the neoliberals are much more convincing when they defend the existing EU, since it is currently operating as a neoliberal project. The first step is for the Left to discuss its position towards the European Union structures and to chart an alternative European project for the 21st century. This is not an academic discussion and it cannot be fruitful by simply returning to the anti-EU or pro-EU positions of the past. It should be an open debate that takes into account the post-1990s structural changes within the European Union and the experiences of political alternatives shaped within this structure. How do we envision Europe in the 21st century? Reforms can still produce radical outcomes. The necessary prerequisite is to discuss what their content will be: the Left should illustrate the discrepancy between social inequality and the potential of our existing world.  But this is not enough. What we actually need is visionary goals of social transformation that do not repeat the certainties and failures of the past. Otherwise, the failure of the Left will be the final triumph of the post-1989 ideological order. 
 
 *Interview by Nikolas Nenedakis, Athina Rossoglou
 

See also: Journal of Modern Greek Studies (May 2015): Interview with Kostis Karpozilos; Despina Lalaki: Comments on the documentary Taxisinidisia, Greek American Radicals - The Untold Story (Chronos Magazine, 2014)

christopoulos

Dimitris Christopoulos is an Associate Professor of State and Legal Theory at the Panteion University of Athens and the Vice President of the International Federation of Human Rights - after having chaired the board of the Hellenic League for Human Rights from 2003 until 2011. He is frequently interviewed by Greek and international media and writes regularly in the Greek press, contributing to the promotion of human rights awareness in Greece, particularly within the current crisis. Professor Christopoulos spoke to “Rethinking Greece” about human rights in Greece, the economic and refugee crisis in its European context, and the Greek government’s relevant policies:

Do you think the SYRIZA government has made positive steps as far as human rights are concerned? Could they have done more or could more be done in the future?

I believe that since the beginning of the crisis in Greece - a situation that has taken on structural characteristics - human rights suffered major losses par excellence. More so, losses that are not secondary,but absolutely pivotal to our lives. The systematic devaluation of social rights that hasn’t stopped for six years has lead to the constant shrinking of genuine democracy in the country. Caution: I am not saying that in the Greece of memoranda we don’t have democracy. I never said that. But what I am saying- and this has not changed since January 2015 - is that the quality of our democracy does not honor us. In the current state of affairs, substantial democratic procedures are being sacrificed for financial aims and because there is never enough time. An indebted democracy, such as ours, finds itself in a dependent position, like every debtor to every lender.

But I know that I you want me to talk specifically about SYRIZA. The SYRIZA government, except for the prison reform law, the law on citizenship for second generation immigrants and the introduction of civil partnership for same sex couples, hasn’t undertaken bold steps as far as human rights are concerned. Of course they could have done more and still now they can do more. SYRIZA must realize that a human rights agenda is not judged by its popularity, but by its value.

fidh

According to the World Press Freedom index, Greece is ranked #91 out of 180 countries for 2015, the European Union’s second lowest ranking, after falling 56 places in the index from 2009 to 2014. What do you think is the level of the freedom of expression and press freedom in Greece? Are there any Greek peculiarities?

I believe that in general, Greece is doing rather well as far as freedom of expression is concerned. With the exception of 'national' issues i.e. issues concerning minorities, the Macedonian question, Cyprus, and more recently the issue of the Pontian ethnic cleansing. One cannot express "heretic" views in the public sphere on these issues.  What is happening in the country is that the crisis exacerbates already existing problems, not so much directly connected to freedom of speech itself, but mainly pertaining to media independence. This is where Greece is doing really bad, and it seriously affects freedom of expression. This explains the phenomena of tabloid newspapers systematically defaming and slandering individuals who cannot turn to justice to be vindicated. Furthermore, the fear of unemployment, of falling out of line with a "nationally correct" discourse or with various private interests, leads to self-censorship in the media: this situation is to some extent a Greek peculiarity, but it also closely resembles the Italian model.

What are the positive and negative points in how the Greek state handled the refugee crisis so far? What can be done from now on?

The positive point, and it is very positive, is that we left the former PM Samaras’ xenophobic agenda behind us: the notion that by making "life unbearable" for people who enter the country, or that by erecting fences, we will stop them from coming. This change, after January 2015, affected our fellow citizens. At least they do not see refugees as scapegoats for their myriad problems. Beyond this, I am concerned that unfortunately - and this is very unfortunate - inside Greek administration, defeatism has taken root. The belief that nothing can be done. But if you think that you cannot do anything - because you do not have personnel, you have no money, you have no structures - it is certain that you will do nothing. What can I say? We need great mobilization in order to improve things, especially in view of the fact that many of these refugees are not going to be able to leave Greece in the near future.

unhcr

How do you comment on EU's handling of the refugee crisis, especially in view of recent news about pressures on Greece for border management?

In Europe, due to the recent refugee flows, the concept of external borders has collapsed. Greece is not to blame for that; whatever other grievances we can voice about how the country managed the refugee crisis. Unfortunately, what I see being consolidated in the EU is a systematic and unfair awarding of all responsibilities to the weak link called Greece. The EU is using Greek shortcomings as a pretext to saddle the country with more responsibility than it deserves. Moreover, the EU cannot be proud of its performance in the refugee crisis: the member-states have not told the people openly that this crisis is not a "bad moment" in our current history, but a situation that we should have to learn to live with, since we made a mess of things in the Middle East, in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. European states are raising fences and closing their borders to refugees within the Union; next they will close their borders to other Europeans as well. You see what is happening: even though the extreme right in France didn't win the recent regional elections, it achieved its highest rates in modern history. You realize how bad things would be if one of the two nations of the erstwhile European axis (France and Germany) had an extreme-right government … It would be something like Europe in the 30s!

paris or

What are the implications for the refugee crisis and social rights in Europe following the Paris terrorist attacks? Is there an Islamophobia issue in Greece?

The consequences - already apparent- are a new balance being struck between freedom and security, at the expense of the former, and a possible worsening of the refugee crisis, due to France´s hawkish reaction the day after the attacks. The time we live in is one of "war on terrorism" and it must be understood as a long historical period succeeding the "Cold War" which, may I remind your, lasted for two generations. I cannot guess where we will be in ten years' time. However, if we respond in the same way that Bush responded after 11/9, I don´t see good things. Now, for Greece in particular, of course there is an Islamophobia issue, and even a special version of Islamophobia that is not so much related to the current European postcolonial migration environment, but to the Greek Ottoman past and its relation to Turkey. However,I reasonably hope that due to our close proximity to the Middle East, the Greeks - as a society and as a government - will face the situation calmly and maturely, without recklessness.

How can we rethink Greece through the experience of the double economic and refugee crisis?

Even if we couldn't  think of Greece through this experience, it is impossible not to do so. From the historical conditions of a universal, multifaceted crisis, something new will be born. Such is history. The point is, firstly, not to have yet more losses in our society and institutions until the country is back on its feet, and secondly, to realize that the management of the refugee crisis is not an exercise in charity, but a dry run before widespread social challenges. In Greece, we often say that the painful changes that occurred during the years of crisis were without precedent in peacetime Europe. So it is, and if we look at the Greek and European history of the 20th century, I see something positive in this observation: that indeed we are talking about peacetime. Let me remind you, that the war, Nazism and other monstrosities are not alien visitors to the Old Continent. They are the other side of it. 

*Interview by Ioulia Livaditi

 

 

The ongoing financial crisis has highlighted different aspects of how Greece is engaged in various European dilemmas and how political developments in the country are interwoven with Europe’s contrasts. In this context, tracing the history of left wing political forces in Greece and their access to power involves a reexamination of the history of eurocommunism, since SYRIZA and other European radical left parties draw their legacy from this ideological tradition. At the same time, eurocommunism has also influenced Social-democratic parties and policies.

hopebalPanteion University researcher Giannis Balabanidis’ new book on Eurocommunism (just published in Greek by Polis editions) studies the history of Eurocommunism and the "long" decade of the 70's, exploring at the same time the dilemmas and prospects of progressive political forces both in Greece and in Europe. Giannis Balabanidis spoke to GrèceHebdo and Rethinking Greece*:

Your book is an exploration of the forgotten history of Eurocommunism. What made you choose such a topic?

My starting point was the “KKE Interior” communist party (1968-1987), a paradoxical case: a small party with a wide ideological appeal; a communist party that was at the same time a reformist, moderate, pro-European party, bearing the message of an advanced political liberalism. Soon I realized that this small party was part of a much broader political movement, namely Eurocommunism, which at the time (early 70´s) included the Italian Communist Party (PCI) of Enrico Berlinguer, the French Communist Party (PCF) of Georges Marchais and the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) of Santiago Carrillo. A movement that has been a major attempt to renovate the communist project in order to adapt it to the Western liberal democracies and to part with the less and less attractive soviet model. Despite its contradictions and regressions, this renewal was successful, before its demise, just before 1989. Its heritage however has been essential for the European left.

euroWhat are the elements that bring SYRIZA as a party of the radical left close to the case of Eurocommunism?

The legacy I refer to applies to the case of SYRIZA in two ways. First, in terms of political kinship: the Greek Eurocommunism party, “KKE Interior” is the ancestor of SYRIZA. Second, as a renewed strategic proposal. The great innovation of Eurocommunism has been the attempt to transform the radicalism of "Global 1968", the political agenda of social movements focusing on the idea of a new utopia in the West, into a program for gradual social transformation through “structural reforms”, following the democratic conquest of power. This eurocommunist synthesis - "party of struggle and government party” - was the key for communist parties to evolve from “pariahs” to legitimate players in the national political scene.

We could draw parallels between this “forgotten history” of Eurocommunism of the 70s and the current political situation: the crisis and the austerity policies have lead to the emergence of a new radicalism in Europe, which favors radical Left parties - SYRIZA here being an exceptional but not unique case. The post-communist Left, which after 1989 was limited to a protest and "anti-systemic" profile, is now facing these old questions and seeks answers from its manifold and often conflicting heritage.

Once in power, can SYRIZA retain its radical left identity or will it be forced to turn into a social democratic party?

Eurocommunists have constantly oscillated between two divergent strategies: governance based on gradual reforms / breaking with the capitalist system. Far from attempting a direct historical analogy, a similar ambivalence may be observed during the government period of SYRIZA. The radical populist strategy that brought a party of 4-5% in power marked the first phase, haunted by the temptation of the "big rupture" with austerity, international lenders, the EU - culminating with the referendum of July 2015. But the moment of the rupture never came. SYRIZA has accepted the constraints of a conservative Europe, choosing the fight within the EU instead of a national retreat. In its second governing phase, SYRIZA is in search of a progressive public policy agenda and "anti-austerity" allies among the socialists of France, Italy, etc. Will SYRIZA then turn into a Social Democratic Party, parting with the radical Left? The question remains to be answered.

poulantzas1In your opinion, is there a promising future for social democracy or is it just a political force in decline?

Although its political appeal is currently quite low, social democracy remains a power with deep historical roots and governmental vocation, an indispensable component of European politics. Following a period of great popularity of Blairism and “third way” politics, social democracy seems to be reduced to an emaciated political mechanism. On the other hand, the radical Left in Europe has been strengthened since it constitutes a voice of protest against austerity policies. But although the radical Left exerts a considerable electoral pressure to socialist parties, it remains for the time being a minority force, without direct access to power.

In any case, it can be noted that the (non-linear) emergence of a radical left in Greece, but also in Spain, France, Germany or the Netherlands, seems to trigger shifts within the socialist parties. Could we perhaps seek similarities to what happened during the 70s when the emergence of Eurocomunism provoked a radicalization of the Mediterranean socialist parties of Mitterrand and González? Look at what happened recently in Portugal, where socialists needed the radical Left’s cooperation to return to power, under the banner of an anti-austerity plan too! Are we witnessing the emergence of a “plural left” (socialists, communists, greens) at a European level? That’s a hypothesis that remains to be confirmed or not.

poulantzas2

"Modernization" and “europeanisation”, central concepts in Greek political discourse especially during the Metapolitefsi period (i.e. after the 1967-74 dictatorship), are now met with the concept of "reforms", emphatically used in the political discourse of centrist political parties (Potami, PASOK). Can we rethink the Greek case as an opportunity to reconceptualize political radicalism and progressive reforms?

The "Modernization" and "europeanization” requests are intertwined with the history of the Greek state since its birth. And there is a corresponding unresolved duality in the Greek psyche, much more complex and contradictory than the supposed dualism between a progressive "Western" and a backward "East" aspect. Nevertheless, as many Modern Greek history scholars have shown, Greece has managed, even at the last moment, to follow the major strategic choices of the West, albeit with some delay, hence the perennial request for a “catch-up”.

"Modernization" in the Greek political discourse of the 1980s-1990s and more recently the call for "Reforms" are “floating signifiers”. Because what really matters is what kind of political forces will provide them with political substance and direction. Historically, the Left in Greece, despite its far-reaching efforts (e.g. with United Democratic Left during the 1950s-60s and KKE Interior during the 1970s and 80s) didn’t manage to rise to the occasion. The eurocommunist parties in general tried to incorporate modernization requests coming from the movements of 1968 and the new social trends (to the extent that some scholars have characterized them as “parties of modernization”). A case in point: a hegemonic moment for Italy’s PCI was its strong defense of the right to divorce in the referendum of 1974.

What kind of radical social demands are formulated in today's Greece? The right to citizenship for second generation immigrants and the right for civil partnership for homosexual couples are important cultural and institutional modernization demands. Thus there is a certain scope for progressive reforms beyond the MoU’s budgetary compulsions. But how can reforms really meet with left radicalism, under the conditions of the current Syriza alliance with the deeply conservative party of Independent Greeks? That's the question!

Can we (re)think Greece within the comparative framework of Southern Europe? Do you think that the history of Eurocommunism can contribute to this end?

Paraphrasing Antonio Gramsci I would say that the history of Eurocommunism is the history of Europe from a certain point of view - and within this framework, the history of Greece. This is the major virtue of the comparative method, the fact that it allows us to escape the occasionally parochial national perspective.

The economic crisis, which manifested itself in a sweeping way in our country, triggered a process of individual and collective reflection. Why did we get here? What went wrong and how could we fix it? The answers proposed often remain trapped in an ethnocentric perspective. However, the facts constantly contradict all those interpretations attributing the crisis solely to Greek pathologies, as well as those who opted for national solutions (and ruptures) to problems that can only be handled at European level. So I believe that this comparative methodology could be an antidote to a certain intellectual self-reference that affects us all.

*Interview by Nikolas Nenedakis & Athina Rossoglou

An extended version of this interview has been published in Greek in "Εποχή" weekly newspaper (Γ. Μπαλαμπανίδης: Η μεγάλη ευρωκομμουνιστική σύνθεση, 6.12.2015)

 

gourgouris1Stathis Gourgouris is Professor of Comparative Literature at Columbia University. He writes and teaches on a variety of subjects that ultimately come together around questions of the poetics and politics of modernity and democracy. He is the author of Dream Nation: Enlightenment, Colonization, and the Institution of Modern Greece (Stanford, 1996); Does Literature Think? Literature as Theory for an Antimythical Era (Stanford, 2003); and Lessons in Secular Criticism (Fordham 2013). Outside these projects he has also published numerous articles on Ancient Greek philosophy, political theory, modern poetics, film, contemporary music, and psychoanalysis.
 
He writes regularly in internet media (such as The Huffington Post, Los Angeles Review of Books,  Al Jazeera, Open Democracy, The Immanent Frame), as well as major Greek newspapers and journals on political and literary matters.
 
Professor Gourgouris spoke to Rethinking Greece* about Europe, 'the punishment of Philhellenism', the SYRIZA government tasks, aesthetic creativity and democratic autonomy:
 
In your seminal work “Dream Nation: Enlightenment, Colonization, and the Institution of Modern Greece” (1996) you note that “Greece stands in the heart of the European Community as an indelible reminder of the impossibility of Europe's Enlightenment fantasy". You also conclude that “Greece - as a social-imaginary institution - has never located itself outside the sphere of Europe”. How are relations between Greece and Europe twenty years later?
 
Much of what I argued 20 years ago still stands: an asymmetrical relation (politically and economically); a cultural disjunction, going back to the 19th century and before, that creates a trust deficit on both sides; and an internal ambiguity among Greeks that makes Europe the mark of both xenophobia and xenophilia simultaneously.
 
What has changed significantly is the 'Europeans' are no longer invested in things Greek – via their obsession with the ancient Greek ideal – as they were then. Or, perhaps, more accurately, the other side of their Philhellenism – the fact that modern Greeks are unworthy of their ancestors, that they are in the end Orientals – is no longer a counter-weight, it has taken over. What we now see is the full play of what in Dream Nation I had called 'the punishment of Philhellenism'. Greeks are paying for their ancestors by being held in debt by the Europeans, who claim to be the only real inheritors of the ancients.
 
You have argued that a Greek government of the Left has the responsibility to "save the most valuable principle of modern European culture: democratic autonomy." Is this still the case following the bailout deal reached on July 13?
 
Of course it is still true. Europe sure needs some heavy doses of democratic autonomy. The question is whether it is possible. One thing I can say, by some sort of negative logic, is that the Greek government, as a sort of troublemaker entity within the EU, has brought out in the open for the world to see the endemic democracy deficit in today’s EU institutions. But the balance of power is extraordinarily unequal. It will require people in other countries of Europe to bring their own democratic desires to the forefront as well.
 
As it has become, the EU structure has eroded the parameters of national sovereignty. The brutal ways it dealt with Greece is a case in point. The Greek government of the Left provides a unique opportunity to address the EU’s democratic deficit, precisely because it is not linked to the elite clientelist networks that are not just local – they are linked to their counteparts in Europe.
 
Several scholars have said that what happened in Greece largely involved corrupt local politicians in tandem with a ruthless international financial elite. Is this a diagnosis to build on?
 
It is a correct diagnosis on the whole, even if there are other factors involved. The most important task of a SYRIZA government – which is why it was elected by an electorate that exceeds its ranks – is precisely to reverse this course and put a stop to it.A Herculean task, no doubt, but only SYRIZA is the political force to make this happen. SYRIZA’s broad popular base is grounded on two things: it’s the only party based on a social movement – a very activist one, especially in the solidarity networks that grew in response to the crisis; its lack of clientelist connections gives people, for the first time, the hope that some real change can happen in Greek society.Contrary to what is believed, most Greeks actually resent clientelism; they desire some sort of honesty and meritocracy, especially in the public sector.
 
Is there any special role writers and literature have during this crisis?
 
Literature speaks precisely in the ways that politics cannot speak – it outmaneuvers the codes of power. But it is also a mode of action that takes much longer to develop; it is not dependent on the turn of events. Nonetheless, if there is one positive thing we have seen from the crisis is an explosion in aesthetic creativity, in all the arts, not just writing, and this because much of the youth, in the face of a rather bleak reality, turns with full force to the experimentalism of the imagination, to creating inventive fictions of reality cause reality is abhorrent.
 
Are there some ways in which we can 'rethink' Greece and Europe now?
 
I can easily imagine that Greece has a lot of lessons to teach Europe right now, except that Europe has locked its heels like a mule and refuses to learn!
 
*Interview by Nikolas Nenedakis (Interview taken in early August 2015).
 
The Opening Remarks from the Rethinking the Human Sciences conference, held March 30, 2012 at Columbia University in the City of New York. Nicholas Dirks, Executive Vice President of Arts and Sciences (Columbia University) and Stathis Gourgouris, Director, of the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society (Columbia University) present: