This week, the public in Greece will have a last chance to visit Constantinos Pittas’ photo exhibition “Images of another Europe 1985-1989” running through November 27, 2016 at the Benaki Museum (Pireos Street Annexe). From 1985 to 1989, Pittas - a self-taught photographer - traveled to 17 countries in Western and Eastern Europe, capturing street scenes from both sides of the former Iron Curtain, aiming to show that the common ground of divided Europe was its own citizens and their daily life, no matter which "world" they belonged to. He pointed his camera at the faces of the scared and repressed people in the East, the faces of the lonely or the elderly in the West. His “naive” idea was to present the Europeans as an entity… as a big family beyond borders and walls.
However, his plan was to remain unfinished, mainly on account of the collapse of the Berlin Wall that canceled the "theme" of the project, as all those countries would soon become members of the EU, rushing to highlight their common roots. Moreover, photography entered a phase of intense criticism in the late 80s, as its relationship with reality was seriously questioned. Thus, Pittas thought that the collection of the unique photos he had accumulated in just a few years was not making sense anymore and decided to “bury” the negatives, literally, without ever showing them to anyone. “I had this naive dream of bringing Europe together in one book. However, Europe was now reuniting on its own, it did not have to wait for me. My plan was dead” explains Pittas.
Twenty-five years later, Pittas came across his old camera. It prompted him to look for the 25,000 negatives from his Europe project before posting some scanned images on his Facebook wall and the project was put back in motion… Pittas carefully picked out about 100 images and released a photo book using a self-publishing platform. One of the 1,000 copies ended up in the hands of Costis Antoniadis, Professor of photography in the Department of Photography and Audiovisual Arts at the Technological Educational Institute of Athens, who first helped Pittas organize an exhibition on the island of Kythera, and then curated the current show at the Benaki Museum, exhibiting a unique selection of 155 images.
And perhaps Pittas’ decision to showcase his photos today has some kind of symbolism, as it coincides with the beginning of a looming crisis in the European Union. However, Pittas remains optimistic despite all problems:
“The crisis in the European Union is frightening indeed, as there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. The (European) vision has faded, and the narrative that could excite people and make them believe that the EU -in essence, the European idea- will make Europe a better place and improve their life, has ceased to exist.
What I did, almost 30 years ago, was out of love for Europe, a vision for a united Europe… something almost mad at the time, since we were in the midst of the Cold War.
Things are different now, there are other kinds of problems but overall I’d say that things are better. Hope is not lost” Pittas* told Greek News Agenda**.
*Costantinos Pittas was born in Athens, Greece. He studied engineering at the Technical University of Athens. On 1984 he began taking photos in Athens, his native city, his first project being "Athens, 1984". In the next few years he traveled extensively in Eastern and Western Europe, taking photos of people on both sides of the former Iron Curtain. In 1989, he abandoned photography and "buried" his project for 25 years.
** Eleftheria Spiliotakopoulou
For more photos, watch video: "Images of Another Europe":
Eirini Agathopoulou is a pharmacist, former Member of Parliament with SYRIZA (2012-2015) and Chairwoman of the Board of the Research Centre for Gender Equality (2015-present).
The Research Centre for Gender Equality (KETHI) was founded in 1994, with a focus on conducting social research on gender equality and using these results to propose and implement specific policies and practices. During its 20 years of operation, KETHI has conducted more than 70 original research studies (on issues like work, education, participation of women in decision-making centers, media representation, violence against women, etc), issued more than 120 publications (surveys, best practices guides, manuals for employment, social inclusion, political participation etc.) and has implemented more than 100 action programs, either as a coordinator or as partner institution (development of women's cooperatives, providing free counseling support services, empowering women to participate in policy-making structures etc.)
Eirini Agathopoulou spoke to Greek News Agenda* on KETHI's research project on equality in the workplace, its programmes for training teachers on gender issues and for combating gender-based violence and finally, the biggest challenges that women living in Greece face today.
What are, in your opinion, the most significant changes in women´s rights in Greece since the restitution of democracy in 1974?
In recent years, Greek legislation has made significant strides towards gender equality. All these legal reforms are of serious value as they strengthen the scope of protection of women's rights and contribute to eliminating inequalities in many areas. However, if Ι had to pick one change standing out in the aftermath of the restitution of democracy, it would be the 1983 Family Law. I believe it is an important milestone in the history of women´s rights and gender equality policies in our country. This is essentially the law that abolished the concept of patriarchal family –where the husband was legally considered the ´head´ of the household– and replaced it with equality in family relations. Despite the fact that by now several points of this Law require amendment or additions, at the time it constituted a very progressive legal tool that essentially modernized Greek Family Law, adapting it to the constitutional requirement of gender equality. Other than that, among the very important legislative initiatives were: the introduction of the concept of 'positive discrimination' (eg quotas) in Article 116 of the Constitution, which states that "taking positive measures to promote equality between men and women does not consist gender discrimination"; the enactment of law 3500/2006 dealing with domestic violence; the Law implementing the principle of equal treatment of men and women in the workplace, and more.
One of the current programmes run by KETHI focuses on gender equality in the workplace. What policies do you think would contribute in reconciling work and family responsibilities for women and in promoting equal treatment of women in the workplace?
This programme focuses on the reconciliation of work and family life for workers in Greek industry. The survey results, which will be published soon, already look very interesting as they relate to a sector of the Greek economy that has been particularly affected by the economic crisis. These results will be used to formulate concrete policy proposals when the programme is completed. However, I can tell you that the issue of reconciling professional with family life should not concern women alone. Whilst we immediately think of women when we talk about reconciling work with family -because women shoulder the bulk of the burden of household tasks and child rearing- it is very important to change our culture, something which has already begun, so that we have an equitable division of household and family responsibilities between the sexes. At the same time, in order to facilitate work and family balance, it is necessary to have public infrastructure and services such as child care available to all, to convince employers to implement family-friendly policies, to allow teleworking or flexible working hours that benefit employees -rather than employers, as is the case today- raising the very low levels of these work arrangement in Greece, to ensure the protection of maternity and employment rights, etc.
You are a pharmacist by profession and you were a part of the health division of SYRIZA. Could you talk to us about how the current crisis has affected women’s health?
The economic crisis that has struck Greece since 2009 has evolved into a humanitarian crisis in recent years, with serious consequences for the entire population. More so than anyone, however, those most affected are the socially vulnerable groups, like the unemployed (uninsured) population, and low income workers and pensioners. From this, one can easily understand that women are affected to a greater extent, since they have the highest rate in unemployment, as well as in insecure, low-paid and part-time jobs. Moreover, benefits that women used to have, like free medicines during pregnancy, are no longer provided. Apart from the effects that this could have on pregnant women’s health, if they cannot have their medicines, is also deterrent for pregnancy. You can appreciate that it is very hard for such choices to be determined by economic factors.
However, it is very important to note that in 2016 significant steps have been taken to reverse this situation, such as the Free Access of the Uninsured to the Public Health System, and more recently the free digital mammogram for women over the age of 40. We hope that other such steps will follow.
Achieving gender equality is not only a matter of legislation but of education as well. What results do you expect from KETHI´s programme to train preschool and primary education teachers on gender issues and gender discrimination?
Educating people is precisely our goal in implementing this programme. First and foremost, teachers must be trained on gender issues, so as to be able to pass the message along to students. You know, patriarchal stereotypes are so deeply imbued in our society that each one of us commits daily to errors perpetuating these stereotypes, albeit unwillingly. It is therefore very important that people who undertake the education of our children are aware of and sensitive to gender issues, as well as issues such like sexual orientation and gender identity, so that they can transmit this knowledge to their students. Such programmes are realized on a regular basis and our objective is to reach even the most remote corner of Greece, up to the last village.
Gender-based violence is one of the major focuses of KETHI. Do you think there is enough information and assistance to women dealing with this in Greece? Could you give us an assessment of the work of Counseling Centres providing support to women victims of gender violence thus far?
From our experience in KETHI, it is clear is that gender violence is all around us, but very few dare to talk about it. The first objective, therefore, is to break the silence and talk about it, to inform without taboo both men and women and encourage them to speak out. We still have much work ahead of us, considering that Counseling Centres for gender violence only began operating in 2012. Nevertheless, the number of women who come to these Centres is constantly growing, and an interesting factor resulting from statistics is that women victims of gender violence come from all social, economic and educational levels. So we could say that although gender violence has a definite gender dimension, it doesn´t have a class dimension.
In the new financial period 2014-2020, Counseling Centres and Shelters are evolving and enlarging their scope, opening their doors to women refugees, while also providing an additional service, that of occupational counseling. Economic independence is an important factor that facilitates the decision-making capabilities of women who want to leave a violent environment, a violent partner or father, and start a new life.
Which would you say are the more serious problems Greek women face today? On the whole, how do you think Greece fares on gender equality issues in comparison to the rest of Europe?
Greece, as I mentioned earlier, has made significant progress in terms of policy and legislation. Furthermore, in the last decade, many programmes promoting gender equality were implemented, and this has definitely contributed to raising relevant awareness. However, there are still many challenges and gender inequalities in Greek society, which seem to be reinforced by the economic and social crisis we are experiencing. In particular, as has been shown by the work of Counseling Centres, violence against women continues to exist, the gender gap in wages is higher than the EU average, and women -despite the decrease in the gap between male and female unemployment due to the increase of male unemployment- still record higher rates of long-term unemployment and are over-represented in almost all socially vulnerable groups. Moreover, the issue of refugees in our country represents a major challenge as regards gender equality, taking into account that women refugees constitute a large percentage of this population; after their displacement, they become even more marginalized and vulnerable and face particular challenges in relation to men refugees. Finally, there is still significant resistance in Greek society to the efforts strengthening gender equality. The resistances are derived from strong stereotypes that still exist and which we are working hard to reverse.
Read more: Government | Policy: Maria Karamessini on tackling unemployment in Greece
*Interview by Ioulia Livaditi
Dimitris Kalokyris was born in 1948 in Rethymno, Crete. A poet, writer, editor, graphic designer and literary critic, he is one of the most multifaceted literati of contemporary Greece. He founded the literary magazine Tram (1971-1978), the literary and artistic magazine Hartis (1982-1987) and he also served as head of the magazine To Tetarto (1985-1987). He is currently the President of the Hellenic Authors’ Society.
He is the author of twenty-six books of poetry and prose, fifteen books of translation, while he has held three exhibitions of collages and also illustrated numerous children’s books. In 1996 he received the National Short Story Award for his book The Discovery of Homerica and in 2002, again, for his book The Museum of Numbers. In 2014 he received the Ourani Foundation Academy of Athens Award for the entirety of his work. His works have been translated into many languages.
Dimitris Kalokyris spoke to Reading Greece* about his latest collection of poems titled Isavron, noting that “poetry is the language of youth, while prose is the language of maturity”. He explains the affinities between Cavafy and Borges and discusses how the influence of Borges, Elytis and Embirikos has been imprinted on his literary work. He also comments on current literary and artistic projects in the era of online communication and the role of the Hellenic Authors’ Society noting that it has “a coordinating role in promoting the work of its members, an objective to be carried out irrespective of any crisis” given that “a writer is always in crisis: with oneself, with the world, with dreams, with everything”.
You have said that your latest poetry collection Isavron [Isaurians] is “a harvest and codification of the different verse forms you have delved in during the past ten years". Why don’t you tell us a few things about the book?
Isavron is a collection of poems. It’s been many years since my previous collection (Colors of the Liquid Animal in 1990). In the meantime, I focused mainly on prose-like texts or extended poetic compositions, such as Hellenica or The Book of Melanthia). The short or longer poems of Isavron stand on their own and were written on various occasions, without being part of a preplanned whole. In any case, most poems in the collection are characterized by a humorous, mocking mood, by the sort of parodies and twists of speech that are dear to me. The eponymous composition, which assumes the form of a … Biblical autobiography, was written in the same spirit. What is peculiar and comic at the same time about this book is that it was included in the so-called “short list” of Readers’ Poetry Awards sponsored by Public bookstores, even though we were all defeated by… Cavafy!
“Poetry is the language of youth, while prose is the language of maturity.” How would you account for the fact that more and more young people turn to poetry? What is Greek poetry’s appeal among foreign readers?
Poetry is a language that stems predominantly from feelings, which is why it is the way the writing process usually begins. It is very rare for poets to stick to verse and not turn to prose over the years as well. On the other hand – and I wonder if that also plays its part – it is a fact that more poems are translated into foreign languages by comparison to prose. This may be due to the shorter length of poems, making it easier to be published in magazines. However, the fact that only scattered poems by too many poets are published gives a chaotic and rather false impression of the true poetic creation of the country, which is only fragmentarily represented in the international community through poetry anthologies and magazines.
You have characterized Borges as “the only worthy successor of Cavafy”, while you maintained friendly relations with Andreas Embirikos and Odysseas Elytis. How have these influences been imprinted on your literary work?
The affinity between Borges and Cavafy has long been identified and repeatedly emphasized, both by critics and philologists, even though Borges categorically denied it. There are indeed certain thematic convergences indicating that, no matter how little he knew about Cavafy’s work, Borges regularly wandered around similar themes: Although these were commonplaces in literature (especially during the 19th century), both authors often used dates or foreign language phrases as titles for their poems; they were inspired by Alexandrian literature; they depicted battles in full detail, praising generals; and from some point onwards they placed a significant emphasis on their “difference” (homosexuality for Cavafy, blindness for Borges).
To these, we can add certain types of titles, such as the one by Cavafy in his youth: "On Reading the Poem ‘Les Colombes’” and the title by Borges: “Al iniciar el estudio de la gramática anglosajona” (On Beginning the Study of the Anglo-Saxon Grammar) or “Julian and the Antiochians” and “Ariosto y los Arabes” (Ariosto and the Arabs). There is also a striking affinity between, mainly, early (or marginalized) poems by Cavafy on Nordic mythological and historical themes and comparable poems in Borges, for example, “King Claudius” or "Lohengrin."
My intention is to show an affinity between the two authors, while Cavafy’s affinity with Pessoa, among others, is also recognized today. Maybe that’s where the attraction I felt for Borges from the very beginning stems from. A regular reader of Cavafy myself, I realized, while very young, that Borges was the author most closely related to Cavafy, using similar subterfuges, playing games with history and so on, something I did not recognize in the poets you mentioned (Elytis and Embirikos). What I got from them perhaps was the pitch of their diction, which I felt enthralled by, and this was a gift in terms of the dynamics of expression. What I found in Borges had more to do with a technique in managing thematic explosions, a methodology of transition from one type of speech to some other in a single breath. As if I were diving simultaneously into two oceans …
During the 1970s and 1980s, you founded, published or ran major literary and arts magazines, such as Tram, Hartis, and To Tetarto. How would you comment on current literary and artistic projects in the era of online communication?
Browsing through online magazines can be very interesting and will most probably change reading patterns as we know them today. And why not? I must confess, however, how wearisome it is to have to navigate through all these interrelated networks of vast information, as well as deal with a sweeping homogenization that occurs when entering a specific search field.
In contrast, a printed magazine is limited in the size, environment, and style it defines, helping us follow its flow and contents. Online magazines border on millions of other information hubs that may often be misleading. Yet, of course, this process, though time-consuming, is highly stimulating and may open up to diverse new fields of knowledge. Even so, what was once said about philosophers seems well-aimed in this case, too: “By the time they conclude their reply, you have forgotten what the question was.”
What is the role that the Hellenic Authors’ Society is called to play especially at times of crisis? What about the prospects of Greek literature and the new generation of Greek writers in this respect?
The Hellenic Authors’ Society has a coordinating role mainly in promoting the work of its members, an objective to be carried out irrespective of any crisis. Besides, a writer is always in crisis: with oneself, with the world, with dreams, with everything, I dare say. The impact of every crisis unfolds over time. And this is what most writers, whether young or old, do: on the basis of “yesterday,” they train themselves to express “tomorrow”, but “today”.
The Hellenic Authors’ Society has defended the single price system for books, noting that such a system “supports bookstores, quality publications, and thereby authors.” Tell us more.
This wording tries to reflect the personal contact and confidence that can develop between an (informed) bookseller and a client or reader. There is a dialectic in this relation between reader and bookseller that can enrich and help both identify qualitative (not just in appearance) publications, thereby approaching writers as creators and not only as brand names. This is something that can happen only in dedicated bookstores and rarely in stores that sell books among batteries and household appliances.
*Interview by Athina Rossoglou
Read also: Interview of Dimitris Kalokyris with Grèce Hebdo [In French]
Elected with an overwhelming majority in October 2015, Greek economist and trade unionist Georges Dassis is the 31st president of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) for the 2015-2018 period. President Dassis programme focuses on the "need to alleviate extreme poverty and invest in youth employment, infrastructure projects, research and innovation, something that needs to be done on a massive scale… Europe must improve life for all citizens in the north, south, east and west: this is what we mean by harmonizing progress".
President Dassis spoke to Greek News Agenda on the role of the European Social Model for managing migrant and refugee flows and on the importance of civil society in times of crisis.
How important is social protection for the European Social Model but also for managing refugee and migrant flows?
First of all we need to separate the issue of immigrants from that of refugees, even if they have many common characteristics. There are tens of millions of people around the world who would like to migrate to EU countries to find a better life. Unfortunately, the EU can incorporate only a limited number of immigrants, which is why the EESC proposes a single European policy on legal immigration.
As far as refugees are concerned, we have a legal and moral obligation to welcome them and integrate them into our societies. This can be done if there is a distribution of refugees in the different regions and countries depending on their capabilities. Our legal obligation results from the Geneva Convention of 1951, ratified by all EU countries. Our moral obligation stems from the culture that we want to have and to be proud of.
Social protection is a cornerstone of the European social model. The values of democracy, solidarity, social justice, prosperity, individual rights and freedom that underpin the European social model promote social cohesion. Thus, an effective management of migration and refugee flows should be guided by these values. I have repeatedly stressed that there are rational solutions, ideas and proposals to manage the refugee crisis. At the same time, however, some ethnocentric approaches do not respect these fundamental values and principles. I am saddened because populist actions like border closures, deny even the minimal show of solidarity to our fellow people, stoke Euroscepticism and in long term, undermine the European project.
I must also add that the Committee has an extensive experience in immigration issues and has timely held 11 exploratory missions to EU member-states and to Turkey, in order to identify needs, problems and best practices for addressing the refugee crisis. The summary report of missions, stressing the Committee's concerns about the need to safeguard the Schengen agreement and freedom of movement as important achievements for the EU citizens, has been delivered to the EU High Representative and Vice President of the European Commission Ms. Mogherini and European Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs Mr. Avramopoulos.
The EESC, as the representative body of organized civil society, was created in 1957, precisely in order to enhance the social face of the then European Community and the importance it attached to social dialogue. Throughout all these years we have helped address critical socio-economic problems. You will recall that it was a Committee group, meaning representatives of trade unions, employers and other organizations that elaborated the Charter of Fundamental Social Rights, now part of the law in all 28 EU countries. Our program for the period 2015-2018, entitled "For a united, democratic, inclusive Euroupe of peace and prosperity, close to its citizen" aims at contributing to creating conditions that will allow to European citizens to embrace again the European project. Instead, of considering the Union a 'given', we are drawing attention to the serious economic and social crisis that permeates Europe, has dramatically undermined people’s confidence. On these issues we have issued opinions with very strong majorities addressed to the European institutions: the opinions of the European minimum income, the tax on financial transactions and the issuance of European bonds.
I am also pleased because the the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker responded to our call for a social Europe, launching this year the establishment of a European Pillar of Social Rights,, in consultation with the EESC. We are already implementing finding missions to all member-states to asses, with the social partners, the situation of social rights across the EU, towards an important Opinion to be delivered the European Commission as the basis for the recovery of social rights in the EU."
President Dassis interview for 'To Vima': "No further deregulation of the jobs market is needed in Greece"
Earler this month (16.10) in an interview with Greek newspaper “To Vima” President Dassis also discussed his programme for the EESC in connection to the Investment Plan for Europe, a European Commission plan that aims to mobilize at least €315 billion in private and public investment over three years in order to boost competitiveness and support long-term economic growth in the EU: “The programme I submitted as a president supports the Investment Plan, requesting a further addition of a special investment plan for growth and jobs, as well as the adoption of specific economic convergence measures such as a mechanism for joint debt issuance of debt and a temporary fund for Eurobonds”.
As far as Greece is concerned, the president of the EESC states in “To Vima” that the country is trapped in a vicious circle of austerity, recession and unemployment and that “without growth, it is impossible to achieve competitiveness and to exit the crisis.” He stresses that he has severely criticized the abolishment by law, in 2012, of the General National Collective Labour Agreement, an act that he characterizes as unheard of in all of the history of the EU. He states that the ECB’s analysis of wages in Greece demonstrates that there is significant flexibilzation of the labour market, especially in terms of massive layoffs, and that no further deregulation is needed. What Greece needs now, is “to fight unemployment and restart the economy, while taking care of the needs of socially sensitive groups.”
Yannis Tsirbas was born in 1976. He studied political sciences, political behaviour and communication in Athens and Essex. He is currently a Lecturer at the University of Athens in the Department of Social Theory and Sociology, with an expertise in quantitative and qualitative methods of social research. He has published a book on political communication [28 Days, (2007)], as well as articles and book chapters on various topics, including campaigning, mass media, electoral behaviour and the perception of political messages. He has received many awards for short stories published in different literary magazines. His debut novel Victoria doesn’t exist (2013) was translated in French and was recently turned into a movie by Yannis Sakaridis.
Yannis Tsirbas spoke to Reading Greece* about Victoria doesn’t exist, providing insight into Victoria Square, ‘one of the most crisis-hit areas of Athens and a transit point for thousands of immigrants and refugees’. He comments on how the human and social geography of the city center has changed over the years, while explaining that ‘the process of social awareness is slow and must be boosted by a strong political will and specific policies’ in that respect. He also shares his experience of seeing his book turning into a film noting that the process is a painful one, yet ‘the pain is mostly sweet and rewarding’.
He expresses his pessimism about the future of Greek books pointing out that a great part of Greeks become disenchanted by books during school and that this relationship is never restored in their adult life while he remarks that ‘the connection between books and other forms of art could prove useful, both in terms of expanding the readership in Greece and of making Greek books known abroad”.
Your debut novel Victoria doesn’t exist denounces racism and violence in all its forms. Tell us a few things about the book.
The main story of the book is about two strangers who sit opposite to each other in a train travelling to Athens. One of them is residing in Victoria Square, one of the most crisis-hit areas of Athens and a transit point for thousands of immigrants and refugees. He is really upset by this situation, feeling threatened and alienated because his beloved square, the place of his adolescence and, apparently, his only source of identity is now occupied by foreigners. So, he starts a delirious narration about how good things used to be in Victoria and how bad they are now, escalating in a plan to eliminate all foreigners. Through his words though, it is quite obvious that he, personally, was never in a really good situation.
The reader watches this through the point of view of the other guy, the listener, who resides in a posh suburb of Athens, is bored, and constantly looking at his emails. The listener is indifferent at first, then briefly becomes a voyeur of a dark reality, tries to be politically correct but then returns to complete apathy. The main story is interrupted by five short stories about Victoria square of the past, showing instances of violence and isolation long before the arrival of foreigners. In this respect, the book does not explicitly denounce anything and does not provide solid answers to a social phenomenon. “Victoria” tries to provide facets of life of certain people. It depends on the reader whether she or he will identify with the banal racist, the apathetic bystander or anybody else.
You were born and raised in Victoria Square in the center of Athens. How has the human and social geography of the city center changed over the years?
Athens is a city where, contrary to what is the case in most European capitals, the upper middle class abandoned the now largely degraded center to live in some expensive and posh suburbs. Victoria Square used to be one of the places of choice of the Athenian bourgeois many decades ago and now is a place of working class people and first and second generation immigrants. It continues to be a safe, beautiful and lively place, even though the media often portrays it differently.
“Lack of tolerance is caused by distance, rather than proximity”. How can social awareness be achieved? Is fighting racism a matter of political will? What is the role that literature and art in general can play in this respect?
This is a really difficult question. I believe that nowadays a certain degree of background or banal racism is apparent in many aspects of public life and public discourse. Moreover, in Greece there is an electorally significant neo-nazi party with extreme racist and anti-Semitic views. The process of social awareness is slow and, obviously, it must be boosted by a strong political will and specific policies. At the same time it is a personal issue as well. We must show zero tolerance to hate speech and racist incidents in our everyday lives.
Yannis Sakaridis’ film Amerika Square, that premieres at Busan International Film Festival this October, is based on Victoria doesn’t exist. How does it feel for a writer to see his book turn into a film?
Well, I fully participated in the screen-writing, so I closely watched the whole process. I would say it is a painful process in that you surrender your personal work to different people, processes and approaches. You see it being interpreted differently by co-writers, the director, the actors and the editor. At the same time, you have to serve another code, the code of filming which is very different of the code of literature in that it requires everything to be written for the camera to “see”. No emotions, thoughts or intentions are useful in screen-writing unless they can be filmed. This is not the case for literature of course. In sum, I would say that seeing (and participating into) the process of your book turning into a film is a painful process, but the pain is mostly sweet and rewarding.
You have stated that “in order to support books and boost reading, there is required a twofold imperialism: books and reading should become attractive anew and be addressed to more people”. What future lies ahead for Greek books? How can Greek literature become attractive both in Greece and abroad?
I am not very optimistic about the future of Greek books. And I am not really sure that we can talk about “Greek books” as a whole. There are different writers, genres, approaches, some of which are doing really well both in Greece and abroad in terms of readership. I believe that the school is a major factor in turning books into something attractive especially given the fact that up to now all relevant research points to the contrary: it is during school that a great part of Greeks become disenchanted by books and this relationship is never restored in their adult lives. On the other hand, the connection between books and other forms of art, like cinema and theatre, could prove really helpful, both in terms of expanding the readership in Greece and of making Greek books known abroad.
A writer and a political scientist. Complementary or contradictory roles?
Well, I would personally say that they are the two facets of the same coin. As a political scientist I try to identify and analyze patterns of behavior by grouping people together in different categories, like social class, gender or voting. In writing, it is the individual and the critical detail that is interesting, as well as things that are not objectively there but have to be invented or reinvented by the writer. In any case, I suppose that the two roles are affecting one another in many implicit ways.
* Interview by Athina Rossoglou
Widely recognized as one of Greece’s best new writers, Giannis Palavos was born in Velvento, Kozani in Greece in 1980. He studied Journalism at the Aristotle University in Thessaloniki and Arts Administration at the Panteion University in Athens. He is the author of two short story collections (True Love and other stories, 2007, and Joke, 2012) and the co-author of a graphic novel (The Corpse, 2011).
Joke ranks among the most acclaimed short story collections published in Greece in recent years and has won both major prizes bestowed on short story collections: the National Book Award– the highest national literary honor – and the award given by the prestigious Anagnostis Literary Review.His translations of Matthew Arnold, Katherine Mansfield, Edgar Lee Masters, Guillevic, Ray Bradbury, Willa Cather, Miroslav Holub, Donald Justice, Langston Hughes, Saki and Tobias Wolff have appeared in numerous Greek journals and web publications. He was among the Greek writers who represented the country in the 29th Moscow International Book Fair, where Greece was the Guest of Honor.
Giannis Palavos spoke to Reading Greece* about Joke and how his stories evolve around the realism-magic realism and countryside-city axes. He explains the reason small rural societies appear in his work and his effort to do away with easy categorizations and stereotypical depictions, while he comments on how short stories are more like poetry than fiction. He concludes that “there is no reason whatsoever to isolate artists, and writers in this respect, from society” noting that “public discourse on writing as a ‘political act’ and on ‘major works that appear in times of crisis’ is commonplace, constantly reproduced in book reviews and newspaper columns that need to be filled. Demanding works are created today as they have always been created: with difficulty”.
Joke was written over a four year period. What differentiates the earlier short stories from the ones written later on? Are the stories arranged in a specific order? What purpose does this order serve?
The first short stories in Joke are closer to the spirit of magic realism. As the book began to take shape, magic realism gave way to more realistic texts. When it was time for me to put down the final full stop and search for a publisher, I had in my hands a collection that moved around two axes: that of realism-magic realism, and of countryside-city. I thus tried to organize my material alternating between themes and styles. Moreover, the short stories I liked most at the time were placed first. I might arrange them in a different order if I had to do it all over again now.
“Roughly half of the book’s stories evolve in the vein of the American Dirty realism school, with an extra drop of dark humor; the rest take on a dreamlike approach, reminiscent of the Magic realism style of Latin American novelists”. Where do you draw your inspiration from? Which books/writers have influenced your work?
I have the feeling that all of us who write draw inspiration more or less from the same sources: memories, fears, persistent feelings (mainly the unpleasant ones), hopes, questions that you feel define you without realizing why and how. As for writers and books that have influenced me, they are one too many. Among my most favorite ones are the Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters, Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson and The Burning Plain by Juan Rulfo.
Some of your stories depict farmers and blue-collar workers. How has the fact that you grew up in a small rural society been reflected on your work? Has there been an effort on your part to do away with the stereotypical, often naïve, depictions of the Greek countryside?
I grew up in a rural family. Given that I was raised in such an environment, and that we usually write to understand ourselves, writing about this environment and its people was inevitable. And of course I tried to avoid easy categorizations. I don’t know if I succeeded, but honestly speaking, my goal was to move away from such stereotypical depictions.
What are the advantages and pitfalls of short stories as a literary form? Would you say that short stories are more like poetry than fiction?
Yes, I actually believe that short stories are more like poetry than fiction. Yet, you get this sense of ‘emotional humidity’ evident in poetry in all major works: wouldn’t you say that Moby Dick, a 900 page novel, is a poem? Definitely so.
You have recently translated A Prayer Journal by Flannery O’ Connor, one of the best short story authors of the 20th century. What drew you most to O’ Connor in the first place? Are there any similarities between the American South, as it appears in her stories, and the Greek North, as depicted in yours?
I suppose I was drawn to her violence and pessimism, expressed so non-ostentatiously that you get the feeling that they are just a way for the writer to delve into issues she has the most interest in: the relationship with the Divine, Evil, love – skillfully, suggestively, employing simplicity and black humor. As for the second question, similarities indeed exist: the rural social organization, the rule of religion, the poor economic conditions, attachment to the past. I guess that these are more or less shared experiences.
“I don’t think that the artist has a duty to fulfill or a special role to play. Nor do I think that we live in an era of deep intellectual crisis or that such times of crisis should mutatis mutandis lead to a so-called ‘superior’ art”. Tell us more.
There is no reason whatsoever to isolate artists, and writers in this respect, from society. I believe that public discourse on writing as a “political act” and on “major works that appear in times of crisis” is commonplace, constantly reproduced in book reviews and newspaper columns that need to be filled. Demanding works are created today as they have always been created: with difficulty.
*Interview by Athina Rossoglou
Corruption has been a recurring theme in the public debate for some years, both in Greece and abroad, with regard to the causes of the economic crisis in the country. However, according to the latest Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (2015), Greece has been noted as one of the top improvers among countries with a significant increase in scores since 2012, in light of the fact that the fight against corruption has become a national priority in recent years, with an ambitious National Anti-Corruption Plan (NACAP) being launched.
George Vassiliadis*, Secretary General Against Corruption spoke to Greek News Agenda** about the strategies undertaken by the Greek government in the context of the National Anti-Corruption Plan, the high risk areas, Greece’s cooperation with the German State of North Rhine-Westphalia, the importance of proactive legislation and the role of education and IT in the fight against corruption. He also shared his view on how the fight against corruption can help the Greek society progress and set new foundations for the country’s future.
Q: Could you give us some insight on the issue and explain your main duties? And what are the major strategies and actions undertaken by the government in the fight against corruption?
A: The fight against corruption was one the key pronouncements made by the government at the time of its election in January 2015, consisting of two main “components”, if we may put it this way: 1) to be able to deal with and assist audit mechanisms shed light on past cases that are responsible for bringing the country to this situation, and 2) more importantly, to develop a strategy against any legal vacuum that may lead to corruption. Thus, it is a battle for better regulation from now on so as to eliminate any such vacuums leading to the spread of such occurrences.
In this context, a three-year action plan has been developed for effective interventions throughout the public sector, as well as in the private sector. The plan includes 124 actions within public administration as a whole, affecting everything from public procurements to the operation of internal audit units inside Ministries. The implementation of the plan has already begun, the first pieces of legislation -such as the declaration of assets- have already been passed, the bill regarding the funding of political parties will be tabledin parliament shortly, as will legislation concerning public procurements and the planning of strategies in high risk areas. Generally speaking, we are in the process of huge efforts to implement this national plan.
Q: Do you single out any high risk areas; Are there topics or sectors more vulnerable to corruption than others that should be prioritized?
A: According to research, and common sense, high risk areas include the health sector, national defense procurements, public works and local administration. Specific national strategies against corruption are being developed in those areas. In some sectors, special strategies have already been deployed; in others, we will be ready to deploy them soon, taking precise action in all of them.
Q: You recently held the conference "15 months of Secretariat General Against Corruption" where you presented an annual report of your work during the past year. Could you give us a couple of specific examples of your work in practice regarding actions and operations that were so far successfully completed?
A: We focus especially in assisting audit and prosecution mechanisms in their efforts. We try to provide prosecution authorities with any available information that the government may have, as well as with technological equipment to help them carry out their work, and the same applies goes for the audit mechanism. Operating simultaneously as an AFCOS, that is the Greek section of the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), we have created a network of information flow which had, as a result, in the last year alone, a 50% rise in seizures of contraband cigarettes.
At the same time and in the same context, we have tried to coordinate the audit mechanism as a whole. For the first time, delegations from different departments have come out jointly in the streets. We have used the experience we gained over the last year and a half from the legislation against the smuggling of tobacco products to create a permanent and stable mechanism for coordinating action against smuggling. All this is the result of work performed over this period. We experiment, bring new practices, legislate and try to have tangible results for the Greek people, ones that are obvious in the balance of their accounts.
Q: Following the signing of a joint declaration (January 2016), between Greece and the German State of North Rhine-Westphalia, a mission of 50 top officials from the Ministry of Finance, the General Secretariat Against Corruption and the Special Secretariat for Financial and Economic Crime Unit (SDOE) went recently to Germany (July 2016) to attend special training and exchange of expertise in issues of tax evasion, corruption and contraband. Can you tell us a bit more about this cooperation?
A: The cooperation essentially began in May 2015, when a Greek government delegation, led by me, visited the German State of North Rhine-Westphalia. We developed a relationship of mutual trust, signed a joint declaration of mutual cooperation and, as is well known, we have already received from them a list of Greek tax evaders. There is technical assistance in terms of know-how with regard to tax evasion issues. Moreover, there is continuous –if not obvious- cooperation, in the framework of Prosecution Authorities and law enforcement, as well as information exchange and know-how. This is one of the most important actions taken that keeps constantly bringing results.
Q: Improvement in legislation is one of the main pillars of the National Anti- Corruption Plan. Do you believe that it is more efficient to have proactive legislation against corruption or reactive (in the form of severe sanctions)? And what role could education play in this process?
A: First of all, we need to have legislation so as not to have any legal vacuums. Therefore, theoretically speaking, we are looking at prevention. As long as there are no legal vacuums, as long as the state does not close its eyes on the issue, as long as laws are stable, solid, and realistic, legal gaps leading to corruption close. At the same time, of course, we must have harsh sanctions for violators. However, sanctions alone do not mean anything. As long as there are legal vacuums, we will be exposed to such instances.
Education clearly plays a catalytic role in the fight against corruption, which is why it is part of the national strategic plan. It is very important that all Greek students, youngsters, from the early years of school, understand the meaning of corruption, of a taxation system, of public property. By understanding, for example, what public property means, students come to realize that they have paid for their school desk themselves, and if they destroy it, then they will have to pay for it all over again themselves. Thus they become aware of and get in touch with the reality they will face as they grow older. So, we consider education as very important. In this context, we signed a strategic agreement last month with Panteion University so as to develop actions raising awareness amongst students and young people in the country on the issues of corruption.
Q: Core elements of fighting corruption are transparency and openness. How does Information Technology, with all its tools, facilitate your work? Are these tools deployed effectively in the framework of the Anti- Corruption Plan?
A: New technologies can certainly help fight these incidents. One of the biggest problems faced by Greek state apparatuses was the absence of such technologies for years. We know that the Secretariat General for Public Revenue has been developing new technologies that could minimize inspection and investigation time in tax cases. We know that we can speed up scrutiny by using data analysis and other methods, achieving in the process better results. It is thus obvious that IT plays a significant role, and in these difficult times, the Secretariat General does everything humanly possible to acquire new technology products that enable audit mechanisms, sending a clear message that things have changed and that everyone must do their part now when it comes to sharing the social burden, to the best of everyone’s ability.
Q: In your opinion, how much can the fight against corruption help the country to come out of the crisis?
A: One might expect to hear numbers but I never make comments using numbers. It is obvious that the fight against corruption can help the country given that apart from economic issues, there are also ethical issues. It is a matter of how an organized society can progress. The fight against corruption clearly helps the country move forward. It sets new foundations for the country’s future, and winning this fight obviously comes with economic benefits as well.
* George Vassiliadis was born in Piraeus in 1978. He studied Law at the Law School of Democritus University of Thrace. He then completed postgraduate studies in Information Technology and Telecommunications Law at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. He is a lawyer specializing in Business and Corporate Law and a member of the Athens Bar Association since 2004.
** Interview by Eleftheria Spiliotakopoulou
Read more: Greece in top improvers in Transparency International Index, prioritizes anti-corruption strategy (GNA); The government's battle against corruption is a battle for democracy, gov't VP Dragasakis says; Greek authorities receive new list of 475 Greeks with overseas accounts (ANA- MPA)
Watch video: Conference "15 months of Secretariat General Against Corruption" (in Greek)
This month, the public in Greece will have a last chance to visit “The Equilibrists”, a grand exhibition, devoted to a new generation of young Greek and Cypriot artists, running through October 23, 2016 at the Benaki Museum (Pireos Street Annexe). “The Equilibrists” is a project organized by the New Museum (New York, USA) and the DESTE Foundation (Athens, Greece), in collaboration with the Benaki Museum on the occasion of DESTE’s 33rd anniversary. On the occasion of its anniversary, rather than focusing on its past, the Foundation is looking forward with a focus on the future of young art in Greece, by bringing together work by a new generation of young Greek and Cypriot artists working in Athens and abroad, ranging from their mid-20s to mid-30s.
Specifically, the 33 artists*** participating in the exhibition have adopted radically diverse approaches towards reflecting and engaging with the world around them. Working across painting, sculpture, drawing, film & video, and performance, they capture the fragility of the present moment through a shared approach to materiality. Their work touches upon themes as varied as historical memory, shifting notions of cultural identity, the politics of architecture and infrastructure, and the surfaces and flows of the digital realm.
Greek News Agenda* had the pleasure to interview Gary Carrion- Murayari** who was co-curator of the exhibition (together with Helga Christoffersen and the New Museum’s Artistic Director Massimiliano Gioni). He spoke to GNA about the cooperation between the New Museum and the Deste Foundation – two of USA’s and Greece’s leading cultural institutions with regards to contemporary art – as well as on the selection process that was followed in relation to “The Equilibrists” exhibition. He also shared his views on Greece’s contemporary arts scene and the challenges artists are faced with in times of crisis.
Q: How did the New Museum‘s cooperation with DESTE Foundation and the Benaki Museum come about, in relation to “The Equilibrists” exhibition?
A: The New Museum has collaborated with the Deste Foundation in the past and we were invited last summer to organize the exhibition to commemorate the anniversary of the Deste Foundation, as both the New Museum and Deste have a long commitment to emerging artists from around the world.
Q: Can you provide an insight on the selection process with regard to the artists showcasing their work in the exhibition? What were the main selection criteria?
A: We spent several months researching and requesting portfolios from Greek and Cypriot artists working within both countries, as well as those who were living in abroad. We also solicited recommendations from a number of artists, curators, and writers working in Athens and beyond. After reviewing hundreds of portfolios, we undertook several trips to meet artists – traveling to Athens, Thessaloniki, Nicosia, Berlin and London – and selecting 33 artists from this group.
Our intention with the selection process was to highlight the diversity of practices and viewpoints within this generation of artists. We were looking for strong, original voices across mediums and themes, rather than attempting to proscribe a singular viewpoint on what these artists should be making. The selections were driven by the individuality of the artists and the richness of the dialogue we had with each of them.
Q: Working as a curator for one of the leading contemporary art museums in the world, what is your view on the contemporary arts scene in Greece?
A: The scene in Greece is incredibly strong at the moment, not only in the works being produced by these young artists, but also in the artist-run initiatives and alternative spaces operating, which provide critical platforms that would be impressive in any city. We were also lucky to meet a number of brilliant, young curators working full or part-time in Athens whose projects are incredibly exciting and produce a true vibrancy to the scene.
Q: As a consequence of the eurocrisis, the younger generation in Greece is becoming part of an international ‘young precariat’, despite the burst of cultural activity in recent years. In this context, some claim that spending cuts entail a "blitzkrieg" for the arts, while others believe that Art flourishes in times of crisis. What is your opinion on the issue?
A: The spending cuts for the arts in Greece are a huge hindrance to the arts – as they are in other crisis hit cities around the world. The crisis has meant that very few of the myriad talented artists in these cities are able to make a substantial living on their work – often leading many talented individuals to leave and forcing the ones who stay to limit the amount of time they spend on their work and the amount of work they are able to make. It has also hindered the ability of institutions to provide a platform for emerging and mid-career artists and to properly encourage young generations of artist to develop their work critically.
That being said, the response by artists and curators in Athens very recently has been to improvise, collaborate, and act resourcefully to create their own opportunities and communities that support their work. The purpose of this exhibition has been to highlight these exceptional individuals and hopefully bring a larger appreciation to these efforts from both a local and international audience.
Q: Are there any plans to host “The Equilibrists” and/or other exhibitions of Greek artists in NYC New Museum in the future?
A: The exhibition was conceived of and planned for presentation only in Athens (it also includes a number of young artists who rarely or have never exhibited in Athens, even though they work and live there). The show provided a great contribution to our ongoing research into emerging contemporary art around the world and we will continue to keep tabs on the scene in Athens and hopefully work with some of these artists again in the future.
*Interview by Eleftheria Spiliotakopoulou
“The Equilibrists” is in keeping with the spirit of the ongoing DESTE Prize which has honored a promising young Greek artist biannually since 1999. It also reflects one of the fundamental aims of the Benaki Museum, which as a historical museum, regularly seeks to bridge the past with the emerging present. Finally, this project also continues the New Museum’s ongoing commitment to international emerging artists, highlighted by its signature Triennial exhibition which will next take place in 2018.
**Gary Carrion-Murayari was recently appointed as a curator (together with Alex Gartenfeld) of the 2018 New Museum Triennial. He is Kraus Family Curator at the New Museum, where he has been an integral part of the curatorial team since joining the staff in 2010. Over the past five years, he has curated solo exhibitions for Phyllida Barlow, Ellen Gallagher, Haroon Mirza, and Camille Henrot, among others. He has also co-curated several New Museum exhibitions, including “Ghosts in the Machine,” “NYC 1993,” “Here and Elsewhere,” and “Chris Ofili: Night and Day.” He previously worked at the Whitney Museum of American Art for seven years, where he organized solo presentations of work by Elad Lassry and Karthik Pandian, and co-curated a number of group exhibitions. Carrion-Murayari was the co-curator, with Francesco Bonami, of the 2010 Whitney Biennial. He has contributed to numerous publications and exhibition catalogues, and has edited and overseen the production of several New Museum catalogues over the past five years. He is currently co-organizing a retrospective exhibition on the artist Jim Shaw, which will open at the New Museum in October.
***Artists participating in “The Equilibrists” exhibition: Loukia Alavanou, Dimitris Ameladiotis, Maria Anastassiou, Eleni Bagaki, Margarita Bofiliou, Marianna Christofides, Manolis Daskalakis-Lemos, Petros Efstathiadis, Eirene Efstathiou, Zoi Gaitanidou, Giorgos Gerontides, Stelios Kallinikou, Yannis Karpouzis, Lito Kattou, Kernel, Ioannis Koliopoulos, Orestis Mavroudis, Irini Miga, Olga Migliaresi-Phoca, Petros Moris, Persefoni Myrtsou, Eva Giannakopoulou, Malvina Panagiotidi, Aliki Panagiotopoulou, Eva Papamargariti, Zoë Paul, Sofia Stevi, Anastasis Stratakis, Valinia Svoronou, Paky Vlassopoulou, Myrto Xanthopoulou and Natalie Yiaxi.
Gregory Papadoyiannis was born in Crete in 1961. He is the writer of a novel, Sniff, a short stories collection, The city beyond the river, and a comic album, To the Almighty, hereunto. In 1991, he was awarded the national prize for young playwrights at the competition of the Ministry of Culture for his play The situations. His publications in English include 52 eyelands, ‘a sentimental guide through the Greek islands’, while his short stories have been included in anthologies both in the UK and the USA. His novel Baby Jazz is under publication by Fomite Press (U.S.A., 2017).
He is co-founder, administrator and writer for the books & cinema section of the website www.eyelands.gr. He is the curator for the only Greece-based international short story competition titled Colours. In 2012, together with Giannis Petrakis and Kostas Malousaris, he founded Strange Days Books Publishing, a small publishing house based in Rethymno.
Gregory Papadoyiannis spoke to Reading Greece* his multifaceted career as a writer, playwright, short film director, editor and translator, and “writing as the thread that unites them all”. He comments on artistic and more specifically literary production in Greece amid the crisis, noting that there has been “a creative outburst of new theater companies… in a lesser way, in the art of film-making, which remains an expensive art, and of course in literature, where things are more complicated”.
He also explains how he decided to found Strange Days Books, seeing the crisis “as an opportunity and a challenge to do what he loves most” while he comments on the prospects of Greek literature both in Greece and abroad. “Despite all adversities Greek literature has a lot of potential especially if there is an elementary interest in book publishing by the state in the future, something which has not existed until now. We have the talent, we have the capability […] I believe that the Greek publishing production could even take advantage of the global interest in Greece that was inevitably caused during the past years and could spread some of our booksabroadmore easily. All it takes is to approach this world out there and try to learn some things from it”.
Your book Sniff recounts the history of Greece since the 1960s through the eyes of a child given in a comic yet deeply moving way, reconstructing ‘the innocence of a time that has been lost for good’. Tell us more.
Sniff in a few words, is the story of a child who does not want to grow up. So he remains 11 years old forever, while around him, seasons change, time keeps progressing, the trivial history of our daily actions and the official history of "grownups" continue their way. In order to talk about Sniff I would have to talk like the child who tells the story. Sniff is a toy train that takes us to our childhood. This period of time isn’t gone, it isn’t lost. We have left but we can always return to it. It is still the place where you feel fine because even nasty things can be funny and in spite of whatever happens around you when you're there you know that you can be happy again as long as you just have a ball, or a board game or a «Blek» -magazine for kids.
You are the writer of 52 eyelands, a “sentimental guide through the Greek Islands”. How did you decide to write a travel guide? What is it that differentiates your book from other “travelling companions”?
This book differs from other travel guides because it is a travel guide based on emotions. Based on the feelings any trip to any island generates in me, and the emotions generated by each separate island because each one resembles a beloved friend of mine I meet again. I give information about the islands but I also narrate my personal adventures there, usually not very heroic ones, and I think this gives a somewhat more literary character to the guide. There is one more thing: I also write about the things that I found unpleasant in the islands, things that I don’t like seeing there, usually the results of a totally false idea of 'development' and attitudes that caused me distress. I believe that you do not see this often, but it is necessary to tell the truth, especially about the things you love, isn’t it?
A playwright, a short film director, an editor and a translator. What is the binding thread?
The thread that unites them is, of course, writing. This was always what interested me the most; the way to express what you have inside your soul by telling a story. I was never particularly interested in the theory of art or literature, although inevitably I have learned things by studying in various schools. In very simplistic terms, there are two categories of people who write: those who make literature and those who tell stories. What I'm trying to be is a good storyteller, a man who tells stories. For this reason I sometimes find it more appropriate to put the characters on a theatrical stage, other times in a short story and lately I’ve been trying to create a comic book. Last time this happened I was still a student - Okay, I remained a student for a rather long time ... so it hasn’t been that long since then. But everything I do is simply my way of telling stories to other children ...
You are the curator for Colours*, the only Greece-based international short story competition. How do things stand as far as literary production in Greece is concerned?
For the past seven years, I’ve had the chance to read lots of stories written by young, mostly Greek authors. The situation has changed since the early years of the crisis, there are many people who have decided to turn to what they really love doing (even if this was only due to the misfortune of losing their job) and what many people love is art in all its different forms. We saw a creative outburst of new theater companies-with countless small groups producing great work in the past years, we can also see this, in a lesser way, in the art of film-making, which remains an expensive art, and of course in literature, where things are more complicated.
It is certain that more people have been choosing to express themselves through writing in recent years but the crisis has diminished the opportunities to publish their books, as publishers –the ones that are still in business- circulate fewer books and don’t risk publishing books by young writers. This led to another strange situation: a bunch of self-publishing “opportunities” have sprung. This creates a situation where anyone can be proclaimed a writer: one only needs to know how to write -sometimes not even this. Seeing young writers who have the vanity to see their name on a book without feeling the need to have someone -anyone- read their work first worries me. They just pay (there is a cost, of course) and see their book published. This does not mean that they’ve become writers. But who dares to tell them the truth?
On the other hand, over these years in eyelands.gr and Strange Days Books, we’ve had the opportunity to read exceptional works, original texts by authors with great talent, who often struggle with the economic conditions, with a usually hostile surrounding, but also with their personal anxiety about whether their writing isworthwhile (usually they are very modest people). You cannot help but admire these people and hope that they will find their way. Very often, authors who have participated in one of our contests send emails to thank us for giving them a chance. My response is always the same: we simply do what should be taken for granted; we are just here for you. It is you and your talent that gives the opportunity to yourself; this is what opens the wayfor yourself, not us.
* Our contest theme changes annually. In 2017 the theme will be "strange love stories"
In 2012, together with Giannis Petrakis and Kostas Malousaris, you founded Strange Days, a small publishing house based in Rethymno. How did you decide to embark on such a venture especially amid the economic crisis?
I think I already answered this ... through my blabbering perhaps, in the previous question. At this point let me add that Strange Days is a social cooperative publishing company that was actually founded in the first year of the crisis, (actually it was eyelands.gr we created first) and perhaps the core of the group consists of the three of us, mentioned above, but we have another five or six people who help us as much as they can and dozens who support us in several ways. So we were also one of those people who saw the crisis as an opportunity and a challenge to do what they love most. We are just a small group among the vast number of people who are trying to find a way through the difficulties of the economic crisis.
At the moment, we can say that not only have we survived but our finances are improving every year and, most importantly, we are still a team of people who love what they do. Actually, the three of us are only the core of a team that is still growing. And yet in three or four years we have managed to publish several fine books (about 50 titles), to organize Sand Festival and a Writing Workshop, a theater production and more. To be honest, sometimes this seems unbelievable to me... I think the most important thing in this kind of team-work is to learn how to disagree with your team-mates. And how to survive with them after this. This is the key, perhaps not only for publishers.
What about the Greek book market? Which are the prospects of Greek literature both in Greece and abroad?
I find it hard to talk about such a complicated issue, even though I already have more than 35 years of work experience, in one way or another, in the publishing business. But I believe that despite all adversities Greek literature has a lot of potential especially if there is an elementary interest in book publishing by the state in the future, something which has not existed until now. We have the talent, we have the capability, we are now in close contact with what happens in the rest of the world, we even have – at least as writers- the bitter experience of a country in crisis which is something that we can make use of. We, in Strange Days Books, have already published books by young English and U.S.A. writers and we hope that soon we’ll see some of our Greek writers' books published by publishers in England or the U.S.
I believe that the Greek publishing production could even take advantage of the global interest in Greece that was inevitably caused during the past years and could spread some of our booksabroadmore easily. All it takes is to approach this world out there and try to learn some things from it. This applies to writers and publishers and everyone. As writers we must learn how to write following some rules as it is the case in all countries with a strong literary tradition. Besides this, everyone involved with the publishing business must learn to work hard in order to achieve results; we must learn to invest in hard work instead of trying to find "shortcuts" through the use of gimmicks.
Our feet, our roots are here and this is of special importance, and it is nice to see the bright side of it but our gaze should be directed towards the world and not towards our own navel. One of the first things we stated when we founded Strange Days Books was that we are based in a small city of Greece, and this is a fine thing, but we belong to the world and we just want to express something that belongs to our time through our books.
*Interview by Athina Rossoglou
"In a participatory culture, none of us is fully literate unless we're creating, not just consuming" said Dan GIllmor, keynote speaker for the International Conference “#RetreatConference2016: Digital Journalism- solution to the media crisis?” that was recently held in Athens, Greece (September 23-25, 2016), organized by theSecretariat General for Media & Communication, in cooperation with the Open University of Cyprus and the Advanced Media Institute.
Dan Gillmor is an internationally acclaimed author and leader in new media and citizen-based journalism. He teaches digital media literacy and entrepreneurship at Arizona State University (ASU)’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and is the author of two books that relate to the tectonic shifts going on in journalism – “We the Media- Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People” (O'Reilly Media, 2004) and “Mediactive” (2009). In addition to his work with ASU, he also acts as an advisor for a number of online media ventures.
He spoke to Greek News Agenda (GNA)* -and its affiliated bulletin Punto Grecia- on the conclusions of #RetreatConference2016 and shared his views on the evolution of citizen journalism and media literacy, as well as on opportunities and challenges facing journalism in the Digital Age.
1. The main topic of #RetreatConference2016 (Athens, Sep 23-25, 2016) was whether digital journalism can be a response to the traditional media crisis. What were the main conclusions drawn at the conference and what is your personal view on the issue?
Digital technology is how we will create and distribute journalism in the future, with very few exceptions. There is no real alternative, and we should welcome this development for the most part. Our conference speakers addressed many of the issues surrounding this reality, including quality and financing of journalism.
I’m not worried at all about the future of journalism from a quality standpoint, even though we see a great deal of poor or unethical media. I remain worried about how we will pay for it. That is still, to me, is one of the biggest questions we face, but not the only one. We all agreed on at least one thing: the need for excellent journalism in a world where we are swamped with misinformation, unlabeled propaganda, and more.
2. Your book “We the Media ” (2004) has become something of a bible for those who believe that Internet can change journalism for the better, as a new breed of grassroots journalists can take the news into their own hands. Where do we stand now? How far along do you see the evolution of citizen journalism and what are the biggest challenges lying ahead?
The main things that have changed since the book was first published are 1) the rise of social media, which have had enormous impact on all of us; 2) a re-centralization of communications giving huge corporations and governments much more control over what we say and do online. Social media has some good impact: giving people easy ways to find, connect with, and stay in touch with people and topics they care about.
But Facebook, in particular, is also dangerous due to its enormous size and reach, because it is becoming the default place where people go for their conversations and news. No single company should have this kind of power. Corporate and government control over the Internet is a major threat in general.
Citizen journalism, meanwhile, is moving ahead in both good and less helpful ways. The ability of average people to participate in an ecosystem that helps each other understand their world better has never been greater. More and more people are using the democratized tools of communications this way, and I’m very happy that it’s continuing to grow as a force.
3. In 2009, you published Mediactive, a book on digital media literacy. What are the core principles and ethical guidelines for what could be called a new media literacy nowadays?
The core principles for consumers are: skepticism (be skeptical of everything); judgment (but not equally skeptical of everything); asking questions; going outside one’s own “zone of comfort” to learn more; and understanding how media are created and used to influence others. For creators of media—which we all are if we are literate—I add to the above principles some standard journalistic notions: thoroughness, accuracy, fairness, independence, plus transparency. These are vital, in my view, for all of us. Once we understand the principles, we can use a variety of tactics and tools to be more literate.
4. Could the emphasis given to technical skills that are necessary when working in data and digital journalism lead to the downgrading of the quality of journalistic work (language richness, news selection, presentation, research)?
These are complementary skills, not competing ones. Data and digital journalism can enhance traditional practices, and in many cases do just that.
5. Can you tell us more on your latest project “Permission Taken”?
As I noted earlier, I’m deeply worried about the re-centralization of technology and communications, and I believe we—those of us at the edges of the networks that make up the Internet—need to work hard to reclaim control from big companies and governments. I should be clear that we have given some of this power to them, for convenience and (often the illusion of) safety. Many fundamental liberties are at stake: freedom of expression; freedom to assemble and collaborate; freedom to innovate; and many others. My project aims to help people understand what they can do, individually and as members of communities, to reverse the damaging effects of this recentralization.
* Interview (on behalf of GNA) by Eleftheria Spiliotakopoulou
Watch videos from #RetreatConference2016:
10 years after Dan Gillmor's book "We the Media", what progress has been made in #digitaljournalism?
Workshop on social media literacy
See also: Dan Gillmor’s interview to CNN Greece