He is head of Greece's Committee for National and Social Dialogue for Education Reform. Inauguruated in December 2015, the activities of the Dialogue Committee included debates on a weekly basis, working sub-committees and special workshops (website in Greek: http://dialogos.minedu.gov.gr). A series of reforms are being planned for secondary education in Greece, after professor Liakos submitted the Commitee's recommendations to the Ministry of Education on May 27 2016.
Professor Liakos spoke to Rethinking Greece* about education reforms and their political nature, education’s reproductive and redistributive role, welfare state, 'demo-crisis' and the economic and political constraints for left-wing politics in Greece.
What are the main elements of the proposals recently submitted by the National and Social Committee for Education Reform?
The main points of our reform proposals refer to (1) the autonomy of schools and the adoption of a curriculum that is more flexible and friendly to the student, (b) a robust training programme for teachers throughout their career, (c) the creation of a two-year high school offering something similar to an IB (International Baccalaureate) type of programme, (d) changing the existing selection process and admission requirements for access to Higher Education, and (e) introducing research in secondary education. We also suggest boosting a digital turn in educational methodologies as well as the enhancement of audiovisual training tools. Generally speaking, there are problems caused specifically by the crisis as well as pre-existing problems of a long-term nature.
Historically speaking, educational reforms in Greece have been strongly politicized. How do the Committee’s proposals address political and social issues raised by the current crisis?
It is obvious that our education reform proposals are of a political nature. As a Committee, we insist on strengthening the public education system (because we are) convinced that its role is to reduce social inequalities. We should be able to provide high quality public education for the many, for those socially and economically vulnerable. To this end, we have suggested the introduction of a network of high quality schools in the most deprived areas of the country.
One of the most politicized issues was the implementation of a system for the evaluation of teachers. In order to smooth the way for specific policies, previous governments had systematically portrayed teachers as lazy and incompetent, while their evaluation was connected to occasional student occupations. But what they actually achieved was to discredit any attempt of creating an evaluation system and even to demonize the word “evaluation”. We are bringing back the teachers’ evaluation issue, introducing evaluation elements through a different perspective: teachers’ lifelong education, the introduction of goal-setting procedures by every school as well as the introduction of a National Curriculum and National Standards for Education.
Your proposals seem to offer a fertile ground for a progressive and more practical approach to education. How feasible do you consider their implementation and what may be the limitations posed by the crisis?
The crisis has indeed cast a heavy shadow on the education system and has posed severe limitations on the government’s reform capacity. Teachers cannot be appointed where needed because there is no money and thus schools are forced to limit their classes to the basics. One third of the education budget has been cut. In order for a serious education reform to take place we need a certain level of financing along with the government’s capacity to legislate without preemptive interventions by the Quartet of international creditors.
You have stated that Greece, together with other European Mediterranean countries, has become an observatory for the great historical transformations of our time. How do education issues and the Committee’s proposals relate to this question?
When we talk about education, we usually refer to its role as a mechanism for social reproduction. Education reproduces social relations and this is why it is a policy area where ideological and political differences become prominent. The reproduction of social relations includes the reproduction of social hierarchies: the children of the educated become educated, whereas the children of the poor remain poor. In order to change that, and to ensure access to education for the poorest and the different, we need to have an education system of a redistributive character. This was what modern welfare states provided until recently and Greece’s education system prior to the crisis was on the process of integrating that principle.
The crisis changed all that, revealing trends of wider dynamics. Nowadays it is not only the content of the education that is contested, but above all its reproductive and redistributive role. Can education intervene in shaping society and social relations, or are new social relations and hierarchies reproduced beyond its influence? For example, can education ensure upward social mobility like it did in the past?
Education used to act as a centripetal force in society, and now it has been transformed into a kind of centrifugal force. Education used to be state-driven and centralized, while it absorbed and redirected educational practices. Now it has many centers that tend to escape from the state’s supervision; they are moving away from it, thus the emphasis of the private sector, in unschooling, in education vouchers etc., around which many neoliberal demands are articulated. In short, we are witnessing a retreat of the state from its role in the reproduction of society, as well as the creation of different hierarchies and social relations. However, these variations should not be interpreted only as options that express a rival policy and ideology. We also need to see how they form part of broader, complex and multifaceted historical changes.
Still, why do we insist on public education? Because these broader changes taking place at the moment tend to increase social inequalities and cultural differences, while what we want is to reduce inequalities, while respecting cultural differences. And there is something else I would like to point out: we believe that when cultural differences are combined with social inequalities, then the basic unity of society is ruptured. So we are supporting public education as a compensatory mechanism, as an antidote to these inequalities. But for that to happen, public education must change; it must be reformed in order to meet contemporary needs and conditions and to bring the school up to date with the major changes currently taking place in our societies.
Given that current developments in Greece and Europe have led to a crisis in democracy ('demo-crisis') do you think that they have also created the imaginaries to critically reflect on, challenge and collectively react against this crisis?
The elections of January 2015 showed that there was a strong reaction to demo-crisis. Their results indicated an attempt to bring “demos” (in Greek: [the common] people) back to the fore. What happened later, in the summer of 2015, was a ‘showdown’ between a conception of democracy based on the will of the people and the current institutional order of the European Union. It turned out that the second prevailed over the first. I don’t see this as a defeat but as a challenge to explore how the will of the people can be reconstituted in the existing framework and what this process may entail.
As a historian, I view this broader context as a wide field in which one should seek diverse solutions, rather than remain stuck in a full rejection or full compliance dilemma, which had been, to a large extent, the spirit of the previous period, where the ideological line was drawn between “pro-Memorandum” and “anti-Memorandum” political discourses. During that time, I often pointed out how inadequate this kind of politics was for the Left, although it proved instrumental in the Left’s rise to power.
Now, we must see what progressive reforms may mean under the current circumstances, and what can be defined as progressive and in favor of the many, the “demos”. It is not an easy task but such is the nature of historical dilemmas.
The limitations resulting from the July compromise, and the constraints imposed by the Institutions to provide loan disbursement are not only political and economic. Many of them are structural in nature and aim to change the social landscape of Greece, weaken the public sector and the role of collective decisions and increase the role of business interests and the market.
We have also seen cases were the changes imposed aim to just satisfy private interests. The concession of the former airport of Elliniko for a low price offered by a Greek oligarch (Latsis’ Lamda Development), and the pressure to grant even the very small share still controlled by the Greek state in the National Telephone Company to the German Telecom as a prerequisite for the latest loan disbursement is a clear example of this. The same holds for interferences of the so-called Institutions in legislation concerning issues of educational reform which didn’t entail a financial or economic aspect.
But still, there are progressive reforms to be implemented even within these “constraints”. Regarding education, one of them is the curriculum concerning religious courses and the relevant pressure exerted by the Greek - Orthodox Church. When the dialogue about education reform proposals started a high official explicitly told me that the religion curriculum should not be touched. And one can see that despite the fact that the curriculum in all subjects has been reduced, the religious curriculum remains as it was. It is obvious that in this case as well as in many others, there is significant margin for progressive reform.
*Interview by Nikolas Nenedakis and Athina Rossoglou
Read more: OECD: Greece - Overview of the education system; Educational reforms in Greece and a report from Berkeley; Analysis: Greece between democracy & demo-crisis; Europe's Greek moment and Greece's European moment
Professor Karamessini has published widely on social policy, labour market and industrial relations in Greece as well as South Europe and has participated in a great number of official expert groups of the European Commission on employment and gender equality issues. She recently co-edited with Manchester University Professor Jill Rubery the book “Women and Austerity. The Economic Crisis and the Future for Gender Equality” (Routledge 2014), While she has just published an extensive article on the impact of austerity policies since 2010 on the Greek social model ("The Greek Social Model: Towards a Deregulated Labour Market and Residual Social Protection") as part of the ILO's publication “The European Social Model in Crisis: Is Europe losing its soul?”
Maria Karamessini spoke to Greek News Agenda* about unemployment in Greece, the problems of the Greek labour market and the low female employment rate, the re-engineering project that will redefine the role of the OAED as a labour market regulator, the new schemes for combating unemployment and finally, the need for a robust social policy in times of austerity.
What are the main problems of the labour market in Greece today?
The most serious problems right now are unacceptably high unemployment and the migration of young people -especially young scientists. Another big problem is the erosion of labour rights, which is due to changes in the institutional framework adopted throughout the first Memoranda (2010-2012), and to the bad conditions of our labour market, characterized by the proliferation of phenomena such as wage arrears, uninsured labour and part-time contracts. Finally, an important problem is the new wave of exits to retirement – mostly from the public sector – which was caused by the last pension reform. This also occurred with the 2010 pension reform which drove many people even in the ages of 50-55 to retire early, for fear of losing large part of their pension rights. People in their fifties are usually at the peak of their careers and could offer a lot if they remained in the labour market.
Why is the employment rate in Greece is so low, compared to other European countries?
This is the combined outcome of a low rate before the crisis and the effect of the crisis. Between 2008 and 2015 the overall employment rate dropped from 61% to 51% as a result of a huge decline in employment, which is a social disaster. But in 2008 the Greek rate was the sixth lowest rate in the EU.
The low overall employment rate before the crisis was entirely due to the feeble female rate, since the male rate was above the EU average. In fact, Greece had the third lowest female employment rate in the EU after Malta and Italy. It must be said that this percentage had been rapidly increasing during the recent decades –while of course remaining among the lowest in Europe-, but with the onset of crisis in 2008 this upward trend was reversed.
Historically speaking, the reasons for the low rate of female employment are the patriarchal values and practices of the Greek society as well as the underdevelopment of the tertiary sector (until the mid 1970’s) and welfare state services (until 2000), areas where women are traditionally employed. Labour discrimination against women persists, especially against hiring pregnant women and generally women of reproductive age. Also, there is a lack of employment opportunities for young women who have secondary education. Women that come from low educational strata have the desire to work but, unfortunately, lack employment opportunities.
How has OAED responded so far to the needs arising from the crisis?
Up until the crisis, OAED applied very classic employment schemes that were, in my opinion, and according to all the evaluation studies that were carried out, completely ineffective. The advent of the crisis brought to light all the shortcomings of the previous policies, while also creating new challenges. The biggest challenge was that the number of unemployed skyrocketed, which meant an increased need for labour counselors in OAED, while at the same time our staff was reduced by 30-35% -due to the early retirement wave I mentioned before - and the people that left were never replaced. Furthermore, we had to absorb the functions of institutions that were being phased out and were implementing large parts of social policy, such as housing policy and social tourism. So you understand, personnel-wise we were stretched very thin: our labour counselors had to cover basic needs such as distributing unemployment benefits, so they switched to purely administrative work. This meant that during the first period of the crisis, OAED was unable to play its role, to stand by the unemployed and help them find work. So in my opinion OAED has not been able to respond effectively to the problems created by the crisis, although it did implement many employment schemes that slowed down, to a degree, the rate of unemployment; however those were only temporary defensive solutions.
On the other hand, the crisis led to a redefinition of what types of schemes are necessary and effective in times of crisis. The effort made over the past year, at least since I took office, is to redesign the employment schemes and the same effort is made by the Ministry of Labour that is responsible for the overall planning of employment policies.
So what does OEAD do to combat the unemployment rate, currently at 24,4%?
In order to address high unemployment, OAED is currently running a series of employment schemes, the most important of which are: public works schemes in municipalities and the public sector, subsidies to the private sector for work experience or job maintenance programmes, subsidies for self-employment and entrepreneurship and, finally, other types of schemes that combine training with employment. We have also run some training programs for young unemployed.
Employment schemes are programmes that are by definition designed in order to both stem the uncontrolled rise in unemployment and limit long-term unemployment. Prolonged exclusion from the work force leads to social marginalization, even more so in times of crisis. The longer someone is excluded from working, the lower their self-esteem and morale is, and the more discouraged they become from seeking work. Even the unemployed who have not lost their skills or technical training, are uncertain about whether they will be able to face up to the challenges a job.
Right now I think we have established the necessary conditions that will allow us to move forward, because we know what we want and how to go about it. We aim to combine the redesigned schemes with organizational changes that will be brought via a major re-engineering programme of OAED. This programme, aiming at reorganizing the business model of OAED, is funded by the European Commission and carried out with the technical assistance from three other European Public Employment Agencies, those of Sweden, Germany and the United Kingdom. We have been implementing this change for about three years, with increased intensity now that we are entering the final phase.
With this re-engineering programme we aim at redefining the role of the OAED as a labour market regulator and as a provider of active labour market programmes. One aspect of the project is the redesign of the employment policies so that they become more efficient and the second, more radical dimension is the intervention of OAED in the chain of labour supply and demand. OAED aims at becoming the main facilitator of matching labour supply and demand by providing electronic services and tools to both the companies looking to hire and the jobseekers.
This matching of labour supply and demand will be done through the new OAED portal but also through OAED’s employment counsellors using an innovative personalised approach. The counsellors interview jobseekers individually, registering in the information system their educational and occupational characteristics, and the characteristics of the job they are looking for. Then, in collaboration with the jobseeker they design an individual action plan, which contains a full range of necessary actions facilitating the jobseeker’s access to the labour market. The information system pairs jobseekers and vacancies, matching the characteristics of current vacancies to the qualifications and capacities of current jobseekers. Besides this efficient pairing between jobseekers and vacancies, the new information system will provide us with a better monitoring of the individual action plans since it keeps a record of all the actions taken (interviews arranged, etc).
A third aspect of the re-engineering programme is that the new information will render some administrative tasks redundant, so the employment counsellors, after some training, can focus on counselling work. We intend to provide personalised counselling services to more and more unemployed people, but we currently face a short supply of counsellors. We will start from the beneficiaries of the new generation of public works schemes designed by the Ministry of Labour. We envisage the expansion of our counselling capacity in the near future through the reduction of the workload made possible under the re-engineering programme, as well as through the hiring of 360 new counsellors, which a recent decision of our government.
Last but not least, OAED will play a key role in finding apprenticeships for all students and graduates of upper-secondary education vocational schools and public post-secondary vocational training institutes, thus regulating their entry in the labour market. Finally, our Agency will be responsible for providing support to the beneficiaries of the guaranteed social income regarding their labour market integration.
As you noted in your recent report for the ILO, the changes in the institutional framework of labour relations, brought about their disintegration. Are there going to be legislative changes to amend the current situation?
The government is trying, through negotiations with the European institutions and the IMF, to restore collective bargaining, in essence to put it back on its feet. The way collective bargaining operates today has led to the truncation of labour rights and a deterioration of labour relations; so one has to readjust the system and take a closer look at the role of the actors involved. We have to tackle some very important issues, such as whether administrative extension of collective agreements will be brought back, whether sector agreements will take precedence over firm-level agreements etc. A group of international experts has been jointly appointed by the European institutions and the Greek government with the mandate to propose reforms in industrial relations which are in line with European best practices. The objective of the Greek government is a return to normality and stability for the collective bargaining system of the country.
Taking into account the current budgetary restrictions, is it possible for the government to apply Left-wing employment policies?
All policies aiming at reducing unemployment and fighting poverty are an integral part of the parallel programme that the government has promised to implement in order to offset the negative impact austerity policies and restrictive fiscal measures have on Greek society.
Through these policies the government intends to prove its difference from its predecessors. This does not mean that we have all the resources we would like to, but OAED strives to be one of the tools the government can use in order to implement a different type of policies and a reform of public administration that will bear the imprint of the Left. I would say that the government will have to prove its efficiency and measure up to its Left identity in relation to major issues such as combating unemployment and poverty, and the creation of a new welfare state. The goal is to implement the reforms and concrete changes that people who voted for this government yearn for, and against which all citizens will assess the work of the current government in the next elections.
*Interview by Ioulia Livaditi
Sotiris Karamesinis is a Greek theatre director, researcher and actor's coach. He is known for developing his own acting method, MUSA (musical system of acting), a unique system that is based on the art of the ancient actor, introducing music in contemporary actor's preparation and role composition. Since 2008 he lives mostly in Rio de Janeiro. He directs plays, teaches in drama schools and universities, while he leads workshops and master classes on his method and prepares actors for films and TV series. He is also a Research Associate, specializing in Cultural Diplomacy and Performing Arts at the Strategic Communication and News Media Laboratory in the International and European Department of the University of Piraeus as well as a Research Associate on the core of studies on Tragedy, part of the theatrical forms of the theater theory Department at the Center of Literature and Arts of UNIRIO University, Rio de Janeiro.
In 2008-09 he made a pioneering step to direct The Bacchae with the award-winning troupe of the film “City of God” theatre group "Nós Do Morro". He has directed plays of Euripides, Jean Paul Sartre, Jean Anouilh, Eugenio Ionesco, Graham Greene, Harold Pinter and many others in Greece, Cyprus and Brazil. As an artistic director, he has staged several major events in cooperation with institutions such as the European Parliament, the University of Athens, the Athens Megaron Concert Hall, the City of Athens, the Athens and Epidarus Festival, the Athens Olympics 2004, the International Theatre Institute etc. In 2014, he starred in the TV series "Destino de Janeiro" for HBO channel, directed by Fabio Mendoza.
Sotiris Karamesinis spoke to Greek News Agenda* about staging ancient Greek drama in Brazil, his acting method (MUSA), the contribution of ancient drama to contemporary theatre, the role of the artistic Diaspora in times of crisis and how art could contribute to rebranding Greece.
How did you decide to move to Brazil? Which were the main challenges you were faced with?
I find myself reiterating that Dionysus lives in Brazil. The Brazilian actors, with whom I first worked there, were 18 young men and women between the ages of 20 and 30. Most of them happened to be of Afro-Brazilian origin and had grown up in this community, with the Dionysian culture of the Hills of Rio de Janeiro. They were part of the legendary theatre group “Nós do morro” (We from the Hill). The troupe was first known through the participation of dozens of children, adolescents and young actors in the famous 2001 film “City of God” by Fernando Meirelles.
In 2008, I managed to travel to Rio and met them, beginning our cooperation. This was the first attempt, as far as I know, to stage Greek tragedy in a community theatre group in Brazil. I chose to teach and explore The Bacchae with them, because the culture they bring from their homes is Dionysian, their relationship with their acts and the music is organic and immediate. Even the fact that their perception of ancient tragedy was close to nonexistent, it worked favourably in this case; eager and impulsive, they were the best people for this and conducive to my vision for this tragedy.
The first key challenge then was to present the era as simply as one could to these actors and to make them understand the birth and flourishing of Greek theatre, but more importantly, its role in Democracy and involvement in public life. Another challenge is to always try to move your actors away from the simple interpretations and conclusions traditionally based on Christian ethics, so that we can conceive a pre-Christian world. All ethical questions and the language used have been inherited from Greek thought, but the concepts were different.
An equally important issue is the problem of translation. Translations of classical texts by scholars are academic and serve educational purposes, not written specifically in order to be read and understood by actors for performances. As a result, these texts are disconnected from the minds and emotions of actors, in turn making true perception impossible for the audience. To resolve this, I have from the start been dealing with the very difficult task of writing new translations for the stage - not simplified, but with the specific objective of addressing the text organically to the actors so that they find their target in the theatre square.
You have invented your own acting method, which you describe as a Musical System of Acting. What inspired you to create your own MUSA?
MUSA is a method of exercise, training and preparation of actors and role composition, using Music as a driving power and catalyst. It is an autonomous and holistic acting method, mainly focusing on learning how to use music as the backbone of an actor’s composition of scenes or monologues. This process leads to an organic creation and presence, enriching expressive means and facilitating the emotional readiness required for a unique artistic composition per role, not through a psychological but through a psychotechnical process.
The creation of MUSA is the result of years of research delving into Greek tragedy and its close relation with music. Theoretically, it is mainly based on the ancient 'Theory of Ethos of Music’. My personal experience of musical improvisation in theatrical performances and courses has given me some space for experimentation and research on that issue. So, I dedicated over a decade to working out, developing and organizing ways of reintroducing music into the art of acting. In the course of these years, my system was enriched by an abundance of theoretical and practical sources through a continuous dialogue with the great masters of the theatrical past, composers, performers and other sources from the fields of music and drama therapy, and studies on the anthropology of theatre, performance and rituals.
My method actually emerged from the need to create my own tools so as to share a new working Code with my actors for the aesthetic homogeneity and functionality of a very different system of preparation, which leads to an equally special aesthetic effect. My way of learning and making something mine is to discover it again by myself. I don’t know any other way of apprenticeship: we always need to reinvent everything from scratch, and my own Ariadne's thread to find my path was music.
What do you consider the contribution of Greek drama to contemporary theater? How has it affected your own position as a Greek director in a foreign country?
Ancient Greek drama is a great and irreplaceable school for actors, of a demanding nature and a training ground for the body, voice and every expressive means at our disposal. In modern Greece we have a long tradition of the kind, with already several generations of exceptional actors and directors who have devoted their lives to study, work and refine this genre. Whoever wants to confront existential texts, even in contemporary theatre or cinema, meeting with the myths and characters of Greek drama is a prerequisite. Just like classical piano studies and repertory cannot be outside a pianist's education because the pianist might later choose to play jazz, Greek drama lays the foundations for actors.
Because of my origins and my love for Greek drama, my involvement in projects, discussions, and anything related to it is inevitable. Over time, some key artists and researchers, professors, actors with love and zest for their craft, have gathered around me; this craving for the quality and substance in Greek drama unites us. It is they, and the conditions we create, that console me in the absence of my people and my country. Wherever I go, whatever I do, my Greek origins combined with my interests as a director and teacher brings me back to it. Most of the plays that I’ve staged in Brazil are tragedies, and the lectures, the workshops, even the way I learned Portuguese, are related to my constant contact with the theatre and the translation and teaching of these texts.
This is my daily contact with Greece, which I always miss, and it is both a blessing and heavy responsibility. As the official Greek state does not exist outside Greek territory on issues of culture and language, all the responsibility and the burden is on us, on the few that are in such a position. I am working in Latin America, perhaps someone else in Africa, another in some part of Asia, in absolute loneliness on our mission, and with a very heavy burden on our back.
Since you are a Research Associate specializing in Cultural Diplomacy and Performing Arts at the University of Piraeus, do you think that art could contribute to re-inventing Greece’s national image?
The power of Greek artists lies in the continuous dialogue between the past, where the origins of Western civilization lie, and modern reality. It is what defines us, as part of our identity, and in a way, of our mission. It is an existential, dynamic and at times confrontational process, especially when living in Greece. Given that the influence exerted by the aesthetics and artistic creation of our ancient ancestors is undeniably strong, it may often become an unbearable burden, a devastating experience for the artist of our time. Yet, when living and creating abroad, our ongoing relationship with antiquity, which we are destined to continue as well as move a step forward, is what gives us our individuality, our confidence and helps us articulate a substantive artistic discourse.
For better or worse, the image of modern Greece is constantly compared to that of our famous ancestors. Yet, a more realistic look reveals how disastrously we have treated our heritage. However, to use cultural diplomacy terms, Greek artists, researchers and innovative scientists, all those who in one way or another have distinguished themselves outside Greece, act as ambassadors conveying another image of our country, that which all fervent admirers of Greek Civilization would like us to keep alive. It is this Greece that millions of people around the world wish to visit and become acquainted with; and that should be our primary concern.
A country of sterile addiction to the past and nationalism is of no interest to anyone; neither is a country of cheap folklore or an Aegean and Ionian Sea full of hydrocarbons and heavy industry. They want to know and experience a country that maintains the ethos and kindness of the past, that considers man the measure of everything. A country whose citizens are considered pioneers in education, art, humanism, ethics, dignity, democracy, research and scientific and philosophical thought; and a nation that preserves harmony with nature and continues to adore beauty, a misunderstood virtue which authentic Art still serves and tries to delve into.
What are your future plans and ambitions? Are there any artistic projects underway?
My desire is to stage some more theatrical plays in Greece. After all these years of working abroad and with the experience I have gained, I believe that I have a lot to share, new ideas to incorporate in my artistic work. Besides, I have missed directing in my country, in my language, interacting with old and new friends and partners. Over time, I aspire to create a team of actors and partners from both Greece and Brazil operating on the basis of a common working code that my acting method, MUSA, could enable. I have long been planning to stage bilingual plays and joint research and teaching workshops that shall be launched in Greece and then presented in Brazil. However, such an ambitious project requires support and funding by a cultural institution or authority interested in the creation and export of an artistic product with international characteristics.
My second ambition, which may be feasible in the short-term, is to present and share all this valuable knowledge and experience of MUSA, with other countries, besides Greece and Brazil. I would like, for instance, to embark on a training tour in the USA, where I could conduct a number of seminars and workshops at universities, drama schools and theatre groups on MUSA and how it could contribute to the performance of not only Greek drama and other classics but also modern theatre, cinema or even television. I believe that the combination of the ancient actor’s art with modern theatrical acting would appeal to a large audience wherever it may travel.
* Interview by Athina Rossoglou
Mark Blyth is a Scottish political economist whose research focuses upon how uncertainty and randomness impact complex systems, particularly economic systems, and “why people continue to believe stupid economic ideas despite buckets of evidence to the contrary.” His research trespasses several fields and aims to be as interdisciplinary as possible, drawing from political science, economics, sociology, complexity theory, and evolutionary theory. His work falls into several related areas: the politics of ideas, how institutions (and disciplines) change, political parties, and the politics of finance.
Professor Blyth, and Greek finance minister, Euclid Tsakalotos will discuss the effects of inequality and austerity on the society and economy in Greece and the rest of Europe as well as new ideas how to create jobs and return to a sustainable growth path in a discussion moderated by Henning Meyer (Editor-in-Chief of Social Europe) and organized by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Athens (A New Deal for Europe – Creating Growth and Employment, National Historical Museum, Athens 2.6.2016 / live broadcast here). The event is part of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung’s awareness series “Europe Calling”.
In your book you insist that austerity is a dangerous idea. Greece is living in austerity since more than 6 years. What is the way out?
The way out is to stop, as Yanis Varoufakis put it so well, “extending and pretending,” and admit that what has been going on since 2010 is a private sector banking crisis that has been bailed out by the European taxpayer. Blaming Greece for ‘overspending’ was simple political cover for a massive set of bank bailouts that have now run their course.
When I wrote about the 2015 Greek crisis in the journal Foreign Affairs last summer, I quoted numbers from Macropolis.gr on just where all the money that has been loaned to Greece ended up. At that time, I thought that around sixty percent of the loans went through Greece and ended up back at the private banks that were exposed to Greek assets. It turns out new research shows that almost 95 percent of the cash went straight back to the banks.
After three rounds of bailouts for Greece that were really bailouts for banks, the vast majority of those assets are in public sector hands such as the ESM, the IMF, the ECB, and in bilateral loans with other European states. This gives us a window of opportunity to start seriously talking about debt relief for Greece, without which the economy simply cannot recover.
I suppose you have followed the efforts of the current Greek government to renegotiate the bail out program with its creditors. What do you think they did right, what wrong, and what could they have done better?
Unfortunately, the current government went to a gunfight armed with a stick of butter. Once default and redenomination were taken off the table by Syriza last summer, the ability to ‘renegotiate’ anything fell to zero.
The problems are wholly political. Germany, in particular, has repeatedly told its voters that they are not in a ‘transfer union.’ That means, any loans to Greece must be repaid. End of story.
But as the IMF has known for at least a year, and its last debt sustainability analysis made clear, Greece cannot run a primary surplus of 3.5 percent of GDP for a decade (no one can do that) and at the same time raise investment sufficient to change the trend rate of growth such that the debt stock is reduced. The debt stock has to be reduced first.
Moreover, this ‘agreement’ creates a poisonous politics. If Greek citizens wake up in 2018 knowing that for the next 25 years the first five euros of the day that they earn are going straight to foreigners for debts accrued bailing out their banks, its never going to work.
So it’s less important to focus on what could have been done last year, and much more important to think about where we go now.
The IMF’s cajoling of Germany into admitting the possibility of debt relief last week is a good start, but it does not go nearly far enough. The primary surplus target is, for example, a nonsense that will never be achieved.
The dominant narrative at the moment in Europe is that the welfare state is spending too much, and that this is… killing competitiveness. Why do the political elites believe that? Even the social democrats?
Because the social democrats in particular have spent the last 20 years cutting taxes on business and top earners, which is the real reason that welfare states have come under pressure, as the work of Wolfgang Streeck, for example, shows clearly.
Because the social democrats swapped supporting the working classes for supporting ‘globalization,’ which benefits the top 20 percent at the expense of the bottom 80 percent, which we see in wage stagnation, youth unemployment, and rising poverty throughout Europe.
The competitiveness trope, like the mantra of ‘structural reform,’ makes no sense on its own terms. How does making it easier to fire people today, in the middle of a recession, help us increase investment and raise growth? The best of the academic work on this topic shows that such reforms have, at best, long term uncertain effects.
The real story lies in how the social democrats of Europe sold their core constituencies down the river and how, due to those same policies, they can no longer support the welfare institutions that ever great number rely upon. That’s the real scandal.
Can you recognize any movement defending the welfare state and the “normal” labor rules?
Yes. And its not a story of left versus right. Go look at the website of Le Front Nationale. Ignore their stance on immigration and you will see a set of economic policies that are based upon doing just that, defending the welfare state. Even Donald Trump runs to the left of Hilary Clinton on many of these issues.
The left has no monopoly on defending the welfare state, especially after their own leaders played such a key role in weakening it. The ‘new’ right merely differs with the ‘new’ left on who the welfare state defends, the citizenry, or ‘the nation’ in some narrow ethic sense. My politics lie with the left on this one.
But the irony is that the so-called ‘extremes’ are more alike on these issues than either the traditional center left or center right. Unless those traditional parties recognize that and adjust, they are doomed as political movements.
*The interview was originally published in Greek on 29.5.2015 under the title “Mark Blyth: The primary surplus target is nonsense” (“Μαρκ Μπλάιθ: "Ο στόχος για πρωτογενή πλεονάσματα είναι μια ανοησία”)
One of the projects taking part in Art-Athina 2016 (May 26-29, 2016) under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture and Sports is “Compassion”, an art and philosophy project that was founded in 2015 by a voluntary initiative of active citizens, artists, cultural managers and academics, based in Hamburg, Germany and Athens, Greece. Curator of the project is Dr Efi Kyprianidou who specializes in Cultural Policy and Management issues. She spoke to Greek News Agenda (GNA)* about the initiative and shared her views on the role of contemporary art in times of crisis.
Q: You currently curate the second version of the Compassion project which is to be presented at Art- Athina Platforms. Can you provide an insight on how the idea about this initiative came to life, as well as on the subject of the current exhibition?
A: Compassion is a non-profit, volunteer-run arts collective acting in Athens, Nicosia and Hamburg. Our aim is to promote public awareness regarding the support and understanding of patients with chronic illnesses. We wanted to understand the experience of illness and encourage doctors, psychologists, philosophers and artists to engage in an interdisciplinary dialogue regarding the meaning of illness. Our activities are founded on the belief that art can provide valuable insight into a number of issues associated with illness and medical practice. Such issues include: the distinction between the objective approach of western medicine and the subjective experience of illness and pain; the relationship between art and medical practice; the meaning of health, illness and pain; the effort for empathic understanding; the relationship between the sufferer and the physician; the quest for equal access to healthcare system; and the ethics of medical treatment in the light of some of the pharmaceutical industry’s questionable practices.
The subject of our latest project “The Waiting Room”, to be presented at Art-Athina Platforms, explores the concept of empathy that is the innate ability to experience another’s experience and share his emotional condition. “The Waiting Room” reenacts the experience of sitting in a waiting room of a hospital - a rather common experience for anyone who has ever fallen ill or who has stood by the side of someone else fallen ill, feeling that he is laying somewhere between the hope for cure and the agony provoked by the disease, between the reason of life and the irrationality of illness. Moreover, after reading the Greek Minister of Culture and Sports Aristides Baltas’s open letter to artists and intellectuals calling for solidarity and support to refugees, we felt that the experience of staying in a waiting room alludes to, in an uncanny way, the condition of the refugees and the immigrants, who are trapped between the disease of the war and the hope of a European Eden; that await for the verdict of history between hotspots and fenced borders. Participating in our project are four young artists from Greece and Cyprus (namely Christos Avraam, Nikos Gyftakis, Kyriakos Kousoulides and Penny Monogiou) who engaged in the creation of a novel group installation on this issue, by combining painting, sculpture, ready-mades and interactive video projections.
Q: The first version of the project was presented in Berlin (October 2015). How was the project welcomed in Germany? Do you believe that cultural collaboration - exchange between Northern and Southern European countries can serve as a tool to overcome cultural stereotypes that were prominent in Europe, during the recent years of the crisis?
A: For the first phase of our project, which was titled “Compassion- On the phenomenology of being ill”, a space at the Art Center Kuenstquartier Bethanien (a former hospital) was transformed into hospital rooms and 13 artists from Greece, Austria, Germany and Cyprus - among them Ulay, Günter Brus and Alexandros Psychoulis - presented their work. The exhibition was well received from the Berliners, who were eager to learn more about Greece and the current economic and social situation in the country. Overcoming well rooted cultural stereotypes is not of course easy, but art is surely an excellent means to achieve this.
Q: As a consequence of the eurocrisis, public expenditure for culture and arts has decreased dramatically and the cultural sector finds itself at a turning point where new ways of managing arts need to be established. In your opinion, what could be a possible way forward, in terms of cultural policy & diplomacy, for countries that have been plagued by the crisis?
A: It is true that European countries, Greece in particular, had to reduce culture/ heritage budgets and subsidies to independent arts and cultural organizations or even abolish some state funded cultural institutions; the ones that survived see their futures hanging in the balance. However, at the same time, we witness a spur of privately funded large scale cultural projects and organizations such as Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre, Onassis Cultural Centre or Neon Organization that actively support very important cultural initiatives. Recently Renzi’s goverment in Italy - a country that like Greece has historically financed cultural heritage - introduced a 65% tax break for money put into cultural projects, a programme that resulted, for example, in the major restoration of the Trevi Fountain by the luxury brand Fendi. I know that in Greece we tend to be rather suspicious of the involvement of private funding when it comes to cultural policy, but I think that right now it is the only option. And may I say that it is a good one: cultural policy in Greece should gradually move away from the model of the “architect state” where the government contributes the major part of financial and political resources for culture. I think that time has come for creative synergies between public and private cultural institutions and independent arts and culture initiatives. Greek culture policy should invent its own model where the State and the Ministry will have a regulative role in those synergies in order to ensure that cultural creation will not be further harmed by the lack of public support and subsidy.
Q: Could there also be a positive side to the crisis taking into consideration that in Greece, for instance, there is a burst of cultural activity in recent years? Is it true that in times of adversity, artistic creativity blossoms?
A: Well, yes and no! It is of course true that we have seen a cultural and creative explosion in recent years and the economic and social crisis has been a major theme. For these and other reasons, the Greek cultural scene has been spot on and at the heart of major international events, such as the Documenta. However, it would be a dangerous simplification to argue that a crisis has in the end a positive side for cultural activity. Cultural initiatives and artists need funding and support; maybe private subsidizing is fine for big institutions, but it is of no use for small struggling organizations or individuals working in the arts. In times when more than 7 million Europeans work in the field of creative industries with more than 550 billion revenue per year, it seems obvious that investments in cultural industries should be sought after, so that cultural and artistic creativity can really develop.
Q: What are the plans, objective and vision of the Compassion initiative for the future?
A: The Compassion arts collective prepares the publishing of a collection of essays on arts and the phenomenology of illness with contributions from Art Professors and academics including: Joanna Bourke (Birbeck University of London), Pepi Rigopoulou (University of Athens), Dimitra Makrinioti (University of Athens), Eleni Filippaki (Hellenic Open University), Costas Ioannides (Athens School of Fine Arts), Antonis Hatzimoisis (University of Athens), Fay Zika (Athens School of Fine Arts), Aris Sarafianos (University of Ioannina), Lara Skourla (Hellenic Open University), Spyros Petrounakos (National Technical University Athens), Elpida Rikou (Athens School of Fine Arts), Efi Kyprianidou (Open University of Cyprus), as well as the artworks of the Compassion artists.
Compassion is also planning a series of events to be held in Athens next year as well as an innovative project of digitalization of the Athenian hospitals.
* Interview by Eleftheria Spiliotakopoulou
*Efi Kyprianidou holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Athens. She received her MA in History and Philosophy of Science and Technology from the National Technical University of Athens. She also undertook some graduate work in media, culture and communication and received her MA in Cultural Management. She has curated a number of individual and group art exhibitions in Greece, Cyprus, Germany and the UK. She is the academic advisor of the Cyprus Virtual Art Museum and an Adjunct Lecturer at the Open University of Cyprus on the subject of Cultural Policy and Development. She and artist Penny Monogiou are the co-founders of Compassion Arts & Philosophy collective.
See more from Greek News Agenda: Art-Athina 2016: Greece’s Biggest Contemporary Art Show Grows Larger this Year
AthensLive is a new and ambitious initiative in Greek media. It is a collaboration between Greek and international journalists, aspiring to become an independent English-speaking news portal in Greece.
AthensLive spoke with Greek News Agenda* about their vision, their crowdfunding campaign, the Greek media landscape and how challenging it is to practice independent journalism in Greece, the major misconceptions in international media regarding our country, and how their goal is to “reflect the reality of Greek life, which can be both a source of inspiration and despair”.
1. What’s the story behind AthensLive? What is your vision and which are the challenges that lie ahead?
Seeing Greek media as widely corrupt and foreign press as uninterested in covering Greek stories beyond banking incidents and riots, Tassos Morfis, Angelos Christofilopoulos, Yannis Drakoulidis and Gerry Domenikos decided to create a blog in English where they could tell the “Greek story” in their own way. Then Sotiris Sideris, who had recently received a MA in New Media and Digital Culture from the University of Amsterdam, returned to Athens and joined the emerging team. Eventually the rest of the group formed and the idea for a blog became something much bigger.
AthensLive has formed into a collaboration between Greek and international journalists and photographers. From documentaries and investigative reports to podcasts and data journalism, we hope to provide the type of news sorely lacking in Greece. We are building an alternative to the corporate-owned press, which is often ruled by established political interests. Crowdfunded and subscription-sustained, we will be free of advertisements and independent of the corruption endemic in Greek media.
While the most obvious difficulty is finding funding, we are concerned with more than that. Winning over the Greek public, who are rightfully disenchanted with Greek journalism in general, is one of our long term aspirations.
2. Your crowdfunding campaign will come to an end in a few days. Have you reached your goal? Are there any other projects or initiatives under way?
We have reached about 30% of our €60,000 goal. Oftentimes the final week of a campaign brings a surge of donations, so we are optimistic. However, it is important to understand that Greece hasn’t had extensive experience with crowdfunding campaigns. Three separate media projects have attempted to raise funds this way before us and none of them have met with the degree of success we have. Apart from the campaign, we also in contact with various institutions and foundations so no matter what the final outcome, we will certainly continue to pursue AthensLive.
3. How would you characterize the Greek media landscape? Do you consider that the new media law voted recently could be a step to the right direction? How feasible is after all to practice independent journalism in Greece?
The Greek press is corporate-owned and bound to established political interests. Media organizations, their owners (often key players in other industries), and the political elite function in mutual interdependence. With years of economic crisis, media organizations have experienced extensive consolidation of ownership spanning both print and electronic media. This guarantees that the few remaining owners and their political interests are the only perspectives represented.
Media blackouts are the norm when established interests are threatened. In 2014, the Luxembourg Leaks implicated a number of Greek firms in the tax avoidance scandal. However, no mainstream media group reported their names. The lack of coverage of anti-austerity movements over the years, including the majority OXI opinion during the 2015 bailout referendum, can also be traced back to ties to political parties, such as New Democracy and PASOK. It is clear that the press is nothing more than an instrument of political parties and corporations.
In terms of the new media law, which regulates private television channels, we have reservations regarding the efficacy of these reforms. Certainly, the television sector needs regulation. However, when every outlet is corrupt, how significant will the change be by limiting their numbers through new licensing procedures?
4. Which are the main misconceptions in international media regarding Greece? Could a more balanced media approach positively affect the country’s national image?
International media selectively covers stories in Greece, mainly focusing on banking incidents, the refugee crisis, and riots. However, there is more to the story than that. Athens is becoming a major cultural center in Southern Europe, hosting documenta 14 and the widely popular Athens Biennale.
At the same time, however, we see the toll all these years of crisis and austerity have taken. The Greek public is filled with pessimism. The neo-Nazi party, Golden Dawn, is increasingly active and this also reflects the rise of the far-right across Europe. The Greek police have targeted volunteers working with refugees, bolstering xenophobia when solidarity is needed the most.
We are not a tourism agency for Greece. We are interested in reflecting the reality of Greek life, which can be both a source of inspiration and despair.
*Interview by Athina Rossoglou [On behalf of AthensLive, questions were answered by Bryn Retherford, Editorial Manager]
Evi Gkotzaridis is a historian with interests in historical Revisionism, 20th century Irish history and the ‘long’ Greek Civil War period (1946-1974). She was born in Thessaloniki and raised in Paris. She holds a PhD in Irish History and Politics from the Sorbonne Nouvelle (Paris III).
Gkotzaridis’ publications include”Trials of Irish History: Genesis and Evolution of a Reappraisal, 1938-2000” (2006) and “A Pacifist's Life and Death: Grigorios Lambrakis and Greece in the Long Shadow of Civil War” (to be published - May/June 2016: View Extract). She currently works on a wider project under the title: “Revisionism in 20th Century Historiography: Dangerous Hermeneutics and Experiments in Objectivity”.
Evi Gkotzaridis spoke with Rethinking Greece* about her latest book on Grigorios Lambrakis**, the ‘long’ Greek Civil War period, the "deep" state, the historical parallels between Ireland and Greece, studying historical revisionism in a comparative framework, as well as democratic processes and today's ideology of economism.
How did you become interested in the life of Grigorios Lambrakis?
My family moved to France during the Junta. I grew up in Paris, in a sort of illusive bubble. For most of my adolescence, I was cut off from my origins and culture. Even though I attended a Greek school once a week, I was only now and then aware of my ‘difference’ for Paris was back then a powerful cosmopolitan blender. My family never spoke of the past and my few tentative questions usually fell on deaf ears. They were focused on the future not the past, and behaved as if the past was an emotional encumbrance. But one day I watched ‘Z’ (the political thriller of Costas Gravras) on French television and the bubble dissolved suddenly. In hindsight, I can tell that watching this movie was an eye-opening experience. It was tantamount to what the Irish intellectual Conor Cruise O’Brien once called, ‘the feelings preceding the thought’. It was a massive awakening, even though at that stage I understood little of the political background that had led to the assassination of that personality. And yet, at that moment, I decided semi-consciously that I would write about him one day.
What were the characteristics of the post-Civil War period in Greece?
The years between 1949 and 1967, that is until the Colonels’ coup d’Etat, is a period characterized by poverty, institutional imbalance, a vying for supremacy between different power centres, rabid anticommunism at the level of the State, a great deal of social discontent and agitation, a political culture premised on a protracted ‘state of emergency’, and more generally, a persistent lack of freedom hiding behind the façade of a nomocratic and democratic order.
One of the ways in which this State anti-Communism expressed itself was the phenomenon of para-constitution, or if you prefer, copious rules of exception that reduced Communists at best to second-class citizens, at worst to outright enemies. One should remember that as late as 1962, roughly 1.100 men were still held in prison for crimes they had committed during the December 1944 clashes in Athens ("Dekemvriana"), even though Winston Churchill had intervened personally around the time of the Varkiza Agreement to bind the Greek Government to the principle of ‘no proscription’. This principle meant that no man ‘ringleader or otherwise’ would “be punished for his part’’ in the December fight.
Furthermore, the Right, which won the Civil War (1946-1949), is on the horns of a great dilemma: On the one hand, there is a progressive current within it that wishes to modernize Greece. Hence, women obtained nominally the right to vote and stand as candidates in legislative and municipal elections on 28 May 1952, even though the law remained dormant until 1956 when Constantine Karamanlis stepped in as Premier and finally implemented it.
Karamanlis is also the architect of the country’s accession to the European Economic Community (EEC). A convinced Europeanist who believed that Europe was Greece’s intrinsic destiny and that membership would act both as stabilizer and repairer of a social fabric that had been torn apart by the Civil War, he worked hard to that end until he secured a first accession agreement in 1962 and, after the tragic interlude of the dictatorship, he resumed his efforts, which culminated with the signing of the full treaty of accession in May 1979.
On the other hand, all through the 1950’s and 1960s’, there is a strong authoritarian current inside the Right, having a single-minded obsession and that is Communism and its perceived eternal threat. This current believes firmly that Greece escaped Communism only by a whisker in the 1940’s and is inclined to interpret any erosion of its political hegemony or any popular shift towards the centre ground as leaving the backdoors open to this fifth column again.
This authoritarian element is profoundly distrustful and scornful of the normal workings of democracy and also quite prepared to violate the popular will by various unorthodox or underhand methods if the situation demands it. Historians know now that the results of the October 1961 elections that returned the Right to power had been obtained through the use of some fraud and a significant amount of violence and intimidation, and that these far from being isolated and spontaneous actions, were most likely the outcome of a well-prepared secret plan cooked up by the Secret Services and the Army, a plan called ‘Pericles’.
Inside this authoritarian current, there were people like Panagiotis Pipinelis, former advisor to King George II, who enjoyed the absolute trust of the Throne and who, later in 1967, felt no qualms about lending respectability to the dictatorship by accepting his co-option as Foreign Minister. We find also a man like MP Nikolaos Farmakis, who in an article published in 1961 -in a review pointedly called ‘Our Struggle’- compared the holding of the forthcoming elections to ‘the coming of chaos’ as he predicted the formation of a united front between Centre and Left, or a Left-wing challenge to the results through armed insurrection! To Georgios Papandreou’s demand, who was then leader of the Centre, that these elections be carried out under the stewardship of an interim government to ensure fairness, Farmakis retorted without batting an eyelid that there was something superior to popular sovereignty and the safeguarding of the results’ authenticity and that was the ‘national interest’!
At the apex of this authoritarian current, we find the Throne, which is also fiercely anti-Communist. As I mentioned before, the Right is not altogether a homogeneous or unanimous block: within it at least two other institutions vied fiercely for 'absolute' power and tried to prevail over the Government which they tended to relegate to the status of expendable commodity when it became insufficiently compliant with their demands. These institutions were the Crown and sections of the Army, both of which constituted effectively the bastions of ultra-conservatism in Greece and fancied themselves as the only true defenders of the endangered post-Civil War status quo. Therefore, Greek political life of that time is marked by a strange phenomenon of institutional anomaly or imbalance at more than one level.
The murder of independent deputy Grigorios Lambrakis and the journalistic and judicial investigation that followed, shed light on another permanent trait of those years which is the existence of a deep state, to use the Turkish phrase, or parastate, as it is known in the Greek context. Since the Left revealed its new popular appeal by emerging as the first Opposition Party in the 1958 general elections, it had often complained that a 'junta' already existed and was pulling the strings behind the curtain of official power. On the other end of the political spectrum, one often heard that Greek democracy needed to be kept on a tight leash because it was not mature enough to discern the false lures of Communism and steer clear of a future collaboration with it.
The way devised to do that, short of completely destroying the façade of democracy, was the maintenance of the "deep state". This should be understood as an 'invisible' Executive, not accountable to Civilian will and its traditional representatives, ie., Parliament and political parties, that had succeeded in infiltrating the Army, police and intelligence services and operated in the shadows in order to 'guide' policy away from domestic initiatives that could have spelled the end of the Cold War quarantining of the Left.
It is noteworthy that even inside the ranks of the newly-reconstituted Centre (aka Centre Union), a party whose leadership remained resistant for a long time to the emergence of a moderate form of Leftism shorn of its revolutionary mantle as was EDA (United Democratic Left) then, and to any collaboration with it, acute concern was voiced sometimes for a governmental behaviour that seemed to too tolerant, or downright complicit with the activities of these 'invisible' forces. This criticism became more strident and widespread when it became apparent that the deep state was capable of hitting 'indiscriminately' and showed no qualms in impeding the political expression of the Centre too, as it did during the controversial October 1961 elections.
This deep state comprised of State officials, Army and Gendarmerie officers, Secret Services agents and paramilitary groups, some of which appear to have been legal. On the heels of Lambrakis’ assassination, which the authorities and Right-wing Press rushed to portray as an ‘unfortunate accident’, the journalists (Georgios Romaios, Georgios Bertsos and Ioannis Voultepsis) reporting on the case had managed to secure a significant batch of confidential documents originating straight from the Athens and Salonica Divisions of the Service of Information, which then were attached to the Premier’s Political Office.
Based on the information they found there, the journalists came to the conclusion that there had been direct links and communication between this State Service and the leaders of some of these paramilitary groups and that the latter had actually been channeling public money and issuing dangerous orders to groups of violent ‘indignant citizens’.
This phrase evidently does not carry the same meaning as nowadays. These people had not much in common with 21st Century European demonstrators, the ‘indignados’ of Spain or the ‘aganaktismeni’ of Greece, protesting against the dead-end of austerity policies, except perhaps the state of precarity in which some of them lived. Instead, the term represented a ironic euphemism or genteelism for anti-Communist cells of vigilantes whose job was to gather as ‘counter-demonstrators’, break up political meetings, manhandle, terrorize and more generally obstruct the political expression of the Left and its ‘fellow-travellers’. Needless to say, all this activity was orchestrated from the upper echelons of this deep state.
Hence, instead of involving the police directly in the unpalatable job of political repression, risking exposure and having to confront public opprobrium, those pulling the strings had found a safer mechanism through which to express their anti-Communism with more leeway and ‘panache’. Finally, it would seem that some of the personalities who formed this deep state on different levels and were implicated in the process of sabotaging the Left’s political revival and undermining the proper functioning of democracy in the lead-up to dictatorship, had collaborationist antecedents or at least were tainted heavily by the suspicion.
Minos Argyrakis' drawing, picturing Grigorios Lambrakis, published at the Avgi newspaper the day after Lambrakis death (28.5.1963)
Is the history of this period important for today’s Greece?
The existence of a deep state all through the post-Civil War period is a disquieting phenomenon. Its relatively smooth co-existence with a parliamentary system of government remains undoubtedly one of the greatest conundrums of Greece’s modern history. Although, at first sight, this phenomenon of co-existence may look as a major contradiction or paradox, in hindsight it seems that the words ‘dualism’ or ‘ambivalence’ are perhaps more appropriate here to describe the complexity of the situation.
Certainly, it is because of the tolerance of these ‘unaccountable and inscrutable elements’ that the dictatorship of 21 April 1967 was able to gestate and entrench itself more firmly. Naturally, this begs the uncomfortable question of why the Right-wing Government did not do enough to stop these elements in their tracks, particularly in view of the fact that the Govermnent was aware of their activities. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that at some point the Government decided that these ‘unaccountable and inscrutable elements’ could prove useful to it.
The history of this period inevitably raises the question of how far we have progressed since, or how watertight or safe from similar arbitrary encroachments are democratic processes in 21st century Greece and elsewhere. There is in my opinion a new and even more extreme form of omnipotent ideology at work in Europe nowadays, and that is economism. Its buzzword, austerity, has been imposed by the TROIKA on Greece, Ireland, Spain and Portugal and reduced their respective governments and parliaments to mere rubber-stamping mechanisms, incapable of considering the actual human cost behind such budgetary orthodoxy.
Are there any historical parallels between Ireland and Greece?
Ireland was my first research laboratory and was - I realized later - also a means of approaching the troubled history of my own country. Even though Greece and Ireland tended to be little aware of each other in the past - a situation that the current financial crisis has changed - there are arresting similarities between them. Foreign occupation (Turkish/English), famine (1940's/1840's), Civil War (Right/Left - Pro-Treaty/anti-Treaty), poverty, the harrowing experience of emigration, the proximity of a sectarian conflict (Cyprus/Northern Ireland) and of course major differences: the Right/Left divide never took hold or became entrenched in Ireland the way it did in Greece; it was in fact overshadowed by the more lasting Catholic/Protestant distrust and the historical split within the anti-colonial and Republican movement.
There is, I believe, an inherent factionalism, a profound rebellious spirit, you may say, both among the Irish and Greek people, which continues to prove a great obstacle when the situation demands national solidarity and the overcoming of a greater enemy or challenge. Moreover, a lasting legacy of the civil war in both countries has been an unhealthy compartmentalization of the body politic between ‘patriots’ (sound nationalists) and ‘traitors’ (often an infinitely extensible category) and this original rift has often been used by the subsequent political elites as a way of deflecting attention from real social and economic inequalities. So from the start, Ireland as an object of research drew me in because it had a 'familiar' ring.
Written in honour of Irish revolutionary hero Michael Collins (1890-1922), Brendan Behan's song 'The laughing boy', or 'To gelasto paidi' in its Greek translation, has come to stand for various Greek historical figures and events and is one of the most recognised songs of the last 40 years in Greece (Read more: Who was Theodorakis' 'laughing boy'? How Greeks came to love a song by Irish writer Brendan Behan)
What are the similarities and differences of the relevant historical debates?
In both countries, there have been various attempts to re-appraise history, often in order to understand unresolved political problems and conflicts that continue to cast their troublesome shadow over society. This work of re-appraisal or ‘revision’ is at once necessary and perilous, because more or often than not it is nearly impossible for a historian, even a well-meaning and honest one, to break free from her ideological preferences.
Thus, one is confronted with an arresting paradox: sometimes those who present their new findings as deriving from the use of an ‘objective’ method are not prepared to acknowledge that they too participate in the pragmatics of an already existing ideological discourse or that their findings can and are often hijacked and harnessed to boost the credibility of a specific discourse. That is why it is not enough for historians to claim that ‘revision’ is the bread and butter of historical scholarship because the discovery of new data and the application of a new method are more likely to bring us closer to the ideal of ‘truth’. Rather, they are better off becoming more self-reflexive and looking more closely at how their arguments and conclusions may be instrumentalized, so to speak, in order to whitewash crimes or shift historical responsibilities around.
More generally, the over-politicization in the historiographical field is a fact, probably inevitable, especially nowadays in view of this unprecedented financial crisis and the resulting tensions inside the EU. Something of the sort seems to be at play for example in the recent controversy sparked by Heinz Richter’s conclusions on World War II Resistance in Crete and the unprecedented readiness of a Rethimno Prosecutor to charge him under the newly introduced anti-racism Law with “denial of defamatory nature of the Nazi crimes committed against the Cretan people.” In my view it would be naïve to consider Richter’s arguments and conclusions as well as the reaction they have provoked outside this context of European crisis and tensions.
The captious propaganda campaign by some European media and leaders to lampoon Greece as a ‘childish’ nation or an economic pariah, bereft of discipline, industriousness and decency, in need of harsh punishment, has gingered up the feeling of nationalist indignation and led understandably to a spectacular re-opening of old wounds. Sensitive questions that for six decades were put on the back burner, like the never-claimed Occupation loan and the mostly relinquished wartime reparations that followed the 1953-Allied agreement in London -endorsed also by Greece- to write off over 60% of Germany’s debt, have been pushed back on the agenda. One should not forget that behind the revival of these questions, oftentimes casually dismissed as a sleight of hand of an incorrigible people dead set against changing or paying its debt, and however ill-timed it may be from a tactical point of view in the opinion of some, lies a grief of bewildering magnitude; a grief not honoured and consequently never overcome.
To come back to your question in a more precise manner, there are indeed parallels to be made between the more recent Greek and Irish revisionist discussions. The revisionist re-appraisal of Irish nationalism started in a moderate fashion as early as 1938 and happened to coincide with the advent of a more professional and organized historical discipline. Yet this critique of the nationalist narrative assumed a much more radical form in the 1980’s and 1990’s because of the Northern Irish conflict, the failure of all political solutions and the ongoing tragedy as reflected in the IRA terror campaign, the loss of life and the general state of anomie.
In other words, the onset of the Troubles in the late 1960’s, over thirty years of violence and particularly the IRA’s claim that they derived their moral mandate from the 1916 Easter Rebellion, had a traumatic and catalytic effect on the generation of historians who reached maturity then. It became a natural reflex for them to disown to different degrees the violent republicanism that the Rebellion had embodied and their scepticism for that political route increasingly turned into a radical doubt, targeting not only the means but also the ends of Irish nationalism.Greece, on the other hand, followed the historiographical path of Eastern Europe by initiating a new revisionist phase after the collapse of Communism, in practice in 2000. Predictably, its focus was the grand narrative of the 1940’s and its target primarily the Left. And yet, interestingly enough, despite this difference in timing, some of the changes experimented with in the patterns of interpretation and explanation of historical phenomena are undeniably similar.
One such pattern is the recasting of the wars of Liberation as civil wars, as with the sectarian component of Protestants versus Catholics in the Irish anti-Colonial struggle of 1916-1923, or with the ideological component of Communists versus Fascists or even Liberals during World War II in Greece. Moreover, both Irish and Greek revisionisms display a tendency to look at liberation or resistance movements with stern scepticism. They underplay their truly 'national', 'democratic' and 'popular' character and foreground their politically or religiously 'sectarian' character instead. Combatants are treated as cold warriors which fight not in order to defeat an imperialist invader but to impose their own political and social order. In the Irish example, the traditional portrayal of the Old IRA as a non-sectarian and ecumenical force fighting for collective freedom has been called into question, most openly in the work of Peter Hart. In the Greek example, the question of the Left’s responsibility in the slipping into Civil War has been raised and this is understandably perceived as a deliberate attempt to destroy the moral capital it gained as a result of its successful leadership of the largest resistance movement during the war.
More precisely, scholars like Stathis Kalyvas and Nikolaos Marantzidis have questioned the most axiomatic assumption in the study of the Civil War since the fall of the Junta; chiefly that the Left was the main victim of violence. It was an assumption which could gain credence because the Left had lost in the Civil War and suffered heavy persecution in its aftermath – pursued with renewed vigour during the regime of the Colonels (1967-1974) – but also because references to Left-wing terror were often dismissed as an appalling lie cooked up by the Greek Right.
The new focus on this violence, on its ‘bureaucratic’ and ‘centrally-directed’ character, as pointed out by Kalyvas is perhaps a necessary addition to the task of refashioning the general mast of Greek historiography with more objectivity and comprehensiveness. However, when doing so, one must be careful not to forget the general historical context or silence the asymmetric power relations largely favourable to the German-collaborationist camp. In the Irish context, the cold warring does not oppose Communism to Fascism but one should nevertheless be cognizant of the fact that Irish historiography followed a similar outer interpretative path, notably in its willingness to explore the extent to which the country's skidding off into civil war in the 1920’s and sectarian conflict in the 1970’s and 1980’s could not be explained away convincingly by continual and sole reference to the divide and conquer policies of Britain.
In fact, in both historiographies the focus of attention has shifted from the obsessive theme of foreign interference and the clear tendency to demonize it to an ever more courageous probing into domestic discord. This transpires in the new preoccupation with the phenomenon of wartime collaboration and the events of the civil war in Greece or the recognition in Ireland that partition of the island had not been something imposed from above but a “secession” occurring because of a severe “breakdown in human relations”. Hence in the 1980’s, the Marxist Nikolaos Svoronos had warned his colleagues that the view that Greece is “merely a stage for puppets whose strings are moved by alien lands is naïve for a historian, a mortal disease for history itself and an unacceptable alibi for politicians.” In a similar vein, John Whyte had shown the distance travelled by Irish scholarship when he wrote that “the internal-conflict approach to Northern Ireland [was] close to becoming a dominant paradigm.”
Ultimately, I believe that it is useful to study changes in historical interpretations in a comparative manner essentially because it discourages superficial or banal claims to some form of national exceptionalism. With such study, one soon realizes that all historians grapple with similar challenging theoretical, moral and political problems when re-examining the grand narratives of Marxism or Nationalism. Finally, I think that it holds the potential to induce much more critical spirit at a pan-European level and convey the much-needed sense of a shared identity, providing of course that historical education in schools and universities is given a chance to fulfill its role with originality and vision and above all unimpeded by perceived political expediencies.
* Interview by Nikolas Nenedakis
**Grigorios Lambrakis (3.4.1912 - 27.5.1963) was a Greek politician, physician, track-and-field athlete, and member of the faculty of Medicine at the University of Athens. He was elected to the Greek parliament in October 1961 as an Independent collaborating with the United Democratic Left (EDA) which was Greece's newly emerging umbrella left-wing party. Lambrakis was a pacifist who used his parliamentary immunity to march for peace, from Marathon to central Athens after the march had been banned by the authorities. Lambrakis' ideal to free Greece from foreign influence captured the youth’s imagination. It also galvanized the Left which after a quarter of a century of Right-wing oppression wielded under the pretext of fighting Communism, was ready to embrace his goals of national reconciliation and universal peace. He was assassinated in Thessaloniki on a fateful evening of May 22, 1963, right after he had delivered a powerful speech, amid a frenzied crowd of Right-wing thugs and a totally passive police force. The Athens Classic Marathon, run every year in November, is dedicated to Grigorios Lambrakis.
The letter Z (lit., zei, means he is alive) became the rallying cry of the Greek youth who found in Lambrakis their new hero. Four years later, the Greek government was overthrown by the military Junta of 21 April 1967. In 1969, film director Costa Gavras released ‘Z’ (after Vassilis Vasilikos’ book), which tells the story of the assassination and the journalistic and judicial investigation that followed. ‘Z’ beautifully paced and deeply moving with the lyrical music of Composer Mikis Theodorakis became one of the cinematic sensations of the late sixties. It starred Yves Montand as Grigorios Lambrakis whose murder in the middle of a violent demonstration is covered up by State officials and Jean-Louis Trintignant as Christos Sartzetakis, a tenacious magistrate who is determined not to let them get away with it.
See also: Evi Gkotzaridis: ‘Who Will Help Me to Get Rid of this Man?’ Grigoris Lambrakis and the Non-Aligned Peace Movement in Post-Civil War Greece: 1951-1964; “The Music of Mikis Theodorakis" blog: Grigoris Lambrakis, symbol of democracy;
Vouliwatch is a digital platform that engages Greek citizens with legislative politics and grants them with the opportunity to communicate, evaluate and hold elected representatives in the Greek and the European Parliament (MPs & MEPs) accountable. Similar successful initiatives (“Parliamentwatch”) exist in countries like Ireland, Luxemburg, Tunisia, Germany, France and Austria.
Antonis Schwarz is Vouliwatch’s co-founder and a community administrator for the ParliamentWatch Network, an international network of parliamentary monitoring organizations. He is of Greek-German origin and studied Politics (BA Kings College London) and Business (MA IE University Madrid). In the past, he has worked at Ashoka, a global organization supporting social entrepreneurs, Bonventure, the first German venture philanthropy fund, as well as Yunus Social Business, a global social business accelerator. Beyond his engagement for more citizen participation and transparency, he is also interested in scaling social/impact investing to Greece to help fight the crisis.
Antonis Schwarz spoke with Greek News Agenda* about the Vouliwatch platform, social entrepreneurship, the Greek civil society, the need for transparency and strengthening the voice of the citizens as well as the need for a new narrative "based on innovation, solidarity, openness, kindness and a love for Greece."
What was the main reasoning behind creating Vouliwatch? What are the demographics of its users and which features of the platform are they most interested in?
The idea of starting Vouliwatch was born as I was doing my Masters in Madrid and was reading the news about the deteriorating economic and political situation in Greece. The feeling grew inside me that it is my civic duty to make an extra-ordinary effort and do my small part in helping get rid of this crisis, as the situation in Greece seemed to reach critical tipping points of social unrest. My idea was to create a non-partisan platform and strengthen the voice of the citizen in politics. In Greece, as in the rest of Europe, citizens have very limited means of actively intervening in politics beyond their ballot in election times and are wholly dependent on political parties for law-making. In short: I believe a democracy in the 21st century requires more direct democracy, the need of which is visible not least in the frustration that citizens across Europe feel about mainstream politics.
Regarding the demographics of Vouliwatch’s users, at least half of our users are between the ages of 18-35, yet every third visitor is older than 35. Our users are mostly interested in reading about what is going on inside parliament through our news section (“observatory” or «παρατηρητήριο» in Greek) that is updated daily by our parliamentary correspondent. Also popular is seeing which bills recently got voted in parliament, as well as of course asking questions to MPs and MEPs.
You are keeping an eye on the MPs; do they keep an eye on you? Are there examples of citizens’ ideas that have made their way from Vouliwatch to the Parliament?
In the beginning we experienced quite a dose of suspicion from parliamentarians, yet the suspicion has decreased over time, not least because MPs have realized the added benefit of Vouliwatch, which is to show that they care about citizens’ concerns and even attract new voters. Today we receive emails of MPs congratulating us on our efforts, which gives me great optimism that there is a bright future ahead of us. We want to help make parliament more transparent and MPs to repair their broken public image and we can only do this together with our representatives in parliament.
There have been some examples where MPs have embraced citizen questions posted on Vouliwatch and used them as a basis for an official request to the respective ministry. One example concerned a question by the NGO Emfasis Foundation that asked a question regarding the situation of homeless people. Homeless people had severe difficulties accessing the public health system in case their ID cards have expired, since in order to renew an ID card a permanent address is needed.
After two years of online existence, have you reconsidered, in any way, your prior assumptions about the Greek civil society and the culture of openness in the country?
Greek civil society is experiencing a strong boost due to the ongoing economic and political crisis but this boost cannot be capitalized because of several reasons, one of the most important reasons being that scandals are part of daily life in Greece - You read about it almost every day in the newspaper. Hence the pressure that civil society can exert is sometimes limited or at least of very short duration. At the same time, our state is so incapable and badly organized that you do not know where to begin to start pressuring. And then you have to fight against interest groups… This frustration is part of daily life, you learn to live with it and do the best you can.
The situation regarding transparency is also worse than I had anticipated and also I have seen that there is a lot of window dressing going on. Great transparency laws get voted, which are then not implemented. Regarding the necessary reforms that this country needs, I would like to state here that the government should make it a priority to ban the youth wings of political parties at universities. The influence the youth political parties have in academia is unheard of in the developed world. But probably this is an ambitious wish of mine, which I will not see implemented in the near future.
How could a young person establish a career in social entrepreneurship? What are the biggest challenges she/he will have to face in Greece? In which ways could the institutional framework evolve so that it could encourage citizen initiatives and support the sustainability of social projects?
Aristotle once said “where your talents and the needs of the world cross; there lies your vocation.” - I think therefore a good starting point is to discover what you are really passionate about, see where your talents are and where you realistically can make a difference. Then you can get engaged in the social entrepreneurship eco-system in Greece, for example by getting in touch with the Impact HUB or Ashoka Greece and get feedback on your idea. Generally, speaking the biggest challenge is finding funds for your social endeavor, since foundations in Greece target mainly established players, crowdfunding is not working and the fact that Greece has the lowest percentages of people donating money (in contrast to in-kind donations where Greece does comparatively well).
Regarding the institutional framework, there is great mistrust against NGOs and the nonprofit sector, because of corruption scandals where government funds were awarded to NGOs that belonged to cronies. This in turn severely damaged the public image of the whole nonprofit sector. What we therefore need is an effective regulation of the Greek nonprofit sector, which is currently quite unregulated, in order to re-establish trust into the NGO sector. The regulation can be drafted on best practices from other EU or OECD countries and must involve more accountability. I have heard of examples where clubs where registered as an NGO for years. This is not acceptable. Also, I would also encourage the Greek state to look at the concept of social impact bonds to accelerate social innovation and investment into social enterprises. Tax deductions to NGOs could be another idea to encourage new initiatives.
More than six years into the crisis, is civil society mature enough to push for a new narrative for Greece or is it still mainly focused on trying to alleviate the effects of the crisis?
I think the latter is still the case but in trying to alleviate the effects of the crisis we are creating the new narrative based on innovation, solidarity, openness, kindness and a love for Greece. I think most Greeks reading this will agree that we could be the greatest country on this planet without a doubt if we took care of our pathologies. The Greek people are creative, witty, funny; we have great weather, an ancient history and we value friendship and family. What more do you need? If Greek civil society is growing stronger, we need to work together in order to make politics listen to our concerns. Only together we can achieve something.
What are Vouliwatch’s goals for the near future? Are you developing any ideas for new social projects?
In fall we received an EU grant to help set up a Vouliwatch organization in Cyprus. Furthermore we are working on aggregating parliament data to be able to compare the productiveness of parliamentary periods. As for me, I have many ideas but they are all top secret… at least for the moment.
*Interview by Lina Syriopoulou
Miltos Pechlivanos is Professor of Modern Greek Studies and Director of the Center of Modern Greece (Centrum Modernes Griechenland / CeMoG) at the Freie Universität Berlin. He studied Modern Greek Studies and Comparative Literature at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and at the University of Konstanz. His doctoral thesis was on “Discourses of Modernity Before the Foundation of the Greek State”.
Professor Pechlivanos has taught at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and, as a visiting professor, at the Universities of Munich, of Cyprus, and at the EHESS, Paris. His research interests include the theory and history of reading and literary communication, the history of knowledge and the reception of Enlightenment and Romantic ideas in modern Greek culture, the Modern Greek novel, and the history of Greek-German cultural transfers.
Miltos Pechlivanos spoke to Rethinking Greece* about CeMoG's activities and agenda, the cultural relations between Germany and Greece, Greece’s intellectual history, the German public sphere and Greek exceptionalism discourse in times of crisis, as well as about the need to re-conceptualize Modern Greece by incorporating her tensions and distinct traditions.
How does the ongoing crisis affect German students’ and scholars’ interest in Greece? Can you offer us an insight into the Center for Modern Greece goals and activities?
As we are dealing with a number of successive "crises", my answer must differentiate distinct levels. The ongoing financial and monetary crisis, the ensuing crisis in Greek-German relations and of course the crisis of refugee flows have brought Greek affairs at the centre of the German public sphere. And we should not forget that negative publicity is still publicity: the number of students interested to know more about Modern Greece is increasing (at this point we should add a new factor: the students - members of the so-called "new migration" to Germany due to the economic crisis). This visibility of Greece is reflected in the growing media interest in the country, in the number of scholarly publications, the public interventions of economists, as well as the ongoing research carried out by fellow colleagues from sociology and political science (some of which is carried out with the cooperation of German and Greek academic institutions).
Modern Greek Studies in Germany certainly include an agenda for the cultivation of Greek-German relations and the last seven years have set an urgent challenge for a systematic study of the history of these relations and its various distortions which of course include persisting stereotypes. I can not refer here in detail to the numerous CeMoG relevant initiatives, conferences and publications but one can trace them in the Centre's website: www.cemog.fu-berlin.de
CeMoG itself was established in 2014 at Freie Universität Berlin thanks to a Stavros Niarchos Foundation grant but also owes its creation to this new bilateral reality: the will to build and strengthen scholarly and cultural networks between the two countries, the need for organized dialogue and interdisciplinary-intercultural mobility promotion as well as the need to systematically study the common Greek-German history. CeMoG’s projects include, inter alia, organization of conferences, financial support for young researchers, the construction of an online and open access encyclopedia of Greek-German relations and exchanges, and the Edition Romiosini publishing program and digital library that focuses on translations of seminal Modern Greek literature oeuvres as well as various studies of Modern Greece.Are there any parallels between Greek and German cultural identity? What is the significance of German Romanticism for Greece’s self-understanding?
“Cultural identity” as such is subject to negotiation, it cannot be perceived, in my opinion, outside the history (and the stories) of cultural mobility and transcultural transfers. The members of the Rum millet (the Orthodox Christians of the Ottoman Empire) in order tο “become” Greeks in the 19th century, met with classicist Graecomania and Philhellenism as well as with the romantic nationalism of the Germans, that themselves strongly needed the classical Greek Ideal to construct their own “cultural identity”, as opposed, say, to French enlightenment and revolution. Greek intellectual historian C. Th. Dimaras has adequately stressed the importance of Greek 19th century intellectuals “meeting” with Herder, Heine and Nietzsche. On the other hand, we should not forget that Dionysios Solomos’ (considered the national poet of Greece) legacy, that "The nation must learn to regard as national what is True" (‘Το έθνος πρέπει να μάθει να θεωρεί εθνικόν ό,τι είναι Αληθές’) has been inspired after Solomos’ acquaintance with German idealism through Italian translations: His seminal poetic composition "The Free Besieged" (1826–1844) emerges from such creative, and never only bilateral, European routes.
CeMoG’s cultural events have included a major conference on 20th century Modern Greek Philosophy (September 2014), an area little known to Modern Greek Studies scholars, but quite important in terms of Germany’s influence on Greece’s recent intellectual history. Would you like to tell us more?
This special conference (Deutschland und Griechenland im Spiegel der Philosophiegeschichte. Transfers im 20. Jahrhundert) was organised by CeMoG after the meeting of the President of the Hellenic Republic, Karolos Papoulias with the President of the Federal Republic of Germany Joachim Gauck and the signing of the joint declaration for the establishment of the Greek-German Youth Foundation in Berlin (September 2014). The joint declaration followed the tribute paid by President Gauck at the monument of the village of Lygiades, where German troops executed 92 civilians, 34 of them children.
While in other cases we chose to focus on the World War II memories with talks about the German occupation and war crimes in Greece (as for example in autumn 2015 in cooperation with the Topographie des Terrors foundation in Berlin), in September 2014 we tried to see the Greek-German relations through the mirror of the history of philosophy. The conference was conceived as a vehicle for reflection upon European identity in Modern Greece putting forward the question of the reception of German philosophy. Presentations and discussions focused on the work of Greek mid 20th century Neokantian philosophers like Constantine Tsatsos and Panayotis Kanellopoulos, but also of later prominent figures like Panagiotis Kondylis and Kosmas Psychopedis, as well as on the fortunes of the Frankfurt School and Western Marxism in Greece. The conference proceedings will be published soon in Edition Romiosini publishing program."Drifting Cities", Stratis Tsirkas’ Greek modernism classic, was recently translated in German by CeMoG’s Romiosini Editions, inaugurating a new series on Greek fiction and academic literature. Why is Tsirkas’ work important for Modern Greek literature and do you think it will appeal to the German reading audience?
CeMoG’s Edition Romiosini took over from the earlier Romiosini Verlag in Cologne, through which Hans Eideneier and Niki Eideneier-Anastassiadi have been contributing to the translation of Greek literature into German since 1982. Not only will the editorial program of the Romiosini Verlag in Cologne be partly overtaken and published anew (in the first half of 2016: Stratis Myrivilis’ Life in the Tomb, Dido Sotiriou’s Bloody Earth, Mimika Kranaki’s Philhellenists, Mary Iordanidou’s Loxandra and Sotiris Dimitriou’s To hear your name well), but also new translation projects will be launched among which many non-fiction titles like Yannis Voulgaris’ monograph on post-dictatorship, democratic Greece 1974-2009 and Rika Benveniste’s Those who survived on Greek Jews who survived from the Holocaust. All titles of Edition Romiosini/CeMoG are offered free of charge for online reading and can also be obtained as a printed edition (Book-on-Demand) and some of them as an E-Book as well. We try to take advantage of all the possibilities of digital publishing seeking the greatest possible visibility for our books.
The Edition Romiosini started its journey in December 2015 with Stratis Tsirkas’ Drifting Cities. First of all, to correct an unwarranted lack of the German book market - this is a classic text of the modern Greek (and, in my opinion, European) prose that should be made available in German. In this emblematic trilogy about Greek conflicts in wartime Egypt Stratis Tsirkas reflects upon the postwar fate of modern Greece. It comes as no surpise that the trilogy was established as one of the main literary reference texts for Greek readers after the dictatorship. And one more thing: following the other leading writers of the Greek Diaspora, i.e. Ionian Islands native Dionyssios Solomos, Alexandrian Constantine Cavafy and Asia Minor descendant Giorgos Seferis, Stratis Tsirkas from Cairo succeeded in upgrading Greek literature and transforming the literary idiom of the Hellenic Diaspora into a constant quest for self-consciousness.
How the German reading public will receive this difficult book only time will tell. The first indications, however, allow for optimism, and I’m referring to the recent review in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Readers of demanding literature, as we read there, can now associate North Africa’s war front, not only with Rommel but also with the Greek of the Diaspora Stratis Tsirkas whose Drifting Cities can be situated in the same line with Sartre’s Les chemins de la liberté and Malraux’s L'Espoir.
Many aspects of Modern Greek history, culture and society are seen by prominent public intellectuals as exceptional, both inside and outside Greece. How do Modern Greek Studies internationally, and especially in Germany, reflect upon this view?
I may, rather spontaneously, refer to the title of a conference in Princeton in 2007: „Against Greek Exceptionalism“, or use Constanze Güthenke’s and Dimitris Papanikolaou’s project on „Questioning Greek Exceptionalism“. Or to cite an important position in C. Th. Dimaras‘ History of Modern Greek Literature, Greek culture "is expressed through the constant renewal that is caused by contact with foreign cultures". Its special character is the result of these rich and varied influences and contacts. In contrast «exceptionalist arguments produce inadequate history, limited self-understanding, and arrogant politics» (Mary Nolan) and can impede the opening of Modern Greek Studies, both inside and outside Greece, in the direction of comparative analysis, the study of cultural exchanges, and the search for wider reference frames and interpretative schemes.
German media narratives about Greece and the Greek national character seem to be instrumental in Germany’s policy toward the country and Europe. Can public/cultural diplomacy have any impact on the stereotypes involved?
The German public sphere has been flocked by unhistorical and populist images for the “other”. Greece and the Greek national character have been portrayed as “exceptional” or marginal in ways that prepared the ground for a “Grexit”. We should off course fight against these stereotypes by presenting images which are closer to reality: CeMoG is serving this goal with a variety of events and publications. We have also to study this crisis of representation in the public sphere in Germany and Greece and we should analyze the relevant stereotypes by using discource analysis and media sociology. Thus we are preparing a special Workshop to take place this May, where a project of the University of Crete and the Freie Universität Berlin will be presented (The Greeks, the German and the Crisis: Discursive actor attribution analysis of the Eurozone crisis debate / GGCRISI) with the participation of Greek and German journalists.How can we rethink Greece and the cultural relations between Germany and Greece through the current debates about Europe’s crisis and future prospects?
“Rethinking Greece” means to my understanding to re-conceptualize Modern Greek history, literature and language in a multifaceted manner, i.e. to enhance all possible perspectives through which we can read Modern Greece. Tensions and disharmony between our distinct traditions, scholarly and popular, classical and Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine, Ottoman and Balkan, Mediterranean and European can all be incorporated and reflected upon. Only if we reflect on Cavafy’s “We 're a mixture of races here: Syrians, Greeks, Armenians, Medes” (In a town of Osroene, 1917), taking steps beyond nationalism, we can build a cultural policy, suitable for the current circumstances where Europe in the face of the refugee crisis, by invoking exceptionalism, seems to betray its founding principles.
*Interview by Nikolas Nenedakis
Stella Belia is a Greek activist for LGBT rights. She is the President of Rainbow Families organization, which represents Greek families of same sex parents and their children and strives for equal opportunity policies. She works as a kindergarten teacher in Athens and raises five children with her partner.
The introduction of a civil partnership law in Greece (December 2015) brought to the forefront the question of LGBT rights in the Greek society, and it is in this framework that Rethinking Greece* asked Stella Belia to answer questions on the current status of LGBT people in Greece, the human rights agenda in times of pauperization and crisis, the perception of homosexuality in Greek public opinion as well as possible conflicts between more traditional values and the liberal mindset that permeates the international LGBT agenda.
The recent enactment, with a broad parliamentary majority, of the of same-sex partnership law is regarded as an important milestone in the history of LGBT claims in Greece. How do you assess this development?
This law gave many people the necessary breathing space to finally talk openly about their sexual orientation, to organize their life and to solve many everyday problems. Yesterday I saw a gay couple that had been closeted all their lives sign a civil partnership contract and submit it to the municipality of a provincial town. After that their life will substantially improve, and this has great significance.
On the other hand, the fact that our children were left behind (the right of gay couples to adopt was not included in the new law) was a big disappointment for us. Up until the last minute we believed that the legislators would make a point of responding to the needs of the most vulnerable group of citizens: the children. Unfortunately it was not so.
We must understand that we are not talking about hypothetical persons. We are talking about real people, living next to us. I think that, although this law will not result in a huge influx of people signing up for civil partnerships, it will somehow educate society to a reality that otherwise would be kept hidden or invisible, as many people turn a blind eye to it.
European societies are on a track of granting universal rights regardless of sexual orientation. Do you believe that this battle has been largely won, or are you afraid that a political realignment in Europe could bring forth forces that might threaten those gains?
Many rights that we thought were established and inalienable -e.g. labor rights- lose their non-negotiable character and are put back on the table to be re-negotiated or repealed. The same goes for human rights: the current economic and political circumstances favor the rise of conservative parties and groups, which to a large extent derive their political power from people who previously upheld liberal ideologies. This is what happened in our country, where those who support the Golden Dawn party come mostly from the voters of New Democracy, the party "closer" to their conservatism.
This means that we could face situations where countries like France, which have made considerable progress in equal rights, plummet to racist and homophobic policies, in case of an election victory for Marie Le Pen.
To what extent do you think the economic crisis and the pauperization of the Greek population has affected the debate on the so-called human rights agenda?
Consider how human needs are classified (e.g. on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs): at the base we find the need for survival (food, water, etc.) and on the next step we find safety concerns: physical safety, labor security, resources, health, property, etc. With the economic crisis there is an increasing number of people who cannot satisfy even the needs at the base of the pyramid, like eating, and an even greater number of people who may barely meet those basic needs, but cannot meet the needs on the next level, because of issues like unemployment, no access to healthcare, inability to pay their mortgage etc.
It is therefore very difficult for a person dealing with any of the above situations to think about the remaining levels at the top of the pyramid, like social acceptance, self-esteem and self-realization. How do we talk to people about gay rights when they are in such dire situations? On the other hand, the duty of every well-governed state is to try and create the necessary conditions so that no citizen can be discriminated against for something like their sexual orientation. The pauperization of Greek society should not prevent the state from ensuring equal rights for all citizens.
What role could public education play in cultivating certain attitudes and social perceptions on LGBT issues? What are the specific actions that the State could take? What are the obstacles placed, and by whom, in this course of changing Greek education?
Firstly, Greek education suffers an obvious deficit: the Ministry of Education in our country – despite the various names it has been given over the years, such as Ministry of Culture, of Sports, of Life-long Learning, of Research etc – has always had attached to its name the term “Religious Affairs”. The fact that a secular policy area like education is part and parcel of religion brings to mind theocratic power structures. It also poses a significant obstacle to promoting changes in the education process towards inclusiveness and the dismantling of LGBT-related stereotypes.
Let me use the example of LGBT parents’ families. Our children, ever since they enter school, starting from kindergarten, don’t see in their school books any family resembling their own families. Besides, in the ranks of the teachers, there is a widespread perception, overtly expressed, of the heteronormative family as the “best” family and all other types of family structure are considered less than, inferior, deficient etc. As a result, our children are forced to keep their family reality out of their school’s door and they join it again only after they school.
It’s been a while now, since we – the organization of Rainbow Families – undertook the task to change this: we are trying to engage University departments that offer teaching degrees, so that future teachers are better informed on LGBT issues. We are also producing material to be used by educators who wish to depict the variety of different family structures. We are currently working on an Alphabet to teach phonology to toddlers and children of primary school ages: the text includes pictures and references to many possible family structures, so that all children can see in it a family that looks like their own family. Moreover, we keep broaching this issue in European conferences. Last but not least, we are in contact with organizations abroad, such as Schools Out, with a view to gaining from their vast experience on how to push things forward towards an all-inclusive school that gives all children space to develop and thrive.
During the recent conference held by "Rainbow Families" ("Love Creates Families," 13-14.2.2016), the word "fear" was often heard from young people living in the Greek countryside. Do you think that there is a two tier Greece as far LGBT issues are concerned, on a center / periphery axis?
I am citing an excerpt from the published life story of a gay guy living in the Greek province, specifically in Lappa, a village very close to Patras: “… I’ve been beaten several times. They took me out to woods; they stole my clothes and left me naked. They started spitting on me, kicking and laughing at me. They keep hanging out of my house and scream “Set the fag’s house on fire!”. I have suffered a lot. And the worst part is, my mother is currently severely ill, with a very serious disease, and they don’t even respect my need to take her out for a walk. They will attack me in front of her”.
This case of abuse was heard by a court, but the Greek justice system, instead of convicting the assailants, based its decision on the allegation that this guy and his aged mother were “provocative”. What else can I add? It is without a doubt that there’s a big difference between living in the anonymous crowd of a big city and living in a small village. Needless to say, the latter is way more difficult.
In response to the increasing migratory flows in Europe, some express fears that the "European way of life" will be “undermined” because of the influx of people of other religions, with different customs and values. Does this debate pertain to LGBT issues?
The refugee crisis is a matter that concerns everyone and everything. This is one of the biggest humanitarian crises in history since the two World Wars. Surely these people come from countries with different norms but what does this mean? People usually choose to keep those habits and customs that do not undermine their new life. When our own people migrated to Germany, U.S.A. or Australia, the traditions they observed were the celebrations of big holidays and especially their fun parts, like the spit lamb on Easter, and not the traditions like the “vendetta” between families.
Now, with respect to the "European way of life", I don’t see us experiencing this way of life in Greece: Take a look at some high ranking church officials that adopt deeply negative stereotypes about gay people and demonstrate strong resistance against what they perceive as a “European way of life." Just remember a prominent Greek politician’s provocative statement about Luxembourg’s Prime Minister. This aspect of Europe, therefore, is not yet firmly established in our country.
In some countries LGBT issues figure prominently in the political agenda, and political parties communicate their positions on these issues to the citizens, just as they do on any other policy issue. Is that the case in Greece?
I think this gradually happening in Greece. So far we’ve been a weak, easily neglected minority, with practically no political influence. Since the vast majority of LGBT people are not openly out, politicians for the most part thought that defending our rights wouldn’t bring more votes, or even worse, could backfire. I can sense a change in the climate now, as everybody understands that we and our allies are acquiring political clout, in terms of influence and number of votes. I believe that soon this is going to lead to serious changes in several political parties with regards to the way they deal with our community’s claims.
*Interview by Alkis Delantonis & Ioulia Livaditi