The annual London Greek Film Festival 2019 (15-18 May) will take place for the 12th consecutive year. Aiming to act as the European meeting point for the Greek film industry and to attract filmmakers from around the world with Greek themed works, the Festival programme includes shorts and feature films, including “Pause” by Cypriot film maker Tonia Mishialis. This year Festival comes on the heels of the 2nd Cosmocinema Film Festival (12-14 May) dedicated to foreign productions that took place in collaboration with the international London Greek Film Festival.The Odysseus and Cosmocinema Awards event will take place on Saturday, 18 May at 9pm at Theatro Technis (26 Crowndale Road, London NW1 1TT), in Camden Town, which will also host the screenings.
On the occasion of the 12th London Greek Film Festival, Greek News Agenda interviewed its director Christos Prosylis, who is a film & theatre director, actor, performer, poet and philosopher. He has studied theatre at the University of Athens, as well as acting and film directing. He holds a Master's degree in Digital Arts from the Athens School of Fine Arts, National Technical University of Athens. Prosylis is an expert in the new Technologies in Directing in films, theatre and the performing arts. Prosylis is the founder of the Acting Code advanced acting and directing technique [Grand Master]. He is also the founder and Director of the London Greek Film Festival, Cosmocinema Festival, as well as of Cosmocinema and Cosmotheatre theatre research group, in London, UK.
As I was already in London for academic and artistic reasons in the middle of the last decade, I discovered that we didn’t have a proper Greek film festival in the British capital. That was a problem for Greek filmmakers - and not only Greek filmmakers in London but around the world – i.e., not having access to the cinema network in the British metropolis. It was a big step initiating such a project and we started from scratch, but with a lot of work we managed to establish it as the “international meeting point for Greek films from across the world”.
What are the criteria for your selection and programming?
All works - whether films or screenplays - by Greek, Greek-Cypriot and Diaspora Greek filmmakers, artists, writers or producers from around the world with works related to Greece in terms of subject, location, people, myths, history, modern Greek life style etc are accepted. We apply international artistic and technical standards in the selection process and all selected works compete for the Cosmocinema and Odysseus Awards.
What is the Festival audience?
We have an audience consisting of different nationalities, as would be the case in a multicultural city like London.
What is the impact of the Festival in the community?
The festival obviously connects Greek cinema from around the world with the local multicultural and Greek community. This is a strong connection, offering innovative aesthetic approaches by Greek and international filmmakers.
Do you assist filmmakers coming into contact with representatives of the film industry?
We offer the Odysseus Awards and Cosmocinema Awards at the festival, where all selected works compete for the awards, whether films or screenplays. The festival has a really good reputation in the global film industry, a strong network and excellent independent professional character and philosophy. All these are very helpful in connecting filmmakers with the film industry. We also recently established the International Cosmocinema Festival, under the umbrella of the London Greek Film Festival, to reinforce the connection between the Greek and international film industry.
I feel that contemporary Greek cinema is mapping its way in the new digital era, global filmmaking creativity and industry. I have very positive feelings in this respect and I believe that Greek cinema will offer excellent works in the coming years. We have many talented artists in the field.
How has the crisis influenced the way the British think of Greece and what is the influence of Greek cinema, if any?
The affects of the crisis have been obvious and far reaching globally, changing the way Greece is being viewed by people around the world. The Greek people are fighters in their daily life, resourceful and creative. The crisis has obviously greatly influenced Greek cinema, not only in its subject-matter but also in terms of production process and creative work. It has also steered Greek cinema towards a more open and global outlook, which is very positive turn. New incentives for filming in Greece are also set to help the local film industry. I am very positive about the future of Greek cinema.
* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi
Sociologist Nikos Mouzelis, emeritus professor at the London School of Economics, talked to Efimerida ton Syntakton daily (05.05.2019) and Vassilis Kalamaras on the occasion of the publication of his latest book "Perspectives on the Future: Capitalism, Social-Democracy, Social-State " (2018, Alexandria Publications, in Greek). Nikos Mouzelis talks about the future of capitalism and the role of Germany and France in the European project. Greek News Agenda reproduces part of the interview in English.
At the presentation of your latest book you noted that while you cannot foresee the future, capitalism will not collapse in the near future. On what grounds do you base this prediction?
Following the 2007/8 global crisis, prominent intellectuals of the Left anticipated that more crises will follow and that the capitalist mode of production would collapse in the near future. I think that capitalism, although it will not survive forever, will not collapse in the short / medium term. This is because, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union and within the global neo-liberal system, three capitalist subsystems have been dominant: the neo-liberal system, whose main representative is the US, the authoritarian capitalist system one of China and the semi-social democratic system of the EU, which, despite the strict fiscal austerity imposed by Germany, remains social democratic because its social state is the most developed in the world, while political and cultural rights survive.
In this context, the global capitalist system will be with us for many years to come, since those who control the means of production and the means of domination are much more powerful than the forces (social movements, unions, mass movements etc) that want to subvert it.
Photo by Pixabay, Source: Pexels.com
As far as social-democratic capitalism is concerned and the way it has functioned in the Scandinavian countries, we bear witness to the impressive rise of the Far Right and the decline of Social Democratic parties. On what grounds do you base your optimism for the resurgence of social democracy?
The way social democracy developed during its so-called golden era in Southwestern Europe managed for the first time in the history of Modernity to humanize capitalism to a certain degree. State mechanisms managed to reduce inequalities and create a developed social state.
We witnessed, in other words, the extension of civil, political and social rights down and across the social pyramid. But then the opening of global markets, especially in the 80s, eased the autonomy of the nation state, since the state was no longer able to control multinational capital within national borders. Strict state control led to the flight of funds to countries where conditions were more favorable for investors.
What we thus have is an intense imbalance of power between capital and employment. In this state and with the end of the Ford model of industrialization that shrank the core electoral base of social democracy, i.e. the industrial proletariat, social democratic parties had to reach out wider and approach the values and practices of neoliberalism. For certain analysts this was necessary for the survival of democracy. For others it was a betrayal.
Nevertheless, I believe in a possible recovery of social democracy through an alliance with political forces that oppose both neoliberalism and nationalistic populism, since the inequalities that the one creates directly feed the other. Forces such as the radical left, ecological, politically liberal and other middle ground parties could provide a serious barrier to the two barbarisms of today's globalization.
Our country has been through a decade of fiscal adjustment programs, with Germany being the dominant player. How stifling is its dominance?
Germany's dominance remains stifling, because at the moment the rest of the EU countries are not ready for the establishment of a supranational federation. Of course, both Germany and France agree on European integration, but they have a very different vision of unification.
Merkel's strategy aims at a step by step consolidation by maintaining the current status quo, meaning a situation where economically strong countries and especially Germany will continue to accumulate huge surpluses while the European regions accumulate deficits. This means a systematic transfer of resources from the less competitive economies of the South to those of the North.
Despite this negative situation, there are no serious attempts for instruments of redistribution. Assistance to the poorest countries is negligible compared to resources directed towards the richest.
On the other hand, Macron’s strategy is different. Despite his neo-liberal policies in his country, the French president aims to create a European federation based not only on competition but also on solidarity.
He stresses, for example, the need for serious redistributive mechanisms to mitigate the North-South divide. Of course, due to his country's economic difficulties, Macron cannot impose his own program, thus Germany will probably manage to impose its own plan, which may lead to the dissolution of the EU.
This is something which is neither in France’s nor in Germany’s best interest. The only way to reduce the power imbalance between the two main players in the European arena is an alliance between France and South European countries, because their interests converge. For the time being, however, this does not seem to progress.
Photo by David Holt, Source: Flickr.com
Brexit is now a fact. Do you think there are risks as to the EU’s dissolution?
I don’t think that Brexit threatens the EU with possible dissolution; quite the opposite. For a number of reasons, it may lead to more cohesion. England always wanted a large market, nothing more, constantly creating barriers for those who aimed at political and social unification, and persistently demanding an “a la carte” participation. Moreover, she did not want Brussels bureaucracy mingling in her domestic affairs.
Brexit has already caused serious problems in England, such as the outflow of companies to Europe. There is no doubt that it will devalue the country, at least in the economic sector. In the medium term, England will develop into a second / third-class economy. All of the above will make Eurosceptics aware of the negative Brexit effects. It’s clear that Brexit does not suit England, but it certainly favors EU cohesion.
Read also: Associate Professor Antonis Tzanakopoulos on Greek Foreign Policy, Brexit and Globalisation, Costas Douzinas: “If Europe does not change fast, then the ‘Finis Europae’ is closer than we think”.
Nikos Chryssos was born in 1972 in Athens. He studied at the Department of Biology of the University of Athens and the Department of Direction of the Stavrakos Cinema and Television School. He owns an old books store in Athens. He has written the following novels: Το μυστικό της τελευταίας σελίδας [The secret of the last page] (Kastaniotis Editions, 2009) and Καινούργια μέρα [New Day] (Kastaniotis Editions, 2018). In 2014 he edited and commented the re-published book Αξέχαστοι καιροί [Unforgettable times] by Lefteris Alexiou, as well as the collective volume Ιστορίες βιβλίων [Books stories] (both by Kastaniotis Editions).
Nikos Chryssos spoke to Reading Greece* about his latest novel New Day, which “narrates the adventures of a gang of homeless people who live and die in some port of the European South”. He explains that the book constitutes “an in-depth metaphor of the physical and meta-physical effect of narration, which require the reader’s synergy to be brought to light”, and adds that “the narrations transmute space, while striving to transform time, to extend the moment, and maybe life itself, not in a metaphysical way but by investing in memory which keeps a story alive”.
He comments that “exciting short stories as well as breathtaking multi-faceted novels both constitute the core of our literary tradition” and that “it’s not the form one opts for that matters but rather the way he employs it as well as whether his option was dictated by literary or non-literary criteria”. He concludes that “the first and foremost challenge every writer is faced with is to compose a text that is worth reading” and that in the history of Greek literature “we encounter just a handful of writers who earned their living solely through writhing”. “We remain stubbornly amateurs – that is unrepentant lovers of arts – and difficulties seem to make us more willful rather than discourage us”.
Your latest novel New Day is shortlisted for the European Prize for Literature. Tell us a few things about the book.
The book narrates the adventures of a gang of homeless people who live and die in some port of the European South. When the hero, Sevastianos, is murdered, his four mates, delving into the moments they shared and his narrations, which constitute a priceless heritage, try to revive both his story and theirs in a sequence of episodes which alternate with Sevastianos’ tales.
Pavlos, one of the accomplices, shocked by the brutality of the murder, turns into a mystic and a martyr, the same way the Apostle whose name he bears. He urges the four friends to write down their memories, thus triggering new narrations that never seem to end. New Day tells the story of human adventure, of life and death, of crime and punishment, constituting an in-depth metaphor of the physical and meta-physical effect of narration, which require the reader’s synergy to be brought to light.
The way narration is structured definitely moves away from traditional norms. What role do time and place serve in your writings?
The topography of the port where the story unfolds is not specified; the Port may remind us of Piraeus, Marseille or Thessaloniki, yet it constitutes an imaginary place, which comprises elements of many Mediterranean ports. As the map of this literary world begins to take shape through the heroes’ narrations, and only through them, with no “objective” testimony whatsoever, one suspects that the port may actually exist, though indiscernible behind the fictional curtain the protagonists-narrators have set; not with the purpose of deceiving the reader but rather guided by the need that urges them to reenact both their life and the life of dead Sevastianos. The narrations transmute space, while striving to transform time, to extend the moment, and maybe life itself, not in a metaphysical way but by investing in memory which keeps a story alive.
The book “tells the story of human adventure, of life and death, of crime and punishment, constituting an in-depth metaphor of the physical and meta-physical effect of narration, which require the reader’s synergy to be brought to light”. Tell us more
The book “borrows” its structure from the New Testament. The narrations of Teos, Markonis, Lucky and Yiannis follow the course of Gospels by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – while the tales of Sevastianos is a reminder of Jesus Christ’s parables. Heroes do not of course display a dogmatic rigor nor do they promise answers, they just share doubts and questions. Sevastianos shows no messianic skills, nor does he have any kind of dice; yet he is transformed into a charismatic leader through their narrations, which express their deepest desire for existence, solidarity and dignity, conditions which in their eyes appear redemptive.
Despite their haste to recompose the story of his life, it remains unknown – at least in its details – and thus open to innumerable contingencies and interpretations. The homeless protagonists of the book do not aspire to a metaphysical rebirth since they have no religious faith whatsoever, nor do they place their hopes on external forces. Their faith has no metaphysical, but rather a “meta-textual” character given that they discern a transcendental potential in the narrations themselves, as if they were all spectral, transparent and eternal entities, which would have the power to recompose their surrounding fragmented world endowing it with some kind of meaning.
It has been argued that Greek writers have a preference for short form and that short story collections have outweighed novels and longer narratives. How would you comment on this?
Browsing through the history of Greek literature one may encounter major craftsmen of all kinds; exciting short stories as well as breathtaking multi-faceted novels both constitute the core of our literary tradition. It’s not the form one opts for that matters but rather the way he employs it as well as whether his option was dictated by literary or non-literary criteria. I reckon that every story defines its distinct size, form and style, and the writer is obliged, having elaborated on his narrative tools, language, sense of rhythm and analytical ability, to show the same diligence whether he depicts the impression of an impeding moment or represents a multi-dimensional world.
Which are the main challenges new writers face nowadays in order to have their work published? What role do the social media play in the promotion of new literary voices?
The first and foremost challenge every writer is faced with is to compose a text that is worth reading. Of course, you need both effort and luck to have your book printed and showcased in bookstores; yet the book itself is what matters the most. Despite a decade of economic distress, hundreds of titles are published every year and your book may be among them. We often put the blame for our failure on others, that is prejudiced publishers, “literary networking” or to the denigration of our literary value without examining whether, during the writing process, we have employed all our powers and skills in order to attain a worth reading result.
The social media constitute valuable communication and advertising tools. Yet, in no way do they dictate reading trends, with the exception of small groups, nor do they depict a truthful image of reality. I stand critically towards them; I may use them but I don’t invest more time in them, nor do I pay more attention to them than they are worth.
For the majority of Greek writers, writing is not a main profession but rather a leisure time activity. Would you agree that in a country stricken by the crisis, earning a living through writing is the exception rather than the rule? Could things be otherwise?
If we have a look at the history of Greek literature of the last one hundred years, we encounter just a handful of writers who earned their living solely through writing. The long standing economic crisis has further aggravated the situation, without however creating a novel condition; we remain stubbornly amateurs – that is unrepentant lovers of arts – and difficulties seem to make us more willful rather than discourage us. Reaching a larger audience constitutes every writer’s wishful thinking and in case it is fulfilled, things could be completely different. Thank you.
*Ιnterview by Athina Rossoglou
Dr. Marika Karagianni is a legal and international relations expert, specialized on European and international energy issues, focusing on Russia, the Caspian- Central Asia, East Med and MENA (Middle East- North Africa) regions. She holds a PhD on “The institutional aspects of off-shore hydrocarbons development in the Caspian Sea” from the Democritus University of Thrace and a Post- Doc on “The EU Southern Gas Corridor as an alternative to Russian gas supplies for Europe” from the University of Peloponnese. She has served as an advisor on energy diplomacy and relations with Russia/ CIS to Ministers and Deputy Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Hellenic Republic (2000 -2006) and is currently a permanent expert on energy at the Hellenic Government Administration. She was also a lawyer in Athens (1998- 2006). She has been trained on energy security at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Energy Program, NATO SCHOOL OBERAMMERGAU and at the Baku Summer Energy School of Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. She is also a visiting lecturer and an external research associate at the Department of Economic Studies- University of Thessaly (Volos), a research associate at IENE (Institute of Energy of South Eastern Europe) and a member of the Hellenic Society of International Law and International Relations. She is the author of the book “Hydrocarbons: the contracts for offshore field development” (Nomiki Vivliothiki, 2018) and at this stage she is finishing the second book on the role of conflicts in the energy development in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Caspian Sea.
Marika Karagianni spoke* to Greek News Agenda about Greece’s comparative advantages in the energy sector and the importance for Greece to move from being hydrocarbons importer to producer and possibly exporter.
1) You have recently presented your book titled: “Hydrocarbons: the contracts for the development of the offshore reserves.” What is the importance of the Caspian Sea energy market for Greece? Could Greece adopt any ‘best practices’ from these countries?
Thank you very much for your question. This book is basically an enhanced version of my phd thesis, which discussed the legal status of the Caspian Sea, the contracts for hydrocarbon exploration and extraction of the offshore fields and how those practices could be applied in our country. Published by Nomiki Bibliothiki, it is the first book on this subject that has been written in Greek, and this alone is very important for Greek bibliography.
The Caspian Sea is one of the world’s largest oil bearing and producing areas. Offshore oil fields were first discovered in 1895 in Azerbaijan’s offshore sector. We must note that during World War II, Hitler coveted Baku’s oil fields but Greek resistance and the Russian winter got in the way. His goal was to reach the Caspian Sea in order to supply his whole empire with Baku’s oil. Those countries have a long tradition and established practices in exploring and extracting hydrocarbons. They might still be considered to be developing countries and in many things we may think that they lag behind when compared to the ‘developed’ world, however, they have a comprehensive and effective legal framework that covers the energy sector in its entirety: exploration, extraction, production, refinement, transportation via pipelines and trading of oil and natural gas. This legal framework is based on Production Sharing Agreements. Notably, the model applied in Azerbaijan sets an example for the international energy market given the fact that the world’s largest companies have for 25 years been using this contracting model for their investments in Azerbaijan.
Take BP for example. BP alone has investedaround 25 billion dollars just in Azerbaijan since 1994 by using this specific legal contract. This provides a good example for European countries to follow, and Greece in particular, which has just begun serious exploration and extraction efforts. A specific legal type of contract should be adopted; in the case of Greece not necessarily the Production Sharing Agreement but the license agreement or the already adopted lease agreement. The existing lease agreement constitutes a sound legal framework, a good contract for the development of the Greek reserves; nonetheless it needs to be preserved and be a guarantee for all foreign companies wishing to invest in Greece’s energy sector.
2) What are Greece’s comparative advantages in the energy sector?
We occupy a major geostrategic position between East and West as far as land and maritime borders are concerned. We have the capability to become not an energy hub – as they usually say – but a natural gas transportation hub. Given that Greece is a geographically small country with a small market, it is difficult to have its own energy stock market and set bid prices for natural gas, as for example does Turkey. However Greece has the potential to import natural gas from various sources and various countries and from different routes either for domestic consumption or for transit to Europe.
The fact is that at the EU level our country has achieved immense diversification of gas supply sources compared to other EU countries, such as Hungary e.g., which depends exclusively on Russian natural gas. Only 65% of our consumption is imported from Gazprom. We have had for many years long-term contracts with the Algerian state owned company Sonatrach and we import LNG, that comes in at Revithousa’s LNG terminal and covers a significant part of our country’s needs, especially in winter when demand is high. We also import limited quantities of natural gas from Phase I of the Shah Deniz project in Azerbaijan via the Greek-Turkish pipeline Karacabey – Komotini, inaugurated by the former PMs,Konstantinos Karamanlis, and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayip Ergodan, in Kipi of Evros, in 2006, and operating since 2007.
As of next year we will be receiving 1billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz Phase II via the TAP pipeline, which is part of the EU’s Southern Gas Corridor. The TAP pipeline constitutes a big economic and geostrategic upgrade for our country, given that Greece is currently the biggest natural gas transportation hub of the Southern Gas Corridor. TAP’s biggest section runs through Northern Greece, namely Western Thrace and Macedonia, before it reaches Albania. It represents the biggest foreign investment over the past 10 years in Greece, in the midst of the crisis; it has beenpolitically supported byall governmentsand it constitutes a significant investment for the country. There are prospects of importing natural gas in the future from the eastern Mediterranean, either via the East Med pipeline, if implemented, or via LNG in Revythousa. This way, Greece can become a natural gas and LNG transportation hub in the wider Mediterranean and Southeastern European region.
3) How will Greece contribute to Europe’s energy security?
As I mentioned earlier, we have diversified the routes and sources of supply. Beyond that, via the TAP pipeline and as a part of EU’s Vertical Corridor, we have the capability to export natural gas mainly through the IGB, namely the Greek – Bulgarian pipeline, to Bulgaria and potentially in the future to Romania as well. Also, we may be able export natural gas tο Northern Macedonia through the interconnector Nea Mesimvria – Gevgelija, which the current government is promoting. During the Greek PM’s recent visit to Skopje, the possibility for the construction of a new pipeline supplying Northern Macedonia with gas was discussed. We have the possibility and the prospect of constructing an FSRU in Alexandroupolis in order to receive LNG from various sources. The US has already expressed an interest and actually two companies, Tellurian and Cheniere have expressed their readiness to supply this specific FSRU Terminal with LNG. It becomes obvious that all these investments and infrastructures promote Northern Greece in economic and geostrategic terms to play an important role in the energy supply of all neighboring countries in Southeastern Europe.
4) Both the exploration and extraction of hydrocarbons require large scale investments in Greece, which, on the one hand, wishes to increase its revenues, and on the other, to attract investors by way of motives. How easy is it to maintain this balance in order to have a win-win situation for both the country and the investors? What would you suggest in Greece’s case?
This is the subject of my book that was recently presented at Nomiki Bibliothiki. What is important is to have an established legal and tax framework that would secure both the interests and revenues of the country that owns the fields, as well as those of the foreign companies that sign 20-25year contracts and carry out large scale investments. It should be noted that Greece’s offshore fields, especially south of Crete, are in a very demanding area and any future drilling and extracting will be conducted in ultra-deep waters exceeding 4000 meters, which requires advanced technology and proper equipment. To give you an idea of the cost, just one offshore drilling such as that currently conducted in Cyprus’ reserves by Exxon Mobil and ENI, with an average price of 80 dollars per barrel, costs approximately 150 million dollars. In order for company investments and expenditures to be secured, Greece needs to maintain its existing legal and tax status. Law 4001/2011, together with the Hellenic Hydrocarbon Resources Management (HHRM), secures a good framework that needs to be preserved in order for foreign companies to have proper motivation and security.
5) What are the prospects of the drillings south of Crete? What does it mean for Greece to move from being hydrocarbons importer to producer and possibly exporter?
There have been hydrocarbon indications in the wider marine area south and southwest of Crete in the seismic surveys carried out during the 2012 open door procedure, which is why we mapped two blocks, those of South and Southwest of Crete. Exxon Mobil has expressed interest for those two offshore blocks and there has been an initialization of an agreement. The Ministry of Environment and Energy needs to continue the procedure as quickly as possible without any further delays, with more seismic surveys carried out in order to obtain more geological and geophysical data. Subsequently, we need to proceed with the legal processes for the signing of the lease agreement with Exxon Mobil or any other company interested in order for the exploration and extraction to be carried out.
As I already mentioned, the sea area south of Crete is very demanding. The company that will undertake the project will make a huge investment. Exxon Mobil has the equipment and the know-how for such drillings. The Greek side needs to proceed as quickly as possible so that Exxon Mobil and other companies do not lose interest. These two blocks are very promising for the future. However, until we have further seismic survey and a drilling we cannot talk about a confirmed field.
From the book presentation (photo courtesy of Nomiki Vivliothiki)
6) Where are Greece’s energy sources?
From the initial research carried out by Hellenic Petroleum and its precursor, Public Petroleum Corporation (DEP-EKY), we have two confirmed fields. The first one was discovered in 1981 and it is situated in Katakolo, while the second one was discovered in 1989 and is situated in Epanomi, outside of Thessaloniki. Prinos is the third confirmed extraction area whose exploitation belongs to private energy company Energean Oil and Gas. We have a small, approximately 2000 barrels per day, oil production from Prinos, while initial production by Prinos’s E field has begun yielding a further daily output of 1000 barrels.
These are the confirmed areas, while the rest are at seismic survey and initial drilling stages. Repsol together with Energean have undertaken Ioannina’s Block and are planning to conduct their first drilling in 2020. The first step is drilling and then we can see whether there is oil and if it can be extracted, meaning that an extraction area cannot be confirmed until the first drilling. Energean has also undertaken Katakolo, where drilling will begin in 2020. Thereon, it depends on the rest of the consortiums, on Hellenic Petroleum which recently signed the agreement for Block 10 at Kyparissiakos Gulf, on Repsol and Hellenic Petroleum that have undertaken two offshore blocks in the Ionian Sea, to see how this process moves on. Open door covers the whole marine area from the North Ionian to the southwest of Crete.
7) What is the process of hydrocarbon extraction?
An extraction may be successful, but it could also be fruitless when we come upon non-commercial hydrocarbon deposits, in which case the company’s investment fails, something whichispart of the investment risk. This is why the host country must provide an efficient legal framework securing foreign company rights. Thus, if there is a confirmed adequate extraction area, then the company must, in line with the signed contract, submit a work programme to the Ministry of Environment and Energy for approval, following which, the operations of the company or joint venture may commence.
By operations we mean the installation of required equipment, floating drilling platforms, the import of the extraction equipment and the signing of all employment contracts. In the first years, primary production - i.e., the so-called cost oil - covers the initial investment costs of the foreign company. In other words, besides the revenues from VAT and income taxation for the government, the rest of the earnings are directed to the company in order to cover its initial investments.
When the profit phase of the production commences, the host country, namely the country that owns the hydrocarbon fields, receives its agreed revenue share. On the basis of the agreement, the revenues for the state from exploration and extraction are quite a significant. Firstly, following the signing of the agreement, the foreign company disburses to the Greek state the so-called signature-bonus, as agreed upon in the bilateral negotiations. Those are revenues that go directly to the Greek budget. Consequently, during production, the company bears the cost of 25% VAT as per the lease agreement along with income tax. Thus the Greek government has three sources of revenues through the exploration and extraction process.
* Interview by Christina Fiorentzi
Dimosthenis Papamarkos is a novel and short story writer and screenwriter. Born in Malesina, Phthiotis in 1983, he wrote and published his first work, the novel The Silicon Brotherhood at the age of 15. His collection of short stories titled Gkiak took the Greek reading audience by storm in 2014 with the way he approached themes regarding the lives of Greek Soldiers returning home from the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922; the work was praised for its realistic characters and its meticulous use of the language of the time, granting him the Petros Haris Foundation / Academy of Athens award. Gkiak also won the award for best short novel by O Anagnostis magazine in 2015, and was adapted for the stage with great success.
Papamarkos’ works also include the novel The fourth knight (2001) and the short story collection ΜεταΠοίηση (2015), while one of his most interesting projects is the graphic novel adaptation of Kornaros’ Erotokritos, alongside Giorgos Goussis and Giannis Ragos (translated into English by B. Walter, 2016). He also wrote the libretto for a musical theatre adaptation of Aristophanes’ Peace staged by the National Theatre of Greece (2017), and co-wrote the screenplay for Yannis Economides forthcoming film The ballad of a pierced heart. Papamarkos is PhD Candidate of Ancient Greek History in the Oxford University and is the first Greek writer commissioned to write a play for the Οnassis Cultural Centre of Athens.
Dimosthenis Papamarkos spoke to Reading Greece* about his creative process, his experience working on a graphic novel adaptation of a classic work such as Erotokritos, his thoughts on the digital era’s impact on literature and his hopes about the future of Greek literature.
Gkiak has been a breakthrough work, widely acclaimed, with stories from the collection translated into English, French and Russian. To what degree did the crisis affect its reception?
Interesting question. I’ve never really thought about it to tell you the truth. Certainly, the way a book is received is also product of the circumstances of that particular point in time it reaches its audience. In the case of Gkiak, the book does come amid the crisis, but I have never thought about how this has affected its readers.
The Minister for Culture and Sports, Mirsini Zorba, has designated 2019 as the year of Erotokritos. What was the experience like to work on the creation of a graphic novel, especially on such a momentous, historical literary work as Erotokritos by Vitsentzos Kornaros?
This is one of the most enjoyable things I have ever done, and generally speaking, working on a graphic novel is something I enjoy very much as it essentially consists of team work; hence, if there is chemistry in the collaboration it is wonderful, meeting as such my need to witness another medium of narration in the making - in this case, images – and how it works when combined with the medium of narration I mainly work with, namely words. This is where surprising things may occur, including the delight of coming across and learning something new, which becomes a rarity as we get older. That was very much the case with the work on Erotokritos, whilst for the first time I was put in a position where I had to closely examine the original work and study it in a more disciplined and rigorous manner. Moreover, together with co-writer Giannis Ragos, we had to think and decide what we could keep from the original work for the graphic novel, i.e. which elements of Erotokritos could possibly be “transformed” and be included in a graphic novel and what could be done with the language; this may all sound like drudgery but it is in fact a process of dialogue with the original work. It is a very meaningful dialogue, because in a sense you are talking with yourself, reading something you thought you knew and in the process you learn something more, shedding light from many different angles and finally, you have the pleasure of being able to play with something you love very much which, up until that point, you couldn’t really do. I mean, Erotokritos is an established, complete work out there, and no matter how much you want to play around with it, you can’t, thus the only way you could do this is by adapting it into something else, in this case into a graphic novel.
There was an additional factor for me in all this, because, in a way, I conducted the historical documentation for the graphic novel, which may be fiction, but several elements were based on Greek history, thus I was tasked with relevant research so to speak. I had to e.g., find Byzantine gowns because Giorgos Goussis, who did the sketching, chose to portray the court of King Heracles as byzantine, or work out with Goussis how the Athenians’ armor would be, suggesting for example that they look a bit more western, adding the owl pattern etc. I also researched how the battles would be depicted, the duels etc, as every action related to battle and its choreography are based on original medieval textbooks that show, for instance, how to fight when your opponent’s weapon is a knife and yours is a sword or the other way around. It was an enjoyable experience.
You have in the past referred to your interest in game design and video game script in general. How do story-telling or story-driven video games stand in relation to contemporary forms of discourse, and do they constitute a powerful means of storytelling given their interactive character (such as the element of plot turns and alternate endings based on player in game decisions)?
I haven’t been able to follow this up as much as I would like on account of work. Plot turns and alternate endings based on player decisions were there in the past as well. In fact, the older the game, the more text narrativethere is, with the main difference being that back then there was only text, while nowadays there is sound and speech. For me it is a great new field for exploring what storytelling really means and it’s not necessarily mainstream and trivial, meaning that we shouldn’t say “it doesn’t compare to a good book”. Sometimes a video game might not be Moby Dick level of storytelling for example, but it could be like a really good book in terms of creativity, imaginative story set-up and development. Therefore, if you have good scriptwriters, then I don’t see why you can’t have good stories – they are simply in another field. Likewise, we don’t think of a movie as better or worse than a book. If we must however compare them in any way, I would say that a video game is like a very good book, while someone with different experiences to mine, who has grown up playing video games, might tell you that it is better than a book. It’s possible.
Nevertheless, I am not of the opinion that video games are for kids and I think that we could learn a lot from the way a fascinating story is narrated while playing a well-made video game. And of course, where imagination comes into play is relevant, because in books you paint the picture yourself while in video games it is already there for you. But as we said earlier, the possibility for interaction is a different aspect of what I can do with my imagination and how I can picture and enter this world, feel the atmosphere and finally get its point. I find it intricate and challenging, definitely not something to be rejected just like that. Some might say that there are not so many good games out there, which may be a point, but in future we may have more good video games as the industry develops. But good video games are truly good.
Having already talked about modern forms of narration and expression, we cannot ignore the issue of the “Digital era”; e-books, audio books, blogs, social media …Has the digital era influenced Greek literature?
I cannot really claim to have so much of a general overview of Greek literature and of the digital world on the whole in order to answer this. I would instinctively say that it has, given that literature could not be exempt from the effects of the digital era in so many fields, especially in social media, where prose evolves into instant miniature stories or poetry explodes on screen. Additionally, the fact that you are able to instantly publish what you have written surely in the end affects the way you write, whilst getting feedback directly is instant gratification for every writer’s need to witness his work being read. Hence the digital era has certainly changed the way we perceive literary works. As far as e-books and audio books are concerned, we can’t say that they are here for us just yet (in Greece): very rarely will you find Greek e-books and even more so audio books. I also don’t believe that anyone, even abroad, writes having these formats in mind. In a way, if you think about it, ebooks are a digital imitation of the printed book; in other words, they have not brought about a new way of reading.
You still turn pages but you merely get to choose fonts, character size and whether the screen will be white or sepia. Social media and the web as a whole are instant-posting platforms but texts need to be kept brief. A 2000 word interview is something you could read, it would be a two-page affair in a newspaper for example, but you would not read it on the web, as it would appear too long. There are online magazines where it is difficult to publish a 5000 word text. And then there are the aesthetics of the plain and simple, but that’s another topic of discussion.
Trying to get inside the writer’s head: what simple and ordinary event could constitute source of creative inspiration?
I can only speak for myself because different people will tell you different things. For me, there is no such thing as specific events that move me or that it is e.g., more likely to find inspiration during a walk in the park instead of in the city centre. What is usually the case consists of some preexisting emotional and mental state rendering me more receptive and responsive to events concerning this particular situation.
In other words if there is some idea or issue in my mind - death for example - and I am in the process of thinking how to approach the subject, whether literarily or not, then I will surely become more aware of a funeral scene with a hearse going by, or a woman lamenting the loss of her husband or even someone holding a photo of somebody close to him and looking at it; these are images which will connect with the theme I’m working on. So, while I will see everything around me, it is only some observations that will open up a whole universe with a multitude of references. If you are preoccupied and stressed out then you do not observe at all or observe rarely; you need to come out somewhat empty, open, and that is when you pay attention.
So, having decided on the theme and whilst actively observing, do you decide there and then that you’ll begin writing? What is the creative process?
To begin with, it is about how this idea that I have develops and how all possibilities are explored: how and why something must be said and whether it is possible to say it differently; what does each alternative offer and what holes does it leave in my story? Are there logical steps in plot build-up? How have I described the main character? When all these are settled in some way, not necessarily in every detail and I place them in order, I then settle down to the process of writing, which is head on down to the end until the story is finished. This of course has been possible thus far as I have been writing short-stories, where you can do in a day let’s say 16 hours and finish it. It is another story when it comes to something longer.
That is to say, in order to write a novel or a novella you have to stop writing at some point and return to it later. To sum up, the process of writing for me is having an idea and exploring it for the story, doing plenty of research if necessary for what I plan to write about, and when I have all this in order in my mind do I then begin to write. I do it this way because I don’t like breaking my rhythm in order to stop and look up things or wonder about story development. I want my options laid out, so that even if I end up somewhere different from where I had decided that I will not be caught by surprise and thrown off course.
What would you want the future of Greek literature to ideally look like in terms of both form and content?
As a reader of Greek literature, I can say that I feel quite content reading only modern Greek works. We have great writers and many new ones take the stage with very interesting voices and new ways of approaching themes and literature itself, so you have both classic and modern works and the interest is high. If I miss something in Greek literature, then that would be genre literature, which is unfortunately regarded as lowbrow in Greece, and thus we are short in this field. There is also the problem that if a work belongs to the horror genre, then it can’t be good. We have to justify it as we do in films and admit that “it may be a horror movie but it is also good”.
Why does the one have to be independent of the other? I would therefore like for more works of the fantasy, sci-fi, and horror genre out there and with different standards - meaning that because it is still viewed as an art form in want of artistic or intellectual value, no serious effort is being made in creating such works. If a horror fiction work is received by publishers it will be treated with different criteria than mainstream literary works, where criteria are stricter. Consequently, what I would like is to see this gap filled, and not only so that we don’t consume imports - the richer the field from other cultures, the better - but because I truly believe that we have abundant and unexplored material that could be used, it’s a shame that we have not caught on as yet.
What’s next for you in the foreseeable future?
I am working on two plays: one of them is within my role as writer in residence for the Onassis Foundation, which is set to be complete early 2020; the second one is a surprise. I am also working as a content creator on a television project concerning a horror series for Faliro House Productions, as well as on Gimna Osta (Naked Bones), a horror/sci-fi graphic novel, which is almost finished. I also have an idea for a literary work for which I am trying to find the time to start writing. Lastly, I am currently working as drama consultant for the National Theatre of Greece production of Aeschylus’ The Eumenides, directed by Georgia Mavragani, to be staged in Epidavros this summer.
*Interview by Giannis Koutsoukos. Translation into English by Magda Hatzopoulou.
Read also via Greek News Agenda: Riikka Pulkkinen on Greek Literature in Finland; Vangelis Hatzivassileiou on the Individual and Society in Modern Greek Fiction 1974-2017; Reading Greece: Yannis Goranitis on Athens as an Inspiring Literary City; Vangelis Hatziyannidis: "Writing for an opera was like a puzzle I really enjoyed"
Kostis Georgiou is an internationally acclaimed sculptor and painter, who lives and works in Athens. He has studied at the Athens School of Fine Arts under Dimitris Mytaras and Dimosthenis Kokkinidis, and at Royal College of Fine Arts in London under Peter de Francia. Georgiou has over 90 solo exhibitions and almost 100 group exhibitions to his credit, in Greece and abroad; he has won awards at international events, while several of his works have been chosen for permanent display in publics places, from the Athens Riviera to Suzhou (China), Brussels and France.
In late 2017, Georgiou found himself at the centre of a public controversy over the installation of his sculpture Phylax in a public space near the coast of Palaio Faliro, as there were claims that the bright red sculpture portraying a human-like figure spreading its wings looked sinister or even diabolical. The mayor, who made the commission, supported by a sponsor, defended the creator’s artistic choice. Vandalism resulted in the statue’s toppling by a small group of unidentified perpetrators in January 2018, causing a general outcry.
Left: The poster for "Enigma" exhibition Right: Praxis
The artist’s latest project is the exhibition "Enigma", which will be hosted at Teloglion Foundation in Thessaloniki. The display will take place at Teloglion’s hall and patio. "Enigma" will open on 10 May and will run until 9 June. It will then move to the Sismanoglio Mansion in Istanbul on 3 October, under the auspices of the Greek Consulate in Istanbul. Later in 2019, the exhibition will also be presented in Rome.
“Enigma” features about 100 of Georgiou’s paintings and 30 sculptures, including both older works as well as several new creations, including Praxis, a 4-meter tall monumental sculpture, which will be permanently donated to the foundation. The exhibition also features the video-art piece Aenaon, based on the 3d animation short film Violent Equation, by animator Antonis Doussias, inspired by the PHYLAX incident and selected at the 2019 Annecy Festival.
On the occasion of his exhibition, Kostis Georgiou spoke to Greek News Agenda* about his approach on the purpose of art and creation, his view on the connection between physical and mental labour and the influences that defined him.
Rhapsody of the Present
In your essay, featured in the exhibition catalogue, you write that an artist’s work entails “hard back-breaking physical labour, exhaustion both physical and mental” and that the result shouldn’t be independent of the action, that true investigation exists when “action, concept, […] innovation coexist and constitute a system of values that is inextricably interwoven”. So you feel that physical involvement with the work of art…
…is of critical importance. In recent years we see a trend towards convenience, towards a type of conceptual art which, essentially tries to separate the action from the result; and that’s choosing the easy path. I don’t mean to say that we should reject conceptual art; on the contrary, any art form that has something to say and produces a work of art through an investigative process is welcome, no matter how strange, extreme or unconventional, it serves a purpose and has its merit. I do not denounce conceptual art, or any form of art, regardless of its features. It’s just that art often serves as a cover for the sly and the dubious who have failed elsewhere and want to play at something they are not; in other words, an easy solution. I don’t even condemn that, so long as they don’t try and deceive us. But there is a trend also evident in art capitals like Paris, London, or oversees, supporting a “light” form of art, cartoonish, akin to tracing. Sometimes there’s a sense to it, at times it’s just a funny picture.
As there are cases of, sometimes famous, artists who admit that their involvement is limited to having an idea, and then picking up the phone and describing what they want to specialised craftsmen, who take it up from there. This has often perplexed audiences, who can’t deny that the original concept does have its own merit, but still…
Yes, the concept has value of its own, but you see, the creator himself doesn’t get to have a hands-on involvement in the making process. And the thing is, an initial concept may have a specific form however, with time, during and as part of the creative process, it may take different forms, a different direction, one that is much more significant than the original concept. When taking part in the process, you are in direct contact with the resulting work, with its vibrations, which may lead you to greater things compared to your original intentions. Placing an order doesn’t give you this opportunity, as it doesn’t give you the satisfaction of making something yourself.
Left: Kostis Georgiou Right: Polymnia, part of the 9 muses series which will be presented for the first time
So ideas have merit, but many people can have an idea. I feel that there is something in art that you have to “quarry” for. It’s not easy, it takes hard work. At least in my case and for as long as I have been in this field, since I was 14 years old and up until now, I’ve been working non-stop. Not because I’m a workaholic but because I respect this field and I understand that this way I discover new things, which is the creator’s objective. You discover more about yourself, and we are always connected to our environment and the universe, so your personal truths, if they have real substance, will also resonate with those of other people. The purpose of art is this bridge it creates.
Art is otherwise reduced to a funny cartoon as it often happens now. And when art has no real content beneath its surface it loses its purpose, which is to educate the audience, give it food for thought. A cute and funny image of a cartoon character is something you can put on your wall, it doesn’t do much, and it is decorative without any true content. Of course, this type of art is promoted by the art system because it’s easy to make, even easier to sell and it can be done by many people without need for special skills; thus you can choose someone to do it and easily thrust them into stardom.
Left: Legatus Right: Taurus
So you say physical labour is directly connected with mental labour, this process, as you write, by which the artist rejects “all that is useless and without substance” in order to get the final result. It’s safe to assume you don’t accept the notion of a “god-sent” idea that the artist receives as a vessel in its final and perfect form, but instead as something the artist has to put effort in.
Definitely. The ideas come to you, of course. This is where art is grounded, and we would be sterile without ideas, thus they have a decisive role. But this is where someone’s skill and creativity is put to test. Because anyone can have an idea, but it’s all about how you will convey this concept, adjusted through your personal knowledge, your own philosophy. The artist is not a maker of beautiful images, he is someone who renegotiates, in a way philosophises on life; otherwise, one is just a producer of hollow images. This is not the purpose of art, it may be a hobby, which is fine, but if we’re talking about substance in art, about the actual creative part, then we’re talking about a lot of effort, hard work, in unhealthy environments (turpentine, arc welding, etc.).
One might ask, why spend your life in an environment that could kill you? If I could do differently, I would. I cannot. I feel that this is my calling. I deeply love what I do, with the good and bad. Things are not easy and simple, and until you get your result you can make mistakes, you go through a lot of stages. When you put your knowledge, your work, your thought into a work of art, the resulting object has its own vibrations. These vibrations are what the viewer perceives, especially someone who tries to discover more through art. There are many types of viewers, and each has his place. To prevent any misunderstandings, it’s not necessary to have special knowledge in order to enjoy a work of art, because you can perceive and understand it with the eyes of the soul. A sensitive person can fully understand a work of art, as much, or more, than an expert.
You accept every viewer’s reception of the work of art as valid.
But if you think of an ideal viewer, would you rather instigate them to think, to ask questions and try to solve the enigma, or rather feel, surrender, without trying to analyse?
As I said before, everyone is welcome. Each one has his own reason, his own substance, and is a member of the same “gang”. I mean anyone could make any projection on the work of art, as long as they don’t vandalise it. They can criticise it, they can praise it, they can ponder, or they can appreciate it solely as an image, a decoration. Anything goes. This is art’s purpose, to provide a zone of unlimited paths. If a work of art has limited scope and everything is predetermined, you restrict the viewers into perceiving the work in one particular way. There is this school of thought, where the creator favours absolutes, asks the viewer to see something specific and to acknowledge the artist’s competence.
To what extent are you concerned with beauty, with the aesthetic value of a work of art?
Look, I am an obsessive creator, and leave nothing to chance. A work of art is essentially a set of images and totally abstract elements coming from a person’s inner world. These are shapeless, odourless, massless. Like when you have a sort of dream and you want to describe to someone else the pleasant taste it has left in your mouth, but you can’t; this is the artist’s job. To take all these dreams and ghosts and images that make up his essence, pluck them from their haziness, and lay them down in the most comprehensive achievable way, so as to recreate the nearest possible condition to the one he experienced. The better you convey all these elements from within yourself, the better the viewer perceives what you have to tell. This is what art is all about, or else there are just some pretty images that catch the eye.
Left: Anatasis in Voula’s Central square (Attica) Right: Cosmicon at Vanke Midtown Mall (Suzhou, China)
When such a concept is formed in you, is it always clear whether you will be able to render it through painting or sculpture?
No, it’s not. When you have the advantage of being active in two different branches you certainly have more possibilities. Painting and sculpture are inextricably linked, they’re communicating vessels. One borrows elements from the other. Painting describes the three dimensions; sculpture possesses them, but is limited by its materials. In a painting you can create various environments, in a sculpture you have to take functionality into account. Thus, each has its advantages.
Have you ever begun working on a painting only to decide that you should render your concept through a sculpture instead (or vice versa)?
Yes, this can happen too, a painting can eventually prove to be the sketch for a sculpture. It has quite often happened to me and left me amazed at how some things had been right there for me to see, and until then I hadn’t adapted them into sculptures. I was at the time probably too absorbed with fulfilling my aspirations in painting, so I missed what I was able to discern after a given time.
People often think of artists as loafers but, on the contrary, it’s someone ever vigilant. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve caught myself, in moments of relaxation or pressure, conceiving ideas which were of decisive importance for my work. Even when I’m putting myself to sleep, what I think about -instead of counting sheep- is how I’m going to build my next work.
Left: Galileo & Equus Right: Installation – Pompi A’
You also create music.
Music falls into the same category. It’s not that I’m trying to pose as a universal genius or anything; it is just a need that has emerged in me, to approach art through a different medium. After all, sounds have a colour, just like colour has a sound. This is the reasoning behind my ventures in music.
Your music does share a common aesthetic with your visual art. Is it a way to express even more of yourself that you can’t convey through other means?
Definitely. Although I’m not a musician as I am self-taught, I love creating sound and try to do it through the perspective of visual arts. This too falls into the same range of actions and reactions. Music doesn’t come very easily to me; I need a period of cooling down, a time to allow ideas to settle, in order to be able to enter this world.
To tell you the truth -with no disrespect to all my following teachers- everything I have gained as an artist and a painter was thanks to my first teacher, Panos Kousoutzidis, in Thessaloniki, where I grew up. He was a true giant, although mostly obscure to the public. He lived as a hermit; he was a philosopher and a magnificent artist. After all these years, and being now older than he was then, I still feel the same reverence towards him. He could have been one of the most renowned artists in the world if it wasn’t for his disdain for the lowly interactions that could have secured him recognition. I was lucky enough to meet him when I was around 14, along with another friend of mine, at one of his exhibitions, and to our great fortune he agreed to take us on as students, even though he was a recluse. He spoke four languages, knew Sanskrit and owned an outstanding library featuring all the great authors. He was the one to make us understand that art was more than images, something I understood better with time.
Left: Pope Right: Stalker D
Keep in mind that, by the time I entered the School of Fine Arts I had already 10 solo exhibitions to my credit. I went to the school and worked, although I had my own workshop. There I could meet people who shared my interests, so it mostly functioned as a hub for ideas and for interacting with important artists and masters. Therefore it held an important role in my formation. The same is true for the Royal Imperial College. It was the environment and the interactions that mattered., as well as the fact that traveling, learning and analysing helps you overcome your insecurities, see things clearer, tell fake from genuine more easily. These are the better things that come with age and experience, as long as you have critical thinking – something often lacking in mass society.
To what extent would you say that your country has defined you? Whether we’re talking about the landscape, light and shapes, or about heritage, given the use of certain recurring mythological and historic themes in your art?
I don’t know if this can be clearly determined. As we said earlier, one’s environment plays a role; I would be exposed to completely different images if I was born somewhere else. I believe that sometimes your life can be determined by a random event. An opportunity or an adversity can open a new road. I’m not sure of every event which has shaped me as an artist. I believe one of the things that prompted me to this path was the influence of my older brother, who was into cinema, and I read his books on cinema theory and philosophy that I could barely understand as a young boy, mostly I got a sense of those things. But my interest in painting really became clear once I met my teacher, Kousoutzidis.
If I could give an explanation as to what defined me I would say it’s my sensitivity in my perception of the world. My eyes notice things others may not observe. Of course now this is a matter of habit, since this is the tool for my job.
Phylax in Palaio Faliro
What about Phylax? I understand it won’t be restored to its original location in Palaio Faliro.
I didn’t want Phylax to be returned there because I believe it would again be subject to similar attacks by this same group of people. It must be noted that this was a minority, albeit a very belligerent one, as is often the case with such minorities. This work of art has been subject to many insults. The first one was of a farcical nature; a group of people claimed it portrayed Satan and sprinkled it with holy water. But then there were the actually violent elements that pulled down the statue. The final insult came from the inaction when it came to ensuring its restoration. The Ministry of Culture had a tepid reaction, as did the Chamber of Fine Arts.
Through all this, I got a deeper understanding of the structure of Greek society and how toxic it can become, of who really supports freedom in art and who is narrow-minded. We must however say that most people were saddened by these events. The location where the statue was placed was completely neutral and humdrum. And now it has gone back to being just that. What’s worse, this situation deterred all those sponsors who had wished to finance the installation of more works of art in public spaces in the area. The Chamber of Fine Arts made matters worse by seeking to introduce a procedure of public tendering, which can’t work out since a sponsor usually wants to provide funding for a specific artist that he has in mind. So in a word, no, the statue will not be restored.
Diver in Ios island
Has this experience made you more reluctant to take on commissions for public art works?
No, not at all; in fact one of my works was very recently installed on the port of Ios island, and in a few days another one will be placed in Varkiza. A year ago an artwork was installed in Alexandroupoli. This whole story didn’t cause me insecurity; after all, there are works of mine displayed in cities abroad. At the time, I was plied with questions and interview requests from every possible source, which got in the way of my work, so I decided to hang up the phone instead of giving in to these distractions for the sake of publicity. I think that withdrawing from all this attention and the public feud fueled by the media was the best choice.
*Interview by Nefeli Mosaidi
Read also via Greek News Agenda: Panos Charalambous on the 180 year history of Athens School of Fine Arts; Denys Zacharopoulos: A museum should function as an open window between the private and the public life of people; Alexandros Psychoulis on the idea of symbiotic bliss & the reality of working as a visual artist in Greece; Dimitris Mytaras at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Andros
Antonis Tzanakopoulos is Associate Professor of Public International Law at the Faculty of Law and Fellow in Law at St Anne's College, University of Oxford. He has taught as a visitor at the Universities of Paris (Paris X – Nanterre), Angers, London (King's College), Athens (National and Kapodistrian), at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, and at the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing. He was previously lecturer in international law at University College London and at the University of Glasgow. Antonios has also delivered a special course at the Xiamen Academy of International Law in 2017 and has been invited by the Curatorium of The Hague Academy of International Law to serve as Director of Studies in 2021.
Tzanakopoulos studied law in Athens, New York, and Oxford, during which time he also worked as a Researcher for the Hellenic Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Athens and New York and for the UN Office in Geneva, and as a Graduate Teaching Assistant for the Faculty of Law at Oxford. He is a general international lawyer and has published in a number of areas reflecting his varied research interests. His books include Disobeying the Security Council (OUP 2011) The Settlement of International Disputes (Hart 2012), The UN Convention on Jurisdictional Immunities of States and their Property (OUP 2013) and the Research Handbook on the Law of Treaties (Elgar 2014). He has also published in the fields of the law of the sea, international investment law, and others.
In his interview with the Press and Communications Office of the Embassy of Greece in London, Antonis Tzanakopoulos talks about the Prespes Agreement, issues of Greek Foreign Policy, the Brexit perils and globalization.
Professor Tzanakopoulos, you have developed a long and illustrious career in Public international Law both as an academic and as a state and international organisations and private entities expert and advisor on international law issues. What has motivated you to develop such a keen interest in international law? What challenges does each of these capacities (academic and expert) pose to you?
Thank you for your warm words. It is difficult to trace exactly where the interest in international law came from. I guess it is due, in equal measure, to an early fascination with the vocabulary used by lawyers, this exotic language that is not understood by outsiders, and to an interest in (international) politics and history developed during my secondary education. In school I participated in Model United Nations competitions, and then in the first year of law school in Athens I had some fantastic professors teaching international law. This pretty much sealed the deal early on. Since then, I have been in a love-hate relationship with the subject, which continues to fascinate me.
As for my two distinct roles, that of an academic and that of a practicing international lawyer, the biggest challenges that they pose are the pressure that is put on my time, leaving space for little else, and the care that is required that neither is ‘left behind’. But being able to act as both is hugely rewarding, as doctrinal analysis, legal practice, and teaching are in a constant feedback loop with one another. Each informs and is informed by the other, and this allows one a good and inclusive view of the whole field.
You have had an extensive academic career in the UK. How do you compare the academic environment and educational system of the country to the Greek equivalent?
A very difficult question. Each have their own significant upsides and downsides. Trying to be diplomatic (this is an Embassy newsletter after all), I would say that, when it comes to tertiary education, UK facilities and organisation are an obvious plus (which, it could be said, is quite a minus in Greece), but on the other hand it cannot be ignored that this comes at what I think is an enormous cost to the students in terms of fees (and consequently also access). Greece, despite various problems including chronic underinvestment, has excellent – and indeed consistently excellent – quality in the education provided at the tertiary level. This is evident in the disproportionate number of Greek-university-educated students accepted for postgraduate degrees in top UK universities.
Greek PM Alexis Tsipras and North Macedonia PM Zoran Zaev (Wikimedia Commons)
Despite the international community considering the Prespes Agreement to be an important step in promoting peace and stability in the Balkan area and an ideal way to resolve an almost thirty-year-long bilateral dispute, some Greek political groups and part of public opinion did not accept this view. What do you think about the future of this agreement? Which factors do you think will influence the agreement’s success in the future?
The Prespes Agreement is a very significant achievement, not only for Greece, but also for the Balkans. And even beyond our immediate neighbourhood, it provides a blueprint for the resolution of highly politicised and highly sensitive disputes between states that touch upon such sensitive areas as history, ethnic origin, culture, and so on. In my view, the Prespes Agreeement is extremely beneficial for Greece on a number of levels: not only does it reverse a situation where the vast majority of States in the world had recognized our neighbour with its former constitutional name, ie the Republic of Macedonia, it also safeguards Greek history and culture (in particular through Article 7), and opens up a great number of areas for cooperation with one of our closest neighbours.
Now, it is true that, as you say, some political groups and a part of public opinion were not ‘convinced’. However, I should distinguish between the two, as I do not think that both are ‘unpersuaded’ for the same reasons. As far as part of the political establishment is concerned, it is clear to me that they have no substantive reason for being unpersuaded. They raise hollow legalistic points, which have been responded to convincingly by both local and international legal scholars (eg with respect to the term ‘nationality’ and what it means, or with respect to provisions regarding trademarks etc). But they use these points, which are necessarily obscure to the great majority of lay people, not because of genuine concern (as the points are baseless), but rather in order to avoid proper political engagement with fundamental points about what Greece is and how it should be conducting its policies towards its neighbours, as well as about how we as Greeks understand ourselves and our history. Their nationalist rhetoric is rather aimed at provoking sentimental reactions, and parts of the Greek population have fallen for that. This is understandable, but very very dangerous indeed. However, I think there has been a serious attempt on the part of those who are in favour of the agreement to lay to waste the legalistic arguments of the deal’s opponents, and to explain and expose the deep insecurities that we must address as a people. The way to do this is not to take it out on a small state to our north, but rather to seek peaceful cooperation.
As for the deal itself, I think it is a blueprint for the resolution of relevant disputes globally. It contains a number of mechanisms in order to safeguard its full and fruitful implementation, and these constitute an excellent insurance policy for the future. These include cooperation commissions in various subject areas, as well as carefully calibrated dispute settlement mechanisms. The agreement is already seen as a paradigmatic achievement, and in a few years it will have proven its worth, even for those in Greece that are currently criticizing it.
How would you comment on the efforts of the Greek government both to develop a more outward looking foreign policy and upgrade Greece’s role in the Balkans and East Mediterranean? Based on your experience as a scholar living in the UK, how do you think Greece’s efforts to play an active role in the East Mediterranean are viewed by British foreign policy that historically has had an interest in this area? Do you think that there may be a revived interest of the UK in the region of East Mediterranean?
Outward-looking foreign policy is, in my view, the only proper policy for a state like Greece, with its strategic geopolitical position in the Eastern Mediterranean. It is an excellent opportunity for Greece to take initiatives at a time of turmoil in the region, and to show itself as the trusted, stable partner that conducts itself in accordance with international law and in a cooperative spirit. The UK will certainly welcome a stable European regional power taking an initiative in what has traditionally been a turbulent area of the world.
What will, in your opinion, be the challenges for Greece’s foreign policy in the coming years?
I think a major challenge will be to capitalise on this new outward-looking foreign policy and its initially fruitful results. Resolving disputes with our neighbours, in particular maritime delimitations that will enable us to make use of resources in the sea that have been ‘locked into’ disputes, the Cyprus problem, and so forth, should be at the forefront of our policy, as indeed it is, and will present challenges, but not challenges that we cannot deal with. With each issue we resolve, each challenge that we deal with, we strengthen Greece’s profile and reputation, as we strengthen the country’s development potential.
The referendum on the UK’s future in the EU has brought an extended political dispute to the country, which after three years is still an unresolved issue. What is the cause of this delay and do you think that the situation could be considered a “constitutional crisis”? And if so, what does this crisis entail?
Another huge question (or rather set of questions) that I will try to deal with as succinctly as possible. First of all, the cause of the delay lies in the fact that the UK government made undeliverable promises in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum. The adoption of a hard Brexit stance, promising that the UK would exit both the common marked and the customs union, all the while ensuring access to that market on favourable terms, basically meant that the UK government had to achieve the unachievable. While this bought the government some time domestically, at the level of negotiations with the EU it became clear very quickly that the UK could only achieve a deal along the lines of the one it presented to Parliament at the end of 2018. Such a deal would (and did) ultimately alienate both the hardliners, who wished for a clean break (which would come with enormous economic pain) and who had been placated and encouraged by the government’s initially hard stance, and those who would looked to a soft Brexit in order to honour the referendum result but also to ensure continuity and close cooperation with the EU for a minimum of economic harm to the UK.
All this came to a head in Parliament when the latter came to vote (repeatedly) on the deal, with the government playing for time in the hope that a looming no-deal Brexit would force MPs to ‘hold their nose’ and approve the deal. This strategy failed, and for a number of reasons: the expectations that the government’s hard stance had created in the hard-Brexiteers, the disastrous decision of Theresa May to go to an election in 2017 which resulted in her loss of a parliamentary majority, the further disastrous decision not to try and foster some sort of cross-party cooperation in view of the wholly foreseeable split between hard and soft/no Brexit in the ranks of MPs from both major parties, and the general lack of flexibility for Tory party-political reasons. All this has led us in the midst of a full-blown constitutional crisis which has harmed the image and reputation of the UK and its political system, and which it will take a long time to recover.
The crisis, however, was not inevitable, as should be evident from what I have already said. A more sensible policy would be a far less rigid interpretation of the referendum result, with a concomitant attempt to achieve some sort of national and parliamentary consensus as to what the national line of negotiation would be. Here is a counter-example, which, if it did not avoid vigorous parliamentary battles, did in the end achieve the ratification of a major deal: Greece established a national negotiating line as to how to resolve the Macedonian name issue in 2008, and the Greek government delivered on this fully in 2018. This led to the ratification of the Prespes Agreement in parliament despite the SYRIZA government also being a minority government, as is the Tory government in the UK.
What do you think will be the consequences (economical and political) of Brexit to the European entity? In particular, do you think that Greece could be seriously affected by Brexit?
This question is difficult to answer, as it is currently still unclear what form Brexit will take. Barring any sort of no-deal Brexit, the consequences for the EU will be minimal, even if they will be significant for the UK. Greece will not be seriously impacted in any such situation.
What is at stake as regards to the outcome of the EU Parliamentary election in May?
Quite a lot, in particular in view of current polling, which shows a significant rise in the representation of anti-European voices from the right and far right in the next European Parliament. I fear that this will be detrimental to the European project, whatever view one might take of its development and success thus far. I would say that it is important to respond to such extremist, nationalist, divisive views as those coming from the far right not by reiterating how fantastic the European project and the EU really is, but by acknowledging that many things need to be revisited, re-discussed, and potentially changed in the European Union. It is ok to be pro-Europe and take a critical stance towards the manner in which the European project has developed and what it has become. Unfortunately, politicians think that people have little appetite for nuance and for complex arguments. This is where they lose to the far right: the far right will make a simplistic, clear argument against the status quo which is far more convincing than any attempt to make a simplistic, clear and convincing argument in favour of the status quo—this will just alienate all those who are clearly unhappy with it and for good reason. It is thus upon those of us who are serious about Europe to put forward a nuanced argument in favour of Europe, recognizing its shortcomings and the need for fundamental reform. This is the only way to get those who are currently disenchanted to dismiss the extremist anti-European voices and to join in an attempt to construct a Europe that works for the European peoples.
For more than 2 decades globalisation and the fierce opposition against it has seemed like an unstoppable phenomenon. This can be seen in interactions on a commercial, transactional, governmental, cultural and societal level. What is your opinion on the phenomenon?
Well, to the extent that anybody could have an opinion on a fact, and globalization is a fact, not a policy, I would say that it is obviously here to stay. However, we should be careful when using the term globalisation, in particular when also coupling it with ‘opposition’ to it. I am not aware of any serious opposition to the increasing interaction of people, governments, traders, professionals, cultural groups, political groups, etc, beyond borders—unless of course you are referring to marginal communities that refuse to use electricity and eschew contact with modern technology and the outside world.
Globalisation as a phenomenon is neither good nor bad. It is just a fact of life, given the tremendous technological advances in all areas and types of communication over the last decades. There is of course opposition, but it is opposition to particular kind of globalisation: globalisation of capital, globalisation of one particular political agenda, globalisation of certain economic actors who dominate areas of economic activity around the world, globalisation, in short, that is neoliberal in character. I think that this is understandable, and indeed right. People should fight against the type of globalisation that they do not want, and seek to promote the type of globalisation that they do wish to see—such as for example the globalisation of environmental standards of protection, of equal rights, and of equality and solidarity more generally.
Globalisation has set some important dilemmas to nations, governments, political actors, public opinion influencers and social communities: is it possible to bypass the national sovereignty of a country when there is a human rights violation taking place? How legitimate is the intervention of the international community as regards the reinstitution of democratic institutions and the protection of freedom and human rights?
This is a question on which I could be talking for a very long time, as I have written about it and it is close to my heart. Legally, and in short, we do have means of intervention in cases of violations of human rights, humanitarian norms, and other rules of international law. It’s called the United Nations, and the Security Council has the power to take significant measures, including through armed force, in order to maintain or restore international peace and security wherever this is threatened. And even the UN General Assembly can intervene when the Security Council is unable to act due to the veto of a recalcitrant permanent member of the Council, through the process established by the Uniting for Peace resolution.
Even states can individually or in groups take measures that put pressure on states that violate human rights, whether lawful but unfriendly measures (such as downsizing diplomatic representation, withdrawing voluntary aid, refusing to invest or to make trade deals etc), or even countermeasures, ie violations of the law towards the target state that are taken in response to that state’s violations of human rights or other international legal obligations.
And international civil society can also take measures to intervene in such situations and put pressure on states that violate international law. What is however illegal, and in my view never legitimate, is unilateral intervention by states into other states through the use of armed force. Forcible intervention under the pretext of protection of human rights or of democracy has always proved to be simply a cover for far less honourable intentions, and—more importantly—has always singularly failed to protect democracy or human rights. Note that I am talking about unilateral intervention, ie intervention by one or a few states deciding for themselves, and not about intervention by the international community through the collective decision of a global organisation such as the UN.
Would you say that we are currently living in an increasingly inward-looking world, with a tendency to protectionism, strict borders, nationalism and traditionalism, or on the contrary do you believe technology and international shared interests will boost the ‘global village’ no matter what?
There is nothing ‘natural’ or deterministic about where we are and where we are going. This will be determined by the political decisions that we make, about whether we will understand that we need global action to protect the environment, to reverse the trend of ever-expanding growth and neoliberal policies which hurt both the people and the planet, and so forth. Action to address these issues will hopefully lead to a global village living in peace, equality, and solidarity. This is within reach. But continuing on the current trend will just lead to a global village of capital in increasing contrast to centrifugal, nationalist, tribalist, and far-right forces.
There is a growing perception that international law is impotent, that there is no effective sanction for its violation. As one reads about civil wars, humanitarian crisis, abuses of human rights, torture and mistreatment of prisoners, we see a very casual attitude taken towards the Geneva Convention, as if this is not binding legislation. Would you agree with such a perception? What threats would such an attitude provoke for the international community?
I do not agree with this perception. International law is a peculiar area of the law. It deals with states, that is to say with quintessentially imaginary entities, entities that do not actually exist except in our minds and constituted there as entities by the law itself. This is the concept of a legal entity, of which the state is one. We tend to anthropomorphise the state, to imagine it as being a unitary entity that acts, feels, and thinks like a natural person, like me and you. This leads most people to imagine that states ought to be ‘punished’ when they violate the law, and that law which does not lead to court cases and to corporeal sanctioning of sorts is not really law. This is a fundamental error in thinking if one wishes to understand how international law operates.
Sanctions do exist, and while they are not always as effective as we might wish, they do serve to induce compliance with international law. Violations of international law, however, are best averted through the fear of sanctions, reputational costs, financial costs, cooperation costs, and others (which is the case, by the way, with all law). This is a long discussion, which I do hold with my students in Oxford at the start of each academic year. It would take too long to discuss further here, but I am happy for those interested to join us in Oxford for a course on public international law!
Finally, it is important to highlight how the expression ‘international law is impotent’ tends to anthropomorphise not the state this time, but the law! International law cannot be powerful or impotent. International law is simply rules made by states, and its content depends on the decisions and behaviour of the states, who are the makers of international law. So whatever qualms we may have regarding the power and content of international law, we only have our states, and thus ourselves, and the policies that we enable in our states, to blame.
Given the disputes among UN Security Council members (US-Russia, US-China, UK-Russia, UK-France concerning Brexit), how effective could the Council be in deciding to maintain international peace and security, in developing friendly relations between countries, in cooperating to solve international problems, in promoting respect for human rights and in coordinating the actions of member states?
The Security Council is legally awesomely powerful. The UN Charter gives the Council very significant powers of intervention in all sorts of issues. Also, the Security Council has demonstrated, that it can use that power to good or bad effect, as well as that it may be relegated to impotence because of political and legal disputes between its permanent members. I have written a whole book on this issue, called Disobeying the Security Council and published by Oxford University Press, and given relevant lectures, one of which is available for all to watch on the website of the United Nations Audiovisual Library of International Law. There I argue that the Security Council can be a fantastic and a terrible tool, and it depends on how states decide to use it, if at all. In short: the Security Council can harness enormous power when states decide to act together. But please do not assume that when states, and in particular the permanent members, decide to act together, this is necessarily for what you or I would consider a ‘good cause’. Sometimes disagreement between the states means precisely that there are issues that need to be resolved and agreed upon before these awesome powers of the Council are used.
To conclude, what do you think are the biggest challenges to both the international law and International law organizations at the moment?
I think the greatest challenge of our time is climate change and the protection of the environment. But this also relates to the dominant economic model around the world, which is not sustainable. Our fixation with growth and profit will be detrimental to the planet and to all of us. But this is not a challenge for international law: it is a challenge for international and national politics. International law has the tools, very effective tools, for dealing with these issues. What is lacking is not international law, but political will to use it to address global challenges. It is this political will that we should work towards creating, and international law will be there to give us the tools that we need to put it into effect.
During WWII, Athens remained under Axis occupation from April 1941 to October 1944. The international conference “The Occupier’s Gaze: Athens in the Photographs of the German Soldiers, 1941-1944” held by the Directorate of Modern Cultural Heritage of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports, on 12 April 2019, shed light on rare historical evidence, illustrating an aspect of that time we do not often think about: the way the occupied Greece, with its reach history and symbolisms for European culture, was viewed by the conquering forces.
Greek News Agenda spoke* with Hilary Roberts of the Imperial War Museums (IWM), regarding her paper presented at the conference, titled “A Foreign Perspective: German and British Photography in Greece 1940-1945”; drawing on the photographic collections of the German Bundesarchiv and Britain’s IWM, Roberts considers the perspectives of German and British photographers who worked in Greece in that period.
Hilary Roberts is a Senior Curator of Photography at Imperial War Museums. A specialist in the history and practice of conflict photography, she has numerous publications and exhibitions to her name, including The Great War: A Photographic Narrative (Jonathan Cape/Knopf, 2013), a highly praised overview of photography in WWI. Roberts works closely with photographers, curators, researchers and writers who document or respond to contemporary conflict. In 2014, she was appointed a Canon Master with a remit to mentor young photographers. In 2017, Roberts became the first British curator to receive the Royal Photographic Society’s prestigious award for curatorship.
How much do we know about the background of these German and British photographers who worked in Greece during the Second World War? Were they mostly working for their countries’ respective armies, for national news agencies or for international organisations?
Public interest in these photographers has grown considerably in recent years. Thanks to international research, much more is known about them today than at any point in the past. But research is not complete and there are still important gaps in our knowledge.
Most of the British and German photographers were serving with the armed forces of their respective nations. Professional photographers were not exempt from conscription in either country. Many ended up working as military photographers after being called up for war service. Official controls and limited access to photographic materials curtailed the activities of all civilian photographers in Greece, regardless of nationality. The German and British propaganda ministries played a big part in determining what was photographed and how. News agencies and international organisations published the output of military photographers but could not commission work from them directly.
Your paper discusses the extent to which these collections “support a genuine understanding of the war's impact on Greece”. Do you have a definite answer to this question?
Both collections make an important contribution to understanding. Without them, our understanding can never be complete. But – as I mentioned in my paper – these collections only tell part of the story. For a fuller understanding, it is essential to consider other collections as well, especially those held in Greece itself.
Photographs can contextualise and be contextualised by other media forms, such as film, oral testimony, documents and art. In my opinion, a genuine understanding of the war in Greece depends on the ability to connect, study and interpret the many regional, national and international collections which address different aspects of this subject.
How much do the perspectives of German and British photographers differ between them? And to what extent do they converge?
One area in which the perspectives of German and British photographers diverge is the way in which they portrayed the Greek people. German photographers saw the Greeks through the lens of Nazi ideology. British photographers saw the Greeks as friends and allies.
Nevertheless, British and Germans photographers do have converging perspectives in some areas. These were often connected to propaganda requirements. Tourism is one example; the photographers of both nations produced very similar photographs of the classical sites. Another is the documentation of military conquest and defeat.
In the end, how much does the gaze of the ally differ to that of the occupier? Does the quality of being a foreigner determine this gaze more than the presence (or absence) of a friendly predisposition?
While the perspective of foreign and local photographers will always be different, the quality of a foreign photographer’s gaze is potentially greater if that photographer is welcome. However, a photographer’s status as ally or enemy is not the only factor which determines how a conflict is photographed (see next question).
You have numerous broadcasts and publications on photography during the two World Wars, while recently you curated an exhibition by award‐winning photojournalist Sergey Ponomarev on the Syrian conflict. Do you notice significant differentiations between war photography then and now?
The formative influences on war photography have been remarkably consistent throughout the genre’s long history. Factors which influence how any conflict is photographed include access to events, ethical principles, technology and of course the status, motivation and working methods of photographers and their publishers. The variations within these factors change how a conflict is photographed. For example, digital technology and internet publishing are two key technological changes, which have affected every aspect of conflict photography in the 21st century.
1. Left: A Greek farmer at Agios Petros, Andros, 20 March 1944. Photograph by Kriegsberichter Werner Teschendorf, PK 690 ©Bundesarchiv. Werner Teschendorf published two books on X-Ray photography before the war. He also worked as a stills photographer in the German film industry in the 1930s. During the war he served as a military photographer with Propaganda Kompanie 690.
Right: A combat camera team at the British Army Film and Photographic Unit headquarters, Pinewood Film Studios, England, September 1944. Photograph by Lt J E Barker, AFPU ©IWM.
2. Hilary Roberts, photo by Alison Baskerville
3. Processing photographs in the German Propaganda Kompanie office in Athens, April 1942. Photograph by Kriegsberichter Pache, PK 690 ©Bundesarchiv.
4. Left: German troops view the Caryatids of the Erechttheion at the Acropolis, Athens, May 1941. Photograph by Kriegsberichter Theodor Scheerer, PK 690 ©Bundesarchiv.
Right: British soldiers Sergeant R Gregory and Driver A Hardman admire the Caryatids during a tour of the Acropolis in Athens, October 1944. Photograph by Captain A R Tanner, AFPU ©IWM.
5. British and Greek leaders at the Anglo-Hellenic Naval Memorial Service in Athens, 22 October 1944. British photographers portrayed the Greek people as friends and allies. Photograph by Lt D C Oulds, Royal Navy ©IWM. Left to right: Vice Admiral P Voulgaris (C in C Royal Hellenic Navy); Rear Admiral Mansfield J M RN, (OC British Warships in Greece); George Papandreou (Prime Minister of Greece); Lt Gen R M Scobie, (GOC British Forces in Greece). Dennis Oulds worked for the Central Press news agency as a press photographer before and after the Second World War. He covered the full range of news stories but was particularly known for sports photography. Oulds joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in 1940 as a photographer with the rank of Honorary Lieutenant. As an official naval photographer, Oulds covered the war on land and at sea in the Atlantic, Far East and Mediterranean theatres. He also covered the crossing of the Rhine and the Yalta conference.
Read also via Greek News Agenda: 12 October 1944 - Free Athens: Interview with historian Yannis Skalidakis; “The Unknown Famine: Athens 1941-1942” Exhibition & Conference; Greece under the Nazis: The German soldiers' perspective
Michalis Sotiropoulos is a historian of modern Europe, currently employed as a post-doctoral researcher at the Research Center for the Humanities in Athens. He received his PhD in History from the University of London and has taught at the Universities of London and Athens, while during 2016-17, he was a post-doctoral research associate at Princeton University. His research interests lie in the history of ideas in the long nineteenth century, with an emphasis on Southern Europe. Greek News Agenda* had the opportunity to interview him on the intellectual origins of the Greek State, Greek liberalism and the historiography of the Greek revolution of 1821.
Your research has focused on the trajectory of Greek liberalism in the 19th century. What are the main features of this ideological current and how did they help shape the Modern Greek State?
This is the basic question I posed when I started my thesis. It took me about four years and 250 pages to reach a conclusion. Let me start by saying what Greek liberalism was NOT. And I start from this because one of the greatest problems of Greek historiography is its reluctance to shake some of its many foundational myths. In my case, it is the pervasive ‘modernisation’ saga that unfortunately does not inform only historical scholarship. How often do we hear about Greek society lacking this and that compared to ‘Europe’, about Greeks being unruly, and so and so forth? Apart from the rather underdeveloped comparative skills they show, such arguments and the outdated epistemological frameworks on which they are based do not advance research. Although many European historiographies have abandoned these frameworks, to a large extent we have not. And the crisis added insult to injury.
So, the problem I faced from the outset was that for most historians, Greek liberalism was backward, underdeveloped, not more than a bad copy of some ‘core’ European or Western liberalism. But this last thing is a post-war historiographical fiction. As historians have for some time argued, liberalism included different currents (conservative, elitist, moderate, radical, you name it) and was a political language -and this is the word increasingly used and not ideology- that was open-ended, heterogeneous, inclusive but also conscious of and adaptable to local political contexts.
The primary contribution of my research is to put Greek liberalism into this discussion. In doing so, I came up with a rather complicated picture. First, Greek liberalism was not only alive and kicking in the 19th century. It was also rather original. The reason of course was that the political context—that of the making of a state that had come out of revolution and secession from an empire—was rather original. That was also what made Greek liberals be rather eclectic in the intellectual sources they drew upon. The result was very rich: a fusion of liberal idioms of their times with Enlightenment civilizational discourses that took a new life after the 1820s.
A second feature was the heterogeneity of Greek liberalism. And it was this feature that made it into a versatile force in nineteenth-century Greek politics. To be sure, they were things everyone agreed on: the emphasis on rights, putting checks on power, the press, an active civil life, on European civilization and its right to rule over ‘underdeveloped’ or uncivilised peoples. More importantly, Greek liberals did not embrace a narrowly understood legal individualism. For them individual rights originated in law and political institutions, not against them. They thus embraced the state and the monarchy seeking to transform both. In other words, Greek liberalism was developed as a language of statehood, an idiom that legitimised the state and did not seek to put limits to its exercise of power.
But it was here, on the state and its relation with society where strong disagreement occurred. Some liberals, like for example Pavlos Kalligas, Markos Renieris, or Petros Paparrigopoulos (mostly civil lawyers, the ‘Romanists’ as I call them), developed an elitist or ‘contractual’ current that focused on two ideas: private property as the material foundation of a strong and independent society and a rule-based administrative state (‘Κράτος Δικαίου’, Rechtsstaat) that would work as the manager of the country—a provider of services rather than an embodiment of power. It is important to note that these scholars never questioned the sources of political legitimacy of the monarchical state, but sought to transform it through nonpolitical reforms.
Others such as Nikolaos Saripolos or Ioannis Soutsos developed a more radical current, the ‘constitutionalist’. Drawing on the revolutionary tradition of rights and national sovereignty (J.B. Say, Sismondi, ‘industrialism’, Benjamin Constant, but also eighteenth-century sources) and trying to make individuality compatible with the national state, these scholars shifted the emphasis from personal freedom to the rights of society and the ‘public’. Worried about rulers concentrating power, they sought to expand political participation and crucially to put more contestation in the representation of national sovereignty. These scholars, spoke in terms of sovereignty as self-rule and of the state as a moral person.
What was probably more important in the long run was that these ideas informed a ‘transformation of thought’, which, in light of the failure of monarchical policies, was made into a political alternative to monarchical statehood. This was developed through a jurisprudential and political activism, politicking, participation in the government, as well as through their prolific writing and teaching. These were not armchair liberals. They played a key role in the major political transformations of the era and especially in the revolution of 1862 (a long liberal moment that saw the formation of the opposition against King Otto, and a constitutional revolution that lasted more or less until 1875. In that sense, the way I see it, Greek liberalism provided the intellectual foundations upon which the nineteenth-century modern Greek state was built.
Would you argue there was a difference in the conceptualization of the State between Greek and other European liberal currents?
It depends on the comparison. In general, I think that Greek liberalism has many common traits with continental liberalism. But compared for example to the French, Greek liberals were more attentive to the revolutionary tradition. That is not to say that they were necessarily radicals. The Romanists were not. This became clear even during the period of the Constituent Assembly of 1862-64, when they opposed efforts to expand political participation and representation and fell back to advocating very narrow property qualifications in suffrage. And yet, like the German Rechtsstaat thinkers of the 1840s and 1850s they stood to the left of the French Doctrinaires.
The same goes for the more radical strand, the ‘constitutionalists’, for whom central concern was how to give political expression to national sovereignty eliminating, at the same time, the chance of the usurpation of this sovereign power. In emphasizing political participation, public action and a robust political life, they were influenced by Constant, and Tocqueville among others. And yet they stood to the left of them as evidenced by several propositions they made: the need to expand political participation and to give expression to different opinions and partial interests, or the importance of political institutions and of the state for the welfare of the citizens. To these we should add the two key arguments that played out in the revolution against Otto: the criticism against the curtailed sovereignty which the Great Powers had imposed on Greece; and the claim that royal power was part of the sovereign power of the nation, not external to it or neutral, as the 1844 constitutional arrangement (and Constant) had it.
What were the main ideological opponents of Greek liberalism at the time? Were there competitive theoretical currents with different social origins in the Greek public sphere?
Although we need more work on that, I think that the main ideological opponent was the Bavarians. We are not used to seeing intellectual opposition as something important for the period, but gradually the main opponent was not the monarchy as such, but its specific ideas of governance. These were informed by the theory of the Police state, the Polizeistaat, which was associated with ‘enlightened absolutism’ and aimed at enhancing the ‘happiness of the state’. This last one was not understood in terms of individual self-realisation but in terms of the ‘well-being’ of the ‘population’. Although liberals formed their visions against this political technology emphasising individual virtues and rights, they never lost sight of society, the ‘public’ and in particular of the role of the state. The reason was that they saw the state as an agent of an alternative liberal governmentality that would ‘produce’ a national economy based on private property, and a contractual legal framework. More important in the context of a failing monarchy, was the constitutionalists’ claim that the nation as sovereign should be on its toes, in case its power is usurped. In other words, for them the right to revolution was a constitutional right.
Were you able to discern cases of personal ideological transformations? Or would you say that the positioning of 19th century intellectuals in Greece was static?
If there is a word that these scholars would probably NOT have known is the word static. And this should not be considered as a disadvantage. Ideological rigidity could not be part of their way of being in the world and of their thinking. We should not forget that they were key players in a political project which was in the making—we should not forget that the very existence of the new state, its survival and its changing conditions of being were questions that needed different at times answers. In such conditions, rigidity was a luxury they could not afford. It is easier today to be sure. Apart from this structural, so to speak reason, there is also a sociological reason for their intellectual flexibility. These were people who were children of the Greek revolution in the sense that they had to move because of it—they were too young to participate in it. Saripolos moved from Cyprus to Trieste, Kalligas from Cephalonia to Trieste, Rallis from Istanbul to Vienna etc. This mobility characterized also later their professional lives. At times, they were lawyers, judges, professors at the University, ministers, members of legislative committees. In a way they personify what Giorgos Dertilis has identified as a trait of Greek society, which is difficult to translate: ‘πολυέργεια’. When you are a master of many trades, it is not very easy or practical to be ideologically rigid. You see, multitasking was not invented in the 21st century. But if there was a change that was the most important was in their attitude towards the Bavarians. The reasons were of course ideological. But they were informed by the crisis of the 1850s-60s, and the failure of monarchical policies. A failure that jeopardised the already precarious place of Greece in the geography of European civilization and possibly its very political existence. Something had to give and it was the King.
You have suggested that the antinomy between legalist views of freedom and more substantive understandings of its social conditions remained at the heart of Greek political debate until 1974. Do you discern changes and continuities in the post-1974 period?
I am not a historian of the metapolitefsi period. And I don’t think that history has lessons to give for periods closer to our own. Different periods, different contexts, different questions, different answers. Yet, what I can say, because I am a member of this society is that, as evidenced by the crisis (financial and the so-called refugee) the substantive understanding of freedom is alive and well—thanks to grassroot mobilisations, to local initiatives, to people’s political engagements. What has changed is the non-articulation of this understanding within academia. Although this is not a general phenomenon, I am afraid that the discourse generated by some of the most relevant departments is troubling: positivism without critical engagement, and a sterile combination of methodological nationalism and Euro-centrism which ironically does not follow European trends. University and society are parting ways, so to speak. The same goes for the relationship between society and the established political class. It is amazing to see the extent to which some established political circles, most of them self-designated liberals, speak on a level of abstract generality and become anxious when this is abandoned. Think for example the continuous reference to the ‘people’, or the nation, and the fear when this ‘people’ sets out to express itself—though political movements, local initiatives, grassroots mobilization, referenda etc. Why? Because at these moments that abstract category becomes sociologically specific. For these liberals, this is dangerous, because it shows that there are social differences, inequalities, that the whole edifice of national unity is artificial.
The interesting thing is that such an anxiety is a legacy of the French revolution, not the Greek one. In fact, in Greece we have a long history of competing political currents with open and sometimes completely different views about Greek society and the social groups they stood for. For these currents people had specific characteristics. But today, the obsession with ‘consensus’ leads to an avoidance of disputes or of opposing alternatives. This is like trying to get rid of politics. Greek liberals of past times would never have understood this. Because they understood that a legalist understanding of freedom is too narrow a vision for the wealth of political society.
The imminent bicentenary of the Greek revolution of 1821 has been generating a series of scholarly events and research projects in recent years. What would you consider to be the main stakes in Greek historiography regarding this period?
The bicentenaries of other revolutions in places such France, the States, or Haiti generated a wealth of scholarship that changed the historiographical scene. I hope we do the same, not least because the Greek revolution is surprisingly underexplored. It is not the place to say why this is so. But you are right that many things seem to come up. The question is to use the occasion productively and not for show off. In my opinion, there is one key aspect that we need to take into account when studying the revolution: that it was part and parcel of the Age of Revolutions. With some very important exceptions, historical scholarship on the revolution has failed to take this into account and incorporate the Greek case within recent scholarship that has reassessed the Age of Revolutions in important and novel ways.We need to address the absence of Greece in these discussions. We need to start discussing with scholars of other cases and to give back to the revolution its edge. The good news is that the pre-conditions for research are surprisingly good in terms of sources. In fact, these are being made more and more available to researchers and the public in novel ways. A good case in point is the ‘Digital Archive of 1821’, organized by the Research Center for the Humanities. But what is at stake is to exploit these pre-conditions, do research and communicate it as far as possible both within academia and the general public.
*Interview by Dimitris Gkintidis
Filip Stojanovski is the Director for Partnership and Resource Development of Metamorphosis Foundation. Since 1995 he has been active in the civil society of North Macedonia through volunteer projects in the area of consumer protection and e-publishing, and through professional involvement as an IT expert and contributor to media on digital rights issues. From October 2012 to April 2017 he served as the Chief of Party of the Media Fact-Checking Service. This was the first project of its kind in the region, and among the first in the world, that systematically tackled the issue of role of media in the political discourse, using specially designed methodology based on the ethical standards of journalism, which had since served as model by several other projects in the Balkans (Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro) and Middle East (Egypt). Since January 2018 Stojanovski is serving as Project Manager of EU-supported Critical Thinking for Mediawise Citizens – Crithink project. As representative of civil society he served as a member of the Task Force for National Strategy for Information Society Development in 2005 and in 2018 he was appointed by the Parliament as a member of the Council for Civic Oversight of the state surveillance services. He holds a BSc Degree in Computer Science from Graceland University (USA) and Masters in e-business management from Université Paris 1 - Panthéon Sorbonne (France).
Filip Stojanovski spoke* to Greek News Agenda about fake news the period prior and following the signing of Prespes Agreement noting that “in an attempt to appear more ‘patriotic’, many mainstream media in North Macedonia tried to mimic or ironize the perceived Greek denial of the country’s name, by refusing to use the word “Greece,” and instead used the term “the Southern Neighbor… An ordinary citizen of North Macedonia, would receive conflicting information about Greece”
1) One of the ways to understand a country’s public opinion is through media. Can fake news create a distorted image of a country’s public opinion? Could you mention a case of how the media in your country created a fake image of the Greek people?
It seems to me that in the last three decades, willful ignorance is the main source of media manipulation across Balkan borders. It’s kind of a paradox that we have technological means to be more connected than ever in history, while engrained editorial policies have imposed a virtual self-isolation of each country’s media sphere.
Very often the cross-border media coverage is slanted only towards news about ‘high politics’ and some disasters in the neighborhood, failing to convey all other aspects of life. News about culture, economy, social situation, sports, human interest stories are almost absent, unless they have some aspect that can be exploited for domestic political purpose (to show how bad these ‘others’ are). This lack of factual knowledge paves the way for dehumanization of the neighbors that is done by nationalist political actors, and amplified by unprofessional media.
Under repressive regimes, when the majority of the media is controlled by the government, those media become tools to “manufacture” public opinion, rather than to reflect it. The actual opinions of citizens are not voiced, and remain hidden under a veil of propaganda. Thus, for the period of state capture between 2011 and 2016—with the exception of several outlets that defied the prevailing spiral of silence—analysis of media production in North Macedonia would provide mostly positions and editorial policies that had been published with approval of the ruling parties. As late activist Roberto Belichanec (1971-2012) would often say, we had “plurality of media outlets but not pluralism of opinions.”
In an attempt to appear more “patriotic”, many mainstream media in North Macedonia tried to mimic or ironize the perceived Greek denial of the country’s name, by refusing to use the word “Greece,” and instead used the term “the Southern Neighbor.” Over time this became quite widespread, even though it incited ridicule by some citizens in everyday talk.
Another practice was misinterpreting events in Greece. Very often, threatening statements by extreme right wing forces in Greek society would be presented as position representative of all Greeks. Media close to right-wing populists would also prefer news about incidents of violence, or relentlessly repeat stories about historical injustices. In this vein, the government spent huge amounts of money on so-called “documentaries about Macedonian struggle,” produced through the Public Broadcasting Service, and advocating the ideological dogmas of the ruling party. They were given for free to private TV stations to fill in the quota for domestic production.
In effect, an ordinary citizen of North Macedonia, would receive conflicting information about Greece. The negative effects of the embargo and the veto in NATO and EU were felt by all, and this was reinforced by nationalist propaganda. Then there was the (mostly pleasant) real-life experience of repeated vacationing on the Greek coastline, which in most cases was not used as opportunity to establish contact and friendly rapport with the real ordinary Greeks. The lack of language skills and apprehension of being subjected to harassment would result in a tendency to avoid conversations with the hosts on any topics that could be considered controversial. Very few tourist spending a weekend in Thessaloniki would use the trip for more than coffee or food by the sea or shopping – for instance to partake in the famous film festival or the Comicon. I believe we have similar situations from the other side, with tourists crossing from Greece to North Macedonia to gamble or shop, but not to get more knowledge about the people or society.
photos by Creative Commons
2) “Greece agreed on the name issue in return of no further pension cuts”, “Dead protester the day the Prespes Agreement was signed”, “Soros is funding Greece’s former Minister of Exterior”. Allthis fake news was broadly circulated prior and following the signing of the Agreement. In most cases, the primary reason for fake news was nationalism. How do things stand in your country?
Nationalism as we know is a tool, a technique for politicians to gain access to (more) power. The people of North Macedonia had been subjected to open nationalist indoctrination since the breakup of Yugoslavia, and it took many forms. In the late 1980s and 1990s the blueprint was the pro-Milošević propaganda originating in Serbia, which influenced the domestic political parties and media.
Some of the still present anti-NATO and anti-EU narratives also have roots in this era, especially those sowing discord between different ethnic and religious communities, and inciting xenophobia towards neighbors and others. Over time the propaganda developed a cycle with different domestic or foreign „enemy of the day” used for ‘appropriate’ political context.
In our experience, such toxic nationalism leads to the demise of rule of law. When a government supports the notion that a group in society is entitled to privileged treatment, it leads directly to impunity for corruption and criminal behavior, such as hate speech (which is a crime in North Macedonia). End result of allowing hate speech to fester is war, either external conflict with “accursed” foreigners or civil war against the “internal enemies.” As a country we faced this prospect twice in recent years, in 2015 with the staged clash in Kumanovo, and in 2017 with the attack on the parliament.
In North Macedonia, Prespa Agreement has historical significance because it resulted from real change in approach bya major political party which came into power thanks to support by a multi-ethnic citizen movement that far exceeded its usual voter base. It was based on widespread demand for justice and desire for normal life in our European home.
This example of compromise solution is considered as major threat by nationalists, because it undermines the basis of the „us versus them“ worldview. Such “divide and rule” methods has proven very profitable for instigators, but on the long run devastate social cohesion. Many of the positions taken by the opponents of Prespa Agreement in Greece were mirrored in North Macedonia, with misinterpretations about its contents and logical fallacies about its supposed effects.
Even though the government published online the original text of the agreement and its translations, the right-wing populist campaign and the media supporting that agenda refused to inform the citizens about it, feeding them with misinformation and speculations by politicians and their surrogates. In this case, transparency had limited effect due to information dominance of the entrenched nationalist interests, but was a very good start because the educated segment of society could see for themselves the real contents.
However, the general public received a flood of untruths, from misinterpretations about the nature and the outcome of the consultative referendum, and false claims that legislative changes resulting from the Prespa Agreement are unconstitutional or an act of treason. In this context, various malicious actors cast a wider web of fabrications about meaning of NATO and EU membership. For instance, lies about radioactive pollution from future NATO exercises in the country. Some of the fabrications were tailored to appeal to religious people, like the outrageous claims that getting into EU would result in forcing their children to become LGBTI.
3) You are director for partnership and resource development of Metamorphosis Foundation. Can you tell us a few words about the work of Metamorphosis?
Metamorphosis was formed by a group of digital rights enthusiasts in 1999 and first served as an e-publishing center and think-tank helping NGOs and municipalities use the digital technologies for the advancement of democracy and prosperity. In 2004 we became a foundation has been helping build capacities of civil society, media and institutions, as well as instigating policy changes enabling information society development.
Due to the unfortunate circumstances of backsliding from democracy during the previous decade, the focus of our work in North Macedonia has been on upholding human rights in the digital sphere, in particular freedom of expression and privacy, and promoting good governance and fighting corruption through watchdog journalism and fact-checking. We have invested a lot of efforts in helping online media regain their role as a pillar of democracy, and engaging the citizens in this fight, by educating them and helping them use social networks and other technologies to voice their opinions.
As means towards these ends we’ve founded two independent media outlets: Portalb.mk (in 2012) which has become the leading Albanian-language online news outlet in North Macedonia and the News Agency Meta.mk in 2014, which operates in several languages. Addressing the need for political fact-checking Metamorphosis established the Truthmeter.mk in 2011, and the first Media Fact-Checking Service in our region in 2012.
On a regional level we also work in this direction, for instance by co-establishing the regional Openness Index with several leading pro-accountability organizations from the Western Balkans joined as the ACTION SEE network. As members of international networks like EDRI, the IFEX, APC, and International Fact-Checking Network – IFCN, as well as partner of Global Voices we work on aligning our target areas with the global trends.
4) Has there been a shift in North Macedonia’s public opinion prior and following the Prespes Agreement?
The fact that over six thousand citizens or 95% of participants voted yes on the consultative referendum in September was a strong indicator of the approval of that political act. The attempt by opponents of the agreement to portray those who didn't vote as opponents failed, especially because the non-participation in electoral processes due to emigration or apathy has been a problem for more than a decade, and still is.
With increased bilateral contacts there has been some more media coverage of the actual situation, and more people are able to see that as societies we have many more similarities than differences. For instance, Meta.mk has been running a project for debunking cross border disinformation and fact-based context explanations in several Balkan languages, including Greek, as basis for increased understanding.
The positive trend includes increased public discussion about the damaging effects of disinformation on democracy, by political leaders and media professionals. This could lead to policy changes that would tackle the underlying causes affecting the role of the media.
5) How can we protect ourselves from fake news? How important is fact checking?
At Metamorphosis we view fact-checking as integral part of the ability to apply critical thinking. It should be an essential part of everyday life and of practicing journalism. However, it has been somewhat absent in both areas, firstly due to lack of critical thinking and media literacy within the education system, and lack of resources or will by decision makers in the media.
However, ascertaining the facts is an essential factor, but not enough if it’s on its own. Political manipulators have been applying lessons from commercial marketing, and much of the nationalist propaganda is based on manipulation of emotions, not just facts. That’s why it’s important to increase media literacy not only for the youth, by mainstreaming it within the schools and university curriculums, but also for the more senior generations.
We have to take into account cultural factors too – introspection and acknowledging one’s mistakes are not widespread features in the Balkans. This plays a major role on social networks, where people feel personally offended when reproved for sharing false claims. Such issues can only be tackled by fostering a culture of conversation.
One way to do it is to increase the educative role of the media, making them part of the solution instead of the problem.
When we started with media-fact checking in 2012 we hoped individual outlets would establish fact-checking departments within their newsrooms. This has not happened yet, as most professional media in North Macedonia struggle with issues of basic survival, partly due to the devastating impact of the former regime on the media market. And that is on top of the general challenges faced by media worldwide, resulting from the changing digital environment.
Democracy can’t survive without the truth. If it’s polluted by lies, it turns intoan autocracy or something worse. We simply need the truth to make good decisions.
In my opinion, the first step is acknowledging that all of us, as mortal human beings, are not infallible. We can make mistakes, we can get our facts wrong and should be modest enough to allow others to help us find the truth through proven empirical methods. This is the basis of science, and the same notion is the basis of both good journalism and democratic citizenship.
*Interview by Christina Fiorentzi
Read also: Misinformation and the Prespes Agreement, Sissy Alonistiotou: "Media literacy is a fundamental tool for combating bias and hate speech", Nikos Smyrnaios on the Internet oligopoly and its political implications