Vrasidas Karalis holds the Sir Nicholas Laurantos’ Chair in Modern Greek and Byzantine Studies at the University of Sydney. He has published extensively on Byzantine historiography, Greek political life, Greek Cinema, European cinema and contemporary political philosophy. He has edited three volumes on modern European political philosophy, especially on Martin Heidegger, Hannah Arendt and Cornelius Castoriadis. His recent publications include Realism in Greek Cinema: From the Post-War Period to the Present (2017) and A History of Greek Cinema (2013). He has also published two volumes of oral history, Recollections of Mr Manoly Lascaris (2007) and The Demons of Athens (2014), a chronicle of his experiences from Athens in the time of recent crisis.
Professor Karalis, who has been very active in promoting Modern Greek and Byzantine Studies in Australia, talks to Greek News Agenda,* stressing that Greek Cinema is one of the oldest cinematic traditions in Europe, with a big production compared to the country’s market size. He refers to Greek films that deserve more study and analysis as the foundational filmic texts of Greek cinema, such as “Daphnis and Chloe” (1931) by Orestis Laskos. He describes the Renaissance of Greek Cinema, a reversal of the cinematic traditions currently taking place, as a reflection of the deep structural incongruity between image and reality in the years before the Greek economic crisis. He also comments on the so called Greek weird wave that it is a new form that de-constructs in a way that gives new momentum to the visual tradition that started after the war.
Karalis also explores the quest for Greekness (Greek identity) throughout the History of Greek Cinema, concluding that in the new millennium Greek identity became associated with global trends, regaining a universality that transcends barriers of language and historical experience. Finally, he suggests that Greek Film studies will benefit by gender and queer studies approaches as long as they remain historically informed and underlines that his main point throughout his two books on Greek cinema is that Greek films form a continuous conversation between filmmakers and their audience, but above all between society and its historical trajectory.
Daphnis and Chloe, Orestis Laskos (1931)
What is the current state of Modern Greek studies in Australia? How did you decide to focus on the history of Greek cinema?
The current status of Greek studies in Australia is relatively positive. However, after the remarkable proliferation of Modern Greek departments in the 70s and 80s, a distinct decline became obvious in the early 2000s. Yet, three departments still remain strong and have a continuous impact on the academic representation of Modern Greek Studies at tertiary level. The University of Sydney, Flinders University in Adelaide and Macquarie University continue to have considerable enrollments while publishing original research and promoting Greek culture through publications, journals and conferences.
My specific focus on the history of Greek cinema emanated from the interest that our students showed for Greek films and film stars, as well as after using Greek films to teach Greek language. While literature was the preferred course during the 70s and 80, cinema became a much more attractive course for students as the language of images was a universal language which could be understood without translation. For me personally, the absence of a history of Greek cinema constituted an obvious gap in the curriculum of Greek studies.
My perception was that we needed a narrative account of how Greek cinema evolved in contrast or comparison to other cinematic traditions in the Balkans and Europe. By researching further I understood that beyond the literary achievements of Greek writers, the cinematic work of Greek directors was in many ways equal or even surpassed many filmmakers from global cinemas and needed a comprehensive, fair and accurate presentation.
From the edge of the city, Constantinos Giannaris (1998). Watch Giannaris film online here
In your work you often mention that Greek film culture “deserves more recognition and credit”. Why is that? Moreover, as you conclude in ‘A History of Greek Cinema’, “In reality, many good films were produced in Greece and some of them could be safely and comfortably labeled as “great films” in the European or even global canon”. To which films are you referring?
Very few people world-wide know that Greek cinema is one of the oldest cinematic traditions in Europe. The fact that Greece was a small ‘market’ but managed to produce more than 7, 000 films indicated that the realm of images was an extremely important cultural form of expression for Greek society and a distinct socializing experience for Greek people.
Most people know for example Michael Cacoyannis’ Zorba the Greek (1964) or for more artistic audiences Theo Angelopoulos’ The Travelling Players (1975). However early films like Dimitris Gaziadis’ Astero (1929) or Orestis Laskos’ Daphnis and Chloe (1931) are films that deserve more study and analysis as the foundational filmic texts of Greek cinema. What we see in them remained one of the most enduring threads of semiotic resignification throughout the last 100 years of cinematic production.
There are also many other films whose quality and complexity stands next to the best productions of Hollywood and European cinemas. I just want to mention Michael Cacoyannis’ A Girl in Black (1956), Nikos Koundouros’ Young Aphrodites (1963) and Constantinos Giannaris’ From the Edge of the City (1997), films with their own aesthetic philosophy and visual form. Furthermore, films like Maria Plyta’s Eve (1953) or Greg Tallas’ The Barefoot Battalion (1954) even Yannis Dalianidis’ Stephania (1965) are films which deserve to be discussed for their unique organization of visual time and space. The whole oeuvre of Yorgos Tzavellas is, according to my opinion, at the same level as Jean Renoir’s and Rene Clair’s.
You state that a Renaissance of Greek cinema is currently taking place, “which, breaking through the barriers of language and introspection, constructs a significant new chapter in the history of European and global cinema”. Is this renaissance a cultural product of the economic crisis?
I think that the renaissance started before the crisis as a crisis in representation before becoming a crisis of what was represented. The first films of what I call the ‘radical un-imagining’ of Greek cinematic tradition were those by Nikos Nikolaides, an un-imagining which in its early stages culminated with Yorgos Lanthimos’ Kinetta (2004), a film that turned Theo Angelopoulos’ Reconstruction (1970) upside down.
Also Yannis Oikonomides’ films deconstructed the language, ideology and sexuality on which the cultural complacency of the urban petit-bourgeoisie was founded. I believe that the renaissance started after the Athens Olympics in 2004 when the whole edifice of conspicuous consumption and reckless spending took monumental dimensions. A deep structural incongruity between image and reality became initially obvious and in several years disastrous. The new cinema was the consequence of a profound cultural implosion that engulfed the Greek imaginary and was crystalized around forms of disaster and catastrophe even in comedies (prime example is P.N. Koutras’ The Attack of the Giant Moussaka).
As you suggest in your work, the so-called Weird Wave that emerged after 2005 with Yorgos Lanthimos and Athina Rachel Tsangari, deconstructed all codes of representation that legitimised the dominant political order. Would you like to elaborate? What do you think about the term Weird Wave?
The foundations of the dominant political order were legitimized by a belief in the perenniality of Greek language, the idealization of the family institution, the myth of historical victimhood of the nation and finally of the ideology of a vital transparency in the cultural imaginary of the country. With Lanthimos, Tsangari, Panos Koutras and Costas Zappas, these pillars of self-deception were single-handedly demolished. Greek landscapes, the archetypal forms of lucidity and rationality were covered by shadows, dark secrets and incomprehensible words. The so-called ‘weird wave’ looks weird outside Greece but within the country it is what I call “the cinema of transgression.” It is a new form of representation that challenges, dismantles and demolishes. It is not destructive; it de-constructs but in a way that gives new momentum to the visual tradition that started after the war. When we realize how Stella becomes Strella we immediately see the continuity and the rupture of this new form of representation.
The quest for Greekness has been an important aspect in Greek arts and literature since the 30’s. What was its impact on Greek Cinema?
Historically, the quest for Greekness indicated lack, loss and absence, something that was the case after the Asia Minor Catastrophe. It appeared fleetingly in Astero and in some other neglected masterworks of the 30s, like The Refugee Girl. But the German Occupation and the Civil War raised new questions and defined new existential, political and stylistic quests which had more to do with class, status and power and less with history, memory or landscape. The new perception of the self emerged with Tzavellas, Gregoris Gregoriou and Cacoyannis who struggled to construct a new style for the new reality while using the underdeveloped infrastructure of small private studios. Tzavellas’ Applause (1944) is the film which re-imagined the representational codes that dominated Greek cinema with an ingenious use of montage and editing.
Following him, Gregoriou, Maria Plyta, Alekos Sakellarios and Dinos Dimopoulos established new codes of visual self-perception which later became more sophisticated and complex by directors like Roviros Mathoulis, Kostas Manousakis, Panos Glykofridis and Costas Andritsos: each one of them constructed a new style for the multiple political, sexual and class identities that emerged during the 60s. An oscillation between representational empathy and abstraction, between melodrama and critical realism offered a new impetus just around the 1967 dictatorship. The New Greek Cinema of the 1970s is the product of the immense tension between conflicting social energies, incongruous visual styles and colliding perceptions of the self.
Greekness took many forms because it represented the polymorphous diversity of desires that we find in Greek society after the 60s. In the 80s, Greekness was transformed to new perceptions of gender and sexuality whereas in the 90s expanded to the resident aliens, the immigrants. In the new millennium Greek identity became associated with global trends, discourses and codes regaining a universality that transcends barriers of language and historical experience.
In “Realism in Greek Cinema”, you mostly focus on the work of five Greek Cinema directors: Michael Cacoyannis, Nikos Koundouros, Yannis Dalianidis, Theo Angelopoulos and Antoinetta Angelidi, all representing distinct cinema styles and approaches. Which were the criteria for your choice?
First of all I wanted to map out a complete picture of cinematic production in the country. I included a chapter on Cacoyannis, as nothing was written on his complete oeuvre in English, intended to focus on his less known films, beyond Stella and Zorba the Greek. His first film Windfall in Athens (1954) for example represents a turning point to the construction of the new visual idiom that established what we call ‘national Greek cinema’. Furthermore I wanted his masterpiece Electra (1962) to be re-interpreted as his response to postwar existentialist angst as expressed by Ingmar Bergman. Electra stands on the same level both stylistically and philosophically as The Seventh Seal. And while it is true that his other films do not have the visual strength and stylistic coherence of his early creative period, his whole work represents a social commentary on the violent transformation of Greek society towards the capitalist organization of time and therefore of social relations.
The same perception was behind the chapter on the most neglected director Nikos Koundouros. Despite the fact that many critics believe that his Ogre of Athens (O Drakos) is the finest film ever made in the country nothing was also written in English on his work. Koundouros was a truth-seeker in films like The Outlaws, The River, Vortex and especially 1922: he was the first director who confronted the successive traumas of history and tried to deal with their lingering impact by transforming them into public discourse and cultural discussion. Unfortunately his work is not known outside Greece and the chapter in my book wanted to cover this gap.
Usually we ignore or denigrate the ‘commercial cinema’ of Yannis Dalianidis but in my reading I found in his films one of the most ruthless critics of the Greek petit-bourgeoisie and its ideological regimes. I insisted on the films he made during the most productive period of his career, between 1964 and 1975, when, together with his musicals and comedies, he released some of the most vicious attacks against dominant ideas about normality, sexual identity and political ideology. I think that his film The Sinners (1971), which was never released, still remains one of the most rebellious and subversive films made in the country. His film The Story of a Life (1966) is, I believe, one of the most significant feminist films ever made in the country exposing the capitalist exploitation of the female body in all classes of society.
As for Theo Angelopoulos, who is well-known, I approached him from the perspective of what I call his ‘ocular poetics.’ He was the first director who tried to teach the viewer’s eye to watch filmic images with cinematic intelligence and sensibility. Beyond his politics and his post-political melancholia, I saw him as the director who throughout his films experimented with light and color, and therefore as a major formal innovator globally. His magnificent achievement in infusing colors with emotional and self-critical content links him to the work of Kurosawa and Godard. He is one of the few global directors who succeeded in making color an integral part of cinematic iconography, with images ranging between expressionism, impressionism and hyper-realism in a surprising way transcending the obsessions of his left-wing ideological disenchantment.
Antouaneta Angelidi is also the most important film-maker in the tradition of what we call ‘experimental’ or “avant-garde cinema.’ Very few people know of the extremely complex works of Costas Sfikas, Thanasis Rentzis and many others which were produced in the country and can safely take a prominent position next to the most significant experimental films world-wide. Angelidi’s four films stand out as unique explorations of the limits of cinematic representation as well as hypnotic images foregrounding the archetypal platonic forms under the ephemerality of visual impressions.
So my purpose was to give a comprehensive account of the diversity and the complexity of filmmaking in Greece. In the introductory section of the book, I delineated the historical ruptures that made Greek cinema possible (what I call Greek visuality). Namely the discovery of perspective and the abandonment of the two-dimensional space of Byzantine iconography, the introduction of a new perception of filmic time through montage and exploration of different forms of realism in order to express the unstable realities of historical experience.
Since 1929 the dominant moods of the filmic imaginary in Greece remained those of trauma and mourning, with the relief offered by comedies also foregrounding a sense of dislocation and displacement mainly from rustic communitarianism to the anonymity of large urban centers.
It seems that there is an increasing interest in family, gender and queer sexuality in Modern Greek studies. Which Greek cinema aspects could be viewed in this perspective?
From the first Greek film Golfo, in 1911, the central question was always about the inferior position of women in society and their peculiar representation in public discourse. Gender was at the central organizational principle of all images produced from Gaziadis to Pandelis Voulgaris – both female and male. In the beginning women were the central focus of cinematic images as innocent girls or femmes fatales, as mothers, sisters, wives or lovers. Their sexuality was always unsettling, or even threatening, as we see in most films by George Tzavellas or mischievously popularized by the only star of the industry, Aliki Vouyouklaki.
In the 70s and 80s masculinity and male sexuality were also problematized and unsettled the norms of representation. I think that ‘queer’ Greek films go back to Dalianidis’ closeted sexuality, or even further to Cacoyannis’ cryptic Eroica. Queering Greek films does not mean simply homosexualising them: it means pointing out the submerged libidinal currents that unsettled the moral certainties of dominant social groups and classes. Greek Film studies will be benefited by such approaches as long as they remain historically informed. My main point throughout my two books on Greek cinema is that Greek films form a continuous conversation between filmmakers and their audience, but above all between society and its historical trajectory.
Finally, many things remain to be discovered. Early films which believed to be lost, or films which have been neglected for various reasons. The formal aesthetics of cinematic representation in the country also needs to be explored. The lonely enigmatic figures of Takis Kanelopoulos and Stavros Tornes invite new explorations of cinematic visualities in the country.
For these reasons I believe that the importance of Greek cinema as a unique cultural achievement will increase and expand. As scholars of Greek culture in all its manifestations, we must articulate a language which will situate and interpret the achievements of Greek filmmakers in order to help other scholars to construct theoretical models and hermeneutical positions accounting for the development, form and ideology of cinematic images in Greece.
* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi
Combining innovation and extrovert entrepreneurship, start-ups in Greece leave no room for doubt that the country participates in the IT/digital revolution. Whereas the Greek startup industry is still in its early development, there exist success stories and strong indicators that it is capable of creating benefits for the Greek economy. Since 2013, tech startups coming from Greece have managed to build world–classproducts, score multi-million dollar rounds from world–classinvestors and exit to world–classcorporations. Taxi-beat, BugSense, Crypteia Networks, AbZorba Games, e–Food.gr and others were founded and developed in Greece and then sold to foreign investors. Furthermore, relevant data suggest that Greek SMEs have a strong attitude towards innovation and that, despite the low R&D intensity, remarkable efforts have been made in recent years to preserve public investment. Main challenges include improvement of the framework conditions by reducing barriers to entrepreneurship and establishment of a systematic evaluation process of the public R&I system, including policies and funding, to further strengthen its quality.
Tech start-ups blooming in Greece is not accidental. Skilful human capital, hard earned experience, start-up culture and funding, constitute the main assets which allow for competitive and extrovert businesses. A useful tool in the hands of those interested in raising funds is startupgreece.gov.gr., i.e. the institutional agency which provides support for foreign direct investments, promotes the international attractiveness of Greece as a start-up investors’ destination, and fosters the Greek innovation ecosystem through funding solutions at every stage (seed, start-up, early growth or development). Entrepreneurs can choose among three types of funding solutions: Greek state/EU Funding, purely European Union, purely private.
A Q&A follows with Efstratios Zafiris, Secretary General for Industry, Ministry of Economy and Development and Head of "startupgreece.gov.gr." Read more information about fund raising perspectives after the Q&A.
What are the features of the start-up policy implemented by the Ministry of Economy and Development?
The Ministry of Economy and Development designs and implements policies aimed at strengthening Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and supporting new businesses, motivating dynamically developing start-ups. Multi-faceted institutional interventions are planned to remove barriers to entrepreneurship in terms of the establishment, licensing and operation of businesses. Examples include the “new development law”, co-funded state aid schemes, modern financial tools, start-up support structures (e.g. startupgreece.gov.gr), European programs for SME competitiveness, research and innovation. The Ministry's basic guidelines are to provide support to start-ups throughout their development cycle, encourage clusters, promote innovative new entrepreneurship, simplify licensing of economic activities, and so on.
Start-ups are often used as an example of how the Greek economy can return to growth. Could you elaborate on the ways that start-ups are a boost factor of the country’s financial ecosystem?
Start-ups are seen as an important lever for the Greek economy. By implementing new and innovative ideas, they fill existing gaps in the market, thus increasing GDP. They can also fill gaps in existing value chains. The majority of start-ups are targeting the international market, helping to inflow funds into the country. In addition, start-ups can become a mechanism for linking research centers with industries and production units. It is obvious that they create a significant number of new jobs.
From your experience so far, as institutional agency for start-ups, can you describe us the critical needs of young entrepreneurs who address to you?
From our experience so far, as an institutional organization for start-ups, their most critical need is funding. Furthermore, business development and marketing are also very important to start-ups. Also, many young entrepreneurs face difficulty in finding qualified staff for their companies. With regard to financing needs, young entrepreneurs are trying to secure funding, both from European funding programs and from Greek investment funds. Finally, the majority doesn’t count on bank lending.
According to the latest data Greece ranks 9th in number of participants signed contracts and 12thin budget share (EU-28) for Horizon 2020. How do you comment on that? Is there room for improvement?
The fact that Greece holds the abovementioned positions is very important. It is hopeful that Greece can rise to higher positions in the future. There is clearly room for improvement and this will be done by better understanding the requirements for participation in Horizon 2020, which is the most significant program for Research and Innovation in the EU. It is particularly crucial to link research to production. Research results should lead to new innovative products, the great ideas that arise in the laboratory, have to be transported to the market.
More information about raising funds for start-ups in Greece
Greatly facilitated by the creation of EU-backed venture capital funds that specifically target technology start-ups in Greece, successive governments placed emphasis on startup companies. More specifically, the so-called “JEREMIE funds” were put together in late 2012 under a scheme of public and private co-financing in a 70/30% ratio. Under the management of the European Investment Fund-EIF, public financing came from national and EU structural funds (from the national Operational Programme ‘Digital Convergence’ and JEREMIE scheme), while the private financing came from both institutional and individual private investors. Following the expiry of the JEREMIE funds investment period having expired, the government is seeking to move forward tech entrepreneurship and funding opportunities for scalable businesses. To this end, a new fund-of-funds is being set up along with EIF in order to pour at least €260 million to Greek startups through intermediary Venture Capitals and Private Equity funds.
Widening the Horizons - EU's Horizon 2020 for SMEs including start-ups
In terms of purely EU funding solutions, Horizon 2020 is a game-changer. The biggest EU Research and Innovation programme ever with nearly €80 billion of funding available over 7 years (2014 to 2020) is the financial instrument implementing the Innovation Union, a Europe 2020 flagship initiative aimed at securing Europe's global competitiveness. By coupling research and innovation, Horizon 2020 places great emphasis on excellent science, industrial leadership and tackling societal challenges, so that Europe is able to produce world-class science, to remove barriers to knowledge, research & innovation and to facilitate public and private sector synergies in delivering innovation.
H2020 supports SMEs with a new instrument that runs throughout various funded research and innovation fields, enhances EU international research and Third Country participation, attaches high importance to integrate social sciences and humanities encourages to develop a gender dimension in project. Cosme is a special Programme for the COmpetitiveness of Enterprises and SMEs (COSME) that will run from 2014 to 2020, with a planned budget of €2.3bn. It will facilitate SME access to finance, create supportive environment for business creation, help small businesses operate outside their home countries and improve their access to markets.
The National Documentation Centre acts as a National Contact Point for Horizon 2020 and according to the latest data (May 2017) 1,437 participants from Greece have received, thus far, a financial contribution of €437.26 million. Total number of SME participants reached 312,receiving €82.84 million. Greece ranks 9th in number of participants signed contracts and 12th in budget share (EU-28). Top five beneficiaries include:Centre for Research and Technology Hellas (CERTH) Foundation for Research and Technology Hellas (FORTH) Institute of Communication and Computer Systems (ICCS), National Technical University of Athens (NTUA) and University of Athens (UoA).
Watch the video with former EU Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, Geoghegan-Quinn explaining Horizon 2020.
Aggelos Tsakanikas is Assistant Professor in the field of economic evaluation of technological systems, at the Laboratory of Industrial and Energy Economics, National Technical University of Athens and Head of the Entrepreneurship Observatory at the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research (FEIR/IOBE). He is responsible for the scientific study “Manufacturing sector in Greece: Trends and perspectives” conducted by FIER/IOBE supported by the “Hellenic Production – Council of the Industries for Growth” Initiative, and published earlier this month (You can download the study in Greek here).
Professor Tsakanikas spoke to Greek News Agenda* about the findings of this study, the industrial policies implemented in Greece, the importance of efficiency in augmenting the knowledge content of the Greek industrial production, the top priorities of the national manufacturing industry and the crisis.
Could you please give us a brief outline of the research findings that can be found in the study “Manufacturing sector in Greece: Trends and perspectives”?
The specific study tries to quantify the multiplying effect of the manufacturing activities on the Greek economy. More specifically it measures the direct, indirect (arising out of the linkages between manufacturing and other sectors) and the induced (arising from of the consumption expenditure of the employees’ wages) effect of the manufacturing sectors on the economy in terms of GDP, employment, contribution to tax revenues. Despite the decreasing trend in the share of manufacturing in Greece’s economy, which by 2016 was only 8.8% of its total gross value added, still the multipliers are significant. More specifically 31% of Greek GDP (almost €55 billion) stems from manufacturing. For each €1 of manufacturing value added a total of €3.1 is created in the Greek economy. Some 31.3% of the total employment in Greece can be related to manufacturing (1.24 million employees). For each €1 million turnover in manufacturing, some 22 new jobs are created, while for each new job that is created in manufacturing a total of 3.5 jobs are created in other sectors of the economy. More than 250 thousand jobs in wholesale and retail trade and some 150 jobs in the primary sector are actually financed by the manufacturing sectors. So, still and even after a long and deep recession the multipliers of manufacturing in the Greek economy remain significant.
What were the characteristics of the national and European industrial policies implemented in Greece, after World War II?
After WWII but especially after the mid 60s, manufacturing activities lost pace and services increased rapidly in the European economy. To some extent this is related to the expansion of the public sector, but the major part of this increase stemmed from trade expansion, internally and externally. Greece, following a pattern that emerged in most of the developed countries gradually became a service economy, as industry released productive resources into sectors that were more profitable or represented new unexploited areas to invest capital. This is the characteristic of knowledge driven economies where the weight of knowledge compared to other factors (such as physical assets, natural resources, or unskilled labor) increased both in qualitative and quantitative terms. But as knowledge today becomes the main raw material in many manufacturing industries, the challenge today is how we can revitalize manufacturing activities that use knowledge and add value to the economy, rather than use unskilled labor to become cheaper in the global division of labour.
What are the main challenges faced by the manufacturing industry in Greece today? What are the top priorities, in your opinion, so as to become competitive?
As the Greek economy is now struggling to recover, a range of critical competitiveness issues and in particular questions of specialization structures and production patterns in the Greek manufacturing emerge. At the heart of this policy discussion lays the improvement of competitiveness. This however is not merely an issue of lowering labour cost. It is a much more complicated issue that involves improvement of the knowledge content of the goods and services provided by manufacturing firms operating in the country. Greece is still situated at the bottom ranking of a knowledge-based economic catching-up. This means that the country should accelerate the transformation into knowledge based economy, despite the difficult economic conditions and the financial constraints that have emerged. In order to do that, a new industrial policy that lays emphasis not just on specific sectors with potential, but on knowledge business activities that increase the value added of products and services, is needed.
How critical is raw material sufficiency for the development of the country's manufacturing industry?
Raw materials could be important and Greece should not neglect the resources that are available in the country. But due to the globalized trade environment, sometimes it may be more profitable to import raw materials from other countries rather than focus solely on internal resources. If we are efficiently using the imported materials as intermediary goods to add value to other products that we produce, by increasing the quality aspect of these products, then such a process could also be rational in terms of policy or business strategy. So the real question is not raw materials sufficiency, but efficiency in augmenting the knowledge content of our production.
In what way has the crisis affected the manufacturing industry's growth in Greece?
The economic crisis has affected all firms in Greece, as credit crunch conditions, decrease of internal demand and increased taxation created a difficult environment for manufacturing firms as well. Hence, manufacturing employment decreased by almost 25% from 2009 to 2016 and production by almost 30%. But compared to other sectors like Retail Trade, certain industries still rank among the strongest and most robust, even during the recession. Many manufacturing firms were exporters even before the crisis; they have managed to shift part of their turnover from internal to external markets. Therefore, they have managed to compensate to some extent for the internal losses, although the external prices were significantly lower. In any case, Greek manufacturing firms have further explored their distribution and networking channels with the foreign markets, because they were already exporters. Becoming an exporting company overnight is not an easy task. But manufacturing has already a long tradition and this shift has been supported during harsh times.
How do you comment on the creation of a national investment bank - to be supported by European Institutions - as announced by Government Vice President, Nikos Dragasakis?
Launching a National Investment Bank in Greece, was not a completely new idea. Back in 2012, efforts were made to set up an investment fund, following the example of the German government-owned development bank KfW. The target of that project was to create a bank, which would leverage private and State funds, in order to finance SMEs, via a less bureaucratic procedure than that for receiving support from the EU structural funds. Eventually, that project was not realized. Today, the mobilization of all the resources available is needed in order to enter a stable recovery path. In this context, the creation of a National Investment Bank is a good idea. What is crucial in such cases, is first to define the priorities of such a funding institution. Will it be SMEs, will it be innovative activities from all the sectors of economic activities, will it be something else? This is a decision that needs to be taken upon launching of the bank. Next, the selection criteria for the proposed projects must be defined. Will it be turnover created from the project, job creation, and certain types of innovation? Furthermore, the governing body of the new bank must be safeguarded against any possible political interference. All these issues must be addressed, upon launching.
* Interview by Irini Anastopoulou and Nikolas Nenedakis
Greece. Images of an Enchanted Land, 1954- 1965. Photographs by Robert A. McCabe:http://mccabephotos.com/
Thanos Veremis is Professor Emeritus of Political history at the University of Athens, Department of European and International Studies and Founding Member of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP). Professor Veremis was educated at Boston University and the University of Oxford and has served as a professor and a researcher at universities in Europe and the USA. He was the first Constantine Karamanlis Professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University (2000-2003) and he served as President of Greece’s National Council of Education, 2004-2010.
His many publications include: Historical Dictionary of Modern Greece (1995, with Mark Dragoumis); Greece's Balkan Entaglement (1996), The Military in Greek Politics (1997); with Mark Dragoumis, Greece, World Bibliographical Series, vol.17 (1998); with John Koliopoulos, Greece. The Modern Sequel (2002); with Mark Dragoumis, Greeks and Turks in War and Peace (2007) and with John Koliopoulos, Modern Greece: A History since 1821 (2010). His latest book (in Greek, 2017) is Leaders of Μodern Greek history: Fame and Deadlocks.
Professor Veremis talked to Greek News Agenda* about the relations between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia after the change of Government in FYROM, stressing that the new Government under Zoran Zaev marks a change in the atmospherics for the two countries, but the name issue remains. Regarding the European policy for the Balkans, he expresses his hope that once the EU returns to its economic growth of the past, these territories will become part of the European family and that in the meantime they can prepare themselves for the Integration, a procedure which should be a modernization process, leading to states of citizens of equal status vis a vis the Law. He stresses the importance of education, expressing optimism that, when Greece returns to normality, its highly educated human capital will help the country resume its leading role in the Balkans.
ELIAMEP has a long tradition in Balkan affairs research and policy analysis, going back to the period of its founding in 1988. Have ELIAMEP’s research priorities regarding the region changed since then?
Well, in a way, we have drifted into EU affairs, but there is always interest in SE Europe. Recently we had a meeting in Athens with representatives of FYROM, so we are back in business, so to speak. The meeting was about current developments in FYROM, where there has been a change of government. There is a new government under Zoran Zaev now, instead of Nikola Gruevski and this has opened opportunities for discussions between the two Foreign Ministers, Nikos Kotzias of Greece and Mr Dimitrov of FYROM, who recently met.
Is there a new perspective in Greek – FYROM relations after the change of government in FYROM?
The atmospherics are much better now than they used to be. In fact the relations between Greece and FYROM were pretty bad throughout the years of Mr Gruevski, because Mr Gruevski made it his point to bring up issues that were not very pleasant between the two countries and therefore relations deteriorated, so to speak, whereas now things are beginning to look up.
The government has a rather weak majority in the parliament.
That’s very true. Mr Zaev's government became possible mainly because of the Albanian national group of FYROM, and Mr Zaev is drawing from that support to create a Government. Mr Gruevski still has a majority vote among the Slav Macedonian element in that country and therefore he may always return in the future, depending of course on how Zaev's government performs. If it performs well, Mr Gruevki’s possibilities will decrease, because, apparently, he hasn’t done a very good job in the economy and elsewhere and the relations between the two national groups, the majority element, the Slav Macedonians and the minority element, the Albanian members of the state, have been bad. So if things improve in various sectors, the new Government may succeed, but so far, as I said, there has been an improvement of atmospherics, which is, unfortunately, not substantial yet.
Mr Dimitrov, who visited Athens, and spoke with the Greek foreign minister, Mr Kotzias, did so in a very improved climate. Mr Kotzias even said that irrespective of the name issue and how that goes, relations between the two states will and have to improve. So there has been a good exchange of intentions. Of course, the question of the name remains, which is something that many people, especially those who know very little about the history of this part of the world, and, especially, the history of the Greek Civil War, have to consider.
Joint statements of Foreign Minister N. Kotzias and the Foreign Minister of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, N. Dimitrov, following their meeting (Athens, 14 June 2017)
The Greek Civil War took place from 1946 to 1949, between a Communist, a minority segment of the population, but still strong in terms of military capability, and a majority element which was against the Communist regime. One of the issues that was fought over during the Civil War was the change of regime, of course, but it wasn’t just that issue; the future of Greece’s part of Macedonia was also an issue over which the civil War was fought. In other words, I can’t think of any Greek political party that will sign an agreement with FYROM, if there is no alteration of the name, a composite name, not just Macedonia, because that lays claims or makes it very difficult to explain the existence of the other Macedonias: There is a Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, there is a Greek Macedonia, as that section of Greece is named and there is also a Bulgarian Macedonia that is a part of Bulgaria and a small segment in Albania. So when someone speaks about Macedonia, one must qualify which one and that is why no one should claim the absolute use of the term without any prefix.
What is the role of the FYROM ethnic parameter in the name issue?
Speaking as an academic and not a politician, there is a “flaw”, if I may say so, in the Constitution of 1991 of FYROM, in the sense that it was based on national identities rather than political identities. In other words, instead of addressing citizens of a state, the Constitution addresses national elements, national majorities and national minorities. I think it would make it much easier for them, now and in the future, should they reform the Constitution to address citizens of equal status vis a vis the Law rather than national groups.
What about the Confidence Building Measures that were proposed by Foreign Minister Kotzias? They have been viewed positively thus far.
Probably, I’m not in a position to say. I was not present in the discussions. We know about them only through the media. I hope there will be improvement. One improvement would be to strike off the irredentist nature of school books. School books in FYROM, as I remember, describe that state as a littoral state, which means a state that is near the Sea, near waters of one kind or another. So, if they describe their state in school books as littoral state, that implies that a part of Greece is historically a part, or should be a part of that state. Of course, this is highly unacceptable. So I think schoolbooks should be reformed as part of the confidence building measures between the two states. Schoolbooks in my point of view are very important, because they give you an idea of how the future citizens will think about each other.
South East European states have to face the consequences of the EU’s Enlargement fatigue, while they also feel reform fatigue.
This is a problem of clashing priorities. We hope that EU will be able to revive itself. Frankly speaking, the European Union has very few parts of geographic Europe left out of the EU nowadays. There is Switzerland and Norway of course, which have not joined the EU for their own good reasons and the Western Balkan states. My hope is that once the EU returns to its economic growth of the past, we will see another growth into these territories that have been left out. So, those who did volunteer to become members of the EU should not feel excluded, they should also try to change their ways, their ideas of what makes a democratic state: a state of citizens of equal status vis a vis the Law, not segments of nations that aspire to prevail in the state. Once upon a time this was understandable; it happened in Europe, everywhere, but not anymore. This is a thing of the past that has to be forgotten and change.
There is a common pattern in the former Communist states that are seeking Euroatlantic membership. They are reliving rather than bypassing their communist past. They begin with a nationalist Constitution and rather nationalist - irredentist claims. In the 21st Century the Balkan states have to regain the time lost. We can’t afford to relive the past.
Nevertheless, the EU continues to encourage these States for reforms, although a new Enlargement is not visible in the near future, at least for five years. Is there a paradox here?
Five years is not too much in the course of History. I mean, a state should be able to reform itself, prepare itself and five years go by very quickly. I think there is not only a chance but a certainty that all the states that have been left out of European enlargement will join in the near future, but, of course, not in a state of disrepair and irredentist claims against each other. That will not do. One cannot incorporate states that behave as ideological groups of the Middle East behave. These are not things we can afford to encourage anymore.
Is there a distinct European policy for the Balkans?
There have been many in the past and I think they can serve as samples of where the Balkans should be and should be heading. Some cases have worked very well. Consider Rumania, Bulgaria and then Croatia, which entered the EU by adhering to some of the prerequisites of the EU, especially Rumania and Bulgaria. Consider now the relations between these states and Greece, for instance, as opposed to what the case was twenty or thirty years ago. Relations were very bad between these states, mainly because of different regimes, different requirements and prerequisites. The EU was obviously not present yet. Things have changed to the better, to the best I’d say. So, if we take these states as examples and consider the various European directives that have been used throughout the Yugoslav wars, then we have a repository of ideas on how to become a modern state in the Balkans.
On the other hand, EU foreign policy has been criticized for lagging behind the US in the case of the Balkans.
Even international organizations, such as the EU states, which are a relatively recent phenomenon in history, make mistakes. All live organizations do, but they correct themselves. I agree that they may have mistaken assumptions about certain SE European states in the past and FYROM is a good example, but the USA also made a faulty assumption vis a vis FYROM, when they recognized FYROM under its constitutional name (Republic of Macedonia), when Mr Bush was President and Mr Cheney was Vice President. I think that was a mistake. They didn’t know the history nor did they care, they thought at that time that recognition would normalize domestic relations in that state. Obviously, it did not, because then the clash between Albania and Slavomacedonians occurred and the US had to rush for the Ochrid Agreement.
So mistakes are made and will be made throughout the development of international relations, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a clear route of development. Some states have managed to follow that route and do so very well. Some have not; they have lagged behind. My feeling is that, sooner or later, there will be an improvement everywhere. The Balkans will act as the rest of Europe does. In other words, relations between France, Italy and Germany etc are a far cry of what they used to be in the first part of the 20th Century. I am sure the same improvement will occur with the Balkan states in the near future.
With Europe facing one of its biggest crises in its history with Brexit and other centrifugal powers, how are Russia, Turkey and the Trump Presidency influencing European policy concerning the SE European states?
For one thing, as regards Brexit, which is probably the most obvious case of moving away from the EU, my feeling is that the British will return, not necessarily tomorrow or the day after, but since there are negotiations between the EU and UK, I believe that in a slower movement there will be a kind of improvement of relations which will lead to a comeback. My feeling is that the British are already accessing the dark side of their decision and that they will realize they made a mistake, not tomorrow, but in the near future, I would think.
As far as the rest, the outsiders, are concerned, Russia is a very interesting case. It is a very advanced society in terms of education, sciences and technology. It has problems in its economy, but it’s a country of great natural recourses. Turkey is very complicated example. Instead of proceeding forth, it seems to be backtracking in the sense that the state is becoming much more authoritarian. Mr Erdogan has invested all power to himself and that makes it very difficult to draw conclusions about the future. In that sense Turkey is still a big question mark for Europe.
As regards the Trump Presidency, the USA is the most advanced country in not all, but many fields. Yet this very advanced country surprised the world with the election of Trump, but it is much too early to draw conclusions.
Greece used to be at the forefront of the SE Integration process. What is Greece’s current role in the region in the economic crisis years?
Greece is not where it used to be. Greece was by far the richest country in the Balkans. It has lost ground, especially in per capita income. My feeling is that the economic crisis is a temporary setback and we will be back where we used to be and perhaps even better, should we learn from this experience.
I’m very optimistic about the future of this country, because I know its human resources. I was a Professor at the University and some 5-10% of the students were superb, better than in any other place I’ve been to. The average Greek family has been investing its entire savings towards the improvement of its children’s education. This has been traditional in Greek history, but more so in the last thirty years of Greek history. Of course, a significant brain drain has taken place, but still those that remain are well educated and will do very well in the future, should the political elite lives up to that standard. In other words, it’s not the society that needs to live up to its political leaders, but the political leaders must learn to live up to the average citizen of Greece.
It was the opposite in the 19th and earlier 20th century, where political leaders and political elites were superb. I will only mention a few politicians names, such as Ioannis Kapodistrias, Alexandros Mavrokordatos, Alexandros Koumoundouros, Spyridon and Harilaos Trikoupis, Panagis Tsaldaris and Eleftherios Venizelos. They were great people in terms of their political capabilities, in a society that was less developed and less educated, compared to contemporary Greek society. Fewer people attended University, whereas everybody does now. This is not to say that Greek Universities are good, they have gone down the drain quickly, but they need to be improved as well.
Once we manage to do all that, I think we will be in a much better state than we used to. As far as Greece’s role in the Balkans is concerned, I think that once Greece returns to normality, it will also play a leading role as it did when it was strong in business. Greece could bring its businesses into the Balkan states as it did for a very long time and I think it will do again in the future.
* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi
Vassilis Lambropoulos has been C. P. Cavafy Professor of Modern Greek and Director of the Modern Greek Program at the University of Michigan since 1999, teaching in the Departments of Classical Studies and Comparative Literature. Before that, he was Professor of Modern Greek at the Ohio State University for eighteen years. Among his former graduate students are two generations of today’s faculty promoting Modern Greek across the United States and beyond, including Giorgos Anagnostou (Ohio State University), Eric Ball (State University of New York), Vangelis Calotychos (Brown), Etienne Charriere (Ankara University), Maria Hadjipolykarpou (Columbia), Asli Igsiz (New York University), Konstantia Kapetangianni (North Texas), Neovi Karakatsanis (Indiana), Gerasimus Katsan (City University of New York), Martha Klironomos (San Francisco State), Eva Konstantellou (Lesley) and Yona Stamatis (Illinois).
A native of Athens, Lambropoulos received his B.A. from the University of Athens and his Ph.D. from the University of Thessaloniki. He has been teaching courses in Modern Greek language, literature, criticism, and culture, as well as literary theory and comparative literature. His main research interests are modern Greek culture; classical reception and the classic; civic ethics and democratic politics; tragedy and the tragic; word/poetry and music. His books are Literature as National Institution (1988), The Rise of Eurocentrism (1993), and The Tragic Idea (1996). He has co edited the volumes The Text and Its Margins (1985) and Twentieth-Century Literary Theory (1987) and two special issues of academic journals on "The Humanities as Social Technology" (1990) and "Ethical Politics” (1996). He has also published papers, articles, reviews, and translations in journals, periodicals, and newspapers. He is currently writing a book on the idea of revolution as hubris in modern tragedy. He blogs regularly on music, literature, friends, and resistance at https://poetrypiano.wordpress.com
Vassilis Lambropoulos spoke to Reading Greece* about his main areas of research during his thirty-six year academic career as a Professor of Modern Greek, as well as about his most recent work in progress, “a study of some thirty modern tragedies from several countries spanning the eighteenth to the twenty-first century, which dramatize revolution as an emancipatory yet ultimately self-destructive project”.
He notes that “literature does not exist as such, it happens in collaborative spaces and across historical times”, and comments on the term “left melancholy”, which he uses to characterize the Greek poets of the 2000s. He explains that “poetry seems to capture the general crisis exceptionally well because it has itself gone very creatively through an immanent crisis”, and adds that “the new Greek poetry is distinguished not only by its broad, multi-lingual cultural learning but also by the superior university training and theoretical sophistication of its writers”. He concludes that “modern Greek literary studies remains an introverted and solipsistic field which keeps sole possession of its subject and is not interested in conversing with other scholars and critics, let alone sharing it with them. Without an extroverted, comparative, and up to date literary study to support them, new translations will join earlier ones in quick, permanent obscurity”.
For thirty-six years now, you have been a Professor of Modern Greek in the US. What were your main areas of research during your academic career?
I have been a Professor of Modern Greek in the U.S. for thirty-six years, the first eighteen at the Ohio State University and the rest at the University Michigan as the first C. P. Cavafy Professor. I have been teaching and writing in four major areas. a) The literary canon and its margins: I explore forces which control what is promoted, reviewed, admired, taught as important literature, and what is deemed inferior. b) Western Hellenism: Since, as a Greek, I am a figment of the European imagination, I am fascinated by what scholarship, thought, and culture define as superior or false Greek. c) Autonomist politics: I am interested in questions of radical governmentality, such as self-institution and the tragic antinomies of constituted society, that is, how we can be free and at the same time rule ourselves. d) Modern Western music: I study why, more than any other art, music has been the domain where major cultural matters have been tried out and negotiated. Since 2014, I have been combining these four research interests in a blog on poetry, politics, friendship, and music: https://poetrypiano.wordpress.com
What could you tell us about your latest work in progress Revolution as Hubris in Modern Tragedy?
This is a study of some thirty modern tragedies from several countries spanning the eighteenth to the twenty-first century, which dramatize revolution as an emancipatory yet ultimately self-destructive project. I argue that modern tragedy has as one of its central topics the ethical and political dilemmas of rebellion, namely, periods of revolutionary founding when a new polity is caught between limitless self-authorization and self-limiting rule. Tragedy stages the drama of the Greek arche in its double meaning of beginning and rule, and asks whether self-rule may control itself. It explores the inherent contradiction of auto-nomia captured in its very etymology: Can freedom and rule co-exist? In order to experiment with both format and ideas, for the time being I am working on this project not as a book but as a blog-in-progress, which will be published in August: https://tragedy-of-revolution.complit.lsa.umich.edu/
Υοu seem to approach the world of literature with an interest to restore the socio-political dimension of its interpretation. Is this a unifying thread of your work?
You put it very well. In addition to the text, literature has many other integral components and dimensions, such as its production, circulation, reception, consumption, and appropriation. Literature excompasses all of them, and we need to study them whether we are discussing the multilingual manuscripts of Solomos, the private editions of Cavafy, the illustrated books of Dimitris Kalokyris, the installations of Phoebe Giannisi, the collaborations of Katerina Eliopoulou, or the performances of Patricia Kolaiti. Literature does not exist as such, it happens in collaborative spaces and across historical times.
You have commented that “the Greek poets of the 2000s, the Generation of the Left Melancholy, have a strong civic awareness and are very interested in the public presentation of their work. To them, poetry making does not end with writing verses but extends to the domain of their circulation broadly understood”. Could you elaborate on the “left melancholy” term and its various connotations?
The melancholic individual cannot overcome the loss of his favorite person/ideal/object by mourning it, therefore keeps longing for it and reliving it. He internalizes the lost object as a way of refusing to let the loss go. The bankruptcy of the revolution, along with the exhaustion of post-colonial emancipation, have inspired in Greek poets a combination of resignation and resilience which I have been calling "left melancholy." With their sophisticated skills of composition and performance, the poets of 2000 practice left melancholy as a technique of reflective engagement. Involved as they are in their collaborative and collective poetry/music making, these poets, most of them born around 1980, do not need the consolation of affective attachments which people born twenty or more years before them seek in order to sustain their cruel optimism for the Greek left government.
They never anticipated a left rule as a survival mechanism in their “damaged” world in the first place. Long before the “crisis” exploded, they saw it coming and reflected on it. Living under the devastating economic deprivation that followed so rapidly the 2004 Athens Olympics, the new poets have learned to look at the ancient ruins through the ruins of the neoliberal order. They do not envision liberation or advocate rebellion. They anticipate that the next revolt will explode suddenly, dissipate fast, yet also leave its mark. In the meantime, they are working together with their fellow countrypersons towards bottom-up communities of solidarity, towards a common of sharing, founding, building, even diasporic living. The exemplary collaborative and public work on left melancholy of the Greek Poetry of 2000 shows that the ethics of this political disposition may be driven by refusal, not resignation; defiance, not defeat; rage, not retreat.
Of all the Greek arts, poetry has been identified as the most representative of the current national crisis. Yet, you argue that to speak of “poetry of the crisis” can be misleading given that a crisis of poetry preceded the “poetry of the crisis”. How did Greek poetry manage to move from its artistic crisis of the 1990s to its ‘secessionist autonomism’ of the 2000s and beyond?
The literary generation of the 1990s sank without trace, as poetry underwent a fundamental crisis of civic confidence: for the first time in its modern history, it lost its faith both in its social mission and in emancipation. This was due to the collapse of the left utopia together with the Berlin Wall and to the pervasive narrativization of public discourse, which turned all storytelling into testimony. Following the exhaustion of political utopia and the rise of the traumatized self, Greek poetry felt ideologically and culturally marginalized.
In response to the decline of literary and political grand narratives, a new collective project emerged early in this century: the poetry of left melancholy of 2000. Poets de-territorialized the main milieu of literature by designing provisional zones in its peripheries. For example, they began operating in terrains like the bar, the gallery, and the bookstore. In the realm of mood, they introduced critical attitudes of autonomous disengagement, such as left melancholy, which arrived officially with the 1st Athens Biennale, “Destroy Athens” (2007). When poets realized that certain artists preferred to mourn over the classical ruins, they seceded from the mainstream milieu by establishing their autonomous terrain within the Biennale where they collaborated with other artists to create “nomadic art.” In general, because the crisis of left culture preceded that of left politics, poets were able to anticipate not only the “coming insurrection” of Athens in December 2008 but also the ensuing crisis and the self-implosion of the left in 2015.Today poetry seems to capture the general crisis exceptionally well because it has itself gone very creatively through an immanent crisis.
Modern Greek poets have quite different attitudes toward the Greek visual arts and to music. How is this overwhelmingly visual conception of the world that Greek poets have to be explained?
Greeks tend to be more ofthalmocentric that otocentric, that is, they prefer to see than to hear. They enjoy landscapes, not soundscapes. Listening enthuses them but it also confuses and disorients them. Through sight, they feel united with nature, where all is visible, identifiable, and self-contained; nothing moves, nothing happens. In nature, physics constitutes metaphysics, view grants vision. Greek poets, in particular, used to have an overwhelmingly visual conception of the world. Even when experimenting, they pursued a visualist expression, which might be realistic, symbolic, surreal or other but ultimately was based on a Cratylist understanding of language where word, image, and world become one.
Writers did not discuss music with composers because Greek poetry is iconolatric and pursues a total presence, whereas music cannot provide this comfort since it is never fully present and is always in need of actualization. Composers do not work with images, illustrate words, or imitate reality. As a result, their sonatas, symphonies, and quartets were alien to writers, for whom there were only two kinds of music: pieces drawing directly on demotic/popular dances or mimetic settings of poetry – ideally, a combination of the two. This phenomenon has been changing dramatically with the new poetry, because many of its writers are excellent musicians too and many others have impressive musical sophistication. It is exhilarating to see, for the first time in the history of modern Greek literature, poets and composers conversing and collaborating for reasons other than just illustrating verses with music.
Recently there has been an international interest in Greek poetry, as the growing number of translations, poetry anthologies, special sections or individual selections show. Yet, you argue, that this broad dissemination, is treated unsurprisingly in Greece (only!) with (at best) silence or (at worst) scorn. How would you comment on that?
The new Greek poetry is distinguished not only by its broad, multi-lingual cultural learning but also by the superior university training and theoretical sophistication of its writers. Unlike their predecessors, its members do not work on personal confession and national commemoration. Instead, they explore philosophical issues from aesthetic, ethical, political, legal, medical, economic, and other angles. To put it metaphorically, they have been schooled in post-colonialism, post-Marxism, accelerationism, genealogy, deconstruction, queer studies, and similar approaches –– and this theoretical awareness has created a big gap: Greek critics do not know these schools, and Greek scholars detest them, and as a result neither group can handle the new poetry, which is steeped in them. The extraordinary result is that, in response to the silence greeting them, poets have taken their critical reception in their own hands, and review each other's work regularly and ingenuously, thus extending their creative range. In fact, this is how theoretical reflection has finally made it into Greek literary thought, from performance studies to digital humanities and from translation theory to autonomist politics.
You have argued that Greek writers who live in Greece play no role in the so-called “world republic of letters”, noting that no Greek author or trend is included in textbooks andsurveys of, say, Romanticism or the Avant-Garde, feminism or post colonialism, the ballad or the short story. Yet a promising development is that in recent years Greek poets and novelists have been circulating all over the world. Is there a way for the challenges of integrating Greek literature in the international field to be met? What is the role of Modern Greek Studies in this respect?
Greek writers have not been citizens of the "world republic of letters" because their work is absent from its conversations and references. Translation in itself, indispensable as it is, means very little unless a work subsequently circulates in reviews, essays, studies, and textbooks. Many Greek writers have been translated to some reasonable extent yet they have not attracted any systematic interest from the opinion-making elite, and therefore have not entered any literary histories, surveys, or anthologies, and have gone quickly out of print. The reason is simple: modern Greek literary studies remains an introverted and solipsistic field which keeps sole possession of its subject and is not interested in conversing with other scholars and critics, let alone sharing it with them.
Without an extroverted, comparative, and up to date literary study to support them, new translations will join earlier ones in quick, permanent obscurity. Cavafy is the single exception precisely because critics and scholars (as well as artists and other creators) have been engaging actively with his work, building a large body of thought, research, and art with it. Like him, alien writers are admitted to the "republic of letters" when some of its most distinguished citizens make their translated works part of their everyday conversation and required learning.
*Interview by Athina Rossoglou
A Week of Irish Music, Art, Poetry and Culture, organized by Friends of Paxos and supported by Culture Ireland and the Embassy of Ireland in Greece, will take place on the island of Paxos from July 6 - 10, 2017. The Irish Wings Festival, showcasing the dialogue of Irish culture with Greece and featuring some of Ireland’s best musicians, painters, poets and chefs will be opened by the Irish Ambassador to Greece, Ms Orla O'Hanrahan.
Greek News Agenda* spoke to Kathryn Baird, a Friend of Paxos and a Paxos summer resident who, along with Chris Boïcos and Faye Lychnou, are the main organizers of Irish Wings. Kathryn is an Irish television and radio producer, who has organized several literary and cultural festivals in Northern Ireland, featuring Irish and Greek literature, music and photography.
Could you tell us a few words about the Irish Wings Festival’s structure and aims, as well as the choice of Paxos as the Festival's home?
Irish Wings, a weekend of Irish events on the Ionian island of Paxos, is an exciting new festival exploring Ireland’s connections with Greece. It will showcase the best of Irish culture to consider, in shared spaces, the ways in which artists work across disciplines, geographical territories and ethnicities. The events will take place in intimate venues, designed to engage the audience with the artists and reveal the richness of Irish culture to a Greek audience.
Paxos is an exquisite Ionian island on the western side of Greece, famous for its Venetian olive groves, clear waters, sea caves and white chalk cliffs. In summer it fills with international residents and visitors (25 different nationalities) who create a distinctly cosmopolitan atmosphere and enthusiastically attend Greek and international cultural events.
Who are the people and institutions behind the Festival, and what instigated your involvement that resulted in Irish Wings?
Though Irish Wings is an innovative venture, it grew out of the Friends of Paxos, which in turn grew out of the highly successful and respected Paxos International Music Festival, which has run on the island for over thirty years. Friends of Paxos is a non-profit organization, started in 2015 by the Franco-Greek an art historian and art curator, Chris Boicos, who is based in Paris and Faye Lychnou, a Paxiot who has long been involved in cultural projects on the island and the International Music Festival. The aim of Friends of Paxos is to promote the preservation of the island and present cultural events on the island during the summer season. Its activities, which are organized with the help of the increasing number of summer residents, include lectures, nature and cultural walks, rediscovering and cleaning the old network of paths which criss-cross the island and restoring icons in Paxos’s sixty-plus churches.
Chris Boicos, whose family is from Paxos, spent most of his childhood and adolescent summers on the island, with his grandmother, aunts and cousins. When, following his father’s death, Chris inherited the family home in the island capital, Gaios, he decided that he needed to spend more time there and opened a summer art gallery in the shop which had been on the ground floor. This evolved into the idea of inviting artists to stay and asking them to create work inspired by Paxos. The resulting artwork is usually shown either at the gallery or in the old schoolhouse in the neighbouring village of Loggos, which has gradually evolved into an exhibition and concert space.
I have been holidaying Paxos for some thirty years now and met Chris Boicos during a printmaking workshop in which I participated in the summer of 2015. Friends of Paxos had recently requested ideas for cultural events and I suggested a bouzouki concert in which Irish and Greek musicians could together explore the role of the instrument in their respective traditions. Chris was very taken by the idea and, during one of our meetings said, “Why don’t we put on an Irish Week?” I heard myself saying, “That’s a great idea” - and so Irish Wings was born.
We decided to start in small way and to mount the events in the early summer, when there are enough tourists and international residents on the island to make the events viable, but the weather is not yet too hot. Having the events over a long weekend also allowed the participation of Greeks, who could share in the events both as audiences and participants. Only one event a day has been planned, acknowledging the fact that most visitors to the island are on holiday and will want to spend time at the beach.
Ireland’s cultural connections with Greece figure prominently in the music that will be showcased. Could you tell us something about the other events?
The notion of the festival started with approaching Andy Irvine and Dónal Lunny, icons of Irish traditional and world music, to appear in a concert with the popular Greek group, Apodimi Compania, respected exponents of Greek folk and dance music and rebetika, the Greek ‘blues’. Though the bouzouki was introduced into Ireland by the singer, Johnny Moyhihan, in the 1960s, Irvine and Lunny had a major role in developing it into the instrument which is now known world-wide as the Irish Bouzouki and placing it at the centre of Irish music. The Irish and Greek musicians have collaborated before, in concerts and on CDs, and the concert, and the public interview which goes with it, are designed to offer valuable insights into the cross-fertilisation of musical genres.
Other events involve the poet Theo Dorgan, a former Director of Ireland’s respected poetry institution, Poetry Ireland. His collection, Greek, explores his love of the country, its history and mythology, especially the island of Ikaria where he often stays. Theo’s work has been translated into Greek by the poet, Socrates Kabouropoulos, and Socrates will be present to read with Theo, along with the poet, Alexandra Kandanou and the Paxiot writer and lexicographer, Spyros Bogdanos.
We also approached visual artists who specialize in seascapes. Views of the rugged Irish coast chime well with the local experience of the Paxos cliffs and it has been interesting to compare the light of the Irish seas with that in the Mediterranean. The paintings Chris has chosen have an entirely different sense of luminosity, though it is often said that the painter Derek Hill, who established the Tory Island School of primitive painters on a windswept rock in the Atlatic Sea off the coast of Ireland’s Donegal, said that the light on Tory was as intense as that of Greece. In our exhibition, two island experiences – north and south – will come together. Artists on show include Mick O’Dea, the President of the Royal Hibernian Academy and Denise Ferran, the President of the Royal Ulster Academy.
The final event is a cookery demonstration in which the Irish celebrity chef, Paula McIntyre, will demonstrate recipes inspired by Irish writers and Greece and using Irish and Paxiot ingredients. Food is another place where cultures meet and exchange and Paula will include in her demonstration work by the poet, Seamus Heaney, who was in Greece when he heard that he had won the Nobel Prize for Literature and who has written, in ‘Sonnets from Hellas’ the following lines:
As we wolfed down horta, tarama and houmos
At sunset in the farmyard, drinking ouzos,
Pretending not to hear the Delphic squeal
Of the steel-haired cailleach in the scullery.
Then it was time to head into Desfina
To allow them to sedate her. And so retsina,
Anchovies, squid, dolmades, french fries even.
Paula will also be demonstrating recipes derived from the writer, Anne Haverty, who will be present to read from her novel, The Free and Easy.
As the principal organizer of Irish Wings, what are your aspirations for this Festival and its effect on Irish-Hellenic cultural ties, the Greek public's engagement with Irish culture and vice-versa?
The image of the Festival, appropriately called Irish Wings, is a blackbird on an olive tree. In a famous mediaeval Irish poem a blackbird sings over Belfast Lough. For Irish Wings its song soars over the Ionian Sea.
The ultimate objective of all of this cultural activity on a small Ionian island is to create, in Paxos, which houses in the summer more than 25 different nationalities, a cultural space that is international and open, rich yet intimate. The small size of the island (8 x 5 km) allows almost everyone to meet on many informal occasions so that public and creators can exchange in a way that is often impossible in bigger cities or big festival sites. We also hope that all the Irish artists will be inspired by and respond to Paxos, eventually returning to the island with their new work.
Your ties with Hellenic culture in general and Paxos in particular are deep and long-running. How did it all begin and what are some of the other Irish Hellenic cultural exchanges that come to mind?
My own experience of Greece is that I came to the island as a holiday maker in the 1980s - surprisingly late, given that I had done my undergraduate degree in Classics at Cambridge, where I played the title role, in the original Greek, in Sophocles’ Electra, for the triennial Cambridge Greek Play. I also won the university’s Greek Reading Prize. But when I arrived on Paxos I was so attracted by the islanders’ warmth and hospitality that I decided to learn Modern Greek and ended up so loving Modern Greek poetry that I left my job as a BBC Producer to do a Masters in Modern Greek and Byzantine Studies at Queen’s University, Belfast. This brought me into contact with the then Greek Cultural Attaché in London, Victoria Solomonidis and we, together with Margaret Mullett, Belfast’s Professor of Byzantine Studies who went on to become Director of Dumbarton Oaks, began an Irish-Greek cultural exchange in Northern Ireland which involved presenting, with concerts, film and artworks, a symposium on ‘Performance in Byzantium’, an exhibition of prints by Alekos Fassianos, an exhibition of photographs by Dimitris Sofikitis, an exhibition of Greek icons and visits by Greek writers including Ersi Sotiropoulos.
I am not a musician, but in my experience traditional music in Greece, as in Ireland, is seen as a vehicle of national identity. A move towards the restoration of language, cultural and political values following independence are common to both experiences. As Richard Pine, the Irishman who directs the Durrell School on Corfu, said in a recent article for The Irish Times, ‘Traditional music from all areas of Greece, including rebetika from Asia Minor, plus the shadow-theatre of Karaghiozi, are vibrant presences in Greek cultural life, not merely hangovers from a forgotten past. In fiction and poetry writers constantly engage with the past as both a source of heritage and as a referent for contemporary life’. This is one of the elements that will feature in the Irish-Greek literary festival that Richard Pine is helping to organize in Corfu in October, when Irish novelists including Katy Hayes, Deirdre Madden and Paul Murray, will engage with their Greek counterparts to explore, among other topics, the way the past, and different memories of the past, insist on taking their place in modern writing.
Socrates Kabouropoulos, Theo Dorgan’s translator has produced Greek translations of many Irish poets, including Ciaran Carson, Paula Meehan and Brendan Kennelly and in December 2015 Athens hosted IRELLAS, a symposium on connections between Greek and Irish poetry, in which Theo Dorgan also took part and where lectures and presentations considered the work of Seamus Heaney, Derek Mahon, C.P. Cavafy and George Seferis amongst others.
*Interview by Magda Hatzopoulos
Read also via Greek News Agenda: Inner and Outer Landscapes of Irish and Greek Poets; Elective Affinities: Greece and Ireland
Akis Papantonis (Athens, 1978) studied Biology at the University of Athens; he is an Assistant Professor at the University of Cologne. He has translated Miroslav Penkov’s stories and Raymond Carver’s poems into Greek. For his first book, the novella Karyotype, he was awarded the Anagnostis 2015 First Book Award.
Akis Papantonis spoke to Reading Greece* about his first novella Karyotype, a book tries to address “one’s genetic and familial roots”, noting that the choice of Oxford as the setting of the book was “far from incidental – and at the same time far from autobiographical”. He comments that molecular biology is “a way of looking into life’s intricacies at the highest-resolution possible”, and adds that he tends to “approach literature the same way, whether reading or trying to write some”.
He also comments on his translation fo Miroslav Penkov’s translation of East of the West, commenting that “the translation of literary texts into Greek (from English) is one of the few ways left for me to ‘sharpen’ my language skills”. He concludes that “although multigenerational and perhaps spread across Europe or even across the Atlantic, there are some striking points of convergence in this ‘new generation’ of Greek writers”, among which “a common social origin”, “the way by which they treat History, precedence, politics, and by which they all agonize about the present”.
I got (somewhat unexpectedly) involved in Intellectum editorial matters a few years ago – I had published a short story of mine there, and via that my friendship with the journal’s editor, Victor Tsilonis, began. In the three issues that I have seen take shape with my contribution until now, there has been a strongest “bias” towards fiction in the magazine’s pages than before. And, to be fair to the efforts of its editor and the rest of the people involved, that is the actual extent of my influence. Of course, I read all submissions and discussed them, but Intellectum’s participation in Eurozine, the actual collaboration with graphic designers, printing services, and distributors is all a doing of Victor’s. Nonetheless, this one issue per year (typically first circulated at the annual International Thessaloniki Book Fair) is something I am proud of, aesthetically as well as content-wise.
Your first novella Karyotype received quite favorable reviews upon publication. Tell us a few things about the book. What purpose does the title serve?
To be perfectly honest, the way the book was received by literary criticism in Greece, by readers, by writers that sent a kind email of letter, superseded all my expectations. In brief, it is the story of a Greek biologist who moves to Oxford in order to pursue a scientific project (much likes the novella’s writer did). In this “scientific migrants” path, though, the main obstacles are his past and the unconventional ties to his family. The reader eventually discovers that the biologist, named simply “N.” throughout the book, was actually one of Ceausescu’s orphans that got adopted by this Greek family. He spends his time either battling loneliness or using his experiments to address his past and his confusion. This way, he ends up being a guinea pig himself, a “hermit amongst hermits” to slightly paraphrase my own book. The novella’s plot is rudimentary, most of the action boils down to the protagonist’s thoughts and to the things he does not do. In the end, it is the connection to one’s genetic and familial roots that the book tries to address – it remains to be seen how well it does so.
Finally, as regards the (rather scientific) title: a karyotype is an old-fashioned cell biology technique whereby the 23 pairs of chromosomes of a given cell are visualized, ordered from largest (chromosome 1) to smallest (chromosome Y). This order lends my book the basic scaffold onto which the story unfolds: in 23 third-person chapters/chromosomes, from 1 to Y (since the protagonist is male), with two intervening first-person narrations. Think about it another way: what is a given chromosome, but a set of information about the organism that carries it?
In his review of the book, Iakovos Anyfantakis notes that the choice of Oxford as the setting of your book is far from incidental, given the things that Oxford stands or doesn’t stand for. How would you comment on that?
It goes without saying that I heavily drew from my own experience for this book. I started writing the book before I left Greece in 2008. Like N., the novella’s protagonist, I too moved to Oxford, where I stayed and worked as a researcher and lecturer for almost 5 years. I used to walk around the city with a little notebook, writing down snippets of scenes that unfolded in front of me (all the book’s scenes featuring homeless people came from such snippets) or random ideas on how the book should evolve. So, no, the choice was far from incidental – and at the same time far from autobiographical. Each scene, each chapter, was written and rewritten, and then rewritten once more, until I could recognize nothing in that book but the character of N. and his deep personal troubles and strange aspirations. Still, every narration is a story that is received by us second-hand, and that we passed on transfigured in as convincing a manner as possible, is it not?
"Each chapter constitutes a chromosome in the karyotype. And from chromosome to chromosome, these fragmentary narrations were transformed from snapshots of reality into a self-contained history”. Where does the biologist meet the writer in your writings?
Molecular biology, my “trade”, sort of speak, is a way of looking into life’s intricacies at the highest-resolution possible. This means that I would tend to approach literature the same way, whether reading or trying to write some. So, the biologist does influence my writings a lot – after all, I do introduce myself as a “biologist” rather than as a “writer”. Having said that, literature is integral to my scientific work, it constitutes a welcome break from everyday struggles at the lab, while also a connection to my native tongue and community. I guess the problems start once the writer in me tries to convince the biologist to write his manuscripts in a more “literary” manner.
You recently translated in Greek Miroslav Penkov’s East of the West. Given that Miroslav is a “literary migrant”, born in Bulgaria, whose first book was written in an Engish-speaking territory, are there parallels to be drawn between your writing and his in terms of narration and/or maybe theme?
My relationship to that collection of short stories is a very peculiar one. I bought the book after having read one of Penkov’s stories online. It was in late 2008, before I had finished my novella. I revisited the book in 2013, after Kichli (my book’s publisher) has agreed to print Karyotype. Re-reading those stories made me realize the commonalities between my work and that of Penkov’s. First, there was the “literary migrant” experience that transcended both narrations, albeit via very different angles. Then, there was the structure of phrases and paragraphs, and the underlying musicality of the narration – it was obvious to me that my “addiction” to short, staccato, sentences was in fact dictated by the theme the novella dealt with, and such was the case for most of Penkov’s stories. Thus, I translated the main story, Buying Lenin, hoping to entice a publisher into investing in the book’s translation. Antipodes, a new but highly-esteemed publishing house, stepped up and the book found its way to the Greek market. And even more so, I am now also translating Penkov’s recent novel, Stork Mountain, a 100,000-word narration following in the footsteps of East of the West, which should be out by next Christmas.
I think it is important to note here that I see the translation of literary texts into Greek (from English) as one of the few ways left for me to “sharpen” my language skills. Living permanently abroad (currently in Cologne, Germany), I find myself reading books not written in Greek more and more, while also speaking Greek less and less. Hence, after East of the West, I translated a broad selection of Raymond Carver’s poems (an exceptional body of work comparable only to his best short stories), which was the most challenging task for me thus far. And these poems should be in Greek bookstores by next fall, with the care of Kichli Publications.
It has been argued that the new generation of Greek writers is multicultural, multiethnic and multigenerational. How do they relate to world literature? How does the local/national interweave with the global?
I am of the opinion that, although multigenerational and perhaps spread across Europe or even across the Atlantic, there are some striking points of convergence in this “new generation” of Greek writers. Many people will not agree; they do not see a unified “generation of writers” (perhaps because of a comparison to the prominent and distinctive generation of the 30s). Still, I cannot see how one might overlook the fact that most of the people in this undefined group share a common social origin (i.e., being raised under aspirations that cannot be fulfilled anymore amidst this worldwide state of crisis). Then, this generation of writers also share—more or less—the way by which they treat History, precedence, politics, and by which they all agonize about the present. They also share a common hope for producing strong literature, and for contributing to how the narration of the transition into the 21st century is shaped.
Many of these new writers have lived and studied abroad, they have read world literature a bit more broadly, they have acquainted themselves with various other cultures. And this is exactly the point at which the local (coming from a “small” language like Greek) merges with the global; and this is exactly why I think (and hope) that eventually some of the writers of this very generation with find a vantage point in the global scene. But, regardless of any of this, the most important aspect for me remains the fact that their work hopefully comes to voice either collective or individual concerns and daydreams of a broad (young) demographic, be it directly or indirectly.
*Interview by Athina Rossoglou
Katerina Iliopoulou is a poet, artist and translator, who lives and works in Athens. Her poetry books are Mister T., 2007 (first prize for a new author by the literary journal Diavazo), Asylum (2008), The Book of the soil (2011) Gestus, (poetry and photography, [frmk], 2014, with Yiannis Isidorou), Every place only once, and completely (2015), all published by Melani editions. She is also the author of several essays and reviews on poetry. Her translations into Greek include the work of Sylvia Plath (Ariel, the restored edition, Melani 2012), Mina Loy, Robert Hass, Ted Hughes, Walt Whitman.
Her poetry has been translated and published in literary reviews, journals and anthologies in many languages (English, French, Italian, Spanish, Swedish, Finnish, Turkish, Bulgarian) and she has participated in a number of international writing and translation programs, festivals and biennials. She is the editor of a bilingual anthology of contemporary Greek poetry (Karaoke Poetry Bar, 2007) and co-editor of greekpoetrynow.com. She is editor in chief of FRMK, (pharmako) a biannual journal on poetry, poetics and visual arts.
Katerina Iliopoulou spoke to Reading Greece* about what changed and what remained the same in her poetry over the years, noting that she often imagines her books “as installations, as having a life outside the written text, ideally becoming book-houses or landscape-books that can be read, inhabited and crossed”. She also comments on how the notion of space/place is imprinted on her writings, explaining that “the idea of space in my poetry relates to the question who am I?, it is a kind of ontology, if I may say so, which moves away from metaphysics and touches the material world in order to research and re-invent”.
She argues that “poetry is an active way to observe and feel the world which is perpetually incomplete, immense, contradictory, full of meanings and full of collapses”, and concludes that “we have to find new ways to talk about influences, beyond national, linear or historical connections. The work of art is a kind of passage and because of it we are able to pass through borders, genres, constructions, deconstructions and transformations”.
From Mister T. in 2007 to Every place only once, and completely in 2015. What has changed and what has remained the same in your poetry?
My first book Mister T. is a book of apprenticeship in which the main character Mister T. became both my creation and my guide to poetry. In a way he taught me how to be the poet I wanted to be. What we call inspiration is the power that draws you to something which is attempting to talk to you. It is a meeting. To find the language to conduct this meeting is the adventure of art. So every one of my books is a different country, so to speak and a different field of research. Poetry for me is a way to think, know and connect, it is like creating a mystery instead of solving it and somehow this mystery is also the answer. I often imagine my books as installations, as having a life outside the written text, ideally becoming book-houses or landscape-books that can be read, inhabited and crossed. Something you could experience with your whole body. The element of composition is very important to me, part instinct, part artistic decision. In my books there are autonomous poems, or specific sections which are connected through a narrative or conceptual stream. The composition is revealed to the reader by reading the book in a linear way from beginning to end, discovering the connections, the references and relationships between the texts.
“Not who I am but where I am”. How is the notion of space/place, in all its connotations, present in your writings?
I think that the idea of space in my poetry relates to the question who am I?, it is a kind of ontology, if I may say so, which moves away from metaphysics and touches the material world in order to research and re-invent. We are inside place and place is within us. It gives birth to us and we give birth to it, it dreams of us and we dream of it and so it remains always new, insofar as we are able to develop with it a dialectical relationship insofar as we discover it and simultaneously discover ourselves. The book of the soil, my third book, proposes poetry as a strategy for life. It is formulated around the idea that the world we live in is not a completed work, nor a landscape to be looked at, but a field of action. The book questions the nature of reality and imagination, wonders about the gaze which thinks and the senses which seek the non-existent. There are two characters in the book, a man and a woman: they read the landscape as if it were a text and at the same time they write it. They observe and inhabit it with their thoughts, their senses, their imagination and their memory.
In my last book, Every place only once, and completely, I tried to poetically conceive the idea of homeland, as mnemonic, historical, sensual, individual but also collective place and also as illusion, invention, memory, desire. The book is a journey in the heart of the country, which remains conspicuous, undefined, inconceivable. But here the journey, as passage (poros) and questioning (aporia), is not a destination but unraveling. And the place is nothing but the field of reception of a palimpsest of inscriptions and interpretations, without coinciding with any of them. It became clear to me in the process of writing the book that it would be impossible to deal with this subject if I myself as a writer was not prepared to be lost, did not risk to allow multiplicity or even vertigo to happen. Including narrative and poetic essay, lyrical poetry and autobiography and incorporating texts from other writers, Every place only once, and completely, is an archaeology of the present which uses different means in order to approach a center that remains uninhabited, a desire which is constantly moving fleetingly.
You are editor in chief of FRΜΚ, a literary magazine aiming to explore the poetic phenomenon in its entirety. What differentiates FRMK from similar ventures?
FRMK (pharmako) is a collective work. This collective between the poets who consist its editorial group was formed over time, through numerous common projects in the last decade and shared concerns, but mainly an intrinsic interest or passion for poetry matters beyond each one’s personal work. The magazine was created because of the need to establish a place where this dialogue could continue and become public. The discussion between the editors group, on matters of contemporary poetics and the relation between poetry and society, that we have been publishing in FRMK for the past 5 issues (more than two years), soon to become a book, is an important part of our activities. We tried to create a magazine that would not be a catalog of texts but a field for meeting, dialogue and research. FRMK aspires to bring forward specific aspects of contemporary Greek poetry and thus form a distinctive character, trying to detect and articulate some criteria of what is and what an active contemporary poetry can be. Extensive translations and presentations of the work of important poets from many different languages (mainly from the 1950s and forward), often for the first time in Greek, and the presence of theory with texts from important thinkers and philosophers form the main body of the magazine, while we have already created a corpus of book reviews for some of the most interesting poetry books written in the past four years. The ways that poetry participates and relates to other arts and the presentation of six Greek visual artists in each issue through a sixteen page art section, alongside the overall design of the magazine complement its course so far.
In recent years, there has been an extraordinary burgeoning of poetry in every form: graffiti, blogs, literary magazines, readings in public squares to mention just a few. How is this trend to be explained? Could poetry offer new ways to imagine what can be radically different realities?
I am a bit skeptical concerning this trend and it is a complex phenomenon. I don’t know what it means. What I do know is that there are powerful poetry voices in Greece who have emerged the past 15 years, some of them the recent years, and I think it is urgent to discuss, study and bring forward these voices. The poetry books by these poets create language which is a provocation and an invitation for critical thinking and self reflection. If we fail, as poets, philologists, critics, historians, readers, (and there is an incredible lack of serious and consistent criticism, or studying of the new Greek poetry) to recognize and acknowledge these signs, we will have lost the opportunity to know the art of our time and only observe the spectacle.
Poetry is an active way to observe and feel the world which is perpetually incomplete, immense, contradictory, full of meanings and full of collapses. In poetry, language is disrupted, is dislocated and this maybe brings forward the possibility for us to deny the world as it is. It seems nowadays that our world is described through a unique narrative, that is: economics. But we cannot accept our lives to be reduced in numbers. We need alternative narratives in order to live because if we accept our lives to be nothing but a useful juxtaposition of numbers we are ready to accept abyssal horror once again. Poetry is an alternative narrative of crucial importance. It deals with all the complex matters of humanity in its own poetic way, a way always of doubting and searching, which includes the body and its uprise, defends what is real and the uniqueness of the experience of every human being in a world dominated by the totalitarianism of commodities. By creating new metaphors, new vehicles of meaning, it regenerates our spirit, helps us develop critical thinking, describe ourselves, interpret our lives with more complexity and depth. It opens up a space of possibilities within what we consider as reality. More than that, it implies the fact that perhaps we need to think more carefully about the unrealistic or even the unattainable in order to preserve what is real.
“Poetry constitutes at the same time a question and a leap of faith to continuity. It maintains distrust against the “self-evident’, life as an act and not as mere survival, the thirst for meaning, the fight against the diffuse nihilism that surrounds us”. What role is poetry, and art in general, called to play in times of crisis?
Art works with its own laws. It constitutes a place of risk, imperilment, it is not easy to be inhabited, all the more when most people are not even given the chance, bombarded as they are with the propaganda of mass culture. The sociopolitical and economic crisis we are experiencing has brought forward the claim towards poetry to produce answers to urgent current matters of our society and in this way to become useful at last, to tell us something. Practically though this claim is asking to subordinate poetry (art) to the law of the market, turn it into a product. If I could think of a role, then I would think of it as a denial. A denial of defeat. Defeat presupposes that there could be a winning, a better whole which has been shattered, a paradise lost which is placed in the past or in the far future. And a denial of mourning, that is of the acceptance of a total dominion of the inescapable. We will never accept that they have won. That denial represents poetry for me, which insists to be saved within all that has already happened in the historical time, within disaster, the non-explicable past, within the transient and impermanent, within the secret, song, friendship and the erotic body.
Poetry is also the field where we can place, observe and experience the relationship of man with the non human elements, the animals, plants and inorganic world. In this realm, taking into account the falls, deaths, successive layers of interpretations and infliction, we continue in spite of it all, looking for companions against nothingness, against resignation from movement and possibility. Looking for a condition of togetherness. To look for a common language means I look for dialogue. The problem cannot be resolved, it does not “fit” in a specific place, but we insist to generate thought that is addressed to others, that creates narrative, therefore action, to memory as something active, we insist to desire the things that cannot be destroyed.
Photo Credits: Sofia Camplioni
What makes a national poetry appealing to a foreign audience? And, in turn, to what extent do Greek poets incorporate foreign influences in their work?
I am afraid the reasons that could make a national poetry appealing to a foreign audience, especially a poetry coming from a country of the periphery and a small language, lie outside poetry and have to do with circumstance. But circumstance can be an opportunity so that individual poets of a certain language can be heard. The poet is an observer whose testimony is both personal and cultural, but as an artist I try to move against the notion of a definitive tradition, or language or truth and towards a sense of homelessness, even exile. I think that most poets who write in Greek today are far from any notion of being representatives of a nation or tradition and this is one of the central characteristics of this phenomenon of new Greek poetry we are talking about. This stance however does not prevent many of them to deal with issues of national and historical identity.
The term national poetry though seems to look for a new circle of belonging, a new identity, terms of a specific community. Usually the ones who invoke a discourse of belonging are seeking for a discourse of sovereignty or they become its servants sooner or later. Greek and foreign do not exist as a duality anymore in contemporary art. Our influences are far more complex, shifting, diverse and constitute a place which is inhabited by a multitude of relatives, friends, brothers and sisters and companions, rather than parents (mainly fathers). We are exposed since our early youth in so much text, books in different languages, translated or read in the original. So many of the poets have studied abroad, they live and work abroad, the world we live in, digital or analog, is fluid, nomadic, porous in many ways (in other ways it is impenetrable but this is another discussion). And we are also in contact with the broader range of art in all its forms, which incorporates all genres. We have to find new ways to talk about influences, beyond national, linear or historical connections. The work of art is a kind of passage and because of it we are able to pass through borders, genres, constructions, deconstructions and transformations.
*Interview by Athina Rossoglou
Nikos Mandis is the author of four novels, one book of stories and three poetry collections. He is also a translator of English language fiction. He lives and works in Athens. His latest novel is called The Blind Ones and has just come out.
Nikos Mandis spoke to Reading Greece* about his latest novel The Blind Ones, noting that his main goal was “to create a somewhat complex mix of interwoven stories, that would have Athens as the main protagonist, but also Greece as a whole, mingling versions from its current and older self, using the mythological archetype of the labyrinth and the Minotaur as a blueprint”.
He also comments on how violence, in its multiple connotations and manifestations, is dealt with in his books, as well as on how his language has evolved or become differentiated from one book to the next. He characterizes international acclaim as “a perpetually elusive goal for Greek writers”, and concludes that a problem in some parts of Greek fiction is that “traditionally, writers tended to use it not as a goal, as a way to enjoy storytelling per se, but as a means, as part of a wider agenda, be it political, national, social, etc. I think what we need are some really crazy and bold ‘servants of fiction’, writers whose true loyalty will be towards great stories and nothing else”.
Your latest novel The Blind Ones was just published and has already received rave reviews. Tell us a few things about the book.
It is a book of about 600 pages, with a lot of characters, plots and subplots, most of which revolve around the centre of Athens within a time span that goes from the current era back to the 1970s (the time of the junta) and back again, and also some seemingly random scenes that work as intermissions and take us as far as ancient Greece or even prehistoric Babylon. The central story, however, is about the quest of the main character (Isidoros) to find the girl he loves and has lost (Sophia) in the backstreets of downtown Athens, during a time of particular turmoil and unrest (the summer of 2011).
In his review, Vangelis Hatzivasileiou notes that The Blind Ones is not just a political novel but a plunge into modern Greek political identity. How is the social interwoven with the existential in the book?
Well, I’m not sure I can answer that. I certainly wanted the book to transcend well-known categorizations such as ‘political novel’ or worse ‘Greek crisis novel’, as well as the more fashionable one of ‘postmodern novel’. My main goal was to create a somewhat complex mix of interwoven stories, that would have Athens as the main protagonist, but also Greece as a whole, mingling versions from its current and older self, using the mythological archetype of the labyrinth and the Minotaur as a blueprint. I also wanted to write a thriller that would combine elements of modern paranoia, especially the local brand of conspiracy theories and their political underpins, that I came to be fascinated with.
“I have always wanted to write a multi-layered novel, a story that would connect multiple persons and different readings of reality, which would however be centered in Athens…I had the feeling that the way Athens was depicted in the books was more or less incidental…I wanted the city to come to the fore through its history, unveiling the multiple levels that constitute its identity”. Tell us more.
Yeah, as I said earlier, that was what I had in mind. I always loved the way cities of the world became literary cities and were eternally mythologized in the works of great writers, be it Hugo’s Paris, Dickens’ London, Durrell’s Alexandria, Sabato’s Buenos Aires, Mahfouz’s Cairo, Auster’s New York, Pamuk’s Istanbul, the list is endless. I had the vain ambition that I could do something similar with Athens, as a kind of work-in-progress to mythologize the Greek main city, which, the way I saw it, did not have a similar literary treatment, at least its modern embodiment.
It has been argued that violence is the opium of the era. How is violence, in its multiple connotations and manifestations, dealt with in your books?
Violence -especially in its more understated, ‘muted’ version- is a great means for creating tension in fiction, so I really go for it, hoping to use it wisely and with restraint. On the other hand, in our everyday, ‘real’ lives, violence is something we tend to encounter and even suffer more and more often, either in the context of world news, or in the daily life of a crisis-stricken country. Moreover, violence can be also politicized, seen by various agents as a currency and a means for desired change. All these are recurring elements that one should take note of when writing fiction about Greece today, within a social environment that frequently asks writers to ‘take sides’ in an ongoing conflict, be it class struggle, or the need to modernize the country, depending on one’s ideological viewpoint. I tried to stay out of it, being aware, of course, that trying to stay out is also very political.
What about language? How has your language evolved or become differentiated since your first writings?
I think the use of language in my fiction tends to gravitate towards each book’s scope in terms of storytelling, so sometimes it is exceedingly lyrical (as in my first novel, Winter Snow) and sometimes quite sparse (as in my previous novel, Rock, Paper, Scissors). In this one, language tried to imitate the book’s structure, therefore it revolved around seemingly endless phrases, sentences and paragraphs, testing the reader’s patience, towards what -I hope- can be seen as a kind of esthetic reward and not total exasperation. I felt that if I was dealing with something ‘labyrinthine’, the novel’s language somehow had to follow suit.
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?
I think that this is a total fallacy, a notion that has next to zero credibility and truth. Short form is a very complex and demanding sort of prose writing, and it has produced excellent works in Greek literature, but the same can be said about novels, from Roidis to the world-renowned Kazantzakis, to Vassilikos and Tsirkas. I believe it is nonsensical to say that one sort of writing is more inherently ‘Greek’ compared to others and also quite defeatist to be honest.
“I consider that the novel is one of the means that will enable Greece to enter a broader map and communicate with people beyond its borders”. Does the new generation of Greek writes have the potential to attract foreign readers?
International acclaim seems to be a perpetually elusive goal for Greek writers. Frankly, I don’t have a fixed answer for that, i.e. whether it is a matter of sheer quality (or lack thereof) or of a more complex nature, like the limited use of the Greek language globally, the absence of a state-funded translations program, etc. I think that, if I had to pin down a problem in some parts of Greek fiction, it would be that, traditionally, writers tended to use it not as a goal, as a way to enjoy storytelling per se, but as a means, as part of a wider agenda, be it political, national, social, etc. I think what we need are some really crazy and bold ‘servants of fiction’, writers whose true loyalty will be towards great stories and nothing else.
*Interview by Athina Rossoglou
Filippa Chatzistavrou is research fellow at Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP), adjunct lecturer in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration of the University of Athens and research associate in the Institute of European Integration and Policy of the University of Athens. She has previously taught at the University including Paris VII Denis-Diderot and the Institute of Political Sciences in Paris. She has published widely in the area of theories of European integration, EU institutional governance, political sociology of EU actors and administrative integration in the EU. She is a columnist in Greek and foreign press.
Chatzistavrou talks to Greek News Agenda* about the Eurozone crisis affect on the European elites’ perception of the EU project and Europe’s position in the world, stressing that they pretend to ignore the fact that the deep internal coordination deficit of the euro area is the primary cause of the EU’s ineffieciency to absorb external and internal shocks. She stresses that, given the complexity of the post Brexit era it would be misleading to assume that a certain integration scenario will prevail in the EU. Chatzistavrou also explains what the dangers of differentiated integration for the European project and acquis might be and finally comments on the recent elections’ results in the UK, France and the Netherlands.
How does the Eurozone crisis affect the European elites’ perception of the EU project and Europe’s position in the world?
For more than four decades, the EU has been considered to be a driving force in Europe through the building of a market Union that was widely perceived as a stepping stone toward economic, social and political security. This narrative has lost its credibility and strength progressively since the mid-90s. Actually, the Eurozone crisis was not the triggering factor but the detonator of a process that was already well under way. In the early 21st century, European elites are reacting rather than acting to endogenous and exogenous pressures, i.e. the rise of neo-authoritarianism at European and international level, the continuing uncertainty from Brexit, deterioration of Eurozone public finances’ sustainability, increased competition with longstanding and emerging economic powers, ever-increasing security threats etc.
Facing all these challenges, European elites attempt to make the European project sustainable by introducing a new narrative that is based upon the idea that the EU needs to adapt to these changes in order to avoid geo-political and geo-economic declinism. The creation of a common defense pillar, the adoption of common strategic approaches to fight terrorismand the conclusion of bilateral trade agreements with a view to opening up more international markets are on the top of the new EU agenda.
Since Eurozone membership seems less attractive than before, European elites highlight the link between economic integration and security by placing at the centre of the discussions the idea that deeper integration can proceed to the field of defence and security policy. This will allow the EU to play a role as a global actor, give an impetus to political integration, thus enabling member states to move forward with Eurozone policies. In the meanwhile, it is pointed out that for those member states willing to participate in a later stage of enhanced cooperation within the EU, beyond the firm commitment to comply with pre-determined fiscal rules, it is of major importance to ‘get rid of the structural rigidities’ of their national economies and further to promote their flexibility and their coordinated opening to international markets. The idea conveyed by dominant European elites is that the euro-crisis is mainly due to the structural functioning of the European economy, pretending to ignore the fact that the primary weakness of the EU in absorbing external and internal shocks remains the deep internal coordination deficit of the euro area.
The White Paper on the Future of Europe, presented by the European Commission on March 1st 2017, sets out five scenarios regarding the future of Europe, which correspond to five integration models. Which of them seem more likely to prevail in the post Brexit era?
These scenarios presented by the European Commission are devised as ideal types to capture extremely homogeneous options of integration models, leaving the misleading impression that one of them will prevail. Reality might be more complex than theory. The eventual promotion of differentiated partnerships will probably promote the creation of different levels of integration and memberships (multi-level and multi-entry Europe) in an important number of thematic pillars: monetary stability policies and stabilization of fiscal and economic policy, migration, internal security and border management, defense cooperation and external security. Not to be excluded is the adoption of the majority decision-making rule through the conclusion of new ad hoc thematic treaties that will validate the planned regulatory framework for cooperation of a thematic pillar under the influence of the most powerful member states. The result could be a minimal Europe based on the elemental plan of the single market, beyond which groups of member states will pursue more advanced projects but without any common governance architecture. This will lead to a complex map of differentiated integrations involving different groups of different countries in different policy areas rather than one core group separating itself from the rest. This is a possible real-life scenario of spatially permanent differentiation where the goal of unified integration is abandoned in some (or all) areas, while only some groups of member states cooperate (in extent or/and in depth) together in variable and specific policy fields.
What would be the impact of a differentiated integration on the European project? What would be the perils for the EU’s acquis?
Differentiated integration occurs whenever EU law is not uniformly valid in at least one of the member states. A governance model with multispeed (an environment of cooperation in specific sectors) and multitier (an environment of cooperation with separate institutions) characteristics, involves different member states in different sectoral cooperation schemes. Traditionally-speaking, the concept of a multi-speed Europe is related to a purely temporal variance in levels of EU states’ participation in integration, which nevertheless shares the same goal, but a number of them will cooperate together at a faster pace than the others (instrumental differentiation). In the post-Brexit era, which model seems to be the most viable solution? Until the 2008 crisis, instrumental differentiation was the dominant pattern. Since then, this changed to a certain extent with the reinforcement of the intergovernmental governance of the Eurozone. If constitutional differentiation is going to be mainly privileged in the future, it will promote the pattern of stable exclusion of some member states and a stable variance in levels of EU member states’ participation in cooperation.
Given the Union’s increasing heterogeneity and major differences among EU countries, there are many who argue that the “willing and able member states should make a qualitative leap forward on their own, if others do not share the same expectations, aspirations and values”. A successful leap forward, where the dominant model of governance will be a multispeed Europe, is it only a matter of political willingness or is it also a matter of political convergence on specific public policy orientations?
The use of policy tools of differentiated integration in various sectors risk challenging the very logic of integration in its classic definition, as well as the general principles and primary sources of EU law. Flexible integration now risks becoming an instrument for conducting sectoral policy schemes rather than a vector for positive integration. The only way to develop a multi-speed model of governance while maintaining EU’s systemic cohesion is to use the appropriate instruments provided for in the Treaties (enhanced cooperation, structured permanent cooperation), thus using the European Union's institutions and procedures. The acts adopted in the framework of institutionalized cooperation are implemented by the participating Member States, while the others are informed on a continuous basis about the evolution and can later on, if they want to, participate.
Privileging the accommodation of flexibility outside the EU’s institutional framework or further developing institutional intergovernmentalism may prejudice a competence, right or obligation of non-participating states, while excluding them permanently from a specific scheme of cooperation. A shift towards these forms of differentiated cooperation risks increasing disputes between diverging interests of EU member states. Furthermore, it risks rendering the EU captive to special interests, thereby further compromising the material and institutional acquis; a potentially aggravating factor should be kept in mind, namely the fact that the EU acquis will go through a test during the Brexit negotiations. In a domino effect scenario, some member states could demand for a special status (Austria, Poland or any other member state ruled by a hard or soft Eurosceptic leader, as it could be the case of Italy’s Five StarMovement), giving even more credit to the idea of ungovernability and delegitimation of the European project.
Would you like to comment on the results of the elections in the UK, France and the Netherlands?
What is striking is that it becomes more and more difficult to predict with consistency individual party preferences and voting behaviour in neoliberal meta-democracies. In the British general election, the Prime Minister's party won 42% of the vote, with 69% turnout. It's considered to be a seismic political shock. In France, the party of the President of the Republic won 32% of the vote, with 49% turnout. It is considered to be a triumph.
May’s strategy for calling the snap election two years ahead of schedule in order to secure a large majority to strengthen her position in negotiations with the European Union failed. Theresa May relied on UKIP voters; but around half of the UKIP vote went to Labour. In fact, the overwhelming issue of this election was hostility to Tory austerity measures. After bashing Corbyn for years, analysts now explain that it represents the rejection of traditional elites and of anti-Europeanism… No doubt, Corbyn made an electoral breakthrough amongst youth and in urban areaswith the most leftist manifesto since the 80s. But, in the case of an alternative parliamentary coalition involving Labour, the SNP, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party, he would be obliged to shift to the right…Anyway, that would only be possible in the unlikely case that Sinn Fein decides to take its seats accepting to recognize Westminster rule. As for now, in the British two-and-a-half party system, the Tories agreed to make a deal with Northern Ireland’s DUP, a British nationalist, conservative right-wing and anti-Corbyn party that supported the Leave vote but is in favour of a pro-EU market Brexit solution in order to avoid the restoration of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in the south, while also opposing Tory social cuts.
In the case of France, Macron represents the biggest minority majority (majorité minoritaire) in the country. In the first round of the Presidential election, he gathered 24.1% of the vote, of which only 55% were positive votes supporting his political project. After years of political hypocrisy, Macron offers, after all, the French anti-state neoliberal right and the hidden neoliberal governing centre-left the opportunity to assume their ideas by proposing the ‘magic bullet’ solution: an uninhibited neoliberalism combined with a sophisticated socio-cultural liberalism. The legislative election result draws the picture of a ‘Chambre introuvable’, where a large part of the French population will not be represented in the parliament, reminding of the longstanding weakness of left forces to give convincing answers to neoliberal reformism.
The phenomenon of ‘pasokisation’ of establishtarian social democratic parties, in France or the Netherlands, reveals a double failure: their inability to track and trend (social stratification changes and declassification, effects of technical changes on the structure of employment and wages etc.) and their increasing remoteness from the primary materialist concerns of the vulnerable social layers of the populations. That is why in the first round of the French legislative election, popular categories stayed away from the polls, while 70% of French retirees that are among the wealthiest in Europe, voted. Paradoxically, this will enable Macron to have “unchecked powers” to impose his program.
* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi
Read via Greek News Agenda (15.12.2016): ELIAMEP’s Filippa Chatzistavrou on the Stakes of EU Summit and the 3rd Bailout