athanasiou1Athena Athanasiou is Associate Professor of Social Anthropology at Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences. She has authored the books: Life at the Limit: Essays on Gender, Body and Biopolitics (Athens, 2007); Crisis as a State of Exception: Critiques and Resistances (Athens, 2012); and she has co-authored, with Judith Butler, Dispossession: The Performative in the Political (Polity Press, 2013). She has also edited: Feminist Theory and Cultural Critique (Athens, 2006); Rewriting Difference: Luce Irigaray and 'the Greeks' (co-ed. with Elena Tzelepis, SUNY Press, 2010); and Biosocialities (Athens, 2011).
 
She is a fellow at the Center for the Study of Social Difference, at Columbia University, Vice President of the Athens-based Nicos Poulantzas Institute, and member of the National Commission of Human Rights, Greece.
 
Athena Athanasiou spoke to Rethinking Greece* about social struggles in Greece and internationally, critical resistance, progressive reforms and the need for a European re-assemblage:
 
You co-authored with Judith Butler "Dispossession: The Performative in the Political". Can you tell us more about the book's content and perspective?
 
We tried to reflect together on how dispossession --as a power configuration of neoliberal capitalism, colonialism and neo-colonialism, apartheid, nationalism and racism-- calls for a critical re-engagement with, and re-imagining of, the political, especially in times of crisis. So, we ask: how does the crisis work to reproduce, complicate, alter and/or intensify the terms through which subjects become gendered, racialized, and classed? And how might this question be asked from the perspective of a resistant performative politics of reclaiming public spaces and liveable lives?
 
Exploring the concept of dispossession outside the logic of possession, we tried in our conversation to conceptualize its links to relationality, precarity, biopolitics and collective protest. In dealing with the question of what makes political responsiveness possible in these precarious times, we focused on the double valence of dispossession –as the violence of disposability, but also as integral to processes by which subjects are formed in loss and in relation to one another. As it marks the limits of one’s own self-sufficiency, it becomes an occasion for the collective political work of transformation. So we took up current predicaments as an occasion to explore what it means to think about the subject as one of induced precarity, but also as one of “being-with”. In these times of crisis, when certain groups are rendered disposable and exposed to the biopolitical economisation of life, racism, state abandonment and the decimation of public spaces and services, we tried to reflect on how “we” (with all the trepidations and impossibilities that mark this “we”), engage with an agonistic way of reimagining and prompting the political imaginaries of radical democracy today. It is in this sense that in this book we take up the political as performative. 
 
It has been one year since the national elections that brought SYRIZA in power. How do you evaluate this year’s achievements (if any)?
 
Syriza became the first left government in the European Union. This event presented a great threat to the rule of conservative authorities and unelected functionaries of EU. Syriza’s coming to power opened the existing balance of power as a site of political contest and a horizon of possibility for introducing dissent and the claim for social justice in the EU orthodoxy. Its aim was, and still is, to call for another democratic configuration of politics in Europe. Needless to say, however, this is hardly a finalized achievement. Rather, it is about an unstable and contingent process, without predetermined end. Twenty-five years after the notorious “end of history”, the compulsory economization of the political terrain aspires to take the place of a new «grand narrative» affirming the axiomatic inevitability of global capitalism.
 
Since the night of July 12-13, 2015, when massive pressure was exerted over the Greek authorities to compel the country out of the Eurozone or agree on a punitive austerity package (a forced «agreement» that the left government could not accept but also could not refuse under those circumstances without certain grave risks), the European Union is a different place: one marked by the surrender of liberal democracy to authoritarianism. In this context, Syriza chose not to leave the battlefield. Appreciating the political significance of such choice requires breaking through both celebration of resistance as invulnerable and deploration of injury as depleted of agency.We need to remember that resistance is, in many ways, always already dependent on power. One of Marx’s most compelling insights is that “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.” (The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, 1852).
 
As we are reflecting and struggling to process today the devastating defeat that the left government in Greece suffered in the hands of global finance capitalism, we have yet to make way for acknowledging that it was despite, and even through, that «defeat» that the debt question was politicized, the normativity of the EU as an extra-political, post-democratic project was put in question, and an increasingly divided Europe’s (dis)order of things was pushed to its own limits.
 
It seems that the crisis as a “state of exception” is becoming the rule throughout Europe, while some of the parties that participated in the indignant movements of 2011 have been integrated into the political system (Podemos, SYRIZA). Do you think the emancipatory potential of those sociopolitical movements is still alive?
 
The state of unending crisis is a way to regulate what forms of the political are made permissible and possible. Breaking the vicious circle of intensified conservatism, currently manifesting in austerity obsession and securitarian border closures, requires questioning crisis as an apparatus of power and knowledge. It requires, crucially, another configuration of politics in Europe, based on inclusive, post-territorial citizenship and participatory democracy. 
 
I wouldn’t agree with the statement that “the movements of 2011 have been integrated into the political system”. In Greece, in any case, the state is not controlled by the Left and neither has the Left been integrated by the status quo. Étienne Balibar1 has taught us that governmental power does not amount to taking the power of the state apparatus. Governing this way requires institutional imagination, imaginative institutional critique, critical interventions, collective intellect and reflective action, alternative sensibility and responsiveness. What is needed is an equivocation between two antinomical forces of politics: namely,«insurrectional» and «constitutional» politics, to recall Balibar again .
 
The new configurations of anti-capitalist political mobilization that we witnessed during the past few years in several settings have inscribed a popular discontent with the status quo in the midst of violent dispossession, disposability, despair, and injustice but also in the midst of neo-Nazi and far-right violence. They have made us wield the possible in the actual, albeit without guarantees and without programmed outcome. As present regimes of governance increasingly and differentially expose people to the injuries of poverty, demoralization, and racism, a performative politics of protest has emerged, one which mobilized the potentiality of transforming such injurious interpellations. I think that the transnational reverberations and translations of these movements and struggles, as they traverse regional and national boundaries, have assumed critical urgency in our times. 
 
At this distressing moment for Europe, critical resistance includes resisting the assumptions that underlie the neoconservative manufacture of consent around the narratives of austerity capitalism, securitarianism, and nationalism. Critical agency then pertains to the question of how subjects, through our plural and differential embodiedness and embeddedness, might contest with others these unjust and injurious terms.  
athanasiou2On the one hand, Europe has been deemed a “positive influence” on Greece, in terms of gender and human rights issues, as some progressive reforms in these areas (i.e. the recent civil partnerships law) have been defended as “encouraged” by the European institutions. On the other hand, the European institutions also demand austerity measures and tighter control on borders and refugees. How do you judge this contradictory influence of Europe on Greece?
 
Let me reply to your question with two points and self-positionings, in a nutshell: First, I don’t subscribe to the uncritical Eurocentric conception of white bourgeois Europe as the enlightened cradle of human rights. And second, I defend and affirm gender equality and genderqueer politics that are not associated with the production of new devastating injustices and violences, such as anti-immigration nationalism. 
 
It is clear to me that human rights in Europe are today, and have been in the past, put at risk. There are EU governments that set aside human rights in the name of sanctified “security”, in contexts of combating terrorism. Anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiments and violence, as well as abusive asylum procedures and detention conditions, are widespread across the continent. In “fortress Europe”, which witnesses the callousness of closed borders and a neo-Nazi upsurge, the cynical politics that produces superfluous and desperate people is intricately related to fascism, racism, and the extreme nationalist definition of homogeneous and exclusive community -with all its fundamental implications of capital, gender, sexuality, and ethnicity. 
 
So I think it is important to reply to the question: what alternative and critical form of non-eurocentric, non-alienating «Europe» and its infrastructural conditions would be embodied by refugees and undocumented migrants who cross the Mediterranean waterways in leaky and overcrowded fishing boats hoping to reach European shores and being let die in the attempt? What claims to the institutional conditions for livability do they enact, every time they encounter barricades, racist attacks, and military institutions of securitization instead of conditions that allow for safe crossing, welcoming, and equal belonging? 
 
I am convinced that there is an urgent need for a process of restructuring and re-founding of Europe and in Europe, beyond territory. A Europe committed to, and ruled by, the neoliberal agenda and its concomitant destitution, inequalities and discriminations should give its place to a social and political Europe of rights, participatory democracy, and inclusive citizenship.
 
Can we still re-think Greece as a country of progressive reforms within the current economic, social, and political constraints?
 
Under harsh pressure, Syriza government has passed laws that bear clear democratic left valence. Its record of progressive reforms includes a law that provided relief from humanitarian crisis by offering free food, electricity and public health access to those who have been mostly affected by the austerity policies; the citizenship law which granted nationality to all second-generation immigrants and first-generation immigrant children who had five years of schooling in Greece; the law designed to democratize penal law and to ensure the humane treatment of those incarcerated in the country’s prison system; the law on civil partnership with no gender and sexuality exceptions, and many others. 
 
At the same time, short of adequate local infrastructures and EU support, and also despite and against border closures mandated by other European states, the Greek government seeks to undertake efforts that could respond to, and counter, the intensifying anti-refugee policies in Europe. Again, this is not (only) about Greece. Europe is at the edge of a collective disaster: an appalling mix of rapidly rising nationalisms, disintegrating democracy, heightened autarchic governmentality, and deepening economic inequalities. 
 
The question is how to derive transformative potential from constraints; how to provoke shifts in the terms through which the political is articulated in Europe today. Whether, how, and at what cost Syriza can hold on and promote egalitarian policy under the tutelage of the austerity memorandum, is to be seen. This, of course, relates to a broader question: is it possible to go beyond the normative horizon of capitalist globalization within a nation-state in light of present conditions of impossibility – capitalist crisis, securitization, rising nationalisms, and the post-colony? This would arguably require building transnational alliances and coordinating social struggles and movements. It would require more courageous solidarity and more consistent mobilization among the peoples of Europe. In order to turn the tide across the continent, we urgently need a European re-assemblage. Not an easy task.
 
1.Étienne Balibar, «The 'impossible' community of the citizens: Past and present problems», Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 30 (3): 437-49, 2012
 
*Interview by Ioulia Livaditi 
 
 
Watch Athena Athanasiou's lecture: "As if it were possible": Performing the Institution in the un/common space of the Polis" (3rd International conference of the Group for Social Engagement Studies, University of Rijeka, How to Act together: From Collective Engagement to Protest, Belgrade, November 19-21, 2015):

kornetis2Kostis Kornetis is a CONEX-Marie Curie Fellow at the Humanities Faculty of the Carlos III University, Madrid, working on the "Revisiting the Past and Present of the Spanish and Greek Transitions to Democracy" (RESPAGRET) project. He received his PhD in History and Civilization from the European University Institute, Florence. From 2007 to 2015 he has taught at the History Department at Brown University and the Center for European and Mediterranean Studies at New York University. His research focuses on the history and memory of the 1960s, the study of authoritarianism, the methodology of oral and sensory history and the use of film as a source for social and cultural history.

His book Children of the Dictatorship. Student Resistance, Cultural Politics and the “Long 1960s” in Greece (New York/Oxford, 2013) received the 2015 Edmund Keeley Book Award of the Modern Greek Studies Association. A Greek translation ("Τα παιδιά της δικτατορίας, Φοιτητική αντίσταση, πολιτισμικές πολιτικές και η μακρά δεκαετία του εξήντα στην Ελλάδα", Polis Editions) of the book has been recently published and is being widely discussed in Greece. He recently co-edited, with Eirini Kotsovili and Nikolaos Papadogiannis a volume titled Consumption and Gender in Southern Europe since the Long 1960s.

Kornetis spoke to Rethinking Greece* about the legacy of the student resistance during the Dictatorship and the democratic transition in Greece and in other southern European countries like Spain and Portugal, as well as about youth movements around the world now and in the 60s.

In your book “The Children of the Dictatorship”, you focus on student resistance during the Dictatorship in Greece (1967-1974). Are there aspects of this era that have been left in the dark? Why do you think the historical research of “the long 60´s” in Greece has been relatively limited so far? 

My book focuses precisely on the generation and its subunits that was in the vanguard of student action in the “long 1960s”, thus following not only the transition from the pre-dictatorship years to the actual Junta but also from the fall of the dictatorship to the immediate Metapolitefsi years. I thus tried to follow this dynamic part of society and look at the ways in which it managed not only to resist successfully an authoritarian regime, but also to create meaning out of its everyday life in those adverse conditions – including its proper mentality, culture, ideology, utopias. There are many aspects of that era that are still left in the dark, however, the most serious of which is the extent to which a substantial part of Greek society benefited from the Colonels, a taboo issue until today. We tend to look at urban areas – but what about a history of rural Greece during the seven years of the dictatorship? In terms of university life, the story of the aggressive student followers and supporters of the regime is yet to be written – I myself only focused on the dissident ones. 

I believe that the study of the 1940s in Greece has monopolized discussions on the recent past so far, and to some extent rightly so as it is impossible to understand the second half of the 20th century without a deep understanding of the civil conflict. However – the 1960s is a pivotal decade that conditioned to some extent the entire era that we live in and therefore the attention now needs to be shifted. Fifty years after the establishment of the dictatorship and with no archival or other limitations, it is high time to start exploring this era in a more systematic manner. There are already new and exciting studies by young scholars coming out on a number of topics – ranging from the technocrats of the time and their relation to the regime, the business and industrial world, the aesthetics of the regime and its monuments, are but few of them – which shows that there is an up and coming new generation of researchers ready to provide fresh insights into the period.

kornetis7Greek exceptionalism discourse has been very prominent during the current crisis. Do you think this is connected to the narrative of the “failed” Metapolitefsi (Greek Transition)? 

I believe so, yes. In a recent volume co-edited by historians Effi Gazi, Manos Avgeridis and myself, called Metapolitefsi, we came to a similar conclusion regarding these discourses. There is a tendency to blame the transition and the period that succeeded it for all ills in Greek society – arguing that Greece is somehow a unique case in this respect, if compared to other “success stories”. Of course we are quite prone to exceptionalist discourses of this sort – so in a way this comes as no surprise; but if one looks at the other countries of Southern Europe who had an authoritarian experience, similar narratives emerged there during the crisis too, albeit not as intense as over here.

How do the democratic transitions compare between Greece, Spain and Portugal? 

These are three different cases of post-authoritarian transitions in the European South, which however share important similarities. Spain experienced a so-called “pacted” transition that was agreed between all political parties, including the Communist and the King, providing for a smooth passage to democracy. A precondition for the democratic turn was amnesty of all political crimes and the supposed termination of the abysmal political cleavage that had started with the civil war. A serious side effect of this decision, still tormenting Spanish society at present, is the feeling that there was no justice done to the victims of Franco’s regime, hence there was no closure with the past by means of catharsis. These are issues that the current crisis is powerfully re-opening with a new generation demanding to break the silence. Furthermore, the 1978 Constitution that acquired totemic status is now criticized for many failures of the political system ever since.

Portugal, on the other hand, has different issues to deal with. Since it experienced a revolutionary break from the dictatorship, one of the big debates at present is the difficulty to deal with this revolutionary legacy and even recognize its positive sides, which were until recently ignored by history books. There are open issues there too, moreover, mainly regarding the hitherto unproblematized colonial violence exercised during the last years of Caetano’s dictatorship, as well as the unprecedented wave of refugees fleeing the former colonies to seek refuge in Portugal. The trauma of this people was once more discussed during the crisis – in an interesting twist of events former colony Angola offered financial help to its historical colonizer.

What connects the three cases is the role of resurging memories, political slogans, historical metaphors and past conceptual frames expressing the conflict between collective experience and official historical narratives. Part of the current symbols of anti-austerity protest, for instance, stem from the period of the dictatorships, the transitions and their poetical-popular archive: Protesters interrupted the speech of Portuguese Prime Minister Passos Coelho in the national assembly in 2013, singing Grândola, Vila Morena – Zeca Afonso’s emblematic song that gave the signal for the Portuguese Revolution in 1974. Two years earlier, in the summer of 2011, the “Aganaktismenoi” in Greece rhythmically chanted “Bread–Education–Freedom” (the main slogan of the student protesters in the November 1973 uprising against the Colonels’ dictatorship), adding “The Junta did not end in 1973”, thus indicating a certain continuity in state coercion from the 1970s to the present. In Spain, a graffito that proliferated during anti-austerity protests read “Franco is back” – rather than “Franco is dead”, which was the famous television communiqué by prime minister Carlos Arrias Navarro in November 1975. Thus, present-day social movements asking for an inclusive and fully participatory democracy, tend to act as “mnemonic agents”, pointing not only to a structural and organic connection between the political transitions and the current crisis and the persistence of authoritarian legacies but also to an affinity in terms of historical poetics.

Speaking of Southern Europe, the various “Indignados” movements that appeared in 2011, clamored for democratic renewal, a demand that is yet to be fulfilled. Could such demands have been formulated as a part of a wider south-European movement? What do you think is the legacy of the Greek Indignados / “Aganaktimsenoi”, if any? 

I am not sure – because of the different timing and intensity of the cases in question. Greece was the first country to be hit by the crisis where very dynamic movements developed from below, leading however to a certain protest fatigue much earlier than in the other cases. I believe that the legacy of the Indignados is a mixed one, especially in the Greek case of the “Aganaktismenoi”. And there I see a basic difference vis-à-vis the other cases, which were in general more uniformly progressive-minded. The division of the Syntagma Square into “upper” and “lower” parts, the first one corresponding to the nationalistic and the other one to the leftist tendency is a peculiarity of the Greek anti-austerity movement, that in some ways later on materialized through the strange bed-fellows that formed the governments Syriza-ANEL.

So, to some extent – just like Podemos in Spain – these political formations harvested the “movement of the squares”. In a way, we witness a southern European momentum, starting with Syriza, passing over to the leftist government in Portugal, and ending up with the rise of Podemos in Spain, it seems that something is gradually changing in the South. However, the problem with these platforms is their connection to actual governance. They all promise alternative anti-crisis politics that would break the vicious cycle of austerity. For the podemitas, just like for Syriza, all it takes for one to break ordoliberalism and austerity politics in Europe is political will, losing one’s fear vis-à-vis the supranational institutions and acquiring popular legitimization. And this, in a way, is a legacy of the movements from below. On the other hand, however, Alexis Tsipras’s political defeat after the July 2015 referendum in Greece bulldozed, I believe, these dreams. Now we know that there is no way that a government could utilize the popular support or popular pressure from below in order to break the neoliberal outlook of international creditors. Due to this realist turn, some people argue that these formations now know what is possible and what is not, having acquired a better and more realistic grasp of the veritable horizon of possibilities. 

Do you believe the Indignados movements in Southern Europe, and by extension the Occupy movements in America can be compared to the youth movements of the 60’s in Europe and America?  

It is difficult to say. In general I find inter-generational and transgenerational comparisons challenging, which is why I tend to focus on them in my current research. My observation is that the Indignados did refer to the 1960s – after all it is one of these rare moments of synchronic social action all around the globe (starting with the Arab Spring, over to Spain, Portugal and Greece, and of course climaxing with Occupy). One could say that the connectivity that the 2011 movements denote – facilitated by social media -, had as its starting point the very idea of the “global village”, coined by Marshall McLuhan back in the 1960s. Also – just like in the 60s, now too inspiration is stemming from the periphery and gets diffused into the center, from Tunis to Washington and not vice versa. In terms of structural comparisons, however, things are more complex. The 68 movements did question the structure of the entire post-war condition in both East and West, challenging the status quo of an aged society. By bringing about not only a political but also a cultural revolution of sorts, it changed people’s way of thinking and of being socially, not least through the entire palette of “new social movements” that sprang out of it, ranging from feminism to ecology. I am not sure if such a radical potential exists right now but it remains to be seen.

kornetis5Can we rethink Greece in the wider framework of “Democratic Transitions in Times of Crisis" and its discourses? 

This is precisely the topic of an analysis that we attempted in a special issue of the academic journal Historein – which also features an article by Antonis Liakos and Hara Kouki on this type of discourses. I believe that the crisis has opened up the gates for revising the entire transitional and post-transitional periods since it put into question some of their basic conquests (welfare state, etc), but it also revealed the limits and flaws of the entire political spectrum ever since. It further prompted us to question the standard narratives regarding this entire period, to seek alternative explanations and try to provide a more profound analysis, highlighting the longue durée itineraries of our societies. Furthermore, social movements from below often acted as carriers of revisionism regarding transitional processes as smooth, unproblematic and efficient. 

Moreover, people who experienced the dictatorships in a young age and were among the protagonists of social movements during the transitions, experience an afterlife of activism. These “children of the dictatorship” who had been largely discredited as the equivalent of the “compromised” ’68 generation in the case of Greece, or ignored by the general public in the case of Spain, are now rediscovered by a new generation of activists; the generation of those born during this democratic consolidation, or ‘children of the transitions’, who have been a great force behind today’s indignados. It is, thus, notewrothy that at a time when historians in Greece, Spain and Portugal are trying to write the history of the transitions, turning the past into history, these “children of the transitions” turn the not so distant past to a very immediate present. And this is something we cannot ignore.

*Interview by Ioulia Livaditi and Nikolas Nenedakis

RESPAGRET engages in a comparative perspective on the long-run effects of post-authoritarian politics in Southern Europe and the generational memory thereof, bringing together comparative history, social movement studies, and oral history. Watch Kostis Kornetis explaining the aims of the project:

lagranderegressionNoëlle Burgi is a political scientist and sociologist, a researcher at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), currently working at the Centre Européen de Sociologie et de sSience Politique (CESSP) of the University of Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne. Her research focuses on the transformation of the state in Europe, neoliberal governmentability, the reconfiguration of the welfare state and its political and social consequences. Among other academic works and articles she has published in the Monde Diplomatique, Noëlle Burgi also edited the collective work:  “La Grande Régression. La Grèce Et L’avenir De L’Europe” (“The Great Regression. Greece and the future of Europe”). Noëlle Burgi talked to GrèceHebdo* Greek News Agenda's sister publication:

Since 2011 you have been striving for a collaboration between Greek professors, researchers and intellectuals, in order to form an international network researching the generalization of austerity policies in Europe, especially their political and social consequences. Where are we today with the implementation of austerity policies in Europe?

Austerity policies can be defined as a coherent set of measures leading to the decline of social rights that were conquered more than a century ago, when the welfare state was built. They seek to change the balance between capital and labor by deconstructing  the social systems legal frameworks that ensure social solidarity, substituting the founding principles of democratic coexistence with the mechanisms of competition. The consequences of austerity are always selective, affecting mainly public goods and services upon which vulnerable social groups and the middle class depend.

The 2008 financial crisis has undoubtedly been seized as an opportunity and a pretext by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the most powerful countries in the euro area, starting with Germany, to push further, more quickly and irreversibly the hitherto gradual decline of social rights. Just as for the first time in Western Europe, elites and dominant institutions applied to Greece and to other debtor countries IMF’s widely discredited method of structural adjustment, the European Union was preparing, with the 2012 Fiscal Stability, Coordination and Governance Treaty (TSCG), the enhancement of the powers of the ECB and the Commission. These two institutions are now monitoring national budgets ex-ante as well as ex-post and can almost automatically punish any member-state that disobeys austerity requirements.

It is not by chance that the ECB President, Mario Draghi, said in 2012 precisely, that the welfare state was "over". Submission to the regulations bolstered by the Treaty was also intended to produce a deterrent effect by stigmatizing Greece.  Since 2012, there have been numerous and intrusive interventions of the Commission in the national budget programs. As a result, the states adopt "reforms" that speed up the disintegration of unconditional social rights, the deterioration of solidarity institutions (from collective bargaining and public hospital to national education) and the privatization of common goods, such as water, electricity and transport.

noelleb2The collective work "The Great Regression" (which you edited) calls Greece the "laboratory" for the reconfiguration of European economic and social policies. Do you also see the rise of Syriza in power as another case of political experimentation?

What do you see as being the main impact of the policies of Syriza for the Left in general, and for the anti-austerity movement in Europe specifically?

Syriza raised great hopes among the European Left because it embodied a consistent political and intellectual response to the prevailing EU norms;  the possibility to give people back their dignity and control over their fate, to refocus European choices towards a balanced and just economic and social development, to prove that another politics is possible and to change the balance of power with the emergence elsewhere in Europe, particularly in Spain, of similar social and political movements.

A coalition of powerful countries and dominant interests turned Greece into a laboratory, subjected to the imperatives of "internal devaluation", in total denial of the incontestable theoretical and empirical evidence attesting to the failure of the stated objectives of austerity (return to sustainable growth) and in blind disregard for the consequences of their policies, including the humanitarian crisis in Greece, the rise of social violence, strengthening the extreme right and xenophobia. This coalition decided, you know, to crush the movement supported Syriza in 2015.

In doing so, they also decided to administer a political lesson to the rest of Europe, especially to the protest movements of the Left with the wind in their sails. Greece was made an example of for the entire continent, intended to demonstrate that the hegemonic logic would in no way be questioned. The German-European ultimatum that "crucified" Alexis Tsipras on the night of July 12 to 13 in 2015, also served as a warning for France, Italy, Spain and Portugal, so that they would not deviate from the rigors of budgetary discipline. Simultaneously, it actualized the will of the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, to reduce Greece to a debt colony, but also, as pointed out by Joschka Fischer, to transform a European Germany to a German Europe, reviving the Machtpolitik (Power politics). All this has profoundly shocked the world, and of course the divided movements of the European Left as a whole. The whole struggle for recognition of the right to have democratic and social rights has to resume. In Greece and elsewhere.

What is future for the European project given the handling of the economic crisis, the retreat of the welfare state and the management of refugee crisis by European leaders? Is another Europe possible or are we moving towards a Europe of borders and identity politics?

Europe is threatened with collapse. The catastrophic management of the so-called sovereign debt crisis and the deep fractures revealed and /or caused by the flow of refugees from the Middle East, North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, clearly show that Europe will be forced to choose between, on the one hand, the possibility of a breakdown due to the reintroduction of border controls and the resurgence of nationalism and, on the other, a decisive shift to federalism aligned with democratic objectives. The first seems most likely because the far-right xenophobic forces are on the rise, due to the persistence of the dominant economic, social and political logic.

The European dream is dying, if it is not already dead: the dream of creating a social and democratic space based on a cosmopolitan conception of identity and citizenship. In its place, Europe seeks to protect itself behind walls, barbed wire, military and police, trying to pass over to Greece and Turkey the management of migration flows and the responsibility for internal divisions of EU’s own making. This is not a new problem and it is becoming even the more serious. As Seyla Benhabib said in 2005, "negotiating the status of insiders and outsiders has become tense, almost warlike."

 See more: Debate "Crise grecque, crise européenne" (26.01.2013). En partenariat avec Le Monde diplomatique, Rue89 et l'Agora (Maison des initiatives citoyennes de la ville de Nanterre).

 

*Interview by Magdalini Varoucha (translated by Ioulia Livaditi)

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

BehrakisFotor 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

BehrakisFotor 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Interview by Ioulia Livaditi