YHY7751aYiorgis Yerolymbos is a photographer and architect with a Ph.D. from the School of Art and Design of the University of Derby, UK. His photographic work has been published in a number of books on landscape and architectural photography. His work focuses on the interface of nature and culture as it can be exemplified in contemporary topography. He photographs landscapes under transition, places that have sustained changes in the face of modernisation and optimisation of land exploitation.

His research interests include the process of beautification of landscape in contemporary photography, the construction of identity through lived-in space. In 2008, supported by a Fulbright scholarship, he travelled the US by car from East to West and back focusing on the American landscape and how its visitor-user perceives it. He has participated in the Venice Biennale of Architecture twice: in 2012 with large-scale works of the city of Athens and again in 2014, with landscape images of Greece. In 2013 his photographs were included in the main exhibition Everywhere but Now of the 4th Biennale of Thessaloniki, curated by Adelina Von Fürstenberg. Since 2007 and for a decade, he has been the official photographer of the construction of Renzo Piano’s Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC).  He recently presented his work in MoMA, New York. 

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Yiorgis Yerolymbos views the 20th century Greek city as a museum for the next generations and tries to give to the world his whole self while photographing. He spoke with Greek News Agenda* about his work on the construction of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, architectural photography, photography in Greece, Athens’ image and the Greek urban landscape: 

You were asked to capture the work at and the construction of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center? How would you describe this experience?

It was an incredible experience and granted me the best decade of my life. I enjoyed it enormously, and had fun while working. I had the opportunity to meet thousands of people and make friends for life. On its heyday, we had more than 5.500 people in the construction site of all nationalities and backgrounds, people from India and Pakistan, from Germany, Italy, Albania and Poland; I worked with every single one of them, and consider myself very fortunate to have done so, I was somehow a privileged spectator of a closed environment which was not accessible to the general audience due to safety reasons. As you can understand, a construction site is always secured; one cannot enter without clearance, and has to wear a helmet, a jacket or special shoes in order not to step on something. It is a protected environment and I was privileged to be one of the very few witnesses of its day-by-day changes. They were so fast to take place, ephemeral in a way that they could not be found the very next day. The photographs taken are the only proof that they ever existed.

What does a building like the SNFCC add to the image of Athens?

I would say the world for a number of reasons, but most importantly, I think that Renzo Piano’s Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center adds a modern contemporary building to this city that already had enough ancient ones to demonstrate. 

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In Athens, as one easily imagines, there is no lack of ancient locations and sights to visit. What was missing was a building of contemporary architecture of the highest level, a signature building if you like. And, before the Niarchos Centre, we could only find that in power buildings of restricted access. For example, the Ethinki Bank's Mario Botta building in Kotzia Square or Walter Gropius' the American Embassy. So, I would consider the Niarchos Centre as the first signature building by a star architect that belongs to everybody and it is there for everybody. I think this is quite significant at this time and age.

What led you into photography? When did you realize that this is what you want to do with your life?

I was trained both as an architect and a photographer. I chose to become a photographer for two main reasons. First, being that with photography you to get to visit other people’ s worlds, which helps one enormously to broaden ones horizons. You find yourself in a environment of constant learning. For example, you get to an oil refinery to take photos, you meet the people there, you understand the process and you spend time with them, and this is a rare opportunity that very few people have. Again, you have a privileged point of view. Whatever subject matter you approach, you find yourself in multiple worlds so to speak, thus enriching your experience. Secondly and most importantly, I wanted to have a chance to see the world. It may be incredible, but the quality of world-seeing that photography provides is unparallel to any other profession, one could argue, and I think I am intitled to say so as photography has taken me everywhere in Greece, although I am pretty sure I have missed some parts (Amorgos comes to mind...). I have seen my fair share of the world precisely because I had to photograph it.

What is photography for you? What do you express through architectural photography?

Somebody far more intelligent and far more eloquent than myself gave the very definition of what photography is. It was the great Robert Adams, one of the photographers from the New Topographics movement in the 1970s, who said "what photography traditionally tries to do is to show what is past, present and future in one shot". For a photograph to work you need ghosts of the past, the daily news and prophecy. So I think this is what makes a photograph interesting. In a successful photograph, you recognise the updated information of the current world, and at the same time you trace the past and from a proposal for the future. It goes deeper than the visual surface and that is, to my mind at least, what makes photography interesting.

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As far as architectural photography is concerned, architectural photography is exactly what the title describes. It is photography of architecture and at the same time the architecture of photography itself, a structured photograph if you like and it is precisely this that takes a lot of time to reach. You need follow a very slow and careful process, you work with a tripod, you need to have a big view camera, and take your time; and through this process you methodically compose your photography.  You look at the world in a completely different pace and you give it your whole self. And this puts you, at the end of the day, in an extraordinary position to appreciate the world far more than the average person who shoots thousands of photos a day and then moves on to the next point of interest.

If I have to photograph a monument, it will take me hours and hours to set everything, to look at it, to take my time and as a result I start to experience it differently.  That is what architectural photography offers, in my view.

What are your thoughts regarding photography in Greece?

We really have photography of the highest level in Greece and there are fellow photographers whom I highly appreciate. If one would like to point out a problem is that photographers they will go as far as their own strength and means go, there is no institution to support or back them up. Artists of the medium will have to do everything by themselves and unfortunately the same applies to all kind of art in our country. 

And this is not the case abroad, for example, all the established photographers that we know from the US or Germany enjoy the support of a number of institutions that help an artist to advance his or her work beyond his or her own reach; museums, galleries, collections that support the work and help an artist to get to the next level. 

We, also, experience the same problem in education. The education system in photography, for example, is a very poor one and therefore only you have to be really exceptional to survive once you left school. Unfortunately, most of the people in photography once they earn a degree, they find themselves in a position were they have to make a living by doing something else, and practice photography as a hobby instead of a full time profession. I am afraid that the same applies in the overwhelming majority of the creative, so to speak, professions. We are alone. So if somebody has the determination and the strength to go down a lonely path, fine, we hear from him. If not, that is pretty much it.

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What does the Greek city mean to you? How would you describe it?

Well, it depends really. I recently had the opportunity to describe Athens as a frozen wave, seen from a distance. If you go up the hill on Ymittos or Lykavitos, the city resembles like a huge wave of cement frozen in its current form. The city has sped basically towards all directions: it knows no barriers, no limits; and you can literally see it everywhere. It expands.  There is no planning or anything of the sort. To be frank, the city is as important to me as it is to most fellow Greeks, it is our chosen habitat. The majority of us, we are people of the cities; half of the country’ s population lives in Athens, one million lives in Thessaloniki and most others live in the major cities around the country. And although we do not value Greek cities, it would be fair to admit that it is just the outcome of our own actions. We the people are responsible for the way Greek cities look like. It is our doing, our making, like looking into a mirror: it is us, whether we like what we see or not.

In the Greek urban landscape there are elements that characterize it and attribute to the Greek particularity and make it special. What is Greek particularity for you and where do you find it?

I have been a landscape photographer for the last 22-23 years and I had the opportunity to visit every single part of this country, so I would say an extraordinary diversity found within short distances. Our planet is beautiful everywhere, but the one thing I believe can be particularly  distinct in our country is the variety of our landscape in such a small part of the world.  For example, if one drives from Athens to Thessaloniki, one will experience mountains, lakes, and seascapes every 50 kilometres, to experience the same in France one would have to drive for a day and a half to see the scenery change. The same applies in the US, in Kansas, for example, I drove for 3 days through cornfields, 3 days of driving in flat. From the valley of Thessaloniki where everything is also flat to mountain Olympus which can be found only 30 minutes down the road, to Iliki Lake and to the Pindos mountain range, this diversity in such sort distance is literally amazing. It’ s an exceptional characteristic that inspires travelling and makes this country an attractive destination to visit again and again.

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Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki (architect: Kyriakos Krokos, photographed by Yiorgis Yerolymbos)

The tension between Greekness and modernity is an important aspect of the Greek urban landscape. Typical examples are architects Dimitris Pikionis and Kyriakos Krokos, whose work has references to the Greek architectural tradition that tries to emerge through the modern waves. How do you feel about the contemporary discourse between Greekness and modernity? How does Greek modernity exist in the urban landscape and where can it be found?

In many people's view, there is no clash between modernity and locality; Greekness is the subject in hand. It was actually one of the founders of the international style, the modern movement, and Bauhaus' director Walter Gropius, who argued that the modern movement in architecture celebrates locality. The more successful a modern style is, the more it transcends, celebrates the local elements and features.

Now, where can Greek modernity be found in the urban landscape? Should we refer to the very successful example of Thessaloniki’s new sea front? We should be reminded that there was a huge battle at the time when plans for the new sea front were unveiled, and most of the people initially thought of it as too western, too modern, by arguing that the Byzantine past of the city has not been celebrated. Both the architects and the architectural community responded by saying that Thessaloniki had already enough of beautiful Byzantine architecture and is, certainly, in no need to add more. What it lacked, on the other hand, was a contemporary public space.

In short, we don’ t need to create everything in the form of the Cycladic house. We can experiment with new styles and ideas and, having said that, it was Le Corbusier who was gravely impressed by Cycladic architecture and used it to create the international style. So, I would go back to my point that modernity and locality, when applied successfully, intertwine. They become one interesting new form that pushes the envelope forward. Otherwise we go round the same thing again and again without really going anywhere.

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What does the human-altered landscape mean for Greek Modernity? What in particular characterizes this man altered Greek landscape?

The human-altered Greek landscape is a landscape in an interim phase. It is stuck in the middle. It’ s not a pure landscape, pristine and beautiful, and it’ s not an urban environment either.  For every single illicit cement structure to house a rent-a-bike or rooms to let facility our institutions were unable to stop it on time, or fix it afterwards. It seems we are bound for ever to live in an environment cement "skeletons" will be a permanent part of our landscape. This can, also, be found in our cities, everywhere around the country you can see these leftovers marring the landscape. I would say that the foremost characteristic of the human altered landscape in Greece is precisely this - stuck in the middle, in an interim phase, it doesn’ t go back and doesn’ t go forward. It is there, in many respects and works as a metaphor for what we experience right now in every single aspect of our lives.

The urban landscape has changed.  In the 70’s we already had a plethora of apartment buildings emerging. The apartment buildings are a distinctive feature of Athens. How do such buildings shape the image of the city?

They do so and, possibly, in a very constructive way, as far as I am concerned. What do I mean by this? It has been argued by a number of architects and historians among whom, Jean Sauvaget and Aldo Rossi that has said that architecture represents the petrification of a society. In a few words, architecture freezes time and what can one discover of the construction of that era is the circumstances and values of that era. For example, Paris is the petrification of the 19th century and the same can be argued about London for example and the Victorian period.  Equally, Athens will be the petrification of 20th century.

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How did these buildings come about? Constructors approached small homeowners and offered 2 or 3 apartments for their land, on which they would built apartment buildings making a profit from the sale of the rest of the apartments. In the course of time this period ended and now, Athens and every single Greek city have frozen in a time period that reminds us of the 60’s, the 70’s and the 80’s, working, so to speak, as a living museum of that particular time frame. People will be visiting Athens in 200 years time to see how people lived in the 20th century, in the same way that we visit a medieval city in Italy. 

We are used to seeing Greece projected abroad through photography in a romantic way. In your work, it’s a different case. You show that great projects exist but also continue being built. We see imposing buildings, great architectural buildings that stand out. How does all this happen? What makes you project Greece that way?

Frank Gohlke famously said that “where we live is far more important than where we visit”. You go to a mountain, you take a shot of a beautiful landscape and then you go back to a small alley in Pagkrati or Kypseli or anywhere in the suburbs and you don’ t appreciate that as a landscape. You look at a mountain or cove and that is the only landscape you acknowledge as important, your everyday surrounding are pale in comparison, or so you think.

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Truth is that landscape is where we live, not where we visit, and it is the most important landscape of all exactly because we are shaped in it. So, if it looks like a environment consisting of cement buildings in an alley with a few or no trees at all, then this is the defining landscape for us You don’ t have to disregard it or throw it away. And that, I think, explains to a large extent why I photograph Greece in a way different to romantic portrayals: because I don’ t visit it, I live it, it is mine as I am hers, I am not a visitor or a tourist, it is my home.

We have reached a point in our recent history where we constantly complain about literally everything: we think ourselves as the best, we blame others for our shortcomings and I honestly think I had enough of this attitude. Considering myself a person with love of country - defining such a person as somebody who wants his country to be better, not necessary recognizing it as such- I would like to see it to a cleaner, more structured and lawful, a better place for everybody to come and visit time and time again.

And in that respect, I point my camera towards our county's best parts. I want to show it as the dynamic, interesting and diverse country that I hope it is, that I wish it to be. I photograph multiple aspects and visit many of its parts, even the now so interesting ones, which can disappoint at times, but insist that if we look at it in a more constructive way, we will appreciate it more and eventually take good care of it. That is why I photograph what I consider interesting architecture from exciting young Greek architects that I consider worth promoting: as many of my photographs are published in international magazines, I would love to do my part for the world to see that this country produces interesting architecture and art of the highest quality.

*Interview by Veroi Katsarou 

More Yiorgis Yerolymbos Interviews: Uncubearcspace.comlovegreece.com; Bookshelf: Orthographs - The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center

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Lina Venturas is Professor of History and Sociology of Migration at Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences, Athens. She has studied history and sociology in France and Belgium. Using historical and sociological approaches her current research focuses on migrations, diaspora, sending states’ policies, transnationalism and International Organizations. She has published articles and books and has edited special issues and volumes on migration, diaspora and border issues. Her pubications in English include Greek Immigrants in Postwar Belgium: Community and Identity Formation Processes (2002), Deterritorialising’ the Nation: the Greek State and ‘Ecumenical Hellenism (article in a volume on the Greek Diaspora and Migration, 2009), and International “Migration Management” in the Early Cold War: The Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (editor, 2015).

Lina Venturas is director of the Research Unit for the History of Migratory and Refugee Movements at the Panteion University and she has been scientific coordinator of the "Migration Management and International Organizations: A history of the establishment of the International Organization for Migration" (MIMIO) research Programme. She is also head of the Ministry of Education Research & Religious Affairs Scientific Committee for the integration of refugee children in education.

Professor Venturas spoke with Rethinking Greece* about the waves of Greek emigration to the US, Northwest Europe and Australia as part of wider population movements from agricultural economies to industrial countries, the key role human mobility has played in the development of the modern and contemporary world, the programme for integration of refugee children in the Greek educational system and the importance of according legal status and other socio-economic rights to refugees and migrants.

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Greek coalminers in Belgium 
 
What are the most important waves of Greek migration from the establishment of the Greek state until today? How does the nature of Greek migration to the US (late 19th century-1924) compare to the later migration to Northwest Europe, USA, Australia and Canada (1945-1974)? 
 
Emigration from the Greek state to the Ottoman Empire’s merchant cities and ports occurred throughout the 19th century. From the late 19th century onwards, many Greeks also headed towards Egypt, where they formed a large and socially heterogeneous community. However, it was in the 1890s that Greece became a major source of labour immigrants, when the stream of emigrants shifted towards the USA. From the last decades of the 19th century to 1924, the USA received over 400,000 Greeks, a large part of them originating in the Peloponnese. Immigration to the USA marked a shift in the traditional patterns of population movements, as Greeks heading there became part of the extending American multiethnic industrial working class. Due to the overall structure of the economy and the specific economic circumstances in the USA in the first half of the 20th century -and to other social and political factors- a significant part of these immigrants followed an upward social mobility pattern and gradually acquired American citizenship. However, about 40% of them returned to Greece, while many others who stayed there did not achieve their “American dream”. 
 
As regards the following wave of immigration (1945-1974), we can observe the following: Greece entered the post-World War II period with significant inequalities in working conditions, incomes and productivity between the urban and the rural-agricultural sector, and with a significant surplus of labor force in rural areas. For a large part of the population, bad living conditions, a virtually nonexistent welfare state, combined with the gradual spread of consumerist values and the rising awareness of the differences in standards of living, set the conditions for a second mass emigration abroad. These economic and social conditions, as well as the exclusion of adherents of the Left from the economic, social and political life of the country, after the Left’s defeat in the civil war (1949) and until the fall of the military dictatorship in 1974, constituted the main emigration push factors. Evidence suggests that during the period 1955-1971, at least one million Greeks -that is 1/9 of the total Greek population- emigrated to overseas countries (Australia, United States and Canada) and to Europe (mainly West Germany) in order to find work.

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Overall, both the turn of the 20th century movement to the USA and post-war emigration, form part of broader population movements from agricultural economies to countries with a strong and expanding secondary sector. These movements were largely dictated by the receiving states’ labour market needs; they mainly involved peasants from agricultural countries who settled in urban areas of the host countries and were transformed into proletarians. In the post-war era these overseas movements continued; some 140,000 Greek migrants settled in the USA, 175,000 in Australia and 86,000 in Canada. But, after the enactment of the German-Greek migration agreement in 1960, Germany became the main destination of emigrants. 61% of post-war emigrants went to Northwestern European countries, while emigration to West Germany alone accounted for 53% of the total number of emigrants in the period 1960-1977. There was a significant change in the geographical provenance of post-war migrants to Europe as they now departed mostly from the North of Greece: Macedonia contributed 36% of all migrants and 44% of those who went to European countries during the post-war era.

Post-war immigration to Western European countries was subject, much more than migration to other continents, or during other periods, to a policy of organised labour importation, drafted by the host countries’ governments and employers and regulated bya temporary contract labor system, bilateral migration agreements and the implementation of welfare policies. Many young Greeks were persuaded to leave the country through the combination of active recruitment by Western European countries and especially Western Germany, the wages these countries offered (which were three times higher than in Greece) and the relative security of an employment contract and the various social benefits.

Whereas overseas emigration was seen by receiving countries as largely permanent, outflows directed to Germany and other European destinations were intended to be a temporary import of cheap labour. Therefore, although immigrants that settled in European countries were accorded social rights, they were not naturalized, due to the receiving states’ policies. Greek immigrants in European states secured jobs and steady incomes and enjoyed a significant improvement in their standard of living. Nevertheless, deindustrialization and the economic transformations instigated by the oil crisis of 1973, did not allow for significant social mobility. Furthermore, both the receiving states and Greece adopted policies concerning the education of migrants’ children which did not facilitate their upward mobility. 

Greece is to this day both a receiving and a sending migration country. How does this affect the Greek public debate on immigration?
 
Numerous countries were successively receiving and sending states during the last two centuries or are simultaneously receiving and sending migrants today. I do not think that this fact weighs significantly on the current public debate on immigration in Greece or elsewhere. In my opinion, global asymmetries and social inequalities interact with the way different groups perceive their country’s position in the international arena and their own position in society; along with hopes and fears about the future, that are the factors that most effectively influence stances and opinions on migration. 
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I would like to add that public debates on important issues like immigration, do not always aim at achieving a deeper understanding; more often than not, those participating in such debates seek to influence others by selectively pointing out certain elements while obscuring others and by simplifying and de-historicizing. In the public debate on immigration in Greece, those who are hostile to immigrants, when they have to comment on emigration from their country, claim that, in contrast to foreigners living in Greece today, Greek emigrants moved and settled abroad legally and also that, because they were of a “better quality” or “more civilized”, they were law abiding and successful residents in their host countries. Those who have a more positive view on immigrants underline the common economic and social factors that lead to migration, as well as to the discrimination and difficulties most immigrants face. Both use stereotypes and common-sense scenarios to influence the outcome of social, political and ideological conflicts and the future.
 
You are the director of the Research Unit for the History of Migratory and Refugee Movements at the Panteion University of Athens. Can you talk to us about the work being done there? What can we learn from studying population movements?
 
The Research Unit for the History of Migrant and Refugee Movements is part of the Research Center for Modern History, which was created at the Department of Political Science and History of the Panteion University of Athens. The Unit functions as an area of interdisciplinary research, production and transmission of knowledge, as well as a sphere of exchange among those who are interested in global population movements and their impact on citizenship, past and present. The Unit seeks to contribute in the study of the history of population movements, Diaspora and citizenship, during the modern and contemporary era.  
 
Human mobility has played a key role in the course of the development of the modern and contemporary world, affecting the natural environment and material culture, the global distribution of population and resources, political and social organization, economics, technology, cultural systems and everyday life. Whether forced or voluntary, intercontinental, local, intra-imperial, cross-border or internal to nation-states, population movements influenced in various ways, depending on the era, not only those moving, but also the abandoned homelands and the sites of new settlement, the course of political communities, states and international relations, contributing decisively to closer links between more or less remote areas and isolated cultural systems. Human migration has contributed to marking out and transforming racial, ethnic, gender, class, and other identities and/or relationships. Organizing their lives in various locations, migrant populations transferred, exchanged and transformed cultural systems, triggering social conflicts and social change, or even wars.
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Historical research, in interaction with relevant studies and the tools of other social sciences that focus on population movements, expands and deepens our knowledge of the diverse and shifting causes, motivations and consequences of human mobility, along with the multilevel power relations that accompany it; in this way, it contributes thus to the analysis of the multiple forms of mobility and the mechanisms that underpin or undermine it. A historical approach allows us, among other things, to demonstrate the complex factors linked to population movements, to correlate in a more productive way between local and global transformations and to critically question dominant conceptions of related contemporary phenomena. Via the study of the history of the migrant, refugee and Diasporic phenomena, the localization and use of relevant archives (documents, oral testimonies, audiovisual material etc.) and the diffusion of knowledge on moving populations and their relations with local and sedentary ones, the Unit attempts, by operating as a mediator between the scientific community and the broader audience, to contribute to a better understanding of the transformation of political communities and collective representations that emanate from human mobility.
 
Since March 2016, you are heading the Scientific Committee the Ministry of Education Research & Religious Affairs set up in order to form a plan for the integration of refugee children in education. Can you tell us more?

Safeguarding the right of refugee children to education has been a major concern of the Greek Ministry of Education, teachers, academics and many others. The objective of the Greek state is to ensure psychosocial support and to integrate refugee children in the Greek educational system, without burdening schools with an excessively large number of children who do not speak Greek and have not been appropriately prepared to attend a Greek school. In March 2016, the Ministry of Education Research & Religious Affairs set up a Scientific Committee to form a plan for the integration of refugee children in education; this plan had to be designed in such a way so as to increase the chances that refugee children succeed at school and do not abandon it. 

For the school year 2016-2017, the Scientific Committee considered the specific need refugee children had due to the fact that they were experiencing a transition from war to normality. Furthermore, owing to wars and being continuously on the move, a significant percentage of refugee children had been outside the school environment for years, and many children had never attended school, although they were of school age. Additionally, many children are burdened by psychological traumas. In order to meet their needs, emphasis needed to be placed on their adaptation and familiarization with the school environment and on cultivating a sense of security, communication and acceptance. A transitional education program was also considered necessary as these children do not speak Greek and many had to cover gaps in their education due to their long absence from schools. 

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The refugee population living in Greece is quite heterogeneous in terms of characteristics and fluctuating in numbers. So, predicting the exact number of children that will stay in Greece is not easy; neither is the duration of their stay or their place of residence. Therefore, the Ministry of Education Research & Religious Affairs had to take into account the insecurity and instability of the situation and prepared for multiple scenarios in terms of the numbers and locations. An additional issue making planning difficult was the fact that the children who will probably stay in Greece belong to different legal status categories: There are children whose parents have been accorded refugee status; others that are waiting for relocation or family unification without being sure about their departure or the departure date; also children whose families have submitted an application for asylum that is yet to be considered, others who live on the islands, unaccompanied minors etc.

With the exception of the children whose parents have been given refugee status, it is impossible to predict if and when the status of the others will be regulated, or when and how many of them will be relocated. However, given the fact that we are talking about children, the needs of the entire potentially existing population had to be provided for and covered. Furthermore, as shown by a number of studies, the trend in the migration and asylum policies of the EU is the long wait of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers under a quasi-precarious regime.

How does this uncertainty impact the refugees’ attitudes towards formal education?

Refugees that crossed to Greece did not aim at settling here; fully aware that it is almost impossible to find work, they aimed at moving to other European countries. Remaining stranded for a long time in Greece caused insecurity, either because they were waiting for an answer to their for asylum/relocation request or because those refugees who could not look forward to these solutions were looking for other ways to leave the country. After the closing of the borders and the European Union-Turkey agreement, the legal status and the relocation prospects to another country of the various refugee groups -in mainland Greece and on the islands- started to change. Under these conditions, the refugees’ attitude towards formal education was, and still is, ambivalent. The feeling of precariousness is, still today, intensified by the fact that a significant percentage of refugees still live in Accommodation Centers and, what is more, they are frequently moved from one to another. With a view to remedy this situation, many refugees have been moved for some months now by the High Commissioner or other agencies to flats, hotels and shelters in Athens, Piraeus, Thessaloniki, Livadia, Kilkis, Arta, etc. The Ministry of Migration Policy aims at expanding the accommodation program in such urban facilities and decreasing the number of refugees living at Accommodation Centers.

Now that the school year is over, what is your overall assessment of the program for the education of refugee children in Greece?

The effort to integrate refugee children in the educational system for the 2016-2017 school year, was not without difficulties, mistakes and omissions, there were however, equally significant achievements. The basic omissions concern the non-implementation of the Scientific Committee’s proposals for the operation of kindergartens and non-mandatory education programs for children over 15 years old. The organization and operation of obligatory schooling also faced many problems, weaknesses and delays as all refugee children had to be vaccinated. Furthermore, there was a relatively high percentage of dropouts, while irregular attendance was also registered (although the percentages were number similar to those of other countries), mainly due to the unstable and adverse conditions under which refugees live, which are intensified by institutional and educational omissions and deficiencies.

Finally, there was inadequate and delayed information and sensitization of several local societies and, as a result, there were few, but vociferous local reactions which were reproduced by the media. Nevertheless, in laying down the foundation for school attendance and social connection, the Ministry of Education Research & Religious Affairs took the first step in the integration of refugees. The social and political bet of getting refugees out of the ghetto of camps, bringing back some normality to refugee children’s life, familiarizing them with the school system, and finally, making refugees more visible in Greek society, has been won to a great extent. All this has occurred against a difficult background, if we look at the wider European and international reality right now. These achievements are important, given that refugees have limited opportunities for interaction with Greek citizens and social integration in general. These accomplishments are also of great significance because they constitute a starting point for the greater acceptance of refugee rights and their integration in Greek and European societies.

r4rThessaloniki Museum of Photography: Another life: Human flows / Unknown Odysseys 

Historically, the UK has applied a mildly multiculturalist approach to integration, while France opted for assimilation. Angela Merkel recently stated that "Multiculturalism leads to parallel societies and therefore remains a sham".  What do you think should be the principles of a successful integration policy in Greece? 

Integration is an open-ending, multi-factorial social process that extends over time. Global and local asymmetries, international and social hierarchies, combined with transformations in the economic sphere and labor markets, play a major role in processes of social and cultural integration. Most of all, integration depends on whether refugees and migrants are accorded a legal status and rights and are able to gain a decent living in their host country. So, residence and work permits, social and other rights, along with economic relations and the structure of the labor market in host countries, are of great importance. It is of great importance that refugees and migrants feel that they are recognized and respected as human beings, like the citizens of the host country: when they are stigmatized and scapegoated, collectively condemned for the acts of an extremist or a criminal with the same national/cultural background, then they rightly feel that whatever their personal views and actions are, they will be excluded from society.

Instead, when people reasonably aspire to live with dignity, safety and make a decent living, when they have opportunities to improve their families’ future, then they are motivated to learn the language of their host country, to adapt to new conditions and to participate in society. Both the UK and France are relatively affluent consumerist countries with a colonial background that, since the 1980s, have adopted economic, social and political measures that lead to the exclusion of a significant part of their citizenry from the labor market and social benefits. Furthermore, the EU, during the last decades has adopted neo-colonial policies vis-à-vis developing countries and a hostile stance towards the refugees and migrants coming from them. In both the UK and France islamophobic discourses have been legitimized by several politicians and media. These factors and their economic, social, political and cultural consequences weigh, in my opinion, more heavily than multicultural or assimilationist policies on social relations and integration processes.

 *Interview by Ioulia Livaditi

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Image source: International “Migration Management” in the Early Cold War: The Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (eBook, University of the Peloponnese, 2015)

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Evi Sachini is the Director of the National Documentation Centre (EKT), the national institution for documentation, information and support on science, research and technology issues. She is also member of the board of directors of the National Hellenic Research Foundation and member of the Board of Directors of the Greek Network for Research and Technology (GRNET). She holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the National Technical University of Athens. Dr. Sachini has substantially contributed to the cultivation of the Greek knowledge ecosystem and has led a number of important initiatives in the area of reliable digital content. As a national expert and representative to the European Commission and OECD, she has advised on issues of R&D and Innovation, management and exploitation of knowledge capital. She has published a series of reports relating to areas of research policy, development and innovation.

Founded in 1980, under the United Nations Development Programme, the National Documentation Centre is integrated with the National Hellenic Research Foundation and is supervised by the General Secretariat for Research and Technology (GSRT) of the Ministry for Education, Research and Religious Affairs.

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Dr Evi Sachini talked to Greek News Agenda* on the role and activities of the National Documentation Centre, which include accessibility to digital content regarding scientific research, production of the national statistics for Research, Development and Innovation and connection of research and innovation to entrepreneurship. Dr Sachini also stressed EKT’s contribution to the preservation of the Greek cultural heritage through its portal, searchculture, which offers access to digital cultural content from 55 collections of 43 respected institutions. She further elaborates on how EKT helps Small and Medium Enterprises, including start-ups, to innovate and grow internationally. Dr Sachini underlines that EKT supports a virtuous policy making and entrepreneurial decision-making circle by providing research, technology and innovation statistics and informed analyses. Finally, she stresses that the national policies on Research, Development and Innovation, the highly skilled R&D human resources and high scientific quality research that is performed in specific niches of excellence, make her optimistic for the future and for the ability of the country to integrate its research and innovation dynamic in its new growth and productive model: 

What is the role and main activities of EKT as regards the diffusion of knowledge?

Knowledge-intensive activities are a major source of potential economic growth for Greece as a means to exit the economic crisis. Towards this goal, and in accordance with our mission to collect, document, manage, disseminate and preserve quality digital content and data produced by the Greek scientific, research and cultural communities, EKT performs the following actions.

Firstly, in terms of digital content, a) we make available digital data and information accessible within the scientific, research and cultural communities (eContent), b) we disseminate and promote trustworthy Greek content on an international level, c) we have developed electronic infrastructures with an effective mechanism for collecting and searching content and data (Open Access, Open Science), and d) we provide SaaS services (Software as a Service) including digital repositories, such as openABEKT.

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As the designated organization responsible for the production of the national statistics for Research, Development and Innovation (RDI), EKT is very actively pursuing the enhancement of understanding of the national innovation system. To meet this end, EKT not only provides statistical data on various aspects of the national and regional research, technology and innovation system, but also puts data into context. In other words, it places statistical data within a geographical, sectoral, etc. context via dedicated and in-depth analysis of various RDI-related topics, and thus aspires to assist policy-making by the provision of up-to-date and comprehensive information.

On an international level, EKT participates in scientific conferences, presenting its contribution to RDI relevant issues (RDI statistics, public policy, dimensions of national innovation system, etc.). Lastly, EKT being a member of the Enterprise Europe Network, provides consulting services for international business partnerships, information on European policies, innovation and technology transfer and fosters the participation of SMEs in European Programmes for Research and Technology.

How is EKT contributing to the preservation of Greek cultural heritage?

EKT has been actively involved in the preservation and dissemination of cultural content for years. One of our first cultural content projects was Pandektis, the digital library of the National Hellenic Research Foundation’s Institute of Historical Research collections. Last year we completed the development of a suite of comprehensive services initially offered to Cultural organizations that were beneficiaries of the last “Digital Convergence” Operational Programme Calls. These cloud services are offered on a Software as a Service model, enabling Greek cultural organizations to navigate the modern information environment, where everything is interoperable and connected. We developed a workflow for digital cultural content that includes safe long-term storage, quality control, standards-based documentation and aggregation.

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End-users can now search for cultural content via our portal, SearchCulture.gr, an aggregator of cultural heritage content. SearchCulture.gr offers central access to and single search of digital cultural content of more than 160,000 documents from 55 collections of 43 respected institutions, ranging from museums and folk heritage organizations to archives and local cultural collections. It also establishes interoperability with major 3rd party search engines and portals like Europeana, thus making quality Greek cultural content more accessible and exploitable.

To further help safeguard Hellenic digital heritage, we provide a repositories service which is a comprehensive content publication service for authorised content producers. Various cultural organizations have used the service: the Acropolis Restoration Service has two repositories we created the one hosting their restoration archive and the other their educational content. We are also developing repositories for academic Art History collections, manuscripts, local art collectives and oral histories collections, Faculties of Art etc. 

How does EKT measure the output and outcome of the Greek Research, Development and Innovation system?

Since 2012 EKT has been a member of the Hellenic National System (and by extension of the European Statistical System) and has been tasked with the provision of the official statistics on Research, Development and Innovation in Greece. In this capacity, EKT undertakes a series of Eurostat-approved and synchronized surveys on concerning research spending, personnel and innovation activities.

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In addition, EKT is responsible for measuring a range of other research enablers and outcomes. For example, on matters of scientific publications, highly educated human capital, the performance of domestic research and business institutions in European research projects, the research infrastructure, female participation in research activities, the career of PhD holders, Greek participation in competitive EU R&D calls (under Framework Programmes /Horizon 2020), etc.

How is EKT supporting the collaboration between academia and businesses and the networking of Greek research organizations with those abroad? In what ways can innovative start-ups receive assistance from EKT?

By way of the provision of statistical data as well as via informed reporting and analysis, EKT supports the relevant policy makers in helping them make decisions based on updated information. By being coordinator of Enterprise Europe Network - Hellas, EKT provides a wide range of value-added services for SMEs using the concept of "one-stop-shop" and under the guise of a unique organizational mechanism-network. This can be broken down into three groups of related services. 1) Providing information to enterprises regarding European issues, such as finding foreign business partners and supporting outward-looking entrepreneurship. 2) Offering innovation and technology transfer services. 3) Promoting aspects of the knowledge triangle in Greece, focusing on higher education institutes’ third mission and their contribution to national production and, 4) helping in accessing European funding, finding the appropriate partners, submitting proposals and helping in project implementation.

As regards innovative start-ups, let me start by saying that innovative SMEs, including start-ups, are claimed to play an important role in generating growth and employment, throughout Europe. According to Eurofound’s latest annual report, young innovative SMEs with high international potential are the biggest recruiters in the European Union. Their growth is also expected to support the shift of the EU economy towards more knowledge-intensive activities.

Open Access 0034 169The National Documentation Centre, as National Contact Point for Horizon 2020 and Coordinator of the Enterprise Europe Network-Hellas supports SMEs, including start-ups to innovate and grow internationally. For example, Enterprise Europe Network-Hellas is a successful strategic alliance of business support organizations and networks, helping Greek business grow faster through commercial partnerships, access to finance and tailored support. It is a nationally distributed infrastructure of institutions and expertise, with extensive experience in cooperation at national level and distinguished performance in global networks. As a member of the Enterprise Europe Network, it collaborates with more than 600 organizations in 60 countries to find the best opportunities for Greek enterprises to grow.

During the period 2008-2016, Enterprise Europe Network-Hellas produced 740 international partnership agreements. 1,960 Greek profiles were disseminated in more than 60 countries. 645 company missions and brokerage events were organized and supported by the Enterprise Europe Network-Hellas.

How does EKT support evidence based policy making for research, technology and innovation and the transition to a knowledge-intensive development model?

Incentivizing sustainable and long-term economic growth is primarily based upon a policy mindset that takes into consideration the range of available quantitative and qualitative evidence relevant to each occasion and sensitive enough to adapt to societal and economic fluctuations. EKT being a provider of research, technology and innovation statistics and of informed analyses supports a virtuous policy making and entrepreneurial decision-making circle, by way of providing up-to-date evidence on the range of the topics involved. Indicative of that is the effort made to support the implementation and monitoring of smart specialization strategy in Greece, by providing regional RDI-relevant indicators, elaborated specifically for the purposes of the national strategy for growth.

What are the main characteristics of the Greek RDI system?

Greece has been experiencing a rapid deterioration of a number of several macroeconomic and quality of life indicators since the onset of the financial crisis. Despite the fact that the Greek RDI system has been under pressure, national expenditure rose in absolute and relative value (e.g. R&D intensity). Additionally, other initiatives, such as the appointment of a Deputy Minister for Research in 2015 (for the first time since 1985), the implementation of a National Strategy on Smart Specialisation or the mobilization of Regional authorities to support research and innovation may be considered to be signs of the higher priority that the RDI sector is given on the national policy agenda.

econtentThis positive juncture for RDI in Greece, combined with the capable R&D human resources and research of high scientific quality that is performed in specific niches of excellence, make us optimistic for the future and for the ability of the country to integrate its research and innovation dynamic in its new growth and productive model. This can be seen from the latest R&D indicators for spending (R&D intensity) which shows an increase to 0.97% of GDP for 2015 from 0.84% in 2014. In addition, domestic SMEs exhibit a healthy/robust attitude towards innovation – for example, Greece (0.87%) outranked the EU average (0.69%) in terms of non-R&D innovation spending as % of turnover for 2012.

Similarly, the domestic scientific and research base is increasingly internationalizing. The number of international scientific co-publications has been systematically rising during the last decade indicating the growing networking of the international science base. Also, Greek actors have been systematically excelling in attracting competitive European research funds.

Are Greek organizations successful in participating in European research funded programmes or are they lagging behind?

To elaborate more on my last point, one of the clearest indications of Greece’s great research potential, is manifested in terms of Greek domestic scientific, research and business participation in EU Framework Programmes. European Framework Programmes are the major funding mechanisms for increasing the scientific and technological capacity of the member states on behalf of the EU.

As such and according to the latest data (Horizon 2020), Greece is ranked 9th in the number of signed contracts and 12th in budget share. This is very important given that 28 countries are members of the EU. Greek organizations exhibit an equally good success rate in H2020 (2014-2020), while, the success rate of Greek participation (in terms of number of Greek participations) reaches approximately 13%, a rate which is even higher for specific programmes, such as Research Infrastructures or Space. Greek organizations have attracted more than €437 million euro with 312 Greek SME participations attracting approximately €83 million euro.

What is EKT’s strategy for the future?

In answering this question it should first be noted that EKT is one of the (very) few organizations in Greece that has undertaken the difficult task of setting a carefully crafted and comprehensive strategy until the year 2022 that builds upon the current developments. In accordance to the Centre’s central objectives, and in the broadest terms, EKT aims to increase the volume and quality of the Greek digital scientific and cultural content that will be made freely available for use and re-use by all interested parties, supporting actively open-access policies. This will be achieved by making use of state-of-the-art technologies.

Secondly, EKT will safeguard the production of the national RDI statistics by accomplishing all the relevant milestones. In addition, new metrics and RDI-relevant publications addressing various and currently-hidden aspects of the national and regional innovation system will be brought out. Thirdly, emphasis will be put on matters of incorporating new knowledge produced by the domestic science and academic system into innovation-intensive business ventures, and facilitating the interplay between academia and the private sector.

* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi

Learn more about EKT’s strategy (in Greek). Read also: "Research - Create - Innovate": Connecting R&D with Enterprises, Summary of the Operational Programme 'Competitiveness, Entrepreneurship & Innovation', Doctorate holders in Greece: Highly competitive, highly mobile, Historic high in research spending, Industrial scholarships to boost research in Greek enterprises, Hellenic Foundation for Research and Innovation to Strengthen Research across Greece, New Initiative on Research & Development funding, new era for Universities and SMEs

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papagianneas12345Stavros Papagianneas is Managing Director of StP Communications consultancy. He has previously served as Communication Officer at the European Commission and as Press Officer and Spokesperson to various diplomatic missions in Brussels. He specialises in PR, strategic communications, public affairs, digital communication, social media and media relations. He is the author of several articles in EU media like New Europe, L' Echo, De Tijd, Communication Director and Research Europe. His recently published book “Rebranding Europe” explores the future of communication in Europe and illustrates how Europe can be rebranded by providing key recommendations on how to convey the added value of the EU in the daily lives of its citizens.

Asked by Greek News Agenda* how can communication overcome economic and policy problems in the EU, Papagianneas says that Europe needs to present a narrative that answer citizen's concerns, but underlined that communication cannot work properly, if it is not backed by real reforms and political will and elaborates on the interaction between communication and policy. He comments that the negative representation of economically weaker Member States in the media had a negative effect for the entire European Union. Regarding the lessons learnt by the previous months’ elections he concludes that the populist wave wasn’t as strong as it was feared to be and that Emmanuel Macron’s strategy is an example that EU should follow.

In your recently published “Rebranding Europe” you explore why EU communication fails and how to make it succeed. How can communication overcome economic and policy problems?

Communication cannot work properly because there is a weakened sense of citizenship and political engagement brought about by: a decreasing interest in politics; a lack of knowledge of political processes; a lack of a common European public sphere; the use of jargon; the absence of professionalism in EU communication and low levels of trust in politicians. The European political system suffers from insufficient communication and missing links between its political institutions and the citizens. In addition, the existing links between EU and the people are not working efficiently. The EU needs to challenge the myths that surround the Union by presenting stories that answer citizen's concerns. It needs a real communication revolution if it wants to highlight its achievement and value.

However, branding and communication cannot work properly if not backed by real reforms and political will. The EU should send out a message of unity and recovery, to show that it's coming out of the crisis and focus on what matters to the people e.g. employment, education, security, etc. If the EU could communicate a unified story, a shared vision, a common future - something in which both politicians and citizens could believe - many economic or policy problems would find a more coherent platform for being resolved. In other words, people need to realise that the EU’s problems are the problems of all Europeans.Therefore, there is an urgent need of a long-term national and supranational strategy to communicating the EU through Europe and the world. An innovative and sustainable public-private partnership, between the EU , the Member States, civil society, academia, political parties, media and the main economic sectors, committed to a dedicated brand, seeking to collaborate with the citizens and make a meaningful difference in their daily lives.

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Part of communications involves crisis management. How does this concept work with the Greek crisis and rebranding Greece? What was the result of the way media treated Greece for the rest of the EU members?

Crisis management of the eurozone crisis failed considerably. Negative media reporting has led to increased Euroskepticism.Despite being widely considered to be derogatory, the use of the highly offensive and inappropriate term PIGS/PIIGS by the media has contributed to a huge negative perception of the entire EU. The eurozone crisis and the bashing of the PIGS/PIIGS has played into the hands of those campaigning against the EU: the populists and the neo-nationalists. In particular, the anti-Greece campaign of mainstream European media took on grotesque proportions. The media seemed to lead public opinion to conclude that the whole country is populated by lazy and corrupt people. A headline in the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf on 19 May 2011 is characteristic: “Kick them out of the eurozone. Our citizens no longer want to pay for these wasteful Greeks.” Germany’s best selling tabloid Bild Zeitung has been the champion of the Greek-bashing campaigns. This kind of actions against economically weaker Member States has a boomerang effect for the entire Union.  “Greece is de facto a colony,” Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszcykowski said in an interview with POLITICO, explaining his country’s resistance to joining the euro. “We don’t want to repeat this scenario.”

In what ways may “Brexit and the Trump paradox turn the tide towards a better Europe”?

Brexit and Trump’s election seemed to herald a new wave of nationalism and populism. However, this did not happen. In France, Marine Le Pen's Front National almost disappeared from the political scene. In the UK, Theresa May saw her attempt to strengthen her position fail. The attitude towards the EU has warmed significantly in many EU countries after Britain's Brexit vote to leave the Union and the isolationism of Donald Trump and his verbal attacks on Europe. The result of the developments in the UK and the US has been a sense that Europeans do share a common destiny and that what happens in one EU Member State has a direct relevance on what happens in another. The Union will now for example be moving ahead with closer defense and security cooperation, which London had long blocked.

Would you like to comment on the results of the elections in the UK, France and the Netherlands? What do their campaigns regarding the EU teach us?

The lack of trust in the political establishment has never been greater in Europe and the world. Nevertheless, thepopulist wave that seemed to be sweeping in the West turns out to be merely a storm in the Anglosphere. Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders both fared worse than expected in France and the Netherlands. The election of Macron gives hope to millions in the EU and the world at a moment when apathy and political despair have been gaining ground in the Western world.. Macron did what successful entrepreneurs do: he developed the brand En Marche! and kept promoting it. He created a dynamic of change by aspiring to the role of a unifying European leader, a highly desired model in a Europe going through its worst identity crisis. As Europe is facing anti-establishment politics and reduced trust in politicians, it is Macron’s vision of political reform and his plan to make politicians more accountable that should be the example to follow. He has set out an agenda for institutional reform. He has pledged to concentrate the government’s energy on key priorities and to limit bureaucracy. This is exactly what Brussels has to do. History, especially during periods of constant change like the one we are living in, is often shaped by random events. Taking a more serious approach to communication could stimulate the engagement of citizens and restore public approval.

* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi

Read more on strategic communication by Stavros Papagianneas here.

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karaliscinema27Vrasidas 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.

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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.

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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.

Young AfroditesYoung Aphrodites, Nikos Koundouros (1963)

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.

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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.

dogtoothDogtooth, Yorgos Lanthimos (2009)

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

Read Vrassidas Karalis' History of Greek Cinema [the full text] here & a book review in Filmicon Journal.

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startupgreece

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 worldclassproducts, score multi-million dollar rounds from worldclassinvestors and exit to worldclasscorporations. 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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

planetindustry8How 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.

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  Table depicting the number of employees in the manufacturing industry as percentage of the total number of employees (orange line for Greece, blue line for the Eurozone)/ Source: Eurostat, LFS

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

Read more: Entrepreneurship 2015-16: A turning point for the growth dynamics of the business sector

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 Greece. Images of an Enchanted Land, 1954- 1965. Photographs by Robert A. McCabe:http://mccabephotos.com/galleries.html

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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.

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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.

dimitrov kotziasJoint 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.

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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.

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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).

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

irw7A Week of Irish Music, Art, Poetry and Culture, organized by Friends of Paxos and supported by Culture Ireland and the Embassy of Ireland in Greecewill 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.

paxos festival irish wings 2I 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.

rebiraOther 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.

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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.

ira4The 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 PoetsElective Affinities: Greece and Ireland

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