Dimitris Tsalapatis was born in Athens and studied film making at Lykourgos Stavrakos School and Mathematics at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. He is currently studying for his Master’s in Filmmaking at Goldsmiths University of London. “Torpor” (2018), his first film, will premiere at the 41st National Short Film Festival in Drama, while it will also be screened at 24th Athens Opening Nights and the Linz International Short Film Festival.
“Torpor” describes the emotional state of Alexandros, a young man who sleepwalks at night. In a way, he also sleepwalks during the day, as he suffocates in his working class, xenophobic environment that pushes him to grow up and “become a man”. Alexandros is caught in inertia, passive and unwilling to react, but he will soon have to choose sides. Tsalapatis talks to Greek News Agenda* about “Torpor”, stressing that he is interested in exploring the archetypal conflict between father and son and the forms of rebellion in which this conflict can evolve. He adds that “Torpor” also talks about a social coming-of-age, focusing on the pressure that men feel to enact models of masculinity.
Konstantinos Georgopoulos, "Torpor" (2018)
What prompted you to make this film?
"Torpor"is my graduation film project and my first attempt to tell a story through film. As such, I wanted to begin with an issue I considered intimate, not so much from the point of view of experience, but in dealing with various aspects of its subject matter: the archetypal relationship - a son's conflict with his father and his rebellion as an inevitable development with the various directions it could take.
Simos Kakalas, "Torpor" (2018)
What challenges are there in the process of adulthood and what role do the social and economic framework play?
The film in a way deals with a kind of "social maturity," in the sense that a subject is called upon to conform to imposed social standards, in our case to models of masculinity, male-protectors of either family, home, neighborhood or the “weaker sex”. It is a process that is also experienced by the two central characters of the film, each one of course in his own way.
Konstantinos Georgopoulos, "Torpor" (2018)
Your main character in the movie sleepwalks between neglect and mistreatment. What does he stand for?
He is a character who experiences a situation, perceives it but does not act - or at least does not act consciously. He passively accepts on a daily basis various forms of violence without responding and just withdraws occasionally to the safety of his teen-room (and his laptop), or to his close friendly environment. The body of our central character, through sleepwalking, becomes autonomous and makes choices for him, warns and stands witness to situations that our hero ignores or prefers to ignore. At the same time, sleepwalking, as a sleep disorder rare for the hero's age, is an unconscious attempt to return to childhood and innocence.
Konstantinos Georgopoulos, Vassia Christou, "Torpor" (2018)
What was the process of financing the film and what difficulties could it generate for a young filmmaker?
Generally speaking, sources of public funding in Greece are extremely limited. I was lucky as the original script on which the film was based was selected by ERT's (Greek Public Broadcaster) Microfilm 2017, a program helping new filmmakers make their first films, secure funding, contributing also on either advisory or artistic levels .
* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi, translation by Magda Hatzopoulos
Dimitris Papanikolaou is Associate Professor in Modern Greek and Fellow of St. Cross College, Oxford University, UK. Papanikolaou’s research focuses on the ways Modern Greek literature opens a dialogue with other cultural forms (especially Greek popular culture) as well as other literatures and cultures; the other important strand of his research focuses on queer theory and Greek queer cultures.
Professor Papanikolaou’s book on C.P. Cavafy's homosexuality and the poetics of sexuality (“Made just like me”: The homosexual Cavafy and the poetics of sexuality", Published in Greek: "Σαν κι εμένα καμωμένοι. Ο ομοφυλόφιλος Καβάφης και η ποιητική της σεξουαλικότητας”, 2014) has been widely discussed in Greece by literaly critics and Cavafy scholars, while his latest monograph ("There is something about the family: Nation, desire and kinship at a time of crisis", Published in Greek: “Κάτι τρέχει με την οικογένεια: Έθνος, πόθος και συγγένεια την εποχή της κρίσης”, 2018) is largely an extended comment on the increased production of cultural texts on the dysfunctionality of the Greek family.
Papanikolaou has also been a regular contributor of political commentaries in Greek in Unfollow leftwing monthly review, as well as in Enthemata weekly. His next big projects include: a book titled Greek Weird Wave: A Cinema of Biopolitics; and a longer project provisionally titled ‘Queering Hellas: Movement, sexuality and the place of Greece between the wars’, which looks into expressions of queer desire by writers who moved in and/or out of Greece in the 1920s and 1930s.
Dimitris Papanikolaou spoke to Rethinking Greece* about his work on C.P. Cavafy from the perspective of queer theory; how Greek art under austerity is becoming political in unpredictable ways; Greek exceptionalism and his idea of a minimal or a ‘strategic exceptionalism’ as a useful weapon; the narrative power of the “Holy Greek Family”, as well as the concept of the family as biopolitics and the term “archive trouble” he develops in his latest book. Papanikolaou also addresses the huge impact that the new LGBTQI and anti-racist legislation has had and how the LGBTQI movement in Greece now has the power to be even more intersectional and more inclusive. He finally advocates for the support of departments of Greek language and Literature as hubs that can further foster what is already happening: a real resurgence of wider Modern Greek Studies and “a radical reappraisal of what it means to be Greek in a globalized, glocalized, overmediated, contingent, inconsistent, precarious and simmering world”:
Your work engages with ‘Cavafy and the discourses of sexuality’. Can you tell us a few words about the importance of sexuality in Cavafy’s work and its contemporary relevance?
Many years ago I decided to address what I had felt as a lacuna in Modern Greek Studies, indeed, its most obvious lacuna: to tackle the word of C.P. Cavafy, a well-known poet of the early 20th century who wrote about homoeroticism and homosexuality in ways that were groundbreaking for his times, from the perspective of queer theory and the history of sexuality. In the years that it took for this project to take concrete shape, I realized that it had two separate, important, facets.
One was the new perspectives it could give to the actual poems, as well as the comparative dimensions it was opening them up to. Our slowness in addressing the queer dimension in the work of one of the major figures of Modern Greek letters, had also meant an unease in bringing him closer to authors such as Proust, Whitman, Colette, Gide, Rachilde, but also John Addington Symonds, Edward Carpenter, the Uranians and so on. It had also meant a certain unease in synchronising our readings of Cavafy with debates and developments about writing and sexuality, queer modernity and the autobiographical expression of non-normative sexuality. Yet they were all there: the importance of Cavafy’s work for modern queer cultures; its links to other archi-texts of that tradition; its potential dialogue with more subcultural texts and contexts (such as the Roman d’un inverti, the turn-of-century sexological writing, or the photography of Von Gloeden); last, but not least, its spectacular ability to anticipate newer debates about closeting, sexual citizenship, queer time, cultural dissidence and its impact on sexual identity and desire.
The second element related to a potential queer reading of Cavafy, had to do with the specific politics, within Greek academia and institutional criticism, that had precluded such a reading, or had tried to preempt it as narrow and unworthy. My work alongside that of other scholars stood against this tradition and tried to critically unmask it as a suppressive genealogy, fully recognizing that this was not only a critical, but also a political project. Apart from the enthusiastic reviews (of which there were plenty), I received, of course, also virulent, vituperative comments and attacks, unfortunately not all of them impervious to the homophobia that they were always fast in announcing that they had denounced.
“The Greek arts scene flourishes in midst of economic crisis” has been a common understanding/scheme/cliché but how did the economic crisis really affect art and artists in Greece?
Art needs money and institutions – and Greece has, recently, been running low on both. On the other hand, art needs challenges and an environment where its interventions would matter: of that, Greece had plenty.
This is how Athens became, for many “the new Berlin” (a term that I personally dislike, for various reasons), this is how some of the most challenging new European art (especially in performance, in cinema and in graffiti) started coming out of Greece, this is how some of the best debates on culture and politics took place in Greek fora, often with the participation of internationally renowned intellectuals who came to Greece not only to speak, but also to hear and listen.
Not that all this surge in interest came without its problems. The Documenta 14 exhibition, for instance, curated by Adam Szymczyk with an impressive series of public programmes curated by Paul Preciado, became a contentious arena, critiqued by many in Greece as ‘orientalist crisis chic’, and defended by others (including myself) as a very productive opening of the Greek scene (including the less heard arguments of the Greek political debate) to the world.
In poetry, the successful English collections on “Poetry and the Crisis” (for instance, the one edited by Karen Van Dyck for Penguin, and by Thodoris Chiotis for Penned in the Margins), found an uneasy reception in Greece, with authors arguing that they are misrepresenting the actual currents of Greek poetry.
And Greek cinematographers, living through one of most internationally accommodating periods for Greek film, never felt at ease with the label ‘Greek Weird Wave’ that was imposed on to their work, neither were they happy with the immediate link that critics seemed to establish between the ‘Weird Wave’ and the sociopolitical context of the Crisis.
All this points to anxiety about being pigeonholed and marginalized, an anxiety often expressed by artists and cultural agents in the periphery. It also points, however, to an unquestionable reality: Greek art is now becoming political in ways that sometimes supersede specific movements or intentions; it participates in an intensive politics of everyday life under austerity and heightened biopolitical governance, even when/where this is not its absolute choice.
Exceptionalism seems to have been the dominant narrative not only for Modern Greek Studies but also for Greek political science, history and more recently, political economy. Should we question its academic/political agenda and rethink Greece beyond its discourse?
More than a decade ago (I think it must have been 2006 or so) two colleagues from Princeton (Constanze Guthenke and Effie Rentzou) and I, all in the early stages of our careers, started a project under the self-evident title ‘Questioning Greek Exceptionalism’. For us the target was obvious: we had been trained by humanist and national(ist) education in thinking that Greece (ancient and modern) was somehow exceptional; yet when we searched for the tools to undermine that type of cultural exceptionalism, we were also faced with theories and analyses that, again, treated Greece as an exceptional case (even in its “belatedness” or “anti-modenity” and ethnonational fixation). We should have known better; it is one thing to critique traditionalists for exceptionalism, and quite another to wag one’s finger at everyone (including oneself). The project, even though discussed at the time, failed to gain traction.
I was reminded of that experience when more recently Greece was, on the one hand singled out in a global financial crisis as the eye of the storm (and Greek society was singled out as the sole reason for its own financial woes), and on the other, Greek political science and sociology joined the discussion arguing that there is something exceptionally different in the case of Greece (a strategy shared by commentators on both sides of the political spectrum).
Of course we need to rethink Greece beyond these wildly exceptionalist frames; we ought to see recent events as well as social developments in a wider context and drawing the widest possible parallels.
Having said that, and based on my experience as a cultural critic, I have also reached the conclusion that there is a level of analysis, let’s call it minimal or strategic exceptionalism (echoing Gayatri Spivak’s concept ‘strategic essentialism’), that can be useful and, indeed, a necessary weapon in putting forth one’s argument in the global arena. Exceptionalism, even though always problematic when it becomes dominant ideology, could perhaps, in its minor and strategic versions, also turn into a tool for cultural resistance and speaking out, a creative force for marginalized voices and disavowed cultural archives. There is some sense, in other words, in showing the exceptional impact the recent crisis has had on Greek society and culture, while also looking for parallels and points of comparison, and critiquing any effort to create out of that exceptional situation a dominant and stagnant ideology.
Speaking of Greek exceptionalism, is there something exceptional about the Greek family? In your latest work, the monograph 'There is Something about the (Greek) Family', you talk about the increased production of cultural texts on the dysfunctionality of the Greek family, especially since the eruption of the crisis. Why do you believe Greek artists have turned to the family, and have done so in such a way?
Early in my new book, I felt the need to address this issue, the ‘exceptionality of the Greek family’, or its opposite, the possibility that, in the final analysis, the Greek family might not be exceptional at all. I was confronted with two discourses, both solid and culturally significant. On the one hand, a long tradition that insists that the Greek family (in the mainland, in the diaspora, in the real conditions of people’s lives as well as in their fantasies about them) is indeed exceptional; too patriarchal but also with a very strong role for the Greek mother (who often is the one fighting to safeguard the rigid traditions of the family, including its masculinist bias); too firmly based on extended kinship networks of help and support, but also extremely oppressive; an institution of excellence and national pride, but also the hotbed of nationalism and national intransigence. At the same time, on the other hand, there were those who claimed that all these characteristics are to be found also in other family traditions too, and most of them, perhaps, all over the world.
I address those two opposing narratives in my work, and see both their insights and their limits. There are, obviously, specificities in the Greek family (including historical specificities for the role played by extended kinship networks in Greek cultural, public and political spheres, as well as internal differences in what we sometimes too easily conceptualize as ‘the Greek family’). And there are also similarities with the kinship structures elsewhere in the world, starting from the Balkans and the eastern Mediterranean basin.
However, an axiom I have followed in my work is that, even when we realize that some of the characteristics of the Greek family are, in the final analysis, not so exceptional at all, it is still analytically productive to track them and discuss how much cultural work they have been doing as exceptional. What I mean by this is that even the widely held narrative about the exceptionality of the Greek family (what in Greece in popular discourse is often referred to as ‘the Holy Greek family’ – η Αγία Ελληνική Οικογένεια) can be powerful and productive as a narrative, in that it frames institutional analysis and policies, deeply held beliefs and ideologies, political positions and practices.
It is also for this reason that I have found recent Greek cinema so fascinating. In many of the films of the Greek Weird Wave, you see the effort of directors to speak about the wider issue of family oppression and violence, sometimes in an obviously allegorical tone that is trying not to be limited by any Greek specificity. Yet, the reception of these films, still, in Greece and abroad, happened in the context of the ‘exceptional Greek family’. The families in Yorgos Lanthimos’s Dogtooth and Alps, or in Athina Tsangari’s Attenberg and Alexandros Avranas’s Miss Violence, are not specifically Greek (and they try not to be specifically Greek, the setting of these films deliberately not recalling recognizable Greek settings). Yet these directors were called upon time and again, by Greek and international commentators, to discuss their films as a commentary on the Greek family specifically; and, what is important, more often than not, they all decided to play ball.
The Greek paterfamilias appears often in these cultural texts as an oppressive, almost tyrannical figure. What about the infamous figure of passive-aggressive, almighty, loving but overbearing and emasculating Greek mother? This dominant “Greek mother” is a very popular figure in popular discourse, however she is largely absent from these cultural texts, or shown as powerless, silent and almost always overpowered by the father. Could you comment this disparity between popular discourse and cultural texts?
Contrary to expectation, these recent cultural texts are more invested in thinking about power dynamics, control and biopolitics, than about a sociological exploration of the specific gender and affective structures of Greek kinship. In other words, they are not performing a sociology, but a political economy of the Greek family. They are also, as cultural texts, active in the Greek public sphere, inciting discourse, producing new modes of engagement and critique. This might explain the point you raise, the absence of ‘the domineering Greek mother’ in some films, novels and theatre in Greece of the last decade. There have been important exceptions, of course (eg. films such as The Matchbox by Yannis Economides), however what you point out might be right, it is mainly the tyrannical father that takes centre stage in many a Greek cultural text of the last decade.
What for me is the most intriguing about these cultural texts is that they turned towards complex modes of allegory when everyone was expecting them to offer realistic portrayals. For this reason, their obsession with tyrannical (or undermined) father figures seems understandable: they want to show that the centre (of a symbolic, a national, a cultural, an affective system) does not hold any more.
It is interesting, within this context, to review what happens in the film Miss Violence: when the father’s abusive tactics get out of hand, it is the mother who plots to kill him; in the last scene, however, we see her fully assuming his position after he’s gone, as she once again orders the members of the family to lock the door of their apartment and stay inside, now under her power. Mothers can be patriarchal too (and this does not mean that they cannot also be resistant to patriarchy).
In your book, you talk about the family as a biopolitics and also introduce the term “archive trouble” in the context of studying family histories. Can you expand on these concepts?
Indeed, biopolitics and archive trouble are the analytical foundations of the argument in my book. The first is the well known concept popularized in the last decades thanks to the work of Michel Foucault and the criticism that came on its heels. Biopolitics (the politics of/over life) is a concept that helps us better understand how the contemporary world is governed, how the lives of individuals and of populations are organized, projecting liveability to specific groups of people and condemning others to a slow death, reorganizing the protocols of what it means to be human, which humans can have what type of protection and access to supposedly common human achievements (such as medicine and health care, education, freedom of movement, clean water and sanitation, ‘human rights’) and who will be deprived of them or given a different, ‘lighter’ version. Crucially, biopolitics also organizes not only forms of governance and the development institutions, it also frames self-governance, it impacts on the ways we internalize doctrines, ‘economic plans’, ideologies, body images, psychosocial demands, limitations, prohibitions and incitements. It is not an exaggeration, therefore, if we claim, as so many of us do in our work, that we live in a culture of biopolitics; that we speak from within an intense biopolitical present.
I coined the term Archive Trouble, as a result, in order to describe a larger apparatus, a certain mode of understanding, of reacting, of making culture within, and making do with, this biopolitical present. It is an obvious pun bringing together the recent interest in archives and archivality (part of which stemming from Jacques Derrida’s Archive Fever), and the post-Judith Butler thinking of the performative constitution of gender and sexuality encapsulated in seminal works like Gender Trouble. Archive Trouble is a constant questioning about our forms of participating in the political present, through a parallel inquiry about the past and its cultural and ideological impact. Archive Trouble is the effort to reconstitute the archival at a moment of crisis, an effort that, more often than not, becomes evident through the emergence of embodied acts, of bodies that show anxiety, show affective attachment and emotional release, show the explosive potential of a present experienced in the need for embodied counter-memory and radical understanding.
Archive Trouble is a modality that we witness, expansive and engaging, in Greece today. I have documented it in art, in disparate and diverse examples, which, however, show some common features: their pervasive feeling of urgency; an iconoclastic return to the past; a dense biopolitical thinking; a central role for the body in/as performance; an attempt to create, out of all this, a new political and widely participatory art in the present. Archive Trouble performs genealogical exercises and issues constant demands for a history of the present, one that foregrounds our intersecting demands and identities, our intersectionality, as present continuous; our need for historicization as present archival; our expansive citizenship claims as present processual; and our multilayered precarity as present biopolitical.
In the four years since SYRIZA has been in power, we have seen progressive legislation being passed on sex and gender issues, such as the right of same-sex couples to form a civil partnership and to foster children and transgender people’s right to change their legal gender freely. Will these changes function to remove some of the deadlocks of the Greek family? What do they mean for the LGBTQI / human rights agenda and the expression of ‘other’ sexualities in times of crisis?
In many ways the passing of progressive legislation on human rights, including LGBTQI rights, and the fight against racism and entrenched forms of misogyny and homophobia, became for SYRIZA the platform to prove itself as a left-wing government. Let us not forget that at the same time other decisions the same government implemented, mainly related to austerity measures and the undermining of workers’ rights and union power, have been clearly anti-Left. That said, one should not underestimate the huge impact the new LGBTQI and anti-racist legislation has had, not only on people’s dealings with officials and the state, but also in everyday life, on public opinion, in the public sphere. Greeks are now more cognizant of homophobia, more intolerant of the various forms of racism, more alert to supporting victims of bullying. Internalized and institutionalized (esp. by the Greek church) homophobia and chauvinism still exist, of course; and forms of extreme nationalism are, once again, on the rise.
Yet, as someone who has often offered opinion and has discussed LGBTQI legislation in Greece in various capacities, I have to admit that I had not expected so much to happen in so little time (especially on issues like homoparentality and gender identity declaration). This puts the LGBTQI movement in Greece now in a very advantageous position: it now has the power to be even more radical and more intersectional, more inclusive, more demanding. The rights of migrants (including queer migrants), the rights in the workplace (which include gender rights in the workplace), the rights to assembly as well as the rights to free education and healthcare (which affect everyone, and LGBTQI people know that intimately), the fight against all forms of racism, are all today resurfacing as the new (who would have thought!) fronts to fight, and I can’t see why they shouldn’t frame the central demands of the LGBTQI movement too. And of course, let us not forget the obvious: the LGBTQI movement is also a crucial agent in the fight against the recurrence of racism, ultra-nationalism and fascism which we see today in Greece, after 10 years of intense crisis.
What is the future of Modern Greek Studies outside Greece? In what terms to you think scholars and students (re)approach the Greek path to modernity after the crisis, in the UK and internationally?
Since I was a graduate student, the major complaint in our field was the ‘imminent death of Modern Greek Studies’. All of us, scholars of CompLit and ModGreek Studies, have at some point in our careers written articles with titles such as ‘the need to reinvent Modern Greek Studies’, ‘the crisis of Modern Greek Studies’, ‘save Modern Greek Studies’, ‘Modern Greek Studies at a crossroads’ and so on. And it is true that some of the old and traditionally acclaimed departments of Modern Greek Studies outside Greece have closed down in recent years, or have had a difficult time remaining open.
However, at the very same time, our professional organizations grow; academics writing and teaching on Greek subjects take illustrious chairs all over the world; new academic journals (such as the Journal of Greek Media and Culture) become the platform for publishing new interdisciplinary work and the older and established journals in the field are read more than ever; and never before was there such an interest in Modern Greece by publishers, academic fora and interdisciplinary research bodies. To keep complaining about the ‘decline of Modern Greek’ would just mean that we focus on a part and keep failing to see the whole picture.
Let it be clear: What is under threat today is the existence of specialized departments of Greek language and Literature, and these are precisely the departments and centres that need institutional and financial help. The reason is simple: it is precisely because Modern Greek Studies as a whole is in such a dynamic state at the moment, that it is also in the best interest of everyone to support these few more specialized departments of Greek language, literature and history, since they act as the necessary hubs for the field at large. They can nurture new talent, become the centres of publishing and academic debate on Greece, and create important ports of contact for academics working in Greece. If we focus on supporting these few centres for Greek language and literature around the world, then we can be free to celebrate what is also happening recently: the real resurgence of the wider Modern Greek Studies, a genuine reinvigoration of analytical debate on Greece and its diverse paths to modernities, as well as, for the first time, a radical reappraisal of what it means to be Greek in a globalized, glocalized, overmediated, contingent, inconsistent, precarious and simmering world.
*Interview by Julia Livaditi and Nikolas Nenedakis
Watch Dimitris Papanikolaou lecture on "New Queer Greece?" (Enjoy (y)our State of Emergency: art and activist strategies in times of crisis, 2014):
Read also via Greek News Agenda: New Queer Greece: Performance, Politics, Identity; Rethinking Greece: Stella Belia on Civil Partnership Rights, LGBT claims and human rights agenda in times of crisis; Maria Yannakaki, Secretary General for Human Rights on the legal recognition of gender identity
Vicky Pryce is a Greek-born economist. She is currently Chief Economic Adviser and a board member at the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR). She was previously Senior Managing Director at FTI Consulting, Director General for Economics at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and Joint Head of the UK Government Economic Service. Before that she was Partner at the accounting and consulting firm KPMG after senior economic positions in banking and the oil sector.
Vicky Pryce holds a number of academic posts and is a Fellow of the UK Academy for Social Sciences and of the Society of Professional Economists. She sits on the Council of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, on the Advisory Board of the central banking think-tank OMFIF and on the Economic Advisory Group of the British Chambers of Commerce. Her books include: Greekonomics: The Euro crisis and Why Politicians Don't Get It; It's the Economy, Stupid- Economics for Voters, with Ross and Urwin; Redesigning Manufacturing, with Nielsen and Beverland; and Why Women Need Quotas, with Stefan Stern. She is also co-founder of GoodCorporation, a company set up to promote Corporate Social Responsibility.
On 20 August Greece exited its final three-year bailout programme. The Press & Communications Office at the Embassy of Greece in London arranged an interview with Vicky Pryce, where she spoke about the challenges that Greece and Europe face in the post-bailout era, the potential impact of Brexit and the opportunities presented to Greece after the deal with FYROM on the name issue.
On 20 August Greece exited its final three-year bailout programme. Greek economy is returning to growth and Greek unemployment has dropped below 20% for the first time in the last seven years. In your opinion what are the prospects for Greece’s economy and the challenges that the country faces in the post-bailout era? How can Greece secure a sustainable recovery?
The exit from the bail-out has to be celebrated and was long overdue. Greece has achieved a remarkable turnaround in its public finances achieving a budget surplus on its normal revenue and spending transactions and also a primary surplus when debt servicing is excluded. All other countries that had bailouts such as Ireland, Portugal, Ireland and Cyprus had exited some time ago. The situation in Greece had been more extreme. However while other countries' debt burden remains significant their return to 'normality’ was helped by them being able to participate in the ECB's vast Quantitative Easing operations since 2015, which have kept the rates at which they can borrow in the capital markets low and the debt manageable. This was not the case for Greece. The credit rating for Greek bonds has been improving in anticipation of the end of the bail-out . But, despite the lengthening of maturities, interest rate reductions and payment holidays Greece has managed to negotiate for part of its debt, the 180% debt to GDP is likely to remain a constraint on growth.
In addition, the requirement to continue to produce substantial primary surpluses for decades to come will mean that it will be difficult to see how Greece can escape further austerity and low growth. Growth has been picking up mainly as a result of improved tourism receipts and higher exports generally, but it will take decades at current rates for the lost output to be made up. Further debt relief measures will have to be negotiated at some point to consolidate the foundations for future growth and prosperity. What Greece also needs is considerably more investment and infrastructure funding from the EU, more help to tackle the migrant crisis, a lessening in bureaucracy and a lowering of the tax burden on businesses and individuals to encourage spending and investment. It also needs to produce a properly, evidence - based industrial strategy. A proper partnership needs to develop between the public and private sectors on the back of a well thought-out and evaluated industrial strategy to ensure that Greece can exploit its strengths - such as in agriculture, energy and high tech- as well as consolidate its geographical position as a major trading and tourist centre with attractive offerings for visitors throughout the year and not just in the summer months.
During the crisis many young professionals and academics left Greece to try and build their lives abroad. How could this ‘brain drain’ be reversed? How could the experience of young Greek academics abroad be used to benefit Greece?
Outfits like 'Reload Greece ' which, backed by Greek academics at the LBS and elsewhere are trying to encourage young Greek entrepreneurs through training grants and other inducements to engage in new activities and link up with the Greeks of the diaspora are beginning to make a difference. But this is still a relatively small endeavour compared with the challenge of engaging the large number of young and qualified individuals who have left. There needs to be an active policy of re-engaging young professionals, possibly with a system of preferential funding arrangements to encourage investments in innovative ideas, supported by some of the international institutions. But again, reducing bureaucracy and allowing new start ups to flourish without crippling tax burdens is a must. Greece rates particularly poorly globally in relation to the ease of starting and doing business. A way of getting that talent to return must be found urgently.
Eurozone leaders hailed Greece’s exit from the bailout programme as the end of the eurozone crisis. In an interview for the Handelsblatt newspaper, Olaf Scholz, Germany’s finance minister, noted that “The bleak predictions of the prophets of doom have not come true”, adding that “Greece’s salvation is also a sign of European solidarity.” Has Europe emerged stronger from the crisis? What are the lessons to be learnt from the crisis for both Greece and the EU?
It is true that the need to save the Euro as Mario Draghi, the head of the European Central Bank (ECB), had promised he would in 2015 also meant keeping Greece in the Euro and the EU. But the single currency had problems from the very beginning in that it had not built the proper institutions to deal with a crisis of the type we saw in the late 2000s. Greece suffered from that lack of institutional framework. When the crisis hit, countries found themselves in difficulty and unable to borrow in the capital markets and their banks teetering on the brink of insolvency with no proper funds transfer mechanism, no immediate risk sharing and the ECB not a lender of last resort which the markets had assumed (wrongly) that was the case . The burden was therefore borne by the taxpayer in each country which has left a legacy of debt burdens and a period of severe austerity, none of course as severe as in Greece. Greece like other crisis-hit eurozone countries was unable to lower its own interest rates or depreciate its currency as a way to improve competitiveness and its finances. Instead it was left with no option but to cut salaries and pensions, reduce public spending and increase taxes in exchange for a series of bail-outs. As a result the severity and duration of the Greek depression was unparalleled in any European country since the war. But fear of the domino effect of a possible 'Grexit' on the rest of the eurozone finally led to decisive action to deal with it in a more sustainable way. There has been an increasing acceptance of risk sharing. In addition to QE there is now a European Support Mechanism, a move to a banking union with a new bank resolution fund, a reinforced regulatory role for the European Central Bank, which is now also effectively finally a lender of last resort, a move towards a capital markets union and talk of a eurozone budget, eurozone finance Ministry and possibly turning the ESM into a European IMF. I think that indeed we could see the crisis in Greece and the eventual more positive response of the Europeans as demonstrating the commitment to keep the EU together.
The UK is heading for an EU exit. In a recent event at LSE you spoke of a possible positive impact of Brexit on Greece. How is Brexit expected to affect the UK, Greece and the EU?
Much of what I said in response to the previous question also applies here. But Brexit has certainly had an impact. The EU has been at pains to ensure that advantages of being in the EU are clear during the Brexit negotiations. The example of the way Greece seems to have fared in the eurozone was and is still being used by pro-Brexit campaigners as a reason for not wanting to be in the EU. In a way I do think that the need to keep the EU against the threat that Brexit presents to the integrity of the EU has led to a greater show of solidarity towards Greece and a greater willingness by other eurozone countries to help broker a solution.
Having reached a deal with FYROM on the name issue, Greece has drawn praise abroad and aspires to play a leading role in the stabilisation and regional cooperation in the Balkans. What potential for economic growth does this deal offer to Greece and South Eastern Europe?
It’s good news that the name deal has gone forward. Assuming agreement by parliaments and a referendum, this opens the door to the Western Balkan nations to join the EU and its single market. Open frontiers from the Aegean to the Alps can only be good for Greek businesses who know how to do business in the region.
Turkey’s economy has recently shown signs of volatility, with the Turkish lira losing value and the country’s inflation and debt causing concern. What could the implications of a potential Turkish financial crisis be for the economies of Greece and the EU?
There are increasing concerns about any domino effect from the Turkish financial crisis. With a number of banks in the eurozone already having to cope with a high level of non-performing loans, the fall in the lira is adding to problems given the very large percentage of foreign currency denominated loans in Turkey. Moreover it could sour investors' views of highly indebted countries and therefore make it more difficult for Greece to borrow in international markets.
It’s not certain whether Dimitris Katsimiris’ films could be used to restore faith to humanity. His dark universe is inhabited by toxic brothers, ready to be the first to cast stones, ruthless YouTubers and individuals that stand alone with no help from family or society … But still, there are moments when the beaten and the outcasts dare to stand up and human dignity gains the upper hand.
Dimitris Katsimiris was born and raised in Rhodes. He has studied and worked as a social worker. He lives and works in Athens as a writer and director in theatre and cinema. He has written two plays and the screenplay for the short film “Live” (2018), and he has directed two award-winning short films. His first film “Birthday” (2016) is about Marios, a young man with cerebral palsy, waiting for his uncle, with his mother at home, to celebrate together his 22nd birthday. The arrival of his uncle, with his new girlfriend, will upset the family and create a suffocating atmosphere. “Mum, I’m back” (2017), his second short film, is about a woman returning, after 40 years, to the village where she was born for the funeral of her mother. There she’ll meet those she left behind. His latest film, “Fake News” (2018),is the story of a YouTuber and her partner planning to direct the raping of a girl by two black guys. Their goal is to get more subscribers on their YouTube channel. However, on the day of the shooting things don't go as planned. “Fake News” will premiere in the 41st Greek Short Film Festival in Drama (16-22 September 2018).
Eva Koumarianou, "Mum, I'm back" (2017)
Dimitris Katsimiris talked to Greek News Agenda* about his films, stressing that his goal as a filmmaker is to look beyond the surface and spot the dark issues and hidden family dramas with respect and sensitivity. Katsimiris continues this exploration in “Fake News” of what is hidden in social media, underlining how easy it is to be manipulated. Influenced by Michael Hanneke and his theory that everyone can commit a crime if he faced a trigger situation, Katsimiris puts his protagonists in such situations, to take a walk on their dark side.
Ilias Valassis, Chrysothemis Amanatidi, "Birthday" (2016)
In your films you explore the dark parts of the human soul and human relations. In “Birthday” and “Mum, I’m back” family members don’t offer comfort and compassion. It’s quite the opposite. Would you like to elaborate?
Most family relationships are not as ideal as they look, there's often an unspoken truth that creates a false sense of reality. Every family has its personal drama, usually hidden very well. My goal as a filmmaker is to look behind the curtains and spot these dark issues with respect and sensitivity.
Lena Kitsopoulou, "Fake news" (2018)
Your recent film “Fake news” deals with a current sociopolitical issue. What do you think about contemporary Greek society and the influence of social media?
Social media have tremendous impact on our culture and to modern society in general. Their growing popularity has certain negative aspects on society. We see more and more people searching for role models through them, ignoring the fact that behind all these personas -such as youtubers, influencers etc- lurk lies, loneliness, isolation and depression. There is also a rise of a new phenomenon, ''fake news'. We have to be careful of what we are reading and sharing. Unfortunately, sometimes we let go of critical thinking and it’s very easy to be manipulated.
Was I asleep while the others were suffering? In your films you are dealing with social issues, such as homophobia, racism and social injustice. Has your background as a social worker influenced your work and vision as a filmmaker?
Of course we all know that violence primarily arises from fear. For instance, I’m afraid something might happen to me so I perpetrate violence against others. The xenophobia and transphobia around us, that’s a form of violence too. It always comes from fear and ignorance. We are afraid of the unknown and we therefore want to fend it off. If we can’t fend it off easily, we resort to more violent options. My experience as a social worker does help me a lot, especially in research and communication with others.
Tunji Sanusi, Nick Wahome, Yiannis Kotsifas, "Fake news" (2018)
By which filmmakers have you been influenced?
My role model is Michael Haneke. His point of view and his irony about human nature is very close to my cinematic view. He used to say that “there is no crime I could not imagine having committed myself. You only need to be in a trigger situation”. That means that we all have a dark side.
Of course a world without art would be much poorer. I don’t believe that a work of art changes society or an individual. But I do believe that the sum total helps make a more bearable world.
Thomas Chavianidis, "Birthday" (2016)
How do you feel about contemporary Greek short film productions?
Last year, with my second film ‘Mum, I’m back’, I had the opportunity to travel to a few film festivals and had the chance to interact with filmmakers from different cultures and backgrounds. I could say that there is a huge interest in Greek cinema especially for short films. In the last decade, Greek short films have traveled a lot, won awards and got recognition from important film festivals. I definitely believe in a positive future for Greek cinema.
What are your future plans?
My short filmmaking journey has come to an end. I am in the process of writing my first feature length film and hopefully will soon start shooting. Recently, with some good friends and coworkers, we created Frau Films Production Company, which gives me the courage and hope to continue on our cinematic path.
* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi
There is no place for Sofia, the protagonist of “Hector Malot: The Last Day of the Year”, not even in the selfie taken with her friends in the last day of the year, a day that has to be spent in joy, in the company of dear ones. Jacqueline Lentzou, writer and director of the film, follows Sofia, as she wonders around Athens, trying to find those dear ones, proving that you don’t have to be homeless or marginalized to face the absurdity of loneliness. “Hector Malot: The Last Day of the Year” (2018) premiered in Cannes’ Semaine de la Critique and won the prestigious Leica Cine Discovery Award.
Writer and film director Jacqueline Lentzou was born in Athens, in 1989. Her work revolves around unconventional family constructs, coming-of-age, intimacy and the dream. Her cinematic language involves finding poetry in seemingly mundane premises. She is a London Film School graduate (Distinction, 2013), a Sarajevo (2014) and Berlinale (2015) Talents alumna. Her graduation project, “Thirteen Blue” (2013), screened in several international film festivals and won, among others, Best International Short in Athens Film & Video FF, was shortlisted for the Oscar nomination, as well as the Golden Egg Award in Reykjavik IFF.
Her semi-feature’s “Fox” (2016) script was selected at Berlinale Short Film Station. “Fox”, a coming of age film, had its world premiere in Locarno (2016), winning Best International Short from the Cinema & Gioventu Jury. Until now, FOX has won over 20 awards worldwide, including Best Short from PanHellenic Critics’ Association, Best European Short at Film Du Femme Creteil, and the upmost prestigious Award in the Memory of Ingmar Bergman.
“Hiwa” (2017), a short film on a Filipino man’s nightmare, containing all parental anxieties in condensed form, had its world premiere at Berlinale and was listed as one of the best shorts of the year in anOthermag.com, as well as in Cineuropa’s Official Website.
In 2017 Lentzou was invited by Vienna Shorts as an Artist in Spotlight, where a retrospective of her full body of work was held. In the same year, she was invited to represent Greece in the special edition of Locarno Filmmakers’ Academy. In Torino Film Lab “Selini66”, her debut feature project, won the award issued by the CNC to one of the 23 Script & Pitch participants.
Jacqueline Lentzou talks to Greek News Agenda* about “Hector Malot: The Last Day of the Year”, shot in the first week of 2018 with the money collected from Fox’s awards. She explains that she was instinctively driven to the notion of flaneur, the city wanderer and passionate observer, for Sofia, the central character of “Hector Malot”. Lentzou underlines that being an observer implies the heavy personal acceptance of the utopia of belonging. Asked about the different ways individuals deal with trauma and pain, she answers that, for her, the biggest issue is denial. What she finds most problematic and finally entertaining, in a cynical way, is the pretention of happiness. Lentzou further elaborates on her need to reflect on the momentary experience, the feeling, rather than on an objective depiction of the subject, which leads to her impressionistic approach.
Sofia Kokkali, "Hector Malot: The Last Day of the Year" (2018)
In “Hector Malot” you depict the absolute loneliness of the central character, Sofia, with subtle strokes of comedy, which deepen the tragic effect of what she is going through. Who is Sofia? Is it you, is she a contemporary flaneur and why is she so easy to identify with? In other words is it a) an autobiographical film, b) a woman’s story c) a commentary on the universality of loneliness or d) all of the above?
It is very interesting that you come up with the word ‘flaneur’, as during my work on the script it was written in my notebook, underlined and circled, both with pen and pencil. Until last year, I was oblivious to the term’s existence, a term that perfectly describes part of my way of being. After discovering this word, I came across Baudelaire’s ‘Painter of Life’ which served in a way as the ‘literature’ behind the film; a secret one.
So, to answer your question, Sofia is indeed a modern flaneur. Walking aimlessly, trying to entertain the passage of time, gradually becoming an observer of life. Being an observer is a lonely hobby. You are part of something, yet at the same time you are not. This is a very thin line, a tough existential game, as it implies a heavy personal acceptance: that of the utopia of belonging.
If, the film indeed is open for identification as your question implies, then I believe it has to do more with the depiction of the absurd, rather than the depiction of loneliness. I think it is too much of a bold move to accept one’s absolute loneliness, and this is why in the film many refrain from referring to it as its key thematic line, but they mention it as a mood element. On the contrary, it is much easier to talk about the absurd, it is easy to spot shades of it in everyday life, especially in Greece.
Regarding autobiographical elements, it is an undeniable fact that they exist in all of my works, however this is only part of the worlds I aim to create, not the core. Personal experience is, for me at least, the most pivotal tool in filmmaking. Along with intuition, they are the sole compass I have found and trust.
Separation in its various forms (divorce, death or migration of a parent) seems to be the source of misfortune for your films’ characters and it works as a leit motif in your films. There is a psychoanalytic background to the way you work on your characters and their dreams have a dominant role in your films. The role of family defines to a large extent your characters' later life. How do you deal with the absurdity of pain and how do you think individuals cope with their traumatic experiences?
I do not believe in the absurdity of pain. I do not find pain absurd. I see it as a rather natural consequence of life. I see pain like water: that natural and that ample.
Thus, I deal with pain in a similar way to water.
So, how do you deal with water? There are not many options. You dive in it, you observe it, or you consume it. I try to dive in it, after observing it. I try to ‘steal’ its emotional depth and transform it into something else. I feel that pain can be fundamental material for the construction of something meaningful. And ever since I’ve known myself, I’ve been walking in this direction.
As far as how other individuals cope with their trauma, I do not have an easy answer. I think it’s dangerous to talk on behalf of humanity! At the same time I know that trauma equals darkness and we all know how difficult and sometimes impossible it can be to face it, let alone cope with it. My observations lead to the conclusion that the biggest issue is denial. People mostly deny their traumas, they are afraid to see them, let alone accept them and see that they are part of their present personalities.
Unfortunately, it is still a taboo, to admit that you have suffered or that you still suffer. It is not ‘cool’. It is ‘cool’ to pretend, in a way. Which is part of the pathology of our society: being functional, being happy and ready to seize the day.
This really entertains me – from a cynical point of view.
There are certain traits in your cinematic language: You place particular focus on the plot; you work with hand held cameras and long takes; how do you work with editing and plot in building your stories and how did you combine all the above mentioned traits to reach an impressionistic effect?
I place particular focus on the writing, rather than the editing. Apart from “Hiwa”, whose form was discovered in the editing suite, “Fox” and “Hector” were more straightforward. I love to write, and since I tend to write visually, in the short form, this has proven to be an advantage.
When I try to think why I prefer hand held cameras, why I prefer long takes, I find the answer in my primal contact with the medium of camera, which dates back to when I was 10. I did not know anything, I was just playing and if someone sees those tapes, there are huge similarities in the cinematic approach.
It is a fact that I am not up for high stylization, although I admire it when it’s being done well. I just don’t see the world so beautiful and symmetric. I see the world grainy, confusing and fragmented and that’s how I depict it in my films.
The word impressionistic is really spot-on. If someone examines the painting movement of impressionism, and how historically the shift took place, what need was satisfied and the reasons behind it, it really describes my cinema: the need to reflect on the momentary experience, the feeling, rather than an objective depiction of the subject.
Is there objectivity, of any kind?
Sofia Kokkali, "Hector Malot: The Last Day of the Year" (2018)
How difficult is it for a young talented filmmaker like you to work in Greece?
We all know the difficulties, since the socioeconomic situation reflects everywhere intensely and precisely.
Yes, there are delays. There is waiting. There are bureaucratic complications. There is anger and impatience.
At the very same time though, there are good intentions. There is risk taking. There is energy. There is vision. And so I make films, in Greece, in 2018, and instead of writing a long note of complaint, I prefer to emphasize on the light, because it exists. It is due to this light that Greek filmmakers, short and feature, succeed abroad.
Complaining about one’s country is in a way similar to complaining about one’s family. None is ever perfect, and due to these very imperfections we have various idiosyncracies, hues and textures, which as far as I’m concerned is the only real wealth.
What are your future plans?
The feature is the future!
* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi
Paul Glastris is a journalist and political columnist. Glastris is the current editor in chief of The Washington Monthly and was President Bill Clinton's chief speechwriter from September 1998 to the end of his presidency in early 2001. He wrote over 200 speeches for the President, including the education sections of the 1999 and 2000 State of the Union addresses and the President’s signing remarks for the 1998 Higher Education Act reauthorization. He also co-wrote the president’s address to the Democratic convention in Los Angeles in August 2000.
In November 1999, Glastris traveled with President Clinton to Turkey and Greece and co-wrote the President’s landmark address to the Greek people. Glastris also co-founded the President’s “DC Reads This Summer” program, which has placed over 1,000 federal employees as volunteer reading tutors in Washington, DC public schools. He also promoted several administration policy initiatives, including a new food stamp rule that allowed the working poor to own cars.
Before joining the White House, Glastris spent 10 years as a correspondent and editor at U.S. News & World Report. There, he conceived of and edited two end-of-the-year issues consisting of “solutions-oriented” journalism (1997 and 1998). As Bureau Chief in Berlin, Germany (1995-1996), he covered the former Yugoslavia during the final months of the Bosnian War and wrote stories from Germany, Russia, Greece, and Turkey. Prior to that, he covered the Midwest from the magazine’s Chicago bureau during two presidential campaigns, the Mississippi floods of 1993, and the rise of the Michigan Militia. He produced profiles of Midwest mayors, governors, and other personalities, from Jesse Jackson to then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton.
From 1985 to 1986, Paul Glastris was an editor of the Washington Monthly. He has also written for The New York Times, the Washington Post, The New Republic, Slate, and other publications. Glastris has been a fellow at New America and the Western Policy Center, serves on the board on the Nonzero Foundation and was a founding member of the board of Education Sector, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, DC. He is a regular commentator on the BBC and has been a guest commentator on CNN, MSNBC, NPR, the Colbert Report, and the McLaughlin Group. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s in radio, TV, and film from Northwestern University. Glastris granted an interview* to Greek News Agenda regarding his remarkable career and the contributions of the Greek diaspora in the American society.
Last year you received the Hellenic Heritage National Public Service Award for important career achievements and contributions to the Greek American community or community at-large and of course you are a well-recognized figure of the Greek Diaspora in Washington DC and beyond. What does it mean to you to be a recognized and awarded figure of Greek heritage in the US?
It’s an incredible honor. I could be recognized by any number of groups but none would make me feel more proud than to be recognized by Greek-Americans.
Could you highlight your major achievements as a journalist and publisher?
I think in general the magazine Washington Monthly has had a real impact on the actual policies and debates of the US government in a number of areas. Probably most profound has been in the reform of America’s college and university system. Since 2005 we have published an annual college ranking that is an alternative to the dominant US News & World Report ranking. Whereas US News rewards colleges for their prestige, money and reputation, The Washington Monthly reward colleges for providing students a chance for upward mobility, for providing research and new ideas to fuel the economy and human flourishing, and for promoting public service. It’s just a very different way of evaluating these institutions and it had a very profound impact. For instance, a regulation that came out of the Obama White House that limited the role of predatory for-profit colleges was a result of some of our investigative work. The new data that the U.S. Department of Education started putting out a few years ago measuring the outcomes of the university degrees in terms of earnings and ability to pay back loans, was a direct consequence of our rankings. So we are very proud of that. We’ve had impact on a number of other areas too, from health care to the economy, to national security.
So you are saying that your ranking system is friendlier for low income students?
Our rankings reward colleges that do an excellent job of providing average students with a quality education that means something in the market place. We do not reward schools that cherry-pick the brightest and wealthiest students and lavish a lot of attention on them. That’s what US News does, which is a self-reinforcing prestige machine that accelerates the inequality and elitism in the American education system. That educational elitism spills over to the entire economy and society and contributes to the horrible inequality that is driving the country into a ditch. We think it’s a terrible mistake for our educational establishment to have that model of “quality”, that idea of what, “excellence” is, be the thing that drives the careers of college presidents and other administrators. It would be much better if the people who run our education system were given credit for doing a great job of educating the students they have and not the students they wished they had, a great job of educating the average student, the poor student, the striving student who wants to move up in the world.
This is the majority of the students actually.
Yes, 90% of them. The top hundred most selective colleges and universities in the country probably educate 5 or 10% of all college students. There are thousands of colleges out there that will never be recognized in the top hundred in US News report but in ours they are recognized.
So it’s a small revolution I would say.
Yes it’s a revolution we started in the mid-2000s and the rest of the world has caught up with. We, in the Washington Monthly, are kind of scouts, we go over the horizon looking for the problems and the solutions that Washington ought to be talking about, but isn’t. We focus on the longer term deeper trends that others, caught up in the day to day of a news cycle, don’t have time to look at carefully. And we constantly try to inject into the policy and political discussion issues and ideas that really matter.
Here’s another example of a subject that we were uniquely at the forefront of covering. For the last decade we’ve been writing story after story arguing that the consolidation of the American industry, the monopolization of one sector of economy after the other, is a horrible trend, one that is behind a lot of the inequality, wage stagnation, declining rates of business startups, and the lack of dynamism in the economy. All these things are most easily explained, we believe-- and we have written--by the fact that each market segment used to have 5 or 10 major competing companies. Now each has 3 or 2 or even 1. America used to have a system of rules that didn’t allow that concentration to happen, but 30 years ago we abandoned those rules. We think this concentration is the number one economic and political issue in the country. For most of the last ten years we were a lonely voice making this argument and over the last three years you see more and more respected economists produce studies showing that in fact we are right about that deleterious effect of the market concentration, this creation of oligarchies--which Greece, by the way, suffers from too. And now these ideas are being picked up by major players in the Democratic Party including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. You are starting to see the beginnings of a wave of reform on this issue of consolidation.
But there are a significant number of small startups appearing in various markets.
There certainly are. America still has a startup culture. But as a percentage of the population the number of startups has declined by over a third in the last thirty years. We used to be much a more dynamic country. Small business used to be the engine of our economic growth, certainly the engine of employment growth. I think the most plausible explanation for the decline of startups is that markets have been locked up by big players who put barriers up.
Perhaps globalization has played a significant role there.
There is an argument that in a globalized economy only big players can compete in that global market. That argument was deployed to give permission to the federal government to allow for concentration. And certainly there are conditions where only a big company can exploit a particular market efficiently. America has always had big companies, but in the past if a market needed big dominant companies such as in the case of steel or automobiles, the federal government still made sure that there were several players competing, and in cases such as electricity, where a true monopoly makes sense, those monopolies were heavily regulated. Today, we have less regulation for monopolies and more monopolies generally, including in markets that do not need them. There is no rule saying that a small or medium size company can’t compete on the global stage. Ultimately what you want is small companies to grow into big companies that challenge the incumbent companies. But that happens less and less these days. What happens instead is that big companies buy out smaller competitors.
Paul Glastris traveled with President Clinton to Greece and co-wrote his landmark address to the Greek people in Athens
How special was it to be Clinton’s speechwriter? Could you mention historical moments you experienced at that time?
Being part of the team that wrote the state of the union addresses in 1999 and 2000 was very memorable. Especially in 1999, at the same time the Senate was voting not to convict the President on the impeachment charges of the House. That was probably the most historically charged moment even though of course nothing in the speech referred to that. It was the silent specter overhanging the speech and really the president’s moment of victory over the Republicans trying to dislodge him. I also co-wrote the speech he delivered at the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, which was one of the most important summing ups of his Presidency that he ever gave. People don’t remember this, but Bill Clinton was the first President to lay out the argument for a prescription drug benefit in Medicare, and it was in a speech I wrote. For me the most memorable speech was the one he delivered in Athens in November 1999. I am enormously proud of that speech. The vision Bill Clinton offered for Greece’s role in the region and for the role of democracy in the world holds up very well.
How much did you project yourself into that speech?
I think my pride shows through in some of the language. It was the work of a team not just the speechwriter. Lots of people had their hands on that speech, President Clinton being one of them--and of course everything flawed from his ideas. But one thing that I was able to add that I don’t think would have been there but from the fact that I am Greek-American, is the particular vision of the role of history in contemporary life. A lot of the speech had to do with the war in Kosovo and the raw feelings the Greek people had toward that war. I knew how Greeks felt about that as I had family in Greece who were telling me how they felt. Also I had spent time on the ground in Yugoslavia among Serbs and I knew how they felt it. So I was able to bring some empathy that I don’t think my colleagues at the National Security Council quite had. Also, they could not understand how Greeks felt about their history. They were kind of urging the speech to say let’s look past history. I had to explain to them, if you are driving in Athens, around every other corner you see the Parthenon looking down on you. You don’t forget history. Forgetting history is what Americans do. That’s not what a Greek can or will do. I was trying to explain that you will lose your audience if you say that. So instead the formulation was we can never forget history but we do not need to be a prisoner of it.
You are the chief editor of Washington Monthly since 2001 so you know quite well the media and political culture in Washington. In what sense is this media culture unique and different?
That’s a big question. What makes the mainstream media in America unique in the world is the ethic of just the facts, of giving everyone’s point of view, an equal hearing. It’s the idea that as a journalist you don’t make arguments, don’t try to judge one person’s point of view over another’s, you just provide the facts so that the average American can judge for him or herself. So young people who are schooled to be journalists are taught this, and when they land jobs are acculturated into a system where we are asked to put aside our biases, try to be objective. Most countries do not have a sector of journalism as big as ours that aspires to such objectivity. Most countries they have left and right newspapers and maybe center newspapers, but not newspapers that pretend to have no point of view, at least in the reported section of the newspaper. Obviously the opinion sections are different. So that is the ethos of mainstream American journalism, and that has been the ethos for almost a century. It has however been under extreme attack for a couple of decades, primarily by the conservative side but also somewhat the liberal side. But getting to reality as best we can does require judgment, it does require analysis. Analysis can be factual and intellectually rigorous and honest, It can also be mendacious--a cherry picking of evidence to support a preexisting argument, headless of other points of view or reality itself. So the danger of point of view journalism is that two stories with a point of view on the same subject can have two very different levels of truth. One can be intellectually honest and the other one intellectually dishonest. But, in the end some amount of argument and analysis is necessary. Journalism operates in the area where you are trying to make sense of reality in conditions where knowledge is imperfect and reality can’t be known for sure. This is precisely the area Aristotle said rhetoric belongs. In rhetoric you don’t just use facts, you use logic, you use emotion, and you rely on the reputation of a speaker for honesty. All these things are necessary. So I am grateful not to have to be working in mainstream journalism as I did for a decade at US News & World Report because I think the work of mainstream journalism is much more difficult than it used to be and I would personally feel constrained in that environment. The discipline imposed on mainstream journalists is ultimately a lack of freedom to say what you know.
Moving to your Greek background now, could you point out positive features of Greece’s image in the US?
It’s hard for me to know what an average person thinks of Greece. The average American does not think about Greece very often or very deeply like I do. But my sense is that, all things considered, it’s better now than it’s been in recent years. Elite opinion certainly is better than it was five or so years ago, despite the hit the Greece took because of the crisis. I think the fact that Greece is still on its feet, still plugging away despite what it’s been put through and what it’s put itself through, is something people admire. I think the fact that of all places that you would think would spin toward right wing populism, Greece has not, is something people, certainly people on the left, admire that a lot. I think the way Greece welcomed and gave comfort to the refugees made a very positive impression among Americans who know about it. And unquestionably the big improvement in the national security relationship between the two countries that has been building now for a number of years, probably beginning with the Clinton administration but certainly during the Obama years has really helped take away among American elite the sense that Greece is an ungrateful or inconsistent ally. Many decades of both Greek Anti-Americanism and American Anti-Hellenism did a real disservice to that relationship and I feel that the degree of distrust of Greece by Americans in governmental, political world and vice-versa is lower than I’ve ever experienced it.
Could you identify major contributions of the Greek Diaspora to American society?
Everywhere you look you find successful Greeks. There’s this organization called the National Hellenic Society, that pulls together Greek-Americans for an annual event in which exceptional Greeks from the Diaspora, from the USA, from Greece and Canada and Australia and elsewhere from every kind of field from cancer research to astronomy to sports, provide lectures on their work and what is happening at the forefront of their fields, and you see this and you can’t help but be impressed and proud of the fact that in every human endeavor you can think of there are Greeks at the top of the game. Politics, finance, science, research, music, journalism, movies, business, academia--you find Greeks doing well in all those fields.
What is the degree to which Greek heritage marks the careers, lives, families of Greek Americans in the USA?
I don’t know of a Greek-American who doesn’t think that their Greek heritage helps explain what they have achieved, how they achieved it and who they are. Greeks I know have a combination of ambition tied to almost comical level of self-confidence. I think this this is a legacy of our history. Greek culture and Greek civilization from 600 BC to the 15th century AD at least, was widely recognized in the Western World as something to inspire to as, in a sense, superior. So when you have a people who for 2000-plus years were seen as at the apex of civilization that inspires a self confidence that those four hundred years of domination and any number of economic crises doesn’t undermine. Also, if you’ve noticed, when two Greeks meet each other anywhere in the world, it’s a celebration, it’s a big deal. I don’t think that’s typical of other ethnic groups that I know. It’s sort of a mystery to my why that is, why Greeks more than others think it’s such a big deal, a special moment, to meet one of their own, but I think that to a great extent the essence of our Greek heritage is in that moment.
How connected do Greek-Americans feel to Greece? What can be done to strengthen and continue that connection?
There is no doubt that the further away you go from the emigrant generation the more the connection declines. People of my generation, if they speak Greek at all, it’s very badly. When you are two or three generations after the emigrant family you are probably not connected so much to your family back there, you are more distant but keeping those family connections is hugely important to the task of keeping the broader connection between Greek-Americans and Greece intact. I think visiting Greece, Greek-American groups are right to make that happen. I was just in the last two months with a group of young Greek-Americans with the American Hellenic Institute going on a tour of Greece. The National Hellenic Society sends some young people to Greece and I think more of that would be good but it’s one thing to see the country it’s another to meet an uncle, a cousin and every Greek in America has somebody related to in Greece. Making that connection happen, to me is an insufficiently exploited resource. Also the fact that Greece is a spectacularly wonderful, lovely country to visit, gives me more hope that the connections will continue longer.
*Interview by Efthymis Aravantinos, Press Counselor at the Embassy of Greece to the USA
Legendary radio producer and presenter Giannis Petridis was born in Athens in the late 1940s. In 1975, he began broadcasting his show 'Pop Club', later renamed ''from 4 to 5'' on Greek Public Radio ERT. The show ran for 39 years on the same frequency, Monday to Friday, and from 4 to 5 in the afternoon, making it one of the longest-running daily radio music shows, not only in Greece, but around the world. Through his show, especially in the 70’s and the 80’s, when only public radio was broadcast throughout Greece, Petridis introduced many generations of Greeks to the new sounds of alternative rock and to artists like the Cure, Birthday Party and Joy Division. He was also one of the first radio djs to play and support rap and other styles of urban music considered too “American”, too “pop” or too “black” at the time. Although focused on rock, his show is informative and broad-based, covering all musical genres and styles.
He has interviewed many important Greek and international artists, including David Byrne, Dire Straits, John Barry, Ennio Morricone, Joe Cocker, Nick Cave, Roxy Music and Rory Gallagher among others. In 1978, together with his long-time collaborator Kostas Zougris, he launched Pop & Rock magazine, which touched on all musical developments in the international scene and was the go-to magazine for all music lovers in Greece. In 1998 he left his position as the magazine’s chief editor.
He has served as director of record label Virgin Greece for some 22 years (1983-2005), where he signed-up two of the most popular and influential Greek rock bands of the time, Trypes and Xylihna Spathia. Over the years and in the course of a lifetime devoted to music, he has amassed one of the largest private record collections in the world. He is one of the select few Europeans with the right to vote for the U.S. Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.
In 2013, when Greek Public Radio and Television were abruptly shut down by the government of the time, Petridis’ show "from 4 to 5" went off the air, although he kept active at other radio stations and launched his website, apotis4stis5.com. Since 2017, the show is back on public radio and Petridis can be heard once again imparting musical knowledge through the airwaves.
Petridis spoke to Greek News Agenda* about his plans for his recorcd collection, how the new model for distributing music favors commercial music, whether or not rock has indeed died, how Black music is at the root of most music we hear today and is rightifully dominating the charts, his opinion on new Greek and international music, and finally, his travels to Big Sur, California.
You have one of the world's largest record collections. How many records do you have?
What can I say; it’s a huge record collection. However, I don’t know if it means anything these days, and I'm in the process of seeing where it could be laid to rest in a few years. The music that I have has value as a record collection; however as individual songs, anyone could have them in a couple of flash-drives. This is why the songs people listen to via streaming are not fully appreciated. No one can really appreciate new songs anymore. In the past, record buyers valued songs differently; they inevitably formed a bond to their vinyl records or even to their CDs, a special connection they cannot have to, to let’s say, a song on their mobile phone, probably one of thousands there. I’ll be damned if they know who the composer is, or who the musicians are, or if it comes with some sort of artwork.
It’s the first time we hear about your plans for bestowing your record collection. Could you tell us more?
I'm out there looking, but I’ve not come to any decision so far. My idea is to create something that does not yet exist in Greece, like a ‘House of Music’ - a musical institution where this entire collection will be housed, both Greek and foreign records. Like I said before, some might say that all this music can be found on the internet, but it’s not as simple as that. You have for example the record sleeves, both Greek and foreign, which are of enormous significance and reflect their era. Many of them are like paintings. Take the sleeves produced by the Greek label Lyra: they had distinguished artists creating them. The same goes for record sleeves of albums from around the world, some of them are real works of art; it is not just about the music but all the memorabilia that goes with it. And my collection does not just include records, it's a whole library of music magazines, books and rare publications dating from the 1960s. I would not want all of this to go to waste, but to be made good use of here, in this country. Because I too am growing older and I need to sort out this matter, find a home for this material where that the public can have access to it.
I want the entire collection to be there as a library, so that anyone who wants to carry out research and listen to the music could do so. I also imagine that there could be rooms - as is the case at similar institutions abroad, e.g. in the USA and Britain - for watching documentaries: there could be daily screenings at standard intervals of, let’s say, of documentaries about Greek music, Tsitsanis, or about rebetiko, laiko, éntekhno, rock, jazz and so forth.
An institution like that could generate the income needed for its maintenance, by charging a very small entrance fee for visitors. This is more or less what I have seen abroad, in Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, for example, and it’s something that we should have in Greece as well. What I am saying is that I do not like people approaching me and telling me ‘if you do not find a suitable home in Greece for your collection than we can make good use of it’. It is not right; the collection must stay here and be cared for with love. I am not interested in making money out of this, I never cared for the money, I did it all for fun. What interests me and what I want to be sure of is that the collection will be used in a good way. Unfortunately, only a few can appreciate this in Greece.
What do you think about the change in the music distribution model and the fact that artists can have their music available more or less free via streaming?
Most believed, and this is true in part, that their music would now be more easily accessible to the public. The point is however, and they've probably realized it after all these years, that there is still a need for professionals that can effectively promote this music. There may be some amazing works out there, but how will they become known to the world and be picked out of from the millions of others that are available online? So I believe that we are now at an era that ultimately favors commercial music, while I suspect that the artists who wanted easier access to the public were alternative artists, who were struggling to get record companies to release their albums.
So, at this moment in time we are witnessing the dominance of commercial music, whilst what we call alternative or quality music, is almost on the sidelines or addressed to limited audiences only; unfortunately this music is no longer achieving high levels of popularity. Let me tell you what I mean by that. Up until 10-12 years ago, important artists such as Van Morrison, or Paul Simon -who is also commercially successful- or Nick Cave for that matter -not someone you would call an easy artist to listen to- managed to acquire a very large audience via traditional means of music distribution and promotion, and through music magazines, radio shows etc.
Since 2000, alternative musicians like Rufus Wainwright, Father John Misty, St. Vincent and several other remarkable new artists, are only known to, say, a group of friends in Athens, a few others in Dublin, some more in Rome and so on. The general public cannot find out about them, they are never given airplay; and while there may be quite a few websites that write something about them, they cannot make them famous.
I therefore come to the conclusion that while music these days may be everywhere, much more so than before, it is predominantly commercial music, and it is only in rare cases that alternative artists like, let's say the Arctic Monkeys, can reach a wide audience. And they are obviously not new, they’ve been around for 12 years, and they had a label behind them to make them big.
Music is everywhere, but unfortunately, as far as I’m concerned, it is not listened to in the way that it used to be, not only by my generation of the ‘60s, but even that of the 1990s. I am of course talking about rock music and the alternative scene that interested people looking for something more than mass consumption. For example, the generation of Radiohead -probably the last one to experience the old system of music distribution- listened to them in a way that is different to the way they listen now to a new band: they knew the members of the band, the songs from beginning to end; they knew everything about them; they were their heroes.
Songs, as one of our greatest Greek composers, Stavros Xarchakos, has poignantly said, are ‘refugees on the internet’. I have been quoting this since the day he said it. Our songs, especially the songs of new composers and alternative musicians, in Greece and around the world, are the absolute refugees. The rest can come and go freely.
So this new model for distributing music and streaming services has not overturned the record company system?
Everyone is saying that now we have music for free. But money is made from concerts, as tickets prices have gone up considerably, as well as from advertisements and sponsorships. Companies are not making less; as far as I know, by drastically limiting their employees, they are now making more profit than before. The system is still here. Streaming companies like Tidal and Spotify can, with great ease impose something as successful. For example, a song is being released now: when you have your own platform, you use an entire team for continuous streaming to generate millions of views; the songs with the most views are on top display. So everything was worked out fine for the music industry.
You often say that rock has died. Do you see something new in contemporary music? Will there be a popular new kind of music like rock was n the 50s or rap in the 80s?
I do not know if this is possible. We are living in era of technology, and maybe something new will emerge that’s technologically related; I do not know what that could be. Until 2000, I could make predictions: I was one of the first to foresee in 1979, against many reactions, that hip-hop, or rap as we called it then, would be the biggest music movement in the years to come. Of course I could never have imagined the situation today! Hip-hop has been around 40 years now; it has lasted as long as rock.
Thus I cannot now predict what it will be. Everything has been done: We have gone through lounge music periods, we’ve spent time with world music in the 90s, we experienced the highs of Peter Gabriel and David Byrne who brought us acts from Africa, Asia and South America, the Womad festival, and all that. We've been through it all; I don’t know what more could be done. But if something does happen, it won’t be for me to say, as it will come from someone who is now maybe eight years old; this kid is our hope for new music.
A cycle in great musical categories has been completed and we are once again undergoing a kind of recycling. The pop and the hip-hop songs we are listening to now are a revival of music of the past, but offered with a modern rhythm that is relevant to what kids are listening to today and to what they consider their own. And it’s only right that young people listen to music made by young people. If you look at footage of the great bands like Beatles and the Doors you’ll see that the audience below going wild and screaming is actually 14 year old girls. The same was true for Frank Sinatra when he first came out. So music for the young must be made by the young. Recently, I was listening to the latest records by Roger Daltrey, one of my favorite artists, and by Van Morrison, and they didn’t mean anything even to me; so how can they mean something to a 15-year-old kid?
Tell us about the tribute to Βlack music that you’ve begun in your radio show and that will run all through this summer.
I'm really happy for the success of African-Americans, and I'll tell you why. As a race they have been harassed, hounded and discriminated against. In America they arrived as slaves, and even in the age of Motown in the 1960s, when social unrest had already begun and changes were taking place under Kennedy, Βlack musicians on tours had to stay in motels designated for Blacks only, as racial segregation meant they were not accepted in whites-only hotels. And now African-Americans are everywhere. The grandchildren and great-grandchildren of old Black musicians are having their absolute revenge.
I mean look, they have totally eliminated every other kind of music. And it's not just music: the film Moonlight was awarded three Oscars, Get Out won an Oscar for screenplay last year, and this year I predict we will see nominations in a range of categories for films such as Black Panther -which is a blockbuster, albeit a quality blockbuster. Revenge is a dish best served cold, as the saying goes.
The tribute began on account of the success of Black music in recent times, and in our country - let’s not kid ourselves, I don’t want to comment on whether we are racists - I hear a lot of disparaging talk about Black people. Not only here, of course, you can see what’s happening in Europe with the rise of the Right and the refugees. The occasion came when we uploaded the video Beyoncé and Jay-Z shot at the Louvre. I understand that hip-hop artists can sometimes appear arrogant, but this arrogance is to some extent justified, if you think that, Jay-Z for example, evolved from a kid selling drugs on the street to a kind of king.
So someone left a comment on our website saying that "there are two monkeys at the Louvre." This infuriated me and I decided that I would play only black music all summer. All the music we hear today, apart from folk and classical music, is Black. So, in my tribute, I thought about presenting the history of music through forgotten -as well as relatively known- Black artists, especially from the first half of the 20th century. These musicians remained in relative obscurity, until a new generation of inspired white musicians in the 50s and 60s, like Elvis Presley, introduced Black music to the general public. Some people accuse Elvis of cultural appropriation of Black music, but it's not like that. I have not heard any of the Black musicians of the time say the slightest thing against Elvis, because he really was a pilgrim of Black music, and in a way he carried it over to a wider audience, because he was very talented. The same thing was done by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and other British bands of the 1960s; and we have to remember that in Britain the music of the 1930s and 40s was incredibly mediocre. These kids in Liverpool and London, listening to Black music coming from America, created the music we know today. That's what I want to emphasize to the public, that what they hear today is Black; because African-Americans created ragtime, blues, jazz, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, soul and hip-hop.
Could you name a favourite route of yours in America, where you often travel?
I like America, but even more so - although it’s not obvious apart from to some my show’s zealous listeners - I love Italy, which is a very special country for me. I am interested in history and Italy is fascinating in this respect. Some of the best routes I've done are in the Tuscan region, which is a paradise.
America has succeeded, through music and film, to make whole generations of youth over time want to go there. I have been fortunate enough over the years to get to know America by way of road trips across almost all states. And most of all, looking for the America referred to by Jack Kerouac, the writers and poets of the 50's generation, beatniks. I would have liked to live during the time of the beatniks, and since I haven´t, I have been visiting the places described in their books. The San Francisco area and the Big Sur, which is also the title of a book by Kerouak, particularly fascinate me. I have been there more times than I have ever been to any place in my life; I don’t really want to say how many times, because they are too many. Every time I go, I take Highway 1, along the Pacific Ocean coastline reminiscing of the 1950s; I am nostalgic for another era. I also visit places where great songs were written and artists I love have lived. Others may think it odd and eccentric, that, for example, I went to both North and South Dakota to see where Peggy Lee, my idol, grew up. But I will tell you a story that makes me feel vindicated.
Some 12 years ago, Bob Dylan was in Canada for a concert. One day, before morning rehearsals he left his group to visit, alone, the street where Neil Young was born. We’re talking about Bob Dylan here, a god in a way, who actually even bigger than Neil Young, in the sense that was known before Young; and he said, "I sat for half an hour across the street from Neil Young’s house, I knew which room was his, to see what he saw when he wrote those songs." He wanted to see what Neil Young saw when he wrote these songs. So, this is why I go and visit places where artists I have loved lived, or places mentioned in songs, like Joshua Tree.
As director of Virgin Greece, you signed up Trypes and Xylina Spathia, two of the most important contemporary Greek rock bands.
I had seen Trypes in some small clubs, and then Spathia, long before they became known. They had each released an album with a record company in Thessaloniki and they had a small and loyal audience. We are talking about the 80s, a time when major record companies did not deal with such bands; just try and remember the type of music which then prevailed. So, I saw and heard these groups in one of their appearances, I went to Thessaloniki and we’ve been friends ever since. I reassured them that I would not interfere with their music and that they could do what they wanted to, advising them only on a few matters. We never followed the traditional way of promotion and marketing that is focused on sales. Our approach regarding the label’s repertoire was based on an entirely different way of thinking, meaning that no one was going to be squeezed dry on the altar of sales and success.
With these two groups, as well as with others, we succeeded in a kind of underground way; we just let it flow with their music, and they gained their audience through their live performances. And we got to that point where these totally fringe rock bands would sell 70,000 records, whilst Yiannis Aggelakas (Trypes lead singer) and Pavlos Pavlidis (Xylina Spathia lead singer) became one of the major forces in Greek music.
What do you think of contemporary Greek music? Which Greek artists and Greek music could interest a young foreign audience today?
The good Greek music we once had and is now unfortunately gone. Even in European countries with an incredible musical tradition, such as Italy and France, the music and songs we knew have disappeared. You may think I'm just an old man talking about old times. This is not the case however; I follow, listen and accept today’s music for what it is. Nevertheless, I have to admit that it cannot be compared to the music of the past. Just look at what’s happening with Greek music these days.
I could name five or ten singers, but they have been around since the 80's and 90's, like Thanasis Papakonstantinou, Yannis Angelakas, Pavlos Pavlidis, Soktratis Malamas, Fivos Delivorias, Natasa Bofiliou and the composers who write for her, and others but how many would that that give us - fifteen maybe? I also a ask you, what is modern Greek music? Is it what we saw at the MAD awards? Is that Greek music? I am not opposed to this kind of [pop] music, it has its place. These songs are addressed to 12 year-olds, to an audience that will reach adulthood and move elsewhere afterwards. Yannis Haroulis, for example, is a good performer; but he doesn’t have any songs, there is no one to write songs for him, like Yannis Markopoulos and other composers wrote for Nikos Xylouris. Xilouris’s music has stayed with us, not only because he was a great performer, but also because he was lucky to work with composers of that calibre. Now there are none. And there’s the vast internet. There are some rare and distinctive new artists, but they need guidance. I could say for example, The Boy. There are others like him, but without guidance and without proper promotion and visibility they will be known and loved by small audiences only.
This is the role that recording companies used to play. Of course, recording companies are commercial companies, let’s not forget that. Still, it was totally different in the past, were Patsifas was the owner of the the Lyra label, Lambropoulos of Columbia –with its huge back catalogue of gems by Hatzidakis and Theodorakis- or Matsas who owned the Minos EMI label, which produced so many important artists. Instead of music lovers, record companies these days employ pretentious 25–30 year-old kids, neo-yuppies without knowledge or musical education, whose only understanding relates to lifestyle – which is why I believe that I left the record company business at the right time.
How do you see Greece today in relation to the Greece you grew up in?
It is a different Greece. I am not referring to the political situation, as we’re talking about different times. It is not true what when people say, that things were better then and now they’re worse, it’s not the case. For my generation, which grew up in the 50s and 60s, even now when things are obviously really hard, there’s no comparison with what it was like back then. We even went through a dictatorship then, how can there possibly be any comparison between now and then? It is impossible for someone with no experience of those years seven of the dictatorship to understand what it was really like. Perhaps many feel we are worse off now because they compare today’s situation to the 90's; it was indeed a time of prosperity and lifestyle, albeit a fake time.
What I hope for is that with the new prospects being opened there will be opportunities in the coming years for people to go forward in their chosen field and fulfill their dream. And I say this because at a time when Greece was devastated, in the 50’s, those of us who possessed some talent managed to do so, and I hope that the same happens for today’s younger generation.
Michalis Psalidopoulos is a professor at the Department of Economics of the University of Athens and, since June 2015, Alternate Executive Director at the IMF. Before joining the IMF he was the holder of the Constantine Karamanlis Chair in Hellenic and European Studies at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, for the academic years 2010/14 and Chairman of the Center of Planning and Economic Research in Athens in 2015. He took his first degree in Economics from the University of Athens and followed postgraduate studies in politics, sociology and economics at the Free University of Berlin, Germany. He was a Fulbright Fellow at Duke University in 1993, a Stanley J. Seeger Fellow at Princeton University in 1996 and a Visiting Research Professor at King s College, London in 1998. His research focuses on national traditions in the History of Economics and the relation between economic thought, economic policy and good governance.
Psalidopoulos has written extensively in his academic field of expertise. His earlier books include: The crisis of 1929 and the Greek economists, Keynesian theory and Greek economic policy, Economic theories and Social policy, and Xenophon Zolotas and the Greek economy (in Greek). He edited The Canon in the history of economics, Economic Thought and policy in Europe΄s less developed countries and The German Historical School and European Economic Thought for Routledge in 1999, 2002 and 2015 respectively, and was awarded the prize for the best economic treatise by the Academy of Athens in 2007 for his International conflict and economic thought (in Greek). His most recent publications are Economists and Economic policy in Modern Greece and Monetary management and monetary stability: The policy of the Bank of Greece, 1928-1941 (in Greek, 2010 and 2011 respectively). He has also edited A world of crisis and shifting geopolitics: Greece, Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean and The Great Depression in Europe: Economic thought and policy in context (both 2012). His very latest books are Desperate Supervisors: American economists in Greece, 1947-53 (2013, in Greek) and The History of the Bank of Greece, 1928-2008 (2014, in Greek). He has also published articles in History of Political Economy, in The European Journal for the History of Economic Thought and in History of Economic Ideas. He speaks English, German and French fluently.
In his interview with GNA*, Professor Michalis Psalidopoulos notes that Greek economic policy acquires a degree of independence that was nonexistent until 20/8/2018, adding however that Greece’s commitments vis-à-vis its creditors stand, and budgetary surveillance (as is the case with other EU member states) remains.
Professor Psalidopoulos underlines that Greece must take care of the balance of the economy, so that the need for support from the international community does not arise again and expresses the belief that that the medium-term growth of the Greek economy will be satisfactory, despite the burden of current taxation.
How different, in your opinion, is the day after for Greece after the end of the fiscal adjustment program?
The day after the expiration of the program differs in that economic policy acquires a degree of independence that was nonexistent until 20/8/2018. Greece’s commitments vis-à-vis its creditors stand, budgetary surveillance (as is the case with other EU member states) remains, but there will be no detailed day-to-day intervention in policy.
There are analysts who argue that we may have to sign-up to further stability support programs. What could our country do to avoid such a necessity?
I believe that we need to differentiate between serious analysts and professional prophets of doom. Any economy facing macroeconomic imbalances often needs the support of international institutions to overcome them. Our country must take care of macroeconomic stability, so that the need for support from the international community does not arise again. Vigilant monitoring of developments and immediate action is required when a serious imbalance occurs. The practice of covering up problems and avoiding changes in economic policy in order not to hurt vested interests must be eliminated.
Some economists and analysts believe that Greece's debt is not sustainable. What is your opinion?
The country's nominal debt is indeed huge, about 180% of GDP. On the other hand, an overwhelming part of the debt is public (European) and thus not subject to daily private speculation, while the governments' gross financing needs for the repayment of public debt are controlled, at about 15 to 20% per annum. The Eurogroup recently took decisions alleviating Greek debt and pledged to take further measures in 2033, if needed. Even the IMF, that used to call Greek debt unsustainable in the past, now says that it is “uncertain” after 2033.The debate must consequently shift onthe important issue of growth, disengaging itself from theoretical speculations regarding the viability of Greek debt.
Do you think that the Greek economy in the coming years will be in a position to converge with the most developed economies of the countries of the EU?
I believe that the medium-term growth of the Greek economy will be satisfactory despite the burden of current taxation. There are difficulties, without a doubt. Unfortunately, there is no possibility for massive public investment that would give the country the “big push” to reduce unemployment and to make use of idle factors of production. The belief that only theprivate sector can contribute to the rapid convergence of the Greek economy with the European ones, is stumbling on the big shock the private sector suffered over the last eight years. The expectations of Greek investors are still affected by the crisis, and the public sector should do more to induce private investors to take risks. I think the European institutions are gradually beginning to appreciate this problem.
* Interview by Marianna Varvarrigou
Lisa Badum is a German politician and climate policy spokeswoman for the Bündnis 90/Die Grünen party at the Bundestag. This summer, along with vice-president of Bundenstag and ex Green Party leader Claudia Roth, she launched an initiative of solidarity for people affected by the devastating fires in Attica. Since October 2016 she is the district chairwoman of Die Grünen in Upper Franconia and in September 2017 she was elected to the 19th German Bundestag with Bündnis 90/Die Grünen. Her work focuses on gender equality and energy policy, in particular the promotion of renewable energy. She is a member of the Environment Committee and of the Greek-German parliamentary group in Bundestag. Badum has also studied in Thessaloniki and is fluent in Greek.
Lisa Badum spoke with Greek News Agenda* on the environmental impact of climate change, what can be done on a EU and regional/local level, the initiative she started to help those affected by the fires in Attica, how Germans view Greece, and finally, on her own relationship with Greece.
In the aftermath of the fires in Greece, Sweden and Portugal, climate change is the forefront of public debate in Europe, as evidenced by covers in major publications as Der Spiegel and The Economist. Would you care to comment on that?
Obviously, this year we deal with the hottest spring/early summer (April to July) ever recorded in human history. But also during the last years we are seeing that extremely hot and dry weather is not an exceptional occurrence any more, even in Central Europe. Climate change means that extreme weather phenomena are becoming more and more probable. That concerns not just heat, but extreme rainfalls also. Some people believe that heavy rains help with the heat; it is a paradox, but actually they don’t: as rainfalls occur more and more and in times of the year when the soil is not prepared to absorb the rain, we have more floods. So Climate Change means we have more often hot and dry weather and at the same time more heavy rains, all with unpredictable consequences.
So yes, obviously and sadly climate change is here and it is having a huge impact on our lives. That’s why we have to act now.
You are an MP in Bundestag with the Green Party. What does your party believe can be done to tackle the issue of climate change at the EU level?
The German Green Party actively contributes to policy-making on climate change at the European level through its membership in the fraction of the Greens/European Free Alliance in the European Parliament. We believe the EU should be a strong driver for ambitious climate policies in the member states. At the same time, enhanced cooperation on climate and energy issues has the potential to restore citizens’ faith in the European project and revitalize European integration.
In terms of concrete climate legislation at the EU level, I would like to focuse on three legislative proposals that I believe are particularly important to tackle the issue of climate change at the EU level:
The “Clean Energy for all Europeans” package: It is the EU’s core policy to reach its target for 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. As a part of the Clean Energy for all Europeans new package of measures presented European Commission, European institutions agreed this June on a target of 32% for Renewable Energy and 32.5% for Energy Efficiency by 2030, as well as on the Regulation on the Governance of the Energy Union. While the Greens would have liked the targets to be more ambitious, this is the compromise we have to work with. Now it is crucial to proceed with the implementation of these goals and to make them work in practice in the member states. In addition, it is important for the EU institutions to adopt the remaining legislative proposals under the Clean Energy Package, namely the regulations on Electricity Market Design and the rules for the operation of ACER, the EU Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators.
Emission standards for the transport sector: The European Commission has made a proposal for the CO2 emissions of light-duty vehicles (mainly cars and vans) to be reduced by 15% by 2025 and 30% by 2030, compared to 2021. The German Green Party believes this target needs to be quite more ambitious - we want a reduction of 70% by 2030. Unfortunately, the German government has been blocking the ongoing negotiations. We strongly urge our government and the other member states to agree on an ambitious target which would benefit both the climate and the development of green technologies in Europe. However, besides ambitious targets for CO2 emissions, it is also important to provide more incentives for a modal shift from road to rail in the European transport market.
Long-term climate strategy 2050: The European Commission has set out to develop a strategy for long-term greenhouse gas emissions reduction and to present it to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the upcoming 24th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 24) in Katowice, Poland. The Commission has recently launched a public consultation will serve as a basis for developing the final strategy. In my view, for the consultation to be transparent and fair, contributions from industry, civil society, and citizens have to be equally considered. The final strategy should set an ambitious target for emission reductions in the EU – zero emissions by 2050 at the latest – as well as defined targets for each sector separately. This way the EU has the potential to be a climate leader, strengthen its economy, and engage its citizens at the same time.
What at about on the regional or local level? A standard ecology slogan is “think globally, act locally”.
Yes, of course. Apart from these concrete legislative proposals, which are fundamental for implementing strong EU climate policies, I would like to emphasize that a regional approach to climate and energy policy is also key for the success of the EU’s efforts. The EU and its member states must recognize that, despite resistance from the big polluting energy companies, many important citizen-led clean energy initiatives are mushrooming across Europe. In many cities and regions, people are meeting in their neighborhoods to search for new ways of producing and consuming energy, but also of cooperating. Instead of focusing on national authorities, the Commission and the EU member states should look at the great potential that exists at a smaller level and realize that citizens’ involvement is a key ingredient for Europe’s transition to renewable energy. Citizens matter not only as consumers; they can also participate in supporting and financing new infrastructure and technologies. Local governments – who are currently undertaking a lot of initiatives to fight against climate change and make their regions nicer places for their populations to live in – have a lot to offer in this regard; they can really put the European idea into practice at the local level, engaging the citizens in public life and enhancing the added value of Europe.
Can you tell us about the initiative of solidarity with people affected by the fires in Attica you launched with vice-president of Bundenstag and ex Green Party leader Claudia Roth?
I was really shocked by the pictures and the suffering of the people in Attica. It’s unbearable that nowadays 90+ people die in a fire. So I asked for Claudia’s cooperation and support to realize a solidarity initiative and send out help for the victims. The next step could be to ask ourselves question such as: How can we prevent such a catastrophe from happening again? Is there a way German government or firefighters can provide support?
The University of Athens has published a report with scientific data and preliminary conclusions regarding the fires in Attica. How was the news of the fire deliberated about in Germany?
The report shows that suffering and damage could have been less severe for various factors: Firstly the warning system didn’t work. There could have been sirens, some alarming system so people would have had time to respond to the catastrophe. Secondly, there was no real evacuation route, so people couldn’t get to the sea. This could have been prevented with a better area development planning. Thirdly: the buildings made of concrete and more stable material were less damaged. The right kind of housing and city planning could protect the inhabitants. So in the end, a lot can be done to prevent a disaster like this from happening again.
What would you say is the public image of Greece in Germany now 10 years after the financial crisis broke out?
When the financial crisis in Greece was at its peak, reporting on Greek issues in Germany was full of clichés and prejudices. We made a progress since then. German media is now also interested in presenting “the other side” so, for example Yannis Varoufakis had the possibility to speak on different topics and present his opinion on the financial crisis, the Eurozone and so on. Just today I read a sophisticated article about Prime Minister Tsipras, which showed him as a complex character: his merits but also his failures were described.
Greece has for a long time, and is becoming more and more an attractive destination for German tourists. So they have their own real life experience with the country which they come love for its beauty and filoxenia. But in the end, Greece is still linked in people’s minds with financial problems, bankruptcy and chaos. So there is still a lot to do.
Can you tell us more about the Greek-German Parliamentary Committee in which you are a member?
The Greek-German parliamentary group is headed by Gregor Gysi from the Die Linke. We are all parliamentarians who want to strengthen Greek-German relationships. We already met with the Greek Ambassador in Germany to discuss the political situation in Greece and we will make at least one journey in Greece to meet with the government and parliament.
You have studied in Thessaloniki, you speak Greek fluently and have Greek friends. What drew you to Greece in the first place? How would you describe you experience of living in Greece and visiting the country throughout the years?
It was a decision from the heart to come to Greece. I was fascinated not only by its history but also its modern vivid culture with elements from the wider Mediterranean and Balkan culture, but also the Ottoman Empire. And Thessaloniki is the best mirror of all these influences. I wanted to learn Greek because Greek language is exceptional in Europe, as it has a history of more than 2,500 years. Besides: Greece is a really beautiful country!
What I didn’t know before I came to Greece was the Greek mentality. So I was really overwhelmed by the filoxenia I experienced. This is not something you would always expect considering the fact I am from Germany. Sometimes the Greek way might be very direct but you can always tell generosity comes right from the heart.
Throughout the years I had so many great experiences and visited lots of different places, mostly islands. I met all kinds of people: intellectuals but also farmers or mechanics; I always had meaningful discussions with everyone on topics like for instance, Greek and German politics. Of course I enjoy cultural staples, like the food and the celebrations of panagyria. Finally, I really appreciate the rich and unexpected history of the islands like Ikaria and Anafi, which seem really pure and untouched, but were used as places of exile and imprisonment for leftist political dissidents in the past.
* Interview by: Ioulia Livaditi and Nikolas Nenedakis
Ted Diamantis is a 1st generation Greek-American Born in Chicago. His father was the principal of one of the largest Greek schools in Chicago for over 40 yrs and had Greek radio programs for over 55 yrs ( the oldest continuous running Greek radio program in the US at the time ). His mother was also a Greek school teacher and on air personality on the radio programs with his father. He graduated from Northern Illinois University, with Degrees in Economics and Political Science. In his first steps of his business career he worked for Allstate Insurance Commercial Division and later on for Gallagher Basset/ AJ Gallagher. In 1992 he launched Diamonds importers and since then he imports Greek wines to the United States with an ever-growing success.
In this interview* Ted Diamantis is telling his formidable story of how he started and gradually expanded a fabulous Greek wine import company in the US, about his business tactics, the obstacles he faced, the persons that gave him a hand or inspired him to become the big importer of Greek wines that he is today, his plans, vision and all about imports of Greek wines to America for the last 25 years. Ted Diamantis explains how the perception about the Greek wine is considerably improving in the US and how stronger marketing is still needed for the Greek wine to further penetrate the vast American market especially in the off-premise sector.
He also explains which Greek wine varieties are prominent in the US and underlines that the ancient Greek varieties are the future. He makes clear that Greece cannot be a player in the high volume/low price world but should focus on producing high quality wines at approachable prices. Ted Diamantis believes that there are ways to reconnect the 2nd and 3rd generation Greek-Americans with Hellenism and believes that the Greek-American organizations have a decisive role to play on that.
He finally considers that bringing people closer to quality Greek agricultural products is of the utmost priority for the image and growth of Greece.
How did you get to the choice to import Greek wines?
After graduation from university and dipping my toe in the corporate world (insurance risk management) I decided to rediscover my roots and quit the corporate world in 1989/90. I traveled to Greece to see family that I had not seen for 12 years and more importantly, to me at the time, to discover/identify business opportunities in Europe because of the new thing called the European Union/Common market.I lived and based myself in Athens; I traveled through Europe to get a feel of this new consumer group which was to be the largest consumer market in world. I attempted to identify the needs of this new market.
I launched my entrepreneur life as an exporter from the USA and Canada to Europe/Greece. My first venture was in medical equipment and heavy construction machinery for the new infrastructure projects that were pending for Greece and financed by Delors packages. My experiences in this world was less than fruitful since at the time 99% of healthcare was run by governmental agencies and layers of ineffective bureaucracy. A simple thing of introducing an electronic thermometer proved to be herculean task because of the graft and bureaucracy at the time. During this educational process I was undertaking ( I was only 26 yrs old at the time ) I met a young visionary in the wine world named George Skouras. This was totally fateful and began my foray in the wine world! Skouras was a young winemaker / entrepreneur at the time as well, and he sold me on the idea of wine as a way of life, and the potential of the Greek varieties, the land and the people of Greece.
Over the next year, George slowly convinced me to start importing his newly created labels (Skouras himself started in 1986 with the ground breaking wine, Megas Oenos). So in 1991/92 I returned to the USA and launched Diamond Importers as an importer/distributor in the Chicago market.
This was an aggressive undertaking because of many reasons.
1. the process of federal and local licensing 2. Incorporating 3. creating an infrastructure 4. no money
So I asked the most obvious person, my father, for a loan of $10,000 to start this new venture, which he gave me but with a lot of advice attached with this loan.
First, his advice on working with Greeks was that I have to possess a certain mentality that is not innate to non-native Greeks. It's a skill set that needed to be learned, because growing up in the United States, we tend to be a bit less cagey and sometimes do not understand the nuances of dealing with a classic Greek business person. Secondly, he told me, don't expect Greeks in the US to help you just because of your Greek origins or because of my father's position in the community. I would need to be persistent and patient if I wanted to have success. Apart from the warnings from my father and what I soon came to realize on my own, Greek wines were generally not accepted at the time and Greece was not considered a country with quality wine production. The wines were pigeon-holed in the Greek ethnic world only. Additionally, Greek wines were stigmatized by the American consumer, from their experiences of consuming Retsina and inexpensive, less than adequate wines being offered in Greek restaurants in and around Chicago and the rest of the US (Chicago was the second largest Greek community in the US).
Not paying heed to my father’s advice and being a stubborn, determined Greek, I went head first into the wine world with zero experience and no guidance except a dream and a belief in the opportunity, because no one was talking about Greek wines in 1992/93. I quickly realized that I could not depend on the ethnic market to support or understand the new artisanal wines. The wines that Skouras was producing (please bear in mind that this was a new thing in Greece as well) were focused on quality and not as price sensitive commodity, I then came to the realization that I would have to go to the mainstream market and abandon the Greek restaurants, until they themselves evolved.
This made absolute sense once I thought about it. The Greek restauranteurs were not in the mindset, position or able to sell quality Greek wines to their customers. Additionally, they generally dealt with the old school Greek importers, which were old standing relationships. This made it difficult to enter the market, and on top of it all, they were not great at paying their bills in a timely fashion, if at all. Understanding this and learning very quickly that the mainstream market was much larger than the myopic ethnic market, which every mom and pop ethnic Greek food and wine importer were trying to feed on, I pivoted to trying to get non-Greeks to drink Greek wines and offer them in their stores and restaurants.
This proved to be monumental task. The lack of knowledge on the part of the American wine drinker about Greek wines, the lack of marketing of Greek wines by the Greek state, the lack of quality wines available, and the prevailing image of Greek wines created massive obstacles. In hindsight, it is absolutely true that sometimes when you don't know all the challenges, you’re much more inclined to take chances. To take on this challenge, I knew I had to educate myself on wine. I took wine courses, I worked harvest for Skouras for 3 seasons and eventually, I strategically started working for highly respected Illinois distributor Heritage Wine Cellars in order to learn the business. I was lucky that a sage veteran of the wine industry, the late Gerald Hirsch, took me under his wing in 1995 to “teach me the business.” This is when I truly started to understand and learn what it takes to build wine brands and create a new category of wine.
For the next 12 years, I worked as a salesperson and then as a key account specialist, selling, learning and becoming exposed to some of the great wine producers from around the world. During this same time period, I was developing my company and marketing my Greek producers (at the time: Skouras, Antonopoulos, Chateau Carras) with the encouragement of the ownership of Heritage and guidance of wine producers from the US and around the world that I was working with as a Heritage employee.
This afforded me the opportunity to move slowly but carefully in identifying potential markets and meeting distributors across the US. Most importantly, acquiring knowledge and information in turn helped Skouras and my other producers hone their craft. This was done by supplying them insight and information that other Greek producers didn’t have access to at the time, such as trends, labeling, consumer profiling, price points, marketing strategies, farming techniques, winemaking techniques..etc. These are some of things that Skouras and a few others grasped on to in order to help themselves fast track their success in their early years.
Flash forward, Diamond Wine Importers has evolved into a full-time job and company. We have carefully and painfully developed a distributor network in 47 states. Since I was around at the birth of the renaissance of wine making in Greece, I was fortunate to work with, I believe, the pioneers of the modern Greek wine industry. I have curated the portfolio to represent the original “disruptors" of the Greek wine world. These individuals, such as Skouras, Sigalas on Santorini, Alpha Estate in Amydeon, or Douloufakis in Crete, to name a few, are the type of visionaries that we work with.
Ted Diamantis: “What makes Greek wine unique it’s about the ecosystem of Greece, its coastal Mediterranean climate, coupled with more extreme mountain climatic conditions as well. The soil profiles are varied and contain many trace minerals. The proximity to the seas also allows for favorable maritime climatic conditions to occur and of course, its wide array of ancient indigenous varieties adds to the rich tapestry of the Greek wine landscape”.
How competitive is the Greek wine in the US? What should be done to further boost its competitiveness?
Today, because of the heavy lifting of building a base of understanding of the Greek varieties and regions which has been done by individuals and companies like my own, Greek wines are very competitive when given an opportunity in terms of quality. Even though there has been an evolution of wine production in Greece, the USA still proves to be a challenge. USA is the most competitive market in world-therefore to penetrate and establish a wine or wine region requires many factors.
1. Price quality ratio 2. Proper labeling so the US consumer can read and remember 3. Education of the consumer of the region and what makes it special – differentiation 4. Engaged distributor partners 5. Constant reinforcement of the above mentioned points 6. Branding of Greece and stick to the overarching brand of Greece, which currently doesn’t exist.
Today Greece only exports approximately 400,000 9L cases of wine to the USA, which is a remarkably small quantity, compared to the size of the entire US wine market. For example, a single California or Spanish label sells as much as our entire country. We lag behind Israel in total case exports and Portugal (dry wines). While this can be considered disappointing by some, especially some individuals that may have been involved in the effort for over 25 yrs, I consider it an opportunity for growth.
The nominal value per case has grown considerably, which means we are replacing the inferior inexpensive wines with higher quality wines. The acceptance of Greece as a quality wine producing country has changed, and now wine professionals deem Greece as one of the great wine producing cultures on the globe. Consumers are starting to seek Greek wines and have a positive opinion, compared to the negative opinion when I started my crusade.
Much more still needs to be done. We have not scratched the surface in the efforts to attract the everyday wine drinker…Greece is still exotic to them and this is mostly due to lack of information and awareness. We have some very positive, measurable success in the on premise trade (restaurants), but we are horribly behind in the off-premise sector (retail stores). This is very important because 78% of all cases are sold in retail and 55% of all dollars spent on wine is in retail. For example, as a category Greek wines are approximately 85% on premise and 15% off-premise. With a lot of hard work and a lot of emphasis by our salesforce and distributors, we as Diamond are at 65% on and 35% off. That is why we as a company are seeing more growth, as our long-term goal is to be 50/50.
As we see it, there is a finite amount of Greek wines that a non-ethnic restaurant can or would represent on their wine list. This sector has become much more competitive in the last 6 years, with the entry of more Greek wine labels and more importers entering the market. Therefore, to go fishing where the fish are at (the retail world), Greece needs more help via marketing to communicate its message to the consumer directly, to create pull.
Importers and distributors can create push, but consumer pull is needed to convince the retail that if they create a Greek section in their store, the products will sell and sell with velocity, generating repeat customers. As a country we have to create awareness, and there are many different and contemporary ways of accomplishing this that Greece is not doing!
What Greek wine varieties are the most popular in the US? Would you think that more Greek wine varieties can make it to the US?
The wines and varieties that are leading the charge at this time are mostly white wines. I believe this has happened because Greece has high quality white wines and for the American consumer, the white varieties of Greece are easier and more familiar flavor profiles to grasp. High acidity, minerality, tropical or citrus fruit profiles on the palate.
Of the Greek whites that are leading the charge, Assyrtiko from Santorini is the breakout champion over the last 8 years, and now Assyrtiko from other parts of Greece is getting some attention because of Santorini. Moscofilero is still prominent and I think it will have a new resurgence. I believe that Vidiano from Crete will be a popular variety because it produces wines that have more richness, and that age extremely well (Vidiano is still an unknown in Greece, but so was Assyrtiko 10 yrs ago). There are also the non-indigenous varieties like Sauvignon Blanc, and blends of native and non-indigenous varieties, that are working well in the market.
In regards to reds, they are on the rise as well, with xinomavro getting the most attention right now, but Aghiogirtiko and Liatiko have a bright future as well as Mavrotragano.
Overall, it is the ancient Greek varieties that are the future of Greece. In recent years, because we have better understanding of our indigenous historical varieties and are using proper farming and vinification techniques, has resulted in producing better wines with identity that are not homogenous. This will eventually create a consumer group that will stay loyal and captive to Greek wines for generations, or until the other wine regions around the world start planting our varieties.
What’s special with the wines of Greece that would make a real difference between other wine producing nations?
What makes Greece unique from other wine regions? First, it’s about the ecosystem of Greece. It's a coastal Mediterranean climate, therefore temperate but coupled with more extreme mountain climatic conditions (Greece is the third most mountainous country in Europe) as well. The soil profiles are varied and contain many trace minerals. The proximity to the seas also allows for favorable maritime climatic conditions to occur and of course, its wide array of ancient indigenous varieties adds to the rich tapestry of the Greek wine landscape. Therefore, we have diversity and complexity in a very small geographic footprint. This affords Greece the ability to make wines that have great expression of the fruit characteristics, elegance and high natural acidity. While all this seems great, Greek vintners tend to struggle with their identity and potential position in the US market.
In my opinion, Greece can never be a player in the high volume/low price world of wine production because of these aforementioned factors. We cannot achieve economy of scale because of the lack of supporting infrastructure such as glass production. Also, our geographic position (southern and eastern most country of Europe) isolates us and makes shipping of bottles and corks, capsules, machinery, etc. more expensive than Western Europe. What we can do as a country is produce high quality wines at approachable prices for the US consumer. Actually the fastest growing segment in the US wine market are wines that retail between $12- $22 per bottle. Greece is uniquely equipped to be a strong player in this segment. Overall our wines tend to deliver at these prices, but we must stay vigilant to keep these price points, because at these prices consumers will take a chance on an unknown wine, like a Greek wine. Of course, there are many factors when it comes to pricing such as currency exchange rates, grape scarcity and wine demand.
Please tell us about the role of Greek-American organizations in promoting Greek businesses and supporting Greek issues.
While the financial crisis of Greece over the last 10 years has been a horrible experience for Greeks in Greece, it has led to some positive outcomes. One of these results was the galvanization of groups within the Greek diaspora to help Greece via lobbying and/or direct engagement. This is best illustrated with the creation of the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC). HALC was a new type of organization led by professionals and patriots with a true agenda of activism and full engagement with the American political system, local and national, and the Greek political world. They also created a forum for discussion and involvement, which has absolutely helped to create networks and bridges within the Greek American community and Jewish- American communities. For example, co-lobbying on energy and security issues has really helped Greece in Washington DC.
HALC has directly and indirectly helped Greece and Greek products. It has achieved this by getting young Greek- Americans involved and exposed to the process of lobbying and activism, creating awareness of the geopolitical issues that have an impact on the eastern Mediterranean and have ramifications to US policy as well. In terms of helping Greek products, it has helped elevate the image and educate new Greek-American consumers, who in most cases do not have direct contact with Greece, since most are now two to three generations removed. What I believe is that it is not only hard diplomacy that wins the political and diplomatic battles, it at times can also be soft diplomacy, winning of "hearts and minds” that helps carry the day. The old adage that “all advertising is good advertising” has held some credence for Greece. Americans, who are less informed on certain topics, suddenly heard about Greece and! its issues. At times they became curious and very many became empathetic to the plight, therefore creating a potentially sympathetic image for Greece and hopefully some curiosity for all things Greek. By creating positive imaging of Greek products and Greek people (especially during the height of the refugee crisis) we eventually created a positive emotional connection for 2nd and 3 + generation Greeks and non-Greeks. Wine and tourism can be, and are some of these soft tools that can and should be used to achieve this goal. HALC has made great strides in perpetuating and encouraging this belief. The best ambassadors for Greece and Greek products are the highly educated, over achieving young Greek-American Diaspora. If Greece is to remain vibrant and relative, and if the Greek language is to survive, bringing people closer to quality Greek agricultural products is fundamental. After all, we eat and drink every day. Just visiting Mykonos or going to the ancestral village once a decade won’t achieve this… pride in all things Greek, won’t help creating jobs and industries in Greece.
*Interview by Efthymis Aravantinos, Press Counselor at the Embassy of Greece to the USA