Hellas Filmbox Berlin is a Greek film festival established in 2015 to highlight the current, highly artistic Greek film scene and present it to a German audience as an affirmative artistic response to the wave of negative coverage of Greek news in Germany that was threatening to influence people's perception of the country.
The Festival Programme
Hellas Filmbox Berlin 2018 kicks off on Wednesday, January 24, 2018 at 19.00 with a multifaceted artistic event that will include short talks, interactive presentations by programmers and guests, performances etc. The opening of the third edition of the Hellas Filmbox Berlin will be preceded by the vernissage of Hellas Artbox Berlin: pop-up exhibition a group exhibition of 13 artists that is part of the Film Festival for the first time. In the 2018 Festival edition, changes will be introduced as the Festival extends its spectrum to include more forms of art. It is going to take place in a new venue, the Urban Spree, an alternative cultural space in Freidrichschein area.
The main event in the Festival’s programme is Box Talks a series of dialogues between Greek and German directors, inviting the audience to a live interaction. The first Box Talk, titled “Every time film” will feature Oscar winner German director Volker Schlöndorff and Yannis Sakaridis, moderated by festival director Ioanna Kryona. In another Box Talk titled “The Passion of Survival,” participants are documentary director and academic Eva Stefani, musician and film director Alexandros Vulgaris (known as “The Boy”) and Friedrich Liechtenstein in a discussion moderated by Carl von Karstedt. New Cypriot cinema will be the theme of the Box Talk between Greek Cypriot directors and German Wave journalist Panajotis Kouparanis.
Keeping up with previous editions, New Vision is a section in which exceptional films from art, experimental and animation genres are promoted. It includes three feature films with “Lines” by Vassilis Mazomenos among them and ten short films including “Ethnophobia” by Joan Zhonga. The films will competefor the best Film award.
The Documentary section includes 5 documentaries directed or co-directed by women, including “Alki’s Long Walk” by Margarita Manda. Seven feature films will be projected, apart from the 30 feature films that were shown in the historic Babylon Cinema for the Warm up event of the Festival (1-17 January). The programme includes a lot of side events that will offer a glimpse to the wider Greek art spectrum.
The closing event of Hellas Filmbox Berlin 2018 includes the film award ceremony, a concert by “The Boy” and an after-show party. Before that, well-known German composer, author and songwriter Konstantin Wecker and Greek filmmaker Zafeiris Haitidis will get into conversation with each other, moderated by journalist Elisa Simantke in the context of Box Talks.
Interview with Festival director Ioanna Kryona
Interviewed* by Greek News Agenda Ioanna Kryona, film scholar, talked about its new character:
The festival focuses on Greek art, the concept of Greekness and the dialogue between Greece and Germany. How does German society perceive Greece? Did you notice any change during the years that the festival takes place?
The festival was very well received from the beginning and beyond our expectations, considering that it is a new event in the city. It made a very good impression and caught the attention of German media, since we started at a time when Greece was in the news - although in a negative sense. We hope, through cinematic experience, to have achieved a certain change of that kind of perspective and indeed enforced a cultural dialogue. Though, one shouldn't overlook that we are talking about Berlin, a multicultural city, where the audience is already politically inclined and curious about different cultures. So I cannot saythat Filmbox had the potential until now to intervene and alter the way the Germans view us, but I can certainly confirm that a lot of German Berliners seem excited that it is taking place and are making sure to book their tickets on time.
Which changes have been introduced in the 2018 edition of the Festival and what is the rationale?
The 2018 Filmbox is not a film festival in the strict sense; it is more an event which offers insight into different aspects of the current Greek creative culture, from cinema to music and visual arts. The idea is to give space not only to filmmakers but also to artists in the broader sense to exhibit their work in the German capital and exchange experiences with their German colleagues. Historically, Berlin remains a city in a state of constant cultural flow; trends and ideas come and go, leaving more or less important traces behind, which contribute to this formation of identity process, which never ends in Berlin. As a Berlin-based festival, our intention is to be part of it, be integrated into this particular profile of the city, which makes it a special place for creative people.
"Soul Kicking", 2006, dir. Yannis Economides
What are the criteria of film selection?
Apart from their artistic value, a very important aspect is to offer the German audience insight into Greek society through the perspective of filmmakers. It has been almost ten years since the beginning of the crisis and filmmaking couldn't but be affected by the situation. Greece – though considered as a part of Europe – is depressed beyond belief and there is a lot of misleading information about this topic in the German media. Since cinema is the most popular storyteller of our time, we decided to give a voice to Greek film right in the middle of Europe. For that reason, the selection consists of films about subjects the German audience would not be able to approach in a different way, a Greece that wouldn't be visible otherwise.
Which are the highlights of this year’s edition?
For me, the most exciting section of the 2018 edition is the Box Talks. The cultural “dialogue” between Greece and Germany will happen through the actual exchange between Greek and German creators on stage, and the audience will be part of it as well.
In order to support Greek cinema, the next step is to develop a film market, which will help Greek filmmakers meet the German industry and promote their projects that would also enable coproduction options. The German press once called Filmbox “the small Greek Berlinale” and this was inspiring enough for us to think of the market aspect, which will actively contribute to the production of Greek films.
* Interview By Florentia Kiortsi
** The Festival is sponsored, among others, by the Greek Embassy Press Office in Berlin.
For more on Greek Cinema visit Greek News Agenda Filming Greece series of interviews
Interview with Dimitris Papadimoulis, Vice-President of the European Parliament and head of SYRIZA party delegation by the European Progressive Forum, "an open space of information and dialogue" that aims to "to promote and elaborate progressive ideas and proposals on the future of EU and Eurozone, the ongoing challenges of the European Project and the steps ahead..."*:
What are the priorities for the European progressive forces and how realistic their goals are?
Since 2015 there have been discussions between progressive forces to tackle the current policy mix in Eurozone and introduce a new wave of policies that enhance social justice and growth.
The rise of Syriza in power has strengthened the need to accelerate such initiatives in European scale. The "Progressive Caucus" in the European Parliament, i.e. with the participation of MEPs from GUE/NGL, S&D and the Greens, and the EU South Summit initiated by the Greek PM Alexis Tsipras, are two of the main pillars of action towards the necessary reform of EU and Eurozone. In view of 2019 European Elections, the aim of all these actions is to shift political balances in the European Parliament and the EU Council, so that progressive alliances can achieve majority.
These political forces strive to tackle austerity policies and bring in surface a pro-growth agenda, increase democratic legitimacy and transparency in decision-making, strengthen the role of the European Parliament, address social and regional cohesion and tackle tax evasion.
These proposals are realistic to the extent that all progressive forces understand the challenges of our era, and try to designate clear lines against the neoliberal parties and far-right populism. If we cannot achieve to bring something new in the EU, I could well argue that the future of the European establishment will be at stake.
Tell us more about the Progressive Caucus in the European Parliament.
The Progressive Caucus is a space of dialogue based on confidence-building and open debate. It was an idea of MEPs from three different political groups that, despite their differences on some issues, they develop similar policies on core issues of European politics, such as social justice and growth, the need to bring about the necessary reforms in EU and Eurozone. Since 2015, the group has been mobilized on trade issues, against TTIP and CETA, providing alternative models, whereas it has supported Greece's efforts to successfully conclude with bailout reviews and push for debt relief measures.
In this respect, the role of Syriza party is crucial as it has accelerated discussions among these parties and proved that a left-wing government can achieve positive results within a framework of negative political balances and tight fiscal monitoring. Syriza calls for a different policy model, and this is the reason why the European Socialists are inviting PM Tsipras in their meetings. The European Socialists have acknowledged the big efforts Greece has made for the final exit from austerity and the commitment to provide a new vision for Europe and its citizens, against neoliberalism and far-right upsurge.
In this respect, one issue that needs to be addressed is that of the 'ideological detachment' of social democracy from the neoliberal camp. In France and Germany we have witnessed a huge electoral downfall of socialist parties because these parties adopted austerity policies. Social democracy needs to abandon austerity doctrine once and for all, and get back to its initial ideological roots.
How the European Left can increase its electoral appeal and turn is agenda more convincing?
Most proposals that I mentioned above have been submitted by the European Left party and Syriza. A big deal of these proposals have been incorporated in the ongoing dialogue for the future of Europe that takes place in the European Parliament, the EU Council and the European Commission.
The next step is to intensify the debate so that EU can move forward and adopt the necessary reforms. In this context, the role of the European citizens, trade unions, civil society and social partners is of paramount importance.
Jeremy Corbyn is pushing for a total transformation of the Labour Party. What could be the effect of this process in other social democratic parties in EU?
This transformation is taking place in a country that has suffered a lot from Thatcher and Blair's neoliberal legacy. Corbyn has identified the need for a left-wing shift in the Labour Party, acknowledged the dire effects of austerity, and invested in the support of middle and lower social classes to push for this transformation.
It is important to point out that even in the midst of Brexit negotiations, Corbyn's leadership can be used as an example for other social democratic parties to follow the same path. We have seen this happening in Portugal and to some extent in France and Germany, always in the framework of the different characteristics of each political system.
What is your opinion on the Portuguese government? Could it be a "governance model" for Greece as well?
The Portuguese government has made very important and decisive steps in the post-bailout era, creating the necessary conditions that are taking the economy outside the restrictive framework of austerity politics.
The alliance between the socialist party, the left-wing Bloco and the communist party is something unique in European scale and it can serve as the best possible model for broader alliances in other member-states. This is the model we are trying to endorse in the EU, pushing for a common agenda that goes against conservative and neoliberal forces.
In Greece, it is even more difficult to import and adjust this model, as the centre-left is keep adopting a harsh rhetoric against Syriza, standing closer to the right side of the political spectrum and the neoliberal doctrine of New Democracy party. At the same time, the Greek communist party remains stuck in obsolete ideas and lacks an effective strategic capability that could allow the formation of a joint alliance. Contrary to its sister party in Portugal, the Greek communist branch cannot properly identity the ongoing challenges for Greece and Europe.
Spokesperson of the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU Veselin Jelev is a Bulgarian journalist with a remarkable international career. A long-serving journalist accredited to the European institutions, he has worked with media such as AP and DPA, and his last job was with ClubZ magazine and website. Veselin Jelev spoke with Greek News Agenda* about Bulgaria’s future in the EU, the main messages of the Bulgarian Presidency (consensus, cohesion and competitiveness), the European perspective of Western Balkans, Bulgarian Presidency’s emphasis on connectivity in all its aspects – transport, energy, digital, educational and concludes that “The EU project will not be completed while we have countries in the heart of Europe waiting at its doorstep” adding that "the prosperity and stability of the EU is directly linked to the stability and prosperity of its neighbours, including the Western Balkans".
Bulgaria is holding the presidency of the Council of the EU for the first time since it joined the EU, 10 years ago. How has the country changed within these years and how you imagine Bulgaria’s future in the EU?
Bulgaria enjoys political stability and the highest approval and trust rates towards the EU. Bulgaria’s economy has grown significantly over the last ten years, and continues to grow while the country has stable finances.
Bulgaria joined the EU on 1 January 2007, that is on the eve of the global financial and economic crisis. Today, the country enjoys a 4-per cent annual economic growth, the fourth highest in the Union, compared to 2.3-per cent EU average. Its government budget is balanced (0 percent deficit), compared to a 1.1 percent of GDP average for the EU, and its national debt equals 26.8 per cent of GDP, the third lowest in the EU, compared to a 89.3 percent EU-average.
Bulgaria’s inflation is stable at 1.3 percent (1.7 percent EU average) and unemployment is 6.4 percent of the workforce (7,8 per cent EU average).
The fastest growing economic sector is the ICT. Its total revenues reached 1.2 billion euros in 2016, which reflects a 600-per cent growth rate and a 300-per cent increase of jobs over the past decade. The sector is projected to account for 4.5 per cent of the GDP in 2021. More than 90 per cent of all jobs in the Bulgarian ICT sector are occupied by people under 35 years of age. These are highly skilled young professionals, whose average wage is four times the national average, and 31 per cent of them are women, which is the highest rate in the EU.
EU structural Funds have contributed significantly to the growth in Bulgaria. Bulgaria’s absorption rate over the 2007-2013 programming period was 95 per cent. Their contribution to the GDP was an 11.5 per cent increase over the period.
In the last four years, 35,000 Bulgarians living abroad have returned to Bulgaria, and net emigration has fallen to 4,017 per year on average.
Bulgaria sees its future as a member of a strong, digital and united European Union, which moves forward together and not at different speeds. The three main messages of the Bulgarian Presidency are: consensus, cohesion and competitiveness. Bulgaria’s next goals are to join the euro entry mechanism of ERM II and the Schengen area.
Our country wants to play a constructive and stabilising role in the Balkansand has made the European perspective and the connectivity of the Western Balkans a key priority of its presidency.
The European perspective of Western Balkans is among the top priorities of the Bulgarian EU Presidency, also portrayed as a Balkan Presidency. What are your expectations concerning this perspective? Do you think that the EU-Western Balkans Summit taking place next May in Sofia could revive EU’s interest for the region?
We are convinced that the prosperity and stability of the EU is directly linked to the stability and prosperity of its neighbours, including the Western Balkans. The best guarantee for these countries to live in peace and democracy and to prosper economically is the prospect to join the EU when they are ready.
Bulgaria does not want to create false expectations. The EU enlargement remains a rules-based process including strict conditionality. We want to encourage and support reforms that will bring the countries in the region closer to the EU. That is why we find it important to send a strong message to the Western Balkan countries that the EU remains committed, that its door will be open for those of them who do their homework. Otherwise we risk that we lose the pro-EU political momentum in the region.
In May, Sofia will host a EU-Western Balkan summit. It will be the place to pass the above message. We hope to have it clearly spelled out in a declaration and to have a specific plan for each of the countries concerned by the date of the summit.
Bulgaria also wants ordinary Western Balkan citizens to feel and see the advantages of EU integration in their everyday lives. That is why we are putting an emphasis on connectivity in all its aspects – transport, energy, digital, educational. We are particularly keen on reducing current roaming charges between the EU and the countries of the region.
We are happy that this priority of the Bulgarian Presidency has found unequivocal support both among the EU institutions and among the Member States, which is a sign the EU interest in the Western Balkans is already reviving. Moreover, we have coordinated closely with the upcoming Presidencies, so they will take this priority forward and ensure continuity and commitment to the process.
Bulgaria and Greece along with Romania, Croatia, Serbia and FYROM are recently working closely together in domains such as energy, economy, transport, but also in the domain of refugee crisis and security. Do you think that this regional cooperation, enhanced to a great extent at the initiative of Greece and Bulgaria, can contribute to the prosperity of the countries and the region but also for the benefit of the EU?
As I already said, the answer is clearly positive. Gradual integration with the EU single market will benefit both the EU and its Western Balkan neighbours as it has done with countries from the region which have already walked that path as Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Slovenia. For the EU the region is a market with some 20 million customers. But it is also key from geostrategic point of view. The EU project will not be completed while we have countries in the heart of Europe waiting at its doorstep.
* Interview with Ioulia Elmatzoglou
Boaventura de Sousa Santos is Professor of Sociology, University of Coimbra (Portugal), and Distinguished Legal Scholar at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is director of the Center for Social Studies at the University of Coimbra and has written and published widely on the issues of globalization, sociology of law and the state, epistemology, social movements and the World Social Forum. His most recent project is ALICE: Leading Europe to a New Way of Sharing the World Experiences.
Professor de Sousa Santos spoke to “Epohi” weekly newspaper (Dimitris Givissis: Interview with Boaventura de Sousa Santos, 21.1.2018):
Europe is in a big and multifaceted crisis. Do you think it is a temporary crisis, or do you think it will get permanent and irreversible features?
Europe is not an island. The anomic and dystopic vocation of the global neoliberal disorder is reaching new thresholds as the concentration of wealth and the environmental crisis reaches unprecedented levels. The fall of the petrodollar seems closer and closer as China and Russia buy gold and prepare to negotiate oil and gas contracts in yuan. Saddam Hussein and Kaddafi payed a dear price for their attempts and Venezuela may follow the same destiny, while Brazil, another of the BRICS, is neutralized by the judicial-political coup instigated by US imperialism. For the same reason, Yemen must be destroyed and, in line with his predecessors, President Donald Trump prepares “his” war, this time against Iran.
Particularly after Durão Barroso became president of the European Commission (2004-2014), the EU turned into a subaltern partner of neoliberal globalization. At first, only foreign countries, non-European countries in Africa and Latin American, noticed the changes as they realized how the Brussels technocrats aligned themselves almost unconditionally with US based multinationals, World Bank and IMF officers in negotiations of trade agreements. As the financial crisis of 2008 hit Europe in 2011 (Greeks have a tragic experience of it), it became finally clear to most of European citizens that neoliberal orthodoxy had hijacked the European project (probably an illusion from the start) of combining development with social protection in a wider politically democratic community. Raw economic and hence political power was in charge, the vulnerable countries were made more vulnerable so that the political costs of intervention would diminished. As I said, non-European countries knew all this by tragic experience. For Europeans it was a surprise since most them had forgotten not only about the remote past but also about thr recent one, the World War II.
In light of this, the European Union is tied up to the fate of neoliberalism; in this respect the crisis may be considered as permanent as the crisis of neoliberalism. The political disintegration began with the way the so-called “Greek crisis” was dealt with, continued with Brexit and the rise of the extreme-right under the guise of a new version of populism (always a rightist political reaction, never a leftist one).
The rhythm of the crisis may change and, in my view, it is changing, but the fundamental tendency will continue unless a deeper political transformation takes place. As I write, the rhythm of the crisis seems to be slowing down with the designation of the former Portuguese Finance minister, Mario Centeno, as finance minister of the Eurogroup. As I will argue below, the recent Portuguese political experience has shown that the neoliberal orthodoxy is a lie, a tragic lie, and Mario Centeno was an important protagonist in demonstrating this. Probably out of a survival instinct, the dominant powers in the EU (Germany and France) and the technocrats of the European Commission have concluded that insisting on the neoliberal impositions would lead, rather sooner than later, to the end of the benefits they collected from an unequal integration and for the Brussels establishment, the end of their golden jobs and privileges. They first reacted by showing to the UK that it would pay a very high price for leaving the EU unilaterally; and then chose Mario Centeno as a signal that they were ready for some kind of reformist change. How successful this move may be remains to be seen. Above all, it remains to be seen if Centeno will have, at the European level, the political support he had at the national level to conduct the very moderate but highly successful anti-neoliberal policies. Quite frankly, I doubt it, but, as I always insist, sociologists are good at predicting the past not the future. In any case the reasons for some pessimism are grounded both in the recent declarations of Jens Weidmann, the president of Bundesbank and in the new, socially insensitive European budget for 2018 indeed approved by the European Parlament with unprecedented lack of consensus.
You have talked about the need of building a new vision for Europe. How can this happen? And what will be its features?
Europe faces an intricate challenge: to reinvent itself both from its centre and its margins. Such reinvention will not take place unless a double transformation occurs: a transformation in the ways we know what is happening to us and to the world and in the ways we educate the European youth according to such knowledge (epistemological shift); and a transformation in the political configuration of Europe as a supranational entity and as an international actor (political shift).
Throughout the last one hundred years, Europe became a continent of high expectations and dismally broken promises: the promise of social justice and human rights; the promise of anti-colonialism; the promise of democracy and the end of authoritarian political regimes; the promise of cultural diversity and peaceful conviviality. The expectations were as high as the frustrations were deep in light of a resilient dissonance in real politik. The continuing oscillation between these two poles led to a political culture run by exorbitant hopes and nihilistic fears. Until the Fall of the Berlin Wall, Europe (what was then Western Europe) was run by the predominance of hope over fear; since then we have entered a period of the predominance of fear over hope. At first, the fear was about the survival of social democracy (democracy with social and economic rights), today it is more and more about the survival of democracy tout court (democracy reduced to civil and political rights).
The new vision of Europe is based on the realistic utopia that it is possible to move to a period of probably less brilliant hopes but hopes that are resilient enough to keep the nihilistic fears at bay. The epistemological shift is premised upon the need to learn from the Global South (both extra-European and intra-European South) which has a long historical experience of living collectively with more humble hopes and with a sustained capacity to resist against fear-inducing oppression caused originally by European colonialism. Since the seventeenth century colonialism has been the core identity of Europe together with capitalism and patriarchy. We should bear in mind that external colonialism was first tried out inside Europe, as internal colonialism, as Ireland, Spain and several countries in Eastern Europe illustrate. The way the recent financial crisis in South European countries has been dealt with by core Europe shows how active and vicious such internal colonialism remains today.
Looking to the world with less arrogance and with the will to learn instead of teaching, involves a cognitive and educational paradigmatic change. This epistemological shift will occur side by side with a political shift. Europe has a future as transnational entity to the extent that it engages in an active anti-colonialist politics, both in relations with the non European world and in the intra-European relations. A new attitude regarding the infinite diversity of the world and of Europe itself. The outside world is expanding and Europe is shrinking. The continuation of the colonial attitude is suicidal. During the Cold War and because it was internally divided, Europe stayed outside the main rivalries among the super powers. This relative distance was the precondition for the relative international autonomy of Europe. After the end of the Cold War Europe surrendered too easily to US global hegemony and became a subaltern partner in an imperialist drive for unilateral power, economically driven by neoliberalism. Such power is declining and the neoliberal disorder is becoming more and more evident. The USA can afford to put America first by threatening wars against any imagined competitor (the real ones are only China and Russia to a certain extent). In Europe such strategy is suicidal given the structural weakness of Europe concerning the most crucial resources to conduct such wars (both military and financial resources). The new vision of Europe demands that Europe distances itself from USA. Only in this way can Europe pursue a credible anti-colonial politics in relation to the world. The problem is that under current conditions of neoliberal globalization anti-colonialism is not possible disengaged from anti-capitalist politics. This is only possible with a significant deepening of democracy beyond the liberal mold. At a time in which the serious ecological crisis is indicating to us the end of the Cartesian view of nature as an infinitely available natural resource, we must sponsor humble hopes of dignity and conviviality. But such hopes can only be kept if supported by a utopian horizon. Such horizon, I would venture, is socialism as democracy without end. This utopian horizon will never be fully achieved; but it will keep us walking in its direction.
The recent years, the European social democracy faces its more serious crisis in the after war years. How do you see its future? What do you think will mean the potential participation of SPD in the next German government for the further developments, as it has some special meaning for the European Social democracy?
The SPD represents the most grotesque ruin of European social democracy. At the moment, we experience an interregnum. The world created by neoliberalism in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall ended with the financial crisis of 2008-2011. The world that follows has not been defined yet. The post-1989 world had two agendas with a decisive impact on left politics all over the world. The explicit agenda was the definitive end of socialism as a social, economic, and political system ruled by the State. The implicit agenda amounted to the end of any social, economic and political system led by the State. This implicit agenda was far more important than the explicit one because State socialism was already agonizing and since 1978 thinking of reconstructing itself in China as State capitalism following reforms by Deng Xiaoping. The most direct result of the end of soviet-like socialism was the temporary demobilization of communist parties, some of them already far distanced from the soviet experience. The implicit agenda was the important one, and that is why it had to occur silently and insidiously, without walls falling. In the phase that until then characterized dominant capitalism, the social alternative to soviet-like socialism was universal and social economic rights, of which were beneficiaries mainly those who, devoid of privileges, only had law and rights to defend themselves against the economic and political despotism that was shaping capitalism, by nature prey to the logic of the market. The most advanced form of this alternative was post-war European social democracy, which at the beginning, in early twentieth century, actually comprised an explicit agenda (democratic socialism) and an implicit agenda (capitalism compatible with democracy by means of minimal social inclusion as presupposed by democracy). After 1945, it soon became clear that the implicit agenda was really the only one there was. Ever since the lefts became divided between those that continue to maintain a socialist solution (more or less distant from the soviet model) and those that, no matter how vocal about socialism, only wanted to regulate capitalism and curb its “excesses.” After 1989, as happened at the beginning of the century, the implicit agenda went on being implicit, even though it was the only one in force. It gradually became clear that both previous lefts had been defeated. Hence, the crisis of social democracy. The demobilization of the social democratic left was for a while disguised by the new articulation of forms of domination that were in force in the world since the seventeenth century: capitalism, colonialism (racism, monoculturalism, etc.) and patriarchy (sexism, arbitrary separation between productive and reproductive work, that is to say, between paid and nonpaid work). Social claims aimed at so-called post-material agendas, i.e. cultural or fourth-generation rights. Such claims were genuine and denounced repugnant forms of oppression and discrimination. The way in which they were conducted, however, led the political agents mobilizing them (social movements and ONGs) to think that they could carry them out without touching the third axis of domination, capitalism. What was being designated as class politics was actually neglected in favor of race and gender politics. Such neglect proved to be fatal when the post-1989 regime fell. Capitalist domination, reinforced by the legitimacy earned during those years, readily turned against the anti-racist and anti-sexist conquests, in its ceaseless search for ever more accumulation and exploitation. The said conquests, devoid of anti-capitalist will or separated from anti-capitalist struggles, are finding it increasingly harder to resist. SPD didn’t even manage to be very active in anti-racial and anti-patriarchal politics. As it went on as well losing its call as a class party, particularly under the leadership of Gerhard Schroeder, SPD became one of the most vacuous socialdemocratic parties in Europe, more vacuous even than the British Labour Party.
Can the countries of the European South form a pole that will question the German dominance in Europe? What kind of possibilities are there in your opinion?
The countries of South Europe are peripheral countries in economic terms, with the relative exception of Spain. For some years, there was a credible belief that economic peripherality would be compensated for by political equality within the Union. The crisis of 2011showed that this was a cruel illusion. The Southern countries fought back. Greece first and with little success. Portugal learned a lot with Greece and followed a different path with apparent more success (see below). But up until now they have resisted in isolation. They have a lot to show to the core countries on how to handle crises and go on fighting for social cohesion . In order to be effective, however, they must articulate their European policies. I hope that will be possible in the near future with Spain on board.
To finish with, could you describe us the current situation in Portugal and make an assessment of the Portuguese government so far?
There is no doubt that the left government in power in Portugal since late 2015 is pioneering. It is not very well known internationally not only because Portugal is a small country whose political processes rarely break news in international politics, but also and mainly because it offers a political solution that counters the interests of the two major global enmies of democracy – neoliberalism and global financial capital – which control the media today. Let’s recapitulate. Since the 25 April Revolution the Portuguese have frequently voted in left parties but were ruled by right parties. While the latter would run in coalition, the left parties, following a long historical trajectory, would run as divided by apparently insurmountable differences. This was what happened in October 2015. On this occasion, however, in a gesture of political innovation that will make history in European democracy, the three left parties (Socialist Party, Left Bloc and Communist Party) decided to engage in negociations to find a parliamentary articulation capable of facilitating a left government led by one of these three parties, the one that had gathered more votes, the Socialist Party. Following separate negociations between the Socialist Party and the other two (mutual mistrust was there at the beginning) it was possible to reach governing accords that made possible a left government without precedent in Europe during the last decades. The genius of these accords resided in several premises: 1) the accords were limited and pragmatic, and were focused on minor common denominators in order to facilitate a government capable of stopping the anti-democratic policies implemented in the country by the neoliberal right parties; 2) the parties would zealously keep their programmatic identity – their banner as it were – and made clear that the accords would not put it at risk since their response to the political conjecture would not put it in question, let alone discard it; 3) the government had to be coherent and needed therefore to be the responsibility of one party alone, given that parliamentary support would guaranty its stability; 4) good faith would preside over the accords and the latter would be regularly checked by the parties involved. The accord documents are models of political contention and rigorously detail the agreed upon terms. Basically, the agreed upon measures had two major political objectives: put an end to the impoverishment of the Portuguese by retrieving the income of workers and retirees according to the income scale, and stop the privatizations which, under neoliberalism and finance capital, are nothing less than acts of piracy. The accords were successfully negotiated; the government took office in a politically hostile climate generated by the then President of the Republic, the European Comission and the financial agencies – all of them servile lackeys of neoliberal orthodoxy. Gradually, the government policies yielded surprising results. Soon enough, many detractors had to acknowledge economy growth, unemployment decrease, and overall improvement of the country’s image. The meaning of all this can be summed up as follows: by putting in place policies that are opposed to the neoliberal recipes, the very results advertised by the latter are achieved without augmenting the impoverishment and suffering of the Portuguese. On the contrary, achieving moderate betterment. More clearly, this political innovation shows that neoliberalism is a lie and that its only purpose it to further the concentration of wealth under global financial capital.
Of course, the national and international neoliberal right is not happy at all and will try to put an end to this political solution with the help of that fraction of the right that never liked the excesses of neoliberalism and wants to grab power again.
“Too much info clouding over my head”, by Vassilis Christofilakis, is a mumblecore, feel good comedy about an overanxious young director searching for success, whose life is further complicated when he is forced to raise money for a movie screenplay he actually detests. Christofilakis is an actor, director and writer who grew up in Athens. He did film studies in the UK and worked in Greek theatre as a director and playwright for several years. "Too Much Info Clouding Over My Head", which is his first completed feature film and acting debut, won 3 awards at the 58th Thessaloniki International Film Festival: The FIPRESCI Award for Best Greek Film, the ERT 'New Cinema' Award and the Greek Film Centre Award for Best Debut Film.
Interviewed by Greek News Agenda* Christofilakis talks about personal and artistic freedom and explains how he works with comedy and why his protagonist is someone many generations in the Western World can identify with. He also explains why being almost broke when making films can be a period of bliss as well as why we love losers (in the cinema).
Wasn’t there a longer title for your film?
When I was contemplating the plot, I thought initially of “Too much Info”. But I wanted a long title that would create a strange feeling. I tried to find a Greek title, but whatever I came up with didn’t seem appropriate. I was influenced by other mumblecore films. Mumblecore is considered the newest film genre which appeared a decade ago, and some of the films have long titles. But Woody Allen also used long titles (think e.g. “Everything you wanted to know about sex but you were afraid to ask”). There is a mass of info, so many things that the protagonist is burdened with that I couldn’t end up with a single word title. To sum up, I did it instinctively.
Eleni Ouzounidou, Vassilis Christofilakis, "Too much info clouding over my head", (2017)
“Too much info” is a coming of age just before the coming of middle-age film for a man who doesn’t really want to grow up. Your protagonist is rather dysfunctional. What is wrong with him and – at the same time - what is so relatable about him? Is he a loser, an ideologist, a psychopath or all of the above?
First of all he is a loser; the loser is a prerequisite for comedy to work. When we do comedy, we take away abilities from the protagonist, whereas in drama we add abilities. The more abilities we substract and the more problems we add which the protagonist lacks the ability to overcome is where comedy starts. So he is clumsy, aggressive, and is also an idealist without a cause some or most of the times, but his chief dysfunction is that he is trapped in the old ways, in a mythology others have constructed for him. He feels he has to make a film that he doesn’t really want to make, but he has to build a career, a reputation. He is also trapped in his relationship with his parents: his mother, his dead father and the antiques he inherited which he must sell in order to make films. His mother pushes him to be an artist and create masterpieces. He doesn’t necessarily want to make masterpieces. So this is his most dysfunctional characteristic, that he is subject to other people’s wishes or mythologies and the coming of age element is that he is trying to construct his own mythology.
Vassilis Christofilakis, "Too much info clouding over my head", (2017)
So he is a captive to his overprotective mother’s dysfunctions, because she dreams of becoming the mother of a great artist.
Exactly; as strange as it might sound, I see the mother as the villain of the story. She is not a traditional villain, but whenever she interferes, she creates problems, despite her good intentions. The connection that exists between mother and child since birth makes his mother a very difficult opponent, because it is very difficult to overcome your parents. And I think my protagonist is relatable, because he is the type of person found everywhere in the Western world with characteristics we can all identify with.
“Too much info” won a series of awards at the 58th Thessaloniki International Film Festival and that is quite remarkable for a comedy. It was also very warmly received by the audience. Where do you attribute its success?
The TIFF is a friendly festival and I had a lot of interaction with the audience. What struck me was the fact that although I had the millennials in mind, the generation born in the 80s, teenagers told me they were enormously touched by the film, as well as others born in the 70’s, whom we call generation X. I was expecting people in their sixties to appreciate it, because it would make them think about their parenting ways.
The common denominator of all reactions was: “a comedy at last”. I didn’t do a comedy on purpose. On contrary, I thought that comedies don’t do well at festivals. People told me they are weary of dramas, as critics did. I was told that it’s a cool, down to earth film that makes audience laugh and identify with, which also had a psychoanalytical depth, a smart comedy. They also told me that it is very real. Reality or sincerity was not in my intentions. I wanted to do what I liked. The first time that I heard that my film was “real” was at the Festival and, I have to admit, it made me very happy. And this provokes a new anxiety that my next work would also have to be “real”. I'm very much afraid that I'll try so hard to do something real which will end up very fake.
Kitty Paitatzidou, Vassilis Christofilakis, "Too much info clouding over my head", (2017)
How did you incorporate your cinematic influences in your film?
I believe that we have to be very open about our influences and show them off without fear that they constitute plagiarism. I used these influences in a very bold way. Years ago, when I was going through a rocky patch artistically, I saw “Frances Ha”, a mumblecore comedy. Back then I had done another film that did not express me at all, so when I saw “Frances Ha” it was revelatory for me. It opened new horizons for me and so I said to myself, “this is what I want to do from now on”.
It goes without saying of course that Woody Allen has been a major influence for me. I like to write, direct and act in my films. I think auteur cinema is the most authentic and personal cinema. I like having full control of my work; and this would be my advice to my peers who are making their first film: to enjoy this period of time, because this time of absolute freedom might not last long. It might be followed by more commercial offers in which you won’t be in control any more. For me, it is important to have control of your work in order to keep your artistic vision intact.
When I saw the film, it reminded me of Tim Burton’s film “Ed Wood”.
I had seen the film a long time ago and I had totally forgotten about it. There are some common elements. I used the fact that my protagonist likes b-movies in order to make him look even weirder. I also used this b-movies element, because it becomes more difficult nowadays for these movies to have an audience. I saw “Ed Wood” again after I completed the film and it’s true they have a lot of things in common.
I’m also influenced by Jim Jarmusch, his dark sense of humor and the way he works with dialogues as well as well as the Coen brothers and their austere cinematic grammar. They use medium frames and single shots for dialogues which I find a sincere and immediate way to shoot dialogues. I also used wideangle lens throughout the film, it was a challenge I wanted to take. When you are shooting a comedy, your frames should be clear, there shouldn’t be ambiguity in comedy. Wide angle lens magnifies movement and slightly deforms faces; it gives them a protruding effect which is an element I used extensively in the film for a comic result.
As far as the use of black and white film is concerned, it was instinctive. I was influenced by “Frances Ha” and “Manhattan”. I wanted the film to have a black and white, New York touch. My film is clearly Greek of course, but I wished for an urban character. There was also an economic parameter in this decision. Black and white made shooting much easier because I didn't have to work with a gazillion colours. Black and white is a stylistic statement for a film and I have to say that this also attracted the actors. They liked the fact they would play in a black and white film.
Nicol Drizi, Vassilis Christofilakis, "Too much info clouding over my head", (2017)
What is the role of the city of Athens in your film?
To be honest, I intended to show a few more tourist attractions of Athens, but I avoided it. Athens is there through its people and its interiors of alternative theatres, bars and cafes. There aren't many shots of Athens as a busy town. To me, Athens can be a quiet town and this comes in contrast with my protagonist who is angst ridden. All shooting took place in Pagrati, which for me is the Greek Manhattan. I was born in Kaisariani, but I've been living in Pagrati for 15 yearsnow, and I will never leave Pagrati. As Woody Allen was shooting in Manhattan, I will shoot in Pagrati.
Your film works on many levels. It describes the adventures of film funding. How does that interest those outside the movie industry?
This part of the film contains a sociopolitical comment. It is relevant to anyone trying to fulfill his or her dreams amid considerable difficulties and no support. Moreover, the funding theme is universal. Making a film is extremely difficult in any part of the world. It is difficult in general to make your dreams come true. You have to overcome family and professional bonds. Of course a film maker going through the same experience will become aware of some other details, but the filming story is a pretext to talk about more universal things.
Konstandina Mihail, Vassilis Christofilakis, "Too much info clouding over my head", (2017)
How has your theatre experience influenced your work?
It has influenced a lot the way I work with actors. I worked many years in the theatre and this helped to get to know the actors and to work with them on a deeper level. To be honest, I didn’t have to work that much in this film with the actors, because I got theatrical actors and since I wanted spontaneity, we didn’t have to do many rehearsals. They felt a bit anxious over this, but at the same time they were alert and gave me the spontaneity I wanted. The actors improvised a lot and I think it all worked fine.
How did you manage to find good actors with a minimum budget?
I had a very specific vision. I had a very small budget, but I managed to pay everyone on time. Everyone knew the money wouldn’t be much. I wanted to finish the film very quickly, with a small crew. Only editing took longer than I expected. Actually, completing this film was one of the most relaxed things I’ve ever done. Many people think it is difficult to act and direct, but for me, having spent many years on the director’s chair it was very invigorating to act and at the same time manage many other things.
Zisis Roubos, Vassilis Christofilakis, Praxitelis Mastoras, "Too much info clouding over my head", (2017)
What about your future plans?
My future plans will soon become present. I will continue with comedy, maybe under easier circumstances, which I don’t know if it΄s a good thing. I will keep the same model as in “Too much Info”, i.e. I will continue to write, direct and act my film. My new film is similar to “Too much Info” and I will try to improve myself. I consider myself lucky because what I want to do can be done with a minimum budget. If I wanted to do an action film or science fiction it would be really difficult.
One last question: As you said, a loser is a component of comedy. In the eighties, we used to say everyone loves the bad guys in cinema. But it is obvious that we love losers too. Why? What is the hidden charm of losers?
That΄s a good question; I believe we are all losers. It takes a few psychoanalysis sessions to find out about our problems and the cracks in our armour. Comedy talks about the way life is, the same way drama talks about how we would like life to be. Consider Hamlet, in drama he recites his famous monologue “To be or not to be”. In comedy, he might fart while doing so. He could do that, he is a human being, he is alone in the cemetery and no one sees him. We are all losers and that’s why we like losers. Charley Chaplin and Buster Keaton were losers too. You enjoy watching them trying to solve problems and making a bigger mess of it all. Losers usually win in the end, for the sole reason that they didn’t give up, in spite of all difficulties. And this is another reason we love losers. We wouldn’t bear it for losers to lose, that would be tragedy. And I really choose to be an optimist.
* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi.
** The film was projected in the 58th Thessaloniki International Film Festival and was available in the international film viewing professional platform Festival Scope, a TIFF initiative for the promotion of Greek cinema abroad.
The Municipal Art Gallery of Athens is one of the most important museums of modern and contemporary Greek art, featuring more than 3.000 works in its permanent collection. It was founded in 1914 and has changed venues several times. It is now housed in a two-building compound on Avdi Square, in the inner city area of Metaxourgeio. Apart from the permanent exhibition, various temporary exhibitions and events are hosted in both its main compound as well as the Eleftheria Park Arts Centre.
In 2015, Denys Zacharopoulos was appointed artistic adviser to the Municipality of Athens responsible for its cultural policy, including the Municipal Gallery’s direction. Zacharopoulos is a renowned art historian, critic and writer, who has collaborated as a curator with a number of prestigious institutions internationally. He has served as member of the curatorial team of the Documenta 14 in Kassel, commissioner of the pavilion of France at the 1999 Venice Biennale, consultant for the National Foundation for Contemporary Art in France and Inspector General of the Delegation of Plastic Arts at the French Ministry of Culture, to name a few of his career highlights. Following his return to Greece in 2000, he taught History of Art at the University of the Aegean and, from 2006 to 2015, was the director of the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki.
We met with Denys Zacharopoulos at the premises of the Gallery, where we talked about the role of the state in protecting and promoting culture, the mission of public museums, the political nature of art and the difference it can make in the lives of each of us. He also presented to us the Municipality’s 2018 exhibition programme. It begins at the end of January with an exhibition regarding the Gallery’s collection under the directorship of prominent artist Spyros Papaloukas (1892-1957). The themes of this year’s exhibitions have been strongly influenced by the designation of Athens as World Book Capital (April 2018-April 2019). These include “The stories of Alexis Akrithakis”, with drawings, notes and illustrations by the acclaimed painter, programmed for may, “The book as a work of art”, set to open in October, and “Greek artists and books 1914-1964”, scheduled for September, with illustrations of famous books by renowned artists.
The 2018 programme begins with an exhibition about the artist Spyros Papaloukas. Would you like tell us a few things about it?
This is an exhibition on Papaloukas not as a painter, but as artistic consultant and then director of the Athens Municipal Gallery, from 1940, when he was appointed, until his death in 1957. We have all the archives for every transaction, every artwork bought by the Gallery in that period, all the documents and letters showing which purchases he personally endorsed and actively promoted, and which were imposed either by the mayor, by circumstances or even by the Germans during the Nazi occupation. They illustrate the various difficulties encountered by someone in his position, the efforts to reconcile different goals and interests, and making the best choices with limited options. It has to do with the history of museums, and the way historical events affect their collections.
In the art of the 20th century’s first decades we encounter the notion of Greekness – the sense of true Greek identity. Isn’t that true for Papaloukas’ works as well?
Papaloukas did not embark on a quest for the true meaning of Greekness, as did the artists that followed. He came from a village and started out as a child helping with religious paintings in churches. He later got a scholarship and studied art in Greece and then abroad. For him, as well as for Konstantinos Parthenis and other artists of the 20’s generation, Greekness is not an abstract notion –as it is, in my opinion, for the 30’s generation– but instead, it has to do with journeying across Greece, as he had done, travelling and painting in every possible place. It is not a search for identity but simply about appreciating the natural features of this land, with an emphasis on the light, a very important aspect of painting. The differences in the landscapes and natural light make Papaloukas works change, according to the scenery of the region of Greece where he paints each time.
What about contemporary Greek artists? Can they compete with this recent past?
It is a question of context. You see, at school I was considered to be tall, but compared to kids today, I would appear to be rather short. So, height is a relative measure, and it is viewed differently in every period of time. Likewise, people, and particularly artists, need to see the world with new eyes every time and redefine it. In Greece I believe we are very lucky: having lived through a series of crises, a large number of intellectuals do not lose hope, and there are also many young truly talented people, even if many of them choose to work abroad on account of the difficulties faced in our country today.
You have stated before that institutions, both public and private, can once again become an integral part of cultural life, especially in times like these.
Within today’s globalised market, solutions can only be found in cooperation. The state must work together with regional authorities –municipalities, communities etc – and with members of the private sector. It is of capital importance for a state to protect and promote culture. In my generation, that was the foremost purpose in wanting to become part of the European Community: to know that culture, civilisation and the public interest – as in free education – would be secured against brutality.
So you are particularly interested in safeguarding the public character of the Gallery.
I am proud to say that all municipal cultural facilities offer free admission. Last year, for the Maria Lassnig exhibition, we collaborated with Hans-Ulrich Obrist, artistic director of the Serpentine Galleries in London, which don’t charge admission either. At the press conference, he shared a story about the driver of a cab he rode, who spoke very fondly of the Serpentine. Not an art fan himself, he had taken his four-year old daughter there to use the restroom while out on a stroll in the park with her many years ago. He chose the venue simply on account of the free entry. Afterwards, the little girl would not leave, fascinated by the artwork around her. She is now completing her post-graduate studies in architecture, and her father credits her success to the Serpentine Galleries.
My generation had this mentality of going places, roaming in Athens, but young kids now don’t do that often. So how could you attract them, unless you make it at least easier for them? Growing up, what really helped me was the exposure to a multitude of stimuli – buildings, paintings, conversations, music, films. I didn’t always understand much of what I heard or watched, and yet they shaped my life. It’s about learning not to fear what you don’t understand.
You have invested in the educational aspect of the Municipal Gallery.
We have a continuous series of educational programmes, such as guided tours given by many different people, including the gallery curator and myself. On the occasion of the Alexis Akrithakis exhibition, for instance, we have scheduled weekly open discussions, each time with two of the painter’s acquaintances, ranging from his physician, his gallerist and his daughter to his colleagues and collaborators, on the subject of his art and the meaning the exhibits we will be showcasing.
Does this educational purpose dictate some of the choices in the gallery’s schedule?
First of all, I believe that a cultural space is by principle linked with the audience and aims to offer each and every visitor a new perception. The audience is extremely diverse, of many different age groups, as well as cultural and educational background, and you have to address every one of them, not just the connoisseurs. I am not however looking for “the average visitor”, arbitrarily setting the bar at a certain level. With each exhibition, we have to try and draw the people in, and this doesn’t refer to the guiding and information provided, but to also designing an exhibition effectively.
In an exhibition I had curated many years ago in France, we had organised a series of music performances using the exhibits as a backdrop, and the concertgoers ended up contemplating the artwork. You don’t necessarily have to supply abundant information, for fear of the audience missing or not understanding something. People also have to learn to just look without any instructions, to gaze, even to linger and idle.
As you mentioned above, many young intellectuals today choose to leave the country. You have had an illustrious career abroad, mainly in France, and yet decided to return to Greece.
This was basically a coincidence. In a way, you never “lose” your homeland. As I recall, Carlo Ginzburg –a noted Italian historian visiting Athens a few years back– was asked a question in the course of an open conversation at the Italian School, on his perception of ethnic identity: he was born in Italy by a father of Russian Jewish descent, and later lived in the USA for many years. He answered that, at some point, he understood that (barring racist remarks) he didn’t mind criticism against any country or nation that was close to him, except Italy. He felt he could criticise Italy, but turned defensive when someone else did this. It’s like a parent: you will reprimand your children, but won’t tolerate a stranger scolding or badmouthing them.
This is how I have always felt about Greece, even after receiving the French citizenship. When I resigned from my position at the French Ministry of Culture in 2000, it was partly due to the political climate at the time –I could see that the far right was on the rise and, indeed, less than two years later, Le Pen would face Chirac in the runoff election– and partly due to family matters, following the death of my father. Of course, at the time, things were looking up for Greece, on many levels, but turned out differently later. I have however never regretted my decision, as I have never felt French the way I feel Greek; deeply rooted and integrated in Greek society, feeling naturally at home here.
So the reasons for this change were partially political. In an older interview, you have stated that art is political de facto, because it is a form of public discourse.
I deeply believe that. It’s like marriage; there might be a metaphysical aspect to it –or not– but what is undeniable is its significance as a political act. Mind you, when I say “political”, I don’t mean politicised art. For the first decades after its creation, a work of art is subject to copyright but then, once it enters public domain, once it becomes part of cultural heritage, it is protected against destruction. It is a public good, meant for public exposure.
My favorite museum is still the “gallery” of my childhood: roaming through the streets, I would often come across an artwork, seen through an open window. In those times, if the owner saw me staring at the work of art, they would sometimes invite me in to take a closer look, and offer information regarding the work and the artist. That is the mission that a museum should serve, to function as an open window between the private and the public life of people.
This for me is the Municipal Gallery’s foundation stone. This is why I place such importance on free admission, as I said before. Art can free you, it can bring out your innermost feelings, bring you great discomfort or great comfort. It is a political given, and the most potent remedy against baseness and vulgarity, it is the best drug substitute, able to give you the most striking hallucinations. Art could have been our society’s most powerful elixir, if only we had acknowledged its importance and potential, instead of treating it as a frill. It is a window to the world, and it is the state’s responsibility to open it for the public. As you can see, people in our country become increasingly introverted, out of fear. I wish more of them would have the opportunity to open up through art.
Athens Municipal Gallery on Facebook
See also on Greek News Agenda:
Athens as a cultural spot: Nikos Souliotis on Athens' modern cultural identity; Marina Abramović: Athens grows as a major cultural spot; Ares Kalandides on rebuilding the country’s reputation; Katerina Koskina on the need for cultural dialogue & EMST’s role as an arts capsule for the city branding of Athens; Elpida Rikou on the Learning from documenta project
Arts in Greece: Alexandros Psychoulis on the idea of symbiotic bliss & the reality of working as a visual artist in Greece; Gary Carrion-Murayari on “The Equilibrists” & the contemporary arts scene in Greece; Efi Kyprianidou on Art and Compassion; Athens School of Fine Arts celebrates 180 years
* Interview by Nefeli Mosaidi
In Greece undeclared work has been a significant feature of the economy that was estimated in around 25% in 2015. Addressing undeclared work and other labour law violations is a complex and difficult challenge, especially in the current difficult socioeconomic situation marked by high unemployment and the lack of fiscal space. Nevertheless, the government's planning is based on adopting a new productive model that can lead to fair growth and can protect employment and the employees.
Greek News Agenda spoke* to Nasos Iliopoulos, Special Secretary of the Labour Inspectorate Body (SEPE) about Greece's efforts to deal with the situation, SEPE’s work and objectives, the magnitude of labour law violations in big businesses, the third review requirements in relation to the trade union law, the infringement of a series of established social rights both in Greece and other EU countries, the deregulation of labour relations and the need for restoration of collective bargaining, as well as the prospects opening up with the possible completion of the economic adjustment programme for Greece in August 2018.
As the Prime Minister has recently stated, "the protection of labour rights has been and still is a central objective of the government". Would you like to comment on that? Can you give us an account of the work SEPE has done since your appointment there as Special Secretary?
The issue of labour relations constitutes one of the key issues for the future of Greek society. In brief, we would say that growth without protection of labour means returning to the road that brought bankruptcy and the crisis.
Our effort in order to protect labour rights is concentrated on two fronts. One is reinstating the necessary institutional regulations, such as restoring collective bargaining. The second is the correct operation of control mechanisms so that workers' rights are actually respected. In the three years of our government, we have succeeded in reducing undeclared work in high-deliquency sectors from 19.2% to 12.5%. At the same time, however, we are also moving into areas that generally enhance the operational ability of Labour Inspection, such as our new information system. Finally, I think that a very crucial step was the passage of Law 4488/17 that includes a series of measures against underdeclared, undeclared and unpaid work.
The main opposition and the lenders argue that growth and recovery are conditional on the deregulation and flexibilization of labour. How would you answer that?
Limiting ourselves simply to the concept of growth without setting quality indicators is a major mistake. Growth on what terms and under what social conditions? Since 2010 we have experience a huge process of labour devaluation that brought about purely negative results for the social majority. Actually, the effect was negative even on the competitiveness of the Greek economy. What this political choice has achieved was to further exacerbate social inequality. Therefore, the view that deregulation of labour is necessary for growth can appear correct only from the perspective of the few –it is not so for the social majority.
Could you talk to us about what the negotiations for the third review of the programme for Greece entail as far as labour relations are concerned?
As part of the third review, in the case businesses that have declared bankruptcy, we succeeded in ensuring that, following the auction process, employees will be the first to be compensated, for up to six wages. Up to now banks were the priority and this did not leave any funds for the repayment of accrued salaries. We will also move on to changing the fine for undeclared work. Τhere will be two main changes compared to today. The first is that a proof of infringement will generate employers’ insurance contributions for the employee. The second is that there will be the possibility of reducing the fine if the undeclared worker is hired.
Finally, in the context of the third review by the institutions, there were a number of requirements in relation to the trade union law. The only thing that will eventually change is related to the announcement of a strike by first-level trade unions. In particular, the quorum for the assembly that will vote on the decision to strike is required to be at least half of the members of the union that have fulfilled their financial obligations. From this level above, the decision to strike is taken as today, by simple majority. This change does not apply to first-level trade unions of national or wider range.
Which are the most common labour law violations in Greece? Who are the biggest offenders in terms of sector as well as size (small, medium-size or big businesses)?
While in the previous period, the biggest problem was undeclared work, today we see a shift towards under-declared work. This type of violation refers to declaring as part-time employees that actually work full-time, or to never declaring employees’ overtime work. All types of infringement are found in different sectors. But what is really impressive is the magnitude of violations in big businesses, such as banks. The total amount of fines for under-declared work in banks exceeds two million euros, and on the basis of the recent law, we have suspended operations for three days at a certain bank branch.
In what way are labour relations in Greece different from other European countries? What would you consider the most important change that needs to be implemented in this area in Greece?
The deregulation of labour relations has unfortunately been a common pattern for the whole of Europe. The disintegration phenomena we face today at the EU level, as well as the rise of far-right forces in Europe are directly related to the infringement of a series of established social rights such as labour rights. In this respect, labour protection is central to the nature of the European project and the preservation of democracy. Restoring the two basic principles of collective agreements, i.e. the extension of sectoral agreements and the favorability principle, will be a big positive step. However, coordinated moves by political and social forces across Europe are needed to preserve and expand social and labour rights.
All three memoranda have been catastrophic for labour relations in Greece. Do you see any new prospects opening up with the possible completion of the third economic adjustment program in August 2018?
It is clear that today the completion of the program in August is the prevailing scenario on which we are operating. The fact that the most recent data evidences a steady trend of declining unemployment - it has already dropped by more than 5% - is important news. We know well that we still have a lot of work ahead of us in this area, but it is obvious that things can change. At the same time, the end of the program means re-launching collective bargaining, which is a vital tool in the hands of employees in order to improve both wages and working conditions in general. The reduction of unemployment, combined with the re-regulation of labour relations and the upgrading of control mechanisms can create a completely different framework for labour relations the day after the memorandum.
*Interview by Julia Livaditi
Read also via Greek News Agenda: Restoring labour rights: a pilot project to tackle undeclared labour; Ministry of Labour / ILO initiative aims at reducing undeclared work; Collective Labour Agreements: Regaining the lost ground
Read more about Labour Inspectorate Body Structure and Organization here
A recent draft bill on Sharia law aims to limit its application in Western Thrace, home of a Muslim minority in Greece. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has recently stressed that the bill will address "shortcomings and inequalities affecting the minority population of the country”, while Education Minister Costas Gavroglou has told the relevant parliamentary committee that "the specific legislation is a step towards equality and democracy, within a complex European context and a framework for respecting the Muslim minority in our country".
The draft bill, filed by the ministry of Education, is expected to be tabled in the parliament plenum on Thursday 11.1.2018. According to the new law, family law disputes (divorce, inheritance) for Muslim minority members who have been married in a religious ceremony will from now on be resolved in Greek civil courts, unless both sides in the dispute agree before a lawyer to have their differences resolved through a mufti (interpreter of Sharia law).
Greek News Agenda spoke* with Konstantinos Tsitselikis, Professor at the Department of Balkan, Slavic & Oriental Studies of the University of Macedonia (Thessaloniki, Greece) about the legal status of the Muslim minority in Western Thrace, the obligatory application of the Sharia law and its impact on the lives and human rights of the Greek Muslim communities of the region. Tsitselikis argues that the new law constitutes a positive step that ensures access to civil law, stressing that “minority rights should not infringe fundamental human rights, the pillar of our democracy” and that “Sharia law should be implemented in line with human rights, values and norms.” He adds that dealing only with issues of language and religion, while ignoring the economic factors that exclude large parts of the minority from mainstream Greek society, is not enough to achieve the full integration of the minority populations.
Professor Tsitselikis' main academic interests concern human and minority rights and international law. He has also worked for the Council of Europe, the OSCE, the UN, the EU in human rights and democratisation field missions and has been president of the Hellenic League for Human Rights. In the past years he has conducted research on minority foundations of the Greek Orthodox minority in Turkey and the Muslim minority in Greece.
Would you like to tell us a few words about the legal status of the Muslim minority in Western Thrace? What are the conditions that led to the adoption of the Islamic law and its preservation to date?
At the end of the Greek-Turkish war of 1919-22, the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of the Turkish Republic, the Lausanne Conference adopted measures sanctioned by international law that effectively involved ethnic cleansing in a bid to achieve homogeneous nation-states in Greece and Turkey. The population exchange between the two countries was decided as a counter-weight to the Greek Orthodox population already expelled from Asia Minor. Over 400,000 Muslims of Greece were forced to migrate to Turkey. However, under the Convention of Lausanne (January 1923), the Muslims of Western Thrace were exempted from the population exchange, as were the Greek Orthodox of Istanbul (also the Greeks of the islands of Imvros and Tenedos).
The subsequent Treaty of Lausanne (July 1923) guaranteed special minority rights to the non-Muslim Turkish citizens in Turkey and to the Muslim citizens in Greece who had been exempted from the population exchange. This special legal protection concerns, since 1923, education rights (bilingual minority schools), protection of community properties (waqf/vakif/vakoufia) and religous freedom. Religious freedom regards prayer houses (mosques and mescits), religious functionaries (imams) and religious leaders, the muftis. The three muftis of Thrace also acquired special jurisdiction over family and inheritance matters. The jurisdiction of the mufti to apply Sharia law in Thrace stems from the Treaty of Lausanne (1923). The treaty, which is the cornerstone of minority protection up to date, states in Article 42 Paragraph 1: “The [Greek] government undertakes, as regards [Muslim] minorities in so far as concerns their family law or personal status, measures permitting the settlement of these questions in accordance with the customs of those minorities.”
The legal content of Act 2345 (1920) on the authority and status of the muftis did not change even when the law was replaced by Act 1920 (1991), which retained both the substantive law and the procedure of the 1920 act. Under this regime, the mufti system has survived, albeit with some limitations. Within their areas of jurisdiction, the three current muftis of Thrace (serving Komotini, Xanthi and Didymoteiho) have jurisdiction over family law and inheritance disputes between Muslim Greek citizens. Often the Greek courts consider the mufti’s jurisdiction as exclusive and obligatory and this has negative impact over the Muslims of Thrace.
How did the obligatory application of the Sharia law impact the lives of the Greek Muslim community? Which segments of the population were the most affected?
The obligatory application of Islamic law has taken two forms: When the civil court denies accepting an application filed by a Muslim (in most of the cases lodged by a woman applying for divorce) and remands the case to the mufti; and when the civil court denies applying the civil law on inheritance as regards a public will (overturning thus the wish of a Muslim testator who drafted a will according to the civil code).
Therefore, the most affected segments of population among the minority of Thrace are women and all those who draft a will according to the civil law. In a broader sense anyone, regardless of minority affiliation, can be harmed due to lack of legal certainty: Ownership over inherited properties could be overturned as there are no clear norms on the validity of wills. Lastly, children of divorced parents, who after certain age are always placed under custody of the father, have been largely affected.
What would you answer to the claim that the application of Sharia law is necessary for protecting the minority´s religious rights?
Often, the implementation of Islamic law is considered to be a part of the minority protection system. If this is true, Islamic law should not contradict fundamental human rights that also protect the status of the minority. Minority rights cannot be implementable without the general framework of human rights within which are functional. Therefore, minority rights cannot infringe fundamental human rights, the pillar of our democracy. Sharia law could be implemented in line with human rights, values and norms.
How do you evaluate the changes introduced by the bill? Does it ensure that the Islamic law will be applied only as an exception to the Civil Code and following the expressed will of all parties involved?
The draft bill, which introduces amendments to the law on the muftis, constitutes a positive step towards resolving this 'legal anomaly', and ensuring equal access to civil law. Islamic law will be applicable only when both parties agree on it.
It is worth noting that this change has been triggered by a case adjudicated by the Greek courts and then by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg. The case was pending before the First Section of the European Court since 2014, and was referred to the Grand Chamber: a Greek Muslim in Thrace had drafted a public will according to which his wife would inherit all of his estate. As they did not have any children, after he passed away, his widow acquired the entire estate. The public will was then challenged by the sisters of the deceased, on the grounds that Sharia law -according to which they are heirs on the ¾ of the deceased’s property- should be obligatorily implemented. While the first instance court and the Court of Appeal of Thrace upheld that the public will is valid and Sharia law cannot be implemented without consent, the Supreme Court of Greece upheld the opposite: That Sharia law is the exclusive law applicable on all Muslims of Thrace in the framework of the minority protection law.
The Grand Chamber of the Court of Strasbourg heard the case on the 6th of December 2017; this hearing set off a chain of announced changes of law on the muftis and the Islamic law applicable in Thrace. In November the Prime Minister announced from Komotini, Thrace that the Sharia law will cease to be obligatory and will become voluntary to those who wish to follow it.
Do you believe that in the long run Sharia law should be abolished altogether?
To have Islamic law be a part of the Greek and the European legal system two conditions should be met: First, that there is no infringement on fundamental human rights; second, that the members of the minority are free to choose the one or the other law.
The government is also faced with two options: First, to abolish by law, in a kind of ‘sudden death’, Sharia law and the mufti courts; second, to impose the aforementioned conditions in the application the Islamic law. The government seems to have chosen the second option, and I believe that in the near future only a small percentage of cases will continue to be adjudicated by the mufti: the majority of the members of the minority will opt for civil law. Women will play a significant role in this change, and this will amount to a big step towards their emancipation.
However, Islamic law as applied by the muftis is only one aspect of the problem. The way the muftis are appointed is also an issue that has remained unresolved for many years and needs to be dealt with. It seems that the government is considering opening the door to the election of the muftis by the minority.
What other legislative actions and/or policies do you think would contribute to the further integration and equal treatment of the Muslim minority of Thrace?
The Muslim minority of Thrace should be seen as a segment of the Greek society, not to be subjected to discriminatory treatment or special measures that do not uphold the rule of law. Of course, some special measures are necessary in order to ensure the equal treatment of vulnerable groups like the Muslim minority. However, characteristics such as ethnic and national identity, language and religion are not the only ones that define the minority today.
Social exclusion and poverty shape the canvas on which minority characteristics are developed. Treating only language and religion and ignoring the economic factors that exclude large parts of the minority from the mainstream Greek society does not help integration. In order to achieve integration we have to reach acceptance of the “other” as well as to guarantee equal opportunities for all, without barriers on religious and national identities.
*Interview by Ioulia Livaditi
Read more Konstantinos Tsitselikis papers here. Read more about Konstantinos Tsitselikis book on Old and New Islam in Greece - From Historical Minorities to Immigrant Newcomers (Leiden/Boston, 2012).
See also: Ministry of Foreign Affairs - Issues of Greek - Turkish Relations; Major International Treaties Concerning Greece; The Economist: Greece prepares to do away with compulsory sharia in Western Thrace
Simos Korexenidis' documentary “Teriade” is referring to the life and work, of the Lesvos island born Stratis Eleftheriadis - Teriade (1897 - 1983), Art critic and Art book publisher, who topped the artistic life of France from 1920’s up to 1960’s. At a time that the so called “modern art”, was at its beginning, Tériade was tightly connected with its establishers and pioneers. This collaboration was active and definite and included well established editors of the time, such Christian Zervos, Albert Skira, Maurice Reynal etc. In addition to his active participation in the domain of editing as an art critic, Tériade started publishing art books and magazines that drew worldwide attention and reputation, because of their originality and unique quality. In 1937 Tériade established the publishing house "Verve", publishing mainly the magazine with the same name (“Verve: The French Review of Art”). It published 38 issues from 1937 to 1960.
So brilliant was the outcome, that the official French state organized an "Hommage a Tériade", in the series of great retrospective exhibitions, at the Grand Palais (1973). It is the same exhibition that nowadays is permanently settled in the museum bearing the name of its donator: Stratis Eleftheriadis-Tériade built right beside the fatherly house in Mytilene, Lesvos island. Tériade also promoted the naive painter Theophilos and provided him with the means and the financial ability to paint. With the donation of the “Theophilos” museum as well as the “Tériade” museum-library and their priceless collections, he has created in Mytilene, his homeland, a unique spot of culture.
In the documentary important professionals from the art world talk about Teriade, among others Katerina Koskina (Director of the Athens-based National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST), Marina Lambraki Plaka (Director of the Greek National Gallery), Katina Charalabidi (Director of Teriade Foundation), and Kostas Maniatopoulos (painter/Director of Museum-Library Teriade).
The documentary was and will be presented in many different Festivals and spaces, such the National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST), Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki, the 31 Griechische Filmwoche Festival in Munich, and the 4th Free Flying Festival in Brussels.
When was your first acquaintance with Tériade? What prompted you to create the documentary?
An article in the local newspaper "Politika Lesvos" by my friend Varvara Gigilini, describing the financial difficulties and the negligence of the two museums, was the origin of this documentary. What we wanted to do, almost eight years ago, was something short, a five-minute video, to make the municipal authorities of Lesbos and the State aware of the museums Theophilos and the Museum-Library Teriade.
But as our research grew, the more we discovered this wonderful and intelligent person, and that's why we made the decision to do something longer and more elaborate. So we started our documentary and we have come a long way to get to the end of this effort. And all this in the heart of the crisis that has multiplied our difficulties even if the encouraging words and "bravos" were everywhere. By the end, six years had passed, and that’s a lot for such a project. However, it is clear that they do not all share your interest, your love or your dream if you will, and this is known. We said that we should try to highlight the great contribution of this man to his homeland. People of a certain socio-political status and "interested" collaborators have just seen in all this an occasion for the use of the name of Tériade and any future financial gain that would result. We put them aside and we went ahead.
The road was not easy. I often said that I would drop everything. Fatigue, constant researching, a lot of reading and frustration, conciliating with uninterested people, but also stagnation. We managed to finish it and attend the first presentation at the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival. Great joy without a doubt and in my case a personal and redemptive victory. A very important thing for a man to whom we owe a lot. It was worth it.
What are the main axes of Tériade’s history that you supported in the creation of the film? What aspects of his life did you most want to depict?
His own life determined my central axis, since I wanted to make a personal and artistic portrait of Tériade, that is to say, by watching the documentary, that someone could understand who this man was.
The choice of the people who spoke in the documentary - and I'm very happy with everyone's participation - was exactly what I wanted to show. Friends and acquaintances talk about personal moments revealing elements of his character and details of his daily life, art critics, artists, museum directors and museologists can refer to his artistic and editorial work and its meaning.
Tériade is a very important figure in the cultural history of Greece, and it is scandalous that this man, so famous and honored throughout the world, is so absent even today from his homeland. Even though he was a renowned art critic and publisher of art magazines (Verve, Minotaur).
And even he was the man who promoted our folk painter Theophilos ... It should be noted that Tériade was friends with Picasso, Matisse, Miro, Chagal, Jiacometti, Léger, Juan Gris, Corbusier, Georges Rouault, Braque, Elytis, Eluard, Millau, Tsarouchis, NH Ghikas, Venezis, Laurens, Breson, Bonnard, Villon, Brassai and some of the biggest names in literature have written in his magazines such as Joyce, Lorca, Hemingway. Moreover, he was honored by the French Academy as "Knight of the Arts" and he founded and gave as a gift two museums in Lesvos, namely the Museum "Théophilos" and the one named "Museum-Library Tériade ".
Secondly, the fact that he loved art with passion and that, with his ancestral education, he was able to integrate Greek and European philosophy into his work. Stratis Eleftheriadis Teriade was an extremely smart man. I would have liked to be present when he was talking with Picasso, or my favorite, Miro, with Coco Chanel, with Lorca, with Henry Cartier Bresson or with his friend psychiatrist Angelos Katakousinos, where a sample of conversation, for example, could even be a sentence from Elytis's letter to Tériade, who writes: "Prizes - if you put aside the material side - are sometimes forgotten. What remains is the piece you could incorporate into the tradition of your country and your people.”
Or when Tériade says elsewhere: "The man who speaks about the art of his time, the art in progress, painstakingly traces his track, a dark or authentic track, between the magnificent power of divination and his fragile business spirit. Well, who wouldn’t want to be lucky enough to participate in the exchange of such thoughts?
In general, how do you see contemporary documentary production in Greece? Do you think there is a change towards this genre, and if so, why?
Yes, of course, there is a great blooming in documentary production, because digital cameras are now so easy and economical that you can always have a small camera that gives you a nice picture and good sound to develop a theme and an idea.
Certainly, there will be friends to help. After a laptop, go to the editing then, depending on your financial situation, you negotiate for a more professional product, let’s say. There are also many more places where documentaries can be screened. Not only public television (private television has never been interested in culture), it is subscription-TV channels and the Internet that provide easy access to information even from mobile phones.
Greek cinema is finding its way to festivals and international events in recent years. Why do you think this is happening?
I will answer with a statement by Teriade: "Verve (the magazine) was born in December 1937. In times of agony, such things happen, when there are big crises, when we are really desperate and we do have nothing to lose, or rather, we are afraid that everything will be lost while waiting for disaster ... Then at this precise moment everyone is able to act, even to act with passion."
This anguish we see as people and as a people, I think it crosses our films and our documentaries, where other peoples can easily or inductively recognize their own questions or global issues. Moreover, everything that is deeply personal is global at the same time. I am very happy that my friends and colleagues find the way and show their work at international festivals (and the corresponding market accordingly) and thus show a sample of our culture. I hope and I expect to see "Teriade" in Paris. It would be a great honor and a real pleasure.
*Interview by Magdalini Varoucha. Translation by Nicole Stellos
In 2017, Greek News Agenda published more than 100 interviews, as part of our contribution to an ongoing dialogue about political, economic, social and cultural developments in Greece. As the economic crisis becomes part of the country’s collective history, our interviews aim at highlighting Greece’s potential and contradictions, comparative advantages and weaknesses.
The interviews are sorted by six categories: ‘Rethinking Greece’ features interviews with academics and public intellectuals on Greek historical and political debates; ‘Reading Greece’ features interviews with Greek writers, poets and other stakeholders of the Greek book market; while ‘Quo Vadis Europa?’ examines what lies ahead for the European Union [mainly] from a Greek point of view. Our other categories are ‘Government and Policy’, Filming Greece and Arts in Greece.