Nicolas Leron is associate researcher at the Center of European Studies for Political Science, is president of the think tank EuroCité and president of the site of critics Nonfiction. He has just published "La Double démocratie. Une Europe politique pour la croissance" (Double Democracy. A Political Europe for Growth), co-written with economist Michel Aglietta. He spoke to our sister publication Grèce Hebdo* on the concept of "double democracy", the rupture between sovereignty and the single currency and Europe's to take a democratic and budgetary leap forwards in order to become a fully-fledged democratic power.
You recently wrote a book titled "Double Democracy: A political Europe for growth" with Michel Aglietta. What is the concept double democracy?
Double democracy is a reform proposal in order to overcome the European crisis, it is not an analysis of the current state of Europe. Right now the European Union is not a democracy. This does not mean that it is anti-democratic. The EU is an area of protection of fundamental rights; nothing like it exists anywhere else in the world. Respect of the rule of law is ensured by the European Court of Justice. However, the EU does not fulfill the criteria of a democracy, namely, voting on the budget by an elected parliament. The EU certainly has a budget, but it is a technical budget, a miserable 1% of the EU GDP, well below the threshold of political significance. In a democracy, before even thinking about the demos, there must be a kratos. The EU has no kratos, no political budget, no real res publica, no legitimate democratic power, other than a legal system. It is essentially a Europe of regulations, complemented by some sectoral and territorial policies.
But the Europe of regulations has an effect on national democracies: it stifles them. More than that, the EU, with its internal market law and its budgetary rules, is significantly reducing the budgetary powers of national parliaments, thereby striking at the heart of national democracies. This reduction of is qualitative: it forces national governments to implement, whether they want to or not, a supply-side policy or even, for the euro area countries, an internal devaluation policy. It is also quantitative, due to European budgetary rules. Citizen-voters no longer accept this feeling of dispossession of their political power and they start directly opposing the EU and even tend to distrust the democratic regime.
Faced with this, there are roughly four possible routes. The first one is the “status quo” route or the small steps method. We keep advancing slowly, step by step, by shaky, insufficient compromises. In our opinion, this option leads to a no way out, because it ultimately cannot stem the rising wave of populism and counter-centrifugal forces. The second option is exiting the EU or the euro zone. We consider this option illusory and contrary to the new world order that is emerging. A variant of this option is internal secession, in the sense of deviation from the constituent European values, like what is happening now in Hungary or Poland. The possible outcome of this route is not of a voluntary exit of the EU, but the country’s exclusion by means of removal from the European project. The third way is the great federal leap, which we consider equally illusory and inapplicable in the foreseeable political future. In this respect, it should be noted that the federal leap and the exit from the EU are two sides of the same coin: an obsession with sovereignty. Federalists advocate a transfer of sovereignty from member states to the EU, while nationalists aspire to a full recovery of national sovereignty. Illusion in one case as well as in the other.
The fourth path, which is the one that Michel Aglietta and I are defending, is the democratic leap: making the EU a legitimate democratic power, producing common goods, and reviving national democracies by loosening the European regulatory grip. This double democracy requires a European budget leap. Conceptually, this democratic leap refers to the question of capacity (budget, public political power, democracy), and not to the one of competence (law, sovereignty). An example: the EU has the competence to implement the Erasmus student exchange Programme, because Erasmus concerns less than 1% of European youth. The challenge is therefore not EU's competence in this area, but its ability to generalize Erasmus so that 50% or 80% of youngster are be able to do it, and thus transform European society.
You have said that there is a rupture between sovereignty and the single currency. Could you tell us more about this?
The Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) ruptured the organic link between the political sovereign and the currency. The euro is no longer linked to a clearly identified political sovereign. As a result, the euro is for the member-states like a foreign currency, with the dramatic consequence that they cannot go into default. Indeed, the euro area states cannot monetize their public debt. They no longer have the competence of the lender of last resort. But as nature abhors vacuum, the European crisis has forced the European Central Bank (ECB) to institute itself as lender of last resort, as a monetary sovereign in order to save the euro zone, by departing if necessary from the letter of its given mandate. But this modus vivendi is without a doubt untenable in the long run. A clear mechanism of lender of last resort will have to be established.
What would you say to all those who support the return to the national currency?
On the economic front, the shock would probably be much more violent and costly than the expected positive effects for both the exiting member-state and the rest of the euro area. The Greeks know this and, so far, they do not want to leave the eurozone. Apart from Wolfgang Schaüble, few top European leaders are in favor of even a temporary exit of Greece from the Eurozone. Creating such a precedent would indeed be extremely perilous. There will always be a relatively weak state within the eurozone, and therefore a member-state susceptible to speculative attacks.
More fundamentally, money is more than just a financing instrument. It is a constituent element of a political community. It is a decisive factor in building a society. To abandon the single currency is to undermine the political aspect of the European project. And to what benefit? Let us note that the United Kingdom was not in the eurozone and still the British voted in favor of Brexit". The single currency was a founding political act. But by breaking the organic link between the sovereign and currency, we are now in need of another founding act, which could be the aforementioned a European budget leap.
Isn’t the formation of a European Parliament with genuine budgetary policies a utopia, given that currently the European extreme right is making progress and the European political establishment has always shied away from that option?
The creation of the common market was a utopia, as was the establishment of the euro. History proves that such founding acts are possible, on the condition that political actors understand that they operate within an evolving a historical context. It is the only way out of the trap of short-termism, the “tragedy of the horizon”. This requires a new historic and geopolitical compromise between Germany and France. It is said that Germany will never debt mutualisation. But would Germany be willing to destroy the EU?
The challenge is to forge a new paradigm in understanding European political and historical realities. This is what our book is about. Relocate the terms of the problem. The issue of the European budget resonates, as we can see European Parliament Resolution on budgetary capacity for the euro area and the Monti report. Many think tanks are also working on the subject. But the important thing is to ask the question of the European budget: it is not just a tool for macroeconomic stabilization of a sub-optimal monetary zone. It is first of all, the constituent element of a political Europe. Therefore the budgetary leap is not a hypothetical future in the path to European integration, but a prerequisite, a starting point, a founding act.
What lessons can be drawn from the European management of the Greek crisis?
That the “small steps” method is now over, in that it has an ever-increasing cost, to ever-declining and precarious results. The third Greek adjustment programme is not yet complete, and we are already talking about a fourth. To use the phrase of the German academic Wolfgang Streeck: We are buying time at an increasingly prohibitive cost. This is simply not sustainable, either economically or politically. The very nature of the situation calls, sooner or later, for a definite response: exit / implosion of the euro area or debt mutualisation and wealth transfers, that is to say the choice between a Europe of dissatisfaction, the primary characteristic of which is the over-juridification of relations between member-states, with its share of humiliations and deadlocs, or Europe as a genuine democratic public power that creates common good.
It should be noted that a union of transfers already exists: it is called the internal market and it manages massive flows of wealth (capital, industry, technology, human resources, etc.) between member-states, but it does so according to the principle of competition between private interests, and this generates a dynamic aggregation of wealth in only one center, say Germany and the German bloc. A Europe of democratic political power is intended to institute a counter-union of transfers by distributing wealth according to a reverse, centrifugal dynamic, from the center to the periphery (territorial and social), according to the principle of electoral contest for the definition of general interest.
*Interview to Costas Mavroidis, translated by Ioulia Livaditi.
Ioannis Pappos is a management consultant and writer from Pelio, Greece. He is a graduate of Stanford University and INSEAD Business School, and has worked in both the U.S. and Europe. He contributes to blogs and magazines. Hotel Living [HarperCollins Publishers, 2015] (finalist for Lambda and Edmund White Debut Fiction awards) is his first novel. He lives in New York City.
Ioannis Pappos spoke to Reading Greece* about the story behind Hotel Living noting that it is “a story of excess and unhappiness, part of the culture of the previous decade in New York City and other megatowns” where the book is plotted out. Asked about how the American society has changed since the book was written, he comments that although “the States were an example of common commitments and efforts; not an example of isolation”, “the last decades had some detours” and “right now we are at the brink of the most dangerous political order I have witnessed in a democratic society, both internally and externally”.
He also comments on how the emergence in American literature of important writers who live in the US as first generation immigrants has helped reduce the objectification of minorities, thus helping pluralism, he notes that literature should not have an agenda and concludes that although we have great Greek writers, both new and older, the biggest barrier in Greek literature flying abroad is “the lack of quality editing”, the fact that no real book-doctoring is done in our books.
Michael Cunningham characterized Hotel Living as The Great Gatsby of our era while, as Edmund White eloquently put it, “if Trollope were alive today and he wanted to write The Way We Live Now about New York’s élite consultants, he would have written Hotel Living”. What’s the story behind the book? Are there autobiographical elements in it?
I wrote Hotel Living during a period that I was rather confused; personally and professionally. I needed, somehow, to reboot, and I started writing a diary. Soon I realized that a deeper story was haunting me; dazzling and dark at once. It was a story of excess and unhappiness, part of the culture of the previous decade in New York City and in other megatowns where Hotel Living is plotted out. I believe that that was what Michael Cunningham and Edmund White read in my novel. Thus the comparison with F. Scott Fitzgerald. Was my novel autobiographical? Obviously I am not Stathis Rakis—the protagonist in Hotel Living. Having said that, it’s also a very real novel: I lived those characters. I had to be them while writing, had to go there.
You have characterized Hotel Living as one of the “first post-gay novels” to be written and yourself as a “transient writer”. Could you elaborate on both?
The characters in Hotel Living are simply sexual. They are neither hetero-, nor homo-sexual. Sexuality, as simplistically as sometimes we define it, is not relevant in my book. People fall for people, not in a leveled bisexual way, but in a ‘character’ way. One of the most beautiful scenes in the book is where sex is offered out of love within a friendship. On the other end, sex is also used as a weapon to conquer. Fucking an alpha male can be about power and control.
Why I called, call myself transient writer? I am transient as long as I am still figuring things out. I have friends writers. Born to do that. Period. For me, I don’t know. I come from the white-collar side of the woods. I write now. I am hooked to writing, it is very addictive, but I’ve gotten rid of many addictions before. I don’t know exactly where I am going. And that makes life a touch more interesting. We’ll see.
Would you say that the book a fictional account οf the business world in the pro-crisis period? How has the American society changed since then? Are there any similarities to be drawn with the Greek crisis?
Hotel Living includes a fictional account of the business world in the ’00s. As I said, it is a ‘real’ novel. I wanted the reader to be in the boardroom with those executives, and experience things played out as unedited as possible. Where are we now? Well, of course the American society (corporate and beyond) keeps changing. When I grew up in Greece, the American model was not one of parity (the disillusionment of merit), not one of equal rights (we are still working there) but there was pride in being an American. There was goodwill, some shared optimism towards a bettering direction, part of the values of all the people with the will and skill and charge to go West and make it, and lead by example.
America was leading by example—at least some of the world. John Wayne and Joan Didion were not paving the path for the cowboy capitalists. The States were an example of common commitments and efforts; not an example of isolation. The last decades had some detours (and the period of Hotel Living is one of those scary turns) but right now we are at the brink of the most dangerous political order I have witnessed in a democratic society, both internally and externally. Greece may be broke and broken, but Greece is not mean.
In recent years, the American literature has seen the emergence of important writers who live in the US as first generation immigrants, as is the case of Junot Diaz and Justin Torres. Would you say that the particularities of origin and language are conducive to the creation of a distinct literary style?
I am not sure if it is a distinct literary style per se, but it definitely helped pluralism, and the de-exoticizing of the immigrant voice. Diaz and Torres—I love their writing—, to me, they reduce the objectification of minorities, thus add to real pluralism. And that is very American.
“Greekness takes a lot of shapes, colors and sizes and it’s not really the cookie-cutter mold that many here in America believe it to be— language, faith, baklava”, as Gregory Pappas aptly put it. Could literature be used to debunk stereotypes about Greek national identity and mentality?
Literature is literature. Should not have an agenda. Literature has side effects and consequences—your previous question—but using literature to debunk anything has a Soviet connotation to me. I’ll never do it. Don’t do it.
“I am inspired by young Greeks. Especially by the generation molded during the crisis. They have a stoicism that contains an incredible beauty…” What about the new generation of Greek writers? Could they make Greek literature appealing anew to foreign readers?
As we covered, I’m a “transient” writer. So, expressing an opinion on other writers, or giving advice, is something challenging to me. I read Greek writers, and we have great writers, new and older. The biggest barrier I see in our writing flying abroad is the lack of quality editing. I don’t see real book-doctoring done in our books. We have raw talent, and then some, and yet simple technical stuff—say, arcs, character development, appropriate show vs. tell—are painfully missing. Call me a traditionalist, but I like a novel to have a beginning, a middle and (a clear) end.
*Interview by Athina Rossoglou
Dimitris Keridis is a Professor of International Politics at Panteion University of Athens. He is a senior advisor at Konstantinos G. Karamanlis Foundation and deputy director of the Institute of International Relations in Athens. Since 2002 he has been directing the annual Olympia Summer Academy in Politics and International Studies and since 2009 the Navarino Network, a public policy think-tank based in Thessaloniki.
He has been Constantine Karamanlis Associate Professor in Hellenic and European Studies at the Fletcher School, Tufts University, director of the Kokkalis Foundation in Athens as well as head of the Kokkalis Program at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.
Professor Keridis’ latest book in English is “The Historical Dictionary of Modern Greece”, to be reprinted and updated. His recent books in Greek include a monograph on “Nationalism, Ethnic Conflicts and International Relations: Theory and Practice in the Balkans” and “Constantine G. Karamanlis and the Foreign Press”. Author of many articles in Greek and English, Dimitris Keridis is also a regular TV political commentator.
Greek News Agenda* asked Professor Keridis to comment on the Europe of different speeds concept, the influence of upcoming elections in European countries on the current negotiations concerning the review of the Greek adjustment programme, as well as to evaluate Greece’s Course in the EU, the Greek exceptionalism discourse, and the impact of Brexit and the Trump Presidency on the European project:
20 years ago Wolfgang Schaeuble proposed a Europe of different speeds. According to some observers, this European core vs. European periphery reasoning reemerges on the agenda of certain policy actors. Would you like to comment on this approach?
Europe has accepted this logic a long time ago. After all, some EU countries decided to stay out of the EMU or the Schengen system. The current difficulties faced by the periphery of Southern Europe reinforce this logic. However, it is something easier said than done: the key country in this discussion is obviously Italy. Until now, Italy was a committed euro-federalist and the country was too big to be ignored from the inner circle. With Italy in, there is no point talking about excluding other laggards, i.e. Greece. The problem will arise when Italy itself stops being a committed euro-federalist and opts out. This will provide the opening to the North for a more exclusive inner circle without Greece and others.
2017 will be a critical year, with elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany. How does this fact influence the current negotiations over the review of the Greek adjustment programme and Greek/European debt management in general?
And in Italy, in all likelihood. The Greek public debt has the peculiarity of being mostly owed to states rather than to private financiers. As a result, the issue of the Greek debt is highly politicized and the resolution of the Greek crisis passes through the politics of Greece’s EU partners and creditors. Western politics in general and the politics of most EU countries in particular are going through a populist-nationalist phase, as a result of the 2008 economic crisis, that makes the resolution of the Greek problem harder as the support for more help to Greece diminishes. There is some hope for Europeanists in the face of Schulz and Macron but there are many more dark clouds on the horizon.
How do you evaluate Greece’s course in the EU so far? What is your opinion about the Greek exceptionalism discourse?
Greece has benefited enormously from the EU. However, the EU is no panacea for Greece’s underdevelopment. For example, in the period between 1950-1980 Greece’s growth rate was 5% annually. Since 1980, during the period of Greece’s membership in the EU, the rate dropped to 1%. There must be an open and honest discussion of what went wrong during the last 35 years.
I am not a big believer in cultural exceptionalism; the reason for Greece’s falling behind has more to do with specific policy choices and political decisions that can and should be reversed. The “exceptionalism” discourse absolves the political class and the Greek voter of their responsibility. And by the way, all Greeks are not the same: there were 40%, not a small number, who, despite all the propaganda and misinformation, voted “yes” in the referendum. They and many more want a normal, unexceptional Greece.
Do you think the new Trump administration and Brexit are going to influence the European project and / or issues of security in South East Europe?
Yes and not in a positive way. However, Brexit was an accident waiting to happen. The unity or disunity of the EU will partially depend on the future course of Britain outside the EU. If Britain suffers, the EU will draw closer together.
Trump has sent a lot of wrong signals although his ministers of defense and foreign affairs seem to be more traditionalist in their support for wanting a united Europe. The security of Southeastern Europe seems to be on the back burner of America’s attention as the new administration seems obsessed with Islam and the Middle East on the one hand and economic protectionism and Mexico and China on the other.
* interview by Florentia Kiortsi
Dimitris Sotakis was born in Athens in 1973. He has published eight novels: H ιστορία ενός σούπερ μάρκετ [Τhe Story of a Super Market] (Kedros Eds., 2015), Η ανάσταση του Μάικλ Τζάκσον [The Resurrection of Michael Jackson] (Kedros Eds., 2014), Ο θάνατος των ανθρώπων [The Death of Humans] (Kedros Eds., 2012), Το θαύμα της αναπνοής [The Miracle of Breathing] (Kedros Eds., 2009), O άνθρωπος καλαμπόκι [The Corn Man] (Kedros Eds., 2007), Η παραφωνία [Dissonance] (Kedros Eds., 2005), Η πράσινη πόρτα [The Greek Door] (Metaixmio Eds., 2002), Το σπίτι [The House] (Kastaniotis Eds., 1997) and one collection of short stories: Έντεκα ερωτικοί θάνατοι [Eleven Love Deaths] (Metaixmio Eds., 2004).
His novel The Miracle of Breathing won the award for Best Novel at the Athens Prize for Literature and was shortlisted both for the European Excellence Award for Literature and the Jean Monnet Prize in France. It was published in France, Serbia, Italy, Taiwan, FYROM and Turkey. His most recent novel The Story of a Super Market was recently translated into French by Editions Intervalles under the title Comment devenir propriétaire d’un supermarché sur une île déserte.
Dimitris Sotakis spoke to Reading Greece* about his latest novel which tells the story of a journalist from New Zealand, who, when he finds himself shipwrecked on an unknown desert island, decides to build a super market in a personal adventure with surreal consequences. He explains that the "themes of the grotesque, hyperbole and bluster" which permeate his writing “have the ultimate aim of demonstrating the existential anguish about life of modern man and our perpetual desire to conquer a life that we never had”, noting that his books “are about cries that have turned into stories”.
Asked about what makes Greek literature appealing to foreign readers, he comments that “foreign publishers have, until recently, been interested in some more folkloristic parameters of Greek literature and of course in the Greek crisis”. He explains that he doesn’t believe in “generations of writers” since “literature is a very personal matter” and concludes that he is very optimistic that “the immediate future has some great Greek novels in store for us”.
Your latest novel The Story of a Super Market has just been translated into French. Tell us a few things about the book.
The book tells the story of Robert Man, a journalist from New Zealand who, during a business trip, finds himself shipwrecked on an unknown desert island, in the middle of nowhere. There, all alone, instead of sinking into despair, he -all of a sudden- finds his real self and decides to build a Super Market. Equipped with the imagination and the desire to climb the social ladder, a personal adventure begins with unexpected, surreal consequences. The publication of the book in France is a wonderful thing for me; this is actually my second book being published there, following that of The Miracle of Breathing three years ago.
The paradox and the absurd seem to permeate most of your books. What purpose do they serve?
The paradox for me is a stylistic vehicle, with which I can 'travel' more safely towards the worlds I create by writing. Reality, as a given condition, never fascinated me; after all, I write to escape from reality, this is my main predisposition. The themes of the grotesque, hyperbole and bluster in my stories, however, have the ultimate aim of demonstrating the existential anguish about life of modern man and our perpetual desire to conquer a life that we never had. The core of my books is all of us, you and me, and how we’re actually striving to lead this personal vehicle, our own lives.
How has the way you perceive literature evolved in the course of twenty years of writing? And what has been the effect on your personal way of writing?
When I started writing, I just wanted to narrate stories, to exist as someone who would give shape to a bunch of people, who would “give birth” to them as in flesh and blood. Yet, as time went by, that just wasn’t enough. Gradually, by discovering my personal style, I longed to add my personal touch, to talk about life as I myself understand it, as well as about my anguish for everything that happens to us till the moment of our death. In essence, my books are about cries that have turned into stories. Instead of saying something directly, I do so by writing a novel, in my loneliness. My life has changed due to my books; I consider it only natural after all these years. What I need for sure now is a good psychiatrist.
You have recently said that nowadays “writers seem to lead a life, basically electronic, denying their fundamental role, the quest, the deviation, the existential anxiety, the wonder”. Could you elaborate on that?
It’s something I find quite troubling. I reckon that we have largely come to lead a secluded life; an almost autistic, self-indulgent, life. Modern man and of course fellow writers now live so alone, circled by a technological armory but away from literary groups, great friendships, confrontations and the spark that only personal contact can ignite. We have, in a way, become invisible; what we usually tend to see is our reflection or a reproduction of our reflection in the electronic media. I would be delighted if this new reality gradually moved to something more mentally healthy.
The Miracle of Breathing has been translated in various languages and was shortlisted both for the European Excellence Award for Literature and the Jean Monnet Prize. How does it feel for a Greek writer to be translated abroad? What is it that makes Greek literature appealing to foreign readers?
Thepublication of my books outside Greece generates in me an almost metaphysical feeling. The fact that I write a book confined in my room, which is later read by some people in China, is actually an indescribable feeling. The Miracle of Breathing is and continues to be doing well in many countries and the same goes now with The Story of a Super Market. Undoubtedly it’s a very important moment for me and I truly thank all my readers, in whichever part of the world they may be.
Yet, foreign publishers have, until recently, been interested in some more folkloristic parameters of Greek literature and of course in the Greek crisis. I don’t belong to either of the two categories. Inevitably I write as a Greek, but I do not solely address “Greek issues”; I am more interested in the people living on this planet.
Having been part of the Athens Prize for Literature committee, what do you consider to be the potential and prospects of the new generation of Greek writers?
I don’t believe in generations of writers. I reckon that literature is a very personal matter. Yet, there is no denying that people living in specific lengths and widths of space-time, share similar images of the world. I look forward to good Greek books, books that will instill in me the so wonderful feeling of reading bliss. In the last few years, we had difficulty – in the Athens Prize for Literature committee – tracking down truly good books and we were fortunate enough to trace some very notable ones. I am very optimistic that the immediate future has some great Greek novels in store for us.
*Interview by Athina Rossoglou
Christos Papatheodorou is Professor of Social Policy, Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences, Athens. He holds a PhD from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). He has been Dean of the School of Social, Political and Economic Sciences, and Professor of Social Policy at the Department of Social Administration and Political Science, Democritus University of Thrace. He is a founding member of the Hellenic Social Policy Association and has been head of the Research Unit “Social Policy, Poverty and Inequalities”, Labor Institute, Greek General Confederation of Labour (2010-2016).
Professor Papatheodorou research interests are in the fields of political economy of social policy, economic inequality, poverty, macroeconomic environment and social protection, functional and personal distribution of income. His publications include “Child Poverty, Youth(Un)Employment and Social Inclusion” (2016) “Dismantling the feeble social protection system of Greece: Crisis and austerity measures consequences” (2016), “Economic crisis, poverty and deprivation in Greece. The impact of neoliberal remedies” (2015), “Inequality, poverty and economic crisis in Greece and the EU" (2013)“The contribution of social protection system in economic growth” (2012), Structure and trends in economic inequality and poverty in Greece and EU, 1995-2008" (2010) and "Poverty and Social Deprivation in the Mediterranean Area: Trends, policies and welfare prospects in the new millennium" (2006).
Christos Papatheodorou spoke with Rethinking Greece* about the “moral hazard” hypothesis that accompanies public discourse on the Greek crisis and how it legitimizes austerity measures that have immense impact on poverty and standard of living. He stresses that according to data Greeks work more hours and at the same time have one of the highest poverty rates in Europe. He also discusses determining factors of inequality and poverty levels in Europe underlying the role of its varying social protection systems and pointing out that social expenditure should be perceived as a contributor not to economic crisis but to its solution.
Papatheodorou refers to a shift of the social policy in Greece toward alleviation of “extreme poverty” (instead of promoting total social welfare) which is caused by the introduction of Guaranteed Minimum Income schemes inspired by neoliberal thought and practices. He concludes that these policies lead to a systematic shift of the Greek social protection system towards a liberal one (as opposed to social-democratic and corporatist models) that has "proved less efficient in utilizing and administrating social resources for alleviating poverty and inequality and for promoting peoples’ well-being.":
“Greeks are lazy” has been a common stereotype in the mainstream media - especially in Germany, associated with a general view of Greece as an exception from the European canon. Would you like to comment on this?
We have to bear in mind that in order to strengthen neoliberal perspectives in administrating modern economies and societies, the current economic crisis was presented by dominant rhetoric not as a global issue but rather as a problem of individual countries reflecting their own imbalances and weaknesses. Thus, public discourse at a national and international level presented the Greek crisis as an isolated incident, not connected with the global economic crisis. Greeks were portrayed as responsible for this crisis, and as having had enjoyed high consumption and standard of livings well beyond their meansduring the pre-crisis period. Within this rhetoric, Greeks were also accused for being lazy, for working less hard than other Europeans, and for being supported by a generous social protection system. Furthermore, under the mainstream hypothesis of “moral hazard”, Greeks had to be penalised in order not to repeat the same mistakes. With the large support of the media and despite the lack of any empirical plausibility, these views were widely reproduced and dominated public debate and official rhetoric in Greece and abroad, contributing in legitimising austerity measures that have been implemented as the remedy to reduce the huge public debt, and to cure economic crisis.
The myth that Greeks are lazy is easy to be busted by referring to Eurostat’s official data that provide a totally different picture. The average hours that Greeks work per week in their main jobs are significantly higher than the corresponding average figure for the EU-15 and EU-27 countries. Thus in 2008 and 2015, that is before and after the impact of economic crisis to Greek economy, Greeks worked on average more than 42 hours weekly in their main jobs. This is significantly higher than the corresponding figure of any other EU countryas well as the average figures for the total EU, which is 37 hours. Compared to the other Europeans, Greeks work more hours and have one of the highest poverty rates in Europe.
What is the social impact of the economic crisis and its subsequent austerity measures in Greece? Can you refer to some data on poverty and the level of living in the country?
To answer this question it is crucial to paint the picture of the country before and after the effect of economic crisis and of the implementation of the austerity measures. As I mentioned before, one of the most popular myths that is largely reproduced by media, politicians and policy makers at national and international level is that Greeks before the onset of the crisis had enjoyed a high standard of living. Even recently, Poul Thomsen, the Director of the IMF’s European Department, mentioned that the Greeks are as wealthy as the Germans. According to the Eurostat’s official evidence and the broadly used poverty threshold of the 60% of average equivalent disposable national income, since the mid-1990s (where comparable estimates for EU countries are available), poverty rates in Greece were at 20%-22%, well above the corresponding figures for total EU-15 and EU-28 that were at 16%-17%. Even more, for the period before the onset of the economic crisis (1995-2009), Greece had on average the highest relative poverty risk among all the EU-15 countries. However, these estimates are based on poverty lines defined at a national level and therefore are not proper in picturing the true differences in living standard between EU countries.
As we have shown in other studies, when the comparison is based on a common to all EU countries poverty line, the real differences in living standards between Greece and the rest of Europe become clearer. Thus, comparable estimates of poverty rates in the EU, based on the Danish poverty line and taking into account differences in purchasing power, shows that in 2009, before the onset of the economic crisis, 39% of the Greeks had similar low level of livings to those of the poorest 17% of German, 13% of Danish or 10% of Dutch. Therefore, even before the economic crisis affected Greek economy, there were huge differences in poverty levels and in standard of livings between Greece and most of the other EU-15 countries.
The economic crisis and the austerity measures that were implemented since 2010 have a devastating effect on poverty and the level of livings of the Greek population. The most recent available data for people’s incomes are those of the 2015 surveys that refer to 2014 incomes. The Eurostat’s data shows that relative poverty rates increased from 20% in 2009 to 23.1% in 2012. However, this poverty index is not the most appropriate one for capturing the worsening of the level of livings during this period, as it is calculated as a percentage of national median income and thus it is affected by changes in the incomes of those in the middle of the distribution. Indeed, between 2009 and 2014, median income and consequently poverty line in Greece has reduced by 37%. This is also indicative of the effect of crisis and of austerity measures on people’s incomes and particularly on middle income groups. More revealing are the estimates based on a poverty threshold anchored at a fixed moment in time. These are estimates of poverty risk using the same poverty threshold of a particular base year, adjusted for inflation and differences in purchasing power. Estimates of poverty risk based on the 60% of the median equivalised disposable income of 2007 (2008 survey) shows that poverty rate increased from 18% in 2009 to 49% in 2013. In other words, half of the Greek population in 2013 had similar low standard of livings as the 18% of the poorest population in 2009. This indicates the devastating effect of the crisis and of the austerity measures on people’s poverty in only 4 years.
It is also worth mentioning that in just one year (2010-2011) the proportion of the population that were living below the 2007’s poverty threshold increased by 11 percentage units. This is the year when the austerity policies were introduced following the three party memorandum agreement signed by the Greek Government and the Troika (EC, ECB and IMF). Since the introduction of austerity measures, dramatic was also the increase in material deprivation. This is an alternative to income poverty index that measures people’s inability to afford a number of items and expenses, necessary for maintaining a certain level of livings. People are considered materially deprived if they cannot afford three or more of nine items and expenses. Those materially deprived in Greece rose to 41% of the total population in 2015 from 23% in 2009. More than half of the population cannot afford a week’s holiday and have difficulties in facing unexpected financial expenses. One out of two people are unable to pay mortgages, rent payments, utility bills and so on. Also one out of three people are unable to keep their home adequately warm.
What are the main traits and determining factors of inequality and poverty levels in Europe and Greece? What are the effects of social protection systems? Do classical typologies of welfare state regimes (e.g. Esping-Andersen's classification) also explain the differences in income inequality?
A comparative analysis between EU countries reveals that the social protection system and the relevant expenditures are key variables in explaining the differences in inequality and poverty among countries. We will focus on the oldest EU-15 member states where we have comparable data since the mid-1990’s and there is a well-developed academic debate concerning their social protection system. Following the Esping-Andersen’s typology of the three welfare regimes and the subsequent debate on the welfare system that is developed in the southern EU countries, we will find out that the highest in equality and poverty are in the countries of South Europe (Greece, Portugal, Italy and Spain) and the countries that have developed a liberal social protection system (UK and Ireland). By contrast, the lowest inequality and poverty are found in countries with a social-democratic welfare system (Scandinavian countries) followed by the countries of the corporatist-conservative welfare regime (mainly continental European countries such as Germany and France). These differences in inequality and poverty alleviation between welfare systems still hold even if we adjust for the differences in total social expenditures.
Overall the evidence suggests that social protection systems that are characterized by generous and universal welfare provisions, such as those of the Scandinavian countries, are more efficient in utilising the available social resources for alleviating poverty and inequality and for promoting peoples’ welfare. Less capable of using the social resources effectively for promoting equality are the Southern EU countries with fragmented social transfers and those with a liberal social protection system that is based on means tested benefits and with a prominent role of the market in the distribution of resources.
The Greek social protection system shares common traits with the other southern EU countries. It is less developed, deeply fragmented with rudimentary welfare policies, highly polarized and with huge gaps in social provisions. These gaps are partly filled by families and kin that are playing a significant role in social care. The Greek system is particularly weak in poverty and inequality alleviation. Social transfers in cash (except pensions) have by far the weakest distributional impact among all EU-15 countries. The need for reforms in the Greek social protection system is largely acknowledged in academic and public debate. However, the memorandum agreements have put pressure for transforming the Greek social protection system to a liberal one, although the evidence have shown that it is the least efficient one, compared to other systems, as far as the use of available resources in alleviation poverty and promoting peoples’ welfare in concerned. The social protection system acts as a catalyst in the effectiveness of social spending and in the distributive role of economic growth. Improving the social protection system, through more generous benefits and universal coverage, is crucial to alleviate the impact of economic crisis on poverty and deprivation
According to some analysts Greek welfare state reflects a complex constellation of interest groups and doesn’t provide real support for the poor and the unemployed. Is it fair to blame public spending on welfare state provisions of this kind for the current economic crisis?
Indeed, the Greek social protection system faces serious drawbacks and imbalances, and it definitely needs reform and improvement in order to become more efficient in fulfilling certain distributional and equity goals. As mentioned above, dominant rhetoric at national and international level have demonised social protection and the corresponding spending as major contributors to the huge public depth and thus to economic crisis. Social protection was blamed of being particularly generous, relative to the country’s economic growth, promoting the high standard of livings that the Greeks had supposedly enjoyed. These views helped legitimise cuts in social expenditures as a crucial component of austerity policies and thus further undermined the country’s already weak social protection system. These cuts has profound implications to people’s level of livings and to social cohesion. The generosity of the social protection system and the high social expenditures is another myth which was systematically cultivated by dominant rhetoric during this period. According to Eurostat’s data, since the early 1990s Greek social expenditures as percentage of GDP have been well below the average figures for total EU. Recent data show that even during the economic crisis, when there is a huge demand for social protection due to the severe social consequences of the crisis (such as the enormous increase of unemployment and poverty) social expenditures as percentage of GDP have remained lower that the average figure of total EU. This is despite the fact that the country’s GDP reduced by almost 25% in that period. Also social expenditures per inhabitant in pps (i.e taking into consideration differences in purchasing power) have been significantly lower in Greece than the average figure for total EU. Even more, since 2009 (during the crisis) social expenditures per inhabitant have further reduced considerably in Greece while the corresponding figures for average EU-15 and EU-28 have increased.
It is apparent that Greece does not spend much on social protection compared to other EU countries. What is more striking is that social protection expenditure has been perceived as a contributor to economic crisis and not as a part of the solution, as the experience of the 1929’s crisis showed. The dominant neoliberal paradigm does not consider social policy as an organic part of macroeconomic policy that could play a prominent role in economic growth due to the high values of their fiscal multipliers. Studies have shown that the fiscal multipliers of social transfers are considerably high in Greece, particular for transfers in kind. This is something that was also admitted by IMF, which acknowledged that the initial design of austerity programs was based on wrong estimates of fiscal multipliers. Consequently cuts in social expenditures have negative effects on the country’s public depth viability. An increase in social expenditures, particularly those concerning transfers in kind, could contribute significantly to the increase of the country’s rate of growth.
Trade unions and left-wing critics see “Guaranteed Minimum Income” policies pushed by creditors as a threat that might constitute a “race to the bottom”. Now the government is launching a “Social Solidarity Income” programme addressing about 700.000 people. Can SSI be a helpful tool for poverty reduction in the country?
Social Solidarity Income is a Guaranteed Minimum Income scheme that goes back to the main neoliberal idea of negative income tax described by Milton Friedman and supported by other neoliberal prominent theorists such as Friedrich Hayek. This measure has been imposed on Greece by memorandum agreements. As a policy measure it focuses on a subsistence minimum through means tested cash transfers. Means tested policies are generally characterised by a high administrative cost and bureaucracy that lead to stigmatization of the recipients and to a low take-up. Furthermore they weaken other social provisions, particularly those in kind, leading households to seek a large number of goods and services previously provided by the social protection system in the market. The introduction of a guaranteed minimum income schemes is usually accompanied by cuts in other social provisions. This is move evident particularly when total social expenditures are not increased or are even decreased as it is the case in Greece.
What is more worrying is that the introduction of these policies leads to a shift of social policy’s focus toward alleviation of poverty instead of promoting total social welfare. These policies characterise the residual welfare systems. The main question is whether social policy should address only poverty or total people’s well-being. Social Solidarity Income is not even meant to help those in poverty but those in the subgroup of “extreme poverty”. By introducing this new concept of “extreme poverty”, poverty itself sounds as a non-extreme situation that should be addressed. Even the introduction of “extreme poverty” in the policy agenda is quite indicative of the transformation in the social protection system that the guaranteed minimum income schemes are causing. Overall these policies lead to a systematic shift of the Greek social protection system towards a liberal one, where social protection targets almost exclusively those in severe deprivation through means tested policies. As mentioned above, these policies have proved less efficient in utilizing and administrating social resources for alleviating poverty and inequality and for promoting peoples’ well-being.
*Interview by Nikolas Nenedakis
On the occasion of World Radio Day (February 13th), Greek News Agenda* interviews acclaimed music critic, author and radio producer Makis Milatos. Milatos has been working as a music critic for newspapers and magazines since 1977 and as a radio producer since 1980. He has served as director at three radio stations and is currently directing “105,5 Sto Kokkino”, the politics talk radio station of the ruling SYRIZA party.
Author of “100 LPs that marked pop culture”, Makis Milatos talks about contemporary Greek radio stations, noting that, with a few exceptions they have succumbed to the system of playlist programmes, which renders them media of mass consumption. Asked about the role of culture in a political station such as “Sto Kokkino”, he underlines that for him culture is of equivalent value to politics in order to be able to present an interesting and challenging content to the listeners. He also talks about contemporary Greek music production, stressing that there is an exciting contemporary Greek music scene of international acclaim and offers representative samples of this scene.
You have been working as a radio producer since 1980. What, do you think are the main characteristics of Greek radio broadcasting?
The situation today is different to that of the earlier days of commercial broadcasting in Greece, when it began with huge enthusiasm. Efforts were made towards an aesthetically pleasing and interesting cultural content. However, these efforts did not yield significant results. Greek radio gradually succumbed to the playlist regime, as is the case with most broadcasters globally. For the most part, radio stations work with playlist programmes that limit the music they play to a certain number of songs that are mostly current Greek or international hits, resulting in the airing of the same 100 songs over the week. Radio producers have to choose among these songs, thus they have no actual freedom of choice. Most Greek radio producers lack the experience or the charisma that radio demands.
To a large extent, as far as music radio stations are concerned, they have submitted to playing music for mass consumption, music that will be heard in shops and elevators. As regards news stations, they belong to certain news corporations and serve their political interests, meaning they are not interested in culture. Thus, news stations serve the interests of news corporations and music radio stations serve mass consumption. I’m afraid I don’t have good things to say about Greek radio for the time being.
Are there any exceptions to what you describe?
There are few exceptions, but they are under pressure from this dominant playlist trend, while they strive to survive in a small and shrinking advertising market. I dare say that 105.5 is a station with a different approach. Although it is a station operating in a commercial environment, it is the only radio station that has not given in to the playlist.
How do you approach the function of a talk radio station such as “105.5 Sto Kokkino”, where recently you became director? What role does culture play in it?
Regardless of whether we’re talking about talk radio or music stations, radio has to be an interesting, challenging and appealing company for its listeners. That is my approach at the talk station I direct. Radio shows have to be interesting, regardless of whether they have political or cultural content. Culture for “105.5 Sto Kokkino” is a fundamental consideration, as much as politics. It is the only station that has a daily programme on cultural events, including theatre, cinema, books, exhibitions and interviews which are present in most of our shows, and we are media partners to all interesting cultural events. Apart from politics and news, culture features heavily in 105.5.
What are your views on the contemporary Greek musical landscape?
I see two categories of Greek music. One utilizes Greek lyrics and relates to traditional, folk and popular music, while the other relates to Greek bands oriented towards the global pop, rock or electronic scene. Music with Greek lyrics has some issues. It doesn’t renew itself as much as it should. It doesn’t follow modern reality. There are some artists who are successful on a local level, but I’m afraid they are not that interesting.
On the contrary, there are exciting new groups and artists of a new generation, whose work could have had an international appeal as that of Coldplay or U2. There are exceptional bands which would surely have had international acclaim if Greece weren’t a small, far away market. Some of them such as Keep Shelly in Athens, Bazooka and The Callas have already made their first steps abroad. Younger generation musicians are more informed in musical trends and developments because they have studied music abroad or at the recently established music studies departments in Greek universities. And let’s not forget the role of the internet. This includes rock bands, but also pop and electronica groups. So, there is a vivid Greek music scene that has a broader musical background which could stand up on an international level.
Could you mention a few of these groups?
Yes. I chose from my list of the best Greek albums for 2016 some groups and musicians that offer to the listener the big picture of the Greek music scene as far as rock, pop, electronica and current trends in general are concerned:
- Xylouris / White - Black Peak
- The Boy - Ετοιμοι Ένα
- Lumiere - Lumiere
- Echo Train - Memento Mori
- She Tames Chaos - Oh Fair Father Where Art Thou?
- Daphne and the Fuzz - Daphne and the Fuzz
- gravitysays_i - quantum unknown
- The Callas - Half Kiss Half Pain
* interview by Florentia Kiortsi
Greece in the Eighties (GR80s) is an impressive exhibition organized by the Municipality of Athens at the Technopolis cultural complex in Athens and at the Onassis Cultural Centre, running from January 25 to March 12. The exhibition introduces visitors to the Greek 80s via four thematic categories -politics, arts, lifestyle and technology- brought to life through documents, objects, audiovisual exhibits and interactive applications spanning 18 pavilions: 1) From “Change” to “Catharsis”, 2) Repression, violence and terrorism, 3) Ideology, 4) Gender, 5) Welfare state, 6) Economy, 7) Housing and public space, 8) Mass culture & consumption, 9) Fashion & Disco Music, 10) Cinema & Audiovisual Culture, 11) Working class culture and demands, 12) Youth cultures, 13) Artistic activity, 14) 80s Library - reading room, 15) Technology, 16) Communication & Mass Media, 17) Auto & Moto culture, and 18) Language: a pervasive presence.
Featuring more than 4,000 exhibits and over 30 events (including art exhibitions, concerts, theatre performances, scientific conferences and educational workshops), the project explores the events that marked a formative decade for the country and largely defined those that followed, taking visitors through a historical, social and cultural review of the politics and way of life; Greece’s glorious victory over favourites Soviet Union in the 1987 FIBA EuroBasket championship, the first Greek private television channel that broadcast in 1989, the huge political rallies in Athens starting with Andreas Papandreou’s famous slogan ‘Allagi’ (change), fashion icon Billy Bo and even a typical 1980s apartment are just some of the cultural and historical milestones revived at the exhibition.
For those born up until the early 1980s there is an emotional attachment to the era, mainly because of the sweeping social and political changes that took place during that period. The 80s represent an idealized era for Greece, characterized by upward social mobility and prosperity; however, for some they also symbolize the beginning of a long process that has lead to the current crisis. Thus, the aim of this event is not to create feelings of nostalgia for the past nor to point the finger at the supposed culprits -rather, it is an effort to record and recreate a complex and multifaceted period of modern history that has left its mark on current generations and may well define future ones.
Apart from the fact that the exhibition is bilingual and thus accessible to foreign visitors, the organizers have placed great emphasis on public participation with a large part of the exhibits (such as photos, clothes, all kinds of souvenirs and memorabilia, toys, pieces of furniture, audiovisual records and much more) coming from volunteers who lent authentic objects of the decade for the show.The chief curators of the exhibition are two academics: Vasilis Vamvakas, assistant professor of Sociology of Communication at the University of Thessaloniki and Panayis Panagiotopoulos, assistant professor Of Sociology at the University of Athens. Panayis Panagiotopoulos and Vassilis Vamvakas had published in 2010 a detailed lexicon entitled "Greece in the 1980s: A Social, Political and Cultural Dictionary" (in Greek, by Epikentro Editions) that plunged us back into the society, politics and culture of the 80s through 264 brief essays and an extensive collection of photos.
Our sister publication, Grèce Hebdo, spoke with professor Panayotopoulos on how Greek society changed in the 80s, the rise of individual along with the persistence of the collective and their paradox cohabitation, the challenges of mass democracy, Greek modernity and why the 80s exert such fascination on us all.
Why use the term "decade" and not, for example, the term "generation" as an element of interpretation?
The term decade is an analytical tool, a way of putting historical time in perspective. A tool that is actually quite new and is not always easy to use. You have the decade of the forties (the WWII), the fifties (reconstruction of the country, etc.) but for example, talking about the 70s or the 60s, we could use concept of the decade only with great caution, because these decades were "cut in half" in Greece. And then there is the decade of the eighties, which is a rather compact period that gives a overall sense of how things were to someone who wants to visit the past in a critical way. Furthermore, it is a period of transformation with characteristics that differ significantly from those of the previous decades. Considering that, and by putting into perspective the trends, for example, in France where the term is used decade as an analytical tool, we decided, together with my colleague Vassilis Vamvakas, to work on the eighties. It is a decade tjat really started with 1981 general elections and the accession of PASOK to power and came crushing down in 1989-1991 with the collapse of the Papandreou system.
Could we talk about a common South-European decade?
I don't think so, because Italy, for example, has a different trajectory. There is always the possibility of political science comparing Portugal and Spain to Greece, countries that perhaps have more in common with Greece as regards the transition from an authoritarian regime to democracy. But the 80s were a rather interesting and almost singular decade for Greece. It was a decade in which Greece, on one hand, turns inwards (politically and ideologically) and reproduces its own norms and structures. But on the other hand, everyday life, lifestyles and consumerist culture are informed by the global trends of the capitalist and democratic culture that is spreading in the Western world. One can speak of a kind of duality: at the political level, Greece remains stuck in its archaism, while at the level of daily life, lived experience, sexuality, lifestyles, and cultural pluralism, Greece is in line with what is happening in the outside world, in Europe and in the United States.
Could we say the eighties were like a belated May of 1968 for Greece?
I do not think it was a return to the May of '68, but we can see all the elements of individualization, self-actualization, and promotion of personal well-being that are starting to take hold. At the political level of course, the collective remains very powerful. We are seeing here the formation of a Greek identity with dual dynamics: the same people who are under the grip of the collective, of political affiliation, of clientelism and of statism – they are at the same time functioning as multi-layered beings, hedonists and as recipients of the capitalist, consumerist message of Europe. We find ourselves in a dual structure that will paradoxically work, until the crisis at least. That is, the making of a Greek personality that is dual, the product of a mix between something quite traditional and something ultra-modern.
Compared to what happened in France during the eighties –do you see some common elements?
Yes, there are common elements, such as the development of youth culture, the implementation of social policies and the construction of certain shared understandings about what Europe could be. But there are also major differences: Greek clientelism and statism have no equivalent. And then, French politics are the politics of big country, while Greece is a small country trying to make its way into a first phase of globalization, without really succeeding, in my opinion.
Let's talk a little about the GR80s exhibition. Who is it addressed to?
This exhibition is addressed to the general public. Its ambition is to break down symbolic barriers and to make the borders of our cultural differences a little more permeable. In recent years very important cultural are events taking place in Athens, but as far as exhibitions, science and the arts are concerned, these events are generally addressed to a limited public, a community of the savvy. Our exhibition is aimed at a wider audience that will be able to reflect on itself through shared experience, the experience of the eighties. In reality, it is addressed to the middle classes in the widest sense: they are a product of the eighties. We are trying to talk to those who have lived in this decade, the people of our generation who are active today, but also to a young audience who hear the echoes of our past through the lives of their parents.
Is it a nostalgic exhibition?
No, it is not. Ultimately, we are trying to use nostalgia as a communication tool, but nothing more. There are of course nostalgic elements like, for example, the reconstruction of an apartment of the eighties built by a team of architects led by Kostas Tsiambaos. The visitor will have the opportunity to enter into a kind of bubble and this could be nostalgic, but at the same time we have the opposite of nostalgia, because this apartment can give a double impression: that of being very close to this era, and at the same time that of being very far away.
What do you hope to inspire to people who visit the exhibition?
We want to inspire a feeling of that despite our antagonisms and our rivalries, we are together. In other words, it is an attempt to bring back to the public sphere the idea of a society in which citizens, despite their cultural, class, political and ideological antagonisms can coexist. I must confess that we would like to present this through a progressive perspective. We also have an ambition of restoring symbolic and cultural value to the middle classes, who for a long time have been left behind by political and social scientists and decried by cultural elites, and of course are now in economic and social danger. So our ambition is to give everyone the opportunity to "relocate" themselves in this historical period, a period not only of antagonisms and confrontations but also of togetherness. In other words, we are trying to go back thirty years in time, so as to make projections into the future.
Can a foreigner visit the exhibition? What do you think she will take away about what is modern Greece?
The exhibition is bilingual. Our hope is that a foreign visitor will see the modernity of contemporary Greece, an aspect that is not obvious, and the creativity of contemporary Greece as well. We hope that she will be able to get a sense of certain parts of the Greek experience that are in opposition to the European experience. For example, the collusion of the Greek state of the Papandreou era with Arab terrorism. I could be of interest to a foreingn visitor to think about how the everyday and the avant-garde adapt to consumerist modernity. To see how Greece enters consumerist culture through music, products, sport or mass culture. Again, we can see the different forms of popular experience -a very interesting pavilion explores how forms of expression of lower classes were different from middle class consumerism.
How did you collect the exhibited objects?
We have worked on several levels: with public or private collections that have loaned us objects, but also, and above all, it was the work with the citizens that has borne fruit: nearly 70% of the pieces that we evaluated and included in our exhibition are objects that until a few weeks ago were locked in closets in various homes. And this is memory work, carried out by the citizens themselves, in collaboration with us. It is memory work on certain objects that were kept and that signify and represent the historical memory of social ascension. That is to say, the people who lend us the objects tell us: "This is something I kept because I could buy it with great difficulty and I was very proud, because it marked my social advancement."
Tell us a little about social mobility. What do you think were the most striking changes in Greek society during the 1980s?
During this period we observe the phenomenon of mass social upwards mobility, that is to say the formation of a middle class that is increasingly defined in opposition to the working class and that gradually gains access to statist networks. This new class succeeded in organizing a new, modern life, but on a totally rotten economic foundation. This the great contradiction that nobody wants to talk about: how we have a democratic society, centered on the consumerist middle class, without having a competitive economy. This is something that begun in Greece during the 1980s and remains, even today, a subject that is not debated. And we can see that the very rapid and massive social mobility that began in the 1970s and was dramatically accelerated in the 1980s, is a story that in reality poses problems that must be discussed. But on the other hand -and this is a form of justification for the policies of PASOK and Papandreou- we must admit that the working classes of the fifties and sixties were outside consumer society and democratic political life. One can not say that they were totally marginalized, but they were not really integrated into the cultural and consumerist life either. Papandreou understood that this had to change. [...]
Did we not see this happen a bit in the sixties in Greece?
During the sixties in Greece one can see a liberation of morals, an ascent of certain concepts, but it all remains very elitist. On the other hand, during the 1980s, the individualistic, hedonistic experience of free time, youth culture, rock culture, sexual liberation, identities, subcultures, and tribalism as well; all this happens on a massive level in Greece.
And was "kitsch" born in the 80s?
Kitsch is something that actually does not exist, it is a concept the dominant classes use to oppose or stigmatize, on the cultural level, the rise of the lower classes. It is a way to show contempt and differentiate ourselves from those that try to take our place, or to "insert themselves in our class". Kitsch is the the result of a very rapid social rise that hasn´t that the time yet to adjust itself to existing modes of cultural recognition.
The eighties is also the decade of transgression and the cult of anomie...
This is a right-wing criticism, according to which Greek society begins to unravel in the 1980s and this is due to Papandreou's populism. But this criticism neglects to mention what Greece was like before. Greece had been a clientelist society long before the 80s, but it was a much more inaccessible clientelism. While in the '80s we have a clientelelism that is totally accessible and uninhibited. I do not agree with that kind of fundamentally negative descriptions of the era, because I think we have to look at the 1980s from the perspective of the defects or the problems of mass democracy. And I do not believe that you can have mass democracy without anomie, without problems, without corruption. There were, of course, catastrophic policies in the 1980s (in education, for example), but I prefer to summarize the era as follows: PASOK gave wrong answers to the right questions. The paradisiacal description of Greece in the sixties and seventies is problematic.
What was the relationship between Athens and the provinces during the 1980s?
It is during the 80’s that those two terms (Athens / provinces) are outlined, put in juxtaposition and problematized. Internal migration is stabilized and 'eparchia' is cut off from Athenian life. The 1980s are interesting percicely because the question of the disparity of ways of life begins to be asked. In the 1980s, we cannot really talk about two different worlds between Athens and the rest of the counrty, but there is no common way of life. In short, I believe that in the 1980s, there are still great differences between Athens and 'eparchia', but these differences are beginning to be understood as an important issue.
Could we say that this decade exerts a certain fascination on you?
For me, there are of course reasons related to my personal experience but these are are not interesting for an interview. I beleive however that the 80s are fascinating because it is during this period when the social bonds that will build a new society were formed. Modern Greek democratic society is created and organized in the 1980s, not in the 1970s. Furthermore, society changed rapidly during that time: color television, multiple sources of information, many TV channels and newspapers, advertising images, lifestyle etc. An important element to note is that all this constituted a mode of adjustment to the capitalist world that granted a new place to the individual in Greece. This way of empowering the individual goes hand in hand with a still considerable power of the State, the collective and the political. It is a sort of mass individualistic culture, which will paradoxically work for several decades, until today.
* Interviewed by Magdalini Varoucha and Costas Mavroidis, translated to English by Ioulia Livaditi
Dimitris Kountouras is a musician and musicologist, specializing on early music instruments (traverso, recorder) and the historical performance practice of early music. He is the director of the early music ensemble Ex Silentio and appears often in concerts with bayanist Konstantinos Raptis (as Duo Goliardi) and the Athens Camerata. He has given concerts as a soloist and chamber and orchestral musician at Sala Verdi in Milan, the Pablo Casals Hall in Tokyo, Megaron in Athens, the Konzerthaus in Vienna, the Styriarte festival in Graz, the J.S. Bach festival in Riga etc. He has recorded works for music labels Carpe Diem and Talanton with Ex Silentio, and played in baroque opera recordings for MDG and DECCA Classics.
His ensemble Ex Silentio (with Theodora Baka, Thimios Atzakas, Elektra Miliadou, Andreas Linos, Tobias Schlierf and Nikos Varelas) has performed widely at festivals in Sweden, Germany, Austria, Holland and Italy. Their latest recording, titled MNEME, won the PIZZICATO magazine Supersonic prize and was shortlisted for the prestigious International Classical Music Awards (ICMA) in the Early Music category in 2016.
Kountouras has published articles on early music interpretation, text and music relationships in the Renaissance and Baroque periods. He teaches historical flutes, chamber music and early music performance practice at the University of Macedonia, the Athens Conservatoire, the Filippos Nakas Conservatory and the Aghios Lavrentios Music Village. He spoke to Greek News Agenda* about the work of troubadours in the Latin Empire of Constantinople, how Greek music fits in the eastern/western music framework, the common elements of Mediterranean music and the unique profile of Greek instrumentalists.
Tell us about your latest research on the passage of troubadours trough the territory that is now Greece, during the time of the Crusades. What does your research show as regards the multicultural character of the region?
The idea for the project "Music and poetry of the troubadours in the Latin Kingdom of Thessalonica after 1204" came up a few years ago, when I was studying the life and work of French troubadours Raimbaut de Vaqueiras and Elias Cairel, who passed through the Greek world after joining the 4th crusade. These troubadours, along with fellow Frenchman epic poet Conon de Béthune, lived for a while in the Latin Empire of Constantinople, the feudal Crusader state founded on lands captured from the Byzantine Empire.
So, while the events of the 4th Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople by the crusaders in 1204 are well known, little is known about the activity of these troubadours who accompanied the Crusader Kings to Byzantium. We don’t know much about their life while in the East, or how their work influenced cultural life in the newly formed Latin Empire of Constantinople.
These two troubadours, Raimbaut de Vaqueiras and Elias Cairel, followed the new king of the Kingdom of Thessalonika to the city and resided there for some of their more creative years, leaving music and poetry of high quality and rich historical references. Studying their work helps shed light on the life and art of early 13th century Thessalonika, as well as on possible interactions between these Latin musicians and Greek-speaking artists of the time.
What is the relationship between "eastern" and "western" music? The latest work of your group Ex Silentio bridges these worlds by approaching Mediterranean music through early music.
In Europe, as compared to the East - in this case, the Near East and the Arabic world - polyphonic forms were developed quite soon, at least as far as court music is concerned, while in Eastern musical culture, monophonic idioms endured longer in court and in popular music. Ιn Europe, there was a lot of focus on forms, complicated structures and harmony, while in the East there was more emphasis on the melodic material and the singing quality of modal music.
Despite different national and cultural backgrounds, there are various things in common in all the musical traditions of the Mediterranean basin; this is what we tried to uncover and showcase in our Mneme CD, starting from the Arab-Andalousian tradition of Spain, continuing onto Catalonia, Provence, Italy, Greece and the Sephardic tradition of Salonica. In order to highlight these connections, we focused on monophonic repertoire, troubadour singing and instrumental dances from East and West, as well as known Greek traditional songs (such as To Kastro Tis Astropalias). A common element between traditional Mediterranean and early music are lengthy verses, something we highlight by interpreting these traditional songs as medieval, long, rhapsodic sagas.
Where would you classify Greek music in an eastern/western framework? Do Greek musicians have something unique to offer to the world?
Greece has been always influenced by both European and Eastern music; since 1850, Greek music was also strongly influenced by the rich Italian musical and theatre culture. Nowadays, it is striking how many different musical styles one can find in Greece: traditional and popular music, classical and early music, Balkan jazz and impro. It is fascinating that all these styles coexist in harmony and form an organic part of contemporary Greek music culture. So, in Greece you will find musicians playing all kinds and styles of music, just like in Europe. What´s more, lately, we are witnessing increasing activity in classical music, as well as in improvised and even in early music.
There is often an interesting background in some Greek musicians, as they combine a western/classical music education with oral/traditional music experience and training. The survival and diffusion of traditional music in Greece is something unique: there is nothing akin to that in western or central European countries. That profile certainly gives an interesting and open minded approach to music making.
Furthermore, more and more Greek instrumentalists have experience and training in both classical and traditional instruments, by and large due to the special High Schools in Greece specializing in a musical curriculum. This development is quite recent, as the institution of musical High Schools was established only 20 years ago, but I find it can definitely give intriguing and unexpected results.
*Interview by Ioula Livaditi
Yannis Efstathiadis was born in Athens in 1946. He studied Political and Economic Sciences at the University of Athens. He has published poetry, novels and short essays on music as well as gastronomy under the pen-name Apikios. He is also music producer for national radio station 3 (Trito Programma) of the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation. In 2012 he received the State Literary Award for best short story or novel as well as the Kostas and Eleni Ourani Foundation literary award for his music and literary essays.
Yannis Efstathiadis spoke to Reading Greece* about his latest book Κλεινόν, which presents a visual and emotional mapping of Athens through fictional testimonies of renowned (and unknown) people in a multifaceted narration about the city. He comments that Athens “weighs emotionally upon [him]” and that he loves “this bustling presence of people, who, when they commute, entertain, shop or protest, make the city’s temperature rise”.
Asked about his preference for short stories, he quotes Borges, “who asks himself why write a novel when you can unfold the plot in just a few pages”, while he notes that he draws his ideas “from what happens in reality and mostly in the imaginary and the dreamy”. He discusses the similarities between writing and radio production, explaining that “you write on radio as well, just through another technique” and that “a recording studio, unlike a television one, bears the aura of an ascetic cell that also matches the writer”. He concludes that poetry is currently undergoing “a creative poetic renaissance” with a rise of new voices and a revival of older ones.
Your latest book Κλεινόν presents a visual and emotional mapping of Athens through fictional testimonies of prominent Athenians. Tell us a few things about the book.
The book came about by coincidence. It was inspired unintentionally by David Connolly, who, during one of our meetings, asked me if I had a piece of writing regarding Athens to be included in an anthology in English he was preparing about the city. I said no, since all my writings focused mainly on time rather than space. Yet, his question became an indirect bid for me, which resulted in this book. I wanted to draw a polyphonic document about Athens and I chose fictional testimonies of renowned (and unknown) people in relation to the city. I chose people active in different fields (politicians, writers, architects, scientists, athletes etc) so as to achieve a multifaceted narration.
The memories are mostly mine providing the book with an autobiographical character, as the writer puts his own experiences on the words of others. That is the reason the various narrations do not follow a chronological order. They are intentionally disarranged, as is often the case with memories. There is only one concrete symbolism: the first piece (midwife) is birth and the last (Chalepas) is death. And, of course, there are interspersed short pieces by known writers, which act as intermezzos, defining locations and connecting people.
“What is attractive in a city like Athens is the people themselves, not as individual persons but as a strong flavour of life that you get to taste every second of the day”. What does Athens represent for you? How has the human and social geography of the city changed over the years?
For me Athens - actually, its very centre - is the city where I was born and the city where I grew up. Thus, it is a city that weighs emotionally upon me and the same goes for its bad aspects (impersonal buildings, unregulated and artless signs, stray wires etc). I love Athens and I love it with the difficulty it entails – it’s easy to love beautiful cities, as my wife likes to say. I love this bustling presence of people, who, when they commute, entertain, shop or protest, make the city’s temperature rise. I love Athens during all its eras, in its entirety. Even more so – as it becomes evident in the book – I remember Athens, I don’t just feel nostalgic. Nostalgia often turns overemotional, which in no way characterizes me either as a person or as a writer. I opt for the Doric simplicity of memory.
You write short stories that are often snapshots of a person's life. What makes you choose this form of writing? Would you argue that the short form can better depict ‘the human condition’?
Indeed, I write short stories – short novels as I tend to call them – and this may be due to my poetic origins; I solely wrote poems during the first 20 years of my writing career. But what guides me is a quote by Borges, who asks himself why write a novel when you can unfold the plot in just a few pages.
"Whatever the country, whatever the landscape, a writer’s influential space would always be the square metres of his desk”. Do you follow a particular writing procedure? Where do you draw your inspiration from?
From the few square metres of my office I try to communicate both with the “outside” and the “inner world”; to describe, to record, to witness, to trace, to “hear”, and to communicate. I draw my ideas from what happens in reality and mostly in the imaginary and the dreamy. At times I am a realist, and often a surrealist. I don’t believe in inspiration. I believe in observation, memory and invention.
A novelist, a poet, an essayist, a radio producer. What is the binding thread?
It’s writing that unites them all. I will repeat something that I said some years ago: “The radio; you write on radio as well, just through another technique. In essence, you write – otherwise you cannot control either time or style– imitating the spontaneity of improvisation and seeking immediacy and warmth. Besides, I see many similarities between a recording studio and a writer’s office: a recording studio, unlike a television one, bears the aura of an ascetic cell that also matches the writer. You are alone (the sound engineer is always a discreet presence), the light is dim, you wear headphones which isolate you from the outside world and you just listen to your own voice. Isn’t it what a writer does in the few square meters of his office? He is alone, in a low-lit office and he only “hears” his own voice…”
You have stated that you are an avid poetry reader. How do things stand as far as literary, and more specific poetic, production in Greece is concerned?
I believe poetry in Greece underwent a crisis towards the end of the millennium – a more or less barren twenty-year period. Thus, it was with great joy that I witnessed a rise of new voices or a revival of older ones in recent years! We stand before a new creative poetic renaissance.
*Interview by Athina Rossoglou
Ahead of Friday’s informal meeting of EU heads of state in Malta, the Greek government argues that Greece is meeting its fiscal targets, is working hard in order for common ground to be found, and that new measures are not necessary. In an interview with Alpha radio State Minister and government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said the economic and political conditions for an agreement exist because the vast majority of our partners in Europe do not wish a technical rekindling of the Greek crisis. Stressing that the Greek government will not accept additional measures, Tzanakopoulos underlined that German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaueble's stance “is based on his vision for Europe: Austerity, harsh fiscal adjustment and indifference for any growth prospect…"
Greek News Agenda* asked Berlin-based economist and TAZ jourmalist Ulrike Herrmann to comment on the the different approaches toward the Greek debt issue and Wolfgang Schaueble’s tactics.
Ulrike Herrmann has written extensively on the current euro/financial crisis. Her recent publications include Der Sieg des Kapitals | The Victory of Capital (2015) and Kein Kapitalismus ist auch keine Lösung (2016). She also frequently participates in political debates in radio and television, including the WDR 5's Presse club and the Phoenix TV channel.
What, do you think, is at stake in the different approaches among IMF, the European Institutions and Greece concerning the Greek debt issue? How can Europe handle the Greek debt and European debt overall in the future?
It is obvious that the IMF, the European Institutions and Greece have very different interests. The IMF is correct in its analysis that there is no alternative to debt relief and that the primary surplus required from Greece should not exceed 1,5 per cent if Greece is not to suffer another severe economic downturn.
Vice president of the European Parliament, Dimitris Papadimoulis, recently wrote an article under the title “Schaeuble could destroy eurozone, not just Greece”. How do domestic German politics influence Wolfgang Schaeuble’s stance?
Schäuble has always allowed the German voters to harbour the wrong impression that there will be no tax payer's money involved in the rescue of Greece. Hence, Schäuble refuses to discuss any debt relief for Greece. At the same time, Schäuble wants the IMF to continue its engagement in Greece because otherwise the rescue programme would have to become an issue in the German parliament.
In the long run, Schäuble cannot pursue both aims. Either he accepts debt relief for Greece or the IMF will leave the programme. But Schäuble strives to keep the issue unresolved and "below the carpet" till the national elections in Germany have been held which are scheduled for September 24th.
Could you comment on the so-called “EU’s democracy deficit”? [How] does it relate to the rise of extreme Right in Europe?
It is a huge problem that the rich Euro-countries reduce the poor Euro-countries to the status of colonies which have to accept the orders from abroad. This won't work.
*Interview by Nikolas Nenedakis. Many thanks to Nikolaos Vlahakis, Press and Communication Counsellor - Embassy of Greece in Germany