Council of Europe's European Centre for Global Interdependence and Solidarity, more commonly known as the North-South Centre fulfils a dual political role of representing "the voice of the South" within the Council of Europe and of promoting and transmitting the values of democracy and human rights that are central to the Council of Europe's mission in neighbouring regions.
Greek News Agenda* asked North-South Centre's Executive Director Amb. António Gamito to comment on the upcoming Lisbon Forum 2017 (1-2 June, 2017, organized by the North-South Centre in Lisbon with the theme "Interconnecting People - Managing migration, avoiding populism, building inclusive societies and reinforcing North-South dialogue"):
Enhancing intercultural/political dialogue between the North and the South is among Council of Europe’s aims. What is/can be the contribution of the upcoming Lisbon Forum (June 2017) in this direction?
This year´s Lisbon Forum of the North-South Centre of the Council of Europe (NSC) will tackle the challenges to manage migration flows while preventing the growth of anti-immigrant populist movements, promoting inclusive societies that respect cultural diversity and reinforcing the dialogue between the North and the South. The event will bring together experts and representatives from national governments, parliaments, local and regional authorities, civil society and international organizations, based on a geographical and gender balance. The Lisbon Forum offers a space of reflection based on expertise sharing between stakeholders, in particular from both shores of the Mediterranean on issues related to human rights, democracy and rule of law. In debating in a free and open manner relevant basic rights, underlining the fact that we are talking about human beings, the Lisbon Forum is also contributing to call for worldwide attention for the need to uphold them and is also incorporating conclusions and recommendations to be implemented and developed within its future work, together with its member States, like Greece, partners and beneficiaries.
Critics say that Europe’s management of the migration flows has been mainly focused on the security/ state of emergency aspect. What is your view?
The massive migration flows caught by surprise both shores of the Mediterranean and the first reaction was naturally linked to deploy as soon as possible emergency aid structures, especially by Greece and Italy, immediately followed by other´s concerns regarding state security, having in mind the world where we are living in, with radicalization and terrorism on the raising. However, the suffering of the migrants and refugees has a major humanitarian dimension that cannot be ignored. Independently of the complexity of this problem, we should never put in jeopardy an humanitarian-based approach, built on solidarity, partnership and interdependence. Moreover, these crisis should in no way be instrumentalised for political reasons. In this sense Europe should keep vigilant towards the rise of populism and vehemently deconstruct its dialectics.
What kind of impact can institutions, like the North South Center have in the current conjecture? Can you tell us more about what “global democratic citizenship” means in terms of the Center’s agenda?
More than ever it is central to educate citizens about the complex and interconnected nature of global issues and that there is no one dimensional solution to tackle them. Through its global education programme, the NSC promotes among formal and non-formal educators competences to understand, deal with and tackle global issues. Global Education set of competences and methodology promotes intercultural understanding, multi-perspectivity and the deconstruction of stereotypes. It helps learners to deal with cultural variety of languages, identities and codes so that mutual understanding can be achieved. Through an intercultural peer learning approach, Global Education promotes intercultural dialogue, contributing to enhanced cooperation, conflict prevention and peaceful coexistence, in sum the assets for a “global democratic citizenship”.
How do you view the role of countries like Portugal and Greece? How the two countries could contribute to further cooperation among the broader region?
Portugal and Greece are actively engaged in the relocation process of migrants and refugees through a coordinated multistakeholder approach involving European institutions, governments, local authorities and civil society intensively contributing to the setting up of housing, health, educational, social, labour and entrepreneurship integration mechanisms. This collaboration between institutions and field workers is central to the success of Europe’s management of the migration flows. One example is the relevant work between the Greek institution MetaDrasi, headed by Ms Lora Pappa, laureate of the 2015 North-South Prize of the Council of Europe, delivered by the NSC, and important Portuguese institutions. This approach could be replicated in the countries of the broader region.
Greece is an active member of the NSC. It has been actively engaged in the creation of NSC pedagogical tools, in particular the Global Education Guidelines, and is active in promoting Global Education among Greek educators and civil society organizations with the assistance of NSC dissemination mechanisms. The sharing of expertise by Greek stakeholders, in particular civil society organizations, engaged in the management of the migration flows could be an added value in the fruitful cooperation developed between Greece and the NSC. At this stage, the NSC envisages to organise this year in Greece with the relevant Greek authorities a conference on migrant and refugee women from the Southern Mediterranean region.
*Interview by Nikolas Nenedakis. Many thanks to Elias Galanis, Press and Communication Counsellor - Embassy of Greece in Portugal
Giorgos Argitis is Associate Professor of Macroeconomics at the University of Athens and scientific director of the Labour Institute of the Greek General Cofederation of Greek Workers (INE-GSEE). His research interests are Post Keynesian-Minskian macroeconomic/monetary theory and policy and Old-institutionalist/evolutionary theory. He has published four books about the Greek economy and is the author/co-author of academic papers that have appeared in theJournal of Post Keynesian Economics,Cambridge Journal of Economics, Review of Political Economy,Contributions to Political Economy, and theEuropean Journal of Economics and Economic Policies.
INE-GSEE's research attention is paid to the macroeconomic behavior of the Greek economy; the developments in non-standard employment and its implications for labour law and for social security coverage and trade union organizing; the sustainability of the pension system; the challenges of the economic crisis to social policy in Greece; and the way that welfare and labour market institutions impact on economic growth. The INE-GSEE monitors and analyses these changes and make publications on fiscal economic and employment issues that are geared to proposals for action but also of a more academic type.
Professor Argitis is the co-author - together with Nasos Koratzanis and Christos Pierros - of the “The Greek crisis: outlook and an alternative economic policy” chapter - published in March 2017 - of the “2017 independent Annual Growth Survey: The Elusive Recovery” (iAGS)*. The Greek crisis chapter is an evaluation of economic conditions in Greece so far, presenting the main pillars of an alternative policy proposal that has been elaborated by INE-GSEE.
Giorgos Argitis spoke to Rethinking Greece** about the findings of the report regarging the effects of the creditors’ policy agenda of fiscal austerity and internal devaluation on the financial stability of the Greek private sector,on the Greek labour market as well as on poverty and living conditions in Greece.
According to Argitis, the very architecture of the macroeconomic adjustment programmes implemented in Greece since 2010 is incompatible with the country’s consumption-demand led growth model. Thus, any attempt to address Greece’s sovereign debt crisis and inadequate competitiveness by means of a frontloaded mix of fiscal discipline and internal devaluation is destined to fail and to aggravate the country’s financial instability. In view of that, any real prospect for Greece to escape the crisis depends on the sustainability of its economic growth, a proposal for which rests on three pillars: (a) a new financing architecture in line with the principle ‘sustainable primary surplus – sustainable debt’, (b) an investment-led productive transformation of the Greek economy and (c) stimulating employment by the immediate abolition of the measures taken in the direction of greater labour market flexibility:
How do you evaluate the results of the memoranda applied in Greece since 2010?
Seven years after the outbreak of the sovereign debt crisis, the Greek economy continues to be stuck in a debt trap with the near-term fiscal outlook remaining gloomy and uncertain. The main reason for this is twofold: a) creditors’ overemphasis on fiscal austerity that has proven incapable of restoring the country’s solvency, credibility and creditworthiness; and b) the imposition of a pro-cyclical fiscal tightening amid deflationary conditions that has caused negative growth effects, further raising the country’s credit risk. Against this backdrop, the trajectory of the Greek economy over the coming years will primarily depend on its growth performance and thereby its ability to generate a primary budget surplus to service its debt payments.
Since 2010 Greece has engaged in an extremely ambitious fiscal consolidation plan. The government budget deficit has declined from 15.1% of GDP in 2009 to 1.1% in 2016, while in structural terms, the improvement of the fiscal balance in the period 2010-2016 has reached 13.6 percentage points, the largest seen across the EU. This extraordinary fiscal consolidation performance over the past years has been greatly facilitated by the package of harsh austerity measures embarked upon by the Greek authorities since 2010 in the context of the three Memoranda of Understanding (MoU).
This staggering fiscal adjustment had a tremendous negative effect in social services provision, public investment and employment, and furthermore, it has not been successful in reducing the gross debt-to-GDP ratio. More specifically, the ratio has reached a peak over the adjustment period, increasing from around 126.7% in 2009 to 179.7% in 2016, despite the large debt ‘haircut’ agreed in early 2012. According to the latest estimates, the debt burden is set to remain essentially stable in 2017, breaching 177% of GDP. This is a fairly disappointing track record, given creditors’ initial anticipations on the allegedly expansionary results of fiscal consolidation. The fact that the ratio of public debt-to-GDP has remained for too long at unacceptable record high levels poses a direct challenge to the very credibility of the macroeconomic adjustment programmes.
Why do you think fiscal austerity has not managed to improve Greece’s financial credibility?
The main drivers behind the over-indebtedness of the Greek public sector have been the massive bailout loans granted to the country to avoid default and the recessionary effects of the fiscal adjustment programmes implemented thereafter. A closer look at the major factors that have influenced the trajectory of the public debt-to-GDP ratio over the past few years helps explain Greece’s negative debt profile. During the first phase of macroeconomic adjustment (2010-2013) the austerity-led contraction of real GDP along with extraordinary high interest payments and sizeable primary budget deficits have set the tone for the serious debt overhang episode in the country and the ensuing solvency crisis. The year 2014 has been a turning point in the process with the achievement of a positive primary balance especially in 2016 that has yet been insufficient to arrest debt dynamics. In addition the sustainability of these primary surpluses is uncertain in a country that has not yet returned to growth.
All in all, austerity has not succeeded in consolidating sound and sustainable fiscal conditions in Greece and helping public authorities regain access to private bond markets. What it has succeeded in doing instead is to have plunged the Greek economy into a disastrous spiral of debt-deflation and recession that consistently constrains the country’s debt servicing capacity and prolongs excessive macroeconomic and financial instability.
At the epicenter of the creditor’s strategy lies internal devaluation. Has this strategy yielded results?
The ingredients of the creditors’ remedy have proven profoundly mistaken. The major reason for this is that this strategy has failed to consider the Greek economy’s heavy reliance on domestic demand. Labour cost restraint and increased labour market flexibility have failed to spur investment and competitiveness: it has deepened the weakness of the Greek economy and greatly contributed to the declining performance of virtually all branches of economic activity. Specifically, in the period between the fourth quarter of 2010 and the fourth quarter of 2016 all key branches, other than real estate activities and agriculture, forestry and fisheries, have witnessed a pronounced drop in real gross value added. The steepest fall has occurred in construction (35.6%) followed by professional, scientific and technical activities (31%) and information and communication (26.7%).
On top of that, internal devaluation has proven incapable of propping up Greece’s export performance. Greece’s exports of goods and services have on average expanded at a particularly modest rate between 2012 and 2016, hardly outstripping 2.3% per year, despite the strong growth of the country’s tourism industry from 2013 on. The most prominent contributor to the correction of the country’s persistent current account deficits has been the dramatic decline in imports, mainly due to shrinking domestic demand. This sensitivity of Greece’s trade balance to the movements of domestic demand underlines the country’s productive deficiencies and highlights the critical role of public investment as a tool for fostering both macroeconomic stability and structural competitiveness.
Apart from aggravating the economy’s productive problems, internal devaluation and fiscal austerity have also put intense pressures on the financial balance of the private sector, thus feeding back economic stagnation and solvency risk. The creditors’ agenda has also corroded private households’ financial health. The plunge of household savings lies at the heart of the mal-performance of austerity in Greece because it has starkly degraded the financial position of households, preventing any real prospect for a vigorous recovery of consumer spending in the near future. On top of that, it has exposed the Greek banking system to a greater credit risk by undermining the loan portfolio quality.
Could you talk to us about the changes in labour laws that have been requested by the creditors?
Since 2010 industrial relations in Greece have been in the eye of the storm of the crisis, being an integral part of the internal devaluation strategy, via a combination of reducing minimum wage, de-collectivizing wage bargaining and lowering labour costs. So far, a range of regressive labour market reforms has been promoted through active state intervention geared towards promoting flexible and precarious forms of employment and reforming collective bargaining. Such measures inter alia include: the suspension of all branch and occupational collective agreements’ extension as long as Greece’s economic adjustment programme is in full effect; the suspension of the so-called ‘favourability principle’ in collective bargaining; and the prevalence of company level agreements in the case of overlapping with the relevant branch level collective agreement.
Also, far-reaching interventions have been undertaken in the content and universality of the general national collective agreement, including a 22% reduction by decree in the national nominal minimum wage and a further 10% cut for employees aged less than 25 years old; the enactment of legislation providing exclusive competence to the government, rather than to social partners, to set the minimum wage level; the removal of the ‘universal applicability principle’ of the general national collective agreement on wages.
On top of that, from 2012 on, recourse to arbitration is permitted only by the unanimous consent of all parties concerned and arbitrators’ decisions are strictly limited only to issues related to the determination of the basic wage. It is obvious that these deregulation measures undertaken over the last years have radically modified the balance of sociopolitical power towards employers, narrowing dramatically the range of choices and the bargaining power of trade unions.
How has the aforementioned deregulation of the labour law influenced the Greek labour market?
Creditors’ internal devaluation strategy has caused detrimental effects on the labour market. From the fourth quarter of 2008 until the fourth quarter of 2016, unemployment in Greece has recorded an unaccepted surge, climbing from 8% to 23.1% of total labour force.
What is even more upsetting is that the scourge of high unemployment has mostly ravaged the more vulnerable groups within society. Youth unemployment rate has hit a record high during the years of austerity, ascending by over 30 percentage points. Despite the gradual drop in youth unemployment recorded recently, young people in the country find it very difficult to take up a job. Furthermore, the female unemployment rate constantly surpasses the nation-wide average, standing at 27.6%. At the same time, the risk of unemployment threatens all, no matter what their educational level—even those who hold a postgraduate degree. This evidence substantiates the importance of demand-led economic policies for combating both cyclical and structural unemployment.
What about the effect of labour law deregulation on income and living standards?
Unfortunately, the dismantlement of collective bargaining institutions and wage suppression have obstructed the path towards any socially inclusive economic restructuring of Greece. Along with drastic cutbacks in social welfare spending, they have led to an unparalleled deterioration in living conditions, widening the development and income gap separating the country and the rest of its EU partners. In particular, real GDP per capita in Greece has dropped by 24.5% in the period 2008-2016, standing today at nearly 17 thousand euros. This evidencecorresponds to only 63.3% of the average per capita real income in the EU-28, indicating a disturbing process of divergence between Greece and the EU in terms of living standards.
Furthermore, austerity has exerted a severe impact upon living conditions in Greece, leading to a dramatic upsurge of anchored poverty. It is also important to note that, together with the striking increase in poverty, over the last six years, an ever growing part of the population in Greece suffers also from material deprivation.
It is worthy to note that the austerity agenda has impinged disproportionally upon the living conditions of unemployed persons. Specifically, for this population group severe material deprivation has risen from 20.2% in 2009 to 43.4% in 2015, meaning that more than 4 out of 10 jobless people do not have the means to meet at least four key requirements for decent life.
How can we rethink an exit from the crisis, after 7 years of memoranda?
The INE-GSEE has elaborated a policy proposal built upon three pillars: an alternative debt crisis management framework; interventions for stimulating domestic demand and re-regulating the labour market. We propose a new financing architecture in line with the principle ‘sustainable primary surplus – sustainable debt’. At a first stage, what is needed is a new financing architecture that would set the annual interest payments at least equal to a lower, pre-specified sustainable primary surplus target. In this context, debt-restructuring does not necessarily imply a ‘haircut’, but a new repayment schedule and much lower average interest rates.
Taking into account that the Greek economy is a consumption-led growth economy, an investment-led productive transformation of the Greek economy is also essential. In fact, empirical evidence indicates that stimulating productivity by means of increasing investment spending by 9% per annum over the period 2010-2017 would have produced the same competiveness gains in terms of real effective exchange rate as the ones caused by cutting wages, without the recessionary effect of the latter option.
This project for stimulating domestic demand should be designed so as to provide support to selected sectors and activities that have strong multiplicative effects on actual and potential output and in which Greece possesses significant comparative advantages, such as: (a) agriculture and food industry; (b) high-quality and sustainable tourism activities; (c) sustainable energy networks and green power infrastructure; (d) high and medium-high technology manufacturing sectors (e.g. refined petroleum products, manufacture of chemicals and chemical products).
Nonetheless, given Greece’s consumption-led growth model, reviving real investment activity has to run in parallel with stimulating employment. In this respect, we propose the design and activation of a ‘Job Guarantee Programme’ (JGP) in Greece.
However, to expand employment and economic growth in Greece, the immediate abolition of the measures taken in the direction of greater labour market flexibility is imperative, along with the adoption of a new, socially inclusive agenda for reshaping the labour market. In this context, a range of policy interventions that could serve this goal includes the full restoration of collective bargaining system and the unconditional application of all collective bargaining agreements.
** Interview by Ioulia Livaditi
* The "independent Annual Growth Survey" (iAGS) report is produced by four independent economic institutes (the French Observatory of Economic Conditions (OFCE), the Austrian Chamber of Labour (AK), the Danish Economic Council of the Labour Movement (ECLM), and the German Macroeconomic Policy Institute (IMK)) with funding from the European Parliament S&D Group within the context of their Progressive Economy Initiative. The report analyses the economic situation in Europe, compares various scenarios of economic policy, and makes recommendations on economic priorities for the year ahead thus providing an independent alternative to the “Annual Growth Survey” published by the European Commission.
According to the iAGS for 2017 published on December 2016, titled “Elusive Recovery”, Europe needs more and better employment and a lower dispersion of income as well financing redistributive welfare states via the taxation of high wealth, high incomes and inheritances in order to promote economic growth and increase social stability. However, while a growth-oriented economic policy is necessary it is not sufficient to obtain social progress and individual well-being. Policy makers need to move beyond the predominant, narrow focus on GDP growth, and aim instead at a broader set of economic, social and environmental targets.
Karen Van Dyck is Kimon A. Doukas Professor of Modern Greek Literature in the Classics Department at Columbia University where she created the Program in Hellenic Studies. Her books include Kassandra and the Censors: Greek Poetry since 1967 (Cornell, 1998; Agra, 2002), The Rehearsal of Misunderstanding: Three Collections by Contemporary Greek Women Poets (Wesleyan, 1998), The Greek Poets: Homer to the Present (Norton, 2009), and The Scattered Papers of Penelope: New and Selected Poems by Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke (Graywolf, 2009), a Lannan Translation Selection.
Her bilingual anthology Austerity Measures: The New Greek Poetry (Penguin, 2016; NYRB, 2017; Agra, 2017) was chosen by the New Statesmen as pick of the year, the Guardian as poetry book of the month as well as by Andrew Marr for his BBC Start the Week. Recent articles of hers on Cavafy - “Forms of Cosmopolitanism” and "Translating a Canonical Author," have appeared in the LARB (2014) and Teaching Translation: Programs, Courses, Pedagogies (Routledge, 2016).
Karen Van Dyck spoke to Reading Greece* about Austerity Measures: The New Greek Poetry, noting that “the project was about mapping poetry scenes – a what’s where, rather than a who’s who”, focusing on “the most salient feature of this new poetry – its multiethnic, multilingual cosmopolitanism”. Asked about the role of poetry in times of crisis, she discusses that “given the recent resurgence of separatisms –Grexit, Brexit, Trump’s wall – the message is only more urgent now. We need poetry, and poetry in translation, to tell us things we can’t know otherwise, and if we don’t pay attention, it is at our own peril”.
As for translation, she comments that “the translator of contemporary poetry has to think beyond national boundaries in the same way the critic must work to undo the sense that literature is a national institution that obeys the rules of one language”, and concludes that “it is up to translators, but also the minor cultures themselves to get their literature out there through astute marketing that is informed by knowledge of the receiving cultures. Anticipating the impact of a translation in the receiving culture is a way to take responsibility for the translator's work, something that translators as well as publishers need to do”.
Austerity Measures gathers the very best of Modern Greek poetry. What’s the story behind the book? Has the crisis rekindled the interest of foreign readers in Greek poetry?
Yes, definitely. Both in the UK and the US readers are interested in Greek poetry again. The Guardian has been posting interviews with Greek poets and now the NYRB blog has invited them to read their poems and post videos of themselves.
The story behind the collection is quite simple. Reading and writing about Greek poetry for over thirty years I was wowed by the intensity of artistic output in the wake of the recent crisis. It was unlike anything I had seen since the Dictatorship. Like then, the strong presence of women poets was palpable. The poems being written were poems I felt needed to be translated, poems that had something to say to a larger audience outside Greece.
Though I first imagined “Austerity Measures” as a title in English, its appropriateness was clinched when the editor of the Greek edition Stavros Petsopoulos also saw its potential “Μέτρα λιτότητας” (Metra litotitas), both a term imbedded in the political discourse of the times, yet also deeply poetic. It could challenge the strict divide between disinterested belle lettrism and engaged social realism that has prevailed in Greece. At so many different levels, then, the anthology is about translation. Going back and forth between languages, between poets and translators, editors and publishers, and so forth.
“What most distinguishes the poetry of this new millennium from that which came before is, on the one hand, its diversity – there are no clear-cut schools or factions – and, on the other hand, the cultural conditions that it takes for granted”. Could you elaborate on that?
I was most surprised by how so many of the new poets I was discovering had no idea what other poets were doing. The poetry magazines and small press publications in piles on the floor of my office at Columbia University in New York City - Poiitiki, Pharmakon, Teflon, Poiitika, Shakespeirikon – belonged, on the one hand, to separate spheres, but also, on the other hand, had important overlapping concerns. The anthology was an attempt to mix up the piles and put everyone into conversation. I chose poems and translations, not poets or translators. The project was about mapping poetry scenes – a what’s where, rather than a who’s who.
Anthologies are always about the art of ordering, bringing out an argument by grouping certain texts together. I focused on what I consider the most salient feature of this new poetry – its multiethnic, multilingual cosmopolitanism – and then went for examples that showcased how something we usually think is destined to be lost in translation can actually be a way of connecting up disparate traditions – formal issues such as line length, the shape of a poem or issues of literary tradition and convention such as intertextual references, proper names, linguistic register and codeswitching.
Initially I thought about putting the less known online poets like Jazra Khaleed and Kyoko Kishida first so as to shock readers out of any expectation of Greek clichés like marble columns, sea, and sun, but my editor at Penguin relayed an interesting observation: most readers, he said, thumbing through books of poetry in bookstores, open to the middle. This is where you can catch them by surprise. So I kept to my plan to start in Athens with established literary magazines, and then move to the more offbeat literary collectives, from there to online poetry, then to poetry in the provinces and on the edges, and finally by migrants inside Greece and Greeks outside scrambling the borders of what counts as Greek poetry altogether.
What is the relationship of poetry to the world it inhabits? What can it mean for poetry to be political, or apolitical, in times of social and economic crisis? Can poetry actually offer new ways to imagine what can be radically different realities?
Only after the anthology was finished did it become clear to me how the drama of borders, migrants, and a sea impossible to patrol, now so much in the news, had emerged in Greek poetry some time ago. Literature often tells us what will happen before it happens. Poetry, more than other genres, plays the role of a Cassandra. What is striking is how the soothsaying in this poetry involved upending an older model of disinterested modernism. It insisted on talking about the troubles, however indirectly. It wasn’t possible to let boatfuls of migrants drown or to build barbed wire fences and detention centers without serious repercussions for everyone. Given the recent resurgence of separatisms –Grexit, Brexit, Trump’s wall – the message is only more urgent now. We need poetry, and poetry in translation, to tell us things we can’t know otherwise, and if we don’t pay attention, it is at our own peril. As William Carlos Williams says in the epigraph to the anthology [#34], “It is difficult to get the news from poems/ yet men die miserably every day/ for lack/ of what is found there.”
Most scholars reckon that the content of a book cannot be separated from the particularities of the language that gave it shape. In this context, where does the role and responsibility of the translator lie?
I think the translator of contemporary poetry has to think beyond national boundaries in the same way the critic must work to undo the sense that literature is a national institution that obeys the rules of one language. But on this count the translator may have a head start since she already knows her translation is de facto divorced from the source language. It comes as no surprise that everything is up to her now. It is her responsibility to make it make sense for a new audience in a new way.
In her article The Making of Originals: The Translator as Editor, Karen Emmerich notes that when translating from a so-called “minor” to a so-called “major” language or literature, translators do sometimes hold remarkable power, including the power to produce what will in many cases become the only interpretation of a work of literature available in a given language. How do you respond to this power? Can translation ever be unethical?
Translators in any language when translating into any language wield the power of interpretation in their work. It is not more so when translating into a major language or when translating a minor literature. The specific situation determines the nature and function of the power. Translation everywhere is a cultural practice with far-reaching social effects. The question is how the translator takes responsibility for this power.
Translation is always about the possibility of a second, third, or fourth translation and never about a single, authoritative translation. Yes, often this doesn’t come to pass given the unequal distribution of cultural prestige and capital, but the ethical charge, if you will, must always imagine it is possible and fight for it. An ethical translation is one that understands the conditions of its own production and makes that visible. It is one that is open to different interpretations. Here I think translators and publishers and reviewers in the target language can do a huge amount to educate readers about how to read translations, but I also think authors, publishers and reviewers in the source language need to think beyond literature as a national institution.
In an interview you did with Theodoros Chiotis I noticed with interest his plug for a more consistent state policy for translation. The problem, of course, is whether the people deciding what gets support know enough about the international publishing scene. Other minor literatures such as Catalan have a better record of supporting not only the translation, but also the dissemination of Catalan literature abroad. The Greek Ministry of Culture would need to work with foundations and international groups of scholars and writers in the countries where the literature is being translated and published. Not every translator or press in a major culture can offer strategic help in supporting a minor literature, some, for example, are in the business of ghettoizing the literature in an appeal to one readership such as Greeks of the Diaspora. It is up to translators, but also the minor cultures themselves to get their literature out there through astute marketing that is informed by knowledge of the receiving cultures. Anticipating the impact of a translation in the receiving culture is a way to take responsibility for the translator's work, something that translators as well as publishers need to do.
What about books that are written between two or more languages? What does a translator do with texts that are already translational? How demanding is it to translate Diaspora and immigrant writing that doesn’t belong to one national canon?
Many critics think it is impossible to translate multilingual literature, but I prefer to view it as a resource for translation. Multilingual literature with its high coefficient of creole and hybrid idioms (Gringlish, Gritalian, Gralbanian) challenges the prevailing assumption that languages and cultures are discreet entities. If originals cross borders and share common words, syntactical structures and referents, then surely translations can too. Multilingual practices in the source text map out ways for translators to be more experimental by exposing the instability and ideological import of their own language. That can only help readers become more aware of the linguistic and cultural conditions of minority—in every sense of that word.
*Interview by Athina Rossoglou
Charilaos Nikolaidis (Athens, 1986) is a lawyer and a lecturer in Public Law and Human Rights at the University of Essex. He is the author of the poetry collection Fox on a highway (Melani, 2015).
Photo Credit: Kristina Bratuska
Charilaos Nikolaidis spoke to Reading Greece* about Fox on a highway noting that it is “an exercise in learning how to laugh, how to put things into one’s own perspective and to challenge one’s certainties”, and that humour and sarcasm allow us “to give seriousness all sorts of new shapes and colours”.
He discusses the binding thread between law and poetry, where “poetry invites us to imagine what could be and the law requires us to implement what needs to be”. As for the role of poetry in times of crisis, he comments that poetry is “a way to fly against the gravitational pull of circumstance”, and concludes that “as concerns Greek literature, something really interesting is going on. Our obligation is to be extrovert and to insist on communicating it”.
Your first poetry collection Fox on a highway has received quite favorable reviews. Tell us a few things about the book.
‘Foxes laugh when nobody is watching […]’, declares the epigraph of the book. Fox on a highway is an exercise in learning how to laugh, how to put things into one’s own perspective and to challenge one’s certainties with a positive attitude and without fear of leaving the safe haven of conventionality. The highway is not a place for a fox but this is why she needs to be there. Being simultaneously alive and out of place provides the detachment which is necessary in order to experience things anew. The other foxes might not listen to her, but that is a risk that a curious fox needs to take. My fox was lucky enough to have received a lot of warmth from people I (and she) did not even know. So, the risk paid off.
Your poems are characterized by a humorous touch and a subtle sarcasm. What purpose do they serve?
To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, some things are too important to be taken seriously. The veil of ‘seriousness’ is often used as a cover for lack of imagination. This happens when seriousness is understood as a certain form that needs to be followed strictly, any deviation from it being frowned upon simply because it is a deviation. Humour and sarcasm break this cycle, allowing us to give seriousness all sorts of new shapes and colours. For instance, there is no reason to insist on a grey desperation where an orange one would do.
In his review of your poetry, Petros Golitsis comments on the priority you give to language, which re-arranges the world through innovative optic and sound combinations. What role does language play in your writings?
I first came to appreciate poetry through the songs that I would listen to when I was a child. This is how I first met poets such as Michalis Ganas, Manos Eleftheriou, Nikos Gatsos, Odysseus Elytis and many others; through the lyrics they had written for songs. I have always been fascinated by the way poetry can turn into music and that is why my first poems were essentially lyrics for songs. This helped me a lot, for example, in my translation of the work of Edna St. Vincent Millay which is going to be published soon, given that rhyming and rhythm are an important part of her style.
I keep writing - without publishing - lyrics for songs, both in Greek and in English, enjoying the musicality of language. The effects of this private exercise are certainly reflected on my published poetry. An important indication in this respect is my effort to use mainstream vocabulary and to be as direct as possible. A poet I admire very much, Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke, wrote in her review of ‘Fox on a highway’ that ‘wisdom is being translated into everyday language’, which is exactly what I aim to do and the greatest encouragement I could ever hope for.
Law and Poetry. Contradictory or complementary fields? Does writing actually constitute their binding thread?
Both law and poetry aim to interpret the world and, at the same time, to shape it. As a consequence, both require us to engage with immense concepts. How we choose to do so is what separates the two. For example, the first person who came up with the notion of equality was certainly both a poet and a legal scholar. But the moment he or she brought a claim before a mediator to assert a right to non-discrimination, the legal analysis took precedence. Poetry describes the human condition and the law regulates it. Poetry invites us to imagine what could be and the law requires us to implement what needs to be. One completes the other. Perhaps this is the binding thread.
“At home, poetry calls on us to defend its role in a world that we are now obliged to design from scratch. These are tough times for poets – and not only for them. Tough, and therefore interesting”. What is the role poetry and art in general is called to play in times of crisis?
Art is a way to communicate and to reconceptualise, in times of crisis and in times of prosperity alike. This is the main role that we can expect it to play: to bring us together in articulating our need for expression and to inspire us in our quest for what is possible and yet unattained. It is no coincidence that great poetry has been produced in difficult periods of history given that it is precisely at such times when the call for unity and inspiration becomes most urgent. Poetry in times of crisis is a way to fly against the gravitational pull of circumstance, not in order to escape from it, but in order to overcome it. The amazing work produced by many young writers in Greece and abroad attests to this.
It has been argued that the new generation of Greek poets is multicultural, multiethnic and multigenerational. What is it that makes a national literature appealing to a foreign audience? And, in turn, to what extent do Greek writers incorporate foreign influences in their work?
Many contemporary Greek poets have studied abroad, many are still living abroad and virtually everyone has come across foreign writers, either in translation or in the original text, multilingualism having increased significantly during the last decades. I have personally gained a lot from reading the work of foreign poets (e.g. Wislawa Szymborska, Wendy Cope, Billy Collins and many others) and I have detected influences from foreign literature in the work of most contemporary Greek writers.
This is not surprising in my opinion. I have always envisaged literature in general and poetry in particular as a roundtable where writers from all different places and periods exchange views through their work. Perhaps a similar roundtable –if not the same one- hosts the readers. The appeal of national literature depends on the contribution it makes to that universal discussion. As concerns Greek literature, something really interesting is going on. Our obligation is to be extrovert and to insist on communicating it.
*Interview by Athina Rossoglou
The 14th Thessaloniki International Book Fair (TIBF), an institution that has brought radical change in the field of books and has become a meeting point for all book professionals and fans in Greece, has opened its gates on Tuesday 11 May. This year’s Book Fair focuses on the European South, an undivided landscape regarding literature, tradition, social structure, politics and the economic perception of today’s world. A landscape of affinities and controversies, of common history and parallel narratives.
In this context, Reading Greece* interviewed Nathalie Karagiannis whose poetry anthology The Quest of the South “revolves around the twin axes of disorientation and the quest of the South”, and touches upon the themes of “destiny, passage, loss, origin”. She expresses her interest in the “imaginaries of the South, its juxtapositions, its great moments, its great contrasts, its dark light, its intensity”, and comments that the concept of ‘South’ opens up a wide range of possibilities “from a political strategy aiming at the creation or even emancipation of a collective subject to, simply, a horizon, an always-advancing never-attainable limit”.
Natalia Karagiannis (1972) was born in Paris and lives in Barcelona. She studied Law, Political Sciences and Sociology. She has published the poetry collections Σαράντα [Forty] (with Christina Nakou) (Agra Editions, 2014) and Εξορισμός [Exile] (Melani Editions, 2016). She is the editor of the bilingual poetry anthology La busqueda del sur [The quest of the South] (Animal Sospechoso, 2016).
Your poetry anthology The Quest of the South was recently published by Animal Sospechoso. What’s the story behind the book?
The book came as the natural follow-up of a festival of poetry, the Festival of the South, which took place in Barcelona in December 2015. It revolves around the twin axes of disorientation and the quest of the South and is an encounter of poems written in Greek, Spanish, Catalan and French, by poets who come from Greece, Spain, Colombia, Argentina, Russia, France and Belgium.
Destiny, passage, loss, origin. How are these themes dealt upon in the anthology? What is the binding thread of the poems – and the poets – included in it?
The book performs its own theme of disorientation by reversing the normal order of things. It is divided in four chapters, whose titles you mention, performing, as it were, an existential quest the other way around than the chronological one. Destination/destiny gives us the immediate result of the quest – poetry – reminding us that what lies ahead or behind, what is of interest (at once keeping us apart and binding us together), is the quest. Passages (the means of transports, the ways of passing) and losses (death, separations, disenchantment) are the two succeeding chapters and each of them brings us closer to the moving ground which is the very end of all of our quests: the origins – the South and its intensity.
The binding threads between the poems are contained within them: a tingy fruit, a bicycle, the wing of an angel, a bridge, an open car window, the earth, a hand, a cut, a break, a chain, an atmosphere, a regret. In the words or silences of each poem something always, miraculously, gestures to the poem before it and the poem after it.
The European South constitutes a landscape of affinities and controversies, of common history and parallel narratives. Could we also talk about a distinct ‘poetry of the European South’? What are the points of convergence and divergence?
I am not convinced by the concept of the European South, and I certainly don´t think there is such a thing as a `poetry of the European South´. Or to put it differently: I am not looking for it. I am rather interested in the imaginaries of the South, its juxtapositions, its great contrasts, its dark light, its intensity. Theoretically, one can of course perceive in the use of the concept of the 'South' a wide range of possibilities - from a political strategy aiming at the creation or even emancipation of a collective subject to, simply, a horizon, an always-advancing never-attainable limit.
In recent years the interest of foreign readers in Greek poetry has been rekindled, with an increasing number of Greek anthologies being translated abroad. Could you comment on this trend?
Every book that strives to render the incredible vitality of contemporary Greek poetry accessible to a non-Greek readership is laudable. There are many explanatory factors: one is the sheer vitality of Greek poetry itself that, naturally as it were, bursts out of its linguistic barriers; another is the wider and deeper international networks highly educated Greek poets are building; a third one has to do with the side of the demand, so to say: critical audiences world-wide are more attuned to non-hegemonic languages and artistic expression.
*Interview by Athina Rossoglou
Konstantina Korryvanti (Athens, 1989) has studied Political Science, History and International Relations. She has recently moved to the United Kingdom, where she works at the University of Essex. Mythogony (Mandragoras, 2015) is her first poetry collection.
Photo Credit: Kristina Bratuska
Konstantina Korryvanti spoke to Reading Greece* about Mythogony, “a poetry collection inspired by female figures of Greek mythology”, that “touches upon the everlasting battle between male and female by re-introducing the divine status of women”. She comments that “poetry is a discursive form which allows for an imaginative exploration of the enduring visionary narratives of myths”, and adds that Mythogony is “a poetic project of self-awareness and self-reflection, with a strong focus on gender, social roles and norms”.
Asked about the prospects of Greek literature abroad, she note that “Greek poetry and particularly Homer have a continued impact on Anglophone literature”, which should serve as a model for further exchange, and concludes that “Greek poetry has become relevant again and it would be a pity not to take advantage of the momentum”.
Your first poetry collection Μythogony received both the Maria Polydouri Poetry Award 2016 and the G. Athanas Award of the Academy of Athens the same year. Tell us a few things about the book.
Mythogony (Mandragoras, 2015) is a poetry collection inspired by female figures of Greek mythology. I was attracted to myths from an early age and I have to admit that Greek mythology excited my imagination to such an extent that it was almost impossible not to write this book. Mythogony touches upon the everlasting battle between male and female by re-introducing the divine status of women.
How important are such awards for a newcomer in poetry?
Receiving an award is always a welcome gesture that not only motivates the recipient to do more, but also conveys to others that such efforts are indeed appreciated. Mythogony was also a runner up for the 2016 debut poet’s award in the literary prizes of the Reader’s Magazine (Anagnostis) and was shortlisted for the 2016 Yiannis Varveris award for the best first poetry collection presented by the Hellenic Writers’ Society. I could not be more thankful for the tremendous amount of encouragement to keep getting better. However, I do consider poetry to be a process, a lifelong project and I know pretty well that at the end of the day, awards are just a pat on the back to carry on and work harder.
Ancient Greek mythology has always been a source of inspiration for writers. How are myths and archetypal symbols used in your writing?
Poetry is a discursive form which allows for an imaginative exploration of the enduring visionary narratives of myths. It is through their archetypal images and drama that we can address eternally important issues such as order, freedom, balance, love and death. As Roland Barthes nicely put it ‘myth is a type of speech chosen by history’. To build upon this thought, I have come to realise how easily myths go way beyond the public domain and concern us deeply on a more intimate level.
Classical mythologies had and will always have a place in poetry. There is a long list of poets who drew not only on ancient myths but also on the work of previous writers influenced by mythology. A striking example is that of Ted Hughes, who was greatly inspired by writers such as Robert Graves and W. B. Yeats. Mythological figures are also recurrent references in Margaret Atwood’s writings and have frequently appeared in Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry in a revisited way. This revisionary quality interests me the most. Retelling a story has a constructive power much needed and often hard won, especially for women struggling to challenge and transgress the patriarchal discourse.
Just to elaborate on this point, Adrienne Rich, acclaimed poet, essayist and one of America’s most esteemed intellectuals once said that ‘revision – the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new critical direction- is for women more than a chapter in cultural history; it is an act of survival’. As I see it, and apologies for the terrible cliché, the only way to survive is to know yourself. Mythogony is, therefore, a poetic project of self-awareness and self-reflection, with a strong focus on gender, social roles and norms.
What about your use of female mythological figures only (with the exception of Triton)? How is woman, in all her roles and representations, imprinted in your poetry?
The 23 female mythological figures of the book serve as devices exploring further the female identity. Western mythology introduced women either as angels or devils. The contrast of Euripides's Alcestis, who sacrificed her life to save her husband and Medea who murdered her children to get revenge for her husband’s betrayal is a perfect example of this. My Mythogony, however, stands in the middle and sets the woman at the centre of the universe where genesis begins. It was only just before submitting the final manuscript of Mythogony that I realized what my book was about.
Mythogony is mostly a poetry collection dedicated to the mother-daughter relationship. This is the core and the primary link between women and I could not have chosen a different starting point. In fact, the book opens with a quote by the American poet Sylvia Plath. Plath in a letter to her mother wrote: ‘I would like to call myself the girl who wanted to be God’.
What I mean to say is that even though, at first, mythology might seem an inhospitable terrain for women, if the reader overcomes the recurring theme of conquering gods and heroes, some rare qualities attributed to women can be witnessed. In Mythogony, even the less trained poetry reader can identify the woman as mother daughter, mistress and wife. Interestingly enough, my favourite role is that of the deserted or the loner - if you prefer – as it is a much broader category open to different interpretations.
The last two poems, however, are not female portraits. The 24th poem is about Anafi, a small Greek island in the Cyclades where the Argonauts found shelter during a storm. Anafi imprints and extends, therefore, the qualities of the Sea, yet another metaphor for woman. That is why Triton, a fish-tailed merman and demigod of the Sea made a fine conclusion. It appears that Triton as a young man said to be a messenger is the only one who can calm the waters.
It has been argued that the new generation of Greek poets is multicultural, multiethnic and multigenerational. What is it that makes a national literature appealing to a foreign audience? And, in turn, to what extent do Greek writers incorporate foreign influences in their work?
Emerging Greek poets have shown raw talent and great potential. The vast majority of them are well educated, hardworking individuals from all walks of life, with a strong commitment to poetry. Their work is independent from tradition but at the same time not altogether detached from it.
We have been fortunate enough to inherita highly influentialliterary legacy, so building upon it is an arduous and exhaustive task. Greek literature may have its own allure but when it comes to poetry you need to approach one reader at a time. While I believe word of mouth normally helps and should suffice in the domestic book industry, raising awareness on Greek modern poetry is key, if we are aiming at a foreign audience as well.
To put it in the right context, Greece has recently fallen under the spotlight due to the economic crisis and many young Greek poets were featured in relevant anthologies published abroad. Prior to those anthologies, the only Modern Greek poetry that you could find in mainstream bookstores in London was the unparalleled poetic corpus of C.P. Cavafy, an extended bibliography on Seferis and in some cases poems of Ritsos.
Launching abroad anthologies of contemporary Greek poetry was, therefore, a great kick start. Greek poetry has become relevant again and it would be a pity not to take advantage of the momentum. If there is a just right moment for everything, I think that is high time for public sector and private initiatives to join forces. A promotion campaign should be the next step.
From my experience abroad, I can assure you that ancient Greek poetry and particularly Homer have a continued impact on Anglophone literature. Derek Walcott, Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley, Anne Carson, Louis Glück and Alice Oswald, just to name a few poets, have returned to the old texts several times; still paying homage to ancient Greek models and themes. Why not pursue further exchange?
In looking for foreign influences in our writings, I am pretty convinced that modern British and contemporary American poetry are the dominant paradigms. This is no surprise, given that English is the most accessible language to us and a considerable number of young Greek poets have studied in the U.K. Needless to say how significant has been the contribution of Greek literary magazines, such as Poiitiki,Mandragoras and more recently Farmako and Thraca to this exchange.
To speak for myself, my growing appetite for foreign poetry led me to somehow match the Greek poets I have cherished the most with British, Irish, Americans, French and Italians. This way I have teamed up C. P. Cavafy with W.H. Auden, Andreas Empeirikos with Ted Hughes, Matsi Chatzilazarou with Joyce Mansour, Louis Glück and Jane Hirshfield with Jenny Mastoraki and Maria Laina, Alda Merini with Katerina Angelaki-Rooke.
“I saw my personal fears reflected in those of hundreds of young people who have put their hopes in the heavy industry that is higher education”. How does Brexit influence the academic and cultural mapping of England? What are the prospects ahead?
The U.K’s withdrawal from the EU has started and no one knows what future holds. If there is one thing that keeps my hopes high that’s the inclusivity and the internationalism of the UK Universities. I joined the University of Essex in early 2016 and since then I have been co-ordinating the Doctoral Programme of the Law School. As we like to say here at Essex, we are proud to have the world in one place. So, we shall keep it this way.
*Interview by Athina Rossoglou
Kallia Papadaki was born in Didymoteicho in 1978 and grew up in Thessaloniki. She studied economics in the United States at Bard College and Brandeis University and film at Stavrakos’ Film School in Greece.
Her short story collection The Back-Lot Sound (Polis Publishers, 2009), attracted warm critical reviews and won the New Writers Award from the Greek literary journal Diavazo. In 2011, she was selected to participate in the Scritture Giovani with her short story Agis and Mary, at the Mantova, Hay and Berlin literary festivals. Her second book, Lavender in December (2011), was a poetry collection. Her third book, Dendrites (2015), is a novel that received the Centre National du Livre (CNL), development grant in 2012, won the Young Author’s Award from the literary journal Clepsidra in 2016 and received the European Union Prize for Literature in 2017. Both her short stories and poems have been published in international anthologies and literary journals.
She works as a professional screenwriter. September, her first feature script won, in 2010, the International Balkan Fund script development award, received the Nipkow Scholarship in Berlin, and premiered at the 48th Karlovy Vary IFF (official competition). Forty days, currently in development, is her second.
Kallia Papadaki spoke to Reading Greece* about Dendrites, “a story about the quest for a meaningful life amidst the ruins of lost second chances, failed marriages, and broken careers”. She explains that she writes about “people who strive to make a difference but don’t quite make it”, and adds that what motivates her when it comes to writing is her “fears, compulsions, and second thoughts”, which she often finds overpowering.
She comments that both fiction writing and script writing share “the need to narrate a story”, noting, however, that it’s poetry that is closer to cinematic language. Asked about the reason why in Greece there is a preference for short form, she explains, among others, that the country’s small size and its language encourage writers to “delve into the depths of language and history, to even write in dialect, which in longer formats would be repetitive and exhausting”. She concludes that “literature – its essence – lies in what we cannot see but only imagine: the depths and richness in maps of oceans and outer skies, the crying of a whale, the singing of a bird”.
Your novel Dendrites has just won the European Union Prize for Literature 2017. Tell us a few things about the book.
Dendrites is set in crisis-ridden 1980s Camden, New Jersey, in a community of immigrants who fail to achieve the American dream. It is a story about the quest for a meaningful life amidst the ruins of lost second chances, failed marriages, and broken careers. It is a novel about wanting to belong despite personal and collective crises, where hope and compassion can be found in the least expected places.
According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, a dendrite is: a) a branching treelike figure produced on or in a mineral by a foreign mineral, b) a crystallized arborescent form, c) any of the usually branching protoplasmic processes that conduct impulses toward the body of a neuron. How does the title serve the purposes of the book?
The title works on multiple levels. Dendrites signifies, in an abstract sense, memory – its core existence or not – located at the neuron synapses and its transmitters; family trees and the mark they leave on future generations; and of course the ephemeral of human beauty, as seen in those uniquely formed snowflakes swirling in the air.
A short story collection, a poetry collection and a novel. Which are the themes that your writing touches upon?
It’s hard to pinpoint what I write about. I guess I write about people who strive to make a difference but don’t quite make it. I write about how inescapable loss and pain are and how we struggle to live on, to leave a mark behind, our unique imprint that we too were here and we tried to make sense of this world and life. I guess it would be much easier to talk about what motivates me when it comes to writing: that is my fears, compulsions, and second thoughts, which I often find overpowering.
Being an award-winning scriptwriter, are there parallels to be drawn between fiction writing and script writing? What is closer to cinematic language: fiction or poetry?
The one obvious parallel to be drawn is the need to narrate a story. In addition, scriptwriting borrows many narrative tools from fiction –and vice versa. However, I think that poetry is much closer to cinematic language: there is a central theme, a central idea that holds together a poem or script, images and notions that serve that very central theme or idea, and an internal rhythm that sets the pace and brings to mind the art of film-editing. It all comes down to the principles of precision and condensation that both film and script share in common.
It has been noted Greek writers have a preference for short form and that short story collections have outweighed novels and longer narratives. How would you comment on this trend?
I am not sure this is entirely true. However, there is a certain tradition in Greece when it comes to short stories and poetry. Perhaps we are not accustomed to longer forms, the way Americans and Russians are, because they had to invent and re-invent their history to fight off the vast empty landscape, its inhumane bareness and loneliness. Whereas for us Greeks, history always weighed heavily on our shoulders and still does to this day.
Moreover, Greece is a small country with a small market and a language that doesn’t reach all those big markets; rarely do Greeks get translated into English. That encourages an esoteric search and experimentation in form and context, the need and motivation to further delve into the depths of language and history, to even write in dialect, which in longer formats would be repetitive and exhausting.
Last but not least, we are trained to write in short form. Few writers, if any, nowadays live from their writing. We all have morning jobs, nine to five jobs, wives, husbands and children, and after a long day at work it’s almost impossible to set on such a long and time-consuming journey. Unfortunately, for many of us, writing comes second. The day is full of to-do’s, jobs and chores, and nights seem to always be short.
In a crisis-stricken Greece, could literature offer new ways to imagine what could be radically different realities?
Literature looks like an ever-changing world map: borders change, continents move apart or closer, volcanoes explode, islands are brought to surface, forests burn and grow anew, while man is trying to sketch time and again the lines and curves of his limited but changing world. Yet literature – its essence – lies in what we cannot see but only imagine: the depths and richness in maps of oceans and outer skies, the crying of a whale, the singing of a bird.
*Interview by Athina Rossoglou
Sotiris Rizas is Director of Research at the Academy of Athens Research Centre for the Study of Modern Greek History. Dr Rizas has been member of the Advisory Board of the National Centre of Public Administration (2008-2011) and has taught at the National School of Public Administration and the Hellenic Open University. He has been Visiting Fellow in Hellenic Studies Program/Princeton University (2004-2005) and King's College/University of London (1994-1995).
He has published widely in Greek and English* on Greece's modern and contemporary history focusing on the political history and foreign policy of the Post–World War II period. His recent publications in English include a book on The Rise of the Left in Southern Europe: Anglo-American Responses (2012), as well as articles on Atlanticism and Europeanism in Greece's Foreign and Security policy in the 1970s (2008), Domestic and External Factors in Greece's Relations with the Soviet Union: Early Cold War to Détente (2013) and The Search for an Exit from the Dictatorship and the Transformation of Greek Conservatism, 1967-1974 (2014).
Sotiris Rizas talks to Greek News Agenda** about Greece’s European course, the causes of the European crisis, the debt impact on the European project as well as Greece's Europeanism from a a historical perspective. Dr Rizas concludes that if the European project is to be preserved, the pro-European middle classes have "to take into account the risks inherent in post-modern capitalism and accept the need of safety nets."
How does Greek Post–World War II history relate to Europe’s coditions, achievements and dilemmas? Would you like to elaborate on Greece’s “European course”?
Greece's postwar growth and prosperity was tied to European developments. Either as part of a US-led recovery or the Euro-Atlantic security arrangements, Greece's economic and security policies could not be understood detached from their European context. Moreover, from the 1970s onwards, Greece's European course was marked by European integration and the enlargement of the European Community to the South. It was a design with the dual aim of consolidating democracy and modernizing economic and social structures of a formerly backward Mediterranean country. Greece retained though strong historical and cultural affinities with Western Europe, which was the model of democratic and developed societies.
Athens' Syntagma square after the liberation from the German occupation (October 1944)
Europe undergoes one of the biggest crises in its history. What is your view of its main causes?
The crisis of 2008 was caused by intense competition from the rising Asian economies in the context of a globalized world and an uncritical utilization by the financial sector of credit tools that led to over borrowing; hence the need for "deleveraging", the cutting down of debts, which is a long and painful process. Moreover, the Euro-zone was not prepared for a crisis of this magnitude. As it had been pointed out at the beginning of the European monetary union project, the Euro zone lacked mechanisms that would rectify fiscal imbalances, that is, the transfer of funds from surplus to deficit countries that are met in federal states. Consequently, intervention to rescue insolvent countries took the form of austerity policies imposed by lenders to borrowers. Whereas the aim of preserving the single currency was and is a legitimate one, the means to this end were almost self-defeating since austerity destabilized political and social structures and generated a tide of Euroscepticism.
Greece (as well as other European countries) has a long history of debt. What is the impact of the member-states-in-debt to the European project?
Greece has indeed a long history of debt although it is not alone in over borrowing. Its impact is difficult to assess. It could lead eventually to the detachment of the weaker countries from the single currency. This eventuality is not very possible though, since it would incur a heavy toll to the beneficiaries of the euro: first, discrediting of the euro in the markets, second, expectations of further withdrawals and last, but not least, an unwanted, in terms of competitiveness, appreciation of the euro. An alternative could be the establishment of a mechanism of fiscal transfers that would stabilize the situation. However, this sort of redistribution presupposes a shift of the political equilibrium to the centre-left and the left or a policy shift of conservatism, which at present is unlikely. The third possibility would be the reaffirmation of the current conservative hegemony and the transformation of the European Stability Mechanism to a European Monetary Fund that would act as the lender of indebted countries. Its logic, nonetheless, would be similar to that of the current arrangements. It's doubtful that it would last for long if growth does not return.
Recent studies show a consolidation of a new kind of Euroscepticism in Greece [which coexists with a parallel Pro-European modernizing rhetoric]. Would you like to comment?
From a historical perspective, Greece's Europeanism has been somewhat shallow. It was based on the funds coming from the European Community and the European Union: Common Agricultural Policy, structural funds, programs tailored for the Mediterranean countries, convergence funds and so on. It should also be borne in mind that Greece's participation in the monetary union was legitimized as a means of sheltering the country from the fluctuations of the market, as a sort of protection of its prosperity. It was almost an ambition that Greece would be sharing a very strong currency that otherwise was not corresponding to its actual economic situation. Cheap borrowing after 2000 came to confirm the false pretences associated with the coming of the euro.
The crisis of 2010 was the painful awakening and revealed another aspect of relations between countries that share a single currency. Dislocation and decay was the experience of many of our fellow Greeks. The story is a complicated one though. European unification was not a shallow project. It opened borders and created a common European space. A large part of the middle classes, not a majority but still consequential, are sharing a European frame of reference. They feel that the European project must be preserved not least in order to escape from the ghosts of the past, chauvinism and conflict. However, if the European project is to be preserved, the pro-European groups should be intelligent and creative: Europe must coexist with the nations that marked its history; the well off have to take into account the risks inherent in post-modern capitalism and accept the need of safety nets.
** Interview by Florentia Kiortsi
* A full list of Sotiris Rizas publications can be found here
Eugene Trivizas is one of Greece’s leading writers for children. Although educated in law and a specialist in criminal law and comparative criminology, he has published more than 120 children’s books. He has written short stories, fairy tales, picture books, novels, poems, television series, songs, plays and even opera librettos for children. Humor, subversiveness, a multilevel complexity and the unexpected transformations of classic stories and images are the key elements of his work. He has received multiple national and international prizes and awards, including honorary distinctions by the US Library of Congress and the Polish Center for Youth, while much of his work has been adapted for stage, screen and radio.
His first book for children published in the English language was The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury and published by Heinemann in 1993. The Economist wrote about this book that "only the most talented of writers can tamper with a classic nursery tale and produce something almost as amusing and thought-provoking as the original". The book reached the second place in the American best seller list for picture books and has won many distinctions. His books have been translated in more than fifteen languages. His book Emily & the Cherry Stalk was voted best preschool e-book of the year 2015 by the prestigious Kidscreen Awards.
Eugene Trivizas spoke to Reading Greece* about what drove him to writing books for children noting that his longing for a story he liked never to end became the reason why he started writing his own fairytales. He comments that “a book should have three primary goals: to entertain children, to broaden their creative horizons and to cultivate their imagination”, adding that he writes books that “both small children and mature adults will enjoy at different levels”. Asked about the way he handles the issues of war, violence, prejudice and bullying in his books, he explains that “through the use of symbols and allegories, you can talk to young children about serious, even tragic issues without traumatizing them”.
As for the Greek educational system, he stresses that “education should aim not so much to impart knowledge – given that knowledge nowadays is easily accessible – but to cultivate children’s creativity and imagination, so that this knowledge is employed in innovative ways”. He concludes that “the more difficult the social conditions, the stronger the need to envision a brighter future” and that “fairytales offer children the hope that we can defeat the dragons and the monsters that threaten and oppress us”, while they also “transmit the message that we are able to overcome the limitations of our roles, our environment and our existence”.
What drove you to writing books for children? What continues to be your driving force?
When I was young and someone read a book to me, I felt betrayed when at the end I heard “and they lived happily ever after”. The heroes may have lived happily ever after, but they had abandoned me all the same. Thus, I tried to imagine what would happen if the story went on. At times I offered first aid to the defeated dragon or I tried to discover where the eight neglected dwarf was hiding, while at others to guess what the last dream of Sleeping Beauty was right before she woke up or even to visit the shoemaker who made the boots of Puss in Boots. This longing for stories I liked to continue and never end became the reason why I started writing my own fairy tales.
I began writing my first novel The Chimney Pirates while still a child. When it was first published in sequential instalments in a children’s magazine, I received my first letter from a girl. “It’s strange”, she wrote among others, “that I feel the Chimney Pirates as my own, as if they were hidden in my imagination and they suddenly woke up…”. At a time when I had discontinued literary writing and was thinking of devoting myself entirely to criminology, this letter – which I found while rearranging some papers – induced me to continue writing books for children. The magazine page with the letter is included in the exhibition FROM FRUITOPIA TO THE ISLAND OF FIREWORKS, which has just concluded at the Michael Cacoyannis Foundation and will be transferred to the HELEXPO Thematic Park museum,THE SECRET WORDS OF EUGENE TRIVIZAS.
What makes a book attractive to such a demanding audience as children? And, in turn, what do you want to offer kids through your books?
A book should have three primary goals: to entertain children, to broaden their creative horizons and to cultivate their imagination. When I am asked why I write books for children, my response is that I don’t just write book for children but for the whole family. In other words, I try to create books that both small children and mature adults will enjoy at different levels, as it is the case for example with the classics Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, or The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery. The concept of shared enjoyment is predominant in my literary work.
“The stereotypes of good and evil which are propagated through the medium of children’s books are often not only wrong, but even dangerous. They lay the foundations for prejudice against minorities, as well as breeding many other social ills”. How do you handle the issues of war,violence, prejudice and bullying in your books?
I believe that, through the use of symbols and allegories, you can talk to young children about serious, even tragic issues without traumatizing them. For instance, the issue of racist genocide is tackled in The Last Black Cat. In the book members of a secret sect are convinced that black cats bring about bad luck and they decide to exterminate them, supported by business circles active in the trade of cat traps as well as by political leaders who find in black cats convenient scapegoats for their disastrous policies. Within a short period of time, the ruthless persecutors have almost achieved their goal. Only one black cat remains alive. The members of the sect are determined to track this cat down and kill it! My anti-war book series titled Bang-Bang- Bing-A-Bong (The War of the Lost Slipper, The War of the Oufrons and the Tzoufrons, The Alphabet Soup War, The Whale that Eats War) touches upon the issue of war crimes, while the problem of bullying is tackled in my book The Rabbit's Mandolin.
Criminology and children’s writing seem quite distinct fields of interest. Is curiosity what bringsthem together?
Both the criminologist and the fairy-tale creator observe what for many may go unnoticed. For both the seemingly trivial could be be critical. An orange juice straw, an ice cream stick, a confectionery wrapping, a burnt match, a milk bottle top, may hide a clue for the solution of an atrocious crime or the beginning a charming fairy tale. Additionally, many of the issues modern criminology deals with, such as guilt, transgression and punishment offer rich material for my books: the trial by landowners of a scarecrow that dreams of flying and his conviction for attempted violation of the law of gravity in The Scarecrow's Dream, little Amy’s unbearable remorse in Amy and the Banana Skin, the outrageous methods of execution of convicts in The Executioner's Frying Pan, or the unexpected encounter between a burglar and a miser inside the safest safe of the world in The Baron's Golden Turtles.
What about the Greek educational system? What reforms are in your opinion needed in order to make schoolbooks and school courses attractive to children?
Every time I visit schools, I am impressed by the boundless imagination and the infinite creativity of preschoolers. A few years later, I see the same kids behaving like robots. Tired and stressed, they have already lost this freshness of approach, this magic spark. We teach them how to serve reality instead of how to shape it. Education should aim not so much to impart knowledge – given that knowledge nowadays is easily accessible – but to cultivate children’s creativity and imagination, so that this knowledge is employed in innovative ways.
In November 2015, astrophysicist Dimitris Nanopoulos invited me to take part in the presentation of his autobiographical work titled Στον τρίτο βράχο από τον ήλιο [Third rock from the sun]. In the book, he refers to how repelled he was by the way the subject of Physics was presented in school books and cites a quote by Manos Hatzidakis on how he envisioned the education of the future, “an education that propels towards a flying leap to the stars”. This is true not just for Physics books. Many school books are so boring, tiresome and tedious that instead of stimulating students, they drive them away. Instead of a “leap to the stars”, they lead to a massive leap away from books.To make matters worse, school books cause so much discomfort to kids that for the rest of their lives they loathe everything printed (with the possible exception of chequebooks).
School books could well become much more attractive were the learning process to be enriched with humor and imagination. For instance, a simple math exercises like “One kilo of potatoes costs two euros, how much do twenty kilos cost?” could be formulated in a different way such as “When Pinocchio tells a lie, his nose grows by two inches. How long will Pinocchio’s nose be if he tells twenty lies?” The exercise remains essentially the same, yet the way it is formulated stimulates the child’s attention much more effectively.
“The ability to imagine the nonexistent, the process of creating in our minds images or concepts beyond empirical reality is directly related to scientific thought, technological progress and economic prosperity”. What role does imagination play especially in times of crisis? Do books constitute an effective means to talk to children about the crisis?
The more difficult the social conditions, the stronger the need to envision a brighter future. Fairy tales offer children the hope that we can defeat the dragons and the monsters that threaten and oppress us. They also transmit the message that we are able to overcome the limitations of our roles, our environment and our existence. In my play The Scarecrow's Dream, a scarcow learns how to fly, in the novel A Girl and a Snowman a snowman detemined never to melt, sets out on a long dangerous journey to the north pole and in my opera libretto The Chessboard Fugitives a pawn, a wooden horse dreams of fleeing the chessboard and gallop on a meadow of four-leaf clovers .
*Interview by Athina Rossoglou
Two years after assuming his duties as Chairman of Enterprise Greece*, Christos Staikos spoke to Greek News Agenda about the mission of Enterprise Greece, the stable increase of Greek exports and foreign investments and the chance for Greece to "turn the corner, as a great turnaround story". Staikos also commented on Greek - Chinese relations, the One Belt One Road initiative and Greece's participation at coming "Expo Astana 2017 Future Energy".
Could you briefly describe the gamut of investment sectors in which Greece excels?
Enterprise Greece is designed to assist foreign investors and enterprises to do business with Greece, to contribute to the outward looking orientation of the Greek economy, to attract foreign investment, to troubleshoot issues related to the public administration, and to provide key investment and business information, by promoting the entire range of investment sectors. The recent European Commission forecasts for positive growth in the Greek economy, are expected to have a positive effect on the international investment markets, thus sending a clear GO signal to the international investor community, effectively leading to an inflow of capital and the initiation of new investment projects. This investment spur is anticipated to be driven by high-value sectors of the economy like Tourism, Real Estate, ICT, Energy & Renewables, Food - Beverage & Agriculture, Logistics, Waste Management and Life Sciences. Greece’s exceptional human capital, advanced infrastructure, geostrategic position, and potential for economic expansion, will act as investment accelerators within Greece’s newly designed investment framework, in supporting the creation of new business, new synergies, and new partnerships.
What are the exports of Greece? In which ways does Enterprise Greece help Greek businesses to reach new markets, find new business partners, and grow faster?
Greek exports (excluding petroleum products) have demonstrated a significant, but above all stable increase during the last few years. From 16.9 billion Euro in 2014, Greek exports increased to 18.4 billion Euro in 2015 and to 18.6 billion Euro in 2016. Once focused on the safe and strong domestic demand, Greek companies and entrepreneurs especially on SME level found themselves having to start exploring new opportunities for new business development offered through export trade. Greek businesses, through the necessary support from state agencies, are now enabled to follow this new trend and build upon this positive momentum. Enterprise Greece as the competent state agency mandated to promote and facilitate exports, has designed a diversified exports trade promotion program in key business sectors, inspired by the current trade trends and feedback from the Greek companies. This program has so far demonstrated an impressive and steady increase of Greek company participation in export trade related actions and initiatives. The success of this program is more evident in several exhibitions we have participated by organising national pavilions, where the number of participating companies has demonstrated a y-o-y increase at a rate of 10% to 50%, depending on the fair. We provide the full spectrum of services related to international business relationships and domestic business development for the international market. Enterprise Greece addresses the international business community with a variety of outreach events and missions, and supports investment and trade delegations, both incoming and outgoing, and (co-)organizes the business component of official Presidential, Prime Ministerial, and Ministerial missions abroad. A key component of the international outreach program of Enterprise Greece is its integrated relationship with Greek Embassies throughout the world and close cooperation with the Offices of Economic and Commercial Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This unified approach allows the global business community to reach multiple points of contact in conducting transactions with Greece’s public and private sector organisations.
In Greece since 2015 there has been an increase in both foreign direct investments and exports. How do you explain this increase? Does this trend has an impact on Greek economic growth?
As I have already mentioned we have recorded a strong growth on exports, whereas on foreign investments in 2016 FDI Inflows (net) stood at nearly 2.8 billion Euro, significantly higher than that of 2015 (1.02 billion Euro) and higher than that of 2014 (2.02 billion Euro). Apart from the major shift in the orientation of the Greek business community in becoming more extrovert and seeking new business opportunities abroad, on another level the Greek government has set key priorities for economic growth: a) to create high value and set the conditions for inclusive growth, b) to create new jobs by capitalizing on the high caliber of human capital, c) To promote outward looking and export oriented sectors and d) to support innovative and dynamic companies through a lean and supporting public sector and a stable environmental friendly framework for investments. In parallel, a new set of policy measures is under implementation, including: the absorption of the available Structural Funds for the period 2014-2020, the new investment law and the provision of investment incentives for new investments, the cooperation with international financial institutions like EIB, EIF, EBRD, IFC, Black Sea Trade & Development Bank, etc., to increase liquidity and ease investment financing, the newly launched NPLs framework, the acceleration of the privatization agenda and the new licensing framework designed in cooperation with World Bank. We have seen that this new reform agenda is paying back and we now do have early signs of economic growth in the economy, namely export development and new investments, as I mentioned before.
Enterprise Greece has rolled out an ambitious development strategy focusing on Greek high quality food & wine products. What do you what to achieve with this strategy and what are the results so far ?
Greek food and wine are famous of their premium quality. Since 2015 we’ve been actively promoting Greek food and wine exports through various promotional activities. We organize the national participation at the biggest food exhibitions in the world where under the slogan ‘Invest in Taste’, we invite trade visitors to select Greek products, ‘investing’ in that way to good health and their well being, the main attributes of the Mediterranean diet. About our wine, the indigenous Greek varieties are becoming more and more famous all over the world, thanks to increased promotion and the growing number of tourists visiting Greece every year and taking the opportunity to sample our unique grape varieties. Recent data show that Greek wine is increasing its market share in competitive international markets, in the US, Northern Europe and South East Asia. Our promotion strategy consists of alternative promotional activities in those markets, implemented in cooperation with the Greek Wine Association. The results are more than satisfactory so far, with the Greek food and wine exports increasing by 10% between 2015 and 2016 reaching 4,2 billion euro, defying the unfavorable global economic climate.
Is it a good period to invest in Greece? What are the most attractive investment opportunities for foreign investors ?
Greece today is ready to turn the corner, as a great turnaround story. Greece has been in a process to overhaul its economy towards Foreign Direct Investments and Export trade. Reforms and structural adjustments are in the frontline and it is now evident to all that there is a strong commitment to change in Greece, enabled by the political leadership. There is a new viewing angle now, it actively fosters relations with international investors and business leaders looking at the international markets and establishing lasting partnerships. Most importantly though it is the society as a whole which has embraced the narrative of change, and is supporting the changes and engaging with the global community. With so many changes happening in the economy we are bound to create at least as many opportunities: our tourism industry a recognized international leader, the rapidly developing mobile-tech and high-tech industries which are increasingly attracting global attention, diverse business sectors such as minerals, biotech, and environmental management continue to offer broad investment and trade opportunities, new energy sources and networks are reshaping our energy sector, the developing international sector of economic residence drives our competitive yet prime real estate sector, the worldwide popularity of the Mediterranean diet is rejuvenating and growing our food and beverage industry, Greece’s geographical position as a gateway between East and West renders it highly attractive for investments in logistics and transport. Enterprise Greece is continuously promoting investment opportunities in all these sectors, to interested investors that contact us.
There is a view that China will benefit disproportionately enormously in Europe with the Belt and Road project. In your opinion is the New Silk Road initiative bringing risks for Greece? How Greece could benefit from this initiative?
Greece and China both have a long cultural heritage, they both share a deep appreciation on each other’s culture, their diplomatic relations span for nearly half a century and over the last 11 years they have forged a strong bilateral strategic partnership. This partnership initiated with the investment of COSCO at Piraeus port, a project that transformed Greece to a major hub of the OBOR (One Belt One Road) initiative through the positioning of Greece in the Maritime Silk Road. It is one of the largest investments taking place in Greece, with major spillover growth effects on various sectors of the economy. Greece, despite being a small country in size though with significant presence, has followed the OBOR initiative is looking to cooperate with Chinese in this framework, as a European country . Within that context our PM Alexis Tsipras will be visiting Beijing for one more time in Mid May to participate on high-level meetings of the OBOR initiative about infrastructure development in the Middle-East, Central Asia and the fringes of Europe, necessary for the deployment of the “New Silk Road”. We have the chance to be part of China’s maritime route to Europe and effectively the entrance to the European market, and this brings profound benefits for Greece on its trade, shipping and tourism industries, with solid expectations shaping on a monthly basis for new business development and growth on infrastructure, transport, real estate, energy, shipbuilding, agriculture and construction sectors. Following COSCO’s investment in Piraeus several other smaller or bigger business deals have realised all over Greece by Chinese organizations thus creating win-win situations for all.
Enterprise Greece is participating at the coming Expo Astana 2017 Future Energy. What are your expectations of this participation?
Indeed we are very happy to participate at "EXPO ASTANA 2017" world exhibition and we have a first class opportunity to strengthen the long-standing close cooperation we always shared between our two countries, Kazakhstan and Greece. The fact that the exhibition focuses on energy issues is of particular importance to Greece, especially as our country is undertaking a comprehensive transformation of its energy sector with enhanced social care attributes, cross-border cooperation and security in the region, diversification of its energy supply and further change on its energy mix, with further development of renewable energy sources. On the other hand Greece acting as an important partner in the wider Balkan region, will give new impetus to the economic and cultural bilateral relations of the two countries, given that in Kazakhstan the existing Greek diaspora exceeds 10,000 people. The exhibition itself is an important international forum that gives Greece the opportunity to promote the high level of know-how and experience of Greek companies in the field of renewable energy and to attract foreign direct investment both in the energy sector and in other strategic economic sectors. The aim is to utilize "EXPO ASTANA 2017" as an international platform to promote Greek products, to strengthen Greek exports to the wider market and to promote our country as a unique tourist destination, as the exhibition is expected to welcome more than 10 million visitors.
*ENTERPRISE GREECE is the official agency of the Greek State, under the supervision of the Ministry of Economy & Development, to showcase Greece as an attractive destination for investment and to promote the highly competitive products and services produced in Greece for export. Enterprise Greece assists foreign investors and enterprises to do business with Greece, troubleshoots issues related to the public administration, provides key information about Greece as an investment destination and promotes the investment sectors in which Greece excels. In addition, it promotes Greek products and services to the global marketplace, helps Greek businesses reach new markets, find new business partners, and become more competitive and attractive. To learn more about the many investment and trade opportunities Greece offers, visit www.enterprisegreece.gov.gr
Interview by Irini Anastopoulou