Widely known to the Greek public for his successful films and TV series, director and writer Manoussos Manoussakis was born in Athens and studied at the London Film School. He has directed five feature films, “Bartholomew” (special mention San Remo film festival 1972), “The Enchantress” (best script, music and editing at the Thessaloniki festival, best cinematography at the Chicago children film festival, official selection at the Berlin Children’s film Festival, European Parliament award at the Giffoni Film Festival, Italy), “Power” and “Red Dragon”. He has directed eleven theater plays, ten TV films and twenty TV series. Three of his series got best series award, best directors award and all twenty are included at the top ten of the rating lists with one of them having ratings of 73%, a record unsurpased till today.
His latest film, “Cloudy Sunday” (Ouzeri Tsitsanis), concerns the forbidden love story between a Sephardic Jewish girl and a Christian boy in Nazi occupied Thessaloniki. The subject matter of this film, as many of his works, is concerned with the denunciation of intolerance.The film’s theme, the extinction of the 500 year old Jewish community of Thessaloniki by the Nazis during World War II has as background the music and character of Vassilis Tsitsanis, one of the greatest composers of rebetica music. The film has been awarded best director and cinematography awards at Slemani International Film Festival 2016 in Iraq, best feature film awardat San Francisco Greek Film Festival 2016 and Atlanta – New York Greek Film Festival and has also won three distinctions from the Hellenic Film Academy in 2016.
Manoussakis talks to Greek News Agenda* about “Cloudy Sunday”, stressing that the theme of his film is always contemporary and that through this he wishes to remind people what Nazism is. As a veteran director he offers an insight into the impact of the economic crisis on TV production that caused a large inflow of imported TV products and wonders why Greece has not developed an international market for its series. Further on, he underlines that there is no actual divide between Film and TV directors, as the case of many TV directors who thrived in cinema and cinema directors who thrived in the small screen proves.
“Cloudy Sunday” was an expensive production (a period drama with 2500 supporting actors). What were the difficulties in the funding and realization of this film?
Funding the film was a very challenging venture. The realization of the film was an adventurous journey to a historical period full of surprises; doors opened for us by our historical advisor Jacky Benmayor, by people who had lived through it and survived, children who had heard stories from grandparents, university students who helped out for weeks on end. People from all over the city of Thessaloniki, all ages, all religions were there. It was a grand journey that helped us live that period for about five years, learning, but mostly feeling the aura of the era.
What made you choose Giorgos Skabardonis’ novel on which the film was based? Was there a shift of focus in its adaptation?
Scabardonis novel, “Ouzeri Tsitsanis” is a kaleidoscope of small gold pieces of events, characters and mainly the scent of Greece which prevails throughout the novel. Reading the book I realized that I could narrate a very little known historical period of Greece through the eyes of an ingenuous composer and a young couple in love.
Bringing to life this gloomy period of the German occupation of Greece and of most of Europe and the annihilation of the Sephardic community of Thessaloniki, I had the chance to tellthose whodo not know and to remind the ones that chose to forget, what Nazism really is and to denounce intolerance. This is very much a contemporary issue, as we watch neo Nazi formations gaining momentum around Europe and endangering the foundations of European thought and values. At the same time, racism is lethally embracing the minds of people who cannot resist hate speech, due to the deterioration of educational levels.
When I talk about education I do not mean mechanical memorizing of information without critical thought, but an education which promotes analytical thought, experimentation, humanism, observation, the right to question as part of an ongoing process that should never stop. No establishment desires such an education because it produces free, critically minded citizens. In Europe, we harvest the seeds that we have sown by creating herds of uneducated citizens, even within the ranks of university graduates.The only way to fight fascism is through true education (to paraphrase remarks by Manos Hadjidakis in an opinion pieceof his on neo-nazism published February 1993).
The film was recently screened at the Hellas Filmbox Berlin. What were the reactions of German audience?
The film has also been screened at the Greek Film days of Nuremberg and the reaction of the German audience was especially moving. This particular story was not known to many, but World War II is a huge part of their history. The audience had their own heart-rending stories to tell, and I brought back the emotion and their beautiful words with me. Especially important to me were the comments of a fifteen-year-old boy, who remarked that he would have preferred that Estrea had chosen not to leave going to her death, as survival is more important than love for her family. In Austria, where a special screening for High School students took place, the same deep reflection on survival and duty was their main focus. People were deeply moved, some in tears, feeling the cruelty of the era and realizing the contemporary significance of “Cloudy Sunday”.
“Cloudy Sunday” has participated in many film festivals abroad. What attracts foreign audiences to this film?
The film has been screened at 30 festivals around the world, starting from China, Iraq, Austria, at three festivals in England, Australia, Israel, Argentina, India and many festivals in the US. The reaction of all audiences was the same: deeply moved even if they had no experience in their countries of the Holocaust. In Shanghai, the audience referred to their experience during World War II and the genocide they suffered from the Japanese. In Slemani (Kurdish Iraq) they referred to the genocide by chemical weapons they suffered from Saddam…. And also, Greek rebetika music is loved worldwide. In Jerusalem, a crowd of people got up in the cinema and danced during a concert that was given before the screening of the film.
One of the main characters in the plot is Vassilis Tsitsanis, an emblematic figure of rebetika music, which serves as a background in the plot. How did you use the element of his music in the film?
Tsitsanis’ music prevails throughout the film: it is not only heard in the small club (Ouzeri Tsitsanis) but his melodies were used for the entire musical score of the film. The backbone of the development of the film is the inspiration and the creation of Cloudy Sunday, an emblematic song which might be considered “the other National anthem” of Greece.
What was the impact of the economic crisis on TV production?
It is obvious that TV stations had to survive the crisis so they had to cut down on running expenses, as all enterprise did. This in turn had a radical effect on the quality of the product, namely television series,an area I am well acquainted with. The production of Greek series declined as a side effect of the budget cuts. For a long time, there were almost no Greek series produced and we were bombarded with imported products, mainly from Turkey but also from the UK, the United States, Latin America, Italy and Denmark. Despite the fact that they did not offer something different or better than that of the “Golden period” ofGreek productions, they had developed an international network for exporting their products. It is thus natural for the following question to arise: Why didn’t Greek TV stations develop an international market while other countries did, including Turkey?This question needs to be addressed to station managers, as they are better placed to answer it.
After a few years of almost no production, gradually low budget Greek productions are beginning to make an appearance. Budget deterioration is not necessarily followed by quality deterioration, but as the economic crisis is the outcome of a deep cultural crisis, this reflects on the quality of new series. It is not the budget cuts that are responsible for the context of the “new era” TV productions. It is the deep cultural crisis – all over the world – which caused the economic crisis – that reflects on these products. There can be masterpieces created with small budgets. Nevertheless, there are very smart comedies made with small budgets. The problem arises from the fact that a TV station has to cover a 24 hour programme at very little cost. There are talk shows, cooking shows and singing contests “educating” and influencing a whole new generation with the prospect of easy success and profit with no toil. A new conscience of reality is being developed which has no relation to actual reality.
Is there a dividebetween television series and film directors in Greece?
There is not such a division in reality. Most of the directors that moved to what we all call the small screen began their careers as film directors (including myself). When commercial television networks began broadcasting, we were very lucky because we were given the freedom to work with the subject matter that we proposed. Suddenly we didn’t have to wait for years to look for financing so as to direct and produce a film, but we could practice our art, experiment and have immediate feedback from the viewers on a weekly basis. Many new directors began their careers directing television series, and when the time was right for them, they made very successful films. It works both ways.
There is a pseudo division created by a small group of film critics. For them, directors who had worked in commercials or TV were not supposed to make films. Fortunately they did, and the films were good. Times have changed. These petty prejudices have vanished globally. Scorsese produced a 6 part documentary about the “GRATEFUL DEAD” (American band) for Amazon Prime Video, actors direct plays, photographer Luie Psihoyos decided to direct a film, “The Cove”, and won an Academy award for best documentary feature. Freedom of expression in any means is an asset of our times. Yes, there is a small group of film critics that like to divide. They are stuck in the past. It’s their problem. My colleagues and I will go on directing films, television series, plays, documentaries and whatever can be presented to audiences.
What are your future plans?
We have several projects in development. We have a TV series taking place in Messolonghi during the 50’s and 60’s. It is based on a novel vividly describing the social and political situation in Greece in the post civil war period. What makes the novel great is that the main characters are young adolescents who try to live their lives against a hostile environment suppressing free thought.
There is a comedy based on a book by Giorgos Scabardonis that is rich in hilarious, imaginative situations when the mafia takes over the political scene. There is also a feature film which aims to expose the true nature of leaders, their pettiness, schemes, compromises and deals to gain public approval and power, the way they manipulate and are manipulated by the crowd. Trying to find the right vehicle to express this idea, we came across “Hecuba” by Euripides, which describes exactly what we want to put in to the film. We decided to place the action in a contemporary war zone. And finally, a play by an Argentinian scholar inspired by Socrates that deals with truth and duty.
* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi
Auguste Corteau (1979) is a fiction writer, a playwright and a translator. He has written novels/novellas: Rabastin (1999), The Square (2000), Haunted (2001), Animal (2002), The Streets Sculptor (2002), The Man Faeries (2003), La Gioconda’s Son (2003), The Rabies (2004), Shameless Suicides (2005), The Demonizer (2007), The Obliteration of Nicos (2008), Sixteen (2010), The Book of Katherine (2013), Because It Is My Heart (2014), short story collections: The Book of Vice (1999), plays: The Orphans (2012), Suigeneris (2014), comic shorts: The Man Who Ate Too Much (2012), Love Me Tenderloin (2015), Ancient Greek Myths Revisited (2016) poems: The Cab Driver of Heaven (2012), a memoir: A Memoir of Madness (2016) and an original script for the movie Testosterone by George Panoussoupoulos, 2004).
He also won the 2004 Greek National Book Award for Children’s Literature and the IBBY Prize for Best Children’s Novel. He has also worked extensively as a translator, and has translated into Greek numerous works by English-language writers, amongst them books by Nabokov, Banville, Updike, Annie Proulx and Cormac McCarthy.
Auguste Corteau spoke to Reading Greece* about what changed and what remained the same in his writings all these years noting that “I was a mostly unhappy adolescent when I wrote my first short stories, while now I’m a happily partnered man”. He comments on his writing obsessions, he explains why he first writes in English and characterizes himself as a “musician manqué”.
As for his translation works, he notes that “I feel immensely responsible – accountable – when translating a book […] So I don’t allow myself the slightest haste or sloppiness”. He concludes that “one can still infer a much deeper understanding of another human being from the way they express themselves in writing. That is why the necessity for writing in these troubled times can only proliferate”.
From The Book of Vice in 1999 to A Memoir of Madness in 2016. What has changed and what remained the same?
I was a mostly unhappy adolescent when I wrote my first short stories, while now I’m a happily partnered man. All the books I read between these two points in time, all the people I met and was blessed with being loved by, have molded me into a quite different writer than the one I was back then. And for this I am profoundly grateful.
“You cannot escape from your writing obsessions, from what fills your everyday life: love, fear, death, anger”. What drove you to writing? And what continues to be your driving force?
The stories I consumed – the books I still devour – they are to blame: too many realities colliding within me. At some point, a new one – my own invented world - had to emerge. (By this I don’t mean to downplay the role of experience, of personal drama; however, all drama is humdrum when compared to what the human mind can conjure all on its own).
What about your love for music? How is it imprinted on you writings?
I am a musician manqué. To this day I hold no human creation holier than music.
“I feel that the English language is the ideal language for writing prose: playful, malleable, with endless potential”. How is it that you first write in English and then you translate your writings in Greek?
I turned to English after my sole major case of writer’s block. For more than twenty years, my mother tongue is interchangeable with English – so I sort of slip from one to the other as easily and unthinkingly as one finishing a book and going on to read another book written in a different language.
As Karen Emmerich has eloquently put it, “the strongest ethical claim for translation is that it demands of us a willingness to inhabit an open book, to maintain a sense and an attitude of uncertainty, and to welcome the endless provisionality of our answering”. Where does the role of a writer meet that of a translator?
I feel immensely responsible – accountable – when translating a book, regardless of its subject and my personal feelings towards it. It is a work of literature whose sole Greek translation will, in all probability, be the one I deliver. So I don’t allow myself the slightest haste or sloppiness.
In recent years, there has been an extraordinary burgeoning of Greek literature in every form: graffiti, blogs, literary magazines, readings in public squares to mention just a few. How is this trend to be explained? What about literature in the era of digital communication?
One can still infer a much deeper understanding of another human being from the way they express themselves in writing. That is why the necessity for writing in these troubled times can only proliferate.
*Interview by Athina Rossoglou
Yiannis Dragasakis, Greece’s Deputy Prime Minister, in an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE (4.3.2017), at the sidelines of the Delphi Economic Forum assured that "the risk of a Grexit has been prevented. The conditions that were linked to the bailout have, to a large extent, been met and in many areas, like tax collection, budget surplus and VAT increase, we have exceeded the targets." In regards to the negotiations with the institutions for the conclusion of the second review, he underlined that "the Greek government's objective is to reach an agreement on the technical part by March 20. Afterwards, there will hopefully be an agreement at a political level in regards to two important issues: the surpluses after 2018 and medium–term debt relief."
According to Dragasakis, the Greek government’s next targets are “conclusion of the review, integration in QE and borrowing exclusively from markets after the end of the program in 2018”. He adds that “the Greek government would like a solution within a European framework; whether the IMF will remain in the adjustment program or not is of secondary importance. As Dragasakis notes: “the IMF’s participation is rather creating problems. In the beginning we had reached an agreement with our European partners, and all of a sudden the IMF increased its demands, raising the cost of reforms needed to 3,6 billion euro. It is like changing the rules of a game while it is still being played.”
When asked about the future of Europe, Dragasakis argues that "what Europe needs is a change of policy, it must extricate itself from austerity" adding that "European citizens cannot be governed by the whip, this is a neo-colonial logic". On the issue of debt relief, he says that it is not a problem for Greece if the discussion takes place after general elections in Germany and in other European countries. What is a real problem, Dragasakis points out, is how to attract investments, while the situation remains unclear. As far the elections in Germany are concerned, he says that the “the Greek government does not wish to interfere in other countries’ home affairs, but we have our preferences. I believe that a Europe that insists on severe austerity risks alienating its citizens. Of a political change in Germany takes place [meaning the election of Social Democrat Martin Schulz as Chancellor] and there’s a shift in political powers, I would see it as something positive".
Talking about what the Greek economy needs to recover, Dragasakis indicates that "we need a new growth model focusing on research and technology, with a view to combating unemployment and addressing social problems. […] Instead of unrealistic targets (3,5% primary surpluses for ten years) we need a compromise. It is true that we asked help from the World Bank, after we’ve discussed about it with the European Institutions. This will increase the public debt on the one hand, as any kind of borrowing does, but on the other hand it will boost growth and employment.” Finally, on the issue of elections, Dragasakis told Spiegel that "there’s no particular reason for early elections, we will keep on with our program and we’ll have elections in 2019."
Speaking with British newspaper The Guardian, Dragasakis reiterated that “what Greece needs is a shock of growth, […] a new growth strategy that will focus solely on boosting investment and reducing unemployment to pre-crisis levels, that is to say 8% in the next 10 years and Greece will have to compromise in the negotiations with the institutions for the conclusion of the second review “even if such demands are totally irrational”. Dragasakis added that Greece’s real problem was that it was caught up in an ugly dispute between its lenders over what to do with a debt load close to 180% of GDP. The IMF has projected the pile will reach an “explosive” 275% of output if not relieved – a move that Germany, the biggest provider of bailout funds, refuses steadfastly to agree to. “It is why we have not completed the review,” concluded Dragasakis.
Nicolas Leron is associate researcher at the Center of European Studies for Political Science, is president of the think tank EuroCité and president of the site of critics Nonfiction. He has just published "La Double démocratie. Une Europe politique pour la croissance" (Double Democracy. A Political Europe for Growth), co-written with economist Michel Aglietta. He spoke to our sister publication Grèce Hebdo* on the concept of "double democracy", the rupture between sovereignty and the single currency and Europe's to take a democratic and budgetary leap forwards in order to become a fully-fledged democratic power.
You recently wrote a book titled "Double Democracy: A political Europe for growth" with Michel Aglietta. What is the concept double democracy?
Double democracy is a reform proposal in order to overcome the European crisis, it is not an analysis of the current state of Europe. Right now the European Union is not a democracy. This does not mean that it is anti-democratic. The EU is an area of protection of fundamental rights; nothing like it exists anywhere else in the world. Respect of the rule of law is ensured by the European Court of Justice. However, the EU does not fulfill the criteria of a democracy, namely, voting on the budget by an elected parliament. The EU certainly has a budget, but it is a technical budget, a miserable 1% of the EU GDP, well below the threshold of political significance. In a democracy, before even thinking about the demos, there must be a kratos. The EU has no kratos, no political budget, no real res publica, no legitimate democratic power, other than a legal system. It is essentially a Europe of regulations, complemented by some sectoral and territorial policies.
But the Europe of regulations has an effect on national democracies: it stifles them. More than that, the EU, with its internal market law and its budgetary rules, is significantly reducing the budgetary powers of national parliaments, thereby striking at the heart of national democracies. This reduction of is qualitative: it forces national governments to implement, whether they want to or not, a supply-side policy or even, for the euro area countries, an internal devaluation policy. It is also quantitative, due to European budgetary rules. Citizen-voters no longer accept this feeling of dispossession of their political power and they start directly opposing the EU and even tend to distrust the democratic regime.
Faced with this, there are roughly four possible routes. The first one is the “status quo” route or the small steps method. We keep advancing slowly, step by step, by shaky, insufficient compromises. In our opinion, this option leads to a no way out, because it ultimately cannot stem the rising wave of populism and counter-centrifugal forces. The second option is exiting the EU or the euro zone. We consider this option illusory and contrary to the new world order that is emerging. A variant of this option is internal secession, in the sense of deviation from the constituent European values, like what is happening now in Hungary or Poland. The possible outcome of this route is not of a voluntary exit of the EU, but the country’s exclusion by means of removal from the European project. The third way is the great federal leap, which we consider equally illusory and inapplicable in the foreseeable political future. In this respect, it should be noted that the federal leap and the exit from the EU are two sides of the same coin: an obsession with sovereignty. Federalists advocate a transfer of sovereignty from member states to the EU, while nationalists aspire to a full recovery of national sovereignty. Illusion in one case as well as in the other.
The fourth path, which is the one that Michel Aglietta and I are defending, is the democratic leap: making the EU a legitimate democratic power, producing common goods, and reviving national democracies by loosening the European regulatory grip. This double democracy requires a European budget leap. Conceptually, this democratic leap refers to the question of capacity (budget, public political power, democracy), and not to the one of competence (law, sovereignty). An example: the EU has the competence to implement the Erasmus student exchange Programme, because Erasmus concerns less than 1% of European youth. The challenge is therefore not EU's competence in this area, but its ability to generalize Erasmus so that 50% or 80% of youngster are be able to do it, and thus transform European society.
You have said that there is a rupture between sovereignty and the single currency. Could you tell us more about this?
The Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) ruptured the organic link between the political sovereign and the currency. The euro is no longer linked to a clearly identified political sovereign. As a result, the euro is for the member-states like a foreign currency, with the dramatic consequence that they cannot go into default. Indeed, the euro area states cannot monetize their public debt. They no longer have the competence of the lender of last resort. But as nature abhors vacuum, the European crisis has forced the European Central Bank (ECB) to institute itself as lender of last resort, as a monetary sovereign in order to save the euro zone, by departing if necessary from the letter of its given mandate. But this modus vivendi is without a doubt untenable in the long run. A clear mechanism of lender of last resort will have to be established.
What would you say to all those who support the return to the national currency?
On the economic front, the shock would probably be much more violent and costly than the expected positive effects for both the exiting member-state and the rest of the euro area. The Greeks know this and, so far, they do not want to leave the eurozone. Apart from Wolfgang Schaüble, few top European leaders are in favor of even a temporary exit of Greece from the Eurozone. Creating such a precedent would indeed be extremely perilous. There will always be a relatively weak state within the eurozone, and therefore a member-state susceptible to speculative attacks.
More fundamentally, money is more than just a financing instrument. It is a constituent element of a political community. It is a decisive factor in building a society. To abandon the single currency is to undermine the political aspect of the European project. And to what benefit? Let us note that the United Kingdom was not in the eurozone and still the British voted in favor of Brexit". The single currency was a founding political act. But by breaking the organic link between the sovereign and currency, we are now in need of another founding act, which could be the aforementioned a European budget leap.
Isn’t the formation of a European Parliament with genuine budgetary policies a utopia, given that currently the European extreme right is making progress and the European political establishment has always shied away from that option?
The creation of the common market was a utopia, as was the establishment of the euro. History proves that such founding acts are possible, on the condition that political actors understand that they operate within an evolving a historical context. It is the only way out of the trap of short-termism, the “tragedy of the horizon”. This requires a new historic and geopolitical compromise between Germany and France. It is said that Germany will never debt mutualisation. But would Germany be willing to destroy the EU?
The challenge is to forge a new paradigm in understanding European political and historical realities. This is what our book is about. Relocate the terms of the problem. The issue of the European budget resonates, as we can see European Parliament Resolution on budgetary capacity for the euro area and the Monti report. Many think tanks are also working on the subject. But the important thing is to ask the question of the European budget: it is not just a tool for macroeconomic stabilization of a sub-optimal monetary zone. It is first of all, the constituent element of a political Europe. Therefore the budgetary leap is not a hypothetical future in the path to European integration, but a prerequisite, a starting point, a founding act.
What lessons can be drawn from the European management of the Greek crisis?
That the “small steps” method is now over, in that it has an ever-increasing cost, to ever-declining and precarious results. The third Greek adjustment programme is not yet complete, and we are already talking about a fourth. To use the phrase of the German academic Wolfgang Streeck: We are buying time at an increasingly prohibitive cost. This is simply not sustainable, either economically or politically. The very nature of the situation calls, sooner or later, for a definite response: exit / implosion of the euro area or debt mutualisation and wealth transfers, that is to say the choice between a Europe of dissatisfaction, the primary characteristic of which is the over-juridification of relations between member-states, with its share of humiliations and deadlocs, or Europe as a genuine democratic public power that creates common good.
It should be noted that a union of transfers already exists: it is called the internal market and it manages massive flows of wealth (capital, industry, technology, human resources, etc.) between member-states, but it does so according to the principle of competition between private interests, and this generates a dynamic aggregation of wealth in only one center, say Germany and the German bloc. A Europe of democratic political power is intended to institute a counter-union of transfers by distributing wealth according to a reverse, centrifugal dynamic, from the center to the periphery (territorial and social), according to the principle of electoral contest for the definition of general interest.
*Interview to Costas Mavroidis, translated by Ioulia Livaditi.
Ioannis Pappos is a management consultant and writer from Pelio, Greece. He is a graduate of Stanford University and INSEAD Business School, and has worked in both the U.S. and Europe. He contributes to blogs and magazines. Hotel Living [HarperCollins Publishers, 2015] (finalist for Lambda and Edmund White Debut Fiction awards) is his first novel. He lives in New York City.
Ioannis Pappos spoke to Reading Greece* about the story behind Hotel Living noting that it is “a story of excess and unhappiness, part of the culture of the previous decade in New York City and other megatowns” where the book is plotted out. Asked about how the American society has changed since the book was written, he comments that although “the States were an example of common commitments and efforts; not an example of isolation”, “the last decades had some detours” and “right now we are at the brink of the most dangerous political order I have witnessed in a democratic society, both internally and externally”.
He also comments on how the emergence in American literature of important writers who live in the US as first generation immigrants has helped reduce the objectification of minorities, thus helping pluralism, he notes that literature should not have an agenda and concludes that although we have great Greek writers, both new and older, the biggest barrier in Greek literature flying abroad is “the lack of quality editing”, the fact that no real book-doctoring is done in our books.
Michael Cunningham characterized Hotel Living as The Great Gatsby of our era while, as Edmund White eloquently put it, “if Trollope were alive today and he wanted to write The Way We Live Now about New York’s élite consultants, he would have written Hotel Living”. What’s the story behind the book? Are there autobiographical elements in it?
I wrote Hotel Living during a period that I was rather confused; personally and professionally. I needed, somehow, to reboot, and I started writing a diary. Soon I realized that a deeper story was haunting me; dazzling and dark at once. It was a story of excess and unhappiness, part of the culture of the previous decade in New York City and in other megatowns where Hotel Living is plotted out. I believe that that was what Michael Cunningham and Edmund White read in my novel. Thus the comparison with F. Scott Fitzgerald. Was my novel autobiographical? Obviously I am not Stathis Rakis—the protagonist in Hotel Living. Having said that, it’s also a very real novel: I lived those characters. I had to be them while writing, had to go there.
You have characterized Hotel Living as one of the “first post-gay novels” to be written and yourself as a “transient writer”. Could you elaborate on both?
The characters in Hotel Living are simply sexual. They are neither hetero-, nor homo-sexual. Sexuality, as simplistically as sometimes we define it, is not relevant in my book. People fall for people, not in a leveled bisexual way, but in a ‘character’ way. One of the most beautiful scenes in the book is where sex is offered out of love within a friendship. On the other end, sex is also used as a weapon to conquer. Fucking an alpha male can be about power and control.
Why I called, call myself transient writer? I am transient as long as I am still figuring things out. I have friends writers. Born to do that. Period. For me, I don’t know. I come from the white-collar side of the woods. I write now. I am hooked to writing, it is very addictive, but I’ve gotten rid of many addictions before. I don’t know exactly where I am going. And that makes life a touch more interesting. We’ll see.
Would you say that the book a fictional account οf the business world in the pro-crisis period? How has the American society changed since then? Are there any similarities to be drawn with the Greek crisis?
Hotel Living includes a fictional account of the business world in the ’00s. As I said, it is a ‘real’ novel. I wanted the reader to be in the boardroom with those executives, and experience things played out as unedited as possible. Where are we now? Well, of course the American society (corporate and beyond) keeps changing. When I grew up in Greece, the American model was not one of parity (the disillusionment of merit), not one of equal rights (we are still working there) but there was pride in being an American. There was goodwill, some shared optimism towards a bettering direction, part of the values of all the people with the will and skill and charge to go West and make it, and lead by example.
America was leading by example—at least some of the world. John Wayne and Joan Didion were not paving the path for the cowboy capitalists. The States were an example of common commitments and efforts; not an example of isolation. The last decades had some detours (and the period of Hotel Living is one of those scary turns) but right now we are at the brink of the most dangerous political order I have witnessed in a democratic society, both internally and externally. Greece may be broke and broken, but Greece is not mean.
In recent years, the American literature has seen the emergence of important writers who live in the US as first generation immigrants, as is the case of Junot Diaz and Justin Torres. Would you say that the particularities of origin and language are conducive to the creation of a distinct literary style?
I am not sure if it is a distinct literary style per se, but it definitely helped pluralism, and the de-exoticizing of the immigrant voice. Diaz and Torres—I love their writing—, to me, they reduce the objectification of minorities, thus add to real pluralism. And that is very American.
“Greekness takes a lot of shapes, colors and sizes and it’s not really the cookie-cutter mold that many here in America believe it to be— language, faith, baklava”, as Gregory Pappas aptly put it. Could literature be used to debunk stereotypes about Greek national identity and mentality?
Literature is literature. Should not have an agenda. Literature has side effects and consequences—your previous question—but using literature to debunk anything has a Soviet connotation to me. I’ll never do it. Don’t do it.
“I am inspired by young Greeks. Especially by the generation molded during the crisis. They have a stoicism that contains an incredible beauty…” What about the new generation of Greek writers? Could they make Greek literature appealing anew to foreign readers?
As we covered, I’m a “transient” writer. So, expressing an opinion on other writers, or giving advice, is something challenging to me. I read Greek writers, and we have great writers, new and older. The biggest barrier I see in our writing flying abroad is the lack of quality editing. I don’t see real book-doctoring done in our books. We have raw talent, and then some, and yet simple technical stuff—say, arcs, character development, appropriate show vs. tell—are painfully missing. Call me a traditionalist, but I like a novel to have a beginning, a middle and (a clear) end.
*Interview by Athina Rossoglou
Dimitris Keridis is a Professor of International Politics at Panteion University of Athens. He is a senior advisor at Konstantinos G. Karamanlis Foundation and deputy director of the Institute of International Relations in Athens. Since 2002 he has been directing the annual Olympia Summer Academy in Politics and International Studies and since 2009 the Navarino Network, a public policy think-tank based in Thessaloniki.
He has been Constantine Karamanlis Associate Professor in Hellenic and European Studies at the Fletcher School, Tufts University, director of the Kokkalis Foundation in Athens as well as head of the Kokkalis Program at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.
Professor Keridis’ latest book in English is “The Historical Dictionary of Modern Greece”, to be reprinted and updated. His recent books in Greek include a monograph on “Nationalism, Ethnic Conflicts and International Relations: Theory and Practice in the Balkans” and “Constantine G. Karamanlis and the Foreign Press”. Author of many articles in Greek and English, Dimitris Keridis is also a regular TV political commentator.
Greek News Agenda* asked Professor Keridis to comment on the Europe of different speeds concept, the influence of upcoming elections in European countries on the current negotiations concerning the review of the Greek adjustment programme, as well as to evaluate Greece’s Course in the EU, the Greek exceptionalism discourse, and the impact of Brexit and the Trump Presidency on the European project:
20 years ago Wolfgang Schaeuble proposed a Europe of different speeds. According to some observers, this European core vs. European periphery reasoning reemerges on the agenda of certain policy actors. Would you like to comment on this approach?
Europe has accepted this logic a long time ago. After all, some EU countries decided to stay out of the EMU or the Schengen system. The current difficulties faced by the periphery of Southern Europe reinforce this logic. However, it is something easier said than done: the key country in this discussion is obviously Italy. Until now, Italy was a committed euro-federalist and the country was too big to be ignored from the inner circle. With Italy in, there is no point talking about excluding other laggards, i.e. Greece. The problem will arise when Italy itself stops being a committed euro-federalist and opts out. This will provide the opening to the North for a more exclusive inner circle without Greece and others.
2017 will be a critical year, with elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany. How does this fact influence the current negotiations over the review of the Greek adjustment programme and Greek/European debt management in general?
And in Italy, in all likelihood. The Greek public debt has the peculiarity of being mostly owed to states rather than to private financiers. As a result, the issue of the Greek debt is highly politicized and the resolution of the Greek crisis passes through the politics of Greece’s EU partners and creditors. Western politics in general and the politics of most EU countries in particular are going through a populist-nationalist phase, as a result of the 2008 economic crisis, that makes the resolution of the Greek problem harder as the support for more help to Greece diminishes. There is some hope for Europeanists in the face of Schulz and Macron but there are many more dark clouds on the horizon.
How do you evaluate Greece’s course in the EU so far? What is your opinion about the Greek exceptionalism discourse?
Greece has benefited enormously from the EU. However, the EU is no panacea for Greece’s underdevelopment. For example, in the period between 1950-1980 Greece’s growth rate was 5% annually. Since 1980, during the period of Greece’s membership in the EU, the rate dropped to 1%. There must be an open and honest discussion of what went wrong during the last 35 years.
I am not a big believer in cultural exceptionalism; the reason for Greece’s falling behind has more to do with specific policy choices and political decisions that can and should be reversed. The “exceptionalism” discourse absolves the political class and the Greek voter of their responsibility. And by the way, all Greeks are not the same: there were 40%, not a small number, who, despite all the propaganda and misinformation, voted “yes” in the referendum. They and many more want a normal, unexceptional Greece.
Do you think the new Trump administration and Brexit are going to influence the European project and / or issues of security in South East Europe?
Yes and not in a positive way. However, Brexit was an accident waiting to happen. The unity or disunity of the EU will partially depend on the future course of Britain outside the EU. If Britain suffers, the EU will draw closer together.
Trump has sent a lot of wrong signals although his ministers of defense and foreign affairs seem to be more traditionalist in their support for wanting a united Europe. The security of Southeastern Europe seems to be on the back burner of America’s attention as the new administration seems obsessed with Islam and the Middle East on the one hand and economic protectionism and Mexico and China on the other.
* interview by Florentia Kiortsi
Dimitris Sotakis was born in Athens in 1973. He has published eight novels: H ιστορία ενός σούπερ μάρκετ [Τhe Story of a Super Market] (Kedros Eds., 2015), Η ανάσταση του Μάικλ Τζάκσον [The Resurrection of Michael Jackson] (Kedros Eds., 2014), Ο θάνατος των ανθρώπων [The Death of Humans] (Kedros Eds., 2012), Το θαύμα της αναπνοής [The Miracle of Breathing] (Kedros Eds., 2009), O άνθρωπος καλαμπόκι [The Corn Man] (Kedros Eds., 2007), Η παραφωνία [Dissonance] (Kedros Eds., 2005), Η πράσινη πόρτα [The Greek Door] (Metaixmio Eds., 2002), Το σπίτι [The House] (Kastaniotis Eds., 1997) and one collection of short stories: Έντεκα ερωτικοί θάνατοι [Eleven Love Deaths] (Metaixmio Eds., 2004).
His novel The Miracle of Breathing won the award for Best Novel at the Athens Prize for Literature and was shortlisted both for the European Excellence Award for Literature and the Jean Monnet Prize in France. It was published in France, Serbia, Italy, Taiwan, FYROM and Turkey. His most recent novel The Story of a Super Market was recently translated into French by Editions Intervalles under the title Comment devenir propriétaire d’un supermarché sur une île déserte.
Dimitris Sotakis spoke to Reading Greece* about his latest novel which tells the story of a journalist from New Zealand, who, when he finds himself shipwrecked on an unknown desert island, decides to build a super market in a personal adventure with surreal consequences. He explains that the "themes of the grotesque, hyperbole and bluster" which permeate his writing “have the ultimate aim of demonstrating the existential anguish about life of modern man and our perpetual desire to conquer a life that we never had”, noting that his books “are about cries that have turned into stories”.
Asked about what makes Greek literature appealing to foreign readers, he comments that “foreign publishers have, until recently, been interested in some more folkloristic parameters of Greek literature and of course in the Greek crisis”. He explains that he doesn’t believe in “generations of writers” since “literature is a very personal matter” and concludes that he is very optimistic that “the immediate future has some great Greek novels in store for us”.
Your latest novel The Story of a Super Market has just been translated into French. Tell us a few things about the book.
The book tells the story of Robert Man, a journalist from New Zealand who, during a business trip, finds himself shipwrecked on an unknown desert island, in the middle of nowhere. There, all alone, instead of sinking into despair, he -all of a sudden- finds his real self and decides to build a Super Market. Equipped with the imagination and the desire to climb the social ladder, a personal adventure begins with unexpected, surreal consequences. The publication of the book in France is a wonderful thing for me; this is actually my second book being published there, following that of The Miracle of Breathing three years ago.
The paradox and the absurd seem to permeate most of your books. What purpose do they serve?
The paradox for me is a stylistic vehicle, with which I can 'travel' more safely towards the worlds I create by writing. Reality, as a given condition, never fascinated me; after all, I write to escape from reality, this is my main predisposition. The themes of the grotesque, hyperbole and bluster in my stories, however, have the ultimate aim of demonstrating the existential anguish about life of modern man and our perpetual desire to conquer a life that we never had. The core of my books is all of us, you and me, and how we’re actually striving to lead this personal vehicle, our own lives.
How has the way you perceive literature evolved in the course of twenty years of writing? And what has been the effect on your personal way of writing?
When I started writing, I just wanted to narrate stories, to exist as someone who would give shape to a bunch of people, who would “give birth” to them as in flesh and blood. Yet, as time went by, that just wasn’t enough. Gradually, by discovering my personal style, I longed to add my personal touch, to talk about life as I myself understand it, as well as about my anguish for everything that happens to us till the moment of our death. In essence, my books are about cries that have turned into stories. Instead of saying something directly, I do so by writing a novel, in my loneliness. My life has changed due to my books; I consider it only natural after all these years. What I need for sure now is a good psychiatrist.
You have recently said that nowadays “writers seem to lead a life, basically electronic, denying their fundamental role, the quest, the deviation, the existential anxiety, the wonder”. Could you elaborate on that?
It’s something I find quite troubling. I reckon that we have largely come to lead a secluded life; an almost autistic, self-indulgent, life. Modern man and of course fellow writers now live so alone, circled by a technological armory but away from literary groups, great friendships, confrontations and the spark that only personal contact can ignite. We have, in a way, become invisible; what we usually tend to see is our reflection or a reproduction of our reflection in the electronic media. I would be delighted if this new reality gradually moved to something more mentally healthy.
The Miracle of Breathing has been translated in various languages and was shortlisted both for the European Excellence Award for Literature and the Jean Monnet Prize. How does it feel for a Greek writer to be translated abroad? What is it that makes Greek literature appealing to foreign readers?
Thepublication of my books outside Greece generates in me an almost metaphysical feeling. The fact that I write a book confined in my room, which is later read by some people in China, is actually an indescribable feeling. The Miracle of Breathing is and continues to be doing well in many countries and the same goes now with The Story of a Super Market. Undoubtedly it’s a very important moment for me and I truly thank all my readers, in whichever part of the world they may be.
Yet, foreign publishers have, until recently, been interested in some more folkloristic parameters of Greek literature and of course in the Greek crisis. I don’t belong to either of the two categories. Inevitably I write as a Greek, but I do not solely address “Greek issues”; I am more interested in the people living on this planet.
Having been part of the Athens Prize for Literature committee, what do you consider to be the potential and prospects of the new generation of Greek writers?
I don’t believe in generations of writers. I reckon that literature is a very personal matter. Yet, there is no denying that people living in specific lengths and widths of space-time, share similar images of the world. I look forward to good Greek books, books that will instill in me the so wonderful feeling of reading bliss. In the last few years, we had difficulty – in the Athens Prize for Literature committee – tracking down truly good books and we were fortunate enough to trace some very notable ones. I am very optimistic that the immediate future has some great Greek novels in store for us.
*Interview by Athina Rossoglou
Christos Papatheodorou is Professor of Social Policy, Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences, Athens. He holds a PhD from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). He has been Dean of the School of Social, Political and Economic Sciences, and Professor of Social Policy at the Department of Social Administration and Political Science, Democritus University of Thrace. He is a founding member of the Hellenic Social Policy Association and has been head of the Research Unit “Social Policy, Poverty and Inequalities”, Labor Institute, Greek General Confederation of Labour (2010-2016).
Professor Papatheodorou research interests are in the fields of political economy of social policy, economic inequality, poverty, macroeconomic environment and social protection, functional and personal distribution of income. His publications include “Child Poverty, Youth(Un)Employment and Social Inclusion” (2016) “Dismantling the feeble social protection system of Greece: Crisis and austerity measures consequences” (2016), “Economic crisis, poverty and deprivation in Greece. The impact of neoliberal remedies” (2015), “Inequality, poverty and economic crisis in Greece and the EU" (2013)“The contribution of social protection system in economic growth” (2012), Structure and trends in economic inequality and poverty in Greece and EU, 1995-2008" (2010) and "Poverty and Social Deprivation in the Mediterranean Area: Trends, policies and welfare prospects in the new millennium" (2006).
Christos Papatheodorou spoke with Rethinking Greece* about the “moral hazard” hypothesis that accompanies public discourse on the Greek crisis and how it legitimizes austerity measures that have immense impact on poverty and standard of living. He stresses that according to data Greeks work more hours and at the same time have one of the highest poverty rates in Europe. He also discusses determining factors of inequality and poverty levels in Europe underlying the role of its varying social protection systems and pointing out that social expenditure should be perceived as a contributor not to economic crisis but to its solution.
Papatheodorou refers to a shift of the social policy in Greece toward alleviation of “extreme poverty” (instead of promoting total social welfare) which is caused by the introduction of Guaranteed Minimum Income schemes inspired by neoliberal thought and practices. He concludes that these policies lead to a systematic shift of the Greek social protection system towards a liberal one (as opposed to social-democratic and corporatist models) that has "proved less efficient in utilizing and administrating social resources for alleviating poverty and inequality and for promoting peoples’ well-being.":
“Greeks are lazy” has been a common stereotype in the mainstream media - especially in Germany, associated with a general view of Greece as an exception from the European canon. Would you like to comment on this?
We have to bear in mind that in order to strengthen neoliberal perspectives in administrating modern economies and societies, the current economic crisis was presented by dominant rhetoric not as a global issue but rather as a problem of individual countries reflecting their own imbalances and weaknesses. Thus, public discourse at a national and international level presented the Greek crisis as an isolated incident, not connected with the global economic crisis. Greeks were portrayed as responsible for this crisis, and as having had enjoyed high consumption and standard of livings well beyond their meansduring the pre-crisis period. Within this rhetoric, Greeks were also accused for being lazy, for working less hard than other Europeans, and for being supported by a generous social protection system. Furthermore, under the mainstream hypothesis of “moral hazard”, Greeks had to be penalised in order not to repeat the same mistakes. With the large support of the media and despite the lack of any empirical plausibility, these views were widely reproduced and dominated public debate and official rhetoric in Greece and abroad, contributing in legitimising austerity measures that have been implemented as the remedy to reduce the huge public debt, and to cure economic crisis.
The myth that Greeks are lazy is easy to be busted by referring to Eurostat’s official data that provide a totally different picture. The average hours that Greeks work per week in their main jobs are significantly higher than the corresponding average figure for the EU-15 and EU-27 countries. Thus in 2008 and 2015, that is before and after the impact of economic crisis to Greek economy, Greeks worked on average more than 42 hours weekly in their main jobs. This is significantly higher than the corresponding figure of any other EU countryas well as the average figures for the total EU, which is 37 hours. Compared to the other Europeans, Greeks work more hours and have one of the highest poverty rates in Europe.
What is the social impact of the economic crisis and its subsequent austerity measures in Greece? Can you refer to some data on poverty and the level of living in the country?
To answer this question it is crucial to paint the picture of the country before and after the effect of economic crisis and of the implementation of the austerity measures. As I mentioned before, one of the most popular myths that is largely reproduced by media, politicians and policy makers at national and international level is that Greeks before the onset of the crisis had enjoyed a high standard of living. Even recently, Poul Thomsen, the Director of the IMF’s European Department, mentioned that the Greeks are as wealthy as the Germans. According to the Eurostat’s official evidence and the broadly used poverty threshold of the 60% of average equivalent disposable national income, since the mid-1990s (where comparable estimates for EU countries are available), poverty rates in Greece were at 20%-22%, well above the corresponding figures for total EU-15 and EU-28 that were at 16%-17%. Even more, for the period before the onset of the economic crisis (1995-2009), Greece had on average the highest relative poverty risk among all the EU-15 countries. However, these estimates are based on poverty lines defined at a national level and therefore are not proper in picturing the true differences in living standard between EU countries.
As we have shown in other studies, when the comparison is based on a common to all EU countries poverty line, the real differences in living standards between Greece and the rest of Europe become clearer. Thus, comparable estimates of poverty rates in the EU, based on the Danish poverty line and taking into account differences in purchasing power, shows that in 2009, before the onset of the economic crisis, 39% of the Greeks had similar low level of livings to those of the poorest 17% of German, 13% of Danish or 10% of Dutch. Therefore, even before the economic crisis affected Greek economy, there were huge differences in poverty levels and in standard of livings between Greece and most of the other EU-15 countries.
The economic crisis and the austerity measures that were implemented since 2010 have a devastating effect on poverty and the level of livings of the Greek population. The most recent available data for people’s incomes are those of the 2015 surveys that refer to 2014 incomes. The Eurostat’s data shows that relative poverty rates increased from 20% in 2009 to 23.1% in 2012. However, this poverty index is not the most appropriate one for capturing the worsening of the level of livings during this period, as it is calculated as a percentage of national median income and thus it is affected by changes in the incomes of those in the middle of the distribution. Indeed, between 2009 and 2014, median income and consequently poverty line in Greece has reduced by 37%. This is also indicative of the effect of crisis and of austerity measures on people’s incomes and particularly on middle income groups. More revealing are the estimates based on a poverty threshold anchored at a fixed moment in time. These are estimates of poverty risk using the same poverty threshold of a particular base year, adjusted for inflation and differences in purchasing power. Estimates of poverty risk based on the 60% of the median equivalised disposable income of 2007 (2008 survey) shows that poverty rate increased from 18% in 2009 to 49% in 2013. In other words, half of the Greek population in 2013 had similar low standard of livings as the 18% of the poorest population in 2009. This indicates the devastating effect of the crisis and of the austerity measures on people’s poverty in only 4 years.
It is also worth mentioning that in just one year (2010-2011) the proportion of the population that were living below the 2007’s poverty threshold increased by 11 percentage units. This is the year when the austerity policies were introduced following the three party memorandum agreement signed by the Greek Government and the Troika (EC, ECB and IMF). Since the introduction of austerity measures, dramatic was also the increase in material deprivation. This is an alternative to income poverty index that measures people’s inability to afford a number of items and expenses, necessary for maintaining a certain level of livings. People are considered materially deprived if they cannot afford three or more of nine items and expenses. Those materially deprived in Greece rose to 41% of the total population in 2015 from 23% in 2009. More than half of the population cannot afford a week’s holiday and have difficulties in facing unexpected financial expenses. One out of two people are unable to pay mortgages, rent payments, utility bills and so on. Also one out of three people are unable to keep their home adequately warm.
What are the main traits and determining factors of inequality and poverty levels in Europe and Greece? What are the effects of social protection systems? Do classical typologies of welfare state regimes (e.g. Esping-Andersen's classification) also explain the differences in income inequality?
A comparative analysis between EU countries reveals that the social protection system and the relevant expenditures are key variables in explaining the differences in inequality and poverty among countries. We will focus on the oldest EU-15 member states where we have comparable data since the mid-1990’s and there is a well-developed academic debate concerning their social protection system. Following the Esping-Andersen’s typology of the three welfare regimes and the subsequent debate on the welfare system that is developed in the southern EU countries, we will find out that the highest in equality and poverty are in the countries of South Europe (Greece, Portugal, Italy and Spain) and the countries that have developed a liberal social protection system (UK and Ireland). By contrast, the lowest inequality and poverty are found in countries with a social-democratic welfare system (Scandinavian countries) followed by the countries of the corporatist-conservative welfare regime (mainly continental European countries such as Germany and France). These differences in inequality and poverty alleviation between welfare systems still hold even if we adjust for the differences in total social expenditures.
Overall the evidence suggests that social protection systems that are characterized by generous and universal welfare provisions, such as those of the Scandinavian countries, are more efficient in utilising the available social resources for alleviating poverty and inequality and for promoting peoples’ welfare. Less capable of using the social resources effectively for promoting equality are the Southern EU countries with fragmented social transfers and those with a liberal social protection system that is based on means tested benefits and with a prominent role of the market in the distribution of resources.
The Greek social protection system shares common traits with the other southern EU countries. It is less developed, deeply fragmented with rudimentary welfare policies, highly polarized and with huge gaps in social provisions. These gaps are partly filled by families and kin that are playing a significant role in social care. The Greek system is particularly weak in poverty and inequality alleviation. Social transfers in cash (except pensions) have by far the weakest distributional impact among all EU-15 countries. The need for reforms in the Greek social protection system is largely acknowledged in academic and public debate. However, the memorandum agreements have put pressure for transforming the Greek social protection system to a liberal one, although the evidence have shown that it is the least efficient one, compared to other systems, as far as the use of available resources in alleviation poverty and promoting peoples’ welfare in concerned. The social protection system acts as a catalyst in the effectiveness of social spending and in the distributive role of economic growth. Improving the social protection system, through more generous benefits and universal coverage, is crucial to alleviate the impact of economic crisis on poverty and deprivation
According to some analysts Greek welfare state reflects a complex constellation of interest groups and doesn’t provide real support for the poor and the unemployed. Is it fair to blame public spending on welfare state provisions of this kind for the current economic crisis?
Indeed, the Greek social protection system faces serious drawbacks and imbalances, and it definitely needs reform and improvement in order to become more efficient in fulfilling certain distributional and equity goals. As mentioned above, dominant rhetoric at national and international level have demonised social protection and the corresponding spending as major contributors to the huge public depth and thus to economic crisis. Social protection was blamed of being particularly generous, relative to the country’s economic growth, promoting the high standard of livings that the Greeks had supposedly enjoyed. These views helped legitimise cuts in social expenditures as a crucial component of austerity policies and thus further undermined the country’s already weak social protection system. These cuts has profound implications to people’s level of livings and to social cohesion. The generosity of the social protection system and the high social expenditures is another myth which was systematically cultivated by dominant rhetoric during this period. According to Eurostat’s data, since the early 1990s Greek social expenditures as percentage of GDP have been well below the average figures for total EU. Recent data show that even during the economic crisis, when there is a huge demand for social protection due to the severe social consequences of the crisis (such as the enormous increase of unemployment and poverty) social expenditures as percentage of GDP have remained lower that the average figure of total EU. This is despite the fact that the country’s GDP reduced by almost 25% in that period. Also social expenditures per inhabitant in pps (i.e taking into consideration differences in purchasing power) have been significantly lower in Greece than the average figure for total EU. Even more, since 2009 (during the crisis) social expenditures per inhabitant have further reduced considerably in Greece while the corresponding figures for average EU-15 and EU-28 have increased.
It is apparent that Greece does not spend much on social protection compared to other EU countries. What is more striking is that social protection expenditure has been perceived as a contributor to economic crisis and not as a part of the solution, as the experience of the 1929’s crisis showed. The dominant neoliberal paradigm does not consider social policy as an organic part of macroeconomic policy that could play a prominent role in economic growth due to the high values of their fiscal multipliers. Studies have shown that the fiscal multipliers of social transfers are considerably high in Greece, particular for transfers in kind. This is something that was also admitted by IMF, which acknowledged that the initial design of austerity programs was based on wrong estimates of fiscal multipliers. Consequently cuts in social expenditures have negative effects on the country’s public depth viability. An increase in social expenditures, particularly those concerning transfers in kind, could contribute significantly to the increase of the country’s rate of growth.
Trade unions and left-wing critics see “Guaranteed Minimum Income” policies pushed by creditors as a threat that might constitute a “race to the bottom”. Now the government is launching a “Social Solidarity Income” programme addressing about 700.000 people. Can SSI be a helpful tool for poverty reduction in the country?
Social Solidarity Income is a Guaranteed Minimum Income scheme that goes back to the main neoliberal idea of negative income tax described by Milton Friedman and supported by other neoliberal prominent theorists such as Friedrich Hayek. This measure has been imposed on Greece by memorandum agreements. As a policy measure it focuses on a subsistence minimum through means tested cash transfers. Means tested policies are generally characterised by a high administrative cost and bureaucracy that lead to stigmatization of the recipients and to a low take-up. Furthermore they weaken other social provisions, particularly those in kind, leading households to seek a large number of goods and services previously provided by the social protection system in the market. The introduction of a guaranteed minimum income schemes is usually accompanied by cuts in other social provisions. This is move evident particularly when total social expenditures are not increased or are even decreased as it is the case in Greece.
What is more worrying is that the introduction of these policies leads to a shift of social policy’s focus toward alleviation of poverty instead of promoting total social welfare. These policies characterise the residual welfare systems. The main question is whether social policy should address only poverty or total people’s well-being. Social Solidarity Income is not even meant to help those in poverty but those in the subgroup of “extreme poverty”. By introducing this new concept of “extreme poverty”, poverty itself sounds as a non-extreme situation that should be addressed. Even the introduction of “extreme poverty” in the policy agenda is quite indicative of the transformation in the social protection system that the guaranteed minimum income schemes are causing. Overall these policies lead to a systematic shift of the Greek social protection system towards a liberal one, where social protection targets almost exclusively those in severe deprivation through means tested policies. As mentioned above, these policies have proved less efficient in utilizing and administrating social resources for alleviating poverty and inequality and for promoting peoples’ well-being.
*Interview by Nikolas Nenedakis
On the occasion of World Radio Day (February 13th), Greek News Agenda* interviews acclaimed music critic, author and radio producer Makis Milatos. Milatos has been working as a music critic for newspapers and magazines since 1977 and as a radio producer since 1980. He has served as director at three radio stations and is currently directing “105,5 Sto Kokkino”, the politics talk radio station of the ruling SYRIZA party.
Author of “100 LPs that marked pop culture”, Makis Milatos talks about contemporary Greek radio stations, noting that, with a few exceptions they have succumbed to the system of playlist programmes, which renders them media of mass consumption. Asked about the role of culture in a political station such as “Sto Kokkino”, he underlines that for him culture is of equivalent value to politics in order to be able to present an interesting and challenging content to the listeners. He also talks about contemporary Greek music production, stressing that there is an exciting contemporary Greek music scene of international acclaim and offers representative samples of this scene.
You have been working as a radio producer since 1980. What, do you think are the main characteristics of Greek radio broadcasting?
The situation today is different to that of the earlier days of commercial broadcasting in Greece, when it began with huge enthusiasm. Efforts were made towards an aesthetically pleasing and interesting cultural content. However, these efforts did not yield significant results. Greek radio gradually succumbed to the playlist regime, as is the case with most broadcasters globally. For the most part, radio stations work with playlist programmes that limit the music they play to a certain number of songs that are mostly current Greek or international hits, resulting in the airing of the same 100 songs over the week. Radio producers have to choose among these songs, thus they have no actual freedom of choice. Most Greek radio producers lack the experience or the charisma that radio demands.
To a large extent, as far as music radio stations are concerned, they have submitted to playing music for mass consumption, music that will be heard in shops and elevators. As regards news stations, they belong to certain news corporations and serve their political interests, meaning they are not interested in culture. Thus, news stations serve the interests of news corporations and music radio stations serve mass consumption. I’m afraid I don’t have good things to say about Greek radio for the time being.
Are there any exceptions to what you describe?
There are few exceptions, but they are under pressure from this dominant playlist trend, while they strive to survive in a small and shrinking advertising market. I dare say that 105.5 is a station with a different approach. Although it is a station operating in a commercial environment, it is the only radio station that has not given in to the playlist.
How do you approach the function of a talk radio station such as “105.5 Sto Kokkino”, where recently you became director? What role does culture play in it?
Regardless of whether we’re talking about talk radio or music stations, radio has to be an interesting, challenging and appealing company for its listeners. That is my approach at the talk station I direct. Radio shows have to be interesting, regardless of whether they have political or cultural content. Culture for “105.5 Sto Kokkino” is a fundamental consideration, as much as politics. It is the only station that has a daily programme on cultural events, including theatre, cinema, books, exhibitions and interviews which are present in most of our shows, and we are media partners to all interesting cultural events. Apart from politics and news, culture features heavily in 105.5.
What are your views on the contemporary Greek musical landscape?
I see two categories of Greek music. One utilizes Greek lyrics and relates to traditional, folk and popular music, while the other relates to Greek bands oriented towards the global pop, rock or electronic scene. Music with Greek lyrics has some issues. It doesn’t renew itself as much as it should. It doesn’t follow modern reality. There are some artists who are successful on a local level, but I’m afraid they are not that interesting.
On the contrary, there are exciting new groups and artists of a new generation, whose work could have had an international appeal as that of Coldplay or U2. There are exceptional bands which would surely have had international acclaim if Greece weren’t a small, far away market. Some of them such as Keep Shelly in Athens, Bazooka and The Callas have already made their first steps abroad. Younger generation musicians are more informed in musical trends and developments because they have studied music abroad or at the recently established music studies departments in Greek universities. And let’s not forget the role of the internet. This includes rock bands, but also pop and electronica groups. So, there is a vivid Greek music scene that has a broader musical background which could stand up on an international level.
Could you mention a few of these groups?
Yes. I chose from my list of the best Greek albums for 2016 some groups and musicians that offer to the listener the big picture of the Greek music scene as far as rock, pop, electronica and current trends in general are concerned:
- Xylouris / White - Black Peak
- The Boy - Ετοιμοι Ένα
- Lumiere - Lumiere
- Echo Train - Memento Mori
- She Tames Chaos - Oh Fair Father Where Art Thou?
- Daphne and the Fuzz - Daphne and the Fuzz
- gravitysays_i - quantum unknown
- The Callas - Half Kiss Half Pain
* interview by Florentia Kiortsi
Greece in the Eighties (GR80s) is an impressive exhibition organized by the Municipality of Athens at the Technopolis cultural complex in Athens and at the Onassis Cultural Centre, running from January 25 to March 12. The exhibition introduces visitors to the Greek 80s via four thematic categories -politics, arts, lifestyle and technology- brought to life through documents, objects, audiovisual exhibits and interactive applications spanning 18 pavilions: 1) From “Change” to “Catharsis”, 2) Repression, violence and terrorism, 3) Ideology, 4) Gender, 5) Welfare state, 6) Economy, 7) Housing and public space, 8) Mass culture & consumption, 9) Fashion & Disco Music, 10) Cinema & Audiovisual Culture, 11) Working class culture and demands, 12) Youth cultures, 13) Artistic activity, 14) 80s Library - reading room, 15) Technology, 16) Communication & Mass Media, 17) Auto & Moto culture, and 18) Language: a pervasive presence.
Featuring more than 4,000 exhibits and over 30 events (including art exhibitions, concerts, theatre performances, scientific conferences and educational workshops), the project explores the events that marked a formative decade for the country and largely defined those that followed, taking visitors through a historical, social and cultural review of the politics and way of life; Greece’s glorious victory over favourites Soviet Union in the 1987 FIBA EuroBasket championship, the first Greek private television channel that broadcast in 1989, the huge political rallies in Athens starting with Andreas Papandreou’s famous slogan ‘Allagi’ (change), fashion icon Billy Bo and even a typical 1980s apartment are just some of the cultural and historical milestones revived at the exhibition.
For those born up until the early 1980s there is an emotional attachment to the era, mainly because of the sweeping social and political changes that took place during that period. The 80s represent an idealized era for Greece, characterized by upward social mobility and prosperity; however, for some they also symbolize the beginning of a long process that has lead to the current crisis. Thus, the aim of this event is not to create feelings of nostalgia for the past nor to point the finger at the supposed culprits -rather, it is an effort to record and recreate a complex and multifaceted period of modern history that has left its mark on current generations and may well define future ones.
Apart from the fact that the exhibition is bilingual and thus accessible to foreign visitors, the organizers have placed great emphasis on public participation with a large part of the exhibits (such as photos, clothes, all kinds of souvenirs and memorabilia, toys, pieces of furniture, audiovisual records and much more) coming from volunteers who lent authentic objects of the decade for the show.The chief curators of the exhibition are two academics: Vasilis Vamvakas, assistant professor of Sociology of Communication at the University of Thessaloniki and Panayis Panagiotopoulos, assistant professor Of Sociology at the University of Athens. Panayis Panagiotopoulos and Vassilis Vamvakas had published in 2010 a detailed lexicon entitled "Greece in the 1980s: A Social, Political and Cultural Dictionary" (in Greek, by Epikentro Editions) that plunged us back into the society, politics and culture of the 80s through 264 brief essays and an extensive collection of photos.
Our sister publication, Grèce Hebdo, spoke with professor Panayotopoulos on how Greek society changed in the 80s, the rise of individual along with the persistence of the collective and their paradox cohabitation, the challenges of mass democracy, Greek modernity and why the 80s exert such fascination on us all.
Why use the term "decade" and not, for example, the term "generation" as an element of interpretation?
The term decade is an analytical tool, a way of putting historical time in perspective. A tool that is actually quite new and is not always easy to use. You have the decade of the forties (the WWII), the fifties (reconstruction of the country, etc.) but for example, talking about the 70s or the 60s, we could use concept of the decade only with great caution, because these decades were "cut in half" in Greece. And then there is the decade of the eighties, which is a rather compact period that gives a overall sense of how things were to someone who wants to visit the past in a critical way. Furthermore, it is a period of transformation with characteristics that differ significantly from those of the previous decades. Considering that, and by putting into perspective the trends, for example, in France where the term is used decade as an analytical tool, we decided, together with my colleague Vassilis Vamvakas, to work on the eighties. It is a decade tjat really started with 1981 general elections and the accession of PASOK to power and came crushing down in 1989-1991 with the collapse of the Papandreou system.
Could we talk about a common South-European decade?
I don't think so, because Italy, for example, has a different trajectory. There is always the possibility of political science comparing Portugal and Spain to Greece, countries that perhaps have more in common with Greece as regards the transition from an authoritarian regime to democracy. But the 80s were a rather interesting and almost singular decade for Greece. It was a decade in which Greece, on one hand, turns inwards (politically and ideologically) and reproduces its own norms and structures. But on the other hand, everyday life, lifestyles and consumerist culture are informed by the global trends of the capitalist and democratic culture that is spreading in the Western world. One can speak of a kind of duality: at the political level, Greece remains stuck in its archaism, while at the level of daily life, lived experience, sexuality, lifestyles, and cultural pluralism, Greece is in line with what is happening in the outside world, in Europe and in the United States.
Could we say the eighties were like a belated May of 1968 for Greece?
I do not think it was a return to the May of '68, but we can see all the elements of individualization, self-actualization, and promotion of personal well-being that are starting to take hold. At the political level of course, the collective remains very powerful. We are seeing here the formation of a Greek identity with dual dynamics: the same people who are under the grip of the collective, of political affiliation, of clientelism and of statism – they are at the same time functioning as multi-layered beings, hedonists and as recipients of the capitalist, consumerist message of Europe. We find ourselves in a dual structure that will paradoxically work, until the crisis at least. That is, the making of a Greek personality that is dual, the product of a mix between something quite traditional and something ultra-modern.
Compared to what happened in France during the eighties –do you see some common elements?
Yes, there are common elements, such as the development of youth culture, the implementation of social policies and the construction of certain shared understandings about what Europe could be. But there are also major differences: Greek clientelism and statism have no equivalent. And then, French politics are the politics of big country, while Greece is a small country trying to make its way into a first phase of globalization, without really succeeding, in my opinion.
Let's talk a little about the GR80s exhibition. Who is it addressed to?
This exhibition is addressed to the general public. Its ambition is to break down symbolic barriers and to make the borders of our cultural differences a little more permeable. In recent years very important cultural are events taking place in Athens, but as far as exhibitions, science and the arts are concerned, these events are generally addressed to a limited public, a community of the savvy. Our exhibition is aimed at a wider audience that will be able to reflect on itself through shared experience, the experience of the eighties. In reality, it is addressed to the middle classes in the widest sense: they are a product of the eighties. We are trying to talk to those who have lived in this decade, the people of our generation who are active today, but also to a young audience who hear the echoes of our past through the lives of their parents.
Is it a nostalgic exhibition?
No, it is not. Ultimately, we are trying to use nostalgia as a communication tool, but nothing more. There are of course nostalgic elements like, for example, the reconstruction of an apartment of the eighties built by a team of architects led by Kostas Tsiambaos. The visitor will have the opportunity to enter into a kind of bubble and this could be nostalgic, but at the same time we have the opposite of nostalgia, because this apartment can give a double impression: that of being very close to this era, and at the same time that of being very far away.
What do you hope to inspire to people who visit the exhibition?
We want to inspire a feeling of that despite our antagonisms and our rivalries, we are together. In other words, it is an attempt to bring back to the public sphere the idea of a society in which citizens, despite their cultural, class, political and ideological antagonisms can coexist. I must confess that we would like to present this through a progressive perspective. We also have an ambition of restoring symbolic and cultural value to the middle classes, who for a long time have been left behind by political and social scientists and decried by cultural elites, and of course are now in economic and social danger. So our ambition is to give everyone the opportunity to "relocate" themselves in this historical period, a period not only of antagonisms and confrontations but also of togetherness. In other words, we are trying to go back thirty years in time, so as to make projections into the future.
Can a foreigner visit the exhibition? What do you think she will take away about what is modern Greece?
The exhibition is bilingual. Our hope is that a foreign visitor will see the modernity of contemporary Greece, an aspect that is not obvious, and the creativity of contemporary Greece as well. We hope that she will be able to get a sense of certain parts of the Greek experience that are in opposition to the European experience. For example, the collusion of the Greek state of the Papandreou era with Arab terrorism. I could be of interest to a foreingn visitor to think about how the everyday and the avant-garde adapt to consumerist modernity. To see how Greece enters consumerist culture through music, products, sport or mass culture. Again, we can see the different forms of popular experience -a very interesting pavilion explores how forms of expression of lower classes were different from middle class consumerism.
How did you collect the exhibited objects?
We have worked on several levels: with public or private collections that have loaned us objects, but also, and above all, it was the work with the citizens that has borne fruit: nearly 70% of the pieces that we evaluated and included in our exhibition are objects that until a few weeks ago were locked in closets in various homes. And this is memory work, carried out by the citizens themselves, in collaboration with us. It is memory work on certain objects that were kept and that signify and represent the historical memory of social ascension. That is to say, the people who lend us the objects tell us: "This is something I kept because I could buy it with great difficulty and I was very proud, because it marked my social advancement."
Tell us a little about social mobility. What do you think were the most striking changes in Greek society during the 1980s?
During this period we observe the phenomenon of mass social upwards mobility, that is to say the formation of a middle class that is increasingly defined in opposition to the working class and that gradually gains access to statist networks. This new class succeeded in organizing a new, modern life, but on a totally rotten economic foundation. This the great contradiction that nobody wants to talk about: how we have a democratic society, centered on the consumerist middle class, without having a competitive economy. This is something that begun in Greece during the 1980s and remains, even today, a subject that is not debated. And we can see that the very rapid and massive social mobility that began in the 1970s and was dramatically accelerated in the 1980s, is a story that in reality poses problems that must be discussed. But on the other hand -and this is a form of justification for the policies of PASOK and Papandreou- we must admit that the working classes of the fifties and sixties were outside consumer society and democratic political life. One can not say that they were totally marginalized, but they were not really integrated into the cultural and consumerist life either. Papandreou understood that this had to change. [...]
Did we not see this happen a bit in the sixties in Greece?
During the sixties in Greece one can see a liberation of morals, an ascent of certain concepts, but it all remains very elitist. On the other hand, during the 1980s, the individualistic, hedonistic experience of free time, youth culture, rock culture, sexual liberation, identities, subcultures, and tribalism as well; all this happens on a massive level in Greece.
And was "kitsch" born in the 80s?
Kitsch is something that actually does not exist, it is a concept the dominant classes use to oppose or stigmatize, on the cultural level, the rise of the lower classes. It is a way to show contempt and differentiate ourselves from those that try to take our place, or to "insert themselves in our class". Kitsch is the the result of a very rapid social rise that hasn´t that the time yet to adjust itself to existing modes of cultural recognition.
The eighties is also the decade of transgression and the cult of anomie...
This is a right-wing criticism, according to which Greek society begins to unravel in the 1980s and this is due to Papandreou's populism. But this criticism neglects to mention what Greece was like before. Greece had been a clientelist society long before the 80s, but it was a much more inaccessible clientelism. While in the '80s we have a clientelelism that is totally accessible and uninhibited. I do not agree with that kind of fundamentally negative descriptions of the era, because I think we have to look at the 1980s from the perspective of the defects or the problems of mass democracy. And I do not believe that you can have mass democracy without anomie, without problems, without corruption. There were, of course, catastrophic policies in the 1980s (in education, for example), but I prefer to summarize the era as follows: PASOK gave wrong answers to the right questions. The paradisiacal description of Greece in the sixties and seventies is problematic.
What was the relationship between Athens and the provinces during the 1980s?
It is during the 80’s that those two terms (Athens / provinces) are outlined, put in juxtaposition and problematized. Internal migration is stabilized and 'eparchia' is cut off from Athenian life. The 1980s are interesting percicely because the question of the disparity of ways of life begins to be asked. In the 1980s, we cannot really talk about two different worlds between Athens and the rest of the counrty, but there is no common way of life. In short, I believe that in the 1980s, there are still great differences between Athens and 'eparchia', but these differences are beginning to be understood as an important issue.
Could we say that this decade exerts a certain fascination on you?
For me, there are of course reasons related to my personal experience but these are are not interesting for an interview. I beleive however that the 80s are fascinating because it is during this period when the social bonds that will build a new society were formed. Modern Greek democratic society is created and organized in the 1980s, not in the 1970s. Furthermore, society changed rapidly during that time: color television, multiple sources of information, many TV channels and newspapers, advertising images, lifestyle etc. An important element to note is that all this constituted a mode of adjustment to the capitalist world that granted a new place to the individual in Greece. This way of empowering the individual goes hand in hand with a still considerable power of the State, the collective and the political. It is a sort of mass individualistic culture, which will paradoxically work for several decades, until today.
* Interviewed by Magdalini Varoucha and Costas Mavroidis, translated to English by Ioulia Livaditi