Born in Athens, Dimitris Athanitis studied cinema and architecture. Member of the European and Greek Film Academy, he has directed seven feature and three short films. His last film “Invisible” (2016) won 14 awards and screened at more than 35 film festivals. His debut film “Addio Berlin” (1994) won Jury’s Prize and Critics Mention at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival (TIFF) for its innovative style, while his second feature “No Sympathy for the Devil” (1997) was nominated for Best Feature Film and won the Best Actress Awardat TIFF. “2000+1 Shots” (2000) was placed by Australian film critic B. Mousoulis among the 10 best films of the year for the Senses of Cinema film journal. His 2012 film “Three Days Happiness” won 4 awards and showed at more than 20 festivals.
Greek News Agenda interviewed* Dimitris Athanitis in connection to his film “Invisible”, a tough urban western focusing on the unequal battle fought by 35year-old factory worker Aris against injustice after being fired without notice. Shocked and unable to react rationally, Aris decides to take justice into his own hands, when his ex-wife appears unexpectedly leaving their 6 year-old son with him. Athanitis explains how he has woven a dense narrative on clearly cinematic terms which follows the protagonist’s gradual loss of contact with reality. He underlines that he is interested in exploring his characters’ desires and thoughts, going under the surface, beyond conventional distinctions between “good’ and “bad” and that his films always include social criticism, despite appearances to the contrary.
Christos Benetsis, Yannis Stankoglou, "Invisible" (2016)
Asked why he chose Aspropyrgos, an industrial area on the outskirts of Athens, as setting, Athanitis replies that it is an area that fits into the notion of invisibility around which the film revolves, in the sense that it has lost its place in society, as is the case with the central character, as well as his son who is being ignored by both parents. Finally, Athanitis invites the reader to a view of his personal journey in filmmaking through twenty five different encounters, from the 80’s to the present, as laid out in his book “Secret encounters”.
“Invisible” is an innovative combination of genres, combining social drama with noir and western elements and an enigmatic, open ended plot. How do you think these elements contribute to the narration?
“Invisible” is in a way innovative in combining elements from different cinematic genres but it is mainly the ending of the film that brings something really new. Ιn this long, almost endless sequence, there are three plot twists which strike hard at the audience. The viewer feels lost with all the twists and turns and has to think to put the pieces together. The decisive factor is that “Invisible” combines reality with elements of fantasy. The film begins describing Aris’s cruel reality and step by step lays out what goes on inside his mind. This is the key to also understanding the ending.
Christos Benetsis, "Invisible" (2016)
On the other hand, it is important to observe that underneath the simple surface lies a narrative condensed, enriched with two and three stories running at the same time. Although Aris is always kept in frame, we can also follow his kid’s story, which is as important and complicated as his own. We also observe in an abstract way, as described through cinematic language, the complicated existence and relations of other characters around Aris.
There is underlying social criticism in your work. Would you like to elaborate?
In my films I am interested in scratching well under the surface. I want to go beyond the characters’ social façade, to see what they really want, what they think, far beyond the artificial distinction between “good” and “bad”. Finally, my films make a strong social comment despite appearances to the contrary. The plot of my first short film “Philosophy” - shot in 1993 when the war in Sarajevo had just begun – deals with the expansion of war in the Balkans, the collapse the Greek economy and the declaration of bankruptcy by the President, leaving philosophy as the only possibility left that’s cost free. The film won the Best Fantasy Film Award at the Drama Film Festival. A few years later, the film proved to be prophetic.
The city is a protagonist in your films. Why did you choose Aspropyrgos as a background in “Invisible”?
My six previous films were shot in central Athens and they focused on city life. Aspropyrgos however is not really that far away; it is just a decadent industrial area on the city’s outskirts and I felt that it was the right setting for my story. Moreover, although this area is so close to the city, it remains invisible to the people, as Aris remains invisible for his employer and as the kid feels invisible in the world of the adults.
How do film makers deal with the economic crisis? Are they intimidated by it?
The crisis has proven to be productive in a way. It gave more space for creativity and made clear how urgent it is to make films. So, I am optimistic.
Would you like to tell us a few things about your book “Secret Encounters”? What do these encounters offer the reader?
“Secret Encounters” relates to my encounters with some extraordinary people in the course of my cinematic journey all these years. There are stars like Ben Gazzara and directors like Chabrol or Kakoyannis, writers, singers, fictional characters, chess players and even some unknown persons. There is a challenging mixture of characters and at the same time my own personal voyage in filmmaking through twenty five different encounters from the 80’s to the present. This book is an expedition involving people, places and times and constitutes an anthology of extraordinary people and a personal mythology at the same time.
What are your future plans?
The only I can say is that a female character will be at the centre of my next film, which will be in black and white, and it shall be shot far from Athens.
* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi
Read also: Film review by Elie Castiel, Sequences, Montreal (in French)
Administrative reform is among the top priorities of the Greek government aiming to transform public administration into a key tool for economic prosperity, serving at the same time the needs of citizens and businesses. Within this scope, a coherent and well prepared “National Strategy for Administrative Reform 2017-2019” has been recently put forward.
Greek News Agenda interviewed* Grigoris Theodorakis, Secretary General of the Ministry of Administrative Reconstruction on recent developments:
Asked whether administrative reform is part of the Greece’s economic adjustment program, Theodorakis said that although fiscal consolidation requires adequate measures in the administration, establishing an independent, functional and transparent public administration has long been an enduring request. On the other hand, simple horizontal spending cuts without structural reforms bear no result. In order to succeed, a coherent and well prepared reform strategy is needed, as with the current National Strategy for Administrative Reform 2017-2019, not as an obligation but with the support of the political leadership and all public administration.
Regarding the size of the public sector, Theodorakis referred to the numerous international reports indicating that Greece does not suffer from overstaffed public administration, and noted that the main problem lies with the irrational allocation of staff. He further underlined that the newly established mobility system based on job descriptions and digitized procedures will bring the right people with the right skills to the right place through a transparent and easy mechanism combating clientelism. At the same time, emphasis is given on stable, permanent and de-politicized working relationships in the public administration so as to provide quality, transparent and effective public services.
Regarding the technical assistance of Expertise France -the French international technical cooperation agency- to the Administrative Reform in Greece, Theodorakis explained how helpful this assistance has been towards the implementation of reform policies, underlining however that any reform conducted in public administration will be conducted mainly by the Greek administration. For this reason, Greek civil servants are collaborating with French experts in work-groups showing remarkable results, he added.
The Secretary General also referred to the term “participatory administration” mentioning that the Strategy foresees the evaluation of public services by citizens through a web platform as well as the improvement of public consultation including for the first time local government decisions. Promoting the use of open data in the following years is an additional means of enhancing citizen participation in public administration and encouraging interactive communication. The ultimate goal is to have a more effective, but most importantly, a more democratic public administration.
* Interview by Costas Mavroidis
The National Strategy for Administrative Reform focuses on 8 principal areas:
- Shaping and implementation of public policies by enhancing interministerial coordination as well as cooperation with public organizations
- Structures and procedures: Through the re-organization of formal structures and the simplification of administrative procedures, the aim is to reduce operational costs while enhancing the quality of services to both citizens and business
- Local government: Modernization of the legal framework concerning the operation of local government entities putting emphasis on social participation and accountability
- Human resources: Emphasis is given on meritocracy, transparency and impartiality so as to ensure an efficient and effective administration
- Regulatory governance: Modernization of the legal and regulatory environment as well as creation of a single point of open access to legal information for the public sector, citizens and business.
- Transparency, accountability and open governance: The aim is to enhance citizen participation in decision-making through public consultation, evaluation tools and open data platforms.
- E-government strategy: Improvement of public services provided to citizens and businesses through the simplification and digitalization of procedures developing new skills and competences in public administration.
- Anti-corruption: Through the National Anti-corruption Strategy the aim is to identify sectors with the highest level of corruption risk, improve legislation and codes of ethics, enhance accountability, implement Public and Private Sector Collaboration etc.
The myth of Greece’s overstaffed public sector
The number of civil servants has been reduced since the beginning of the economic crisis by 18.4% (i.e. 127,236 fewer civil servants in 2016 than in 2009), bringing Greece below the OECD average.
Between 2013-2014, organizational structures also decreased by 23% in General Directorates, 38% in Directorates and 35% in Departments, generating important budget cuts in wages and remunerations.
Moreover, administration in Greece has an ageing workforce with an average of 45.3 years in 2016 (43.1 years in 2012), hindering innovation and the development of new skills. The Greek government intends to adopt new programming schemes in order to hire “fresh” human resource and tackle the ageing of the workforce.
Reforming public administration does not necessarily mean further reduction in staff and services but rather increased performance through optimal allocation of staff, simplification of procedures, extensive use of digital technologies etc. In the aforementioned National Strategy, great emphasis has been given to the workforce in order to improve the internal functioning of public administration through initiatives such as a new mobility system, performance evaluation, selection for heads of units, job description etc, currently implemented in the public sector.
According to the Ministry of Administrative Reconstruction, Greek Public Administration will gradually become the guarantor of social cohesion and solidarity, as well as the vehicle for economic growth. The ultimate goal is to respond to the needs of society offering high quality services to citizens - especially in these times of crisis – and to businesses.
Read more via Greek News Agenda: PM Tsipras unveils National Strategy for Administrative Reform 2017-2019
Public sector employment as a percentage of total employment (OECD, Ministry of Administrative Reconstruction)
Edited by Ioulia Elmatzoglou
Greek film director and script writer Timon Koulmasis was born in Germany in 1961 and has studied History and Philosophy in Germany and France. He has filmed three fiction feature films: “The Waste Land” (1987), “Before the Night” (2004) and “What colour are the walls of your apartment?” (2005). He has also filmed nine documentaries: “Urlike Marie Meinhoff” (1994), “Anis Naccache – Revolutionary or Terrorist?” (2000), “Ways of Rebetico“ (2003), “Sinasos, A Survey of Memory” (1996), Martha (2006), “Michalis” (2007), “Nico Papatakis- A portrait”, (2008-2009), “Words Of Resistance” (2010), and “Portrait Of My Father In Times Of War” (2016). His films have been selected by international Film Festivals, including Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Montreal and Locarno and have won many distinctions. Koulmasis has also taught script writing and documentary filmmaking in France, and he is the Representative of Greece at the European Cinema Support Fund Eurimages.
His film “Words of Resistance” is about the Greek radio programme of Germany’s public international broadcasting service Deutsche Welle, a daily programme that nearly all Greeks were secretly listening to during the years of military dictatorship in Greece (1967-1974). Like many of his previous films taking place at the crossroads where personal experience meets collective memory, the film tells the story of the men and women who created this programme and, forced into exile by the junta, continued from abroad their fight against the regime for seven years. One of the broadcasters of the programme was Danai Koulmasi, the director’s mother.
Interviewed by Greek News Agenda* about “Words of Resistance”, Koulmasis explains that what prompted him to film “Words of Resistance” was the need to not only tell the unknown stories of the people behind the DW Greek programme but to also question the power of critical, politically engaged discourse and redefine its necessity today. Asked if the younger generations that are the target group of the film are sensitive to political issues, he argues they are, although they have neither references nor perspectives. Koulmasis also stresses that he is satisfied by the levels of Eurimages funding absorption by Greek films as well as current Greek film production, thanks to talented young directors in every field and a new generation of open minded, internationally oriented producers.
In your documentaries, you like to tell personal stories that evolve within a historical setting. What prompted you to film “Words of Resistance”?
There had never been a film about the men and women who created the legendary Greek programme of Deutsche Welle and, forced into exile by the fascist regime, continued to fight for seven years to maintain the dignity and the hope of a whole people. I knew them since my childhood and so I tried to uncover the important part they played during and after the dictatorship and indicate their place in collective memory today. As you noted, most of my films deal with the issue of individual and collective memory.
But it was different then.Times have changed. Critical discourse used to be perceived as a powerful and threatening tool. The Chinese emperor Ts'in Che Hoang, for example, had all the books in his kingdom burnt, with the sole exception of those dealing with medicine and cooking recipes. Closer to home, the colonels’ regime feared the Deutsche Welle Greek radio programme to such an extent that they interfered with jamming transmitters. These days, hardly a generation later, politicians in Greece and elsewhere in Europe consider journalists and intellectuals as totally harmless, and they are probably right. Words of Resistancereflects on the power of critical, politically engaged speech, and redefines its necessity today.
The film also reveals the dilemma facing discourse when it tries to translate into action ("praxis"), when it attempts to bridge the gap that almost inevitably exists between poetical ethics and political demands. This issue was explosive then, it is still important today, and it is aimed at young people.
“Words of Resistance” revolves around the fight for democracy. Fifty years following the collapse of the military regime in Greece, do you think that younger generations are sensitive to political issues?
They obviously are but they live in "unhistorical" times and lack references and perspectives. There is also a lot of disappointment and distrust, since promises by political ideologues aren't credible anymore. The crisis is less economic than ideational, and that is what makes it so dangerous.
Critical discourse thus would take place in specific historical circumstances like these ones, devoid of clichés and ideological prejudices. Only this way can it resist becoming commonplace. Sometimes it has to denounce, but its main role is to propose new ideas. Critical speech has not disappeared today but it is hardly audible. The economic censorship prevailing in mass media transforms every single thought into a publicity slogan. It has yet to be proven that the Internet might become an alternative.
This "silence" breeds inevitably the germs of violence. I sincerely fear that a relapse into barbarism cannot be excluded anymore.
Angelos Maropoulos, Giorgos Kladakis, Danae Koulmasi, Kostas Nikolaou - 1973
You are currently representing Greece at Eurimages. How does the financing of co-production operate and how can Greek films make use of it?
Eurimages is a fund that enables producers from member states of the Council of Europe, who coproduce with production companies from another member state under the revised European Convention of Co-production, to apply for gap financing. There are technical and financial eligibility criteria. But for years now, Greek producers handle these and apply successfully for funding. 2017 will be the best year ever for Greek Cinema since Eurimages came into existence: so far, this year, already eight Greek Films - 4 majority and 4 minority productions - have been funded by Eurimages.
What is your opinion of current documentary production in Greece?
A lot of progress has been made in recent years, and there is an increasing awareness of the social and political issues that need to be addressed artistically in times of crisis. But I would not make a difference between documentary, short film and feature fiction: there are a lot of talented young directors in every field, and a new generation of open minded, internationally oriented producers is doing a tremendous job in developing high level projects - artistically and financially. In spite of the enormous difficulties due mainly to the (compared to most other European countries) ridiculously low amounts of funding granted by the Greek Film Centre and TV channels, I am very optimistic about the future course of New Greek Cinema.
* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi
Read also: Timon Koulmasis interview with GrèceHebdo (in French)
Watch the full documentary:
In an interview* with Tassos Tsakiroglou, political editor of the Athens daily "Journalists' Journal" (Η Εφημερίδα των Συντακτών), he talks about Greece’s current economic situation, the SYRIZA government room for maneuver especially in relation to redistribution policies and the northern European working classes responsibility to try to change the correlation of forces so as to improve SYRIZA’s position and credibility. Professor Panitch emphasizes that “the great danger for any radical government taking office is its social-democratization” and the the “danger of being overwhelmed by the problems of managing the existing state”. In conclusion Leo Panitch underlines that “even with SYRIZA been forced to be social-democratized, Greek society did not give Golden Dawn beyond the 8%... It is something you should be very proud of and I think SYRIZA has something to do with it.”
The government claims that, in the summer of 2018, international economic surveillance will be over, and that Greece will start borrowing from the markets. How realistic do you think this is, given the country’s current economic situation?
This is very difficult for me to judge. On the basis of what I read in the press, this appears to be somewhat confirmed. The real question though is at what rate of interest it will be able to access international funds, that is, what will the spread be between the interest Greece would have to pay and the rates applying to Europe. On the surface, access looks increasingly like a possibility, and it still may be feasible after the German election. What the IMF has been calling for in exchange for the terrible structural adjustment that’s been forced on Greece is relief from a large portion of its debt. What I might have hoped is that, after the election, the Germans would have finally agreed to this.
I think however that the Liberals who will participate in the new government are against this.
That’s why I said “hope”. I don’t know if it is true or if it will happen or mere speculation that the liberals have insisted on taking the Finance Ministry. That’s quite possible. Your question makes a valid point in relation to the existing debt and whether Greece will be able to fulfill its obligations to gain access to the markets.
There is also the obligation to maintain the surplus at 3.5%
This rate is extremely high. It may not be impossible to meet, but at a cost of not being able deliver on many things the Greek government still wants to do, such as its distribution of some of the surplus to pensioners in last year’s budget. Tsakalotos nonetheless may still have some room for maneuvre even with that 3.5%, given the shifts in both unemployment and growth. That may give him enough room not to meet the 3.5 surplus requirement. But the causes and effects of all this go back 40 years, long before the Economic Monetary Union and the euro.
You have argued that the Left must take on government responsibilities and not exhaust its actions at protest events. How do you see things after 2.5 years of SYRIZA rule in Greece?
I still believe that. The prime responsibility in my view for the credibility of the SYRIZA government lies outside Greece, above all in the northern European working classes who could not -and at times did not want- to change the correlation of forces to give the SYRIZA government more room for maneuvre.
That said, I think that I was aware all along that going into government provided the leadership with an impossible choice. Had they said they would leave the Eurozone they would not have been reelected. That is what the Left Platform and many outside SYRIZA were insisting on, but this was completely unrealistic as abandoning the euro required introducing capital controls as well as import controls; and you cannot remain in the European Union with these limitations. There was always a lack of sense of reality in the claim that “we’ll leave the eurozone but not the European Union”. If you leave amidst a crisis without securing any funds from the ECB, and given the failure of Greek banks, it would require capital and import controls. And you couldn’t have remained in the E.U. And SYRIZA did not have a mandate for that even after the referendum. It was an impossible situation and it required a shift in the correlation of forces.
In that sense, there is a parallel between 1917 and the situation in Greece. The only difference is that the Russians had oil to cover their energy needs, whilst Greece has only olive oil. You can’t run the economy on olive oil. Then there is another very serious dimension, which is membership of NATO and all of its implications that the left did not wish to discuss.
You mean the geopolitical implications?
Geopolitical, yes, but also the nature of the Greek military and the Greek Police, as well as the correlation of forces within them. On the other hand, it is clear that not to go into government would’ve been irresponsible also. There is a different situation in Portugal, a different alignment.
In an interview with our newspaper (Η Εφημερίδα των Συντακτών), Tsipras said that he will continue to seek cooperation with social democrats in Greece. Given the experience in Europe, do you believe that this political space now has any credibility?
No. I think that the great danger for any radical government taking office is its social-democratization, given the difficulty of carrying through a socialist programme in any country, and above all Greece in the context of the crisis: the danger of being overwhelmed by the problems of managing the existing state.
This was bound to happen with SYRIZA. Some of the leadership, especially Tsakalotos and the group of 53 he is associated with, have a vision beyond this. I don’t think they have been helped by so many people with shared views walking away from SYRIZA. The Left Platform could have turned itself into a major political force. Had they remained, developments would have been different.
Tsipras is now forced to govern with AN.ELL, a very conservative party.
Yes and that has implications in terms of the relationship with the church and so on. But there’s also been a failure: their overwhelming concern for able and honest people running the state versus their lack of concern- not only in the leadership- for developing the capacity of the party, to educate, mobilize and develop alternative means of production and consumption. It has been a problem with this government but it is further reinforced when someone like the former general secretary of the party walks away from his position instead of trying to mobilize the party to be SYRIZA again. Thus, the Left cannot be the political force it needs to be.
What we see in Europe and the United States is the rise of conservative, xenophobic, even fascist political forces, while the Left is on the decline even though it engages in solitary struggles from time to time. What is your explanation?
I think what we are seeing is that institutions are promoting neoliberalism, with the European Union doing it as a whole, social-democracy also embracing neoliberalism -PASOK did this in Greece- and the centre-right parties have also embraced neoliberalism; these institutions have all lost their legitimacy during this long crisis.
In my opinion, the ideology of neo-liberalism was never as popular as people thought it was. We see that with the antiglobalisation movement, and the deceit of the attempted reform of the European constitution along neoliberal lines. Even in the USA there are resistances from the working class.
There is huge suspicion of neoliberalism and in this long crisis we see the delegitimation of institutions.
In Greece, that resulted in the rise of Golden Dawn and much more importantly to the explosion of support for SYRIZA. The wave of occupation of public spaces and student strikes has put the rise of Golden Dawn relatively in the shadow.
I think it’s remarkable that even with SYRIZA been forced to be social-democratized, Greek society did not give Golden Dawn beyond the 8% it had already achieved. It is something you should be very proud of and I think SYRIZA has something to do with it.
That said, the bankruptcy of social-democracy, its embrace with neoliberalism and the delegitimation of centre-right parties leaves enormous space open to a xenophobic, nationalist Right which expresses itself in anti-globalization terms and identifies capital globalization with human rights in particular, especially with liberal notions.
And this is extremely worrying. It’s not just an appeal to the white working class: the appeal is homophobic as well as xenophobic, it’s patriotic and it’s sexist. That is why Putin is a hero for all these people; because in the context of the Olympics, he openly showed that he was homophobic. It even has an appeal to immigrants in certain countries who espouse a similar stance.
In America for example, 33% of the Latino vote went to Trump, with 43% of educated women voting for him. That said, the natural base of the old communist and social-democratic parties has been left open to this. And this is the great danger of our time.
Is there anything positive?
There are some positive elements in this political protest from both sides of the spectrum, Right and Left.
And that is SYRIZA, Podemos, Block, but also Sanders of the Democratic Party in the USA, as well as Corbyn of the Labour Party in Britain, both of whom distinguished themselves. Corbyn campaigned for the rights of Palestinians, nuclear disarmament etc, which is very positive.
There are also many limitations. The Labour party, not to mention the Democratic Party, both in internal structure and goals is oriented towards linking its path to power with a process of education, mobilization and capacity building that would give support.
The momentum development in Britain is very important. But will they have the capacity to turn Labour constituencies into centres of working class life?When I was in Greece, SYRIZA was caught in a great dilemma, meaning this juncture in political time. Because of the crisis and its impact on working people, because of the danger of the rise of the Right, you don’t have the time to wait until you’re in power to do what you can. And you need a great deal of time to change these parties into what they aren’t as yet. And this is a terrible disjuncture. There is no easy answer to this.
Lois Labrianidis is Secretary General for Strategic and Private Investments at the Ministry of Economy & Development, Professor in the Department of Economics, University of Macedonia Greece and Head of the University's Regional Development and Planning Research Unit. He is an economic geographer (BA – Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki, MA -Sussex, Ph.D. -LSE). His scholarly publications include many articles and books.
Professor Labrianidis spoke to Greek News Agenda* about Greece's comparative advantages, the structure of Greek entrepreneurship and its limited demand for highly specialised personnel, the need for the Greek economy to focus on knowledge intensive activities, the “National Development Strategy 2021” and government’s “Build knowledge and partnership bridges with Greece” initiative that aims to networking the world of educated Greek professionals and entrepreneurs, "wherever they are". Labrianidis invites members of the Greek diaspora to visit the initiative's website, use it, spread the word and support it.
More than 250,000 Greek citizens appear to have left Greece in the past 7 years heading to various destinations primarily in Northern and Western Europe. What are the motivations of these “crisis” migrants and who exactly do emigrate?
To start with, I want to point out that the phenomenon is not new. Although it had become a serious issue by the 1990s, it undoubtedly worsened during the crisis period. There are many reasons for this: unemployment, underemployment, and attempts to find employment more in line with a person’s skills/qualifications or with better prospects or even the desire to live in a different cultural environment (cosmopolitanism). However, the main reason, I would say, is the long term imbalance between supply and demand of work for graduates, which arises from the limited demand of the Greek economy for highly specialised personnel.
Unfortunately, although, up until now, it hasn’t been possible to record the migration of specialised personnel, I believe that it may be possible if comprehensive records were to be kept and this exactly is one of the main goals of our initiative. We estimate that today there are approximately 250,000 Greek professionals who live and work abroad.
This disparity is not a result of the allegedly large, or surplus numbers of graduates and the outcome would be tragic if an approach were taken to alleviate the problem by reducing this alleged number of graduates in accordance with a limited demand, since that would mean the degradation of the country in the international division of labour further with incalculable negative consequences.
It is a myth that in Greece the percentage of graduates is disproportionately high, at least since in fact it is below the EU average (during the 2006-2016 period, for the 25-34 age group the average percentage for the EU 28 was 34.1, while for Greece it was 33.1as for the OECD for the 25-64 age group, the average percentage for 2015 was 31 while for Greece it was 28) but mainly since we need to invest in the emerging knowledge economy as a prerequisite of success in the new economic world order. In this respect, an important aspect of the question relates to the structure of Greek entrepreneurship and broadly speaking of the Greek economy, which, in recent decades, hasn’t been orientated towards knowledge intensive activities. Additionally, we shouldn’t overlook the fact that the migration of highly educated personnel to other countries is a timeless phenomenon as far as further acquisition of knowledge from the ‘source’,that is the university or research centre specialising in a specific subject, is concerned. A third and very significant aspect is obviously related to the economic crisis in the country while simultaneously other countries are implementing actions to attract young scientists, which are accompanied by very attractive financial rewards, the prospect of career advancement and a better standard of living.
What is the purpose of the government’s “Knowledge and Partnership Bridges” initiative and how does it connect with the national goal of “brain gain”? Does Greece’s "intellectual capital" continue to be a strong national asset despite the numbers of young people that are leaving the country?
The National Development Strategy 2021 of Greece advocates the need for a paradigm shift and more specifiacally it argues that the country should develop towards the 'knowledge economy', which means that human capital and even more skilled human capital is a crucial factor. Thus the government wants to utilise its human resources irrespective of where they live today.
However, quite a number of Greek professionals living and working abroad do not want or cannot return to the country immediately. We must, therefore, find a way to work together, both in the country where they are and by creating appropriate conditions for the development of their business or research activities in Greece. It is for this reason that we have developed the initiative ‘Build knowledge and partnership bridges with Greece’ (http://www.knowledgebridges.gr/). Let’s not forget that over time Greeks have created open-minded diaspora activity networks which safeguard and strengthen national unity and prosperity (from Greek communities in Egypt and the Middle East to Austria, London and Australia).
More than anything, we want this platform to be a networking world for Greeks, wherever they are. The success of the initiative depends critically on all Greeks around the world!
Through the initiative’s website, you can find partners, information about funding programmes and scholarships within Greece etc, help a Greek business to sell its products in the country where you live and are active, help friends who are self-employed or are employed in a business in Greece to come into contact with businesses abroad, or even set up a business in Greece alone or jointly by acting as a mentor/business angel to a start-up.
Through the platform’s “Partnerships” sector, we intend the initiative to act as a bridge between young and/or renowned Greek professionals and entrepreneurs abroad and Greeks that live in the country (that is professionals that are self employed, or employees of a company in Greece or a university or a research centre). Greek professionals and entrepreneurs who work either abroad or within the country, can register on the co-operation /partnership section of the platform by completing details regarding their professional or business background and the needs they have for work in Greece or for networking with the country or even with other young professionals, in this way creating an online community.
Greek organisations can register on the platform by completing details, either about open job positions or the need for partners and networking with Greeks abroad. The main objective is to create links, ultimately to create new opportunities for all Greeks around the globe.
‘Bridges’ is a national initiative, in which I strongly believe, and from which only benefits will result on an individual, local and national level. With the opportunity this interview gives me, I invite members of the Greek diaspora to visit our site, use it, spread the word and support it. Their contribution is invaluable, since the return to national and individual prosperity is not a matter of collective responsibility but also the result of personal effort and the participation of everyone.
According to the latest data, R&D investment in Greece has been growing steadily in recent years. Is the country moving towards a knowledge based economy and how?
Αccording to the official figures of the National Documentation Centre (EKT) R&D spending in Greece has been growing steadily in recent years, both in absolute terms and as expressed in GDP. Spending on R&D came to 1.73 billion euros in 2016, up from 1.49 billion euros in 2014 and 1.39 billion in 2011, despite the economic crisis. The "R&D Intensity" index, expressed as a percentage of GDP, has also risen steadily, from 0.67% in 2011 to 0.84% in 2014 and 0.99% in 2016.
Since the ‘Brain Drain’ is a structural problem, there is a need for fundamental changes in our development model and the development of a new social mentality among horizontal political actors, producers, the state etc. Our economy needs to produce more complex products and services. This is the new development model of the National Development Strategy 2021. The outcome of this will be medium to long term. To alleviate the problem we are discussing, policies are already being exercised, mainly small scale, to target the containment of the outward flow of young professionals, for example through the fostering of innovation and self-employment of higher education graduates, the hiring of doctorate holders by Higher Education Institutes so that they gain academic teaching experience and so on.
Which are the main comparative advantages of the Greek Economy? And which are its main weaknesses? Does Greece have prospects in the industrial sector and which other sectors of the Greek economy need special support?
Greece has a number of strengths in comparison with neighbouring countries and generally, for example: an established democracy, a key geographic and geostrategic position, being a member state of the EU and has substantial infrastructures. In the present investment environment, adequately supported, Greece could become a springboard for major investment activities in the EU and Europe generally. The country has natural and/or comparative advantages when investing in tourism, real estate, agri-food, various branches of industry, transport and energy.
What I really want to stress is that the country has high quality human resources with proportionately low wage costs, exceptionally good weather conditions and an exceptional quality of life, with amenities and infrastructures (good schools etc). Such advantages could attract knowledge-intensive investment (e.g. research centres, businesses etc) which would provide employment for highly specialised people who opt to live in areas which can offer them a good quality of life.
In this way, the country would not only keep its specialised human resources with a significant proportion of those who had left returning, but could also be attractive to other specialised personnel from abroad.
One of the special traits of the Greek economy is the small size of enterprises...
Historically, SMEs are considered central in identifying entrepreneurial activities in Greece which are important at the present time. It is commonly acknowledged that SMEs are the backbone of the domestic economy. According to 2014 data, in Greece 85 % of private employment is concentrated in SMEs and more than 50 % in micro enterprises (0-9 employees).
What are the main priorities of Greece’s development policy as far as incentives for investment, employment perspective, entrepreneurship, innovation in the private sector and exports dynamism?
Paradigm shift to change the development model and move towards a knowledge economy with reduced social and regional inequalities. We need to move to a value chain which produces products and services of high value added. Businesses need to be more outward looking and innovative.
What kind of branding does Greece need?
One might argue that the key factor of the global economy is no longer goods, services, or flows of capital, but the competition for people. Of course companies have always sought to attract highly skilled employees; the difference today is that instead of bringing those skilled people to their existing locations, companies are setting up facilities based to a great extent on where the highly skilled people are residing.
Greece, has high quality/middle cost human capital, an exceptional climate, world-class cultural assets, wonderful nature, quality of life, high quality schools, notable infrastructures, democracy, is an “island of stability” in a very good geostrategic position between East-West and North-South, security, etc. Having all that, Greece appears to be an ideal place to attract investments that require the employment of highly qualified people from all over the world. These people, who are highly skilled and have the luxury to choose where to work, can afford to choose where to live based on the quality of life offered in a country. In this sense, our country is an ideal destination for such people and this in turn will attract businesses that want to employee highly skilled employees.
*Interview by Gianna Kakalides and Nikolas Nenedakis
Read more via Greek News Agenda: New national initiative: "Knowledge and Partnership Bridges"; Eumigré: A research project on the new crisis-driven Greek emigration; Greece’s Νew Emigration at Τimes of Crisis
Whether a gamer or not, everyone is familiar with digital games such as, for example, Candy Crash Saga. The digital Game industry is a fast growing global market that annually generates more than 100 billion dollars, twice and even higher the global cinema turnover. The Athens Games Festival, part of a series of events titled "Digital October" organized by the General Secretariat for Media and Communication of the Ministry of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Media, is the first international game business conference in Greece and will take place 28-29 October 2017, at the Helexpo Maroussi exhibition center in Attica. Video game developers from Greece and Cyprus and from all around the world, along with international game studios, will gather for a two-day conference that will bring together industry professionals, stakeholders, publishers and the media.
Even those who are not professional gamers can enjoy retro games, as well as to find out about new games applications in education and medicine, or to be informed about the career options they present. But first and foremost, the Athens Games Festival is an incentive of the Greek state to put the Greek gamers community on the global map. The exhibition consists of over 60 kiosks where game professionals will present their new products. Representatives of leaders such as Amazon, Facebook and Unity will demonstrate best practices and hold professional meetings with game developers, while academics and artists will talk about game narratives and games as a form of art, initiating a dialogue with the public.
Greek News Agenda interviewed* Lefteris Kretsos, General Secretary for Media and Communication, on the Athens Games Festival. Lefteris Kretsos holds a PhD in Employee Relations and until his appointment as General Secretary for Media and Communication he was a Senior Lecturer of employment relations and human resource management at the University of Greenwich (Greenwich Business School, Department of Human Resources and Organizational Behaviour). He underlines the importance of the event and the opportunities it offers to gamers, stressing that it is the outcome of the experience gained by participating in important conferences abroad. He outlines the comparative advantages of Greece as a filming location, as well as the new strategy making Greece a “film friendly” country, through a system of subsidies that will attract investments from the film industry.
The Athens Games Festival, to be held on 28-29 October, is the first major event by the State to boost the gamer community. What are the expectations from this event?
The Athens Games Festival '17 is the first major event organised by the State for digital services and products, as well as the first business conference in the field of digital gaming organized in Greece in general. Very interesting game events are organised annually in Athens and Thessaloniki, and, this year especially, new events such as GROW and Digital Expo took place, which offered new Greek game developers a platform to showcase their work. These are initiatives that the General Secretariat for Media and Communication does not only welcome but supports in practice. The Athens Games Festival has a different profile, which I believe we must emphasize, as the event follows the standards of international B2B events (business to business). Our goal is to develop synergies between home providers, facilitate communication between professionals, institutions and stakeholders, while also investing in the know-how introduction through our guests who are representatives of tech moguls such as Amazon, Facebook, Google, Unity or even King, the company behind the famous Candy Crush Saga game. At the same time, we aim to organize an event that will convey the following message to the international community of the game industry, i.e. that Greece has an active community of creators and that Athens can turn into a hub of innovation and creativity. And I think that although this is the first time this festival is organized, we have taken very important steps in this direction.
However, the General Secretariat for Media and Communication has participated in other major events in Greece and abroad (Global Game Jam 2016, 2017, Get in Games from Innovathens, Participation in the White Nights conference in Prague, St. Petersburg and Moscow, Nordic Game in Sweden). Which conclusions have been drawn from previous events?
All previous events, and in particular our participation in business conferences abroad -Prague, St. Petersburg, Moscow and Sweden, as you mentioned earlier- has played a decisive role in the way we organised our next actions.
What we realised in the course of those events was that while in Greece we have been focusing on retail sales of video games, buying software and hardware or even eSports, we have tended to overlook the fact that Greece, from a country consuming digital products (we rank 50th in a list of 100 countries) could become a country of production and distribution of digital games just like Britain, France, Germany and many others. Our participation at such conferences abroad has taught us that big market players are looking for new talent and collaborations at annual professional events such as White Nights and Nordic Game. We saw that through such events, companies like Ubisoft or Wargaming, with a 2016 turnover of 2.985 and 2.179 billion Euros respectively, come into contact with the domestic market and if they find a favourable economic climate and domestic market for professionals, they establish new company branches in these countries.
We believe that Athens Games Festival, which we have organised with the help of White Nights and with the support of Nordic Game, will give us the opportunity to participate on an equal basis with other countries in the global digital games market.
AGF is part of the Digital October events. What are these events about?
The General Secretariat for Media and Communication has organised “Digital October”, a series of events taking place throughout October. The series concerns digital culture, digital literacy and the modern digital tools we dispose today that can improve our work, our quality of life and enable us to have a more substantial participation in modern digital society. For Europe, October is a month dedicated to cyber security (European Cyber Security Month), while from 7 to 22 October we celebrate Europe Code Week, which we consider to be of major importance. Within this framework, we organized a seminar on Data Journalism for young journalists, an event on post-journalism and how the new digital era influenced journalism as a profession. Of course digital games and the Athens Games Festival is an integral part of Digital October, which will be completed with an interesting event about security issues concerning Internet of Things (IoT).
Monsters presenting Apocalypse Cow Contestant at the Nordic Game Discovery Contest
As you have said, "Greece is preparing to enter the Global Movie Business in 2018 ". What are the strategies in this direction and how will the provisions of the new law on strengthening the production of Audiovisual works in Greece contribute?
In the past few years, there has been widespread disappointment at the fact that big film studios, although initially interested in filming in Greece, end up filming in other countries like Croatia, Malta and Hungary. Let’s not forget the case of Mamma Mia 2, where producers eventually turned to Croatia. Of course, there are many problems, including the lack of any investment incentive for film productions. Croatia offers 20% cash rebate in film productions, Malta 25-27%, Serbia 20%, Ireland 32% and the list goes on.
So, it becomes clear how fiercely competitive the climate is between countries. At the same time, we understand that our impressive natural landscapes, natural sunlight and the rich color palette of Greece are not sufficient in their own right to attract film productions, if there is no subsidy and/or facilitation for producers. The passing of Law 4487/2017 of the Ministry of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Information and in particular Chapter D, which concerns the Establishment of an Institutional Framework to Enhance the Production of Audiovisual Works in Greece, is a game changer. It gives the opportunity to producers of films, documentaries, animation, as well as educational video game designers to qualify for grants, in the form of cash rebates. The grant that may be awarded concerns specific categories of eligible costs to be incurred in Greece, a proportion of which will be subsidized after the completion of production (20% of eligible costs). This is a law that will be implemented as of the beginning of 2018 and has already attracted the interest of many producers.
Read also: General Secretary for Media and Communication Interview with European Business Review: Lefteris Kretsos: Greece is preparing to enter the Global Movie Business in 2018
* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi
Nikos Erinakis has studied Economics (AUEB, Athens), Philosophy and Comparative Literature (Warwick) as well as Philosophy of the Social Sciences (LSE) and holds a DPhil from the Universities of London and Oxford. Erinakis is Director of Research at the Institute for Alternative Policies (ENA), a newly founded Athens-based “progressive and left” think-tank that perceives itself as part of a wider movement of ideas for changing society.
Nikos Erinakis spoke to Greek News Agenda* about ENA’s goals and political orientation, the need to re-examine the left-wing concepts and politics in the light of new emerging social needs, ENA’s Economic Development Bulletin, as well as the character of the Greek public debate, and the role of propaganda in the formation of international public opinion about Greece.
The Institute for Alternative Policies (ENA) describes itself in its founding declaration as “non-politically neutral”, and progressive in character. Could you tell us more?
The idea of creating the Institute was born out of a necessity. Both Greece and Europe are now at a critical juncture. As the current era is extremely uncertain and characterized by great changes, various ideas and thoughts are formulated about our present and future, but there is no organized, structured, and scientifically documented public analysis and discourse that detects differences between the old and the new, conservativism and progressivism, based on the coexistence of a renewed way of our collective coexistence at the level of society, economy and politics. Thus, we wanted to explore how the Greek society imagines its future.
Our goal is to operate as a left-wing think tank in Greece and Europe, seeking to fill the lack of well-founded scientific analysis that we believe exists in the representation of the wider field of the Left. We aim at the creation of an original field of research, study, dialogue and action on policies in favour of social needs and the interests of the subordinate classes, that is, at the exit from the multilevel crisis towards a new socio-economic reality of equality and justice.
In Greek political science and public discourse, the country’s so-called ‘underdog’ culture is often considered as a source of opposition to the processes of modernization and “Europeanization”. What is your opinion concerning this type of approach to the Greek social formation?
We believe that this well-known dichotomy is a simplistic way to describe a rather complex situation, e.g. the evolution of the Greek social formation throughout the years. Moreover, it constructs two hyper-historic categories that seem to apply to all the phases of Greek history and favour a very specific and biased interpretation of Greek history and its conflicts. Thus, the term "underdog" is elitist and extremely derogatory. We believe that the recognition of the complexity of the Greek social formation and a self-critical spirit - which means facing and deconstructing your own political biases - constitute two concrete methodological foundations in order to answer questions of this kind.
The main finding of our first survey, which was presented in July, was the lack of citizens' trust towards "traditional" political or social actors, as well as a tendency to seek progressive responses to modern dilemmas. At the same time, there is a sense of perplexity and puzzlement. The social majority seems to be increasingly following alternative formations of political thought and analysis, and is willing to participate more in the community, but it does not seem to know how. Nevertheless,it is still a process in progress. This "how", thus, is what we attempt to explore and express by looking for the forces that will truly manifest the new.
Alternative policies, on which our research programme focuses, are policy proposals that aim at social, economic, ecological and institutional transformations. They respond to specific social needs, always having as a prerequisite the active participation of society. Focused on the widening of equality, social justice, solidarity, innovation and fair development for the benefit of citizens, they are alternatives mainly to neo-liberal hegemony, but also to historically outmoded models of progressive, political age.
By this we mean that more is required than simply the defence of classical progressive prepositions. Besides, left-wing politics of the past set the same identities as a point of reference, albeit with outdated tools today. An overflow, a re-examination of these concepts in the light of new emerging social needs is therefore required. A redefinition of existing policies based on modern data on needs and available tools to meet them. These are the pioneering "alternatives" that we will try to identify and highlight, while exploring how they can be implemented. Emphasizing collective points of reference and key concepts for us, such as the public interest and public goods.
The Economic Developments Bulletin is now already in its 3rd issue. It is updated on a monthly basis by the Economic and Social Analysis Group of ENA. All data derive from official sources. Through the scientific interpretation of the indicators and the holistic presentation of trends, we aspire to offer the reader a balanced approach to reality critically recognizing both positive and negative developments. Given that we are neither a financial nor a public institution, we gather information from a great variety of fields and therefore we do not focus merely on strict financial, positivistic indicators like bulletins by banks, businesses or public institutions do.
The aim of ENA’s Economic Development Bulletin is not only to provide valid, systematic and comprehensive information on the trends and developments of the Greek economy and society but also to capture the social footprint of economic policies on sustainable and just development. As we state in our founding declaration «ENA’s work is not politically and socially neutral; through scientific documentation and experimentation, it aims at strengthening the political conditions of social justice, defend general interest and eliminate inequalities». As part of this work, the Economic Development Bulletin is a promising tool for proving that a modern think tank in Greece can have a strong political and social standing without lacking scientific credibility and objectivity.
Ιn addition, we issue the Bulletin on European Affairs, through which we opt to take part in the public, and often controversial, debate on European affairs. The Bulletin will be issued twice a month and will not stand politically and socially neutral, but will seek to explore responses to the diverse challenges of our time for Europe. The fundamental question that motivated the decision to create the Bulletin was not the often postulated “more or less Europe”, but “what kind of Europe do we want” and how can this be achieved.
It is often argued that the Greek public debate lacks factual analysis and concrete policy proposals - especially as far as the Left is concerned, while the country's most influential think tanks (like ELIAMEP in the field of European and Foreign policy, and the recently founded diaNEOsis) are rather located on the centre-right of the political spectrum. Would you like to comment?
Public debate is indeed monopolized in our country very often by theoretical approaches and opinions that repeat the basic imperatives of neoliberal/conservative ideology. Left perspective is under-represented, especially in projects of documented scientific analysis and elaborated policy-making. As a result, we decided to found ENA; our aim was to set up an alternative, left and progressive think tank in order to cover the gap of representation of the broader area of the Left.
At the same time, we wanted to give the possibility to those young scientists and researchers that are actively involved in the defense of public interest and public goods, in the strengthening of social justice and democratic participation, in the promotion of innovation and fair development. Our goal is to make the most out of the knowledge produced today in Greece and which is not diffused to the public sphere.
In other words, our intention is to highlight the social dimension of the economic and political developments and the quality characteristics of the economic and political conjunctures that are often ignored or passed over in silence by the think tanks mentioned.
Our ambition is to work on alternative proposals of realistic policies serving specific social needs fora new model of social organization. In this context, our main concern is to clearly define concepts that are socially and politically charged, such as "new production model" or "sustainable growth", in order to draw more accurately the dividing lines between the really progressive and the neo-conservative approaches often in disguise.
You have contributed to Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung’s fact sheet about “Greek politics: checking the facts - What Greece has actually done to tackle the crisis” (June, 2017). What, do you think, has been the role of propaganda in the formation of international public opinion about Greece and are there any means to counter its dire effects?
It would not be an exaggeration to argue that there exists a missionary zeal with which certain interested circles in European and International politics, the business sector and the media, have been circulating tendentious portrayals, distorting facts and even slanderous statements. One of our aims is to highlight some of these alleged truths about ‘the Greeks’ that have been loudly proclaimed and are still persistently being peddled today, and examine them objectively in order to establish how true they actually are. In other words, we aim at counteracting such fake news, depreciative clichés and preconceptions about Greece, without beautifying or putting a gloss on anything, and to gather true facts which must be presented all the more systematically in today’s allegedly post-truth era.
*Interview by Nikolas Nenedakis
Thomas Maloutas is Professor at the Department of Geography, Harokopio University. Former Director of the Institute of Urban and Rural Sociology of the National Centre for Social Research (EKKE) and General Secretary for Research & Technology (2015-2016). His work is related to the changing social structures in metropolitan areas in the era of capitalist globalisation with a focus on issues of segregation and gentrification related to housing and broader welfare regimes. His research and published work refer mainly to the South European urban context and especially to Athens.
Professor Maloutas is the chief editor of the Athens Social Atlas project that aims at highlighting and critically analysing topics concerning the social geography of Athens through multiple perspectives, focusing especially on the past 20 years. It contains texts and supporting material concerning the historical development of the metropolitan area from the 19th century on, the city’s social stratification, its governance, its international economic role, migrant groups, housing practices, the daily transport of its residents.
Thomas Maloutas spoke to Rethinking Greece* about the background and methodology for the "Athens Social Atlas" project, Athens' isolationist and cosmopolitan characteristics, its social and professional stratification, its suburbanization, the decline of its centre, the high rates of home ownership and how construction in the 50s and 60s destroyed the face of the city. Maloutas underlines that nowadays “Athens has more problems than one can see with the naked eye” and that there is need for a consistent housing policy, as well as new social solidarity policies to accomodate the increasing numbers of refugees living in Greece and those in danger of losing their homes.
There is an increasing awareness of matters related to life in the city as well as to social geography. The spatial dimension of social issues is more obvious in an urban context, where one could observe contrasting situations juxtaposed in close proximity, as for example, poor neighborhoods right next to wealthy ones, diverse nationalities and people living side-by-side, etc.
As people move around and travel much more than in the past, they are able to directly compare diverse social circumstances, which in turn increase their awareness of deepening inequalities in the last 15-20 years or so. Social issues are thus more visible to the wider public.
What is the purpose of the "Athens Social Atlas" project?
The Athens Social Atlas is a research based project, although not a scientific one per se. All contents originate from serious research projects, small and large, individual and collective. The Atlas is a compendium of work in concise form, where methodological analysis is not excessively detailed and chapters outline the broad shape of the matter, the supporting empirical data, as well as the corresponding political dimensions. It’s a collective effort in which 75 authors have already contributed, with numbers increasing as the project is ongoing.
At the outset we thought we would be making a typical Atlas in printed form. For example, back in 2000, I’d edited what was thought to be the first volume of an Atlas called The Social and Economic Atlas of Greece, which focused on cities, whilst subsequent volumes were to be on rural areas, industrial activities and tourism respectively. Sadly this project was never completed, but a more comprehensive French edition of that Atlas was published in 2003 (with Michel Sivignon, Franck Auriac, Olivier Deslondes and myself as editors) called “Atlas de la Grèce” that included cities, rural areas, industrial activities and tourism.
These days however we can have an online Atlas that can be updated on a regular basis. Hence, this new Atlas is a work in progress, and as such, it functions as a kind of a forum as well. The only limits imposed by the project’s editorial board relate to contributions of material and arguments being founded on research. The Atlas is supported by the Onassis Foundation.
Can you tell us a few words about Athens as a city and an urban phenomenon? What are its special characteristics?
In a very broad sense, each city is unique; however, modern cities studied by disciplines such as urban social geography, urban geography or urban sociology are industrial cities. Moreover, cities like Athens have the disadvantage of not being situated where urban theory is produced. Accordingly, when looking at a city like Athens through theoretical lens developed elsewhere for differenttypes of cities, it is quite likely that what is being seen is not really understood.
In the course of the 20th century, Athens became a large metropolis of almost 4 million people, evolving from a small town of roughly 100,000 at the turn of the century by way of an atypical process, i.e., insofar as this didn’t take place through the characteristic process of industrialization. Here, other historical factors had been at play, from the designation of Athens in 1834 as the capital of the newly independent Greek state and the subsequent attempts at city planning by the Bavarian monarchs that indelibly affected both the way the city developed over time and how different social groups established themselves in certain parts of the city.
Other major events played part, as for instance the aftermath of the Asian Minor expedition in the early 20th century that led to the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey, whereby close to 1.5 million of people of Greek origin from Asia Minor moved to mainland Greece with a vast proportion concentrating in Athens. The sheer scale of this intake as well as the way these refugees were distributed in various neighborhoods surrounding Athens irrevocably affected the social fabric of the city.
This upheaval was followed by World War II, followed by a Civil War and a huge rural exodus mainly towards the big cities and Athens. Thus, in the postwar decades there was an enormous inflow of people from the countryside to Athens and to a much smaller extent to Thessaloniki; at the same time, there was a massive, almost equal in scale, wave of emigration from Greece to West Germany. Moreover, some migrated, either internally or externally, due to political reasons: for those defeated in the Civil War, it was not easy to live in small villages, where they were extremely visible. Another factor driving people out of rural areas were the dire economic conditions that led families to develop their own strategies in orderto help their members get back on their feet: for instance, a part or branch of the family would move to the city, while another would move abroad. These were not necessarily desperate solutions, but choices of accommodation and rational use of resources.
Athens thus became a place that received people fleeing from elsewhere. Whilst in most of Western Europe or North America we observe urban centres attracting people on the basis of their industry and economic development, this was not the case in Greece.
According to French Geographer Guy Burgel, Athens has been “a city of peasants and an introvert national capital” although with some cosmopolitan features. Does this account still hold?
Many things have changes since the mid-70s when Guy Burgel made that statement; I certainly do not believe that this account stands today. Since the 80’s we have stopped witnessing that constant stream from rural to urban areas; there as a geographic stabilization of population within the national territory, and the policies of the governing PASOK socialist party in that decade played a part. Moreover,a society cannot be on the move forever, and eventually urbanization trends become more or less stabilized. In Athens, for the past 20 years the population in terms of Greek nationals has stabilized, if not declined. Overall, there is a small increase in the total population of the city, mainly due to migrant inflows. To a certain extent, it is also the case for other Greek cities. Consequently, we can no longer speak of Athens as a city of peasants. The generation of peasants that came to the city is now at the end of their biological cycle. The new generations are autochthones, Athenians.
As far as the city’s cosmopolitan features are concerned, there is this debate whether Athens is an introvert city, as the capital of a country isolated by its shared borders with countries either till recently in isolation because of the cold war or with which there have traditionally been difficult relations. With the exception of Italy, Athens does not have a hinterland outside the national territory and cannot easily connect with other big metropolises. On the other hand, there is a certain cosmopolitanism because Greek people tend to move for work and studies around the world, experience, bring back and transplant other cultures. So we have a city which is not very well connected globally, but its people have visions and images of the outside world. In Athens you thus have a kind of cosmopolitanism and an isolation at the same time.
With the dramatic increase in the brain drainsince the beginning of the crisis, now there are ten times more young people with high skills leaving Athens to seek work elsewhere; this is an intricate problem. I believe that in the 2021 census the scars of this phenomenon will be visible in the structure of employment, in the economically active population of this country.
What are the main characteristics of social and professional stratification in Athens? How is Athens evolving in this respect?
The general view according to some scholars -as for example Saskia Sassen, who has visited Athens- on the future shape of urban societies is that they tend to become polarized: the wealthy, as well as the poor become more numerous, while the middle class is shrinking and income distribution is taking the form of an hourglass instead of an onion, as it was before. This is interpreted as the result of moving from industrial economies to post-industrial service-based ones. However, this theoretical model has been seriously questioned as to whether it actually applies to all cities or only to very special places like New York or London.
Empirical studies for Athens do not reveal a substantial widening of the gap between the rich and the poor, ad this is so for many reasons: One, because Athens has never been a locus for big corporations to establish their business here or to at least develop important activities. This means that Athens does not attract a corporate elite, young people with very high academic credentials and very good salaries, who form this kind of upper caste in most of the cities discussed in Sassen’s model. In Athens, the corporate elite is anemic. As far as the number of poorer people is concerned, it was shrinking until the late 80s due to upward social mobility. However, with the massive arrival of immigrant groups, poorer classes are becoming more numerous. In a nutshell, even though we don’t have a widening gap between rich and poor, the number of poor people is indeed increasing.
As far as gentrification is concerned, this is mainly a process evident in the English-speaking world, especially in the New World, where the elite, during the advance of the industrial revolution, decided to leave the city centre and live in the suburbs. When industrial development came to an end, it created increasing vacancies in the inner city areas, so you have reinvestment and the return of a portion of the middle classes. However, this happened mostly in the English-speaking world: in cities like Paris or Vienna, the elite had not left the inner city in the course of industrial development, so there was no space for cataclysmic changes through gentrification.
Gentrification in Athens is not related so much to housing, as to the changes of use of public space in some areas like Metaxourgeio, Gazi or Psirri, where local artisans and small scale industry were replaced by leisure activities, such as restaurants and bars. This also changes the city, but it's not the usual type of gentrification.
It seems that the centre of Athens has experienced a decline after the 1980s…
The decline of the centre of Athens began in the mid-70s, in a gradual process that is still going on. According to data from the last census (2011), the municipality of Athens has lost almost 150,000 inhabitants as compared to 2001. Without the influx of migrants in the city centre, the loss would have been much greater.
Usually, suburbanization is due to industrial development. In the case of Athens, middle and upper middle classes have begun moving to the suburbs because they themselves had overinvested in inner city construction, making it too densely built and insufferable. Construction, since the 50s and during the dictatorship (1976-1974), had been encouraged as a means to heat up the economy and ensure political gains. In 1968 for instance, the military regime, in order to gain the favour of land owners, relaxed prevailing limits on construction space as percentage of land by a further 20%. This was implemented without serious town and street planning. Thus in Athens overall there was short-sighted approach to construction seriously lacking planning, especially during the dictatorship years.
Does this over-construction of Athens begin before the 1967 dictatorship, that is, in the Konstantinos Karamanlis era of the late 50s?
Τhis is an issue of contention: On the one hand, there were very high construction rates in the 50s and 60s that destroyed the face of the city, when neoclassical and other architecturally significant buildings were knocked down and replaced by much bigger modern apartment buildings, while on the other you have the production of very affordable housing. So, there was a socially positive outcome in terms of housing and a socially negative outcome in terms of the layout of the city and living conditions. After over-building neighborhoods like Patissia, Kato Patissia, Kypseli, and a few other middle class and sometimes upper middle class neighborhoods, they became degraded and the more affluent households who were partly responsible for that decline gradually began moving to the suburbs.
In Greece, the housing sector was the driving force of the entire economy. In industrial societies, it is commonly industry that produces goods and creates wealth that triggers construction; in the case of Greece,it was a little bit the other way around. An immense development in construction demanded the production of goods for housing, from furniture to building materials and set the economy in motion.
Crisis-struck Athens is commonly depicted in international media with abandoned buildings, vacant shops and homes. What social problems lie behind these images?
Let's say that Athens has more problems than one can see with the naked eye. On the Atlas website there is a chapter on vacant dwellings with maps showing not only holiday homes -mainly situated on the coastline of Attica- but for the first time we witness a large number of vacant homes in central Athens. Vacant buildings however could be a resource for the city, creating available space for housing homeless or other vulnerable groups of people.
In Greece, the vast majority of landlords are not companies, banks or corporations but mostly older people who invested in property. The majority of homes also owner-occupied: home ownership is about 70% in Athens and over 80% in Greece as a whole. Overall, landlords do not own more than one or two apartments other than own residence. Such property owners have also been hit by the crisis, losing their income from property either because of loss of tenancies or undelivered back rental payments or serious decreases in rental charges as tenants are unable to meet rental costs.
The existence of many vacant dwellings on the one hand and homeless people on the other begs for a policy that combines needs with remedies. Can homeless people be housed in those empty homes? These properties are privately owned, but owners are themselves in danger of losing their property after years of not being able to pay their property taxes and accumulating debt.
To face this problem, new policies need to be implemented in order to coordinate assistance for people with housing needs, while facilitating small property owners to keep their property. One idea would be to rent these homes at a price much lower than market value and ask tenants to provide another kind of social service for others in need. This way, social relations could be rebuilt on the basis of solidarity rather than just generosity, which I believe is the only way to shield poorer neighbourhoods from the infiltration of xenophobic or racist groups, including neo nazi party elements (Golden Dawn).
I believe we should salvage social relations by implementing social policies that bring people from different backgrounds closer together. Helping each other is something that Greeks do, but it is usually kept inside the family. However, new social solidarity policies are needed at this juncture, given also the large numbers of refugees living in Greece. In this framework, Athens’ empty apartments could also be used as a means of solving social problems, without stigmatizing people or turning whole neighbourhoods into ghettoes.
*Interview by Nikolas Nenedakis
As the countdown has begun for the 58th Thessaloniki International Film Festival (November 2-12, 2017), the biggest celebration of cinema in Greece, Greek News Agenda interviews* Orestis Andreadakis, TIFF Director since May 2016. Orestis Andreadakis was born in Heraklion, Crete, in 1963. He studied cinema in Athens, as well as French literature, art history and film theory in France and Switzerland. He worked as a film critic for various newspapers and was editor in chief of Cinema magazine from 2007 to 2016. He was also a film critic for Greek TV station MEGA from 1995 to 2016. In 1995 he took part in the establishment of the Athens International Film Festival Opening Nights, where he served as artistic director from 2007 to 2016, while in 2011 he participated in the establishment of the Athens Open Air Film Festival. In 2013 he was honoured as Chevalier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
With long experience in directing the biggest film festivals in Greece, Andreadakis referred to the elements that render Thessaloniki International Film Festival - the major South Eastern European film festival and annual platform for Greek productions - a unique cinematic experience for viewers as well as professionals: its international programming that aims to unveil new fascinating worlds to the audience, while the Agora film market is where film professionals from Greece and around the world meet and prepare new films. Moreover, TIFF’s rich programme of events and discussions offers a rounded cinematic experience, going much further than simply showcasing films. Asked as a veteran film critic about the effects of the crisis on Greek film production, he stressed that it has brought Greece in focus, inspired international artistic and festival interest on what the cultural product of this crisis will be. He also underlined that there is a new talented and highly qualified generation of filmmakers and artists in Greece that responded to the crisis in a creative and innovating way.
The concept behind TIFF58’s poster(s): "The film frame is the field of the frame ‘maestro’, the director, who uses it to form the pictures, the shots of the film he envisioned. The frame is part of the reality and also the base of fiction filmmaking. Within its borders, big and small miracles are produced and deduced."
What is your vision for the Thessaloniki International Film Festival?
My vision includes three focal points: Firstly, engaging as many people and institutions of Thessaloniki as possible. We wish that the festival be a part of the city’s life during the events of November and March as well as throughout the year, because TIFF has a year round activity with four cinema theatres, the only cinema museum in Greece (the Cinema Museum of Thessaloniki), a series of educational programmes, Thessaloniki Cinematheque events, our summer screenings and so on.
Secondly, we hope to strengthen even more the trust of the film industry, that is, to be able to show as many Greek films as possible, to bring in contact the creative teams behind these films with guests from the global film market so as to provide a fertile ground for dialogue between Greek filmmakers and their foreign peers. We want to help filmmakers find future collaborators and Greek films to be distributed in cinemas and TV networks around the world.
Last but not least, we want the Festival to further reinforce its distinct artistic identity, to further strengthen and consolidate it so that it stands on its own against other European Festivals of similar status.
What is the main focus in TIFF’s programming?
As suggested by its title, the Thessaloniki International Film Festival is International. We focus on films from around the world and in the previous years we have presented very important films from Latin America, Asia, Russia, the Middle East. We often show filmsfrom countries whose location or political system is perhaps unknown to the audience. These films however unveil fascinating new worlds and show that people around the world share the same concerns, dreams and hopes.
Would you like to talk about TIFF’s AGORA department?
It is the most dynamic part of the Festival, although it is not as visible, because it does not concern the audience. The Agora department is in essence an incubator for future productions: like a laboratory, where experiments are carried out, it may not be of interest to the general public, but the experiment results affect everyone. The same applies to Agora: it is the place where all new productions are processed, both artistically and financially. Film professionals come from around the world with their ideas and projects; they meet with each other as well as with Greek producers and directors and prepare new films. Agora has cemented its status over the years and the proof for that is the considerable number of films participating in prestigious international film festivals around the world which have begun as projects at Thessaloniki International Film Festival’ s Agora.
How did the economic crisis affect cinema attendance and film production in Greece?
The economic crisis has seriously affected film production, distribution and box office performance both in Greece and abroad, but other means of distribution, platforms such as Netflix, legal or illegal downloading, have also played part. A large part of the audience, especially the young, is interested in cinema, they watch films, but they do it mostly at home, not in cinemas. All these factors have worked against film theatres, but they have not diminished audience interest for the moving image, which is why I believe a Film Festival such as Thessaloniki’ s must reinforce its image not of a mere film distributor but so as to offer a complete cinematic experience. For us, Festival goers do not attend for the sole purpose of watching a film, but so as to participate, to talk about the film after viewing and to think about the film the day after. Thus, at the Festival we always offer round table discussions, master classes, parties and other events that contribute to a rounded cinematic experience.
I don’t think that the only problem faced by Greek cinema were poor scripts. One cannot judge a screenplay per se, and the only way to evaluate it would be to read it. What we see on screen is the final product of the combination of dialogue, cinematography, acting, cinema sets, costumes etc. In the context of the crisis, Greek filmmakers were motivated to work on issues that interest more people. What I really think was influential is that the new generation of filmmakers is highly qualified, i.e., they are well travelled, they have studied abroad, they had more opportunities and were more open to influences from peers. These I believe are reasons that have made Greek films in Europe more powerful.
Greek films, as you noted, have come under the radar of International Festivals. What makes Greek films attractive for foreign audiences?
The crisis has brought Greece in focus. People interested in art are intrigued to witness what the cultural product of this crisis will be, not only in cinema but in all other art forms in Greece.Moreover, as a result of the crisis, all artists are in deeper need for expression and because they are very highly qualified, as I explained earlier, we have a very interesting artistic product.
Is there something that you are particularly proud of in this year’s event?
The human capital of the Festival: this extraordinary Festival team, with its impressive knowledge and skills; that is the main reason I’m proud to be directing TIFF.
* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi
Nektarios Tavernarakis is the Chairman of the Board of Directors at the Foundation for Research and Technology-Hellas (FORTH), Research Director at the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (IMBB), and Professor of Molecular Systems Biology at the Medical School of the University of Crete. He is also an elected member of the Scientific Council of the European Research Council (ERC). For his scientific accomplishments, Nektarios Tavernarakis has received several notable scientific prizes, including an innovation-supporting ERC Proof of Concept Grant and two ERC Advanced Investigator Grants. In July 2017, he received the prestigious Helmholtz International Fellow Award.
FORTH, established in 1983 in Heraklion, Crete, is one of the largest research centers in Greece with well organized facilities, highly qualified personnel and a reputation as a top-level research foundation worldwide. It includes six Research Institutes in different parts of the country.
Professor Tavernarakis spoke to Greek News Agenda* about the present situation of research in Greece and the country’s great capacity in that field. He notes a change in the national research policy, welcomes the increase in public spending for research and suggests ways in order to turn Greece’s “brain drain” into “brain gain”. He underlines FORTH's strategic planning as well as its aim to expand into emerging and exciting research fields.
FORTH and you personally have received numerous international awards and recognition for your work. Where does Greece currently stand internationally as far as research is concerned and what are its perspectives for the future?
There is definitely capacity to perform high level research in Greece. This is exemplified by the numerous publications of Greek researchers working in Greece, in high-impact, peer-reviewed journals. In fact, with regard to publications in top tier scientific periodicals, Greece is doing quite well, and in a recent Nature survey it came on top of countries that are traditionally considered highly productive in terms of research output, such as Canada, France, Italy and others. This suggests that we have, in Greek Research Institutions and Universities, what is sometimes called as “Pockets of Excellence”. If anything, these examples indicate that there is no inherent inability to carry out internationally competitive research in Greece. Another indicator that points in the same direction is the success of Greek Researchers and Institutions in attracting external competitive research funding. FORTH has ranked 15th in the list of the top 50 most competitive European Institutions in terms of securing funding from the previous 7th Framework Programme of the European Commission, and has actually improved its position, now number 10, in the current Horizon 2020 Framework Programme. Several other Greek Institutions are also performing well in this respect. The above being said, however, Greece is still well below the European average in the overall scientific output. I think it is important that Greece manages to realize its full research potential. There is still a long way ahead before this goal can be achieved. It will require the coordinated efforts of both the National Government but also the Scientific Community in Greece and the scientists of the Greek diaspora.
According to data, R&D spending in Greece has been growing steadily in recent years. But there is also the belief that underfunding, among other problems, prevents Greek R&D from reaching its potential. What is your opinion? What is the role of the State? Can you detect a change in policy?
Indeed, notwithstanding the current financial challenges and the crisis in Greece, there has been an increase in public spending for Research, both percentage wise but also in absolute terms. This is of course a very welcome development, but there is still a long way ahead of us before long-term regularity and sustainability of research funding is achieved. Funding also needs to increase further if we are to approach the current European average. Nevertheless, I believe that there are clear signs of a change in national policy with regard to Research. Greece’s research portfolio is now handled at a Ministerial level instead of at the level of a General Secretariat, which used to be the situation until recently. This, to me, indicates that the Greek Government recognizes the value of Science and Research as a key pillar of socio-economic development, and an essential tool towards overcoming the crisis. Recent measures and the legislation that was passed for Research are steps in the right direction but there is still a lot to be done. Looming problems that need to be addressed in the short-term, are the extremely complicated bureaucratic system for handling and dispensing research funds, as well as, limitations imposed on hiring new researchers and university professors. I hope that the current momentum does not dissipate, and these initial steps are followed up by the implementation of an even more research-friendly policy.
For years, Greece has been suffering from “brain drain”. Recently, PM Alexis Tsipras said that “brain gain” is a national goal for the next 5 years. Under what circumstances can this be possible?
The phenomenon of young scientists and researchers moving abroad after finishing their Bachelors or PhD studies in Greece is not something new. People have been doing this exercise almost forever and it is not necessarily bad for the country. If anything, this could even be beneficial for Greece; under the condition that at least some of the people also come back. Such a reciprocal movement has the obvious advantage of enriching the Greek Scientific Community with state-of-the-art knowledge and expertise. The detrimental trend that has been transpiring in recent years is not that people are leaving – this, as I said, has always been the case – but that very few, if any, come back. This is where we are losing the game. I believe that if we are to also have “brain gain” and not just “brain drain” we should establish an environment in Greece, a research ecosystem, if you will, that would be favorable for people who want to come back. We should be able to provide the means (facilities, infrastructure, legislative framework etc.) for these people to carry out their research programme, essentially as they would outside Greece. I am confident that if this is done, we will see a lot of brilliant scientists coming back. In fact, in a recent call for researcher positions at FORTH we witnessed an extremely high interest by people abroad, with more than 70 applicants for each position and many of them outstanding scientists who could easily be hired in top US and European universities.
What is/should be the relation between FORTH and the private sector? Are there any examples of successful cooperation?
FORTH has always fostered close relations with the industry and the private sector. Over the more than 30 years of its existence, FORTH has been the cradle of many successful spin-off companies, and productive partnerships with the private sector. FORTHNET, the company that literally brought the internet to Greece, is a prominent example; there are numerous others. In addition, FORTH has demonstrated its determination towards further strengthening relationships with the private sector and the industry by creating the PRAXI Network, which is a highly experienced and well-stuffed technology transfer unit. Through the efforts of the PRAXI Network, many productive partnerships between research teams from all Institutes of FORTH and companies in Greece and abroad have been established. FORTH also operates in its premises the Science and Technology Park of Crete, an incubator of start-up companies that seek to maintain close ties with the academia and research groups at FORTH. This symbiosis provides ample opportunity for fruitful interactions. Finally, I would also note the example of Crete University Press, a high quality publishing house established and operated by FORTH, which provides excellent scientific and other literature editions to university students and the Greek general public.
Tell us a few things about FORTH’s next projects.
We have several strategic plans for the future. We want to see FORTH maintain and enhance its excellence, as well as, expand into emerging and exciting research fields. We follow closely contemporary developments in various areas of research, relevant to the activities of all FORTH Institutes, and we aim to initiate related research activities. As an example, we intend to establish a new Center for Personalized Medicine and Genomics, which will provide state-of-the-art services to patients from all over Greece, but also nurture research collaborations between clinicians and basic scientists. Genomics technologies that will become available in the framework of this center will also be useful in the Agro-Food and Culture Sectors, which are of vital economic importance for Greece. I should note that FORTH (the Institute of Biology and Biotechnology) has already created the first ArchaeoGenomics (Ancient DNA) Lab in Greece. This is one example of how modern technologies can contribute to a better understanding and appreciation of our rich cultural heritage. Furthermore, we plan to complement this center with a state-of-the-art Biomedical Imaging Hub that will incorporate a PET/CT imaging system. This capacity is not currently available in Crete, and will be a highly valuable asset, even at the national level. An additional initiative that we have already undertaken at FORTH is the creation of the first Institute of Astrophysics in Greece. The infrastructure is already in place; as you many know, FORTH together with the University of Crete are operating the Skinakas Observatory, which is equipped with the latest observation and analysis instruments for Astrophysical studies. In addition, a group of highly talented and motivated Researchers is already active in this area of research, at the Institute of Electronic Structure and Laser of FORTH. Thus, we hope that the Institute of Astrophysics will soon become FORTH’s 7th Institute.
*Interview by Yanna Kakalidi
Foundation for Research and Technology-Hellas | Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology: Tavernarakis Lab