Angelos Sikelianos (1884–1951) is generally recognized as the most important Greek poet between Cavafy and Seferis. Considered one of the leading 20th-century Greek lyrical poets, he developed some of Greece's most prestigious pieces of literature, being nominated five times for a Nobel Prize.

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Sikelianos was born in Lefkada where he spent his childhood. In the course of the following years, he traveled extensively and devoted himself to poetry. In 1907, he married the American Eva Palmer in the United States; the couple moved to Athens in 1908. During that period, Sikelianos came in contact with Greek intellectuals. His first work, the Alafroískïotos (“The Light-Shadowed”), was published in 1909 and revealed his lyrical powers. The poem was a true hymn to Greek nature, written with admirable power and coarse original lyrics. It was followed by a group of outstanding lyrics.

During the Balkan Wars (1912-1913), in which he took part, he wrote patriotic poems, published in newspapers, magazines and in the poetic collection Lyrics. In 1914 he met Nikos Kazantzakis. They connect from the very beginning with a strong sympathy that evolves quickly into deep friendship. They are recognized as spiritual companions, which shared a common desire to explore the divine.

His next period was introduced by the philosophic poem Prólogos sti zoí (“Prologue to Life”, 1917) and includes the long works Metera Theou (“Mother of God”) and Pascha ton Hellenon (“The Greek Easter”), culminating in the Delphikós lógos (“Delphic Utterance”, 1927). In the last, Greek tradition and the national historic and religious symbols are given a mystic turn and a universal significance.

In May 1927, in collaboration with his wife, Eva Palmer-Sikelianos, he held the Delphic Festival as part of his general effort towards a revival of the ‘Delphic Idea’. He believed that the principles which had shaped the classic civilization, if reexamined, could offer spiritual independence and serve as a means of communication among people. The event consisted of Olympic contests, a concert of Byzantine music, an exhibition of folk art as well as a performance of Prometheus Bound.The Delphic Festivals were acclaimed by critics (many of them invited to attend) and despite a lack of state assistance, they were repeated three years later. The revival was then permanently abandoned due to the excessive organization costs.

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In the 1930s and 1940s there appeared a second group of lyrics, which display the full power of Sikelianos’ art. They express in rich and incisive language and with forceful imagery the poet’s belief in the beauty and harmony of the world. The tragedies of Sikelianós (Sibylla, Daedalus in Crete, Christ in Rome, The Death of Digenis and Asklepius, which are introduced by the long dramatic poem The Dithyramb of the Rose) are more notable for their lyric than their dramatic qualities.

The poetic creation of Sikelianos is of special value, from when the first signs of World War II began to its end. During the occupation of Greece, he secretly wrote and published Akritika (1941-1942), a cry of pain for enslaved Hellenism. The funerary poem he composed and recited for fellow Greek poet Kostis Palamas in 1943 roused the mourners and culminated in an angry demonstration of a 100,000 people against Nazi occupation. He also wrote the letter, spearheaded by Archbishop Damaskinos, and signed by prominent Greek citizens, in defense of the Jews who were being persecuted.

Sikelianos published his poetic work in three volumes in 1946 and 1947. The collection's title was Lyric Life. He left, however, several poems unpublished. In 1965 G.P. Savvides, a leading Greek philologist, started to publish the entire poetic work of Sikelianos, which finally comprised five volumes.

THE HORSES OF ACHILLES

O Field of Asphodel, two horses
Whinnied and raced along your edge,
Their backs were shining like a wave
As they came surging out of the tide
And tore across the empty sand,
Their necks were arched like breakers, high,
Stallions flecked with white foam . . .
Lightning kindled in the eye.
They dove back in, wave into the waves,
Foam into the foam of the sea,
And then were gone. I knew those steeds,
One had taken on human voice,
And prophecy, a sayer of sooth.
The hero gripped the reins and kicked,
Driving onward his godlike youth . . .
 
Holy horses, fate has kept you
Indestructible, and set
Upon your foreheads black as night
A charm against the evil eye,
A great and blinding blaze of white!
 
[Translated by A.E. Stallings]

The Horses of Achilles depicts the immortal horses of Achilles, Xanthus and Balius, in Elysium (the fields of asphodel). In the Iliad, Xanthus had the power of speech and prophesied the death of Achilles, for which he was silenced by the Furies. The poem is both a response to Homer and to Cavafy’s poem of (almost) the same title. In Sikelianos’s poem, Achilles and his horses share a golden immortality and youth beyond the blood and dust of battle One wonders who is speaking: Sikelianos, Odysseus, Patroclus?

For Sikelianos everything in the natural and visible world, when rightly perceived, is an expression of a supernatural and invisible order of reality. The task of the prophet, sage and poet is to reconcile the one world with the other, o heal the dichotomy between them through an act of creative mediation. With this in mind, Sikelianos uses myth not as a rhetorical device but as a mode for revealing the eternal divinities that inhabit the physical world. In his late poems, myth becomes the agency for uniting his subjective and narrative voices into a sublime tragic vision.

"Prolific, vatic, uneven, yet a master of many complex forms, no twentieth-century Greek poet is more deserving of serious attention . . . yet no poet is so the despair of the translator", wrote David Ricks referring to Angelos Sikelianos in his anthology Modern Greek Writing. Indeed translator A.E. Stallings talked about "the maddening challenge getting his bold, rhymed sonnets accurately into bold, rhymed English".

Sikelianos’ works are available in English translation, in Selected Poems, translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, originally published in 1979. Selected poems by Sikelianos are also included in Voices of Modern Greece (1981), translated and edited by Keeley and Sherrard.

Read also:
Rethinking Greece: Artemis Leontis on the Cultural Biography of Eva Palmer Sikelianos and the Modern Reception of Classical Greece
Reading Greece: A.E. Stallings on Greek Mythology as a Source of Inspiration and the Greek Language as a Landscape in Poetry

800 people in the street istock gettyXenophon Contiades is Professor of Public Law at Panteion University and Managing Director of the Centre for European Constitutional Law (CECL) - Themistocles & Dimitris Tsatsos Foundation in Athens. He also teaches at the Hellenic Open University. His research areas include constitutional law, fundamental rights, social rights, health rights and policies, and also disability rights and rights of vulnerable groups.

His publications include 23 books in public law, comparative constitutional law and social security law, over 130 articles in Greek, English, German and Italian in the fields of public law, comparative constitutional law, social security law and EU law. He has participated as scientific director, researcher or expert in numerous European or national research programmes and on institution building projects in third countries in the sectors of public law, public policy, social law and health policies.

Our sister publication GreceHebdo* interviewed Xenophon Contiades on the occasion of the recent publication of his book Pandemic, biopolitics and rights. The world after Covid-19 (Kastaniotis editions, May 2020), which also coincided with the Greek Chairmanship of the Council of Europe (May-November 2020), which has placed its focus on human rights, the principles of democracy and the rule of law in the context of the pandemic. In his interview, Contiades talked about the biopolitics of the pandemic, the search for a balance between the protection of public health and of human rights, as well as the future of the welfare state.

The response to the Covid-19 pandemic poses a challenge to human rights. How can the risk of a permanent state of emergency be avoided?

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused the most serious backsliding on human rights in Western democratic societies since WWII. The virus’s high contagiousness and lack of preparedness of the healthcare systems, which were caught off-guard and were unable to suppress its spread, led to the gradual adoption of social distancing measures in most countries worldwide. We also witnessed the introduction of policies aiming at enhancing the healthcare system and supporting the economy, which also infringed on individual and group rights.

Kontiadis collage book.1The measures and policies formulated at the behest of the World Health Organisation, the relevant advisory bodies, epidemiologists and public health experts, took the form of a state of emergency or martial law with the concomitant suspension of a number of rights, despite the fact that in most countries these rights were restricted by laws or other legal instruments issued by the governments to be used in cases of urgent and unpredictable necessity. Moreover, certain countries effectuated article 15 of the European Convention on Human Rights, suspending the exercise of certain rights under the excuse of a menace to public health, in order to take measures which contravene their obligations under that same Convention. 

In a number of countries, governments used the sanitary crisis as a pretext to claim excessive powers. Such is the case of Hungary, where the illiberal regime of Prime Minister Viktor Orban declared an indefinite state of emergency in the country, allowed the premier to rule by decree and introduced prison sentences for spreading false information, in violation of the freedom of expression and of the Press.

The Council of Europe has (on 7 April 2020) issued a "toolkit" for governments across Europe on respecting human rights, democracy and the rule of law during the health crisis. As far as constitutional guarantees are concerned, it is important that the mechanisms put in place to combat the pandemic be lifted once the health crisis no longer poses a threat. The temporary nature of the adopted measures is one of the foremost factors considered by courts in determining their constitutionality. 

Regarding the subject of biopolitics of the pandemic -in the foucauldian sense of the term, as you discuss it in your book- how could democracies reach a balance between politics and technical/scientific expertise?

The management of the pandemic poses a serious test for the citizens’ trust in political authorities. The incorporation of the technocratic-sanitary discourse in political decisions as a means to face the pandemic is a sensible choice, but does also reflect a credibility crisis in politics.

The depoliticisation of government decisions and their technocratic legitimation are not the sole result of the health crisis; they have actually been in progress for decades as part of post-democratic transformations. In a state of pandemic, biopolitical regulations are founded on a de-ideologised technocratic discourse.

GettyImages 1203187628Thus, in post-democracy, biopolitical regulations to combat the pandemic are developed without allowing for divergence from technocratic discourse. After all, the Heads of State who ignored the guidelines of epidemiologists and public health experts, e.g. Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and Jair Bolsonaro, suffered a massive political blow and, most importantly, negatively affected health conditions with their decisions.

In the face of a health crisis, technocratic legitimation of biopolitical regulations is regarded as the obvious choice. Political conflicts thus focus on the relation between biological life and politics, which sets the context for biopolitical regulations worldwide.

In recent years, surveillance and tracing technology are taking on global dimensions. What are, in your view, the biggest threats in the era of a global "Panopticon"?

The transition from traditional electronic surveillance, aiming to fight crime, to a new era, where biometric surveillance will eventually allow the detection of every citizen’s psychological reactions in the name of public health, would represent a shift of historical proportions. In a world where biometric surveillance would be used in the context of specific events, revealing the psychological reactions of the surveilled, the Cambridge Analytica data breach method would look like an obsolete, unsophisticated device.

Privacy violation through biometric surveillance, justified by fear of the pandemic spreading, is likely to be tolerated by late modern societies, when the primordial is reintroduced and systematically cultivated, legitimising "state terrorism" through a manufactured reality.

Just like after 9/11 serious restrictions of civil liberties, especially with regards to privacy and the rights of the accused, were founded on the prioritisation of public safety, we can say that the date of 11 March 2020 -when the pandemic was declared- may similarly serve as a benchmark for the introduction of a new biopolitical paradigm, one of suffocating surveillance of personal beliefs and social behaviours, next to which the human rights infringements of the post-9/11 period would look insignificant.

GettyImages 1208283946The pandemic reinstated the central role of the state in dealing with public health issues. How could the Covid-19 outbreak affect the future of the welfare state in Europe?

The most obvious change in work practices brought about by the pandemic was telecommuting, in its various forms. But at the same time, it resulted in tens of millions of layoffs and involuntary furloughs around the world, increasing insecurity and enlarging the "precariat", the social class of those who live in a constant state of insecurity regarding their employment and social position, which includes young people in flexible forms of employment. This is the "class" that was most affected by the pandemic, which also exacerbated phenomena of social exclusion.

Working time reduction and flexibilisation, developing flexible forms of employment, funding active labour market policies, especially through the promotion access to training programmes for the unemployed, as well as through social security and tax incentives for job creation, all that represents one side of the welfare state reform. The pandemic has intensified the development of these policies.

The gradual transition from a passive welfare state to an active one is not presented as a reformist choice guarantying reliable, coherent responses to the economic viability issues of social security systems, in a way that would also ensure a satisfying level of social protection. Thus, deregulation trends continue to gain ground, requiring further privatisation and commercialisation of social services as well as a reinforcement of "employment promotion" programmes as compensation for social benefits, while in effect abandoning the demand for social solidarity.

In the face of these developments, where the welfare state is questioned in terms of its capacity to cover new social risks and to raise sufficient funds for its financing in the post-Fordist model, the pandemic raises the insecurity and pushes workers and companies to further flexibilise work relations.

IR Stone iStock Getty ImagesIn your book, you argue that the pandemic and resulting biopolitical regulations highlight as well as increase social inequalities. Could you elaborate?

The pandemic and the ensuing biopolitical regulations highlight, reproduce and exacerbate inequalities. For example, public policies on education through the use of distance learning exclude from the educational process those children who do not have access to the necessary digital media or family members with the necessary skills to support them through this process.

The reproduction of social and economic inequalities and their translation into educational inequalities are made worse by the conditions of biopolitical restraints if critically important public policies do not provide for additional measures for areas with low growth rates and for families of lower income.

The biopolitical regulations of the pandemic have also intensified gender discrimination and contributed to a sharp increase in domestic violence, reconfirming the deficiencies of public policies aimed at reconstructing gender identities, dismantling sexism and ensuring the true emancipation of women. During lockdown, sexist stereotypes, prejudices and practices of gender-based violence were intensified and exposed to their full extent.

Balancing work and family life during the pandemic proved to be a difficult task for women. The distribution of roles between the two sexes seemed to regress to past decades, confirming that the transition from superficial to actual equality calls for an inequality elimination approach to be systemically integrated into all public policies. The expansion of low-paid jobs and job precariousness create social classes on the margins of social exclusion.

To paraphrasing Sartre’s aphorism on the plague, the pandemic only exacerbates the sense of social injustice: it crushes the miserable, and spares the rich. Of course, the most striking inequality is manifested in the circumstances of confinement, in terms of living space available per person, with both class and ethnic inequalities being reflected in geography of urban overcrowding.

Corona AmnaGreece currently holds the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe and has chosen to focus its priorities on human rights, democracy and the rule of law in the times of pandemic. What should the role of supranational entities be in addressing such social and institutional challenges?

The common origins of the pandemic, the similar health management policies and the globality of its economic and social impacts, reflected in the universal biopolitical paradigm of monitored social distancing, should inspire a new strategy for equitable world governance and enhance regional-transnational solidarity projects, such as the Council of Europe.

The pandemic has raised the pressing issue of international cooperation in the areas of health security and public health. The political demand for a "common universal public health", especially in terms of coordination of health systems and financing of pandemic prevention measures on a global level, goes hand in hand with vast changes in the management of globalization, which includes choosing which goods should qualify as "global public goods", based on the absence of competition for their consumption and the non-exclusion of potential consumers.

These goods are found mainly in the fields of environment, access to natural resources, economy, and health, which also cover the policies of prevention and combat against deadly epidemics.

* Interview by Magdalini Varoucha. Translation into English by Nefeli Mosaidi.

Read also via Greek News Agenda: “Prosperity Through Diversity”: International Virtual Conference on Human Rights in Business; Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, Greek Alternate MFA Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, on the pandemic,human rights and the project for a new European Declaration to be signed in Athens by the end of 2020; Dr. Achillefs Kapanidis: "We are working on a rapid diagnostic test for SARS-CoV-2"; Greek initiatives at the EU vs Virus innovation hackathon to tackle COVID-19

KAROUZOS2

POEM ON A TAPERECORDER

Joy of night, oh sonorous lights,
marvelous evening
the colored noise of the city
divided up my loneliness, sometimes yellow,
orange, blue, and now red
dyeing my gait pure green.
Love had white marks.
Stop. Rewind.
The turmoil bore the white marks of the world.
The clouds invisible.
No.
The angel radiates like marble
in the deserts of the moon, in the honeysuckle white
death is duped and the night
is amused with shooting stars.
No, no.
Time approaches visions
on tiptoe.
Greed!
I should have further submerged
the grief within my soul.
No.
The cricket ornaments expanses.
The night comes down the stairway of darkness
sits on the passion of Mary.
All alone the busts breathe in the gardens.
Stop. Everything is erased.
I want to escape from words.
I’m sick of it.
Better it would be to listen to what on the next balcony
two perennial old ladies are saying;
sitting there by the hour.
 
[Translated by Philip Ramp, @Mary Meimaraki-Karouzou, Collected Poems, Icaros Publishing  Company, Athens, 1993]

Although very few things exist in English on Nikos Karouzos, despite the excellent translation of his work by Philip Ramp (Shoestring Press, 2004), his poems are amongst the finest in modern Greek literary tradition and constitute some of the most significant experimentations with grammar, versification and meaning in post-war Greek poetry. His poetic idiom is quite distinct, embodying a strange mythography of death, nihilism, faith, doubt, rebellion, fatalism and love for life, all fused in one and all turned against each other.

Karouzos’s poetry is conceptually dense, following ideas across history and culture as they collide and interweave, always boiling down to one word. Surveying the deadends of existential desolation, it is at the world-shaping order of art that Karouzos consistently pauses, meditating on its staying power. His poems, many offering themselves as ‘music’ or ‘triptychs’, gravitate towards a host of figures (Plotinus, Bach, Modigliani, Rimbaud, Marx) as they bear witness to the transubstantiations of life and person into art. “Every word, taken as an alphanumeric, becomes the visual representation of the software of the reader in the poet’s memory”, in Dimitsis Kalokyris’ words. 

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Examining the philosophical ideas behind Karouzos’ s poetry, Tassos Goudelis finds that the concept of ‘existence’ lies at the bottom of them all. “This elemental word, shattered or rather proteanly transformable in Karouzos’ s verses, offers magical flights, diverse hues and an unfathomable depth that simply astounds”. For Karouzos, the world, things in general, are creations of language and time: these two concepts fuse with their creations and may become ‘apparent’ like lightning exclusively through the medium of great poetry. 

The Poet

Nikos Karouzos was born in Nafplion in 1926 and died in Athens in 1990. He is considered one of the foremost Greek poets of the twentieth century. Karouzos took part in the Resistance and studied Law at Athens University. His first poems appeared in 1949, and between 1954 and 1990 he published more than twenty poetry collections. His final volume appeared, posthumously, in 1991.

Karouzos also wrote literary criticism and essays on the theatre and art. He received the State Poetry Prize twice, in 1972 and 1988. His collected works were published between 1993 and 2002 by Ikaros in Athens: Poems I in 1993; Poems II in 1994; his Selected Prose in 1998; and Interviews with Nikos Karouzos in 2002. In 1993, a major Symposium on Nikos Karouzos was held at Athens University, the proceedings of which were published by Ikaros in 1996. In 2000, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of his death, a second Symposium, again organized by Ikaros, was held there.

In 1948, the body of an American journalist is found floating in the bay off Thessaloniki. A Greek journalist is tried and convicted for the murder, but when he’s released twelve years later, he claims his confession was the result of torture. Flash forward to modern day Greece, where a young, disaffected high school student is given an assignment for a school project: find the truth. And as he begrudgingly takes it on, he begins to make a startling series of gripping discoveries – about history, love, and even his own family’s involvement. 

Based on the real story of famed CBS reporter George Polk—journalism’s prestigious Polk Awards were named after him—who was investigating embezzlement of U.S. aid by the right-wing Greek government, Nikolaidou’s novel is a sweeping saga that brings together Greece of the post-war period with the current era, where the country finds itself facing turbulent political times once again.

the scapegoat

Told by key players in the story—the dashing journalist’s Greek widow; the mother and sisters of the convicted man; the brutal Thessaloniki Chief of Police; a U.S. Foreign Office investigator—it is the modern-day student who is most affecting of them all, as he questions truth, justice and sacrifice, and how the past is always with us.

In an interview to Reading Greece, Nikolaidou noted that she was really interested in putting together two different ages of Modern Greek history. “I wanted to capture the historical adventure of my country. Some things change, because circumstances around us have changed as well. Other things remain hidden and unpunished – they poison everything. Some are carried from one generation to the next. We think that we have left our past behind. Alas, we always find it ahead”.

In The Scapegoat major questions arise, while times are changing and one generation passes on the torch to the other: What happens to a country where silence is hereditary, like genetic material? What would have happened, if Greek politicians had more backbone and the great powers less of a tendency to impose their will? What happens if someone avoids the lesser of two evils, but never aims for the best? Does the past teach us lessons? Is passivity in the face of injustice a crime? Why is it so difficult to teach a smart kid?

Masterfully translated by Karen Emmerich, the book constitutes “an utterly compelling meditation on the nature of political truth, compromise, and justice and at the same time an evocative reflection on family dynamics and generational change. The symphony of voices…swells in the reader’s imagination”. Nikolaidou creates a compelling cast of characters whose varied perspectives “create a snapshot of lives in turmoil in a place of deep history and even deeper conflict”. Karen Emmerich says in her Note from the Translator: “In putting the story of Manolis Gris alongside the current crisis in Greece, Nikolaidou implicitly argues that the injustices of the past are still with us, and that scapegoating of all kinds – of political opponents, of immigrants, of the youth who will bear the brunt of the current financial crisis, even of Greece itself within the European Union – pervades the current moment”. 

SofiaNikolaidouIntro

Sophia Nikolaidou was born in Thessaloniki in 1968. One of modern Greece’s most significant young novelists, she has published two collections of short stories - Fear Will Find You and You Will Be Alone (1999) and Blonde Run Over (1997) - and five novels - Planet Prespa  (2002), The Purple Maestro (2006), No friends tonight (2010), The Scapegoat (2012), Winner at last (2017) - which have been translated into eight languages. She has also published a non fiction novel So far so good (2015), studies on creative writing and on the use of ICT in education and translated ancient Greek drama into Modern Greek. She teaches literature and creative writing and writes criticism for various newspapers. Her novel, No Friends Tonight won the 2011 Athens Prize for Literature, and The Scapegoat was shortlisted for the 2012 Greek State Prize for Fiction. Her latest book is titled The Gold Bracelet and refers to real stories of people who "wore" their University diploma as a gold bracelet.  

Also Read: Reading Greece: Sophia Nikolaidou on the Representation of Greece's Political Past in Contemporary Literature, teh Prospects of the Greek Educational System and Literature as a Human Learning Experience

Being the local chapter of a renowned global organization with a significant experience in technology-driven entrepreneurship, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Enterprise Forum (MITEF) Greece is actively engaged, since 2013, in informing, connecting, coaching and accelerating technology entrepreneurs, enabling them to rapidly transfer their ideas into world-changing companies. Recognizing the huge potential of the country in this sector, MITEF Greece, a non-profit and self-funded organization, is taking full advantage of the MIT’s Alumni and network organizing workshops, community and pitching events, international conferences and competitions aiming to become a real gamechanger for the Greek technology ecosystem. To this end, the team behind MITEF Greece is working with enthusiasm and commitment in close cooperation with the MIT Alumni but also with foreign end Greek experts, research centers, companies and organizations.

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With the aid of the Hellenic Innovation Network (HIN), an outgrowth of MITEF Greece that started almost five years ago, the Organization provides Greek and Cypriot startups with a bridge to the U.S. through pitching and networking opportunities. Based in Boston and with the support of the Greek Consulate, HIN aims to facilitate cross-border collaboration as well as access to potential investors, partners, customers, mentors, advisors and board members. This year’s seminars and workshops had to go online because of the pandemic and many webcasts were organized on fields such as covid-19 research, cyber-security challenges, Blockchain, mobility etc.

MITEF Greece is also organizing an annual Startup Competition, an accelerating program through which local technology entrepreneurs compete for prizes and global recognition to advance their business goals. This flagship program of MITEF Greece running already its 6th cycle, accepted many participations for the Energy and Maritime specialty tracks in addition to the General track that usually attracts a diverse array of technology driven innovation ventures. This week, on July 15 & 16, the third and final round of the Competition will take place in Athens comprising the final judging of the 15 finalists and the Awards Ceremony which this year will go live.

Greek News Agenda* had the opportunity to speak with the Vice Chairman of the MITEF Greece Vassilis Papakonstantinou about the goals and the activities of the organization as well as about the Greek startup ecosystem and its potential particularly when it comes to the technology transfer from research labs to world-class technology companies.

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MITEF Greece puts a great emphasis on the connection between the academic research community and business or, as it is usually described, on the “technology transfer from lab to market”. How are you trying to achieve this “osmosis” in MITEF Greece and why is this important in your opinion?

MITEF is the global ambassador of MIT’s great tradition in technology transfer driven entrepreneurship. MIT Alumni around the world have created companies with $2 trillion annual revenues. If they were put together they would represent the 10th largest economy in the world. MITEF was started 40 years ago by the MIT Alumni association to facilitate technology transfer, so, as you can imagine, it is implicitly the organization’s “raison d'être”.

Technology transfer represents the cornerstone of the organization’s vision “to build a better world by accelerating the creation and growth of world-class technology companies”. Basic research is very important, but it is not conducted in the void. Research labs exist within our society and usually, they get funded, directly or indirectly, by society. We believe that research should provide direct benefits back to society as soon as possible and, although there are other ways, we believe that technology entrepreneurship is among the most fulfilling alternatives for the researchers themselves. Therefore, we are laser-focused on encouraging and supporting deep-tech driven entrepreneurship based on technology transfer from lab to market.

We brought the MITEF network to Greece back in 2013, exactly because we believe that the technology transfer driven entrepreneurship has a huge potential in our country. You can picture the situation like this. You can think of the research community in our country as the root system of the tree and the technology-driven entrepreneurship community as its branches. The root system has grown strong over the years, fueled by national and European funding. Yet, the branches are weak, and only recently started to show some growth. If we could accelerate this growth, then we can create a new powerful and sustainable engine for our economy that can measure up to the traditional ones, like shipping and tourism.

Thanks to the MIT brand and long-standing credentials of the global MIT community, MITEF Greece can provide the local research community with the necessary support. The community understands our value and commitment and as a result, it is much easier for us to “ignite the osmosis” between the Greek research labs and the global market. To achieve this osmosis and produce results, we have designed a series of high quality, carefully curated programs. First, we organize workshops for the local research community to understand the challenges and opportunities of technology transfer. Second, we organize community events and high-end international conferences on market verticals, to enable the local community to better comprehend the challenges and opportunities in the global market, to be inspired and activated. Third, we organize an annual acceleration program, the MITEF Greece Startup Competition. This is our flagship program that already runs its 6th cycle and supports 25 technology ventures every year, many of whom have managed to raise more than €30 million in venture funding. Finally, we are currently designing a new program, tentatively named “Tech Insiders Club”, which will focus on the investors and business executives side, providing them with insights to understand the various aspects of technology and eventually helping them to make more educated decisions related to technology investments.

We believe that this holistic approach to supporting technology-driven entrepreneurship, which includes a very strong brand name, high-end content, and global networking opportunities, can be a gamechanger for the Greek technology ecosystem.

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A significant number of organizations and activities such as clusters, incubators, accelerators, competitions, hackathons etc. already exist in Greece supporting the startup ecosystem in the country. What differentiates MITEF Greece from these initiatives and what are their common characteristics?

Over the past 10 years, the country’s startup ecosystem has gone through various phases; from being a cult for a few to being overhyped, to almost losing steam, before entering its current state which can be characterized as of growing maturity. Today there are numerous players active with different goals and agendas, spanning different age groups, venture stages, and market verticals.

In this evolving environment, MITEF Greece has maintained its focus on (1) supporting technology-driven ventures, especially those coming out of research labs, and (2) growing the ecosystem’s international footprint by leveraging our own global network. These two points, together with the MIT brand, have helped MITEF Greece to attract specific, technology-minded followership, that includes researchers, entrepreneurs, innovators, investors, and business executives. Many of the 150 ventures that have entered our acceleration program over the past 6 years, consider their participation a life-changing experience. Entering the finals or winning our competition became a seal of high quality that made their next steps much easier.

Despite the different approaches, all organizations have one thing in common; value entrepreneurship as a process of creating wealth for the country’s economy. In this respect, there’s a lot of cooperation between all the key players and thus our effort at MITEF Greece, to boost the ecosystem’s international footprint through our unique global network, becomes even more important vis-à-vis this common goal.

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In what areas do the Greek startups that cooperate with MITEF Greece mainly focus on and what kind of support are they usually requesting?

As mentioned, MITEF Greece focuses on technology-driven ventures; the deeper the technology the better. It is part of the organization’s DNA.

In particular, for the MITEF Greece Startup Competition, we are looking for ventures that are beyond the idea stage, have an early prototype of a product or service for a specific market, and certainly have a team. We decided to add these additional requirements, the need for early prototype, and the team, for specific reasons. At the idea stage, there are numerous other organizations in Greece that are doing a great job. In addition, a venture that is at the idea stage would not be able to take advantage of the next opportunities that relate to exposure to our global network. This network is looking for investment opportunities and the more mature the companies are when they graduate from our acceleration program, the better. Entrepreneurship is a very demanding endeavor and going through it alone makes it even more difficult. Furthermore, a team can have complementary skill sets, and especially at early stages, when funding is limited, can add value. Plus, there’s another important aspect to having a team: for most early-stage entrepreneurs, getting a co-founder is a pivotal moment because that’s essentially their first deal which empowers and increases their success rate.

Technology-driven ventures aspire to join the MITEF Greece programs, especially the Startup Competition, for 3 reasons: (1) to acquire hands-on know-how on improving their value proposition and growing their venture, (2) to gain affiliation with the brand, and (3) to access the global network of MITEF which opens the doors to funding and international partnerships.

MITEF Greece is closely cooperating with the Greek Consulate in Boston as regards the Hellenic Innovation Network for connecting Greek startups with the US. Is your organization cooperating with other public or private entities in Greece that are active in promoting, supporting or funding startups?

The Hellenic Innovation Network (HIN) is an outgrowth of MIT Enterprise Forum Greece. It was created to provide startups from Greece and Cyprus with a bridge to the U.S. through pitching and networking opportunities. Unofficially, the effort started in April 2015 with a goal to build bridges between the Greek startup ecosystem and the Boston based technology and investment community. Over the course of the years, it grew and eventually became an independent US-based charity (501c3 organization) in late 2018, under the leadership of Marina Hatsopoulos. The Consulate General of Greece in Boston played a very important role in the process and in particular Stratos Efthymiou, with whom we are working closely, has been very supportive over the past three years.

Being an outgrowth, HIN maintains very close ties with MITEF Greece and is keen on expanding its cooperation with other like-minded organizations both in the US and in Greece. There were some pilot projects in the works that were put on hold due to the pandemic but we are in the process of redesigning them to fit the new online paradigm.

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What is your opinion about the startup scene in Greece? Do you think Greek startups have the potential to make the country a competitive startup hub in regional or international level contributing to the economic growth of Greece?

The startup ecosystem in Greece has grown significantly over the past few years. When we started the first acceleration program back in late 2014, we were not sure if we were going to have startups that we would be willing to showcase in our global network. Year after year, the group of semifinalists was getting better and better, with the number of technology transfer driven ventures steadily increasing and improving.

We are very optimistic about the potential, especially for technology transfer driven ventures coming out of Greek research labs. We have seen very interesting work and we are excited to see that work heading towards the global market in the form of new products and services. But that potential does not automatically translate into real ventures. There are a lot of things that are needed in order to facilitate and accelerate the process of turning potential into reality.

We need a legal framework that will tackle various issues from enabling researchers to be co-founders, to managing IP rights and dissolving failing efforts. We need to accelerate the change of mentality towards entrepreneurship. Recent success stories, especially those relating to deep tech ventures such as Innoetics, Think Silicon, and others, are encouraging members of the community to break stereotypes, but still, we need to grow our pipeline. We need the local investors and businesses to invest more both financially and in the form of business partnerships that will provide the startups with their early deals. We need more global technology companies establishing a presence in Greece, following the recent examples of Pfizer and Cisco. These companies are providing invaluable, hands-on training to local university graduates, helping them grow their business skills and understanding of the global market. But, most importantly, these companies can provide the local community with insights about global problems they can solve by applying their technology, and their know-how, and hone their entrepreneurial skills.

The recent pandemic, despite the hardships, and thanks to the successful management by the Greek State, created additional opportunities for the Greek ecosystem. Greece can become an appealing destination for people able to work from anywhere and not be confined by a physical office, the so-called “digital nomads”. By doing so, the country can create additional revenues to temporarily offset the lost tourism income but, most importantly, it can leverage the global experience and network of these highly skilled and connected people to cross-pollinate the local technology ecosystem and accelerate its growth.

During our launch event in 2013, we stated that we aimed to turn Greece into a global tech hub by 2021. We may have stretched our ambitions at that time but we certainly feel that today we are much closer to that goal than we ever hoped to be. We are really excited about the potential of the community and we will continue serving it with more and better-designed programs until the goal of turning Greece into a global tech hub is achieved.

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* Interview by Ioulia Elmatzoglou

Read more via GNA: Strategic Initiatives supporting the Greek startup ecosystem“Politeia” Innovation Center to promote R&D ecosystem in Greece | “New Agriculture for a New Generation” aims to boost the Agrifood sector In Greece

M.Varvitsiotis1On 15 May 2020, Greece assumed the Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, and will be holding the office until 18 November 2020. Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs of Greece, Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, whose portfolio includes European Union and Council of Europe affairs, took over as Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

In an interview* with Greek News Agenda, Miltiadis Varvitsiotis spoke about the challenges posed by assuming his new role under the current difficult circumstances, the burning issue of human rights restrictions which has been raised following the restrictive measures taken by most governments in face of the pandemic and the main priorities and aspirations of the Greek Chairmanship of the Council of Europe.

The Greek Chairmanship takes place amidst an unprecedented pandemic. What are the additional tasks and duties that you have to address in these challenging times?

Let me stress first of all that the Greek Chairmanship could not turn a blind eye to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our societies. Its effect was felt to various degrees through different countries, unfortunately with major human losses in many cases, but also economic, political, and legal complications. At the same time, we were fully aware since the beginning that the Greek Chairmanship would coincide with a turning point in the course of the Council of Europe, due to the 70th anniversary of the signing of the European Convention on Human Rights on 4 November 2020.

Thus, as the crucial nature of the juncture we were going through became clearer, we decided to seize the opportunity for increased synergies, policy coordination and new initiatives on a European level, with the aim of eventually achieving and signing a common Declaration in Athens in November that would emphasise the protection of individual rights of European citizens in the context of sanitary emergencies.

Needless to say, the Council of Europe is a pioneering intergovernmental organisation that has traditionally fomented European governance and democracy, establishing, diffusing, and safeguarding most of what we have come to share today as our common European legal and political culture. The Council’s leading role in the domain of democracy, rule of law and human rights makes it extremely topical in the case of the pandemic; far from a simple matter pertaining to budgetary management or epidemiological models, the COVID-19 pandemic raised some unavoidable questions as to the relation between states, citizens, quality of life, laws, and freedom. For example, the necessary restriction measures adopted by European governments in order to contain the pandemic are a challenge for democratic institutions since they could well be instrumentalised for other purposes, if taken out of the context of the pandemic; the same goes for the treatment of personal data by public and, most importantly, private sector medical facilities. The safeguarding of civil liberties in times of urgency is never an easy task and the creation of the Council of Europe right in the aftermath of the Second World War meant to show exactly that no crisis or social problem, as urgent as it may be, should be solved at the expense of freedom and democracy; instead, effective social policy and the protection of human rights should go hand in hand. At the same time, the Council of Europe has been consistently concerned with social rights and the welfare of European citizens since at least 1961, with the introduction of the European Social Charter. Its pioneering role, both in terms of individual and social rights, renders it a highly needed institutional pillar that can push towards new forms of policy making and ground-breaking initiatives.

Hence, the planned Declaration of Athens will stand first of all as a renewed commitment to the fundamental principles of the European Convention on Human Rights within a new, paradigm-shifting era; it aims to be the first of its kind in tending both to individual and health rights and to epitomise our explicit interest in the intricacies of health policy, individual rights, and quality of life –including environmental considerations and climate ethics. We have already started deliberating with counterparts from the other 46 member-states, but also parliamentarians, local authorities, civil society actors, and outstanding personalities, as has been the case with our open-access online "In discussion with…" series, which has hosted up to this day Greek epidemiologist Sotiris Tsiodras and French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy. We are working non-stop on the preparation of the agenda of the summit, in order for it to produce policy, not simply speeches.

M.Varvitsiotis2As you just pointed out, during the pandemic, the legitimate restriction of fundamental rights became a much discussed topic. How does the Greek Chairmanship aim to contribute in the detection and prevention of abusive restriction measures and the infringement of rule of law?

The possibility of temporary limitations was something already inscribed in the European Convention on Human Rights, which, inter alia, included relevant clauses for reasons of public health. Hence, an epidemic does not absolve governments and public institutions from respecting rule of law and limiting themselves in the use of proportional measures, only for the absolutely needed amount of time, always in observance of the principles and provisions of the ECHR. Scrutiny and vigilant control over national governments evidently befalls to the citizens and democratic institutions in each country, but international treaties and organisations have created a further structured framework for the monitoring of any deviances, abuses, and lack of transparency. The Council of Europe and its bodies is the European framework par excellence upon which citizens rely for this highly-demanding, reflexive task. Moreover, the recent conjuncture of the COVID-19 pandemic made clear since the start the possible implications for human rights; this initiated an immediate response on behalf of the Council of Europe and its Secretary General, Marija Pejčinović Burić, who issued a specialised toolkit for member states titled "Respecting democracy, rule of law and human rights in the framework of the COVID-19 sanitary crisis". The European Council and the treaty that lies at its core, the ECHR, stand still as essential counterweights to any authoritarian drift in the context of the pandemic. Rights to property, justice, information, especially in their modern, digital, version are irrevocable and inalienable.

The Chairmanship does not aim to overlap with existing institutional jurisdictions and monitoring bodies, but is fully aware of its distinct and crucial role: to build on the significant momentum that is ever-pervasive in our societies and push for more coordinated initiatives in order to activate research, draw lessons, accumulate all sorts of knowledge, give voice to civil society throughout Europe and eventually distill and disseminate best practices through synergies and consensus achieved with all 46 other member states. Within this context, we can pinpoint three main concerns in relation to the pandemic: defining its implications at large, identifying lessons and best practices, and analyzing the conformity of any precautionary emergency measures with the human rights clauses of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Our initiative for a common declaration can be seen in light of this political will to address a decisive issue, and renew the topicality of the ECHR and ESC. It is in this context that the Greek Chairmanship fully supports the accession of the European Union to the European Convention on Human, as a significant step that would allow for an overall coherent protection of human rights throughout Europe.

M.Varvitsiotis3One of the main priorities of the Greek Chairmanship is the protection of vulnerable groups. How do you define the term "vulnerable groups"? Why do you give particular emphasis to the protection of the rights of young people?

Every society is in the obligation to care for citizens that cannot provide for themselves and are in compelling need of welfare services due to their disadvantageous situation. This state of vulnerability might hinder their further social integration, as well as the full realisation of their individual, social, and political rights; vulnerable groups include Roma, persons with disabilities, the unemployed and, in particular, unemployed mothers, single-parent families, residents of remote mountainous areas or islands, to name some of the main categories. Access to basic social rights and provision of elementary welfare services to these populations becomes even more urgent in the case of the current sanitary crisis, where marginalisation or even discrimination could possibly take various new forms.

A particular duty has befallen upon Greece over the last years: the task of providing for thousands of unaccompanied migrant minors who by definition are vulnerable persons. Greece is therefore particularly sensitive to this issue and cannot ignore the traumas that these children have undergone in their countries of origin or transit, as well as their current needs, especially in the context of the sanitary crisis. Our stance towards these young newcomers might be an overall marker of the level of democracy, tolerance and cohesion of our society, and of Europe at large. It is up to us to do our best, institutionally, politically, but also in terms of everyday life gestures and solidarity. Furthermore, young people, Greek or foreign, are of the utmost importance for the future of all societies, and it is in difficult circumstances such as the pandemic that one realises the urgent need to provide the means for a normal social life to youth – from welfare services to proper access to information and protection against “fake news” or online extremism.

Greece has been a member of the Council of Europe since 1949. How do you judge its performance as a member state?

Greece is a member of the Council of Europe since 1949 and has steadily improved its relationships over the course of the last decades, since the fall of the authoritarian regime of the Dictatorship of the Colonels (1967-1974). Moreover, the exemplary approach that Greece has been following toward its minority and vulnerable populations has made our country a beacon of human rights and stability in an otherwise turbulent region of Europe where violence and hatred ruled for decades. However, there is always room for improvement, and there are always new conditions that may demand new initiatives. Such a case has been the massive flow of migrants and refugees through Greece.

Greece has been cooperating with the Council of Europe and its expert bodies in many fields, most notably in justice, the protection of human rights, and the refugee-migration issue. Of course, a crucial index of progress and institutional transparency are the rulings of European Court of Human Rights. The last five years have seen an exceptional improvement; at the same time, it is true that there are many appeals that are still pending against Greece, mostly in regards to procedural matters. The reform of the justice system in terms of transparency, less delays, and lower costs is an actual priority of Greece. The ECHR rulings are in fact a useful and much needed indicator for guiding member-states and opening further space for policy deliberation. This is our strength, as open societies, dealing reflexively with our shortcomings and striving collectively for a better future.

*Interview by Kostas Mavroidis

Read also via Greek News Agenda: Greece assumes the Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe

Skyllas for Barbican BBCΟn 29 January 2020, at the Barbican Centre, London, the BBC Symphony Orchestra performed the world premiere of "Kyrie Eleison" by Greek composer Dimitrios Skyllas, the first Greek composer ever to be commissioned by this legendary orchestra.

In a programme based on grief, rituals and spirituality, "Kyrie Eleison" stands between two of the most iconic figures of classical music, the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt and Rachmaninoff. With references to Ancient Greek tragedy and his music for Electra in Epidaurus, Byzantine church music and laments from the region of Epirus, Skyllas’ aim was to create a platform of new rituals that connect the old with the contemporary.

Dimitrios Skyllas (1987) is based in London and he is considered to be as one of the most spirited and outstanding artists of his generation. After his debut at Westminster Abbey in 2016, he appeared at the V&A Museum, the Royal Albert Hall and the British Ceramics Biennale. In Greece, the Onassis Foundation invited him to perform his piano piece, "Abyss", at the first public presentation of Maria Callas’ precious piano.

In 2018 he composed the original score for the tragedy Electra, a production by the National Theatre of Greece presented at the Epidaurus Festival. He often appears as a soloist of his piano music, while many of his pieces are performed internationally by world-class performers. "Kyrie Eleison" was co-commissioned to him by BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Onassis Foundation.

Dimitrios Skyllas was interviewed by the Press & Communications Office at the Embassy of Greece in London and shared his feelings and views on music, on his works and on the premiere of "Kyrie Eleison".

BarbicanSkyllasYou have "conquered" many iconic venues in London where famous and world-class musicians have performed (Westminster Abbey, V&A Museum, Royal Albert Hall). Your latest work -commissioned to you by the BBC- was premiered in January 2020 at the Barbican Centre. How have you received the audience response to your works and in particular the premiere of "Kyrie Eleison", in these venues?

I have been very lucky; I feel that the audience is always supportive to what I do. Perhaps because I don't follow the conventional route of composers. I feel great performing in different spaces, museums, cathedrals, experimental venues. Each of them has a different type of audience. But it is true that with important venues come high expectations. "Kyrie Eleison" was indeed the peak of my career, also my creative anxiety and my fear of rejection! I was blessed to have such a large number of Greek people in the audience, I felt that they brought justice to my piece, mainly because they connected to the Greek side of my music.

You have said that "Kyrie Eleison" is based on sounds from ancient tragedy, byzantine and ecclesiastical music and lamenting songs of Epirus. All these elements and sounds are quite familiar to audiences of Greek origin, wherever they are in the world. But to what extent do these sounds resonate with foreign audiences?

This is one of the greatest challenges of my music. I feel that what I do is purely Greek, yet made with international standards and needs. I have a feeling that different cultures understand completely differently my work. The southern part of the world reacts with more passion, they are less reserved and they want louder sounds. However, what I do is highly connected with the feeling of a strong core, of home, of personal feelings. So, my sound is very personal and all audiences can connect to that quality. 

How have your life and your career changed since the premiere of "Kyrie Eleison", which was the first ever work commissioned by BBC to a Greek composer, and such a young one at that? Do your Greek or British colleagues treat you differently? Have your relations with Greek or British colleagues and friends been affected in a certain way? What challenges does this extraordinary commission set upon your future works?

The important thing is that I don't treat them differently! Deep inside I know that I am the same person I was before this commission. It is true that people who don't know me, do seem to respect my work more nowadays. However, maybe I am gradually becoming more demanding. This is a good thing. There are so many things I want to do with my life and my music, so I don't want to waste my time when things or collaborations don't function well. The greatest challenge right now is to feel free and not try to measure my new works against "Kyrie Eleison".

In an interview with in.gr you said that "you are very keen on creating narrations". What is the narration you would like to give or the messages you would like to convey to the audience through "Kyrie Eleison"?

Music has the power of giving strong narrations and yet, sound is a highly abstract material so one can hide things in it. "Kyrie Eleison" follows the very standard, classical form of introduction, main body, climax, catharsis. Even this decision is a narrative itself. Before I started composing "Kyrie Eleison", I knew that I wanted to explore different sides of human emotions, grief, fear, nostalgia, love, faith. And all these combined, can create a wide open platform where the listener can make a very personal journey guided by the sound.

photoskyllasAAlthough I understand that "Kyrie Eleison" is a milestone in your career up to now, which is the piece of music among those you have composed that you are particularly fond of and why? Are there common elements in your compositions or are there sounds and themes that are fundamental for you and which you always return to when composing music, and which are they?

People often ask me which piece of mine is my favourite one but you know, I only compose one piece! All my music is one piece. Sometimes I compose for the piano, or for voice, or for orchestra, they are all different aspects of the same creature, my music. Every time I have a new commission it is like I am given a new task, to add something new to my existing material. So, to answer this question, my favourite piece is my whole music!

What inspires you and prompts you each time to choose what to compose in a specific music form and genre? How challenging is it to transform inspiration into a composition for a chamber or symphony orchestra?

I only compose in one style, my personal style. It doesn't matter if I have to write music for a solo instrument or an orchestra. Of course, writing for a large ensemble such as a symphony orchestra, has a lot of technical requirements and challenges. The most obvious one is to be able to handle and orchestrate all these instruments at the same time. But you might be surprised if I tell you that writing a piano piece can be more difficult. This is because you have to create the same effect and artistic interest using only one instrument. 

Is there a composer you admire particularly or is there a piece you would like to have composed yourself?

I admire too many composers. I am saying this with a hint of guilt, but I am not very much into classical music lately. I don't feel connection. On the contrary, I am attracted to different types of music such as religious/spiritual music and traditional music. I can't listen to Mozart very much, but I can listen to old religious chants, written 400 years before Mozart lived. A good example is the female composer Hildegard Von Bingen, a polymath of her time. For some reason, I connect to this music although it was written 900 years ago! So it seems that I am looking for a functional character in music. I hope one day I will be able to say that my music is functional. The same way the ancient tragedies were for the Greeks. As for a piece of music, there is no piece of another composer that I would have liked to have written myself. This is a healthy and refreshing thought!

What is the greatest anxiety of a young composer? Does it have to do with inspiration and creativity, with the audience’s response, with the fellow composers’ and music community’s reactions or with the critics?

I can only reply for myself and my own experience. My only challenge is to engage the new audiences with new music and to eliminate this idea that "classical music is boring". I am really not interested of what the musical community of the critics say. All I want is to have the resources and the budget to continue creating new music. The rest will come.

When I, personally, hear contemporary "classical" music pieces, I, as a lay person, get the impression that contemporary artists consider music compositions more like creative experiments, a challenge on how to combine in an innovative way sounds, instruments and forms, rather than as pieces to be addressed to a wide public. I feel that audiences may often find interesting modern compositions that are based on atonal music,  experimental and minimalist music, dissonant intervals, different scales, unusual rhythms, and unconventional perceptions of melody, however it seems to me that they always feel more excited and  ‘comfortable’, when pieces written on classical forms of 18 c. and 19 c. are performed. In brief, I find that contemporary compositions are focused on artistic innovative creation rather than audience-centred. Would you agree with that perception of mine?

I totally agree with this. Yes, indeed, this is how the post-modern composers approached their music in the previous century. Music, somehow, lost its simplicity of expression. It is what we said before, music stopped to have narrative. If you ask me, I don't understand it, especially because most of composers continue writing this way. I personally make challenging music but I always think it is somehow accessible to the wide public. I care to create an experience, a journey that people can follow. I hope that "Kyrie Eleison" belongs to this category. 

photoskyllasBIn your opinion, how does the Greek audience differ from the audience in other countries when it comes to attending classical music concerts?

Unfortunately, the Greek audience is way behind. It is not their fault. It is because Greece doesn't have a tradition in classical music, so it is not part of the culture the same way theatre is. Every time I perform my music in Greece I find great interest and response to what I do. This gives me hope. We have a long way ahead to reach an international standard when it comes to classical music concerts. But this is not only the public's role, it has to come also from the composers, the promotion of the concert halls, and the intention of music-making. It is a combination between both sides. 

In times of economic scarcity, culture is the first to be affected, as it is considered by many to be a luxury. On the other hand, we observe in Greece a spectacular increase of cultural institutions (Onassis Cultural Centre, B&M Theocharakis Foundation, Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center). Would you think that the Greek audience's interest in art and music has increased, or does art still remain an affair for the affluent, while the general public still sees it as a luxury?

The foundations are definitely improving the standards of new art. I am privileged to be working with some of them and more specifically with the Onassis Foundation who co-commissioned "Kyrie Eleison" with the BBC. However, I do think that more emphasis is given to theatre, dance and the performing arts, and less to new music. Music always suffers. If theatre is a luxury for the general public, then new music is luxury even for the art world!

What are you currently involved in and what are your plans for the future?

I have taken some time off to get some rest and think of my next steps. I would like to compose for cinema and theatre, but also to make some projects that connect Greece to the UK, especially these hard times of Brexit. I also want to go back to piano playing, I miss performing my own music, so I might compose some piano music as well. People always enjoy seeing the composer on stage playing his own music!

(All photos by John Kolikis)

Read also via Greek News Agenda: Composer Yiorgos Vassilandonakis on his opera "The Papess Joanne"; Composer Minas Borboudakis on his work in 21st-century classical music; Composer Dimitris Marangopoulos: "The crisis has stimulated a rediscovery of the arts"; Composer Lina Tonia on the quest for uniqueness and going beyond Greek borders

AnnaGrigora 1Anna Grigora is an acclaimed artist, born in 1959 in Athens, Greece. She studied at the Athens School of Fine Arts. She has held 15 solo exhibitions and participated in over 150 group exhibitions in Greece and Europe. Some of her paintings belong to the museum of Vasilis and Elisa Goulandris in Andros, the Historical Archives - Museum of Hydra, Galleries of Karditsa and Messolonghi, and Viannos Gallery in Crete.

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Anna Grigora since childhood and to share with her ideas about life and art. I met with her again after many years when she was already an established painter, notable for the brightness of her landscapes and her intimacy with nature. In our interview for Greek News Agenda, Anna Grigora explained that for her, painting is a way of life, adding that "for as long as I can remember, I have been painting without trying to communicate something; I only paint what makes me feel good". It is probably why her landscapes attribute not only the outside world but her inner world as well, a world of beauty, harmony, kindness and morality.

AnnaGrigora 2Left: Solitude, Right: Andros Landscape

When I asked her why she has chosen to paint landscapes, she explained that she has grown up in nature, adding that this is the reason she sees and depicts it in her own personal way.

Anna Grigora renders landscapes simply and inwardly, removing what is unnecessary and emphasizing what highlights the delicacy and gracefulness of the subject.

Many of her works are inspired by her place of origin, the island of Andros. As she explained, "Andros is my homeland, it is the reason I paint and my inspiration. The combination of the yellow plains and the sea was what triggered me to the paint landscapes".

AnnaGrigora 3Dock

Art historian Kyriakos Koutsomallis wrote that the artist is transforming memories and the tangible relationship with beloved things that motivate her, using joyful combinations of colour and light, where "every stroke of her brush becomes a redeeming lash towards the magnificent".

Asked whether isolation on account of the pandemic quarantine measures had a positive or negative effect on her, she noted that "seclusion did not have a negative effect on me, as it wasn’t something unfamiliar. I often pass a lot of time in solitude". This answer reminded me of the words of Rainer Maria Rilke to a young poet who asked him for his opinion: "the work of art is born in silence and lives in an infinite loneliness. The artist has to grow slowly but steadily like a tree". This is how Anna Grigora has been working all these years. As K. Koutsomallis commented, "she is continuously developing her artistic qualities with the same unwavering aesthetic sensitivity and honesty, with the same beauty of soul and instinct".

AnnaGrigora 4Misty meadow

When I asked her how she interprets Pablo Picasso’s statement that he does not paint what he sees, but rather what he thinks, she noted that in her opinion he means that his works are the result of an intellectual processing of subjects that touched him. Anna Grigora follows a similar path: She transfers on canvas landscapes of Andros, landscapes that transmit the aura of childhood memories which hold a special value for her and following her own painting path outside group formalities, but always using diachronic, traditional techniques.

Marianna Varvarrigou (Intro image: Left, Anna Grigora. Right, Dry stone walls)

Read also via Arts in Greece: The Art of “Dancing” Through Dionisis Kavallieratos’ eyes; Artist Stavros Kotsireas: "Creativity is part of our humanity"; Painter Dimitris Tzamouranis: "Art’s ultimate objective is the pursuit of beauty"; Maria Filopoulou: an important representative of contemporary representational art in Greece; Kostis Georgiou: "Art’s purpose is to provide a zone of unlimited paths"

Vassilis Letsios (Lefkada, 1971) is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Foreign Languages, Translation and Interpreting of the Ionian University on Modern Greek Literature and Literary Translation into Greek. He studied at the Philology Department of the University of Ioannina (1994) and holds an MA in Modern Greek Studies (1997) and a PhD in Modern Greek Literature (2003) from the Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies Department of King’s College, London University. He has published the monograph The Ghost Behind the Arras: transformations of the “political verse” in twentieth-century Greek poetry (Scholars’ Press, 2013), and he co-edited a study on travel writing entitled A Ship Gleaming on the Horizon. Finnish traveller Oskar Emil Tudeer in Greece and Hisarlik (1881-1882) (Asini Publishing, 2017) (in Greek). 

VassilisLetsiosIntro

His most recent articles/papers include: Takis Papatsonis as a translator (Frear, 2018) and his relationship with Edgar Allan Poe (T. K. Papatsonis. His critical and essay works, edited by S. Zoumboulakis, National Library of Greece, 2019) (in Greek), Filippos D. Drakontaeidis as a translator of Montaigne and Rabelais (Porfyras, 2018), the translation of Gerusalemme Liberata by Typaldos (The Athens Review of Books, 2019) and the most recent literary work of Christos Chrissopoulos, Sophia Nikolaidou, Panos Karnezis and Ersi Sotiropoulos (Encounters in Greek and Irish Literature. Creativity, Translations and Critical Perspectives, ed. P. Nikolaou, 2020). He is Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Public Central Historical Library of Corfu since 2015 and President of the ‘Laboratory for the Translation of Greek Literature’ of the Department of Foreign Languages, Translation and interpreting since 2020. He is currently working on a second monograph on the Heptanesian School (in Greek). 

Vassilis Letsios spoke to Reading Greece* about his monograph on the Heptanesian School, discussing the strong impact it had on the development of Modern Greek language and literature, while he also comments on the tradition of the political verse and its importance in the shaping of twentieth-century Greek poetics. He refers to the initiatives undertaken by the Department of Foreign Languages, Translation and Interpreting, which foster a conversation of Greek literature and culture with its foreign partners worldwide, and discusses the main challenges researchers in Greece are faced with nowadays. 

Your second monograph, related to the Heptanesian School, is underway. Tell us a few things about the book.

I am really excited about this research field; the primary material is both quite extensive and important opening up, in my opinion, new paths for further research. My aim is to present and explain the translation work carried out by Heptanesian scholars and writers especially of the 19th and the first part of the 20th century, which constitutes a turning point for the Ionian Islands, namely their becoming part of the Kingdom of Greece (1864). This research brings forward a number of important issues related not only to the introduction of important writers, works and literary trends into the Greek language but also with quite uncertain, at the time, and thus crucial issues referring to the formation of the Greek literary/national language, while raising questions of identity and adaptation of an old and established center of Greek Letters, which in the post-Unity era acquired ‘periphery’ traits etc. 

TheHeptanesians

Do you agree with those who argue that the linguistic theory and literary practice of the Heptanesian School have had a strong impact on the development of Modern Greek language and literature? Could you elaborate on this influence?

The Heptanesian scholars, writers and artists (friendships and thus influences were quite frequent, if we consider, for instance, the case of Solomos and Chalikiopoulos -Mantzaros in music) quite often shared identical or similar opinions or attitudes vis-à-vis language, literature and arts, and as well as a common conviction for unity and thus continuity. Obviously nothing would have been the same in case the Greek Letters lacked Solomos; his vision for a national language and literature became a point of reference in the world of letters and arts for many years to come. Yet, we should also consider the strength of his partners, who would work for the Greek Letters in an idealistic mood. For the Heptanesians, the struggle for language was above all a political act; a whole system of political and social values dictated their immersion in writing, translation, literary and critical texts, their editing, their philological essays and lectures etc. This system of values that resonated in language and literature was identified by scholars of the Athenian center, such as Kostis Palamas, in whose critical discourse on the Heptanesian Letters one can easily detect a willingness to create a national literary school that would include them. 

What about your first monograph related to the transformations of the “political verse” in twentieth-century Greek poetry? Tell us a few things about the tradition of the political verse and its importance in the shaping of twentieth-century Greek poetics.

In this study I tried to delve into the rhythms the free-verse Greek poetry of the 20th century is made of and I came to realize that in many poems written by major Greek poets which appear as free-verse, there hides the national verse, that is the iambic 15-syllable ‘political verse’, like ‘the ghost behind the arras’. This method provides some answers to serious questions as to ‘how poetry is written’ or ‘the relation of form and meaning’ or ‘what the free verse is made of’. One of the major arguments is that the ‘political verse’ continues to exert a great influence on the Greek poetry of the 20th century, although in an latent form. Within this framework, major innovations of form and content started with Cavafy, followed by the poets of the Generation of the 1930s, both before (Seferis, Embiricos, Elytis) and after (Gatsos, Elytis, Ritsos, Seferis, Embiricos) the war, while younger poets would adopt quite interesting techniques (Sachtouris, Mastoraki, Ganas).  “No verse is free for the man who wants to do a good job”, as Eliot eloquently put it.

VassilisLetsiosBooks

The Department of Foreign Languages, Translation and Interpreting where you are based, seems to actively pursue initiatives related to the formation of networks and synergies among universities, state structures and private bodies. How could these initiatives foster a conversation of Greek literature and culture with its foreign partners worldwide and thus contribute to increasing their visibility beyond national borders?

The Department of Foreign Languages, Translation and Interpreting of the Ionian University continues a well established in the Ionian Islands strong presence of translation, as I already mentioned. More specifically, literary translation from and to Greek constitutes an important part of the curriculum at all levels (undergraduate, post-graduate, doctoral), as well as of the initiatives undertaken by very good colleagues, who translate and study/teach translation issues. The Department of Foreign Languages, Translation and Interpreting tries to be in close contact to the Departments of Modern Greek Studies abroad, both within and outside the framework of translation. In any case, it’s a field we are interested to invest more in the future. Let me take the chance to mention that in the Department there is a ‘Laboratory for the Translation of Greek Literature’ I am the director, and our aim is to establish a strengthened programme of actions that will bring us closer to all those working diligently, both inside and outside Greece, for the translation of Greek literature. Translation studies around the world have earned significant ground, while this field is gradually acquiring the place it deserves in philological/cultural studies. Thus, cognitively, I would say it is an ideal chance for more extroversion and communication, as long as governments are not opposed to it. 

What about the main challenges researchers in Greece are faced with? Has the relocation of the National Library of Greece at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center and its transition into a new digital era of innovation and extroversion facilitated research work?

I reckon that the new glowing National Library carries a symbolic value for a number of reasons, among which the modernization of the reading and study space/mentality. Knowledge is open to everyone, while digitalization definitely opens up new horizons for open minds. I am not one of the young researchers given that when I started studying and writing there were no computers and indexing was made by hand. On the other hand, some of my most favorite studies belong to an older era, where there was much more devotion and zest for scientific fields like mine. A modern researcher may find the existing know-how as to material search quite helpful; yet, I consider that an in-depth writing and analysis often go hand in hand with the present era that allows more things to happen more quickly, more superficially and less elegantly. A modern researcher of language and literature is more likely to open up to other scientific fields and attempt correlations; he/she will definitely approach a literary work as a work of culture and will study it as such. Recent research at least vis-à-vis Modern Greek studies has progressed due to a more open approach of Greek issues, despite the fact that the field is shrinking as to working positions. The greatest challenge for a young researcher is not just to enter, but also to remain in the field, given that cultural issues, as we all agree, are every year less and less subsidized. 

LibraryofCorfu@Public Central Historical Library of Corfu

It has been argued that Greek writers who live in Greece play no role in the so-called “world republic of letters”, noting that no Greek author or trend is included in textbooks and surveys of, say, Romanticism or the Avant-Garde, feminism or post colonialism, the ballad or the short story. Yet a promising development is that in recent years Greek poets and novelists have been circulating all over the world. Is there a way for the challenges of integrating Greek literature in the international field to be met?

I remain skeptical about this argument made by Vassilis Lambropoulos. In the prototype, ‘la république mondiale des lettres’ refers to a book where the writer Pascale Casanova, in her attempt to describe the nature of world literature and the structure of the literary world, supports that in order for writers from peripheral countries and languages to achieve worldwide recognition, they should first be accepted by the literary world of Paris. I am not sure whether there exist contemporary or recent writers coming from big or small countries that have ensured, and for how long, a position in this global ‘republic’ (or in a similar one). Yet, I reckon that modern Greek literary trends, to which Lambropoulos refers in his article, have indeed shown a significant mobility (academic, publishing etc) and only time will show which writers and which titles will exert influence on contemporary and future generations, inside and outside the country. International awards, translations, academic research and a public dialogue among contemporary and recent writers is definitely something positive; If, though, anyone knows the contemporary ‘Paris’ of ‘world’ (if there actually exists) letters, let him/her be kind enough as to name it. There may be contemporary writers, irrespective of a country of origin, that they would like to ignore or negate it, and we cannot but respect it. 

*Interview by Athina Rossoglou

Kapanidis1Dr. Achillefs Kapanidis is Professor of Biological Physics at the Department of Physics of the University of Oxford. Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, Dr. Kapanidis has become known to the wider public, because his team has introduced a new method for coronavirus detection which only takes a few minutes, with a validation accuracy, sensitivity and specificity of more than 90 percent; efforts are now being made for this to be developed into a rapid diagnostic test to detect the coronavirus in respiratory samples.

Born in Thessaloniki, where he also completed his first degree, Achillefs Kapanidis continued his studies abroad and went on to hold research scientist positions at major institutions, eventually becoming a Senior Lecturer (2005) and then Professor (2003) at Oxford University, where he has been leading a group, known as the "Gene Machines" group, which studies machines of gene expression by observing single molecules of gene-expression machinery.

Dr. Kapanidis was interviewed by the Press & Communications Office at the Embassy of Greece in London regarding his team’s groundbreaking advancements in virus detection and his outlook on the Covid-19 pandemic, but also about his experiences living and working abroad and the role Greece still plays in his life.

Could you please introduce yourself to our readers? Tell us please about your studies, your academic and professional trajectory and how you have come to work in the University of Oxford, leading a team that conducts research on Covid-19.

I have been born and raised in Thessaloniki, where I also completed my first degree in Chemistry at the Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki. After completing a Master’s in Food Chemistry at Rutgers University (USA), I received my PhD in Biological Chemistry for work I completed at the Waksman Institute of Microbiology, also at Rutgers. After holding research scientist positions in single-molecule biological physics at Berkeley and UCLA, I became a Senior Lecturer at Oxford University in 2005, and a Professor of Biological Physics in 2013; I have also been a European Research Council (ERC) grant holder and I am currently a Wellcome Trust Investigator.

Since 2005, I have been leading a group of physical and biological scientists (which we informally call the "Gene Machines" group) which studies microbial biological machinery involved in gene expression and regulation, with a focus on gene transcription and DNA repair. Our main tool is advanced fluorescence microscopy based on the observation of single protein and DNA molecules, linked with sophisticated image/data analysis; the past few years, my group has also been working on rapid and ultrasensitive detection of antibiotic resistance and pathogenic viruses, including influenza and coronaviruses.

My work has been published in more than 100 papers and book chapters, as well as in several patent applications. My group has also been pursuing miniaturised single-molecule imaging, a project that culminated my co-founding of the Oxford Nanoimaging spin-out; for these contributions, I was co-awarded the 2019 Innovator of the Year Award from the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). Finally, I have been involved in the establishment of a new interdisciplinary institute at Oxford (to open in 2021) focusing on using cutting-edge physical approaches to study biological mechanisms in living cells.

How could your team’s research findings contribute to the efforts against Covid-19?

We have been working on understanding the replication mechanisms of the influenza (flu) virus since 2012, and more recently, we have been exploring ways to detect that virus rapidly. In November 2019, we published a method that uses calcium to bind small pieces of fluorescent DNA to enveloped virus particles and to fluorescently label them (Robb et al., Scientific Reports 2019); we can then observe labelled viruses on a sensitive fluorescence microscope, and assess their morphology and size. Our assay is extremely fast (takes just one minute), and works well on respiratory viruses such as influenza and RSV in clinical samples. Notably, the work on the clinical samples was a collaboration with the laboratory of Andreas Mentis at the Hellenic Pasteur Institute in Athens.

When coronavirus emerged in China, we reasoned that our assay should work with the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. We thus obtained permission to continue working despite the closure of our Department, and indeed established that our assay can detect the presence of the virus; part of this work was done in collaboration with the CEMIPAI CNRS Institute at Montpellier, who had access to SARS-CoV-2 in high containment facilities. Further, in work led by an extremely talented graduate student from Cyprus, Nicolas Shiaelis, and Royal Society fellow Dr Nicole Robb, we have introduced a new method for coronavirus detection based on applying machine learning to images of labelled viruses; this method is currently tested on clinical samples in our local hospital. The assay takes only minutes, with a validation accuracy, sensitivity and specificity of >90%. In contrast, the standard virus-detection methods (using the method RT-PCR) requires ~3 hours from the time of swab receipt to result, and for community testing, transport to these facilities adds substantially to the turnaround time.

We are now working with clinicians on turning our method into a rapid and scalable diagnostic test to detect SARS-CoV-2 in respiratory samples. Such a rapid test can have substantial impact, since widespread testing will be absolutely crucial for disease surveillance and control, even if a safe vaccine becomes available in the next 18 months.

7CAC5D24 6D1B 4306 AF79B225AE079008 gallerypreviewDr. Kapanidis at the award ceremony of the BBSRC Innovator of the year 2019 award (May 15, 2019)

Pandemics cause unprecedented, incredible and to a certain extent irreparable social, economic, family and personal disruptions. Are pandemics however welcome by scientific and medical communities, as an opportunity for scientific research, technological advancement, testing of new scientific tools and experimenting on new, cutting-edge medical solutions?

A pandemic is never a welcome development; the devastation that it can cause to societies, families and individuals, and especially to the most vulnerable, is something all scientific and medical community is extremely concerned about. Hence the great efforts of scientists to suppress epidemics and prevent them from escalating into pandemics; the successful containment of the first SARS in 2003, Ebola in 2014, and MERS in 2015 were recent examples of these efforts.

The scientific community is also aware that containment will not always work and that we are never too far away from the next pandemic, so having the scientific tools and organisational structures to address a spreading pathogen is of paramount importance. The need to face pandemics with rapid and decisive action to preserve human life focuses the minds and efforts of the scientists in deploying existing defences against the new virus, in innovating to exploit the vulnerabilities of the microscopic enemy, and in repurposing their work to provide necessary material and intellectual support to other vital activities. International cooperation has also hugely important in our efforts to understand, monitor and control the virus.  

There is a sense of duty, public service and social responsibility that drives these contributions, along with the enormous satisfaction of the basic-science researchers to actually see their efforts making a difference in the short term, as opposed to the several years or even decades that it usually takes for fundamental discoveries to translate into tangible societal impact.

Pandemics, as other major events that dramatically reshape human activity, present also opportunities to deliver change for the better. There is no doubt that many of our scientific activities will be transformed for ever after the pandemic, either due to the shifting of our priorities as citizens and scientists, or to avert another ongoing disaster, that of climate change. For example, electronic means for scientists to meet and exchange ideas will help rationalise and minimise global travel for conferences; use of pre-print servers will expand to allow further dissemination of scientific information in a free and rapid manner; and (hopefully) international cooperation and innovation will boost our chances to control climate change.

You have worked also in the USA. How would you compare working in the USA to working in the UK as regards science, scientific research, quick exploitation of the scientific findings and interaction between universities, institutes and the market?

I have spent more than 10 years in the USA in early stages of my career, and this was an experience that shaped much of my approach to science; I was also fortunate to be in the USA during a large expansion of the scientific base and technological development both in academia and industry.

There is no question that US science was and remains extremely strong, powered by large number of research universities and diverse institutes, and there are many aspects to admire and enjoy about it. First and foremost, I enjoyed the vibrant culture of robust and constant questioning and debate about scientific questions and technological challenges (I guessed it satisfied part of my Greek nature!). In such debates, what mattered was whether an idea could survive scientific scrutiny; the status of the persons putting it forward or questioning it was not important. This flattened the hierarchy of “debating societies” and made people realise that they can contribute at any stage of their career, as long as their medium is logical reasoning.

I also liked the fact that the Universities and institutes are full of driven and adventurous young people from all over the world working together; I appreciated the large investment of institutions and the government in basic and applied research, which provided considerable resources to pursue difficult but worthy goals; the opportunity of people to be involved in research from a very young age (e.g., undergraduate research is highly promoted in US research universities); the encouragement of translation of scientific findings into companies and products, that in turn provide high-quality jobs and address societal needs. The PhD was also long enough to allow substantial work to be finished and converted in seminal publications.

On the more negative side, I felt that the overabundance of resources made individuals more wasteful and less focused in their efforts; the time spent in a PhD degree was often way too long, potentially leading to exploitation of some researchers. For academics, the prospect of not achieving tenure (i.e., the ability to stay in their position after very rigorous review) was very stressful and led to loss of work-life balance.

Do you think that Greece is currently in a position -as regards the research infrastructure, the scientific expertise and the human resources- to conduct significant research projects in general, as well as in this specific occasion?

Being away from Greece for a very long time, I can only offer an impression biased from my interactions with colleagues during visits to participate in conferences, from occasional collaboration and participations in reviewing bodies, and from visits to see scientist friends I met in the US and UK.

My impression is that Greece is definitely punching above its weight if you consider the perennial lack of funding and underinvestment in science and technology, and the structural constraints that limit the conduct and administration of science. The country has institutions of excellence such as the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (IMBB) in Crete and the Biomedical Research Foundation of the Academy of Athens, where ground-breaking and pioneering advances have been made the past few years, showing that it is possible to perform research at the highest level in Greece, even during enormously challenging times such as the ones brought by the financial crisis of the past decade. However, there is a huge need to support science and technology much further to expand the network of excellent institutions and raise the profile of research in all institutions. Funding should be more extensive and regular, and should complement European funding; returning scientists should be given the resources to start successful labs that attract external funding; entrepreneurship should be encouraged and supported to drive the formation of dynamic spin-out companies in areas where Greece should be leading in innovation. Some of the funding should be strategic and long-term and should not be just the agenda of a single government, but should rise over politics: where can we build on existing strength? Where can we develop local solutions to local problems? Where can we develop our resources in a sustainable way respectful of our environment?

I also take heart from the herculean efforts of the Greek scientific and medical community during the Covid-19 crisis, which had shown that the country can rise to meet this enormous challenge by working in a methodical and committed fashion.

Kapanidis 2Dr. Achillefs Kapanidis with a collaborating postdoctoral fellow (Photo by Jun Fan)

What are your personal estimations on the developments for the Covid-19 pandemic? Do you expect a safe vaccine to be produced soon? Do you believe that this virus may trigger other diseases or open new medical and health challenges? Or do you expect that it will soon become another chapter in humanity’s medical history, like for ex. measles, chickenpox and mumps?

As most scientists, I am an optimist, weighing of course the facts and figures in any “guestimate”. Regarding the availability of a safe vaccine, I am optimistic that at least one (and possibly more) will become widely available by the end of 2021, and possibly significantly sooner. For example, the Oxford-led vaccine that is currently in clinical trials is supported by an excellent track record (including the production for vaccines for previous coronaviruses), and there are plans to produce it in billions of doses (even before it is proven to work) to ensure wide availability should the trials prove successful. There are also efforts that use radically new approaches, which may result in pleasant surprises – the important matter here is the diversity of routes to ensure that a few of them will eventually work.

The scale of medical and health challenges associated with the new coronavirus is immense, and uncertainty always forms part of the picture. Since this is a new virus, we don’t know what are the long-term effects of having had the virus and of experiencing a different spectrum of symptoms; we don’t know the effects of the various treatments, as well as any side-effects (long-term or otherwise) that the eventual vaccine will have, and of course we do not know how long any immunity (exposure-induced or vaccine-driven) will last. We will also have to deal with the effect of minimal (or no) health care for non-COVID conditions for an extended period of time, as well as the mental health effects of the lockdown and the “social-distant” world.

This is a traumatic episode in the story of human existence, much as the pandemic of Spanish flu in 1918 and the World Wars – but as with those painful episodes, we will adapt and bounce back, hopefully having have learnt lessons that improve ourselves, our societies, and crucially, our natural environment.

You have lived for many years abroad. What do you miss most about Greece? Is there anything that remains unchanged to a Greek living, even for a long period, abroad?

There are many wonderful things that I miss about Greece, but the most important is family and friends, feeling the warmth of being close to loved ones, experiencing together the joyful moments and being able to help in the difficult moments. Travelling to Greece (when it was straight-forward!) and conferencing technology surely helped keep in touch but there is no substitute for a hug and a relaxed chat over coffee!

What makes more palatable for me living away from Greece is the sizeable and vibrant Greek community at Oxford, which provides some "home" comforts locally. As examples, consider our singing group "Nostos" where for 7 years we sing traditional songs with a modern twist, and our theatre group "Praxis" that has staged 6 plays in modern Greek in the Oxford over the past few years; both efforts are linked with the Oxford University Greek Society. These efforts are in addition to the wonderful and well-attended social and cultural events organised by the Modern Greek Studies Programme of the University, the Greek student communities of both Oxford Universities, and the local Orthodox Church community. Sadly, everything is now on hold due to the pandemic, but we are looking forward to resuming these activities when it is safe to do so.

Living abroad clearly changes one’s attitudes, but I have never felt that my Greek "core" had changed substantially over the years. In fact, being abroad makes you much more aware of your identity and your origins; I believe that the first country you experience when moving away from Greece, is actually Greece itself, since your new home allows you to place your Greek experience in perspective - plus you have to explain to everyone else what the Greek state of mind is and what it is like living in Greece!      

Are you optimistic that, in the coming years or decades, there may be a reverse of the brain drain wave that was recorded in Greece in the past decade, or will, in your opinion, the emigration trend continue in the years to come?

I am indeed optimistic but much more needs to be done. There must be a compelling plan in place to attract back Greeks from abroad, and in fact, people who can contribute to the Greek society regardless of their origin. Greece can be a wonderful place to live, and nostalgic Greeks abroad are yearning to make the journey back "home" – but the risks of relocation need to be reduced to see reversal of the trend.

Judging from my experience at Oxford, we are seeing more people returning to Greece nowadays compared to a few years ago; this is a positive trend for Greece which I think will continue, although this may reflect Brexit-related dynamics and not a global trend. The effective and decisive response to pandemic (so far) by Greece can also be a factor, showing that the Greek state can indeed address formidable challenges. The ability of many workers in the digital economy to work remotely may mean that someone can relocate to Greece while working for companies abroad; further, there is a great opportunity to expand this sector in Greece. The government can do much more to attract talented individuals to Greece by helping the formation of new businesses, by providing more funding to attract and promote scientists to its Universities and institutes, and by encouraging the transformation of the industry sector into a more modern, diverse, and fair entity.

Read also via Greek News Agenda:Greek scientific and research community join forces to combat COVID-19; Greek initiatives at the EU vs Virus innovation hackathon to tackle COVID-19; Dr. Androula Nassiopoulou on Nanoscience and Nanotechnology in Greece; Meet “Demokritos” the biggest Research Centre of Greece