We don’t need solidarity, we need democracy

No matter whether in favor of or against Greece: everybody speaks about solidarity. Solidarity with the insolvent European partners. Solidarity with the unemployed Greeks. In midst of the crisis, the word faces true inflation. Unfortunately, it also suggests the wrong idea. The financial “aid” program was never an act of solidarity. And such a thing is not needed. What we need is democracy.

Greferendum, Grexit, Greece, EU, democracy

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Never in its history has Europe shown so much solidarity. Billions of taxpayers’ money was spent to rescue the distressed countries from their desperate situation. Financial aid loans, rescuing the Euro, Nobel Peace Prize. And the EU governments, led by Angela Merkel and her finance minister, celebrate their crisis management as a true success. After wandering through the valley of hardship, everybody is back on the rise. Everybody, except for Greece.

From bailout to capital control

Now, incomprehension prevails among the Germans. Incomprehension and anger. All these years of generous solidarity. Merkel herself had always emphasized: there is no alternative to rescuing the Greeks. Decisions quickly run by the parliament. Help. Non-bureaucratic and – especially – selfless. And now, all of the sudden, the Greeks don’t play along anymore. They want to ask the people. The heart of solidarity breaks into a thousand pieces.

In the night from Tuesday to Wednesday the alleged aid program expired. A program, which provided “financial aid” loans (as we call them in Germany, although a loan is by definition never a financial aid) to a completely bankrupt country, only to have them pay the money back immediately. Not exactly the most logical procedure. And now the situation in Greece gets out of control. Again!.

The air is hot out there. Long queues in front of those ATMs that still work. Withdrawal limit from Greek accounts is 50 Euros (no limitation on foreign accounts). Many people do not have ATM cards and are cut off from the money supply. Capital control. State of emergency. And now, those in Germany, who actually care about the situation, are split: Some want solidarity now more than ever. Others, including the German government, claim that the limits of solidarity have been reached.

Negotiation rather than solidarity

It is time to take off the halo of solidarity and finally come to sit at a table of facts. A fact, for example, is that the “offers” from the EU to Greece after the many grueling months of ever lasting negotiations are simply not acceptable.

VAT increase? In a country where the VAT is already higher than the European average and in which the market is more or less collapsed? In a country where the minimum wage is 3,35 Euros and more than a quarter of the population has no job? And increase  corporate tax? In a country where one company after the other files for bankruptcy and foreign investments are badly needed?

It does not take an expert to understand that these kinds of measures prevent exactly what – according to the self-appointed Euro-rescuers – was supposed to be the core objective of the whole mission: economic growth. We can say without any doubt: In Greece, the program has not helped. And – contrary to official statements: in the other countries the large scale helping effect cannot be observed, either.

Greece has problems, but is not a problem

Looking at the labor markets in Spain and Portugal, the situation has hardly improved. The conservative governments there speak of success, but they are just waiting to lose the next elections. Poland (non Euro-country) is one of the fastest growing economies in Europe – and is facing the greatest emigration wave since World War II. In Germany, the poverty rate is estimated a shocking 15.5%. The air is hot all over Europe, but medially encircling Greece, nobody really notices.

We prefer to show solidarity with the isolated black sheep, rather than becoming aware of the fact that the crisis is not merely a problem made in Greece, and that it doesn’t cease to exist beyond the Greek borders. But with the media magnifying glass over a country that has been bankrupt for a long time, the situation in other European countries appears much better. As long as you focus on the Greeks and act as if the problems there had nothing to do with the numerous problems of the EU, people feel safe.

Solidarity yes – but not with Tsipras

It is striking how much solidarity the EU felt for the predecessor of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. In cooperation with the Samaras government there were no complaints. The only talk was about the great reform efforts of Greece and the good progress. Hands were shaken in solidarity, as the economy failed to grow. Fact is: The previous government under Samaras has not carried out one single meaningful reform. Not one.

There are taxes on children now, because they are considered a luxury. So, if you have children, the states assumes that you hide money and taxes you for that. As a freelancer, you pay taxes without making any money at all. If you register with a guild or professional association, the state collects money no matter if you ever wrote a bill. The Samaras government has violated the law, offered beaches for sale and shut down the public TV and radio network. Neither did they reform the tax system, nor did they fight tax evasion or corruption.

But Europe showed enough solidarity to ignore all these facts. It was when Tsipras and Varoufakis came that the EU decided to be more critical. Now, the two are depicted as an outstanding example of a lack of solidarity. That the conditions imposed by the EU would have given their country the fatal blow, does not matter. Decried by some as insolent rascals or even the most dangerous men in Europe, others celebrate them as heroes.

Another fact: Up to now, the Syriza government has not been addressing the necessary reforms, either. And instead of blind solidarity, the many followers should be taking a close look at what the new government is actually doing. They reopened the public TV and radio network and protest against the austerity institutions. Unfortunately, the big hope that Varoufakis would pull some genius master plan out of his drawer and finally begin to clean up the unbearable corruption chaos in Greece, did not become true. Whether “Nai” or “Oxi” – the country needs to finally deal with its many problems.

Yes and no to what now?

In this mood, Tsipras lets the Greeks decide. A necessary, yet ill-fated referendum. Technically, it’s all about accepting the EU’s “offer” (which has been withdrawn by now anyway) saying “Yes” or rejecting it (No). But due to the critical situation between the Greek government and the EU, the vote is seen as a commitment for or against Europe (just like the referendum, which is currently being prepared in the equally strong ailing Austria).

For the Greeks, this means to choose between: “Yes, I opt for an” financial aid program, which has so far suppressed any possibility of economic recovery and a confederation, which does not recognize its own failure.” Or “No, with the risk of leaving the monetary union resulting in economic isolation, guided by a government that has given lots of hope, but so far failed to take the necessary measures.” The people who tend to say “Yes” are worried about losing the Euro. They feel more secure with the common currency and as a member of the EU. The others, who tend to say “No”, are exhausted by the austerity measures. The last years of unspeakable stagnation loads stronger in people’s minds than the fear of isolation.

Now everyone is waiting for Sunday. The stock markets respond positively to every little approach and negatively towards contention. And the Greek people, after a week without or only little access to the remaining capital go to the polls and decide their fate. Not really ideal conditions for a democratic vote – especially since the last few weeks have demonstrated everything but democracy.

Greece and the EU

No, the “institutions” and Europe have not really been showing much affinity towards democracy. Even at Tsipras’ victory, Mrs. Merkel found no good words for her new counterpart. Neither did the alleged negotiations have much to do with a dispute on an eye-to-eye basis. Instead, the “donor” countries (those who give, and then take back right away), who previously showed so much solidarity, simply refused to take a close look at what has been done and renegotiate based upon observations. Especially Germany blocked every possible alternative.

In other words, Greece never had the chance to dissuade the negotiators from their standpoint. Since, in this case, Europe would have had to admit failure. Solidarity, apparently, doesn’t go that far. The result is the referendum on Sunday. A referendum that either accepts or denies an offer that, in almost every detail, resembles the conditions before the negotiations started.

State union vs. national state

In all this panic about Greece and with all the injured solidarity pride, we seem to forget the essential: It’s time to focus on all of Europe. The state union is on a bad course and the re-nationalization of the member countries is the result. Anti-European movements beyond the center-right have become socially acceptable – are a part of everyday life. Refugees suffer on both sides of the EU borders. Whole countries are being sacrificed. This is the opposite of solidarity. This is a misunderstanding of the precarious situation in all of Europe.

Interestingly, the greatest failure of the EU is exactly where also the Greek government has failed to act. The purpose of a ruling administration is to create structures, in which a social construct can live and strive. Brussels needs to provide functional channels between the European nations. Channels, that allow the citizens to create jobs and make use of the many resources in Europe. Especially the transfer of knowledge should be at the forefront here. And of course the financial union.

More EU, but with an emphasis on Union

All, however, to which the EU is being associated until now, is the failure of a financial aid program. It would have been much more efficient, if the EU had created structures, allowing the citizens to act autonomously, and tools which would support this independence. Then, a referendum like the one in Greece on Sunday would be perceived as a viable instrument of democracy – not as a threat. Under these circumstances, though, we risk the idea of Europe due to the lack of flexibility within a failed rescue mission.

In a democracy, it is legitimate to make mistakes. The system provides decision-making mechanisms because of that. People in charge have to take responsibility for their wrongdoing – as civil servants. In any case, they are by oath and constitution obliged to decide for the benefit of the people. If they insist on incorrect action just in order to support their own position, this is more than just lack of solidarity. It is against their oath.


Thessaloniki Documentary Festival – Looking at the big picture



Last weekend, the 17th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival ended. After ten days of screenings and discussions, it was the British production ”Virunga” that took home the audience price. The movie was already nominated for an Academy Award and director, Orlando von Einsiedel, sent video greetings.

It was rather cold this year in Thessaloniki. Once though, when the sun is out, the bay is calm and Mount Olympus reveals himself, one might think to have ended up somewhere in Switzerland. This impression doesn’t hold for long though. The livelihood of Greece’s second biggest city, its imperfection that connects distinct beauty with the pulse of real live, puts every Zurich or Geneva in its place.

Window to the world

The reality of Thessaloniki, like every city in Greece, is also marked by the crisis, a phenomenon that became a paradigm for much more than just financial issues. During the year, Greeks are busy managing this reality. During the annual documentary festival though, the city’s silver screens become windows to the world, revealing most of all one thing: However the crisis might be grasped in its totality, it is a phenomenon that extends way past the Hellenic borders.

As in previous years, the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival has proven, why it belongs to the important events in the business. The choice of movies covers the wide range of documentary filmmaking: Individual portrays, the arts, human rights, retrospectives, society and so forth. As part of the festival, the individual movies show their true nature as pieces in the mosaic of a reality that is way more complex than leading media make us believe. Driven by the spirit of watching screenings together and engaging in discussion afterwards, this complexity unravels in a moment of shared truth, of focusing on something that escapes our personal vision of the world.

Connecting pieces of truth

When, in one screening, two French directors present movies like Ikaria, about the passionate fight of the inhabitants of a remote Aegean island to keep their health care system alive, and Greece of Christos Chryssopoulos, Patros Markaris and Ersi Sotiropoulos, in which three authors share their vision of Greece today, the audience is being taken from a close-up look at grass-root movements to the intellectual abstraction of it. Or when the Norwegian film I am Kuba on the dramatic situation of one of the so called Euro-orphans is screened right before Storm Makers, a documentary on young girls in Cambodia, who are sold into slavery, a strange connection between pieces of collective truth come to light.

Virunga, the movie, which eventually was awarded by the audience, managed to connect pieces, that brought the war in Congo, the survival of the earth’s last mountain gorillas and the

relentless methods of the European oil company SOCO to the attention of the viewers. Produced by Leonardo di Caprio, Virunga showed, how the struggle of rangers in a national park in midst of war and violence is directly connected to global companies based in Europe, and how the survival of gorillas is nothing short of the moral obligation we bear as human beings.

Greek directors take close look at their country

As in previous years, the crisis was the leading motif of the Greek contributions. While Agora – From democracy to the market by Yorgos Avgeropoulos was a chronological retrospective on the crisis, linking the bigger economic and political context with faces on the streets, Fascim Inc. by Aris Chatzistefanou dealt with fascism as a shield of the economic elite, using political systems in order to unable the rights of the working class and exploit the human being as an expandable resource.

The movie was crowd-funded and “belongs to the people,” as the director stated, announcing that it will be online and free of charge. In the longest Q&A-session of the festival, the audience expressed their appreciation for the movie. “Capitalism without Fascism is possible, Fascism without capitalism not,” Chatzistefanou pointed out the people.

But there were also movies that portrayed different stories of Greece, like the story of Olympia by Stavros Psillakis. While pregnant, Olympia is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Despite the risks, she decides to have the baby. The movie focuses on her, who, despite her disease, takes gratitude in life, inspired by her loving family, outstanding medical care (Yes, in Greece!) and, most of all, in her son Panayiotis. Eventually she did not win the battle against cancer. But the movie was a reminder of how the simple things in life, as well as the presence of family and friends are the sources of true beauty in life.

More important issues that Varoufaki’s finger

So, while Germany was busy discussing, if Varoufakis actually showed the finger or if the video was a fake, the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival focused on much more important issues. Apart from the many stories that were told, and the information that was spread, it is a positive sign to see, how many filmmakers travel the world in order to drag attention to things that, in the mass media, are either simplified or ignored. The selection of the festival was great proof of the important role documentaries play, especially in a world ruled by simplifying mass media.

While many productions were already co-funded on an international basis, it will be interesting to see, if German and Greek directors, or European filmmakers in general, will find together in the future and shoot movies, that follow a rather comparative approach. The focus on the individual countries is important, but the big challenge for Europe now is to realize that the crisis is most of all an indicator of problems concerning culture and democracy – problems that are detectable in every country. Documentaries have a tremendous potential when it comes to uncovering the essence of a situation. This tool needs to be used in order keep social cohesion in Europe alive. And it is time to realize: Documentary filmmakers might be the most underpaid people in Western society.


This article was published first in NewEurope



Misled by the Media – How False Information Rule Europe

 Interview with Katharine Sarikakis

Many Europeans have lost trust in the media. Biased reports on the crisis, the war in Ukraine or the total lack of coverage regarding other important issues raise questions. How independent are the media? Whose purpose do they serve and what is missing?

EUdyssee has talked to Katharine Sarikakis,  Professor for Media Governance at the University of Vienna, about the proximity of media to the political elites, the myth of the unruly Greeks and why left-wing media should learn to be kinder to each other.

EUdyssee: The leading media in Germany judge harshly upon Tsipras and the Syriza government in Greece. They are called a threat to Europe and the Euro (these were Chancellor Merkel’s words after the elections several weeks ago), media repeatedly suggest that Tsipras will isolate Greece from the Eurozone, and both, he and the Minister of Finance, Yanis Varoufakis, are continuously criticized for their expressions, behavior and appearance in official meetings. Former Greek Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras, was pretty much left alone by the German media. Can you explain why that is?

Katharine Sarikakis: The first thing to state here is that media are generally close to political elites. They have to keep them happy and vice versa. The political line as well as the projected values will be followed by a vast majority of the media, especially opinion leading ones. The new government in Greece is the exact antipode of the political course as represented by the German government. The coalition in Athens comes with specific ideas that oppose the tone set mainly by the German media, ever since the government in Berlin has taken over as the main ‘manager’ of the crisis. Proposing alternatives, as done by the Tsipras government, constitutes a genuine threat, questioning the legitimacy of the current leadership. The course of action is being challenged and put into question.

Across Europe we can observe a lot of protest and many signs of solidarity. We see social movements against austerity policies that all target public assets: health, education, wages and unemployment. The public is challenging the legitimacy of the crisis management, for which the questions that arise from protest movements are dangerous.

At the same time, however, another interesting factor is that the media maintain this narrative of the ‘unruly and bad’ European, when they talk about Greece. At first Greeks were presented as difficult, as the people that allegedly caused the crisis. This myth is being maintained. Only now Greece’s behavior is bad in terms of being moody and unpredictable. When Varoufakis is being referred to as a ‘sexy ideologue’, then this damages his role as a politician and reduces him to a demagogue.  

EUdyssee: Which possibilities come with the Syriza government for both, Greece and Europe, and at what risk, especially after a campaign that many people perceived as populist?

Katharine Sarikakis: Well, I do not agree that the campaign was populist. It merely addressed many issues that a broader public is concerned with. Also, many people in Syriza are not professional politicians, which also has an effect on how they presented themselves. And if they fail to deliver on what they promised, then this is mainly because they are not being supported by their so-called European partners, but also from within the party or the Greek parliament. What they said was authentic and their social focus has been overdue for many years now. They never promised that they will solve the financial problems.

Their most important message was: We do have agency as a sovereign state and also as the first left-wing government in Greece. And this brings possibilities. It brings the imagination that another world is possible. Something else that we need to understand is that they don’t just communicate with Troika or the Euro-Group, but with the citizens in Europe, the public, as well with political parties and social movements. They are betting at something more and strive for a different politics in Europe. They remind us that it is in the interest of all to maintain social cohesion. The risk I see does not have to do with the Syriza government itself, but comes with a growing fear from outside that Syriza is too risky for governments like the German or also the UK.

gettyimagesUK   EUdyssee: The Minister of Finance in Athens has sent a letter to Brussels in which he presented the course of action as agreed upon with the Euro group. How do you evaluate the discussions between Varoufakis and the Euro group in general and the special role that German Minister of Finance, Wolfgang Schäuble, took?

Katharine Sarikakis: The way, in which the communication with the new Greek government was handled, can only be described as condescending and disrespectful. Schäuble was not able to disguise his dislike. He is in a leading position and it is worrying to see that he is stuck in his situation, not moving at all. Also, he was using words such as ‘ridiculous’ to describe his peer Varoufakis, which I find unbecoming of a leading politician of his position and inexcusable.

EUdyssee: You are Greek, but you live and teach in Austria. Thus, you know the two sides of the coin. What do you tell Greek people, who want to go back to the drachma, hoping for an easier way out of the crisis on the one hand? 

Katharine Sarikakis: Well, to the Greeks I say that a return to the Drachma is not necessarily the best solution. Greece is not like Argentina or Italy, countries that have resources and industry and can sustain themselves. I also remind them of the sacrifices that were made in order to enter and remain in the Eurozone, namely all the years of austerity now and in the past. Nor must we forget that the country suffered from one recession to the next in the eighties. A huge majority of the Greek people was in favor of the new currency.

Also, the whole narrative of the so-called “grexit” is being used as a means of intimidation. Just thinking about that, right after Greece had announced the new elections, German media reported, the government does no longer regard a grexit-scenario as unthinkable. That is scare mockery.

EUdyssee: And what do you say to Germans and Austrians, who criticize the new government for their focus on what they call the “human catastrophe” in their country on the other hand?

Katharine Sarikakis: To others, and not only the Germans or Austrians, I say that facts speak for themselves. Most negative opinions are based on gross generalizations and it is of utmost importance to look at actual numbers and the context. One third of the Greeks live beyond the poverty line, the public service is totally destroyed.

All independent non-governmental organizations, such as Doctors Without Borders or Amnesty International speak of a humanitarian crisis. And looking at the collapse of the health system, the lack of freedom of expression, the handling of migrants – all of this shows that this humanitarian crisis cannot be denied.

The media have misled people into believing that all the money, which was paid, actually went to Greece in order to reduce the debt. That is false. Information in the media is not transparent. They mainly play with this whole package of stereotypes, the lazy Greek, who spends all the money and so forth. In reality, all the statistics show that Greece is among the countries with the longest working hours and, on the other hand, with the lowest expectations for the future.

Overall, one has to understand that reality is a complex issue. And it is difficult to maintain constructive discussions while being bombarded with simplified messages. Also, journalists have to produce more for considerably less money nowadays, which has a vast effect on how information is being presented, since explaining reality is about as complex as reality itself.

EUdyssee: Thinking about the future of a united Europe, what measures will have to be taken in order to bridge the gaps between the people, national states and Brussels? In what way can grass-root democracy and the media (both new and traditional) contribute to achieve these goals?

Katharine Sarikakis: We have to distinguish here between all the different dialogues among the European peoples on the one hand, and between the financial and political elites on the other hand. The latter is marked by a history of conflict and separation. The dialogue between the people you find is different. There are growing movements and demonstrations, as well as participation in social media that are neither mainstream nor a niche.


We need media that are as free from business or political influence as possible and we need sensitized journalists who will not settle for easy answers. The media and all the grass-root movements we find in Europe have to work together more efficiently. Also, left-wing media have to learn to be kinder and more respectful to each other, one has to look for alliances that serve the mission, what for the media is to be the watchdog of power.

We, the people, have to remind both, media and politics, of the role they have. The state has a contract with the citizens to serve them and this contract needs to be upheld. Media also have this kind of obligation to society.



Katharine Sarikakis

Professor Katharine Sarikakis researches the political processes and political economic dimensions of media and communications governance, nationally and globally. In her work, institutions are central spaces for the construction of ideas, legitimacy and exercise of control. Her current research explores these dimensions through the tensions of varying forms and degrees of state intervention upon individuals and communication and media industries.

She is currently working on a research monograph that explores issues of control over citizenship through commercial and political surveillance and communication and cultural policies of copyright, labour and ownership. The book Communication and Control is contracted by Palgrave Macmillan.




At the Crossroads of Democracy – Interview with Vouliwatch-Founder Antonis Schwarz


The situation in Europe is critical, putting in jeopardy also the democratic values of the state union. Many Europeans call for more participation in political processes. But lacking transparency and decisions against the citizen’s will let the gap between political administration and population grow steadily. EUdyssee spoke with Antonis Schwarz, co-founder of the Internet platform vouliwatch.gr, about grass-root democracy, transparency and the early elections in Greece next Sunday.

EUdyssee: Antonis, vouliwatch.gr is inspired by the German democracy platform abgeordnetenwatch.de. Can you explain what exactly it is you do and who is behind it?

Antonis Schwarz (AS): We provide a public dialogue between Members of Parliament (MPs) and citizens. You can ask questions and we conduct the moderation process. On the other hand, we look at how MPs vote in Parliament. Compared to abgeordnetenwatch.de, we also offer policy monitoring, where we have compiled the various party programs in condensed form. Our users can compare them based on various aspects such as economics or environment, comment and indicate potential for improvement. Then, there is Candidatewatch, where we observe the various election campaigns. Eventually, our users can upload their own bills and leave them up for discussion.

EUdyssee: You have over 7,000 Likes on Facebook. Is the page also being used actively? Do citizens engage in discussion?

AS: Yes. We have launched in mid-March 2014, a couple of weeks before the European elections. That gave us a good boost. With the upcoming elections in Greece, we can also observe an increased interest. Many people use our site.

EUdyssee: Is it rather people from the left wing, or do conservatives use your site as well?

AS: I would say that it is people from the emerging civil society in Greece, among them many who are engaged in the grass-root democracy movement. However, it always depends on the current situation. For example, there were plenty of questions about the privatization of the state-owned water companies during unofficial referendum in Thessaloniki. But our users cannot be reduced to one group. If anything, it is people between 18 and 35.

EUdyssee: When you say the ‘emerging civil society,’ what do you mean?

AS: I think that grass-root democracy movement is growing bigger these days. For me, Greece is a good example of what happens, when the political parties are left alone with all the power and when citizens don’t have the chance to participate in political processes outside of elections. Vouliwatch clearly supports the system of parliamentary democracy, but there has to be other means of civic participation apart from voting every four years,.

EUdyssee: You have mentioned the unofficial referendum in Thessaloniki. The organizers stood under a lot of pressure, even the day before, when Ministry of Interior tried to ban the referendum in the last moment. Despite the odds, the project turned out to be huge success. Where do you see potential and where do you see problems concerning grass-root democracy in Greece?

AS: That’s an interesting question. First, it would be a tremendous step to even have the chance for binding referendums in Greece. The danger here, like elsewhere, is the abuse coming from populist citizens’ initiatives, who attempt to question basic constitutional rights, such as freedom of religion by, for example, banning minarets. A corresponding constitutional court would be a possibility.

EUdyssee: How do you see the upcoming new elections in Greece? What can they change?

AS: It is difficult to estimate how the situation will develop, or, in case Tsipras should really win, if he will be able to form a government that can constitute a quorum. The likelihood of Greece leaving the Euro is relatively low. International financial markets estimate the probability around 15-20%. No one would profit from a return to the drachma. Right now, the most pressing issue, in case Tsipras should win, is, whether he manages to secure a majority behind him, and what he does with it.

EUdyssee: You have spoken of civil society and grass-root democracy. Can you explain to our readers how Vouliwatch is connected to that?

AS: We are a very young organization. Most of all we try to bring politicians and MPs to answer the questions of our users. In this respect, we are moving in the frame, which the constitution grants us. There are neither petition committees within the Parliament, nor any other formal ways allowing further influence. The only thing left is to write to your MP and hope that he or she acknowledges that. We try to make this process more public and want to provide an additional tool for the citizens to exercise pressure.

EUdyssee: Also with the help of the Internet, which is not exactly a common practice in Greece.

AS: Yes, that’s a problem. Let’s say, someone has made a petition, then Vouliwatch provides the opportunity to address the parliamentarians online, saying: ‘Look, we collected 5000 signatures, what do you do about that?’ Of course, a goal is also to make the Parliament itself more transparent. At the moment, the citizen cannot trace back how the individual members voted in Parliament. The income of the MPs are published only for a month in a non-editable shape and are also not complete. We know only what they have on the banks and what property they own. Perquisites are not displayed. So, there is a lot of space for improvement. But in this initial phase, we still focus on our basic function of public questioning.

EUdyssee: So it’s about communicating more openly and about transparency. How do you see the development of transparency in Greece in general since the beginning of the crisis?

AS: That has been an issue for a long time and became increasingly important with the crisis. I have the impression that in Greece the pressure applied by civil society could be targeted more efficiently. The complaints against the system are often not specific enough. People should look at details, saying: ‘Okay, the system does not work, we need to improve it right HERE, and then exert pressure right THERE. Membership in international organizations has proven to be good for Greece, too. In many cases the public is not aware of the fact that the country is frequently warned by the OECD, in which Greece is a member, because the transparency situation is not good. For example, it was a recommendation of the OECD that motivated the recent Party Financing Act. Currently, there are simply no public data on how political parties are financed. For a democracy though, this is immensely important. This example shows, how membership in an international organization can have a positive effect. Of course now it remains to be seen, how the new law will be implemented.

EUdyssee: We have recently published an article about how the conflict concerning the NSA affair and Snowden is hardly noticed in Greece. Is that also representative of the general interest of the Greeks regarding transparency? Do you believe citizens make a connection between the issue of transparency and the state of the country?

AS: Of course, people are absolutely aware. But I think it is too often just thrown into one box, thinking: ‘The system is corrupt and does not work’ and that therefore it is not worthwhile to make a difference. Many simply choose to adapt and make the best of the situation. For me, this feeling of futility is the greatest danger of the crisis, to see no more reason to deal with politics. Especially now that greater political commitment is needed, people retreat. Of course this cannot be generalized. Not all bury their heads in the sand. Just as we observe it in other countries in Europe, including Germany.

EUdyssee: In what fields do you see grass-root democracy as a possible alternative? We just had the example of the privatization of water companies. Where can a more active participation contribute to becoming more democratic in general?

AS: The government platform Diavgeia, which, by the way, is not an idea of the Samaras administration, is very important. Citizens can publicly comment on legal texts and the website is highly frequented. In Greece, there is plenty of interest groups that give very competent feedback. But, what would be interesting now is to see, what eventually happens with these comments. There is no annual report from the government about this. A follow-up should be done to check, how has been dealt with the feedback. A group of people is currently working on a website where you can trace back, how feedback has been included in laws.

EUdyssee: How would you compare the grass-root democracy in Greece with the one in Germany?

AS: Germany is a little further, because there seem to be more possibilities for the citizen to get involved on a local level. In Bavaria, where I partly grew up, people hold plenty of citizens’ initiatives. This creates a good breeding ground for a healthy civil society and deliberative currents are encouraged. This way, also the media can re-assert themselves as the fourth branch of power. Of course, there is still a lot of room for improvement, for example, by implementing the right to a nationwide referendum. The referendum on a European level is also important, particularly in terms of further Europeanization.

EUdyssee: There is a legal basis to do so through the European Citizens’ Initiative. The problem is, though, that these initiatives are permanently rejected by Brussels.

AS: Yes, the European Citizens’ Initiatives are not binding. The way, the Anti-TTIP movement is being handled shows that you can do very little when it comes to influencing controversial laws, that possibilities for participation are extremely limited.

EUdyssee: To what extent does this democratic deficit have an effect on the general decrease of interest in Europe? We observe strong tendencies towards a re-nationalization all over the continent, also in Germany. Is this connected to the fact that governments oppose the grass-root democracy movements?

AS: Yes. Apart from that, the Parliaments were pretty much excluded in many occasions during the financial crisis, as well. There was a big complaint report on this. Governments pressured that everything must go quickly – which, of course, is partly true, because the system would have collapsed otherwise. Overall I think that the people still connect many stigmata with the system of grass-root democracy.

EUdyssee: What stigmata?

AS: For example that populist requests will find open gates, or that the population will reward itself with gifts. But experience shows that the opposite is the case. Grass-root democracy could even lead to a certain social peace. Furthermore, people would be willing to pay more taxes. In Greece, for example, where the state is opaque, the people have no idea where their money ends up and they generally have no opportunities for participation. Thus, citizens are less willing to pay taxes.

EUdyssee: You said earlier that grass-root democracy in Germany is more successful than in Greece, because it occurs on a local level. Isn’t it a problem then, that Greece is not a federal state?

AS: Absolutely. This is a topic that you have to take a closer look at. In fact, the local authorities have relatively little to say in comparison to a federal state like Germany.

EUdyssee: What do you miss in Greece, if you look at the whole situation since the crisis started, both in politics and concerning the people? Where do you see progress?

AS: A progress is that civil society is emerging stronger and people have stopped to wait for the government or someone else to help. People try to take control of the situation themselves. There are self-organized hospitals and soup kitchens. It is very encouraging to see that there still is this social cohesion.

EUdyssee: Although the Greeks are not aware of this in many cases.

AS: It always depends. There’s this part, but there are also many people who are well informed. Especially among young people, it has become a trend to get involved. The collapse of the Greek economy performance, which is comparable to what many countries have suffered in World War II, has not led to a complete collapse of social peace. This is a remarkable merit of the Greek people.

EUdyssee: In a time of uncertainty in Europe, prejudices are on the rise. Being half Greek and half German, what do you think the Greeks should know about the Germans and the Germans about the Greeks? What are common prejudices that could be cleared quickly, if we communicated better?

AS: Let me put it this way. What Europeans should know about the Greeks is, that Greece, in a sense, is a relatively young country with a very difficult history. It was only in 1821, that the Greeks have broken away from the Turks. Some parts of the country followed a 100 years later. Then there was the catastrophe of Asia Minor, when the country all of the sudden had to take in 3 million refugees. Later came the German occupation and the military dictatorship. Greece was occupied by the Ottomans for 400 years and thus largely isolated from Europe. There was no bourgeois class. The wealthy Greeks were abroad, in Alexandria, for example.

EUdyssee: Just like a lot of Greek capital is abroad now?

AS: In a way, yes, but the big oligarchs are still in the country. It also plays an important role that the country has not experienced a period of enlightenment or reformation, which explains why the Church has so much power…

EUdyssee: … and constantly gets involved in legislative processes.

AS: Exactly. Greece has a unique history. It is considered European and the culture of the entire Western world roots there. But between ancient Greece and today has passed a lot of time. The many different occupations, the Byzantine era, during which many Greeks considered themselves Romans, show that the country’s identity is still very young.

EUdyssee: In Germany we know very little about Greece. About ancient Greece, of course, but for example, there is little awareness of how devastating the occupation by the Nazis was. In the German discourse on National Socialism, also in education, the country is actually non-existent. The crisis now has brought a strong revival of the stereotype of the lazy Greek, claiming also that the country is already being helped with the loans. What prejudices exist in Germany that people should urgently get rid of?

AS: Many and especially the media benefit from them. You just have to realize that it is a country between east and west. Keep in mind that many people in Greece say things like: ‘He studied in Europe.’ Somewhat as it is in the UK.

EUdyssee: And vice versa? The Greek media are indeed quite selective, to put it carefully. What should the Greeks know about Germans, or about Europeans in general?

AS: Sometimes, the EU is too highly stigmatized. Of course, there is much room for improvement, but I think that Greece has greatly benefited from membership, especially when it comes to funding money. We have to realize that we are members of a club where we cannot simply complain, while drawing money at the same time. But at the moment, the main thing is to deal with internal problems. People have understood that Europe is not the reason for the crisis, but the domestic problems.

EUdyssee: And people can very well differ between the German on the road and German politics concerning Greece.

AS: Yes, exactly. One must not forget that many Greeks have gone to Germany as guest workers. This alone has always kept up a lively exchange. I think there is more room for improvement in terms of prejudices as to what the Germans think about the Greeks.

EUdyssee: Finally: What concerns you regarding the elections on Sunday and what opportunities can be gained?

AS: The great danger is that the country leaves the Euro. Then, of course, we have to deal with over-indebtedness, but this is not just a Greek problem. Many European countries have to face this challenge. We must not forget that Greece is a country, in which problems show very drastically. Therefore, the solutions that will have to be found in this case, are highly interesting to many others, too. Spain is one of these candidates, where Podemos as a new party receives great support and evens seeks absolute majority for the next elections.

EUdyssee: Thank you for the interview.

AS: Thank you.

Antonis Schwarz, born 1988, half German, half Greek, grew up between Munich and Athens. Studied European Studies in London, then Management in Madrid. 1 ½ years ago he founded vouliwatch.gr together with other democracy activists.

Antonis Schwarz, born 1988, half German, half Greek, grew up between Munich and Athens. Studied European Studies in London, then Management in Madrid. 1 ½ years ago he founded vouliwatch.gr together with other democracy activists.

Whistle-what? Debate on Snowden and NSA takes place without Greece



In Germany the revelations of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden caused a fundamental debate on spying, Intelligence Services and Internet privacy – all of this not least due to the United State’s tapping of Angela Merkel’s cell phone. It is most of all questions around democracy and civil rights in times of the World Wide Web that arise; questions that in Greece bear the potential to throw a different light on the crisis. But neither the highly controlled media, nor the people on the street show much interest for this matter.  

“Whistle-what??” , a friend of mine in his late twenties, university graduate, solid middle class, replies when I ask him about Edward Snowden. He is no rare case in Greece. Problems like Internet privacy, bugging scandals and extensive spying seem to pale in comparison to the desolate situation the country is facing. Many Greeks are beyond their limits. No savings, no perspectives to find a job, no health insurance and, until today, an administration that has failed to conduct structural reforms most of all in places, where it would really matter.

Corruption paralyzes the country

All that, however, is not only due to the immobility of the political officials, who, under the influence of a few rich families, appear more or less helpless, but also because corruption is a solid element of every day life. Favors against money, bribes as a cultural institution and a well-developed inclination to nepotism reign the country. While in Germany the United State’s unreasonable reaction towards Snowden’s revelations has led to a genuine breach of trust with the own government, people in Greece have been living for a long time with the certainty concerning the opaque activities of their elected officials.



Only a handful of people seem to have realized that a public confrontation with Snowden’s case could bear the potential to break with these habits; and it is usually people who are interested in such issues anyways: Internet specialists, bloggers, democracy activists. Most people though remain in crisis mode. Privacy is no luxury

Christina Sereti fights for more transparency and Internet security. © Sereti

Christina Sereti fights for more transparency and Internet security. © Sereti

I meet Christina Sereti, 45, founding member of the Greek Pirate Party and one of the first Internet activists around. For her, the little interest in Snowden’s case can also be traced back to a lack of skills: “In a way we are in a country of computer Illiterates. When you talk to older people they understand why rules, that apply to paper, have to be valid online as well, as soon as you compare the situation to postal secrecy in times of the military Junta in Greece. Younger people don’t have these experiences with dictatorship and the average Greek thinks: ‘Let them spy on me.’ People finally have to understand that Internet privacy is as important as privacy in real life.”

Eleanna protests against the fascist Golden Dawn in the Thessaloniki city council. ©eglimatikotita.gr

Eleanna protests against the fascist Golden Dawn in the Thessaloniki city council. ©eglimatikotita.gr

Eleanna Ioannidou is a lawyer, specialized on civil rights and one of the few Green Party members of Thessaloniki’s city council. “People in Greece are currently busy with other things and sometimes use that as an excuse to focus on their own lives. But this is how the system works. In this situation, Greeks invest too much time in everyday survival, sometimes without success. And this is why so many don’t want to face challenges on a community level.”

Leading media don’t care about civil rights

The media play an important part in all of this. The news focus the negative outcomes of the crisis and therefore favor the single-sided pessimistic mood among the people. Topics like war in Gaza, the conflict in Ukraine or Edward Snowden and the NSA are briefly mentioned, but get lost in a flood of information on the country’s current state that is high in quantity, but superficial in quality. Eleanna, former press spokeswoman of the Green Party in Greece offers a downright explanation for this: “The leading media in Greece are starkly controlled. Nothing that the Green Party has brought to public attention has been covered by the media.”

© ekathimerini.com

© ekathimerini.com

Greek people have every reason though, to worry about their privacy. In 2013 alone, more than 4000 phone lines were tapped. And also in other areas, the state does not show great concern for data protection. This became obvious just recently in Halkidiki in Northern Greece, where the police collects DNA samples from citizens, who demonstrate against the environmental destruction due the re-opening of a gold mine. TAIPED, a state owned enterprise designed to distribute state assets, sold the gold mine for a ridiculously low price to a Canadian company. Experts predict devastating outcomes for the region, in which Aristotle was born and for which tourism and agriculture are the most important sources of income.

© greekreporter.com

© greekreporter.com

After an incident, in which a handful of extremists dragged an employee out of his guardhouse, tied him up and set the house on fire, Athens attempts to declare the entire protest movement a terrorist organization. In this spirit, the local police has started to systematically collect DNA samples not only on the crime scene, but also in the surrounding villages. This way, protesters are supposed to be convicted as potential terrorists – a clear violation of civil rights.

No transparency without privacy

“The state of Greece does not trust its citizens. Pretty much everybody is treated like a criminal” , Christina explains. “Things like freedom and privacy have been very important in our past. We fought for them in the revolution. But now people are so focused on money that they have forgotten all about it.” Exactly this could turn out to be a partial cause for the critical situation of the country, since there is money around in Greece. But it is nearly impossible to find where the billions of Euros go, even for members of the parliament.

“There is an essential connection between transparency and privacy” , Christina points out. “Privacy is a fundamental civil right, while transparency has to do with the government. In Greece, the latter is close to zero. If we had more transparency, we could see where money has been wasted. We should be spying on the government and not the other was around.”

So, what is being underestimated in the debate on Snowden’s revelations is mainly one thing: The confrontation with the crisis could finally deal with the causes, not just the symptoms. Snowden’s case and the way how the US treat their ‘partners’ also offer a tremendous opportunity to initiate a trans-European dialogue on the basic values of the state alliance, values that up to now remain undefinded. Find the German translation under this link.

ApoDec Thessaloniki – Designing in the Spirit of Exchange

Tough times require drastic measures. The question: „What can I do“ has become the leading principle of a whole generation. Marianna and Tenia of Thessaloniki don’t even try to merely find an answer, but turn the question itself into a business concept. The creative scene of the city unites in their ApoDec project-room and shows: Overcoming old structures is a community task.


Tenia (left) and Marianna (right) in their ApoDec project room. ©eudyssee.eu

It’s hard to figure out what exactly it is you see, while entering the ApoDec-room on Thessaloniki’s Stratigou-Sfetsou-Thoma Street for the first time. Gallery? Project office? Seminar joint? Coworking-space? But this exactly is the appeal of an idea that brings something totally unknown to Greece’s second largest city. ApoDec combines various concepts and offers refuge for all those, who are looking for possibilities to develop their own ideas.

Diversity as a trademark

Marianna and Tenia are product designers. After studying in Thessaloniki and Barcelona they – like so many young Europeans in times of the crisis – asked themselves: “Whatever can we do?” Inspired by projects in other cities throughout the continent, the thought of creating a space, in which exactly this question works as the conceptual basis, grew steadily in their minds. „ApoDec is a multifunctional space. We host workshops, exhibitions or book presentations. We also work with a team that organizes open debates“ , Marianna explains. „It is a place for people who do very different things in their lives and this way we are trying to combine the arts and culture with our background as designers,“ Tenia describes the concept.


Tenia: „I am not only a designer or a business woman or an artist and I don’t think that this a bad thing.“ ©arteditre

It’s been more than a year and half that the project-room, which extends over two floors, offers an open environment for creative pioneers. Besides a 7-day-workshop on parametric architecture, various book and business presentations as well as exhibitions, they also hosted the first two events of the crowd-funding initiative Feast Thessaloniki (we reported), an anti-narrative performance and the shooting of a Punk-Rock video, for which Marianna and Tenia created the design. „We offer space to all projects that adequately reflect our idea. The most interesting part of this is to bring people together“ , Tenia characterizes the appeal of her work.

Cooperation reloaded

The spirit of working in teams has not also been as distinct in Greece as today during the crisis. Old hierarchies and strictly organized family businesses didn’t leave much freedom for innovative development. And many of the country’s most urgent problems still root on this ground: The intransparent and inflexible administration as well as the fact that Greek banks do not give loans to new types of ideas, cause tremendous obstacles for young entrepreneurs. „Laws are changing constantly and you definitely need an accountant to assist you during these procedures“ , Marianna tells from her experiences as a business founder. „But on the other hand, it is also important to see all the opportunities the town has to offer and find solutions for the many problems.“

„We find ourselves in a situation, in which many new things can be created. When I came back from Barcelona to Thessaloniki, I found a totally new city“ , Tenia remembers, pointing out the numerous developments that took place especially during the years of the crisis. And it is most of all young people that  are looking for new possibilities. „Unlike in the past, people today are not as reluctant when it comes to asking for support. There are many who come with ideas and ask questions like: ‚Can you help me?’ , ‚Can we do this together?’ or ‚Is this actually possible?’“ , Marianna explains. But it is not only the crisis that triggers this new spirit of collaboration. Experiences from living abroad and the cultural exchange connected to it are equally important.

Keep re-inventing yourself

In many branches it is not easy to concentrate on only one thing and achieve financial independence. Especially creative businesses require a vast know-how, impressions from other fields and areas of expertise that enhance the core competence and help to overcome barriers between categories like e.g. art and design. But it is especially this urge to constantly think outside the box that nourishes the appeal of these jobs. „When people ask me, what exactly I do, I don’t know what to answer“ , describes Tenia her situation. “I am not only a designer or a business woman or an artist and I don’t think that this a bad thing. Nowadays, you permanently have to alter your fields of activity and, nevertheless, you bear all your professional experiences within you and apply them.“


Marianna: „ We can have a coffee and think about, what we could achieve together.“©arteditre

Especially for this new form of multi-professionalism, ApoDec offers a suitable concept. The project space provides fertile ground for all, who are interested in evolving through exchange and, this way, encountering new formats. In times, when breaking with old structures seems more urgent than ever, this strategy appears to be the necessary approach. Over-rigid definitions are being questioned, ideas evolve in an open environment and thus, a new way of thinking thrives. But face-to-face-exchange is not the only outcome of the given circumstances. The way of dealing with the situation renders visible that a productive confrontation with the crisis is already happening. And: The beginning of all is communication. „We are here“ , Marianna says. „We can have a coffee and think about, what we could achieve together.“

Contact via Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/apodecdesign.

Read this article in German under this link.

FEAST THESSALONIKI – Planning the Future over Dinner

Feast Thessaloniki - Where creative business meets democracy. ©John Simitopoulos

Feast Thessaloniki – Where creative business meets democracy. ©John Simitopoulos

Shaping the world is not a one-man’s task. It takes many people and ideas to do so.
Also needed is exchange, mutual support and open ears. With Feast Thessaloniki, Niki and Argyro combine all these factors and serve them with food. In casual dinner events, people present project and business ideas, the audience votes and the winner goes home with money collected from the crowd.

The concept is simple: One month before each event, Feast Thessaloniki invites the open community to send in exposés. The best entrepreneurs are given the chance to pitch their ideas during an event that combines creative outreach with a social and leisurely dinner. Participants pay 10 Euros to get in. Sponsors provide food and beverages. People eat, talk, listen to ideas, give feedback and engage in exchange. Then they vote, democratically and secretly, and the winning idea is being funded with the amount of money made with the entrance fee. In order to guarantee transparency, the elected winner has to attend the next event and explain how the money was spent.

Argyro at 'ApoDEC' project room in Thessealoniki. ©EUdyssee.eu

Argyro at ‘ApoDec‘ project room in Thessaloniki.

Inspiration – Exchange – Action

“Feast started last September, on my balcony, where Niki and I had drinks” , Argyro remembers. “I had just gotten back from Berlin where I saw this exhibition on culture and urban space and how cultural institutions change the image of the city.” It was there where she learned about the American project Detroit Soup. Both of them liked the idea so much that they decided to bring it to Greece. And it worked. Two successful events already took place and in September the project will start it’s second phase. “We will develop our further strategy based upon a thorough analysis of the first events. And we will put this on paper and be very clear about how we will continue” , Niki explains.

part of the creative boom in Thessaloniki  ©EUdyssee.eu

Niki takes part in the creative boom in Thessaloniki.

The Feast-events combine the concept of the so-called online-crowdfunding, where start-ups and projects are presented on an Internet platform and can be financially supported by the community, with the idea of networking. “The major aim of our concept is the funding” , Niki says. “But networking certainly is number two on the list, cause even though only one person can win the pitch, the participants engage in communication with others from the creative scene and things might develop from there.” Without any doubt, the merging of work force within the creative business community, where people usually operate by themselves, is fundamental. If factors like project management, finance, and adequate marketing are underestimated, even the most exceptional idea might fail. But if a good business concept meets professional PR, the chance that both contributors will eventually benefit from the collaboration, increases drastically.

The creative boom of the crisis

Apart from brain drain, unemployment, and the absurdities of political misjudgment, the difficult situation (not only) in Greece has also led to a new way of thinking. “In difficult times you have to be creative” , Niki explains, while Argyro underlines that also the view on production costs has altered: “You don’t think about hundreds of thousands of Euros. You focus on more basic things, things that happen in underground spaces and in your immediate environment. I see that concerts, events, and exhibitions nowadays are getting better and better. I believe the trend is local and live, to be among your community and experience something together, under one umbrella of ideas.”

Argyro, who worked in cultural management and Niki, who holds a Master of arts in European Urban Culture, seem to have introduced a concept to Greece that fills a huge gap. FEAST Thessaloniki has been invited to Athens, Katerini, Veria and Crete, clearly showing that many Greeks are focusing on the future; a future in the country. People are more educated than ever, have travelled, studied abroad and bring home ideas that inspire individual ways out of economic chaos and financial dependence. Simultaneously, concepts like FEAST Thessaloniki provide an environment, in which these ideas can thrive and –most of all – find the support they require.

Funding and networking. The Feasts work on many levels. ©John Simitopoulos

Funding and networking. The Feasts work on many levels. ©John Simitopoulos

But, most of all, Niki and Argyro give business makers a new perspective, and not only from a financial standpoint. Their concept combines creativity, responsible economy, regional demands and democratic values. Yet, the European Union and the State of Greece still seem to wait for billions of Euros of investment money from global companies. And while they wait, they fail to facilitate administration or provide support for those, who are willing and capable of starting small, but viable businesses. FEAST Thessaloniki does not attempt to re-invent the wheel. Niki and Argyro just keep their eyes open, listen, pay attention to what already exists and bring together people – a simple strategy with the potential to solve many of those problems that our elected officials just do not seem to get through to.

This article is available in German on www.eudyssee.net.
Feast Thessaloniki’s website hides under this link.
Find the official website of Detroit Soup right here.
This is where you find the great ApoDec project room in Thessaloniki on Facebook.