Posts Tagged 'harry van versendaal'

Social media: Taming the dark side

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By Harry van Versendaal

About a quarter of the global population is now on Facebook, yet only a small fraction seem aware of the world-shattering implications of this reality. Facebook and other social media such as Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat have irreversibly transformed the landscape of human interaction to an extent that was unthinkable only a few years ago.

They have changed the way we do things.

It’s not all good. In a new book called “Look At Me!” (Iolkos, in Greek), Athens-based journalist and new media analyst Manolis Andriotakis discusses the pitfalls of our increasingly wired world: distraction, obsession, fabrication, ruthless self-promotion, addiction to the dopamine rush, dwindling attention spans (the average time spent on any web page is now down to eight seconds, so chances are that few people will read beyond this point).

Andriotakis, a tech-optimist author of a 2008 book on blogging and director of a short documentary on Twitter released in 2012, couples his warnings with pragmatic advice on how to tame the dark side of social networking and put these new tools into meaningful service.

He spoke to Kathimerini English Edition about the challenges of virtual living, the lessons of the recent US election, his regular digital detoxes and about how posting too many cat pictures can be bad for your career.

In a recent article for The New York Times, computer science professor and writer Cal Newport said that the ability to concentrate without distraction on hard tasks is becoming increasingly valuable in an increasingly complicated economy. Social media, he argued, weaken this skill because they are engineered to be addictive. Have we perhaps overestimated the role of social media in building a career?

Social media are indeed engineered to distract your attention. You need the tools, the critical ability and the skills to regulate their use so that you do not end up hostage to them. This book is about taking control. Engaging in social media is not some form of meditation; it’s not some daily habit to which you can let yourself go completely. If you allow that to happen, you can be completely sucked in. It happens to me too. Whenever I let my defenses down, I lapse into obsessive use that is very hard to escape.

Career-wise it can be a useful tool to promote your work, to enrich and distinguish your professional identity. But, again, it’s easy to lose focus and indulge in shallow self-promotion.

Is it not elitist to place an arbitrary sense of purpose on people and social media? One person may like posting cat pictures while someone else may enjoy looking at them. Is it imperative that they have a strategy?

Sure. But Newport is talking about career-building. And if you are being screened for a job, having too many cat pictures on your wall could prove bad for your career. You need to build up your defenses, yet the average user doesn’t do that. My point is: Take a step back and think. It’s the case with every new technology. You can hurt other people. You can also hurt yourself.

Are social media nurturing a new type of man? A narcissistic, distracted and hypersexual man at that? Or is this a case of old symptoms manifesting themselves through a new, potent vehicle?

Social media are certainly a new vehicle, but they can also cultivate new symptoms. We are dealing with a new technology that accelerates, empowers and stimulates. It presents us with a challenge. And the manner in which we – as individuals and as a collective – choose to deal with this challenge will determine whether social media will drag us down or help us evolve.

Why do people feel an irresistible urge to share their lives online?

There is something both sick and healthy in the need to share. The healthy part is rooted in the act of sharing, in the need to feel that you are a member of a larger community, and you want to reach out to people. People can, for example, share a health problem because it could help others prevent it.

But there is also a dark side which usually comes in the form of narcissism, self-promotion, or the urge to manipulate other people. I couldn’t say on which side the scale is weighted or whether you can always tell between good and bad.

It seems that “likes” have become a new social currency. How problematic is that?

Likes are the result of a complex psychological mechanism. The shallow, first level is certainly dominant – particularly on Instagram. However, although the volume of likes is not always a safe indicator of actual value, this is by no means exclusive to the realm of social networks. In any case, social media give you the opportunity to make sophisticated content more accessible.

Are people’s online identities the same as their regular identities?

No, you are not the same person. You construct a persona. It may even be a better version of yourself, a sexier, a sharper, more interesting self. Ultimately, the way you communicate your message, the attitude, often says more about you than the message.

Does it concern you that online interaction often eclipses face-to-face interaction?

You might as well be a hypocrite out there in the real world and an honest person in the virtual one. If you wish to construct a lie, you can do so in either world.

Facebook is accused of winning Donald Trump the US presidency by propagating fake news and helping generate the bulk of his campaign’s 250 million dollars in online fundraising. The tech-optimism of liberal pundits seems dead in the water. Are social media value-free?

Well, social media did not help democratize China, where you still rely on VPNs [internet connections that bypass the country’s firewalls and online censorship] to get round its “Great Firewall.” In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly blocked access to Facebook and Twitter. Authoritarian governments can shut down the internet or build bot armies. In fact, it looks like the bad guys can make a more effective use of social media. Trump played dirty and he won. The lesson of his campaign was that playing dirty can be very effective. It’s as if the right to play dirty has been democratized. The question is, how can you outplay these guys? It’s a machine of war.

You like to take a break from the internet about once a year. What do you gain from staying unplugged?

My digital detox, as it were, helps me protect my mental health and my relationships. It helps me refocus. The internet feeds addiction, grandiosity, narcissism. You cannot wipe these out. They exist in all of us, and they exist in me too. The break allows me to reboot and clear my head.

In your book, you raise the issue of the need for digital education. You are basically recommending a way of doing things on the internet. That could raise eyebrows among those who cherish the disorderly nature of the online world.

I am not suggesting here that everyone should conform to a common purpose. I too celebrate the fluid nature of the internet. I would hate to be in a world full of predictable people or people who were serious all the time.

What I have in mind, rather, is a more holistic approach. You need to understand that most of what you do online is build connections with other people. You are not just talking to yourself. What you say can have an impact on other people, it can hurt other people, or it can backfire. Your words are not balloons floating up into the sky.

It would be better not to sleepwalk into the internet. But this is unfortunately how most people immerse themselves in social networks. Inevitably, they fail to see both the risks as well as the opportunities.

You can find out more about Manolis Andriotakis’s at www.andriotakis.com.

A design for life

Athens Walkthrough-01

By Harry van Versendaal

She grew up in the foothills of Mt Parnitha and went on to study in the well-ordered, if somewhat predictable Netherlands. Now back in Greece, in her late 20s, graphic designer Natassa Pappa has found a way to import some of that order into the grit and chaos of downtown Athens.

Her project “Into Stoas” maps the largely neglected and overlooked commercial arcades in the center of the capital. For about two years, Pappa researched and photographed dozens of these covered walkways (usually referred to in Greek as “stoas” or “stoae”) – an undertaking that ultimately resulted in an interactive, and purposefully minimalist, guide with a fold-out map and a rather ambitious goal: “I wanted to come up with a fresh narrative for the city,” she says.

“Into Stoas” is an interdisciplinary project that borrows from graphic design, architecture, town planning and the urban experience. “Moving between those boundaries means that I may sometimes make, let’s say, arbitrary decisions: The map, for example, may not sit well with an architect,” she says. “As a designer, however, my goal is to create a product for the average person and offer a fresh experience.”

Pappa, whose postgraduate work at St. Joost school of fine art and design in Breda drew from the Situationist International concept of psychogeography in exploring more playful ways of drifting around urban environments, would love to see people use her guide as a tool to navigate Athens’s interior passages on their own.

“The city is a terrain to be explored. I only give away where stoas lie. This is about losing yourself in the city, moving about in a spontaneous fashion,” says Pappa, who is disdainful of the more mainstream understanding of tourism.

“Tourism is usually understood as a routine that you wish to follow. You travel to Paris and you visit the Eiffel Tower. Your photograph of the monument is your trophy from a faraway destination,” she says.

For those who prefer someone else to lead the way, Pappa also organizes walks, for English speakers as well as Greeks. If you decide to join one of her “Athens Walkthrough” sessions you will be taken around 11 stoas, from the refurbished Western-style atrium-covered Stoa Arsakeiou, which serves as a thoroughfare for foot traffic between Panepistimiou and Stadiou streets, to the surreal (make sure you climb the staircase to the rooftop to catch a rather dystopian spectacle) Stoa Anatolis (meaning Stoa of the East, which was allegedly inspired by a design seen by the architect in Alexandria, Egypt), off Aristeidou Street, once a hub for printing presses.

During the walk you will get a chance to chat with neighborhood businesspeople and taste some local delicacies. Don’t expect to get too much in terms of urban history or architectural analysis. The experience is rather driven by interesting anecdotes and the beauty of unexpected encounters.

Back to the future

The bulk of Athens’s arcades were built in the interwar and postwar periods – a utilitarian concept aimed at maximizing buildings’ commercial use as they grew in size to occupy entire blocks. Built along the lines of the Western European archetype, they were a prologue to the commercial centers that mushroomed in Athenian suburbia in the 1980s and 90s, and to their latest – and more commercially successful – reincarnation: shopping malls.

Unable to catch up with the economic change, these early arcades began to decline after 1970. More than 40 arcades of about 65,000 square meter surface can be found within the contours of Athens’s commercial center delineated by Panepistimiou Avenue, Ermou St and Athinas St.

According to recent data, the average occupancy rate of non-renovated arcades is about 54 percent but it rises to 83 percent for their renovated counterparts such as Stoa Spyromiliou – City Link or Stoa Korai. In some arcades the occupancy rate has dropped as low as 10 percent.

The aesthetic implications of Greece’s brutal financial crisis have somewhat paradoxically been coupled with a rise in urban activism and rekindled interest in the city. Pappa does not treat the arcades as an architectural legacy to be mourned or admired in doses of Instagram-filtered nostalgia. Rather, what she sees in that particular building type is a model to build on.

“We should make use of the arcades’ unique character: shopowners are here in close proximity; it is inevitable that they will exchange ideas and get feedback,” says Pappa, who has seen a similar pro-synergy micro-environment at play at her downtown Athens workspace at Romantso, a former printing house-turned-incubator designed to help get arty individuals and start-ups off the ground.

In an initiative last year, two local architects teamed up with the City of Athens in a bid to bring business back to the Stoa ton Emboron, or Merchants’ Arcade, which links Voulis and Lekka streets just off Syntagma Square. Creative people of every stripe were invited to put the unleased properties to use as production facilities and laboratories to explore new ideas and promote their work.

Pappa, who ran a workshop at the venue, says initiatives like this make her optimistic about the city’s future. Plagued for decades by the indifference and contempt of a population that arrived en masse from the rest of the country, Athens, she believes, stands a much better chance in the hands of the newer generation of creative individuals that were born and raised here.

“Athens is worn down and dysfunctional. But we can definitely solve many of its problems,” she says.

Pappa, for one, is doing her share.


For bookings and more information visit facebook.com/intostoas, call 6972.937.037 or send an e-mail to intostoas@gmail.com.

The dubious politics of Fortress Europe

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By Harry van Versendaal

An estimated 800 people died on Sunday when a boat packed with migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe capsized near Libya. The disaster came a week after two other shipwrecks left some 450 people dead. Little will change as long as European politicians insist on blocking all existing legal ways of setting foot on the continent, claims a new book on the subject of the European Union’s immigration policy.

In “Border Merchants: Europe’s New Architecture of Surveillance” (published by Potamos), Apostolis Fotiadis, an Athens-based freelance investigative journalist, seeks to document a paradigm shift in Europe’s immigration policy away from search and rescue operations to all-out deterrence. The switch, the 36-year-old author argues, plays into the hands of the continent’s defense industry and is being facilitated by the not-so-transparent Brussels officialdom.

“Their solution to the immigration problem is that of constant management because this increases their ability to exploit it as a market. The defense industry would much rather see the protracted management of the problem than a final solution,” Fotiadis said in a recent interview with Kathimerini English Edition.

“Without a crisis there would be no need for emergency measures, no need for states to upgrade their surveillance and security systems,” he said.

Fotiadis claims the trend is facilitated by the revolving door between defense industry executives and the Brussels institutions, which means that conflict of interests is built right into EU policy.

“There is a certain habitat in which many people represent the institutions and at the same time express a philosophy about the common good,” he said.

The book documents the growing interest of Frontex, the EU’s external border agency, in purchasing drones to enhance its surveillance capabilities in the context of its unfolding Eurosur project. Eurosur, a surveillance and data-sharing system that first went into effect in late 2013, relies on satellite imagery and drones to detect migrant vessels at sea.

The author goes back to October 2011 to tell the story of how the Warsaw-based organization hosted and financed a show for companies dealing in aerial surveillance systems in Aktio, northwest Greece. That was, Fotiadis claims, where Greek officials for the first time pondered the idea of acquiring drone technology. Greece is expected to sign a deal later this year.

The European Commission has defended the agency’s moves, saying that it is within the legal obligations of Frontex to participate in the development of research relevant for the control and surveillance of the bloc’s external borders.

“What they are doing is not necessarily illegal. However, an entire network of institutions has been held hostage as they have installed a non-transparent mantle behind which they promote their own interests,” he said.

No magic recipe

Fotiadis researched the subject for three years. Access to information was not always easy, he says, as much of what is at stake is decided behind closed doors. Despite the interesting insights, Fotiadis’s gripping book does not offer possible ways out of Europe’s problem. The author holds that efforts to come up with foolproof solutions are in vain. There simply aren’t any.

“There is no specific reason why migration occurs. Hence, there is no magic recipe. It is a constant problem which requires constant adjustment. The point is to have a genuine debate on it – which you don’t have – so that you can carry out the right adjustments,” he said.

More than 1,750 migrants have perished in the Mediterranean since the start of 2015 as people try to escape violence in Syria, Iraq and Libya. The Italian-run Mare Nostrum, a 9-million-euro-per-month mission launched in the aftermath of the 2013 Lampedusa drownings was ditched because it was deemed costly and politically unpopular. It has been succeeded by a much more limited EU-led mission called Triton.

Although there are no magic solutions, the Europeans could nevertheless shoulder some of the blame for the trouble, Fotiadis says. “The EU’s foreign policy is a push factor. The nature of many of the ongoing crises has in part been influenced by decisions of European states,” he said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy led calls to intervene in Libya in 2011, an idea that found backing among other European leaders, including British Prime Minister David Cameron.

“By no means wishing to defend authoritarian regimes, the current situation is not necessarily better than the previous one,” Fotiadis said, adding that Europeans made similar mistakes on Syria as they continued to arm and fund the rebels even after the situation there had spun out of control.

“Europe likes to present itself as part of the solution while it’s actually part of the problem,” he said.

Significant in the overall process, Fotiadis argues, is the willingness of the EU to gradually externalize its immigration controls, setting up screening centers in the countries of origin – a process which he saw at work in the wake of Sunday’s tragedy.

A 10-point action plan put forward by the European Commission and backed by EU foreign and interior ministers at a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday foresees the deployment of immigration liaison officers abroad to gather intelligence on migration flows and strengthen the role of EU delegations. The plan was set to be discussed at an emergency EU summit in Brussels late Thursday. However, according to a report in the Guardian, EU leaders were due to only allow 5,000 refugees to resettle in Europe, with the remainder set to be repatriated as irregular migrants.

‘Sinister bulwark’

The book focuses on Greece which, being part of the EU’s external frontier, has become a major gateway for undocumented migrants and asylum seekers from Africa and the Middle East. More than 10,000 people arrived illegally in the first quarter of 2015, while the number is expected to reach 100,000 by the end of the year. Greece’s handling has been mostly awkward but Fotiadis is equally keen to point a finger at the hypocrisy amid the nation’s European partners.

“They want Greece to do the dirty work and, at the same time, criticize it for any human rights’ violations. They know very well what goes on here, but they keep sending funds to keep this sinister bulwark in place,” he said.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) and other groups have in the past accused Frontex of turning a blind eye to the torture, beating and systematic degradation of undocumented migrants.

Does debt-hit Greece have what it takes to deal with the problem? For one thing, Fotiadis argues, the country has never seen a proper debate on the issue of immigration while news coverage has been largely hijacked by populist and scaremongering media.

“The topic has been communicated in a hysterical, vulgar manner. When the discourse is that of ‘hordes of invading immigrants,’ there is inevitably very little room for a reasonable reaction,” he said. “Throw them in the sea or else they will eat us alive,” said the headline of an ultra-conservative tabloid published ahead of the interview.

Otherwise, Fotiadis believes, there is no reason Greece should not be able to set up some basic infrastructure to deal with the influx. He says that the number of immigrants and refugees received by the EU is in fact small compared to the more than 1.5 million refugees who have found shelter in Turkey due to civil war in Syria. Jordan is estimated to be home to over 1 million Syrian refugees, while one in every four people in Lebanon is a refugee. Meanwhile, the EU, one of the wealthiest regions of the world, with a combined population of over 500 million, last year took in less than 280,000 people.

“All that hysteria is a knee-jerk overreaction to an illusory version of reality,” he said.

As the death toll of people trying to reach Greece rises, Fotiadis was happy to see leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras call for greater European solidarity to deal with the problem and plead for “diplomatic initiatives” to help resolve the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Libya.

He also defends the leftist-led government’s controversial decision to shut down migrant detention facilities across the country, saying that its conservative predecessors had abused the legal detention limits. However, he argues the government should have been better prepared to deal with the consequences of that decision.

“As with many other issues, they were well-intended but ill-prepared,” he said.

Communist structures risk fate of Ozymandias

By Harry van Versendaal

“Searching for information on something that happened in Bulgaria 30 years ago is much like being an archaeologist collecting evidence on an event that occurred many centuries ago.”

Sofia-born artist Nikola Mihov has been documenting the fate of communist-era public monuments scattered around his homeland for the last few years, amassing a growing body of images and text.

Political controversy surrounding Bulgaria’s communist years, as well as pure negligence, have ensured this is not a straightforward task.

“Many of the archives were destroyed on purpose because they were related to communism. Others were lost because the people behind them were simply not around anymore,” Mihov says.

A select few of these images can presently be seen at the Museum of Photography in Thessaloniki, part of an exhibition labeled “Recorded Memories: Europe. Southeast.”

Mihov, who currently splits his time between Sofia and Paris, was 7 years old when communism, under strongman Todor Zhivkov, came to an end. He experienced the early transitional years as a schoolboy before his mother’s job as a diplomat took the family to France. After spending five years in Western Europe, Mihov found he had to move back in 2006. His French was not good enough to gain him a place in the French university system, something which would also have bagged him a visa. “After I came back, I had this feeling of a huge gap. So I began researching,” he says.

Filling the gap

Influenced by the communist-style imagery of his childhood years, Mihov went on to capture black-and-white, mainly frontal views of these monuments. The pictures of the abandoned, derelict and vandalized anti-utopia structures resonate with the ostentatious statements of socialist realism; the grandeur of the concrete masses and statues is still there, but Mihov manages to show how they have sunken into reality.

Interest in them first came from outside Bulgaria. In the fall of 2009, a French magazine did a story on the photos and, a few months later, Mihov was selected for London’s Photomonth festival. “Bulgarians are like that. Once your name is heard abroad, then there is suddenly interest at home,” he says.

Another exhibition followed in Sofia. Mihov began to meet more and more people who were related to these monuments in one way or another. “I spent five years studying archives, meeting with architects, sculptors and construction workers who were still alive. One person would lead me to the next,” he says.

Inevitably, he also visited the House of the Bulgarian Communist Party. Located on Buzludzha, a peak in the Central Balkan Mountains, it is Bulgaria’s biggest monument and looks like a concrete Starship Enterprise. The memorial, which took seven years to build, opened in 1981. No longer maintained, it has fallen prey to vandals and time. A huge piece of graffiti painted above the main entrance reads “Forget your past.” “It was the perfect name for the project,” Mihov says.

“I do not believe that we should forget the past, and that is why I did this project,” he says. “However, I feel awkward when journalists ask me if I feel nostalgia. You cannot feel nostalgic about something you did not really experience. The new generation is not nostalgic. The problem is that there is not enough information.”

Recorded memories

The exhibition “Recorded Memories: Europe. Southeast” features works by 22 artists from 11 countries. The works, which include photographs and video footage, explore different aspects of collective memory in the region, such as landmarks, places and cultures of memory as well as the role of the image in each process.

The show, a collaboration between the Goethe Institute and the Museum of Photography in Braunschweig, Lower Saxony, has been curated by Constanze Wicke. It will remain in Thessaloniki through May 18.

Bulgaria’s communist regime came to an end in 1989. Elections held in the summer of the following year were won by the Bulgarian Socialist Party – basically the rebranded communists. Bulgaria, a close ally of Moscow in communist times, is now a member of NATO and the European Union. A recent Eurostat survey found Bulgaria is by far the most unhappy country in the bloc.

“There is all this opposition between the people who love the country’s [communist] past and those who hate it. But there are also those who just don’t know enough about it. I am part of that group, and I am trying to delve deeper and deeper,” Mihov says.

“It is not safe to generalize about the whole period – a long 45 years – and, similarly, it is not safe to generalize about the monuments. Some are ugly, some are impressive, some are unbelievable. But they are all here, and they are part of our history.”

Museum of Photography, 1st Floor, Warehouse A, Dock A, Thessaloniki Port; Army Warehouses, Dock A, Thessaloniki Port. Opening hours are Tuesdays-Sundays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information, log on to http://www.thmphoto.gr.

Victimhood culture spawns Greek anti-Semitism, study finds

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By Harry van Versendaal

A large number of Greeks have limited awareness of the Holocaust or even hold anti-Semitic views, according to a new survey which traces the roots of attitudes to a strong sense of victimization among the public.

The same study found that prejudice or hatred against the Jews cuts across the country’s left-right political spectrum, which is similarly attributed to the fact that victimhood, the idea that Greeks have suffered without full responsibility for their misfortune, is a universal trait of the country’s political culture.

The survey, which was presented Thursday at the British Ambassador’s Residence in Athens under the title “Perceptions about the Holocaust and Anti-Semitism in Greece,” was carried out by researchers at the University of Macedonia, Oxford University and the International Hellenic University with the support of the embassies of the United Kingdom, Canada and Romania.

Asked what the word “Holocaust” brought to mind and presented with a choice of Auschwitz, Distomo, Zalongo/Arkadi and “None of the above,” less than half of respondents opted for Auschwitz. An almost equal percentage chose either the 1944 Nazi massacre at Distomo or the mass suicide of Souli women at Zalongo in 1803 and the 1866 Ottoman raid at Arkadi. All alternatives to Auschwitz are related to Greek history. Almost 15 percent of respondents found no association between the Holocaust and any of the available options.

Less than 33 percent of respondents selected the correct answer when asked about the number of Jews estimated to have perished during World War II – 6 million. The Greeks ranked lower than their European peers, with the exception of Germany. Almost 50 percent of French and 55 percent of Swiss came up with the correct answer in similar surveys.

“Interestingly, underestimations are a lot more frequent than overestimations among those who pick an incorrect figure,” the study said.

Whereas more than 90 percent of respondents said that subjects such as the 1922 Asia Minor disaster, the 1946-49 Greek Civil War, and the Pontic genocide should be taught at school, less than 60 percent said that Holocaust teaching should be included in the curriculum.

“The Holocaust… is perceived as something that does not belong to Greek history and thus its teaching becomes less pivotal in public education,” experts said.

The research was carried out between January 10 and 14, when 1,043 Greek adults were surveyed on their perceptions of the Holocaust. Its publication comes on the back of an earlier report conducted by the same team of researchers last summer that indicated high levels of anti-Semitism among the Greek public.

Competitive victimhood

Experts sought to play down partisan and ideological affiliations as a significant factor in influencing attitudes and perceptions about the Holocaust.

“Ideology is not a safe guide to explain the phenomenon,” Elias Dinas, a political expert at Oxford, which contributed to the survey, told a press conference, singling out supporters of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party and the nationalist, populist Independent Greeks, now junior coalition partners.

Findings instead indicated competitive victimhood as a catalyst in fueling anti-Semitic attitudes.

“Victimization engenders an ethnocentric view of global history, thus generating biased perceptions about the magnitude of suffering incurred by other groups,” the report said, suggesting that Greeks felt less willing to acknowledge themselves as victim to other communities.

It mentioned that high levels of victimization tend to generate indirect competition with established ethnolinguistic or religious groups that have been widely recognized as victims.

“It is outrageous. It shows a lack of moderation. It’s like saying, ‘I can’t be part of another person’s drama, because I have my own drama,’” Dinas said.

Asked how it was possible that Greeks were in a position to see themselves as a unique community and, at the same time, victims of outside interference, Dinas said that national self-understanding is not necessarily a rational one.

“‘We are unique,’ the argument goes, ‘and this is why we are in everyone’s cross hairs,’” he said.

More than 60,000 Greek Jews died in Nazi death camps or were killed during the Nazi occupation of Greece. The Jewish community in Greece currently numbers about 5,500 people.

In comments made to the newspaper, Giorgos Antoniou, a historian at the International Hellenic University, said that misguided perceptions about the Holocaust were not just a result of poor schooling in Greece.

“What really concerns us is the fact that whereas education is used for the socialization of other painful chapters of Greek history, the Holocaust is not really treated as an issue of national concern,” he said.

_________________________

“Perception of the Holocaust and of Anti-Semitism in Greece.” Research conducted by Nikos Marantzidis (University of Macedonia), Elias Dinas (Oxford University), Spyros Kosmidis (Oxford University), Leon Saltiel (University of Macedonia), and Giorgos Antoniou (International Hellenic University), with the support of the embassies of the United Kingdom, Canada and Romania.

The archaeology of the present

By Harry van Versendaal

When digging up the past, you may unearth some ugly truths about the present.

Georgia Karamitrou-Mendesidi, the central character in Kimon Tsakiris’s latest gem “The Archaeologist,” which comes out in theaters on March 19, is doomed to learn this the hard way, as her efforts to rescue ancient artifacts before they end up at the bottom of an artificial lake in Greece’s northwestern Macedonia region get caught up in an uncomfortably familiar web of dysfunction, corruption and red tape.

“I did not want to make your standard archaeological documentary. Here is an individual, a strong character, who has set out a goal, and she tries to achieve this goal as several parallel stories unfold,” Tsakiris said during an interview with Kathimerini English Edition ahead of the film’s debut at the ongoing Thessaloniki Documentary Festival.

Sporting an Indiana Jones hat and white fingerless gloves Karamitrou carries no whip but is single-minded in her devotion to the riverside excavations of ancient Aiani. She confronts local villagers, meets with politicians and spends hours on the phone and at the 110-acre dig near the hamlet of Elati to salvage and record what she can before the waters rise and cover the ancient stones for good.

Legally, construction of any kind takes a backseat when archaeological finds are involved. But the Public Power Corporation’s massive hydroelectric dam construction, powered by political and bureaucratic obstacles, relentlessly chugs on as Karamitrou and her team are given a mere two months before the area is irreversibly flooded.

A Greek microcosm

Coming nearly a decade after the 40-year-old filmmaker’s darkly humorous “Sugartown: The Bridegrooms,” the documentary contains the subtle irony, careful dissection, and cathartic moments that have become a trademark of Tsakiris’s work. “The Archaeologist” inevitably ends up serving as a metaphor for contemporary Greece.

“You see how the institutions and our society works. From the small favor you’ll ask of your mayor all the way to the top of the pyramid, cronyism cuts across all levels. With a character that struggles to function in all of this while trying to make a difference, this is how her clash with reality manifests itself. It’s like a Greek microcosm,” said Tsakiris, who worked on the film for two years until wrapping up shooting in January 2014.

The anti-hero of “The Archaeologist” is Greece itself: a bankrupt country where structure and institutions have mostly broken down, and individuals often have to take things into their own hands to make things work.

Karamitrou, who has been digging in Aiani since the early 1980s and was instrumental in the building of the local museum, has given up a life in academia with her husband and kids to stay in the area and fight for what she believes in.

“When you hear this talk about collective responsibility, it means no one is responsible,” the archaeologist says in her steady voice behind the wheel of her blue Toyota, echoing a familiar mantra in Tsakiris’s work.

“Karamitrou, from her position, decided to take the responsibility. Imagine if we all did that, each from their own position. This is what counts,” the director said.

Change

But as admiring as Tsakiris may be of Karamitrou’s drive and commitment, he is not idealistic about it.

“Sure, the whole lone cowboy thing is important because often pioneers with a vision have showed the way and then others followed. But I don’t think this is the solution. The point is not to have 100, 150 or 500 individuals who go and put themselves out on a limb and either achieve something small or fail to do so. This is only a paradigm, I hope, until new institutions come into place and things work better, and things are not so quixotic anymore,” Tsakiris said.

“There is no reason why things should be that hard. Why should it be so hard to simply do your job? Karamitrou is an example of what anyone trying to achieve a goal will encounter in this country. It could be a nurse or a journalist trying to do a job and who is hampered by the ill mentality of society,” he said.

As a filmmaker working in Greece, Tsakiris knows one or two things about the obstacles that aspiring professionals face.

After public Greek broadcaster ERT was abruptly shut down by the previous conservative-led administration in the summer of 2013, he was among the many local directors who saw European funding for their productions go up in smoke. His previous film, “Mitsigan – Hardships and Beauties,” the profile of a quirky vegetable farmer in the Peloponnese, was eventually completed after he was able to find alternative sources of funding. “The Archaeologist” was produced by Faliro House.

There is no last-minute rescue for the excavations at Aiani. As the river’s banks crumble, swallowing up both trees and neolithic stones in beautiful underwater cinematography accompanied by Thanasis Papakonstantinou’s baritone lament, the feeling is one of utter desolation.

In a final insult, our lone cowgirl becomes one of the thousands of Greek civil servants to get pushed into early retirement or a labor reserve scheme on heavily docked wages, in line with foreign creditors’ demands.

Ghost ex machina exposes Europe’s wretched migrants

By Harry van Versendaal

Morgan Knibbe did not set out to make an objective documentary about one of the biggest problems facing Europe today: the plight of migrants and refugees on the continent.

“My ambition was to try to understand how these people feel. I wanted to submerge myself in their world and to share this experience with other people. I felt that I was able to achieve this by creating a highly subjective audiovisual form,” the 26-year-old filmmaker from the Netherlands says about his first feature film, “Those Who Feel the Fire Burning,” which will screen at the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival.

“Filmmaking is the art of manipulation… Pulling people out of their comfort zone makes them look at existing values in a different way.”

The opening of the film, which made waves at Amsterdam’s prestigious IDFA film festival, where it debuted, is faithful to this credo. A boat carrying immigrant families is seen adrift on rough seas in the black of night. A father tries to calm his anxious daughter as the vessel is tossed about by the waves. A man falls into the water and starts to go down. And then, black.

This re-enactment of a Lampedusa-style boat tragedy, the only staged part of the film, is enough to raise eyebrows among purist documentary filmmakers. However, it is also instrumental in allowing Knibbe to introduce his ghost ex machina, as it were. Stuck in purgatory, a ghost steers viewers through the largely invisible lives of undocumented migrants.

“We wanted to create the perspective of a ghost flying through a dark place between heaven and hell. A metaphor,” he says of his cinematic device which is reminiscent of Wim Wenders’s fiction classic “Wings of Desire.”

It’s a highly immersive feel, achieved through the extensive use of a Steadicam system and drone cameras – combined with some creative editing. Adding to the whole experience is the gripping, if sometimes overly lyrical, voice-over.

Thousands of mainly African and Asian immigrants try to reach Europe’s borders every year. Knibbe has chosen to offer zero figures and statistics. When it comes to engaging people, he says, posting cold facts and numbers does little to help the cause.

“That is what most media do and I think it doesn’t touch people. We also left out specifics about location so that no one could point a finger to a specific country. This is a European problem, in fact a global problem,” he says.

As the ghost floats around the grim cityscape, we get to glimpse at snippets from the lives of migrant families crammed into run-down apartments, men praying in underground makeshift mosques, scrap metal collectors roaming the streets, a drug addict mother taking her heroin shot. The setting remains unidentified, but uncomfortably familiar: Greece, which despite a brutal five-year economic crisis remains the gateway of choice for the vast majority of migrants seeking to make their way into Western Europe.

Commitment

It was not Knibbe’s first time at Europe’s porous external border. As a student, the Dutchman spent time in the western port city of Patra, the site of a now-deserted makeshift migrant settlement, and during that time he actually co-directed the film, “We Go Europe Insha’Allah.” Stuff you won’t see in Holland.

The distance makes his commitment all the more admirable.

“I did this because I feel privileged to have been born in relative wealth. We often take our wealth for granted. I like to see the world and its living creatures, including the human race, as an organism. There is a big imbalance and people tend to think small instead of big. Individual instead of universal. I’d like to make people think about the bigger picture,” Knibbe says.

“People who are in trouble want to move to a place where there seems to be wealth, but the wealthy don’t know how to deal with this. The film is mostly meant to give depth to this subject that is in my eyes generally treated in a shallow, informative and seemingly objective way. I wanted to make people empathize again,” he says.

Access was sensitive and painstaking. Knibbe often had to go to great lengths to approach and win the trust of his vulnerable subjects at a time when anti-immigrant sentiment is on the rise.

“I followed people on the street collecting garbage up to the places where they lived, either in some sort of an apartment, a basement or on the streets. I met a homeless guy in a park. I bought a football to play games with refugees. I cooked meals for and with people. It took time, care and love to build mutual trust. This was the most important thing for the whole film,” he says.

Introspection

Creating the film also had an impact on Knibbe himself – particularly shooting on the Italian island of Lampedusa in the wake of the 2013 shipwreck which killed 366 African migrants.

“Lampedusa was heavy stuff,” he says. Footage inserted into the documentary from his award-winning 2014 short “Shipwreck” captures the despair of the victims’ relatives as well as the confusion and grief of Italian officials as the victims’ bodies are taken away from the site. The director’s own presence, amid the crowd of cynical media people, made him ponder his own part in all that. It took some adjustment, shifting down a gear.

“It was an absurd mix: the deep trauma of the survivors and the media circus around them – who, quite frankly, were a parasitic, egoistic phenomenon. All these journalists trying to get their quotes and shots and then leave. I was confronted with myself as a part of this circus and tried to do things drastically different: I took more time and took it slow building mutual trust with the refugees,” he says.

It may be a bit more decent, dignified manner of handling the issue, but can a work like this improve the situation? In fact, what can?

Knibbe remains sober about the prospects.

“I’m not sure what we can do to change this problem. I don’t have answers. What I am trying to do with this film is to plant seeds in the minds of people that could hopefully flourish into more liberal and empathetic ways of dealing with this problem. I think building borders is useless and inhumane. We are wealthy, and we take it for granted. When the poor want a share, we tell them to p*** off and that their culture doesn’t fit ours. That’s f***ed up.”


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