Not only a debt crisis

first_imgFormer Greek minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Pavlos Yeroulanos, talking to Neos Kosmos in Melbourne this week, expressed his optimism about the future of Greek tourism, emphasised the ability of cosmopolitan Hellenic culture to empower Greeks in periods of hardship, and stressed the need for structural changes in his country and for a more responsive leadership to the needs of the people.Talking about the record numbers of tourists expected to arrive in Greece this year he said:“Traditionally, Greece targeted the markets of the United Kingdom and Germany. “In 2009 we experienced a crisis in tourism. The British did not come to Greece because they were facing their own financial difficulties and the Germans did not come because of the tense relations between the two countries at that time. “That year we turned our attention to the markets of Russia, Israel and Turkey. By making it easy for the tourists to acquire visas we managed to achieve record numbers even back then.The markets of China and India soon followed,” said Mr Yeroulanos, who went on to clarify that apart from opening up new markets, the second reason that Greece has seen an increase in tourist arrivals is the fact that life in Athens returned back to normality after a period of upheaval.The former Greek Minister for Culture Tourism and Sports believes that tourism in Greece will continue to grow even further in the next 10 years. “As long as the state reduces the barriers to visitors, and I have to say this policy is continued by the current tourism minister, and as long as tourism operators keep their horizons open and welcome new visitors, the number of tourists will continue to rise,” he said. Pavlos Yeroulanos was in Melbourne on the occasion of the opening of the exhibition ‘Gods, Myths and Mortals’ at the Hellenic Museum, a collaborative project with the Benaki Museum in Athens. He is a great-grandson of Antonis Benakis, the founder of the Benaki Museum, and his family is heavily involved, in a volunteer capacity, with the running of the museum. For the next ten years, the leading Greek museum will collaborate with the Hellenic Museum in Melbourne in order to offer to Melbourne’s Greek and non-Greek audiences the opportunity to travel through the centuries of Greek history and culture via the objects that have survived them.The Benaki Museum is the only museum in the world to effectively follow the Greek culture from prehistoric times to the present day, said Mr Yeroulanos. “The Benaki Museum does not believe that just because we had the Golden Age of Pericles in Athens, there was nothing culturally important before or after that period. To the contrary, it brings together all the different historical periods of Hellenism and highlights the links of Hellenic culture with other cultures,” he stated.“What is happening in Melbourne is very important. A microcosm of the Benaki Museum will be exhibited here for the next ten years. From prehistoric times to present day. Very important artifacts, such as the golden Kylix, the painting of the death of modern Greece’s first governor Ioannis Kapodistrias and the sword of the hero of the War of Independence Theodoros Kolokotronis will be exhibited, amongst others, in order to show the Greek presence throughout the millennia, in order to make every Greek in Melbourne proud of their heritage and in order to share with the rest of the world our culture. These exhibits very rarely leave Greece, but they will be here in Melbourne.” The way Greek history in taught in schools, the breakup of history into separate periods, as if the times of Alexander the Great are independent from the Roman era, or the Roman era is independent from Byzantium and Byzantium separate from the Ottoman empire and the Greek War of Independence does not help the way Greeks see themselves and their culture, Pavlos Yeroulanos believes.“These periods have their very own characteristics, but it is very important to notice how much they have in common with each other, starting from ancient times all the way to the present. The Greek values ​​that survive through time encompass our entire history, the whole course of Greek civilization, not only specific periods. If we do not understand as Greeks what unites our history, then we will always remain cut off from anything we’ve done in the past. If we cannot see our story in a holistic diachronic way we cannot understand its importance, or the historical and cultural importance of what we create ourselves today and how this might impact our future.Such a change in the perception of our history and culture will also change the way we perceive ourselves and the way others perceive us, ” he said. Asked about the current cultural landscape in crisis-hit Greece, the former minister said that in recent years Greece has seen a large increase in cultural activity at all levels and that this is very promising. “It’s like having the people saying that the economic crisis we are going through does not mean that we will cease to exist as Greeks or that we will stop creating,” he stressed.While admitting that as a result of the crisis there are difficulties in funding cultural initiatives and organisations in Greece, he also stated that even with less money the cultural scene in Greece is alive. Organisations with much larger budgets in the past, such as the Greek National Opera, the National Theatre or the Benaki Museum managed not only to survive with less money, but to be creative and productive as well.“The crisis poses difficulties but there is no reason for anyone to hide or to be afraid.The Benaki Museum was one of the first organisations that refused to surrender to the crisis. The museum said we must be present, the voice of Greece must be heard.I am now in Melbourne because of the collaboration with the Hellenic Museum. In two weeks I will be in Chicago, where the Benaki Museum will present the Byzantine Greeks in a very dynamic and innovative way in collaboration with the Art Institute of Chicago. The National Gallery of Art in Washington, the J. P. Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the Art Institute of Chicago, three of America’s most important museums have hosted or are hosting exhibitions for the Greeks of Byzantium. Once again Greece, its museums, the Benaki Museum show how important it is to present to the world our cultural heritage, and the fact that we are still here fighting and creating.” Pavlos Yeroulanos believes that Greece is at a very critical transition stage in confronting its crisis.“Up until today our priority was to be able to repay our loans to our lenders. Even if this was not forced upon us we should have done it ourselves. The last thing that I want is for my generation to leave as a heritage to our children a huge debt,” he said. “Repaying the debt is a painful and a rightful step in addressing the crisis. However, the Greek crisis is not about borrowing and debt. The crisis is about the lack of institutions and structures needed in the country if Greece is to progress. It’s time to call a spade a spade. To see the real reasons behind our dead ends. To address the weaknesses we have as a state. Weaknesses which do not allow the state to help its citizens and make their everyday lives better and easier.In this area, I have not seen the changes that I would have expected to see. It is important to go ahead with the structural changes needed in order to progress.”Asked whether or not there are forces in Greek society, in the political scene, in the business sector or elsewhere that might be able to rally and support such an effort for reform and structural changes he responded in the affirmative.“Clearly there are. Whoever knows the Greeks, whether in Greece or abroad, knows what they are capable of. The people in Greece know what is needed because they experience it in their everyday lives. Like other businesspeople, I too, as a businessman, experience the difficulties faced by others, by people who want to create something good and positive for our country.The question is whether or not there will be any response by the leadership, especially the political leadership, but not only that, the banking, the business, the media, judicial leadership. All these powers must change the way they operate in order to be able to provide to all citizens the conditions which will allow them to be creative. This is the great challenge that is in front of the Greece,” he said in his concluding remarks.Pavlos Yeroulanos studied history at Williams College in the United States and holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management.From October 2009 until May 2012 he was a key member of the governments of George Papandreou and Lucas Papademos. 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