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'Old–fashioned diplomacy no longer works'
18 Mar 2013 Beata Balogová Foreigners in Slovakia
A COUPLE is riding a yellow sleigh while a purple and magenta horse stands peacefully in a village framed by a purple meadow and a grass-green sky: this is a simplified description of a Slovak-inspired acrylic canvas painted by Nicolaos D Kanellos, the Greek ambassador to Slovakia. Kanellos believes that old-fashioned diplomacy no longer works and that one needs to search for different ways of self-expression and participation in society. The Slovak Spectator spoke to Kanellos about the dangers of shadow economies, reforms in his homeland as well as the challenges of developing tourism.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): Slovakia is marking the 1150th anniversary this year of the arrival of Ss Cyril and Methodius to the territory of present-day Slovakia. Does this connection have any significance for Slovakia and Greece today?
TSS: According to an EC report the size of shadow economies in the European Union has grown due to the austerity measures that different countries have adopted. Both Greece and Slovakia have been ranked rather unfavourably in this respect. How in your opinion can countries fight this trend?
We also need public awareness about the nature of financial systems, which unfortunately, does not exist in our countries. There are some businessmen who know where the boat is going but most people do not. My main concern is that people in our two countries are not happy citizens, which for me means that they do not have the feeling that they are influencing developments in their states.
TSS: Could you elaborate in more detail what you mean when you say that people in our countries are not happy citizens?
TSS: In early January, the BBC reported that ordinary Greeks are now finding ways to fight back against high levels of corruption, with a number of websites now allowing people to report cases of bribery. What prompted this initiative in your opinion?
TSS: How would you describe the stage of implementation of various reforms that Greece has promised to implement in return for the financial assistance it received from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund?
We are fulfilling all our commitments and we are now entering the last phase of what are radical and painful changes, but on the other hand, we are careful not to drive people into despair. One of the issues that remain to be dealt with is the privatisation of some state property.
We should not use the expression of development in the sense of a carrot kept in front of a horse to make it run; we need to move forward, not dance, and in Europe I am afraid that we are dancing. We also need to work on a union with deep understanding of our different histories so that we do not create clones of citizens that will lead us to similar states.
TSS: Greece suffers from high unemployment rates, and, like Slovakia, which has a 27-percent youth unemployment rate, a large portion of the jobless are young people. What is behind the high unemployment rate of young people in your homeland?
TSS: Tourism contributes around 15 percent to Greece’s GDP. Has the global economic downturn impacted the industry in your homeland? What are the challenges that Greece faces in this area?
The challenges that we face include combining our heritage, history and culture with the necessity of respecting the environment, as well as the necessity of living in harmony with nature. Slovak people are serving as a good example of how to live in nature, and in Greece we should find ways to respect much more the gift – the landscapes of our country – given to us by God.
TSS: Do Slovaks and Greeks know enough, mutually, about each other?
TSS: Greece is certainly on the map of Slovak tourists. However, have Greek tourists discovered Slovakia?
Art here is a form of refuge for me and even when I am working as a diplomat, I try to express my thoughts and feelings in many different ways because old-fashioned diplomacy, I mean the diplomacy between two idioms and two foreign languages, no longer works. We need to seek ways of participating in the life of societies, and they send a message as a result.
TSS: In what areas of the economy do you see room for cooperation between Greece and Slovakia?
The other aspect is trade. Slovakia’s exports to Greece amount to €300 million, while Greek exports to Slovakia stand at €100 million. Without downplaying the role of big trading partners such as Germany, the weak economic relations between our countries is also a result of not knowing each other. Greece is exporting aluminium to Slovakia, which makes up 30 percent of all imports, and I wonder why we aren’t offering expertise for the construction of water and maritime works, as well as services in tourism and tourism administration, since we have a specific expertise in it: as a small country of 10 million inhabitants, we attract 20 million tourists every year.
We also should very soon establish the Greek-Slovak Chamber of Commerce, which should contribute considerably to developing trade relationships. There are also a lot of Greek students studying in Slovakia, which is a very positive development. Once they travel home they take back their messages about Slovakia.
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