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Interview of Secretary General for Greeks Abroad and Public Diplomacy John Chrysoulakis for “Greek News Agenda” (20 May 2021)
Academics highlight the constantly rising importance of Public Diplomacy in diplomatic dialogue. What does that mean in the case of Greece and what is the function of Greek Public Diplomacy? In his interview with Greek News Agenda*, John Chrysoulakis, Secretary General for Greeks Abroad and Public Diplomacy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, underlines that the MFA vision for Public Diplomacy (PD) is the continuous promotion of Greece to the international public and talks about the multifaceted PD projects and events organized by the General Secretariat, as well as the reasons why Greece ranked among the top ten “soft power" superstars in the world in 2020.
Professor Chrysoulakis has taught at academic institutions in Greece as well as abroad. He has worked as a manager in the public and private sector, has been in charge of large European joint ventures for the production of new technologies and has done significant International Administrative and Scientific work. He has authored a large number of publications and currently holds the title of Professor Emeritus. He was elected Vice-President of the International Association of Schools and Institutes of Administration and appointed as President of the National Centre for Public Administration and Local Government.
• What is your strategic vision as regards Greek Public Diplomacy?
Public Diplomacy is a significant soft power mechanism that thanks to new technologies and social media progress is growing more useful in our country’s effort to promote its new image to the international public. It’s a horizontal policy that helps all types of diplomacy, such as economic, parliamentary, cultural, educational and, of course, classical diplomacy. That is why Prime Minister Kyriakos Mistotakis incorporated PD in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and made it the third pillar of the new strategic planning of our foreign policy, aiming to create a decision-making centre that will coordinate and advance the policies and messages our country wishes to communicate to international public opinion.
Approximately one hundred and eighty highly-qualified Public Diplomacy Officers, most of them graduates of the National School of Public Administration and Local Government, are currently serving in the General Secretariat for Greeks Abroad and Public Diplomacy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, staffing its central headquarters as well as its Public Diplomacy Offices abroad, mainly in Europe, USA, China and Australia. Our goal is to expand our network in Canada, Latin America, Africa and Asia, where Greece has not only political and economic interests but also vibrant Greek communities. Our PD Officers around the world serve as representatives of our diplomatic missions, develop relations with the host country's media and communicate the positions and comparative advantages of Greece through targeted actions, communication programs and events.
These diverse actions are planned and coordinated on a weekly basis, aiming at the continuous and visible presence of Greece abroad, with the excellent cooperation of Greek expatriates and all kinds of philhellenic organizations, as was and still is the case with the important celebrations around the world for the Bicentennial of the Greek Revolution. Let me underline that, last year, Greece ranked in the top ten “soft power" superstars in the world for the first time, according to the IFG-Monocle Soft Power Survey 2020, an international survey of countries whose soft power policies produce significant results in the field of public diplomacy.
For the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, therefore, the strategic vision of PD is the continuous promotion of our country to the international public, that is, of our cultural values and our strong points, which in turn will contribute to the promotion of the Greek brand globally, as well as of Greek positions on all issues of our foreign policy. A strategic vision also, inextricably linked to the above, is our effective communication with Greeks Abroad, the support of Greek heritage and values in any part of the world and the promotion of important issues that concern our country with the help of the Greek Diaspora.
• You have launched numerous Public Diplomacy initiatives. Would you like to present a few?
Let us start from the current year, which for us at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as for every Greek and friend of Greece, is a milestone year for all Hellenism and the image of Greece internationally. It is the year that we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Greek Revolution, the year that we communicate internationally the image of a modern state with all its achievements during the two centuries of its independence. The General Secretariat for Greeks Abroad and Public Diplomacy is involved in most of the events that have either been designed or submitted to the "Greece 2021" Committee or conducted independently around the world. Let me mention the illumination, for the first time, of iconic buildings in the capitals and major cities of the world in the colours of the Greek flag, the congratulatory messages of heads of state and other foreign personalities and the wishes sent via our public broadcaster from our prominent expatriates in America and Europe all the way through to Australia. We have coordinated dozens of events to date, while an equal number are in line involving our contribution, participation and support. Additionally, we have begun providing the Diaspora, our Diplomatic Authorities and PD Offices abroad with a series of ready-to-use digitalized documents, testimonies and archival material which we obtained through our cooperation with Piraeus Bank in synergy with the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, the National Historical Museum, Greek National Opera, and the General State Archives. The provision of these products will continue throughout the year and will be enriched with more digitalized material in collaboration with the Hellenic Army Academy, the War Museum, the Athens Concert Hall and other institutions.
At the same time, we are implementing cultural programs with other countries, such as the Greek-Russian history year in 2021. I participated a few days ago in an art exhibition organized in the context of the Greek-Russian history year in 2021 which gave me the opportunity to appreciate the influence and appeal of Greek culture on this great country, Russia. Likewise with China, when I was allowed to address major Chinese media on the occasion of our National Day highlighting the importance of Greek National Deliverance and the global and timeless significance of the Greek liberation struggle. Beyond however our Bicentennial celebratory events, the General Secretariat for Greeks Abroad and Public Diplomacy participates in a multitude of other initiatives related to the Greek language, higher education, arts and culture. It is also active in the so-called "parliamentary diplomacy" in cooperation with the Special Permanent Committee on Greeks Abroad of the Greek Parliament, the World Hellenic Inter-parliamentary Association (WHIPA), and the European Network of Elected Greeks in Local Authorities Abroad. It also opens up new paths of communication with the Arab world, participating in the annual meetings of Greek and Arab poets, in which the most important Arab Writers Associations take part.
At this point, I would like to mention our special contribution to the international promotion of the Greek language through various targeted actions, such as the e-learning educational platform staellinika.com, which we have been running worldwide with great success and which constitutes an innovative action for the diffusion of the Greek language and culture, especially under the current difficult conditions of the pandemic.
There is, moreover, the promotion of International Greek Language Day for a second consecutive year, both in Greece and abroad via the Public Diplomacy Offices, to highlight its universality. We celebrated International Greek Language Day with events, videos and roundtables around the world. We communicated our messages to events that took place from nearby Italy to faraway Los Angeles, Montreal and Sydney. Our PD Offices were involved in these endeavours worldwide.
Last but not least, I’d like to mention our significant efforts to promote Greek higher education abroad through the ‘Study In Greece’ campaign, which concerns the English-language programs offered by Greek universities, in the promotion of which the Greek Diaspora is very active. This year, in cooperation with the General Secretariat of Higher Education of the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, we organized the webinar “Reinforcing bridges between Greek Universities and the Greek Diaspora”, where government officials and prominent Greeks living abroad demonstrated the high standards of Greek higher education and the variety of options in Greek and English that Greek universities offer to both expatriate and foreign citizens. This initiative aims to attract expatriates and foreign students interested in attending foreign-language university programs in Greece.
The promotion of Greek higher education worldwide and the attraction of foreign students is of great value in terms of PD, because it forges strong and long-lasting relations with the country of study and offers foreign students knowledge and rich experiences that in the long term easily transform into a positive stance and support for the country that hosted them as well as into economic activity and any kind of cooperation with the people of this country.
As regards the near future, one of our planned and forthcoming events is a webinar for Foreign Ministry personnel that we have co-organized with the Press Attaches Union, concerning Digital Public Diplomacy and Strategy. We’ll have the opportunity to hear from the Oxford Digital Diplomacy Research Group. This initiative aims to highlight the importance of using new digital media and the challenges faced by users in the practice of their diplomatic duties. It also seeks to demonstrate the impact of social media on diplomacy while at the same time answer the question of how new media could be used as a tool in strategic planning.
Finally, so as to conclude with this indicative list, another action that we plan to carry out soon, for the second year running, is the public diplomacy seminar "PD Talks", which we’ll most likely dedicate this time round to City Diplomacy.
• What is the role of Greeks Abroad in enhancing the international image of Greece?
Public Diplomacy and Greeks Abroad are two fields of action that not only do not conflict but complement each other and are both tied to the same global openness and strategic planning in promoting Greece abroad. The new General Secretariat of which I’m in charge continues to be the channel of communication between Diaspora Greeks and the metropolitan centre. It is the institution that understands and mediates between our expatriates and the Greek state, while creating the modern narrative of the country and promoting its positive image to international public opinion with the help and cooperation of our expatriates, who, wherever they may live, are a prominent element of their local communities with a special standing, acknowledgement and influence.
I believe that in the future the General Secretariat for Greeks Abroad and Public Diplomacy through its new strong and unified structure will better serve its goals, coordinating and implementing in a unified and effective way all actions and functions that serve the needs of Greeks abroad and promote the country in global public opinion.
Greeks abroad are a major force in the dissemination of Greek values and culture, with an active role in the promotion of Greek positions on issues of interest before international public opinion, but also as a channel of friendship and solidarity with their host countries. The deep and enduring relationship of the Greek Diaspora, as well as philhellenes everywhere, with Greece, was amply reflected in this year's events celebrating the Bicentennial of the Greek Revolution, not to mention its significant contribution in efforts to overturn the decision which, in breach of UNESCO regulations, turned the universal Hagia Sophia monument into a mosque.
For that reason, the Greek Government, honouring its commitments, but also implementing a constitutional requirement that for years has not been brought into effect, proceeded with regulating the issue of expatriate voting through legislation which mustered the political consensus that was necessary on this important issue.
At the same time, given the expressed interest of the Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and the competent Deputy Foreign Minister Costas Vlasis for the facilitation of our expatriates' needs, the digitalization of our consular services began with the "myConsulLive" system, an online portal designed to enable expatriate Greeks to conduct their transactions with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs consular authorities through video calls with competent officials, with no physical presence needed. Additionally, we have launched the pilot Virtual Assistant service, a globally innovative virtual assistance program using chatbots that interface with all existing and planned digital information and assistance platforms of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, providing access to all information and requests submitted to Consular Authorities along with processing guidelines.
• What is the role of Greek PD in supporting Greek foreign policy?
By advancing national positions on issues of interest and enhancing the country’s image, PD greatly contributes to the achievement of foreign policy goals, insofar as it affects, not to say co-forms, the image that others have of us. Obviously, securing the support of other governments is the most important goal of traditional diplomacy, whilst the value of economic diplomacy, i.e. investment relations and economic cooperation with other countries and international business is also paramount; however, who can nowadays claim that state-level decisions in countries with participatory democracy or even at the level of international justice, ignore a country’s national image or international public opinion and feeling towards it?
Even more so when we refer to the PD of our country, which has at its disposal the multifaceted vehicle of Greek culture, whose recognizable and acceptable values through our coordinated and targeted actions open windows of communication, contribute immensely to bringing peoples together and mediate effectively in the national interest.
• Do you think the admittedly effective management of the coronavirus pandemic is an important legacy for Greece?
It is true that in terms of the management of the pandemic, Greece has emerged as a case study and best practice, as, according to the 8th Enhanced Surveillance Report on Greece, the country had already from the first wave succeeded, in containing the spread of the coronavirus at a fairly good level. Despite the pressures exerted by the successive waves on the heavily burdened by the past health system, Greece is still doing relatively well, fulfilling its commitments and moving forward with its vaccination program.
At the same time, the country's image has been greatly enhanced by the radical transformation of the economy into an open, innovative growth model and its return to the international bond market, its positive assessment by international credit institutions, the attraction of more foreign direct investment, reduction of bureaucracy, and the increase of accountability and efficiency in the public sector with the use of digital technologies, even during the pandemic. All of the above constitute a series of achievements that are soon expected to be capitalized, despite the particularly strained environment of the wider region with the known tensions the country faced at its frontiers related to the occasionally increased migratory flows or escalating provocative and aggressive behaviour from the east in violation of international law, including the law of the sea.
• The image of Greece is moving away from the negative stereotypes of the last decade and indeed this year, for the first time, our country ranked among the top ten countries in terms of "Soft Power" according to Monocle magazine. What are the main elements of the Greek "Soft Power"?
It is time to add the country’s modern image to the highly recognizable aspects of Greece we mentioned earlier, which are its cultural capital and glorious past; and that is the image of a country that continues to produce values with the same aptitude it produces quality products, a country that creates and innovates. Greece has the soft power it takes to create a strong national branding.
In this context, PD is invited to depict the new image of Greece and show it to the world, to show a country that is changing, that is becoming competitive, that plays a leading role in the region and responds to the challenges of a rapidly evolving world. We need to make it perfectly understood why Microsoft decided to invest in data centres in our country. Through a modern narrative, we must highlight the prospects of our homeland to develop into a world-leading centre of biopharmaceuticals and biotechnology. Let’s not forget, since we mentioned these sectors, that the CEO of Pfizer is Greek, while Greeks are also in top managerial positions at Regeneron.
It will be beneficial in many ways to succeed in diffusing the image of the country to the international public and reversing the brain drain that has affected the productive layer of our homeland in recent years. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has already announced tax and other incentives for Greek expatriates as well as citizens of other countries who will in the future choose to relocate and work from Greece as their home base. These are important measures that will create a stable framework for the next few years after the pandemic, so that the country can make the huge developmental leap it needs, attracting the required human capital necessary.
• What is the added value modern Greek cultural production brings to Greece’s "soft power"?
Cultural diplomacy contributes immensely to bringing peoples closer together. It allows us to better understand those around us, both near and far, their concerns and their dreams. It also allows Greece as a country to express and convey its viewpoint of contemporary society. For Greece, culture is the basis of a communication mediation that pleases, while it educates and provides evidence and testimonies. Evidence offers additional knowledge, even perhaps exclusive information necessary for the proper execution of diplomacy.
Cultural diplomacy promotes the modern image and thinking of the country. Cultural exchanges help to build a climate of trust and mutual benefit between peoples. Cultural Diplomacy practically promotes patterns of behaviour that subconsciously create an overall portrait of the country. Thus, communication mediation through cultural production is of key significance to international diplomacy. Artists and intellectuals, in cooperation with diplomats and competent bodies, can play a decisive role in matters related to peace, culture and Human Rights. This is easy for Greeks in particular, as they carry the wealth of a significant culture.
In addition to historical cultural heritage, there is also contemporary cultural production that expresses the intrinsic angst on the social and existential dead-ends of modern Western society. The quest for Greekness that characterized Greek art in earlier times has given place to inspiration mainly drawn from contemporary and universal human experience. As a result, modern Greek cultural creation interacts with the experiences, anxieties and hopes of people everywhere, recording exceptional success, as evidenced by the constant international distinctions of Greek artists in all fields, from poetry to cinema, but also in other areas that have rightly been included in culture, such as gastronomy.
• How has the General Secretariat for Greeks Abroad and Public Diplomacy coped with the challenges of the health crisis?
It’s a fact that all actions for Greeks abroad as well as for PD, which involve live participation, visits and close contact, have been suspended and that is very unfortunate because there were many and well-planned events. But what has not been suspended and remains undiminished is our interest in our cause. Fortunately, thanks to digital technology, we are able through continuous daily online contacts to participate in events that make Greece present daily around the world. In the same way, collaborating with other competent bodies, we continue to plan, draw up strategies and actions to strengthen Greece's position in the world through cultural diplomacy, tourism and the promotion of Greek business. Thanks to our Public Diplomacy Offices abroad, we are active in the field of communication policy, while our actions for the Greek Diaspora remain undiminished. Thus we plan synergies with existing networks of expatriates intending to create thematic networks, such as a global network of cities with a Greek name or a global network of cities hosting Greek studies centres. We are trying to cater for the needs of Greek expatriates while waiting for the return to normality. Then all the actions of the General Secretariat of Greeks Abroad and Public Diplomacy, as reflected in the new organisational framework of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, will be reprogrammed in the best way.
• What has the impact of the digital platform staellinika.com been so far?
staellinika.com is a digital platform for learning the Greek language and culture. It emerged from our collaboration with the interdisciplinary team led by members of the New Media Lab at the Centre for Hellenic Studies of the "STAVROS NIARCHOS" Foundation of Simon Fraser University in Canada. We are very pleased with the positive feedback from abroad regarding this initiative, which, even since its pilot phase, was warmly welcomed by everyone who saw it as an innovative action in support of Greek schools abroad and spreading Greek language and culture around the world, both to our young expatriates and to those who wish to learn the Greek language and get to know the Greek culture. This is of particular importance as regards PD. Currently, the final version of the mobile app is available for iOS and Android devices (phones and tablets), while we can support a very large number of users. We already have 30,000 registered pupils and students in 118 countries, and the platform has been introduced in all Greek schools in North America (the USA and Canada). It will soon be available to schools in the United Kingdom and Australia, and its Spanish and Portuguese versions are imminent and expected with great interest.
* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi