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Interview of the Secretary General for Greeks Abroad and Public Diplomacy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, John Chrysoulakis, to the english language magazine GREEK BUSINESS FILE (March-April 2021 Issue)
What are the programs that you are currently implementing at the General Secretariat for Greeks Abroad and Public Diplomacy of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of the Hellenic Republic?
The General Secretariat for Greeks Abroad and Public Diplomacy has now a dual focus, on the one hand the Diaspora and on the other Public Diplomacy. These two aspects are complementary, extroversive and act as an operational arm for the promotion of Greece abroad. The newly established General Secretariat is more than ever committed to bringing the Greek communities closer to each other, strengthen their ties with the homeland, and preserve their cultural identity. At the same time, through Public Diplomacy campaigns, the General Secretariat is creating a modern narrative for the country and promoting its image internationally, with help and cooperation of the Greeks abroad, who, wherever they live, are a prominent part of the local communities.
With regard to our program for the Greek Diaspora, which is a strategic priority for our country, I could first mention the actions we have planned, and those that our Diaspora has proposed, for the celebration of the Bicentennial of the Greek War of Independence.
Another program, which is the result of long efforts, is about keeping the Greek language alive and in this context we participated in numerous events organized all over the world on the occasion of the International Greek Language Day. This is the capstone of our long efforts to preserve the Greek language and disseminate the Greek culture among the children of our Diaspora up to the 4th generation. In this vein, we were actively involved in the creation and promotion of the e- learning platform "StaEllinika.com", a very useful free tool that the Greek Diaspora, as well as the philhellenes and their children, can use to learn our language, history and culture. This was made possible due to the collaboration of the General Secretariat with the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Centre for Hellenic Studies at the Simon Fraser University. The platform was entirely funded by Stavros Niarchos Foundation, first launched in April 2020 and officially presented in October 2020. There are currently more than 28,000 registered users from 118 countries.
It is also important to mention that the Hosting Programs that we are redesigning, and which will take place this year, if sanitary conditions allow, will no longer be just holidays in Greece, but will be combined with learning of the Greek language and culture. In this way, we are confident that this amazing experience will leave an indelible mark on the children’s souls. In this context, another action that we are planning for our Diaspora and the philhellenes is about operating Summer Schools with Greek language courses. Especially for the children of our Diaspora, these schools will start operating in 3 age groups very shortly, where Greek language, history and culture will be taught.
Furthermore, women could not be exempted from our plans. In fact, under the Auspices of the General Secretariat, the Greek International Women Awards will be held this year for the second time. These awards were established to recognize and reward Greek women from Greece and abroad who stand out due to their professional achievements or actions.
Finally, I would like to stress that thanks to our efforts, for the first time, the Economics Olympiad, an international knowledge competition in economics and finance for high school students, will accept applications from Greek schools abroad for the first time.
What exactly is public diplomacy and how will you practice it?
Public Diplomacy is an important soft power mechanism which, thanks to the advance of new technologies and Social Media, is gaining more and more ground in our country's effort to promote its new image to international audiences. It is a horizontal policy that assists all types of diplomacy, such as political, economic, cultural, educational, etc. This is why Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has integrated it to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, aiming at creating a decision-making centre that will coordinate and streamline policies and messages that our country wishes to communicate abroad.
One hundred and eighty highly trained communication officers, graduates of the National School of Public Administration, work at the General Secretariat for Greeks Abroad and Public Diplomacy. Its structure includes 29 Public Diplomacy Offices operating in several of our Diplomatic Missions in Europe, America, China and Australia. Our goal is to expand our network to Canada, Latin America, Africa and Asia, where Greece has not only political and economic interests, but also a vibrant Diaspora.
Our officers staff the Public Diplomacy Offices, act as Spokespersons of our Missions, network with media representatives of the host country and communicate the positions and comparative advantages of Greece, through targeted actions, communication campaigns and customized events.
Let me underline that last year Greece, ranked among the top ten “soft power” countries in the world for the first time according to IFG-Monocle Soft Power Survey 2020 which is an international survey about countries whose softer tactics are bearing fruits, proving the great strides we have made in this field.
How will you strengthen our relations with the Greek communities abroad? What is your plan?
Further strengthening relations with the Diaspora is our top priority and that is why we have established a permanent two-way dialogue with Greeks all over the world, so as to listen to their needs and support them as much as possible.
I often participate in the meetings of the European Network of Greeks Elected in Local Administration, as well as in the meetings of the Parliamentary Special Permanent Committee on Greeks Abroad.
Of particular interest are the meetings and visits of the World Hellenic Inter -parliamentary Association (organization of the Greek Diaspora bringing together legislators of Greek origin from around the world), a very important network that supports our national issues and showcases our culture globally.
Our frequent contacts with international sectoral networks, involving prominent Greeks, give us the opportunity, during the conferences we organize, to exchange ideas and collaborate in drafting proposals aiming at reconnecting them with Greece and transferring their experience and know-how to our country.
One of our initiatives in this context is to promote a network of excellence for scientists who live or want to live in Greece and produce work of high international standards. At the same time, we are drafting plans that will bring the Diaspora closer to their homeland, such as the strategy of second residence acquisition in Greece, especially in villages, islands and the mountainous parts of the country.
What is the biggest challenge you have to manage?
The biggest challenge at this time, both for me and my staff, is the smooth implementation of our plans during the difficult times we are all facing. It was inevitable that all actions involving visits and face to face contact would be suspended, and unfortunately there were many well planned action. But what has not been suspended and remains undiminished is our interest in the Diaspora.
Thanks to digital technology, I am able to meet them online, participate in virtual conferences, exchange views, listen to their worries and propose solutions to various issues. At the same time, working with other competent agencies, we continue to plan and develop strategies in order to further promote the image of modern Greece abroad, through targeted actions implemented by the Public Diplomacy Offices.
I look forward to the end of the pandemic, which will allow me to visit again the Greek communities around the world, listen to their problems and their ideas, but also demonstrate to them the interest and support of the Greek government.
What are your actions in Africa, the Middle East, Egypt, America, Australia, where the presence of Greek communities is strong?
As I mentioned earlier, despite the restrictions related to the pandemic in the last 12 months, we have had the pleasure of meeting frequently our fellow Greeks during the innumerable events that we organized, participated in or supported.
Just to name a few, I would like to start by mentioning the conference about the internationalization of Greek Universities and their foreign language study programs "Reinforcing Bridges Between Greek Universities and the Greek Diaspora” which we recently co-organized with the General Secretariat of Higher Education and was attended by thousands of Greeks from 69 countries.
We celebrated the International Greek Language Day, by creating special videos and organizing conferences and roundtables around the world, sending out our message not only to most European countries, but also to places as far as Los Angeles, Montreal and Sydney.
We promoted our Greek language by being present wherever our teachers met, in Africa, Europe, America, all over the world.
We implemented our plan aiming at strengthening school education in Africa, providing Congolese schools with computers, books and digital material, while I personally attended, together with His Eminence Metropolitan Ioannis of Zambia, events of Zambian schools, as well as other events organized by the Greek Department of the SAHETI School.
We sent school books to our children in 6 Latin American countries, promptly fulfilling their request.
We often worked together and exchanged views with our Diaspora doctors who are at the forefront of the battle against COVID-19. Sharing experiences with our own doctors, through the networks we have created, has yielded impressive results. At the same time we brought doctors into contact with very prominent Diaspora scientists from the medical and biotechnology sectors, which was of great benefit to them due to the specialized opinions they heard.
We highlighted the excellent artistic effort of the thousands of Diaspora children that participated in the International Student Painting Competition "Near or far, WE are all ONE". 125 drawings received distinctions from a total of 3520 submitted works from 30 countries. These 125 drawings are already being digitally displayed and will soon be printed for a special commemorative album that we will create with the kind support of the Hellenic Parliament.
The children of the Greek Diaspora were also at the heart of the unique festive TV program "Christmas where there are Greeks" that we produced together with ERT-World. Listening to them singing carols and songs and watching their Christmas traditions, we really experienced how Greeks all over the world celebrate Christmas Holidays: from Congo and Sweden, to Argentina and Japan.
We supported and placed under our Auspices the 5th Kastellorizo International Documentary Festival, establishing for the first time the prize "Odysseas" for the best creator from the Diaspora. We also supported and placed under our Auspices Greek Film Festivals, such as that of Sweden, but also Song Festivals, such as that of Ukraine.
We were present at the Cultural Gala of China that honored us with a touching dance of Chinese students of the Dance Academy of Minzu University to the sounds of Mikis Theodorakis’ "Zorba’s dance".
We all want to return to normalcy, but until then, we are still working hard to ensure that our ties with the Diaspora continue to be strong despite the pandemic.
This year we are celebrating the bicentennial of the Greek Revolution. What is the symbolic message you wish to send across the world? What will be the participation of the Greeks Abroad in the celebrations?
This year is indeed a milestone for our country as it marks 200 years since the beginning of the Greek Revolution. After my appointment as responsible for the cooperation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the Commission "Greece 2021", I met with Commission’s President Gianna Angelopoulou-Daskalakis and discussed issues related to the promotion of the Commission's actions and events for the celebration of the Bicentennial of the Greek War of Independence, so that their symbolic message could be spread throughout the world.
In this respect, we explored possibilities for synergies as well as the participation of the Greek Diaspora. As Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has stressed, the celebrations is also a matter of the Diaspora and it would be unthinkable to celebrate this anniversary without them. In order to receive the support that the Greek State and the Commission can offer, all Greek communities and organizations have already been asked to contribute to the anniversary events and some 290 proposals have already been submitted. We want the anniversary to be celebrated by all Greeks, wherever they live. On our part, we will globally promote, through the Public Diplomacy Offices, those specific actions that the Commission will adopt.
Finally, I would like to point out our official cooperation with Piraeus Bank, the Concert Hall, the War Museum and other organizations, that produce digital materials that the General Secretariat will convey to the Diaspora in order to be included in anniversary celebrations all over the world.