Greek Business File, September-October 2020, No 127

interview by George Vailakis

“What is in question is what should be common sense”

Business File discusses with the educator and historian Nikos A. Koukis, the new president of the Hellenic Foundation for Culture

What are the most important challenges that the Hellenic Foundation for Culture (HFC) is confronting at the present?

The Hellenic Foundation for Culture has to rise to a difficult mission. It is essential that it retraces the thread following the ambitious act that originally led to its foundation. On the one hand, the Hellenic Foundation for Culture is required to be open to new prospects aiming at the dissemination of the Greek culture abroad. On the other hand, the HFC has to live up to the demanding role of promoting engaged reading, especially to the young people. The book, as a cultural good of highest value, is at the center of our actions and we have assumed the responsibility of a significant intellectual mission.

How do you intend to reintroduce the HFC to the Greek society?

The Hellenic Foundation for Culture has to gain energy, to be creatively involved in cultural events, to be in contact with active cultural forces, educational institutions both in Greece and abroad, to organize high-quality actions individually or in cooperation with other institutions and to promote engaged reading in innovative ways. We live in the age of the technology boom and we cannot build “wooden walls” around the Acropolis. We need to adapt quickly. Our administration aims at putting an end to inactiveness. We will not be absorbed by any phobic bureaucratic mentality. We are advocates of renewal and of participation in innovative ideas.

You have referred to a 4-year strategic development plan for culture. Could you share with us the main points of the plan in question?

The main points of our 4-year strategic plan are the following:

• reintroduction of the Hellenic Foundation for Culture to the Greek society and abroad
• organizational restructuring
• creation of an internal regulation that will allow the adequate staffing of the organization
• cooperation between cultural institutions, schools and universities with departments of Hellenic Studies
• finding the right people that will serve as representatives in capitals and big cities abroad
• digital governance
• adoption of suitable operating procedures
• maintenance of the historical buildings of the HFC
• completion of the building destined for “Hospitality and Events”
• redesign of the teaching of the Greek language and the Greek culture (both ancient and Byzantine)
• setup of a new digital environment for internet communication.

It is our ambition that the Hellenic Foundation for Culture becomes a cultural hub, and its garden turns into a cozy place that will host high-quality meetings of artists, translators, publishers and teachers.

What is the financial state of the foundation? What are the prospects?

Our financial situation is difficult to handle. However, we hope that our frugal financial policy in conjunction with our impeccable cooperation with the Ministry of Culture will provide us with the financial means we need in order to communicate our versatile cultural program. We will turn to the private initiative and we hope that we will persuade them with our work that our educational actions are well worth financing.

Are there going to be any organizational changes in the HFC? If yes, to what direction?

The Executive Board, which is comprised of carefully chosen competent executives, sets the pace. We are going through a period of several organizational changes. We need to reinforce cooperation, transparency as well as personal initiative, and we need to build groups for project production on the grounds of strategic planning, accountability and measurable effects. Those of us who come from the private sector and are used to fast-paced working environments, we realize that what is in question is what should be common sense.

How do you envision the relation of HFC with books and reading? What are your plans? What are some additional ways of supporting engaged reading?

Books and reading constitute one of the fundamental pillars of the Hellenic Foundation for Culture. Apart from supporting engaged reading, the Ministry of Culture plans to substantially expand the activities of HFC in new fields of action. If new responsibilities are assigned to us, we will rise to our new role with a new organizational structure.

We enthusiastically continue the organization of the Thessaloniki International Book Fair and we participate in several international book fairs abroad (such as Bologna, Moscow, Frankfurt, Peking etc.).

Moreover, we intend to organize events that put reading to the spotlight throughout the year, and to this end, modern technology has proven invaluable, since it can communicate the actions of the HFC to thousands of people around the world.

What are your plans with Biblionet, this extremely useful website for Greek books, and the digital property of EKEBI (the former National Book Center)?

We are in charge of Biblionet and we are at the point of restructuring the webpage. A number of organizations and executives that have a great deal of experience in organizing book fairs have made proposals with a view to make Biblionet more attractive and useful to the readers, the scientists and the publishers. We hope that its new interface will be more appealing.

What about the Greek diaspora? What are the plans of action that the HFC is going to implement so as to build synergies with it and spotlight the Greek culture worldwide in the most effective way?

The Greek diaspora is the power of the Hellenism. Our power might be limited, but HFC has a powerful brand at its disposal and is capable of mobilizing personalities of the Greek diaspora from all over the world who have an impressive business, cultural or professional background and patriotically would be willing to represent us. It is true that nothing can be accomplished without synergies. The church, universities with departments of Greek Studies, expat organizations, the General Secretariat of Greeks Abroad – they all are our natural allies in our effort to make the Greek culture the joining force that holds together our fellow Greeks who live away from their national center. But first and foremost, we have to save the Greek language because its extinction would undermine the Greek national identity.

Apart from being the new President of HFC, you are also Deputy President of the Board of Trustees of the National Library of Greece. What are your expectations from this modern temple of knowledge in the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center? What initiatives are to be expected?

The position of Vice-President is honorary. I hold Mr. Stavros Zoumboulakis, President of the Board of Trustees of the Hellenic Library, in high esteem. I hope that we will strengthen our bonds, because the National Library also protects and supports books, as we do, in different way, though. I must confess that I envy the facilities of SNFCC (Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center) and the huge possibilities it offers to the management to prepare ambitious educational plans. May we also acquire our own space for exhibitions and events and turn the Bodosaki residence into a park of wide and vigorous cultural range.

In 2021, we will celebrate the important 200-year anniversary of the Greek revolution and the Hellenic Foundation for Culture has undertaken the publication of an English dictionary (A Critical Dictionary) on the Greek Revolution in collaboration with Harvard University Press. How is this ambitious project expected to contribute to historical research? In what other way will the HFC participate in the celebration of the anniversary?

The Hellenic Foundation for Culture has received financing by private sponsors for the publication of the “The Greek Revolution. A Critical Dictionary” on the Greek revolution by Harvard University Press. A great political scientist, Mr. Paschalis Kitromilidis has undertaken the publication together with the Emeritus Professor of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens Konstantinos Tsoukalas, and the book is very close to its completion. This project follows its own course independently of the HFC.

Regarding the Greek revolution: Mrs. Maria Efthimiou, our great historian and member of the new Executive Board, assisted by Professor Ch. Meletiadis is responsible for the program of participation of the HFC in the celebrations of our national anniversary. Mrs. Efthymiou and I will travel all over Greece, and we will additionally provide online lessons for Greeks abroad. In a way, science meets the art of teaching. We make sure that our revised program is patriotic, pluralist and realistic in its implementation.