Welcome to Philhellenes

At the moment, the name ‘Greece’ has negative connotations: debt, austerity, recession, political failure, and social deprivation. But the present is only a slender time-slice in Greece’s long history, and Greece has been and remains the source of many riches of thought, art, culture, and landscape. Directly or indirectly, this heritage has shaped and enriched the lives of us all, and on this website people who love Greece — philhellenes in the simple sense — celebrate what Greece has given them and the world.

If you love Greece and would like to contribute something to the site, then please do so. A contribution can be as simple as a scan of an old holiday photo and a few words of reminiscence. Follow this link for details of how to contribute. Alternatively, you can post a short message directly on the messages page.

There is also a Philhellenes twitter account, where I post links to news stories and comment pieces that have caught my eye. (Linking to an opinion piece does not mean that I endorse its content, merely that I think it is worth reading.) There is an automatically updated archive of these tweets on this blog, organized by month. (Messages to the Philhellenes twitter account are also posted to my personal twitter account, along with messages on many other topics.)

Keith Frankish, Site Editor

The School of European Education, Heraklion: A plea

Photo of Maria Kasmirli

Guest post by Maria Kasmirli

Disclaimer: I am writing this post as a private citizen and parent. The views expressed here are not intended to represent those of the management of the School of European Education, the school’s Parents and Guardians Association, or any other body connected with the school. –MK

Heraklion’s School of European Education (SEE) is located in the old town, a stone’s throw from the seafront and close by the Koule fortress. It is a Type II European School, which follows the educational curriculum of Schola Europaea but is funded by the Greek government.

The school was founded in 2005 to cater to the educational needs of the children of employees of ENISA (the EU agency for network and information security) and other international organizations and diplomatic services based in Heraklion. The school also provides English language education to children whose parents are nationals of other EU member states and Greek language education to Greek children. The school is non-denominational and has a full range of classes from nursery to high school. Students study a broad-based European curriculum which incorporates second-language learning from first grade and third language from High School. Students take the European Baccalaureate at age of 18. The school’s staff, who come from a wide variety of nationalities and backgrounds, are highly qualified, experienced, and dedicated. They are passionate about teaching and determined to promote the ideals of European education, especially in these difficult times.

The ethos of the school is expressed by the words of Jean Monnet in 1953:

Educated side by side, untroubled from infancy by divisive prejudices, acquainted with all that is great and good in the different cultures, it will be borne in upon them as they mature that they belong together. Without ceasing to look to their own lands with love and pride, they will become in mind Europeans, schooled and ready to complete and consolidate the work of their fathers before them, to bring into being a united and thriving Europe.

(Quoted from the Schola Europaea website)

For the last two years, I have had the honour to be a teacher in the school, teaching the fifth grade of the English primary school. It has been a wonderful experience. My students came from across Europe (from the UK, Finland, Italy, Cyprus, Moldavia, Greece…), but they had a shared love of learning and an openness to other cultures, and all saw Greece as a second home. Together, we talked about our different customs and cultures, studied the French Revolution and the British Empire, read English literature from Shakespeare to Harper Lee, discussed ethical issues, bred silkworms, kept pet guinea pigs and hamsters, dissected an animal eye, started a class blog, made theatrical masks and costumes, created charcoal artwork on the school walls, visited local museums, and acted out dramatic scenes from plays and novels — all the while following a rich and well-balanced curriculum and learning about the ideals that inspired the founding of the European Union. Some of my former pupils have stayed at the school, others have moved on to other countries, but all, I believe, have been enriched and inspired by their experience at the school and have formed a deep love of Crete and Greece.

I have not only been a teacher at the SEE, but a parent too. My elder son has attended the school for four years, my younger son has just completed nursery there, and my daughter is due to start pre-nursery there this autumn. The boys have flourished in the school and formed friendships that extend across the continent. I honestly can’t think of a better school for them.

But the SEE isn’t important just for me and its teachers, parents, and students. I believe it is important for Heraklion, for Crete, for Greece — even for Europe. Its ideals represent the best of the European spirit – the spirit of a mutually supporting community, which respects the differences between nations but shares a common commitment to democracy, equality, and respect for human rights. It is a school where Scandanavian children sing Theodorakis, Greek children act Danish stories and learn French folk songs, and where all learn to respect each other and value the differences between them. The SEE cultivates precisely the outward-looking, optimistic, democratic outlook that Greece must adopt if it is to flourish within the EU and the wider world.

Economically, too, the school is important. Heraklion is home to many research institutions, including the University of Crete, FORTH, and HCMR, which attract visiting researchers from around the world, and the city has vibrant and outward-looking business and artistic communities, with worldwide connections. By providing high-quality English-language education at primary and secondary levels, the SEE helps to attract academics and other professionals to take up posts in Crete, strengthening and enriching the academic and cultural life of the island and of Greece as a whole. Without the school, it would be much harder to get leading professionals from outside Greece to move here with their families.

Yet as I write (27 September 2013) the school is not functioning. Two weeks after the official start of term, the PGA reports that only one teacher has been appointed for the Greek-language primary school, none for English-language primary school, and six for the whole of the secondary school. A remaining twenty-five teaching appointments have not been made, even though the positions were advertised and application procedures completed weeks ago. Hardly any classes are running, my teaching colleagues and I are in limbo, uncertain whether we will be employed, and I and the other parents are deeply concerned for my children’s education. Protests have been made to the Ministry by ENISA and others, but so far without effect. Some parents have withdrawn their children from the school and everyone is worried and uncertain.

Of course, these are difficult times for everyone in Greece, and we are not the only ones who are suffering. And of course I have a strong personal interest in the school. But the SEE is something special, something that should be celebrated, cherished, and supported — for everyone’s sake. If Greece is to be an outward-looking country, which attracts and welcomes people from around the world and celebrates its own history and culture without ignoring or diminishing those of other peoples, if it is to be a strong and vigorous part of Europe, if it is to produce a new generation of citizens with open minds and broad education, then it needs this school — and more like it. If the SEE closes, we won’t get it back, and we’ll all be much the poorer.

To give you a flavour of what is so special about the SEE, I have included below a video I made for Europe Day earlier this year, in which teachers, parents, and students talk (in Greek, English, French, and Italian) about what the school means to them.

If, like me, you believe the SEE is a precious asset, please do whatever you can to support it — for example, by spreading the word on social networks, contacting local or national politicians, or leaving a message of support in the comments below.

Thank you.

Update 28/09/13

The SEE Parents and Guardians Association has today circulated a message saying that the Minister has just signed off most of the teaching appointments, and that classes should start early next week. This is, of course, excellent news, and gives me me hope that the school will function normally this year. But I remain anxious about its long-term future, especially as many ENISA personnel have now moved to Athens. I myself remain fully committed to the school, and I renew my plea for those who believe in the school and its values to spread the word about this precious part of the Greek and European educational system.

Update 4/10/13

It is a week since I wrote my original post, and I am pleased to say that progress has been made. All SEE pupils are now able to attend school, in both English and Greek sections, though some teaching appointments are still pending and many classes are merged. However, we hope that the school will soon be functioning more or less normally. (I myself am teaching the English 3rd grade.)

I was also very pleased to read the following comment by Regional Education Director Apostolos Klinakis, which he made to the newspaper Nea Kriti:

I acknowledge and empathize with the parents’ anguish and truly find it unthinkable and shameful for Heraklion that a school of such calibre as the European School is not functioning in our city. (Source. Original in Greek; my translation)

I think this is something we can all agree on!

We shouldn’t be complacent, however. As Alison notes in her comment below, there was a feeling of euphoria when the English section opened on Wednesday, and we must build on this strength of feeling to help secure the long-term future of the school.

I will not add any more updates on this post, but I plan to make further posts about the SEE in the future. (Please see my request for contributions in the comments below.)

Some links

A Greek perspective on austerity psychology

As a philosopher of cognitive science, I take a strong interest in work in psychology and have many friends working in the field. Living in Greece, I have been sharply aware of the pressures the current crisis is placing on psychologists, both academics and clinicians, and I recently co-authored a short piece on the topic, collaborating with my partner Maria Kasmilri, who is also a philosopher. The article was a contribution to a feature on austerity in The Psychologist magazine, and I republish it here with the kind permission of the editor.

‘I have the feeling that we are in a war period’

Over the past few years no country in Europe has experienced more extreme austerity than Greece. With unsustainably high levels of national debt, the country has been forced to rely on loans from the ‘troika’ of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. These lenders required the government to implement austerity measures to reduce the deficit, and the consequent tax rises and spending cuts have sent the economy into a deep recession, now in its sixth year. Unemployment has risen to 27.4 per cent (60 per cent among young people); hundreds of thousands of businesses have closed, and there has been widespread social unrest. This has been a harsh climate for Greek psychologists, both academics and clinicians.1

Psychology has only recently established itself as an independent academic discipline in Greece (the first department was established in 1987), and psychology departments are small and vulnerable. For the last three years, no new staff have been recruited, retiring staff have not been replaced, and even formally appointed staff have not been allowed to assume their posts. Meanwhile the Ministry of Education has admitted more students (undergraduate admissions are centrally controlled), reduced completion times, and increased the number of exam periods (turning universities into ‘mass processing exam centres’ as one academic puts it). With budget cuts, departmental mergers and closures, and competition from the private sector, many academics feel stressed and dispirited. Some talk of the ‘slow death’ of small departments, such as those of psychology, and many younger academics have left to seek posts overseas.

Research has also been hit. University research budgets have been cut and can support only small projects, and outside funding is scarce (there are European Union grants, but competition for them is fierce). Even basic support is lacking; researchers often have to self-fund attendance at conferences, and institutional subscriptions to online academic journals have lapsed. As salaries have been slashed and payments delayed, this raises the prospect that only those with independent means will be able to remain active researchers.

Psychologists working in applied settings (hospitals, clinics, community mental health centres, and educational environments) have faced heavier demands and tougher working conditions. The crisis has brought a huge rise in depression, suicidality, anxiety disorders, drug abuse, domestic violence, social exclusion, and other mental health issues, and the services of medical psychologists are needed more than ever, especially in the public sector, to which patients have increasingly turned. Yet public provision has shrunk. Many institutions have been closed, had funding withdrawn or staff cut. This has created long waiting lists at the remaining institutions and left many vulnerable patients with nowhere to go: one practitioner told us that in many cases child victims of domestic abuse have to be kept in hospital. Meanwhile, fewer staff (from a small base) have increased workloads, while suffering exhaustion and insecurity themselves. ‘Sometimes, I have the feeling that we are in a war period,’ says Corina Hatzinikolaou, a developmental psychologist at the Institute of Child Health in Athens. ‘In many public health structures, psychologists have to act quickly and attend to as many people as they can, not necessarily providing the best service, but attending to the most urgent needs.’ There is a similarly bleak picture in the private sector, where psychologists have seen their practices shrink, while having to treat patients with more serious problems.

Yet, despite the huge stresses they are under, psychologists have responded positively to the situation. Many professionals volunteer their services, working with humanitarian organisations and churches to provide counselling and therapy services to the poor, immigrants, homeless, and addicts; and many self-employed practitioners work with public organisations for reduced fees or none at all. Many young unemployed psychologists are involved in voluntary work – selflessly, since such activities are not considered part of their practice.

Academics have also recognised the importance of addressing the new situation. Sofia Triliva of the University of Crete talks of an ‘ethical imperative’ to study the impact of the economic crisis on people’s lives, and has herself focused on the effects on young people and on the rise of racism, ethnocentrism and fascism, especially in schools. Maria Platsidou of the University of Macedonia notes that positive psychology is now appreciated more than ever, and that there is increased interest in topics such as subjective well-being, resilience and practical ways of helping people cope. More generally, the erosion of social structures has vividly illustrated the social dimension of psychological well-being. As Triliva puts it, ‘The bases of the person’s insecurities and problems are social, economic, and political, so how can s/he confront these problems as a disconnected individual or entity?’

Have there been any positive aspects to the crisis? It is hard to find any, but some of those we talked to pointed to an increase sense of solidarity and social responsibility, and to the challenges of developing new research partnerships and working together for social change. Perhaps we can mention also the opportunities for developing international collaborations. For one thing is certain: anyone interested in the effects of austerity, on individuals, society and the profession of psychology itself, can learn much from their colleagues in Greece.

1. It is not easy to find hard figures on the numbers of businesses that have closed since the crisis started, but it is probably correct to say that it is more than 200,000. (110,000 businesses are reported to have closed in 2011 alone.) For more details, see the following press reports: ‘Shopkeepers shutter shops as crisis bites’, ‘Dramatic drop in budget revenues’, and ‘Greek Small Businesses Face Further Gloom, Fear 55,000 Closures in 2013’.

Maria Kasmirli and Keith Frankish are philosophers with strong research interests in psychology. Maria is a PhD student in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield. Keith is a Senior Visiting Research Fellow in the Department of Philosophy at the Open University and an Adjunct Professor with the Brain and Mind Programme at the University of Crete. The authors wish to thank all those who have advised them on this article, mentioning in particular Corina Hatzinikolaou, Irini Kranias, Giannis Kugiumutzakis, Maria Platsidou, Zaira Papaligoura, Lili Roussou and Sofia Triliva.

Some graffiti from the crisis

(Click on the images to view as large-size slideshow.)

Art is long, life brief

The photographer Giorgos Vitsaropoulos has kindly given me permission to reproduce one of his photographs of the new Acropolis Museum in Athens. It is an evocative image, which beautifully contrasts the permanence of the ancient statuary with the fleeting human visitors — a contrast mirrored in the clouds passing across the deep blue sky above.

More of Giorgos’ work, including further images of the Acropolis Museum and shots for the Greek Tourism Organisation, can be found on his website.

[Click on the image to view at a larger size.]

Photo of the Acropolis Museum in Athens by Giorgos Vitsaropoulos

Acropolis Museum in Athens. Photo by Giorgos Vitsaropoulos

The best vacation of our lives

Howard Wettstein is Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Riverside. His research interests lie in the areas of philosophy of language and philosophy of religion, and his many publications include the books Has Semantics Rested On a Mistake?, and Other Essays (1991), The Magic Prism: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language (2004), and The Significance of Religious Experience, and Other Essays (2012).

Howard and his wife took a vacation in Greece in 2008, and he has kindly sent me some photos from that trip. He writes, “Here are a few from the best vacation of our lives, in Athens, Milos, and Sifnos, in 2008. The power of Athens, for one who has studied philosophy, goes without saying. But the islands were wondrous. It’s painful even to think about the crises that are affecting Greece and the Greek people at the present time. Here’s hoping that it’s short lived.”

[Click on the images to view as a slide show at larger size.]

A Greek geek

István Aranyosi is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey. His research interests lie in the areas of philosophy of mind and metaphysics, and his publications include the books The Peripheral Mind and God, Mind, and Logical Space (both 2013). István has kindly contributed the following reminiscences and photograph to philhellenes.org.

“As a kid, in the 1980s, I was known to my parents’ entourage as a Greek geek, having read and reread the legends of Mount Olympus, then a bunch of books the local librarian was happy to provide me, all connected to Greek culture and civilization.

“Lately, I have been more connected to Greek culture as part of my teaching and research in philosophy. However, I was most impressed in 2008, during my first visit to Greece, when what I saw was straightforward, outgoing, and freedom-loving people, with good sense of humour and good sense of business. One night in Rethymno, Crete, a sea food restaurant owner spotted me among a large crowd walking by, exclaiming: ‘You are my customer!’ – a couple of days before, I had eaten in his restaurant the best sea food ever since.

“The picture below shows me shopping for some saffron in Rethymno.” [Click to view at full size.]

Photo of Istvan Aranyosi in Rethymno Crete.

Two more studies by Diana Probst

I am delighted to present two more studies of ancient Greek sculpture by Diana Probst, following her Nike, posted last week.

Laocoon by Diana Probst

Warrior by Diana Probst

[Click on the images to view at a larger size]

Diana writes:

“I drew Laocoön on a busy afternoon, with at least a dozen groups of people coming through the Cast Museum. The most interesting was the group of young teens in school uniform who stopped to talk about what I was drawing. One insisted on me sketching her, so she has gone down for posterity next to the priest who insisted the wooden horse should not come into Troy. On the whole, I prefer the statue, but the school children were refreshing in their approach.

“The warrior is an unidentified young man, but the statue is a good one. He would have had a shield, but that did not survive.”

More examples of Diana’s work can be seen on her website.

A young philhellene

Jenny Saul, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield, has kindly sent me the following photo from a family trip to Greece.

Jenny writes: “My son Theo was buried in the sand for the first (and surely not the last!) time in Crete. Theo continues to love Greek culture. For Halloween, he was Odysseus. He decided I should be a siren, and that his Dad should be the pile of bones on which the siren sits. How could we resist?”

Theo in sand

Diana Probst sketches Nike

Diana Probst is a professional artist based in Cambridge, UK. Diana has kindly given me permission to reproduce her sketch of Nike, the Greek goddess of victory. Below the image, Diana adds some remarks on her choice of subject and on the influence of Greek culture on her work.


Diana writes:

“I could never be the artist I am without the influence of Greek culture. The development of statuary from the stylised Egyptian traditions to the fluid, lifelike stone work of the city states created work that I love to look at today. This is one of my earliest sketches, the lines solidified to allow me to recreate it in ink with no tonal work. To get there, I had to sit in a cast museum, surrounded by images that were two thousand years old. The Aphrodite of Knidos was not just ground-breaking, but also heart-breaking.

“I chose a Nike as my subject because the drapery appealed, but I was surrounded by hundreds of examples of beauty and drama, made by the urge to create those things in stone. I love the results of this work, and they are firmly within all the work I do. I owe my style to Praxiteles and Phidias, via the Renaissance and the blurred eyes of archaeologists.”

More examples of Diana’s work, some of which are available for purchase, can be seen on her website.

Ochi Day, 2012

The 28th of October is a public holiday in Greece, known as Ochi Day. It commemorates the day in 1940 when  Mussolini’s ambassador gave an ultimatum to Greek Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas: allow Italian troops to occupy regions of Greece or face war. The reply was, “Alors, c’est la guerre” or, in the popular version, “Ochi” (No) — a reply which brought Greece into the Second World War on the side of the Allies.

The following Greco-Italian war lasted five months and did not go as Mussolini planned. The Hellenic Army repelled the invasion and went on the offensive, occupying large areas of Albania (then under Italian control) and tying down hundreds of thousands of Italian troops. The stalemate forced Hitler to intervene, diverting large numbers of troops to the invasion of Greece. British troops came to Greece’s aid, but the Allied forces were massively outnumbered and outgunned, and mainland Greece fell in late April 1941, starting a long and painful occupation.

Greeks are proud of their role in resisting the Axis forces. Their initial victory over the Italians was the first successful Allied campaign of the war, and it is arguable that the subsequent diversion of German troops to the Battle of Greece significantly altered the course of the war, delaying the start of Hitler’s Russian offensive and thus contributing to the German defeat at the Battle of Moscow.

Since 1942 Ochi day has been celebrated by Greeks with parades and displays of national pride. With the current crisis, the day has also become a focus for protests against the austerity measures imposed by Greece’s EU partners and the IMF. This year the mood seemed more subdued, or perhaps dejected. We spent the day with friends at a local children’s playground. The lines below reflect my own mood that day.

It’s easy to self-dramatize
Living in country that’s so tried of saying no
It’s started saying yes
To hopelessness and hate.
But right now I’m aware of nothing but
A headache,
Children’s happy shouts,
And sunlight through small green leaves.

Cartoon showing Mussolini asking for help from Hitler in the war against Greece

Contemporary cartoon showing Mussolini asking for help from Hitler in the war against Greece. Source.

Ochi Day parade

Ochi Day parade. Detail of photo by Chris Monaghan. Source.

Ochi Day protest

Ochi day protest. The words on the flag read “Not for sale”. Detail of photo by Chris Monaghan. Source.

Shakespeare on the crisis in Greece

The School of European Education in Heraklion, Crete, Greece, belongs to the European Schools network, and provides primary and secondary education in both English and Greek. Its students come from a variety of European backgrounds, and one of the aims of the school is to give pupils confidence in their own cultural identity, as the bedrock for their development as European citizens. Earlier this summer, the fifth grade class of the English section, and their teacher Maria Kasmirli, produced the following short video interpreting Shylock’s famous monologue from The Merchant of Venice in the light of the current crisis in Greece. The project brought together the class’s work on language, literature, ethics, and European studies, and their discussions of issues of prejudice and social exclusion. I repost the video here because I feel it offers an interesting perspective on the events in Greece from young people of a variety of European backgrounds. (For full disclosure, I note that the class teacher Maria Kasmirli is my partner.)