Interview with John Chrysoulakis for “Greek Diplomatic Life”
Interview with Secretary General for Greeks Abroad and Public Diplomacy, John Chrysoulakis, for “Greek Diplomatic Life”
JOURNALIST: What are the objectives and policy goals of the new General Secretariat for Greeks Abroad and Public Diplomacy?
J. CHRYSOULAKIS: 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 General Secretariat is committed to bringing the Greek communities closer to each other, strengthen their ties with the homeland and preserve their language and cultural identity.
At the same time, through Public Diplomacy campaigns, it 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.
In addition, the reversal of “Brain Drain” is also one of our goals and the Greek Government is actively interested in protecting the productive fabric of our country. The Prime Minister himself has announced financial and fiscal measures and incentives to restrict this phenomenon, encourage the creation of new well-paid jobs in many sectors and attract significant foreign investment capitals. Foreign investors have already responded to these measures, as Microsoft has decided to invest in data centers in our country and Volkswagen is turning Astypalaia into the first and only “smart” island in the Mediterranean that runs almost entirely on green energy.
Besides “Brain Drain”, there is also the so-called “Brain Circulation”, ie., the mobility of scientists. Aimed at bringing the Greek Diaspora closer to Greece, we are creating and promoting networks that will bring together professionals and scientists of Greek origin that excel abroad with their colleagues in Greece.
JOURNALIST: In your opinion, what changes need to be undertaken in order for the new Secretariat for Greeks Abroad and Public Diplomacy to be fully functional and efficient in order to create a strategic decision-making and coordination centre to communicate the multifaceted policies and messages of our country?
J. CHRYSOULAKIS: In the Unified Government Policy Plan, one of the key elements concerning the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) is to strengthen the international image of the country by using modern communication strategies and digital tools.
Implementing this directive, the General Secretariat for Greeks Abroad and Public Diplomacy has put at the top of its agenda the digitisation of its actions, as well as the actions carried out by the Public Diplomacy Offices abroad. We are confident that increasing the use of social media and implementing digital diplomacy strategies will yield to positive results in the near future.
In this context, we recently organised an online seminar on Digital Public Diplomacy, in collaboration with the University of Oxford. Our aim was to highlight the influence of social media in the diplomatic field and at the same time to answer the question of how new media can be used as tools for formulating a Public Diplomacy strategy.
JOURNALIST: What initiatives has the General Secretariat for Greeks Abroad and Public Diplomacy launched so far?
- CHRYSOULAKIS: Let me 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 organised 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 colors 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 Public Diplomacy Offices abroad with a series of ready-to-use digitalised 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 digitalised material from the Hellenic Army Academy, the War Museum, the Athens Concert Hall and other institutions.
At the same time, we are implementing cultural programmes with other countries, such as the Greek-Russian history year in 2021. I recently participated 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, where I was asked 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 (PADEE), 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 online 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 Public Diplomacy Offices were involved in these endeavours worldwide.
I would also like to stress our significant efforts to promote Greek higher education abroad through the ‘Study In Greece’ campaign, which concerns the English-language programmes 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 organised 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 programmes in Greece.
Another important event was the large international online conference we organised a year ago, with the participation of 100 expatriate doctors from 25 countries, which was an essential step towards the creation of a network of expatriate doctors.
In conclusion, I would like to underline that during the first half of 2021 and in the midst of the pandemic, we have held 1,350 public diplomacy events, through the Public Diplomacy Offices, an increase of 48% compared to the same period of 2020.
JOURNALIST: What comparative advantages of the country the General Secretariat is cultivating in order to highlight Greece in the international public opinion?
- CHRYSOULAKIS: As I mentioned before, the General Secretariat is also responsible for Public Diplomacy. 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, and that is why Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has integrated it to the MoFA, aiming at creating a decision-making centre that will coordinate and streamline policies and messages that our country wishes to communicate abroad.
There are currently 29 Public Diplomacy Offices operating in several of our Diplomatic Missions in Europe, America, China and Australia, staffed by highly trained officers who network with media representatives of the host country and communicate the positions and comparative advantages of Greece through targeted actions, communication campaigns and customised events. And our comparative advantages are numerous: our culture, history and tourism, our growing economy and remarkable geopolitical position, the investment friendly environment we now offer to foreign investors, our skillful human capital, the top-of-the-line communications and transport infrastructures we posses etc.
I believe that we have done a good job, since 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 fruit, proving the great strides we have made in this field.
JOURNALIST: How can Greece enhance its external relations regarding cultural heritage?
- CHRYSOULAKIS: Cultural diplomacy contributes immensely to bringing peoples closer. It allows us to better understand those around us, their concerns and their dreams. It also allows Greece to express and convey its viewpoint of contemporary society. 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.
JOURNALIST: By scaling up the new General Secretariat with the Public Diplomacy Sector it seems that the Greek communities abroad will lose their strong bond. Is this statement true and how will you strengthen your relations with them?
- CHRYSOULAKIS: 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. In fact, the merging of the two General Secretariats was beneficial for the Greeks abroad, not only because during the last eight months our contacts and events we had with them multiplied, but also because the Public Diplomacy Offices played an important role in strengthening our ties with the Greek Diaspora.
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.
Proving its strong support to our Diaspora, 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 Prime Minister Mitsotakis and competent Deputy Foreign Minister, Costas Vlasis, for the facilitation of our expatriates’ needs, the digitalisation of our consular services began with the “myConsulLive” system, an online portal designed to enable expatriate Greeks to conduct their transactions with the MoFA 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 programme using chatbots that interface with all existing and planned digital information and assistance platforms of the MoFA, providing access to all information and requests submitted to Consular Authorities along with processing guidelines.
JOURNALIST: A few decades ago, the Greek presence in Africa was significant and placed an important role in its modern economic development. What initiatives are you planning to undertake to revive the Greek presence in the African continent?
J. CHRYSOULAKIS: We attribute great importance to Africa since many Greek communities with remarkable presence and active participation in economic, scientific and cultural developments of the continent, constitute a permanent bridge of communication and cooperation between Greece and their countries of residence. In this framework, we have applied a comprehensive strategy for the Greek Diaspora, designed to support and promote the interests of Greeks abroad, as well as to strengthen their relations with the motherland.
Given our historical relations with North African countries, we recently inaugurated our General Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and established a trilateral scheme including Greece, Cyprus and Egypt that convenes frequently and discusses Diaspora issues. Promoting the Greek language and culture is one of our top priorities in the region. To this end, we are implementing a comprehensive plan aimed at strengthening school education in Africa. Thus, we have briefed our Greek teachers in Africa about the innovative educational capabilities that the online platform “staellinika.com” offers, we have provided Congolese schools with computers, books and digital material, while I have personally attended, together with His Eminence Metropolitan Ioannis of Zambia, events of Zambian schools, as well as other events organised by the Greek Department of the SAHETI School. We have participated in numerous events in Cairo and Alexandria, and under our Auspices, the Hellenic Federation of South Africa presented the biggest Greek Flag ever (1,600 square metres), as well as a real life-size poster of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, during a 1821 commemorative event in Johannesburg last March.
I would also like to mention that the “Hosting Programmes” have recently been redesigned and they will no longer offer just holidays in Greece, but they will be enriched with a Greek language and culture programme. Under their new format, we are certain that the Hosting Programmes will be considered as an extraordinary experience with an indelible mark on the children’s development. In this context, we have planned an action for our Diaspora communities and the philhellenes with the view to operate Summer Schools with Greek language courses. Especially for the Diaspora children, these schools will start operating shortly, in three age groups, offering lessons in Greek language, history and culture.
JOURNALIST: How is the General Secretariat coping with the Covid-19 pandemic and what system has been put in place to keep the international media informed?
J. CHRYSOULAKIS: It’s true that all actions for Greeks abroad, as well as for Public Diplomacy, 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. I really 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.