VOA Inter with Greek Minister of Culture 10 1 13

[Zoi Leoudaki]: Dear friends, hello. With us in the Voice of America studio in Washington is the Minister of Culture and Sports, Panos Panagiotopoulos. Welcome to Voice of America.

[Panos Panagiotopoulos]: It’s good to see you. I’m particularly happy to be here with you, and I thank you for the opportunity you’re giving me to talk about matters concerning Greece and the presence of Greek culture in the heart of America, in Washington.

[Zoi Leoudaki]: You’re here for a very important exhibition, an exhibition of Byzantine art titled “Heaven and Earth,” which will open this week. Tell me about this exhibition.

[Panos Panagiotopoulos]: This exhibition is an exceptionally important event, I would say unique. We are talking about roughly 180 exhibits, of which 100 are leaving the Greek borders for the first time to go abroad. These are antiquities from the Byzantine period showing the element that concerns “Worshipping” as well as the urban life in Byzantium from both perspectives. So beyond the image of a brilliant culture, a great empire that marked the history of humanity from every aspect, they offer, if you want, a showcase of the deeper Greekness, the Greek element within Byzantium. It is a distinct event, happening for the first time on this scale and with these exhibits abroad. It is a special honor that it is here in Washington, and I will tell you that it will then go to the Getty Villa in Los Angeles and then probably we will also display it in Chicago.

[Zoi Leoudaki]: As you said, this is a very important presentation. Indeed, I believe that exhibits have been taken from 13 museums in Greece. Do you think it’s important for Greece to present its cultural presence externally at this moment?

[Panos Panagiotopoulos]: Look, our cultural heritage in Greece is not only the base of Western civilization. It’s not only an element of the national identity of the Greeks and of our national self-awareness. It’s mainly our passport to the modern world. The government, I think all of us, regardless of our political affiliations in Greece, believe in Greek outwardness. We are deeply Greek and deeply citizens of the world. All the elements of our precious cultural heritage are good to have as many people from around the world as possible as recipients. The relations with the USA are very much of interest. It is a government decision by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who is here these days, a decision of the political leadership of the Ministry of Culture and Sports, which I have the honor to lead, to move towards further tightening our relations with the American space. Besides, we have an elite diaspora here. We have outstanding Greeks who honor Greece, first, second, third-generation American citizens of Greek descent, who in universities, in the economy, in commerce, in American society offer the best examples of their own dignity and their own professionalism. So, all this world, we want to meet it. Our goal is to bring Greece closer to American society. And I believe that with these contacts, we will be able to multiply both the exhibitions and the activities that will start here and gradually spread to major US cities.

[Zoi Leoudaki]: So you believe that art can act as a link between peoples and individuals.

[Panos Panagiotopoulos]: Exactly. Especially between two people who have so much in common. We defend common values with the American people. It doesn’t matter if we disagree on some things or agree on others. We defend common values. We have fought common battles against totalitarianism in the past with the USA. The USA is an open society, as is Greek society. And we have no reason to be distant. On the contrary, we have many reasons to be close.

[Zoi Leoudaki]: Byzantine art is not particularly well-known to the American public. Someone who will go to see the exhibition, what do you want them to take away from it?

[Panos Panagiotopoulos]: Let me tell you, first of all, one needs to get to know the content of Byzantine culture. Through this, they will understand the character of Byzantine society, but also the character of the Byzantine state. We have exhibits that have a religious character, but we also have exhibits that have an urban character, concerning urban life in Byzantium. It is very important, therefore, for the visitor in the National Gallery of Art, in Washington and then in Los Angeles and Chicago, by spending an hour of their time, to be able to have a full picture, almost, of all this great period, which, if you want, offered so much to Western civilization. Because it matters to see what Byzantium offered to Western civilization. You know, just to repeat, what it offered about the codification of laws, what it offered about state organization, what it offered in terms of structures and infrastructures of the state, what it offered in art, what it offers in philosophy. Let me remind you that Byzantium managed to save specific aspects and very important issues from ancient Greek philosophy, to then deliver it to the next era, the next historical period. All these then, scientific thought, philosophical thought, the way it managed the great metaphysical issue of religion, state organization, life organization, institution organization, a large part of these passed to Western civilization, to the Western states subsequently. All these then, can be seen and learned by the American public, visiting this exhibition. I assure you that it has unique exhibits.

[Zoi Leoudaki]: It was interesting what you said because you connected the thought of that era with contemporary life and many institutions that we have now.

[Panos Panagiotopoulos]: Exactly. The influence of that era on Western civilization is very great. And let me say something else that concerns Greece, allow me this. Greece is going through a difficult period of economic crisis. However, I think other countries have gone through economic crises and managed to get out of the straits. So will we, with effort, with sacrifices, with problems. I am certain we will manage to overcome the difficulties and quickly stand on our feet again. It’s not the economic and fiscal crisis that characterizes Greece, though. It’s like a bad illness, it will pass. Other peoples have gone through it too. What characterizes Greece is its culture and, as I told you, it’s our passport for Greek outwardness, and allow me to say, remembering my previous position as the defense minister of the Greek republic and our major geopolitical and geostrategic position. So, these two elements, nobody can take them from us along with our natural environment, the enchanting Greece, wherever you go Greece enchants you. Therefore, we are ready on all levels to cooperate with our friends because we believe that this way we better serve the interests of the Greek people.

[Zoi Leoudaki]: The Ministry of Culture is also planning some other presences abroad.

[Panos Panagiotopoulos]: Certainly, certainly. My presence here mainly serves this. American institutions dealing with culture are giants. So, we have opened channels for closer cooperation with them and as I told you we want to multiply the presence of Greek culture in the United States. We will do it. We have a specific program. I would not like to say anything before we finalize the agreements. I want to assure you that we are on a very good path and as for the money, we will find

the money. Because indeed, we have financial difficulties, but this does not remove our initiatives and the capabilities to do things. On the contrary, now that we are facing financial difficulties, I believe it’s the time to step on the gas, bypass the obstacles and come out ahead. In conclusion, we will have more Greek culture in the near future in the US.

[Zoi Leoudaki]: Thank you very much.

[Panos Panagiotopoulos]: Be well.

[Zoi Leoudaki]: We had with us the Minister of Culture and Sports, Panos Panagiotopoulos. Dear friends, goodbye from Washington.