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Greek foreign minister Kotzias in Berlin 23.1.2016



Greek foreign minister Kotsias spoke with TAZ journalist Ulrike Herrmann during the Hellas Film Festival at the Babylon cinema in Berlin on Saturday 23 January 2016. *




In the audience and even before the discussion habbd started, it could be noticed that quite a few so called orthodox Germans had come. They are hard-liners. Many of them have lived their wild dreams in Greece. One needs to think of the many who lived or still do in Crete.

Prior to his arrival at the Babylon theatre, a group belonging to a Distomo circle in Hamburg had unfolded a transparent in the foyer.


      Transparent says:

      Fight Fascism - everywhere; Compensation for Nazi victims - immediately!

Some observation about this group needs to be said even when not knowing them well. The word 'sofort' - αμέσως ('amesos' in Greek) - indicates a readiness to make the absolute demand that Germany redeems itself finally and immediately by paying Greece for the war crimes committed during Second World War. By implication, they call Germany to be still today a Fascist country.

When attempting to discuss this issue with them, very typically is that anyone disagreeing with their so called radical approach will be shunned as someone with whom they will not speak any further.

When I asked one of them with a very hard face if he knew, for instance, Karin Raeck, he was first perplexed and then became not only angry but aggressive for suggesting his organisation should know of her work in Crete. I said that redemption is after all best done by means of artistic reflections. Karin Raeck is a Berlin artist who lived for ten years in Greece, mainly in Crete, and there created an Andartis sculpture out of the very same stones which were used by Greek resistance up in the Anoia plain to prevent German planes from landing. (see http://www.amazon.de/Andartis-Monument-f%C3%BCr-Frieden-Griech/dp/3894681969 )

When trying to explain this, he interrupted me. His intervention was quite abrupt and very crude. He simply said if she wants to inform them, she can call the organisation in Hamburg. I replied if they wish to bring about redemption between Germany and Greece, then it is up to them to inform themselves as to who else is devoted to this ongoing work of redemption between the two countries. After all one needs to be comprehensive in one's approach, in order to be just. Furthermore, it is impossible to claim nothing has been done so far on the German side to initiate a process of redemption. Karin Raeck lived in Crete for ten years.

Why did he cut off the discussion so abruptly? Presumably people like him feed on orthodox wishes and as a result they uphold an one sided image as if they are the only ones who are doing something substantial about this issue and nothing else counts. This narrow view of the importance of their own efforts serves the purpose to justify why they continue to make extreme demands. A compromise is ruled out.

Unfortunately their aggressive way denies any chance for reconciliation and stands in contradiction to the extent and depth of human pain connected with such a tragic event which happened during Second World War. For sure what German troops did in Greece during WWII is one of the most troubling spot in the German-Greek relationship. Alone the sheer happiness with which Greeks greeted the news that so many Germans were killed or taken prisoner in Russia as depicted in the film 'Little England' illustrates precisely during these Hellas Film Festivals through the media of film once more how repulsive Germans can be viewed.

My own little encounter in the foyer underlines still another aspect. The Greek side risks as well to have false friends on the German side while it shall be difficult to address quite another part of Germans not so radical but sidelined and silenced since they would adopt a far more differentiated approach to redemption work. Many examples have been set in what German foreign policy has achieved with France, Poland, Czech Republic and Israel, but not so with Greece. There many other efforts were made but which do not qualify for one or another reason to be a substantial part of a consistent redemption work bringing in NGOs to complement official actions and personal contacts between German and Greek politicians. The friendship between Kotzias and Steinmeier perhaps another illustration of how many leading figures have a common history without being necessarily able to counter various distortions of the German-Greek relationship propelled into public consciousness by a media not being really fair.

All this goes to show any foreign minister can attract all sorts of people. Most of them were elderly ones who believe to love Greece compassionately. Yet a second look can reveal that they use Greece as well to grind, so to speak, their own axe since they wish to hit Germany as if it is still a Fascist country. Among them distributing leaflets to save the olive trees in Greece was Hildegard Schram, former member of the Greens in the Berlin parliament and whose father was Rudolf Hess. To add the nostalgia on display during the opening of the Hellas Film Festival was also in this crowd to be noticed. It is a love for Greece of the sixties and seventies when many engaged themselves for the sake of Greece to free itself from the dictatorship of the Junta, but also when they were inspired by the poets and music of Theodorakis.


The discussion in the Babylon theatre

The entire discussion took place inside the Babylon theatre and lasted one hour and a half. It was sub-divided in two parts: refugees and the economic situation in Greece itself.

Interesting is his style of discussing things. He loves to contradict, in order to highlight nuances of understanding which do matter in the final end. For instance, when the journalist Ulrike Herrmann mentioned that he translated Habermas into Greek, she added that he must be able to speak excellent German. Here he corrected her: no, you need excellent knowledge of the Greek language. This reminds me what Suhrkamp asked my great uncle who was translator from Chinese into German, „he would presume that he speaks Chinese, but does he speak as well good German?“

1. The refugee question


2. The Greek economic situation

Asked about the economic situation which Greece has to face, he pointed out


About political measures


He ended the discussion by saying he has many dreams but there are also those who dream a defeat of a left wing government in Greece.

Kotzias was a real charmer. The audience loved his self ironic way of explaining things even though he spoke often very long and therefore did not leave much time and space for the journalist to pose any real question. In the end he thanked everyone for having come last year as a tourist to Greece and he went to thank those who will come this year. At that point the journalist asked the audience who will travel to Greece this year, more than 4/5th lifted their hands.

After Kotzias finished answering questions by TAZ journalist Ulrike Herrmann, a small crowd gathered around him to exchange a few words at personal level. I joined them and as he passed by I introduced myself as someone although German who was living in Athens. He asked why I am then in Berlin. Medical reasons! What kind? I replied: cancer. What kind? Prostate. He took my hand and said thirty years ago he was operated on as well. We both had understood something.

When he was leaving and walking through the foyer towards the exit, someone shouted something at him. He was wondering who was that since quite aggressive. No one of those surrounding him could brief him, not even the Greek ambassador to Germany. He seemed more lost than being present. He looked even like all heavy smokers do, namely the cheeks fallen in as if nearly sick. He seemed preoccupied or absent minded or both.



Stephan Doempke from World Heritage expressed afterwards disappointment that the foreign minister did not touch upon culture as one of the best vehicles to build bridges between Greece and Germany within Europe. It was even more odd to him that he spoke at the Hellas Film Festival and did not mention with one word what Greek culture could offer.

Some people believe this is not to be expected since most of the Syriza people come from a background (education but also tradition) which has little to do with culture. Moreover some of the intellectuals who are brilliant as professors such as Baltsas, now the Greek Minister of Culture, seems to provoke only negative responses due to his anti social attitude and which leads in turn to bad decisions e.g. replacing all the directors of festivals and to which many Greeks shrug merely their shoulder by which they say that is usually done when one new party comes into power.

Something else was missed out in this process of diplomacy for when a foreign minister talks at a Greek Film Festival in Berlin, it would be an opportunity to convey the wishes and dreams of the Greek people. Diplomacy should consist much more of bringing different people together, so as to enable mutual understanding and especially the need work of redemption between Greece and Germany. Such cultural diplomacy can reinforce the critical dialogue about what is after all not self understood neither in Greece nor in Germany, never mind in Europe.

Interestingly enough some of the films themselves do reveal the modern Greece with a youth willing to show independent from national boundaries what they perceive as being of importance in their lives.

Still, the question remains not only what can Europe do for Greece to get out of the current crisis, but to what extent has Greece become European and developed in a way which is compatible with the needs of 28 member states to work together.

Repeatedly Kotzias mentioned that Europe may well break apart if the refugee question is not resolved, and he added when painting this scenario, that it will not stop the refugees from coming to Europe.

Finally, he said that he accepted to be Minister of Foreign Affairs not to make a career or to earn extra money (his salary is laughable in comparison as to what a highly qualified civil servants earns in the German state administration), but because it is necessary to safeguard the Polis by doing something constructive.

As a politician he has to be an optimist.


Hatto Fischer

Berlin 23.1.2016


* Fürs Interview mit der TAZ in deutscher Sprache, siehe

Griechischer Außenminister über Flucht

„Eine Grenzschließung bringt nichts“

Flüchtlinge fänden ihre Wege, sagt Nikos Kotzias. Er fordert allerdings eine Visumspflicht für Marokkaner und Algerier in der Türkei.


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