INTERVIEW: Greek Deputy Minister of Culture on the close ties between Egypt and Greece

Eman Youssef, Saturday 5 Feb 2022

Nicholas Yatromanolakis, the Greek Deputy Minister of Culture and Sports, who is responsible for contemporary culture highlighted the unique relations and cultural cooperation between Egypt and Greece in an interview with Ahram Online.

Nicholas Yatromanolakis, Greek Deputy Minister of Culture and Sports
Nicholas Yatromanolakis, Greek Deputy Minister of Culture and Sports

Yatromanolakis studied political science and public policy in Athens and later on at Harvard University in the United States.

Until 2019, he was working primarily in the private sector across a broad range of industries and companies, including Microsoft and the RTL Group. He also contributed to the World Economic Forum’s 2001 Global Competitiveness Report and was the scientific editor of the Greek version of the NATO Handbook.

In August 2019, he was appointed as the general-secretary for contemporary culture and in January 2021, he was appointed to the newly created position of deputy minister with the same portfolio.

Speaking about the unique relations and cooperation portfolio between Egypt and Greece, Yatromanolakis said that both countries have shared close ties for centuries, and the vibrant Greek community in Egypt played a strong part in this.

“In the field of culture, it is worth noting that the Greek language is taught across universities in Egypt and Greece offer scholarships to Egyptians wanting to study in Greece,” he said. 

Yatromanolakis added that there are two Greek Cultural Centres operating in Egypt — one in Cairo and one in Alexandria — and in 2008, the Alexandria Centre for Hellenistic Studies was established as a joint collaboration between the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the Onassis Foundation, the Vardinoyannis Foundation, and Alexandria University. 

He also said that the Greek friends of Bibliotheca Alexandrina are also very active, and so there are a lot of cultural organisations that plan conferences, events, and collaborations between Greek and Egyptian artists.

“Of course, there is also Cavafy’s House in Alexandria, and this unique link between our two countries through this prominent and world-renowned poet.”

The Greek deputy minister also emphasised that Greece has a cultural agreement with Egypt, which was signed on 4 September 1956.

On the basis of the aforementioned agreement, executive programmes of cultural cooperation were signed consecutively for the 1993-1995, 2002-2004, and 2006-2008 terms.

“Strengthening ties between Greece and Egypt is important to us. This is why we are excited to be this year’s honoured guest country in the Cairo International Book Fair, which is being held from 26 January to 7 February. Hopefully more of these initiatives will follow,” Yatromanolakis commented.

“We are looking forward to showcasing Greek letters in the Cairo Book Fair, introducing both classic and modern writers to Egyptian readers. Of course, Cavafy holds a prominent place in the Greek pavilion.”

“We also made sure that the visitors of the fair have a taste of contemporary Greek culture and — through a series of events and lectures we will be presenting — modern day Greek voices,” he added.

Regarding the importance of choosing Greece as the guest of honour in the Cairo book fair, Yatromanolakis assured that it is a great honour and an amazing opportunity to be featured in the Cairo Book Fair. 

He believes that this will be also mutually beneficial because it will bring the publishing communities of our two countries closer.

“We are looking forward to presenting to Egyptian publishers ‘GreekLit’, which is our new initiative focusing on translation grants for Greek books to be published abroad,” Yatromanolakis says.

As for the recent participation of Greece at the Cairo International Film Festival, he explained that the Greek Film Centre has been a regular participant at the Cairo International Film Festival since its establishment.

Since the 90s, Greece has had a strong presence in the Cairo International Film Festival, often presenting Greek Cinema retrospectives. Greece has also participated in the 43rd Cairo International Film Festival from 26 November to 2 December 2021 with the movies ‘Pack of Sheep’ by Dimitris Kanellopoulos, ‘Literal Legend’ by Dimitris Tsakaleas and Lida Vartzioti, and ‘Tochters’ by Nana Neul.

Furthermore, Greece was the guest of honour in the 37th Alexandria Mediterranean Film Festival, which was held from 25 September until 2 October 2021.

Talking about the coronavirus pandemic’s effect on culture in Greece, Yatromanolakis emphasised that as we all know, the cultural sector has been greatly affected by the global pandemic.

Theatres, cinemas, concert halls, museums, and other cultural venues had to close for significant periods. Planning and programming became almost impossible, and a lot of artists were left in a precarious position. He also noted that during the pandemic, the Greek state provided support in multiple different ways to the cultural sector amounting to almost half a billion euros.

“But we are not stopping there; the pandemic highlighted systemic issues that cultural professionals face, so we are proceeding with significant labour and social security reforms in order to protect the cultural sector and its people,” he added.

Concerning his priorities as the deputy minister of culture and sports responsible for contemporary culture, Yatromanolakis stressed that labour and social security reform is a key priority, as well as the reform and modernisation of tertiary cultural education, something that has not been touched upon for a lot of decades.

Also, providing new skills and funding opportunities to cultural professionals, improving cultural governance, boosting Greece’s cultural impact worldwide, and making culture accessible to all are important issues he is working on. 

Regarding the developments in Athens’ contemporary art scene, Yatromanolakis said that during the past two years, despite the obstacles presented by the pandemic, the National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST) started its regular operation, and so did the expanded and renovated National Gallery.

Also, a new space was created in the old Public Tobacco Factory in Athens after its renovation, and the space has been already utilised for an exhibition organised by the NEON cultural organisation. The Athens Biennale also took place during Autumn of 2021 and received very positive reviews.

The pandemic has unavoidably slowed down developments across cultural sectors, still many dance, music, opera, and theatre performances are taking place right now.

Of course, the Stavros Niachos Foundation Cultural Centre, which opened to the public in 2016 and includes the new home of the National Greek Opera and the newly established Goulandris Museum of Contemporary Art, are also recent and important additions to the city.

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