Egypt and Greece have undertaken several initiatives demonstrating the significant cultural relations that both countries share, including recently choosing Greece as the country of honour at the 53rd Book Fair in Cairo in 2022. The two countries also collaborate on several projects in the field of culture.
In her interview with Ahram Online, Mendoni maintains that the sustained, fruitful and high-level dialogue between the two countries, which is based on a better understanding of history and its lessons to promote the long-standing relations between the two peoples, is already bearing significant fruit in all areas.
Ahram Online: How can you evaluate the cultural cooperation between Egypt and Greece?
Lina Mendoni (LM): The excellent level of relations with the people of Egypt creates enormous potential and prospects for mutually beneficial cooperation in all domains, including cultural cooperation. Without exaggeration, few people can boast such deep and long-standing historical relations as those between Greece and Egypt. The key role that culture can play in further promoting relations between our two countries is essential. Both sides should explore ways Greece and Egypt can deepen their cooperation at the level of bilateral relations and international organizations.
AO: What are the future initiatives between the two countries?
LM: Two years ago, during the meeting with my Egyptian counterpart, it was agreed to continue consultations to sign a bilateral but also a trilateral agreement with the participation of Cyprus. This was done in the fields of the protection of cultural heritage and the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural goods, as well as the organization of a major international conference with the participation of culture ministers from countries facing similar challenges to explore ways of providing mutual assistance. The agreements are under technical processing by the competent agencies of the parties involved, and we hope that the necessary procedures will be completed soon. The prospect of exchanges of experts, know-how and experience in museum policies, marine archaeological research and conservation of antiquities, and the promotion of joint actions concerning festivals, exhibitions and book publications was also discussed.
Greece being the country of honour at the 52nd Book Fair in Cairo in 2022 only proves the sustainability of the dialogue between the two countries and can serve as an example for bilateral and broader regional relations in the Eastern Mediterranean region, especially during intense international geopolitical instability.
AO: In your opinion, what is the importance of cultural diplomacy in boosting international relations?
LM: In an increasingly globalized, interconnected and interdependent world of ever-changing relationships and balances, the role of cultural diplomacy in maintaining and restoring peace and stability can become crucial. Intercultural dialogue encourages and facilitates mutual understanding and trust, bilateral and multilateral cooperation.
AO: What are the government's plans for promoting Greece's cultural heritage sites?
LM: The Hellenic Ministry of Culture is currently making the highest investment in culture ever in the country. It is implementing more than 820 projects with a total budget of over €1.2 billion, about 60 percent of which relate to cultural heritage. The projects cover the enterprise, innovation, digitization, traditional restoration and enhancement of monuments and archaeological sites, with a targeted spatial distribution. The projects entail the creation of new and upgrading existing major cultural infrastructures in specific areas to function as multipliers of tourist flows and attract a wide range of development activities.
These projects also aim to restore, promote, and interconnect monuments and sites of cultural heritage through a network of cultural routes.
Particular importance is attached to protecting emblematic monuments from natural disasters and defending them against the effects of climate change.
The projects are also intended to enrich and complement cultural heritage capital using the elements of contemporary cultural and artistic creation. The systematic use of heritage sites for music, theatre and other artistic performances and cultural activities is already underway.
AO: What initiatives have you taken to ensure the preservation of the Acropolis?
LM: With national and European funding, such projects are currently underway or about to be approved for implementation as part of a comprehensive plan for the restoration of individual monuments and the overall enhancement of the Acropolis archaeological site. This will include interventions to improve accessibility, restoration of the monumental stairway of the Propylaea, safety and security, lightning protection, vulnerability study and installation of security systems, among other facilities.
AO: What measures have you taken to provide public accessibility to cultural events?
LM: The Greek government, through the Ministry of Culture, supports and subsidizes institutionally and financially, on a permanent and ad hoc basis, the organization and implementation of artistic and other cultural events organized by public and private organizations throughout the country.
A significant percentage of these events are accessible free of charge or for a symbolic fee. At the same time, care is taken to ensure that for events where ticket purchase is required, special age categories such as pupils, students and elderly people or vulnerable groups of the population, such as the disabled, unemployed, and refugees, are entitled to free or reduced cost admission.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the ministry also introduced a new institution, "All of Greece one Culture," initially intended to provide health-safe public access to cultural events while strengthening and supporting hard-hit cultural professionals. The institution includes the annual organization during the summer of a rich program of concerts, theatrical performances, exhibitions and other artistic and cultural events at monuments, archaeological sites, museums and other cultural infrastructures. Admission for these events is either free or in exchange for the price of a ticket usually required to visit the sites.
AO: How does the government support artists and cultural institutions in Greece?
LM: In the new development plan for our country, the cultural sector possesses a central role. The ministry implements a broad framework of actions for the financial, institutional, and operational support and backing of public and private cultural organizations and all the professionals engaged in contemporary artistic creation.
The development-focused measures that the government has implemented and continues to implement include, in part, regular and ad hoc grants to organizations, enterprises, individuals and the self-employed. At the same time, various measures have been introduced to increase the efficiency and competitiveness of cultural organizations and creative industries to accelerate the digitization of cultural production and distribution of individual professionals and SMEs and to reform and modernize the labour and social security framework of the whole Cultural Sector.
Furthermore, a new organization called “Acropole Across” will soon become operational, with the task of modernizing, supporting and strengthening the cultural and creative sector and its professionals.
AO: What is the role that culture plays in the economy?
LM: The increase in public spending on culture –as the government has done- has a multiplier effect on employment in the sectors linked to cultural heritage and the creative industries.
Greece has a strong potential for employment growth and job creation in the cultural and creative sectors. Numerous infrastructure projects in the cultural field are already widely implemented, while new ones constantly begin throughout Greece, especially in rural areas.
Therefore, we have established the “Cultural Charter for Development and Prosperity,” the road map for promoting culture as a strategic development resource and a significant factor in social cohesion and prosperity.
AO: How is the ministry adapting to the emergence of new technologies?
LM: Digital transformation constitutes a central priority. Subsequently, the ministry has started planning and implementing several projects in this field.
Two infrastructure projects related to the National Hellenic Archive of Monuments have recently been completed: the “Archaeological Cadaster” and the “Enrichment of the Digital Collections of Movable Monuments of Greece,” which involved the digitization and digital recording and documentation of hundreds of thousands of cultural goods, along with the development of new integrated information systems.
The National Hellenic Archive of Monuments is a digital archive that covers the entire cultural heritage capital. Based on this fundamental infrastructure of digital applications and content, the ministry is building a network of interconnected services and products to make cultural heritage a multiplier of local, regional and national development and competitiveness through cultural tourism.