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Society

SNF Co-President Andreas Dracopoulos’ Interview on Protagon.gr

July 16, 2018

In an interview with the Greek news portal Protagon.gr, the Co-President of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), Mr. Andreas Dracopoulos, discusses current events, the Foundation’s relationship with the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre (SNFCC), “a real beast that constantly asks for your attention”, as he noted, but also an example of good cooperation between all parties involved, the SNF’s new Health Initiative as well as this year’s World Cup.

Follows the interview as published at snf.org.

A few hours ago, the Hellenic Ministry of Culture announced that the e-ticketing system for certain archaeological sites is finally operational. The e-ticketing service is implemented with the support of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. I must admit that I laughed quite cynically when I read that this service, that has been announced multiple times by many different governments, was finally being realized…

It also brings a cynical smile to my face, for the same reason…

And not just this case.Do these types of delays annoy you? I mean, in projects that you are directly involved through grants?

If it annoyed us then we would have left, we wouldn’t bother anymore.Look at every thing that’s been happening with the National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST) all these years. It’s embarrassing…I went to see it three years ago, when the work was completed.Your heart just weeps due to the fact that it’s not opening. For years, the building is just sitting there, being wasted.

Have you decided what you are going to do with the new request submitted by EMST forthe3-million-eurogrant(it is noted that, two years ago, the SNF had withdrawn its grant due to delays in fulfilling the prerequisites on the part of the museum, which then submitted a new, updated application to receive a new grant, a few months ago).

Yes.We decided to go forward with the 3-million-euro grant. It will be announced in the coming days,the relevant grant letter will have been sent by the end of the week.

This is amazing news. I can’t even begin to think about the lost opportunities from the huge momentum of documenta14, all because we didn’t have a fully operational EMST.

But that’s how it goes with Greece. Exactly what you are describing. We do not seize the opportunities.

You left Greece when you were18years old, and you permanently reside in New York. Do you think you could ever live here, permanently?

I’m not sure… If my children weren’t still in school, I would definitely spend more time in Greece, I’d be more active.But, for me, it is simple. Greece should be following this model:On March 1stthe country “opens,” and on October 31stit “closes.” During the rest of the months we are on vacation and preparing for the next season. In these eight months, the country works in three areas: Tourism, Agrotourism and Culture. But we still follow the Xenia model…

Midnight Express and Mykonos

And yet, Four Seasons and other powerful actors from the world tourism industry have been entering the Greek market recently.

They are here to “exploit” us; to take advantage of our weaknesses. These investments could have taken place much earlier, and on much better terms for us. Let me tell you something: I visited Istanbul for the first time, about six years ago…

What took you so long?

I was influenced by the “Midnight Express,” which I saw when I was about 14 years old. And,of course, another issue is what we were told in school about Turkey—and about Macedonia, of course. Any regular person in Greece, who has finished school, has learned to hate the Turks. When I visited Turkey, the country was at its best. I saw two Four Seasons. Meanwhile in Athens, in Vouliagmeni, the entire coast all the way to Sounio, didn’t even have one. That says something.

They are here. Now.

And they got it for free.For me, it’s a shame that Greece is a minority stakeholder. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a nationalist, but these are our own goods, we must have first say in this. If we had properly invested in the “Tourism, Agrotourism, Culture” model,now we would be 11 million happy people, and we would have gotten rich.

Happy,rich, working March to October… What you are describing is the Mykonos model.

Look,personally, I would turn the islands into pilot programs. One island dedicated to culture, another to wind power, another to gather the top experts in desalination. And the island of Mykonos, I would just let it be… Mykonos. Just as it is. I’d say“gentlemen,try doing something that you haven’t been doing: pay your taxes, like people are doing in the rest of the country, and good luck.”The last time I visited Mykonos was three years ago and I was shocked: there were no sidewalks, no infrastructure. How is this possible, with so much money going through the island? They can’t organize themselves and take care of the infrastructure? At the end of the day, they owe it to all the people visiting and spending something like 10,000 euros or more for their holidays.They are following the “let’s grab whatever we can” model. At the same time, you also see beautiful, small islands and when you disembark, all you see is garbage everywhere. This is also a lack of respect.

This year, during the Summer Nostos Festivalat the SNFCC, when people left the big concerts, they often left a lot of trash behind, even though there are garbage bins everywhere. More so than in previous years. Is something changing in the relationship between the citizens and the Cultural Center, or is this maybe the arrival of a new type of audience…

This is true. Yes, that’s where we are. At a very difficult turn for the SNFCC right now. But,everything starts from above…

The Cultural Center is a beast

From above?

From the Center’s administration and from the government. The Cultural Center is a real beast, it constantly calls for attention, you must constantly meet the project’s demands.You need to monitor it, anticipate its needs and be ready for every possible scenario.Unfortunately, this is not common in Greece. It is not part of our mindset.Even though this project requires tremendous strategy, planning and attention.Don’t get me wrong, we have an excellent working relationship with both the Center’s administration and the government.We have always treated the Center as custodians, even before it was gifted to the Greek State. We never thought it belonged to us. And when some people were screaming at us, begging us to not hand it over to the State, we replied that governments come and go, but the State is the citizens themselves. It is YOU.

The contract that you signed for the establishment of the Center provided for the construction of a metro station. Do you continue to push for the issue of transportation?

This is not just a simple commitment;it is part of the contract.We are constantly writing letters, talking with every government regarding this matter. Unfortunately, it is not progressing.

Have you thought of activating some of the clauses?

Look, if this was just the case with a specific government, I would think about activating the clauses.It is a matter of mentality and infrastructure. Within two years, more than5,000,000 people have visited the SNFCC, almost half of Greece’s population, while it is also the number two tourist attraction in the city, after the Acropolis.It’s common sense…But it is not our role to replace the government. We are here to complement it, so there is nothing else we can do.

The“allowance”and the President

It has been almost 18 months since the SA managing the SNFCC has been without a President, after the resignation of Giorgos Kimoulis…

This is none of my business. I don’t mean this negatively. This is a decision we took long before we even started: we would hand over the Center and never meddle with its administration and management.I am very absolute in these matters: either something is yours or you hand it over. To those who ask me, I always say that the only thing that’s important to me is whether someone who visits the Center understands the value of the project. But we have no involvement in the choice of candidates.

Do you ever visit the Cultural Center as a citizen? To attend actions or events?

I mainly visit Greece in the summer.Unfortunately, the Greek National Opera, which I really want to visit, starts its programming at fall. I have to say that I really like and appreciate Giorgos Koumentakis, the Artistic Director of the GNO. I believe he is doing a great job.I met him for a first time about a year ago and I finally saw a man who understands the value of this project and the potential for all of us to grow together.Of course, I don’t mean to be unfair to the Library, but it needs more time to take off. The move was difficult and there is a terrible lack of support from the State. Just look at its budget: it’s300,000euros. That’s crazy. We are talking about the National Library of Greece, a pillar of culture and knowledge.

Do you hear of any complaints by the individual organizations,the SA, in terms of the relations between them?

There will always be complaints.What I always say is that the project is larger than all of us;larger than us, who built it, and larger than any government.Of course, we at the Foundation are emotionally charged when it comes to the SNFCC. I must confess that it feels like one of my children who left.It hasn’t exactly left.

It’s still getting an “allowance” from you (laughs)

Sure, we might still be giving it an allowance and asking it “how is school, do you need any help” but, still, it’s gone.

Will you continue the logic of grants towards the SA and the institutions housed at the SNFCC?

We are already in the second year of the five-year grant you announced towards SNFCC SA. Our intention is “why not?” There is much greater danger of them “wasting it” than us stopping. If the Center keeps running smoothly, we will not stop.It could, of course, run even better, but this needs more time. Once again, I am stressing that we are happy with the collaboration with the housed institutions, with the administration and the government. We have an amazing collaboration, and sometimes I am misunderstood.I assure you that I am not with any government. Actually, to be more precise, I am on the side of every government that stands by the citizens.

Polakis, Kavafis,Martin Luther King

On the occasion of your grant initiative to enhance the Health sector in Greece, totaling more than 200 million, I have read many comments on social media regarding your collaboration and coexistence with the Alternate Minister of Health, Mr. Polakis.

I will give you a straight answer. Ten Health Ministers have been through our offices. We have always asked them: “How can we help you?” Well, the only ones who responded immediately were Mr. Xanthos and Mr. Polakis. So, I don’t care what others might think. They came here at the Foundation, on the sixth floor and we discussed the Evangelismos Hospital. And then they said: “would you like to listen to what we have to say?” They informed us of the great need for a general hospital in Komotini and the fact that there is no Children’s Hospital in Thessaloniki.I must confess, I didn’t know that there was no children’s hospital outside of Athens.And I said on the spot: “Is there any objection to doing this? Let’s decide right here and now.” And,within ten minutes,we had already decided.Our collaboration is impeccable. We do not ask for anything but, in order to approve a grant, we always check that the specific project will have a positive effect to society at large, and that the right professionals are in place to implement it. It is important not to say a wrong “no.”Not saying a wrong “yes,” is not that important to me. I don’t care if someone says that I was fooled. It is important not to be arrogant.

Have you recently visited a public hospital in Greece?Yes.What can you say?

What is happening is a shame. But, it is like a miniature version of the Greek State. You have got some people who are giving it their all to handle a situation that should have been getting help from above.The situation we are in now is not even a choice. It’s like Survivor.

An interesting choice of word.Survivor…Do you watch Greek TV?

Not at all.I get my information through the internet, though blogs, by talking to friends.There is extreme polarization. Every TV channel takes a specific stance, not only in Greece,everywhere. I am a man of the center, independent. For years, my position has been that there is no Right and Left anymore, there is only doing the right thing for society.

And,at this juncture, you created, along with the John Hopkins University, the Agora Institute, which deals with issues of democracy, civic engagement, dialogue. In the era of extreme polarization. I wonder if there will be targeted actions in Greece.

Extreme polarization is everywhere, just look at the USA.It will have many applications, it is like Ithaca, I only care about the journey, not the destination.

Kavafis. Recently, you have been mentioning “Ithaka” a lot, even though I think that the top reference in your speeches is JFK.

And Martin Luther King. “It is not the color of your skin, it is your character.” And I have expanded it: “It is not the color of your skin, it is not your sexual preferences or your political affiliations,it not about anything else other than the content of your character.

”Macedonia, the World Cup and an urban legend

You spoke earlier about all the things we learned wrong in school about Turkey, and about Macedonia. What is your position on the name?

What I know is that in the US, and generally outside of Greece, the country was never referred to as FYROM, but as Macedonia. As a friend of mine once said, that “M” in FYROM does not stand for Marmelade, it stands for Macedonia.So many mistakes have been made,by so many people, that it is almost unethical to fight something that we have effectively lost. I realize that this is a very sensitive issue, but it’s being twisted into to many directions for political gain. It should have never reached this level. And many are to blame, not only Greeks, and, of course, the media.

You are often critical of the media in your public statements.

I mainly get my information via blogs. I am interesting in reading opinions, even if I disagree with them, as long as they are not polarizing; as long as they have arguments. I can’t stand witnessing these constant attempts to make some quick money. As a citizen, I believe that the media could play a more meaningful role. I believe that journalists—the soldiers—are good. It is a matter of directors and owners. We live in Greece, we see what is happening. When you end up with an industry where you are at risk of losing your job if you write something that does not serve your publisher, then the role of the media has been lost. At that point, you either quit—easy to say, but quite difficult to do when your livelihood depends on your work, especially in crisis-ridden Greece—or you just say: “Oh well, why is it up to me to change the media and the country?”

To get back to the Foundation: the SNFCC was completed and now the Health Initiative is under way, with the creation of the General Hospital of Komotini, the Children’s Hospital in Thessaloniki and the Chair of the University’s Faculty of Nursing in Evangelismos Hospital, designed by Renzo Piano. What is the timetable for this project?

This project will definitely require more than three years. We are going at full speed, and so is Renzo Piano and the government, but local services and institutions will definitely play a vital role.The truth is that when we were working on the SNFCC, some people were questioning our methods, but now everyone is working with a positive mood. There is good will from everyone, a cushion that lets you know that you are going to make it.

Culture, Health. Are you already working on the next big goal?Is there something on the horizon?

There always is (smirking).

In which area? With what characteristics?

Greece. Hellenism. That’s all I can say.

There is this urban legend about the competition between the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and the Onassis Foundation.

(laughs). I had once discussed this with Antonis Papadimitriou, the President of the Onassis Foundation. I told him that our Founders had been healthy competitors, we are healthy collaborators. I truly believe that. I know from my uncle that in the morning they could be fighting with Onassis over a business deal but,in the evening, they would have dinner together. Today, with the Onassis Foundation, and with all other Foundations, we are healthy collaborators, working for the good of society, each in their own way, according to their desires and abilities.

I know that you love football.What are your observations about the World Cup?

Well, the World Cup is very interesting.First of all, the cycle of team favorites is over. This is due to many reasons, but is mainly due to the fact that there aren’t any major differences in talent between the teams any more.It is very interesting to see four European teams reaching the final round of this World Cup, at a time when Europe is going through a major crisis. I don’t know whether this is a stable or random indicator.

Which team did you initially support?

I was with Argentina and Spain. But, all I want is a good match, although it would be interesting to see England vs Belgium at the final.

Give it your all, even if you don’t reach the top

You have three children.Do they know exactly what you do?

That is a very good question and, I must admit, it is something I think about. They are 8, 11and 14 years old.I believe that deep inside, yes, they know what I do, without fully realizing the scope of the work. However, in New York, they often come into contact with the Foundation’s activities, so their feeling of social responsibility is already high.

Would you like them to work with the Foundation?

I don’t view it as a family matter. The Foundation is not a business. It is platform for action. If they want to work with the Foundation, I would welcome them. If they are passionate about it. I do not push them towards it. I want them to see what is happening, to understand exactly what is happening. But I would never force them. After all, there is already so much pressure on the young.

Yes.Perhaps you saw a major story on the news today about the suicide of a 14-year-oldwho seems to have been a victim of bullying.

It’s tragic, yes. I followed the story, mainly through blogs.I want to share something with you. When I read a story, I always check the comments left by readers. I did the same today. What I read shocked me. Many of the replies were so off, without any emotion. I wonder when we became so indifferent, so apathetic… It’s terrible.

What is one piece of advice that you will never forget?

It’s not one, it’s many, which I remind myself everyday.One that I have followed and I constantly give to my kids is “give it your all.” Sometimes, my children tell me they didn’t do very well in a particular class. And I reply that I don’t care about that, if you gave it your all,then I am happy.It requires great care, because parents put tremendous pressure on their children. Just because you provide your children with all the right tools, that doesn’t mean you can demand of them to be at the top. You give them the tools because you can, or because you didn’t have them and you don’t want them to miss out. From then on, they must learn to appreciate people, circumstances, experiences, life itself. Every night, yous hould be able to go to bed and say “I gave it my all.” With passion, with philotimo, even if you make mistakes. And, as I tell my children, you should never harm anyone with intent.This could possibly happen in life, but only without your intention.

This is a very Christian thing you are saying.

I’m circling back to Martin Luther King.It is all about your character.

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