GIG: Greece is blessed with a plethora of archaeological riches and sites. How can we do them greater justice? And what are your priorities to showcase them better in the future? Also, many of those who work in the archaeological arena often complain of insufficient staffing levels (and pay) to meet the sector’s needs, while many museums and archaeological sites around the country sometimes operate for limited hours that fail to cover the needs of tourists and other local visitors in the 21st century. Making matters worse, strike action sometimes disrupts access to key sights (including the Acropolis) for which many visitors have travelled around the world to undertake a once-in-a-lifetime visit. What are your plans to deal with these issues?
Mendoni: Our goal is to develop public policies that will address and permeate culture as a whole and not merely as an aggregate of its constituent parts, [supporting] tangible and intangible heritage and contemporary artistic creation. Those policies are realistic and based on the careful mapping of the current state of affairs and the evaluation and prioritisation of needs with regard to available resources.
We intend to exhaust all possibilities to make use of uncommitted funds in current Sectoral and Regional Operational Programs for new projects. We also seek alternative sources of funding in the direction of the social economy, crowdfunding via the internet, sponsoring by charitable and non-profit institutions and organisations, contributions by private companies in the context of corporate social responsibility, public participation, and volunteering. We place particular emphasis on the cooperation between the public and private sector. We also work hard to bring together the mutual promotion of cultural heritage and regional growth via the development of cultural tourism as part of the greater “economy of experiences”.
Finally, we intend to make the best possible use of new technologies for the digital documentation, management, and promotion of sites and monuments, both at the level of official government curation, research and education, and open public and private initiative in the form of value-added services and creative applications. We strongly believe that these policies will alleviate the administrative burden and free up human and material resources so that chronic problems and crisis-born weaknesses and shortcomings can be successfully addressed and overcome.
GIG: The ‘Greece 2021’ Committee, headed by former Athens 2004 Olympics supremo Gianna Angelopoulos, was inaugurated in parliament in November to celebrate the bicentenary of the start of the Greek Revolution in 1821. What do you hope the bicentenary events will achieve? How can they help Greeks here and overseas not only better understand their more recent history and culture, but also to be more self-aware of where they are today and what they hope to achieve in the future?
Mendoni: The 200th anniversary of the Greek Revolution and the constitution of the Greek State are very important milestones for all Greeks. The anniversary is a time to reflect, to recapitulate, to exercise self-evaluation, self-consciousness, and awareness on a national as well as personal level. To recognize our gains as well as our losses, our accomplishments and our failures, our gifts and talents, but also our flaws and shortcomings.
The big stake is to mobilize and involve all Greeks in this effort, both those living and working within Greece and those belonging to the great diaspora – old, new, and future. The activities and events that will take place in the context of the anniversary must not have an elitist character but permeate the whole of society and encourage the participation of all citizens regardless of age, education, socio-economic status, or ideology.
Activities and events may have history and the past as a starting point but must emphasise the timeless values of Hellenism while portraying a contemporary image of Greece. The past is a source of knowledge and inspiration to guide the future, the foundation of our ever evolving and rejuvenating common identity. But the future is an open ground of endless opportunities that we need to grasp both thoughtfully and boldly, with careful consideration and strong self-confidence.
GIG: Since last year, the Greek state has pushed ambitiously to create a more movie-friendly environment in a bid to encourage more foreign films, television, and audio-visual productions to be made in Greece by introducing generous tax credits and rebates. What potential do you see in this space? What are the results so far? And what are your policy priorities for this sector going forward?
Mendoni: Our goal is to make good use of all the advantages Greece has to offer to the entertainment industry. We see this as an opportunity for growth that can benefit Greek cinema too with more jobs for Greek crews and the development of stronger relationships with international organisations and entertainment companies. Most of these matters are managed by the Ministry of Digital Governance. The Ministry of Culture and Sports fully supports this direction, and we are willing to do everything we can in order to facilitate the procedures related to matters of the ministry.
GIG: Greece has also pledged to reduce red tape and remove bureaucratic hurdles that have discouraged many international production companies in the past. What progress has been made? And what are your priorities for further improvements to make Greece a more attractive venue for film investments?
Mendoni: I could say that Greece is a very attractive country indeed! But the beauty of the landscape should not be the only reason to attract foreign productions. That’s not enough, and we know it. The Greek government is aware of the potential of the industry and also of the many obstacles many productions have found on their way. The change in the way these matters should be managed is a decision already made by the government. Not only the Ministry of Culture and Sports but all competent authorities are jointly making progress in order to reduce bureaucratic hurdles as much as possible.
GIG: There was a lot of discussion last year after the film production for the BBC thriller The Little Drummer Girl was initially turned away from the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion after objections from archaeological authorities. It was later allowed to shoot, albeit with more restricted filming times than initially requested. How do you plan to deal with such issues in the future?
Mendoni: Filming in archaeological sites has always been a sensitive matter. Most people have the impression that archaeologists are extremely sensitive, conservative, and overprotective of historical sites and monuments. We realise the need to be more open to film and television productions, and we have already incorporated an updated approach on this. However, the fact is that every case is unique, and we examined them having in mind that our main priority is to combine a growth policy with the protection of our monuments.
GIG: Greece has long campaigned for the return of the Parthenon marbles. How is this progressing? Is there any realistic hope that they may be temporarily ‘loaned’ to Greece (possibly for the bicentenary in 2021) by the British Museum, which has for many years stubbornly refused even to open a formal discussion on their return?
Mendoni: The Greek position regarding the campaign for the return of the Parthenon Marbles is firm and has remained unchanged from the very beginning: the removal of the marbles from the Parthenon was an illegal act of vandalism and theft. Therefore, Greece cannot and will not accept and recognize any rights of ownership, possession, or control over the marbles by the British Museum, and our request for their definitive, permanent, and irrevocable return in Athens will always stand. As prominent personalities from all over the world that stand by our side point out, every time the issue of the return of the Parthenon Marbles comes up in international news, pressure on the British Museum actually increases. The recent decision of the French President to return on loan to the Acropolis Museum in 2021 the metope of the Parthenon held by the Louvre for 200 years is another major development. We are confident that more such developments will follow and will finally compel the British Museum to accept our request.