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Interview with GSGA Director General, Ambassador Peter Panagiotopoulos to ANA - MPA

The General Secretariat for Greeks Abroad, an independent Foreign Ministry agency, run by experienced career diplomat Petros Panagopoulos for the past two months, proposes the restructuring of event organization for the promotion of Greek culture worldwide, provision of support to Greek language teaching, and organization of hospitality programs, as part of its planning.

Mr. Panagopoulos is well aware of Hellenism outside the Greek borders, through the various posts he has previously served, as he states in his interview to ANAMPA.

“All diplomats have a closer contact with the Greek Diaspora, than any other officials of the Greek government, given the fact that they are responsible for the administrative representation of their country to Greeks living abroad, and come into immediate contact with Greek communities”, explains Mr. Panagiotopoulos.

“So far the Secretariat was an “offspring” of the political system, chaired by a political figure. The decision, on behalf of the Prime Minister and the ministry’s leadership to appoint a diplomat in this post, provides another dimension. I hope we will be able to see results, as soon as possible, not for our sake, and to rest on our glories, but for the interest of Greeks across four corners of the Earth”, he adds.

From the various posts he served abroad, and especially during his term as Consul General in Jerusalem (1999 – 2002) and later on, for another four year term in Marseille, Petros Panagiotopoulos tried to contribute to Diaspora bodies, improve our country’s image, with respect to its political dimension, but also assist the dissemination of Greek language.

In Marseille, which “never ceased to demonstrate and possess the Greek chromosome, a tangible reality, around the South of France”, as Mr. Panagiotopoulos states, he was particularly involved, not only in Diaspora organizations, but also Philhellenes; people who consider Greece as a cradle of Western civilization, but also as a “faraway homeland”.

Mr. Panagiotopoulos stressed that Philhellenes are a “gold-bearing vein”, which we have yet to put to use, adding that Philhellenes chose to “love Greece and often engages in struggles for its image, its name, its interest, more than certain Greeks, ‘professional’ patriots, something we don’t need. We are in need of Greeks abroad, showing their love for the homeland, volunteering, the Philhellene.”

All this constitutes the design of the new GSGA, as it has already been announced by the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Demetris Dollis, who entrusted him with the direction of the agency.

“Mr. Dollis is a child of the Diaspora; he has lived as a Diaspora Greek. The same applies for our Prime Minister, who has lived abroad, not under the conditions of an economic immigrant, but under fugitive, refugee status, which is often something much stronger. The love of these people, for the other Greece, outside our geographical borders, is given”, he states.

The GSGA, and SAE, has already completed a cycle, and requires a new approach. That is the main objective on restructuring the bodies responsible for Greeks abroad, a course that unfortunately coincided with the economic crisis in our country.

“Clearly, we are not overlooking the economic situation, which is very difficult, but it shouldn’t be assumed that we are promoting changes due to the circumstances”, explains Mr. Panagiotopoulos. “This is something that had to be done; it was already underway; however the economic crisis came as an obstacle, affecting the speed of these changes. In this sense, we are pleased that our program is progressing, even slowly”, states the GSGA General Director.

Mr. Panagiotopoulos also stated that Greek collective bodies abroad should stop relying on the Greek State, adding that, nonetheless, the state wishes to fund and support all the events promoting our culture and mainly ensure the preservation of our ancient language. “This is a very important issue we are discussing with the Ministries of Education and Culture”, he underlined.

The GSGA aspires to become “the core of the policy for Diaspora Hellenism”, through the re-organization of offices, which ought to become more thematic, so as to address the signs of the times”.

“We start under one strategic objective: that GSGA becomes the spearhead, which will substantially “strike” the fragmentation of actions for Greeks Abroad, and at the same time, serve as a means of support to this policy. It is the real policy of Greece, we want to follow, actively and responsibly, ‘embracing’ the whole world abroad, which will have an interactive relationship with Greece”, stresses Mr. Panagiotopoulos, expressing his hope that the first signs of restructuring will be soon evident.

In regard to hospitality programs for Greeks Abroad, provided by the GSGA since 1981, were halted for the fist time in 2010, due to financial hardships. Nonetheless, this summer, the GSGA launches a pilot hospitality program for 95 adolescents (aged between 15 – 17 years old), with a higher response rate, than expected, as Mr. Panagiotopoulos explains.

Nonetheless, the continuation of hospitality programs for youths and senior citizens are under discussion, while hospitality programs for children aged 8-12 years old will be suspended.

“Through this qualitative upgrading on the means of representation or Greece’s response to Greeks abroad, we seek to create new conditions”, states the general director of the GSGA.

In this context, according to Mr. Panagiotopoulos, the hospitality model for Greek children abroad will also be revised. “We believe that the children of Greeks abroad, aged 15-17 years old, are ready citizens of tomorrow. Visits to historical sites, Greek lessons, messages they will receive during their twenty-day stay, will keep them close to Greece”, he explains.

An ambitious long –term goal, is the creation of a multicultural center, already making use of the existing GSGA camping facilities in Epanomi, Thessaloniki, or Malessina, Fthiotida.

“A center radiating Hellenism, for all Greek youths abroad. If we succeed in this, the hospitality program will receive a new dimension”, concludes Mr. Panagiotopoulos.

Source: ANAMPA

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