Dr. Stefanos Katsikas, Director of Modern Greek Studies and Lecturer of Linguistics and Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies, was interviewed by Associate Editor Maria Karamitsos of The Greek Star. This article is reprinted with permission from The Greek Star ©2012. Visit www.thegreekstar.com.
by Maria Karamitsos
This week, The Greek Star’s Associate Editor caught up with Dr. Stefanos Katsikas, the new director and lecturer at the Modern Greek Studies Program at the University of Illinois.
Where are you from?
Mouria, northwest of Thessaly.
What inspired this career path?
I’ve always liked reading and history, hearing stories and past experiences of older people and reading history books. Greece’s historical past is very rich and history plays an important role to the country’s education and culture, which is difficult for someone to ignore anyway. My uncle was a role model; he’s Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Macedonia in Thessaloniki.
Tell us about yourself.
I studied history at Ionian University in Corfu. I earned numerous grants by the State Scholarships Foundation (IKY). With a grant, I pursued postgraduate studies at School of Slavonic and East European
Studies (SSEES), University College London (UCL). I got an MA in Southeast European Studies from SSEES in 1999 and a PhD in 2006; my research examined the mechanisms and factors which influenced the foreign policy of Bulgaria during the late Cold War and post-Cold War years. I did field research in Bulgaria (mainly in Sofia), met very interesting people and made very good friends. I also interviewed key political figures of Bulgarian politics in the Cold and post-Cold War period. I then wrote my first monograph, Negotiating Diplomacy in the New Europe: Foreign Policy in Post-Communist Bulgaria (London, 2011), which won a Scouloudi Publication Award from the Institute of Historical Research, University of London.
I lived in London for 13 years, and was actively involved in the life of the Greek community of London,
including the Greek Orthodox Church.
What’s Greece’s role in the Balkan region?
After the end of the Cold War, Greece wished to play an important economic and political role in the Balkans. In a way the Greek political class often regarded the Balkans as the country’s ‘near abroad’, trying to increase its political and economic influence on that region and in some respects its attitude was similar to that of the post-Soviet Russian elite towards countries which formed the Soviet Union in the Cold War. This attitude and policies are often justified by the common historical and cultural commonalities which Greeks share with other Balkan peoples: for centuries, people in that region had close political, economic and cultural links and often Greeks found themselves living with non-Greeks under the same state authority, as was the case in the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. The majority of Slavs in the region share the Eastern Orthodox religion. Many Greek governments followed constructive policies in the region after the Cold War. They assisted peace-making in conflict-torn areas—particularly in former Yugoslavia—encouraged and facilitated investment of Greek businesses and assisted the membership of Balkan states in NATO and EU. These policies were often disturbed by nationalism and bilateral problems such as the name issue with FYROM and Greece’s often problematic relationship with Turkey. The current economic crisis in Greece undermines any prospects for it to be an important political and economic player in the region in the future.
Greeks have been shaped by history: WWII, occupation and Civil War transformed a generation, with mistrust for each other as well as the government and foreign intervention. They had to become very wily to survive. These learned instincts were passed to the next generation, who took them to a new level. How do you think the next generation will evolve with the aftermath of the crisis? Will they be even craftier, more corrupt, or will they emerge on a new path?
History is not something static and unchangeable. Historical events often impact and stigmatize people, generate views and every day practices which can last for some time, but other future events come to
alter (and sometimes ameliorate) past views, behavior and practices.
From the end of the 1950s through early 1970s, Greece saw unprecedented economic growth (the ‘Greek economic miracle’) and society changed a lot in relation to what it was. During the same period, state administration—though discriminatory toward a large section of the Greek society
(mainly those with communist and leftist political views)—was in some respects more effective than the state and public administration of the last thirty years. On the other hand, phenomena such as mistrust towards fellow citizens and the government; foreign intervention can be also traced before WWII. How the next generation will evolve in the aftermath of the crisis depends on whether Greece follows the path of political and economic reforms and remains in the Euro zone and EU, or opts out. Political instability, social turmoil and unrest (possibly conflict), corruption, crime, xenophobia, racism and the rise of the extreme right will prevail for a longtime as Greece will remain at the margins of Europe. Whether in or outside the Euro zone (and possibly the EU), Greece is expected to be different from what it has been in the last thirty to thirty-five years.
What recommendations would you make to Greece to exit the crisis?
The three most important ones are: the Greek government must contribute to work closely with its European partners and the IMF to promote reforms that already committed; adopt policies which encourage productivity in a fields where the country can be competitive in world markets so that jobs would be created and unemployment (especially among youngsters) falls; promote drastic reforms in the country’s political, judicial and education systems.
How can Greece become a player in the Balkans?
Develop a strong economy and an efficient public administration, stick to its Western and European
orientation, conduct a creative and constructive diplomacy towards the region and follow a foreign policy free from nationalistic practices and stereotypes of the past.
What do you think is the future of this region?
This depends on a number off actors, which Balkan societies are often unable to control. I hope and wish that the Balkans became a region of long-lasting peace, economic prosperity, cooperation and creativity.
You’ve joined U of I.
I'll lead and contribute to the establishment, teaching and research environment of the Modern Greek Studies at U of I. The university has a very good reputation as a vibrant research environment that every young scholar would like to join. For example, its Balkan and East European studies program is among the best in the world, with a number of world-leading Balkan and East European scholars. Its Modern Greek Studies program is new and dynamic, allowing room for creativity. The prospect of developing and making it shine in the Midwest and effectively compete with other Hellenic and Greek studies programs in North America renders it a challenging and fascinating project and an obligation we owe to the large and historic Greek community of Illinois which absolutely deserves such a prospect. What I also find challenging is promoting Modern Geek studies and culture at a time that the recent economic crisis in Greece has tarnished the country’s positive image abroad.
I’ll contribute to teaching and research, and to the program’s further visibility and establishment. There’s
much to be done in this area; I’ll need and seek the Greek community’s support. My previous research and teaching experience in the fields of Modern Greek, European, Balkan and East Mediterranean studies will help me to integrate the program in the research and teaching conducted in research centers at U of I which support the program’s activities, such as the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the European Union Center, the Department of Linguistics, and the Russian, European and East European Studies Center.
Besides the teaching of Modern Greek languages, the program’s first component which is now well-established, other fields must be developed, such as introducing courses on history, politics, literature, film, linguistics; increase the number of undergraduate students; the development of postgraduate studies and the recruitment of PhD students. In addition, the program can promote research in various fields of Modern Greek studies, including the history and current life of the Greek community in Illinois and other Greek Diaspora communities in America. Finally, through its research and social activities the program can bring the Greek community of Illinois closer to Greece and Cyprus.