When Irish author Richard Pine was asked to make a book after his regular “Greece Letter” column in the Irish Times, he knew it wouldn’t be an “I love Greece” book.
Not because he doesn’t like the country – quite the contrary. Pine, who has lived in Corfu for the past 15 years, has developed a deep and moving relationship with the country which is evident in the way he describes his experiences, observations and aspirations for Greece.
“Loving and mourning of modern Greece goes together,” he told journalists at his book presentation in Athens on Wednesday. Asked why he wrote his book, “Greece through Irish Eyes”, he said it’s because of the “enormous similarities of a psychic kind between Greece and Ireland”.
He describes visiting the ancient theatre of Epidavros as a teenager and feeling emotional as fellow students recited ancient plays in the same venue where the words were first heard thousands of years ago.
Pine worked for the Irish national broadcaster RTÉ before moving to Greece in 2001 to found the Durrell School of Corfu, a center that hosted seminars on literature and the protection of the environment. He directed until 2010.
Writing his book, Pine says he realized he couldn’t avoid delving into the country’s ongoing crisis and its dire consequences for its people, noting that one of the main reasons behind Greece’s struggle with its creditors is their “lack of empathy and appreciation” for its different culture and their demand that Greeks “think the way we do”.
This failure to understand that Greece is at a cultural crossroads and not simply “West” is at the root of the EU’s stance during the economic crisis, he argues.
Discussing the rise of SYRIZA in power in January 2015, he said it was necessary for the country to move forward. “Whatever your political views, the change that happened in January 2015 was necessary for two reasons: It made possible to put aside the political dynasties, the system put in place by PASOK and New Democracy and showed the country was capable of electing what is ostensibly a left-wing government.”
Pine pulls no punches when he presents his view of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ efforts during his first seven months in office to renegotiate in Brussels. “Tsipras was an idealist who went into Europe thinking he could change the world. They [EU leaders] hit them very hard and told them they have to play the game to be with the big boys.”
He also noted the destructive effects of the country’s brain drain and the need for a complete restructuring of secondary school and university systems that will allow smart young Greeks to find jobs in the country. “I continue to be devastated by young people accepting that going abroad is the only solution,” he said.
When explaining what he believes may help Greece overcome its difficulties, he says the solutions are always inside us, not outside.
Opening the event, Ireland’s Ambassador to Greece, Noel Kilkenny, noted that Irish people are aware and very interested in Greece’s current affairs and not just the ancient cultural tradition.