Costas Tzavaras, in an exclusive interview with the Greek Reporter talks about his new priorities as Minister of Culture, sends a message to attract foreign film productions to Greece and comments on Greece’s new coalition government.
Costas Tzavaras assumed the position of the deputy Minister of Education, responsible for cultural affairs, a few weeks ago and since then he has been working hard to bring back to crisis-hit Greece what he says the country is missing: cultural prosperity. The new minister, which practically filled in what previously was the position of Minister of Culture, believes that the Greek crisis is a product of a cultural crisis that the country had been facing over the past few years and he hopes to change it.
Tzavaras was born in the prefecture of Ilia in the Peloponnese which he still calls home. He is considered one of the most successful lawyers of that region and prior to becoming a member of Parliament, he was the president of the lawyers’ association. He is one of the few members of Parliament that is not what Greeks call a “politician by profession.”
What is your first priority as a minister of culture?
Besides our monuments and history, I believe that Greece has what we call immaterial culture. Our philosophy, mythology and ideals are parts of our culture that have not been promoted much. In the past most Ministers of Culture had a budget and they were giving it to different non-profit organizations which would organize cultural events and other similar functions. I want to promote the immaterial culture of Greece and do it through our own network of volunteers. This movement will consist of prominent individuals that will be promoting our culture and heritage inside and outside of Greece and we are already organizing it.
Filming in Greece
Greece has great natural beauty and could be a top destination for movie productions. However the return of the VAT and other legal obstacles are turning American and other productions away from Greece. What are you planning to do to improve Greece’s image in that sector?
I am aware that there have been problems in the past and till this day with foreign productions coming to Greece. I just became the Minister of Culture and one of my goals is to make Greece attractive again as a filming destination. We have great natural light and all sorts of locations, something that could make Greece a filmmaker’s paradise. The timely return of the VAT to the foreign productions is something very high up on my agenda and something that it should be already happening. We have started working together with other ministries, because this is an issue that also involves other Greek authorities, for example, the ministry of Economy, and we hope to achieve it as soon as possible.
What is your message to filmmakers and artists from abroad?
Greece is a wonderful destination for movies and I would like to invite everybody to come to Greece and also feel free to contact us directly because we are here to help in anyway we can. I believe that all the people that have Greece in their hearts, and especially the ones that are related to the arts, can help Greece in these hard times. Greece is changing and we are here to make even further changes to become more attractive to foreign productions. The Prime Minister, Mr. Samaras, has put very high on the agenda the elimination of bureaucracy in general, but also when it comes to the arts and culture. We have been working very hard for the last twenty days since I assumed the position of the Minister of Culture to make it easier for foreign productions to come to Greece. We know that in the past it has been hard and we are working to change this very soon, be it the VAT tax or issuing permits faster for productions to film in our wonderful monuments and lands.
Greece has been fighting to bring the Parthenon Marbles back to where they belong. At what state are the negotiations now?
This is a subject that has not been very thoroughly represented by the media. The idea for the reunification of the Marbles was started by Melina Merkouri and then it passed into the hands of Unesco. There is a committee in which both countries, Greece and the U.K. are participating which holds meeting regularly aiming to solve the issue. I believe the Greek side has achieved a great first step, which is that the pieces of the divided marbles will return to Greece very soon as a loan. This return, even in the form of a loan, is something of a step back for the British side that had been unwilling to even discuss this in the past. I believe that this a very positive outcome of the negotiations, and I am looking forward to seeing them in the Acropolis Museum very soon.
Do you believe that we will see all the marbles united during our lifetime? This is issue has been going on for many years?
I can tell you that I will work very hard to achieve this. I hope that this will happen and I think we have achieved to turn the public opinion in our favor. I am hopeful and I will fight for this with all my power.
Do you think that the crisis has crippled Greece’s culture?
I believe that the crisis is created also partly by a cultural crisis that we have had in Greece during tha past years. The promotion and rebirth of culture will help us overcome the crisis. This government is investing heavily in our culture because we believe that it is one of the strongest tools of the Greek society that will make us prosperous again.
You are part of one of the very few coalition governments that Greece ever had. What are the pros and cons of such a government?
The coalition government is a blessing for Greece. The single-party governments of the past are responsible for the crisis we are facing today. I belive that there are powers in this coalition that create a balance which does not leave room for party favors and similar malpractice of the past. In a way I believe that the coalition guarantees that this governent won’t repeat the same mistakes of the past that brought Greece where it is today. I belive that we will succeed, but we will be evaluated in the end by the Greek people.