Alexis Georgoulis, the popular Greek actor turned politician, is at the forefront of efforts as a member of the European Parliament to promote common EU approaches to culture and heritage.
The former star in the television series “The Durrells,” who played the character of Spiros Halikiopoulos, says that Europe should pull its act together to defend and promote its culture and its heritage.
”The Covid-19 pandemic was a disaster for culture in Europe,” he tells Greek Reporter in an interview.
”The contraction in the culture sector reached 80 percent,” he notes, as he explains that the pandemic led to the shutdown of cinemas, concert halls, festivals, museums, theaters and other public cultural venues across the EU.
Georgoulis, who was elected to the European Parliament in 2019, and is now a member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Culture and Education, says that unemployment in the sector has reached record numbers.
Over 300,000 people in Europe are employed in the cultural heritage sector, while 7.8 million jobs in Europe are indirectly linked to it. “Many have lost their jobs,” he says, adding ”Unfortunately, the culture sector will be the last sector to recover.”
He states unequivocally that after a decade of economic crisis, followed by the pandemic, Europe needs to think hard about how to start to rebuild this vital sector.
”We need a new European renaissance. We need to invest in the production of culture, because this is our common identity as Europeans.”
There is a tendency to only “look back” at the European history and culture, he says. But we also need to invest and create now, in order to be proud of our legacy in the future, he states, noting that ”The cultural product of today is the cultural heritage of tomorrow.”
Climate change and heritage are important notes Alexis Georgoulis
Georgoulis, born near the town of Larissa in central Greece, notes that, in addition to the pandemic, climate change is also threatening the sector.
”While many ancient buildings and artifacts, like the Acropolis, have lasted for millennia to reach us today, their survival is increasingly precarious,” he tells Greek Reporter.
“Climate change is upon us and it is accelerating,” he says. He points out that in Europe, more frequent and more extreme weather events can put cultural heritage and the benefits it offers at increased risk in a wide variety of ways.
Pollution, rising sea levels and more frequent storms are a particular danger. They can cause structural damage and boost physical and chemical erosion of monuments, he adds.
Fighting for funds
Georgoulis has been vocal in demanding — together with hundreds of MEPs — more support for the cultural sector by European member states and institutions.
He was disappointed back in September when President of the Commission von der Leyen failed to even mention culture in her State of the Union Address.
”Unfortunately, culture is not among the priorities of the European institutions”, he tells Greek Reporter.
However, he and a large coalition of like-minded MEPs fought hard to make the Commission acknowledge the importance of the sector and earmark part of the economic recovery measures in favor of Europe’s cultural and creative forces.
”We tried to convince the Commission through events and presentations at the European Parliament that it should earmark 2% of its budget towards recovery on culture. We failed,” Georgoulis admits.
However, he believes that the momentum is there. MEP’s recently sent a letter to all member states asking them to earmark 2% of their national budget towards that goal.
”We had some encouraging responses from national authorities,” he states, “and we hope that, at least some member states, would adopt our initiative.”
He also notes that culture has now become part of the responsibilities of EU Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, who is also responsible for innovation, research, education and youth.
Georgoulis would also like the EU to actively encourage this effort and take initiatives to revitalize Europe’s many museums.
”The worldwide debate is about the effort of museums to acquire, in addition to their cultural mission, a social mission and to serve the community as a whole,” Georgoulis explains.
Most modern museums are “introverted,” says Georgoulis. ”Apart from brilliant exceptions, museums are trapped in their introspection without contributing much to the contemporary problems of citizens.
”They should be unique carriers of cultural information around the world and directly linked to today’s key problems such as the climate crisis and the violation of human rights,” he adds.
”We need a change in their mission. The visitor should be able not to just look at the exhibits but to live the experience of how it used to be then. A sort of time capsule taking the visitor back in time,” he explains.