I had the privilege of meeting a number of these persons including the former Prime Minister of Greece, Mr George Papandreou and the former Foreign Minister- Mr Dimitris Avramopoulos. They are from different sides of politics, but both are keen to talk through the issues confronting Greece as well as reflecting on their contribution to Greece.
With Mr Papandreou I spent quite some time discussing the educational system of Greece. I had just finished my talk at the Delphi Forum and I shared with Mr Papandreou my thoughts on how Greece can become a global destination in education. For a country with such a rich history and culture, I noted that it was a no brainer for Greece to invest in the area of humanities and to help shape this discourse through its teaching programs by attracting students globally. I referred to the impact of this program in Australia which was now a major part of the Australian economy with a pre COVID impact of $32b. I also stated that the impact of students around the world should not just be considered as an economic issue. It also helps develop a cosmopolitan society that embraces the world.
Mr Papandreou referred to his experience as a former Minister of Education. Mr Papandreou acknowledged the imperative of Greece broadening its teaching programs. He said it was an issue that he had in fact tried to implement. He said some changes have been made during his tenure and he was proud of scholarship and exchange programs that were implemented during his time as Minister. However, Mr Papandreou accepted the inherent intransigence of certain aspects of the educational system to change.
Mr Papandreou was convinced that a broad view of the world needed to be part of Greece’s future and that the educational system was integral to this. Bureaucracy needed to move with reforms.
Over a long dinner in a small taverna in Piraeus I touched on only a small number of the many contributions of Mr Avramopoulos from Mayor of Athens to Foreign Minister and finally as the EU Chair on Migration and Home Affairs.
The first comments by Mr Avramopoulos centred on his many friends in Australia from the former foreign minister Bob Carr to the Lord Mayor of Sydney Mr Sartor amongst many others. Australia was a country he respected enormously.
I was particularly interested in Mr Avramopoulos days as Lord Mayor and the regeneration of many parts of Athens. At his fingertips was a video summary on his phone of this physical transformation of the city leading up to the Olympics in Athens. A stunning visual journey. Over dinner he told me about his in depth conversations with many leaders such Putin, Erdogan, Castro and Clinton just to name a few. Mr Avramopoulos had a rich understanding of the personalities of many of the leaders he engaged with and how to best develop relationships. He saw the building of bridges as a foreign minister as a key aspect to his work.
Greece has many attractions but equally those who have devoted themselves to public life have their importance too.