Athens Academy’s new ap­proach

In­sti­tu­tion’s pres­i­dent and re­cently elected mem­bers talk about reach­ing out to so­ci­ety

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY MAR­GARITA POURNARA

In the last few years a lively de­bate has been tak­ing place both in­side and out­side the walls of the Academy of Athens on whether the coun­try’s lead­ing in­tel­lec­tual in­sti­tu­tion ought to open up more to so­ci­ety and, if so, how. While the French and Ital­ian academies use Twit­ter as a means of reach­ing the younger gen­er­a­tion, Greece’s academy has yet to take ad­van­tage of new me­dia. As a re­sult, the in­sti­tu­tion, which con­ducts sci­en­tific re­search projects and stud­ies in the ar­eas of agri­cul­ture, in­dus­try, ship­ping and the na­tional econ­omy, needs to get up to speed in these par­tic­u­larly chal­leng­ing times.

Nev­er­the­less, progress is be­ing made. This year, for ex­am­ple, saw the elec­tion of three new mem­bers whose achieve­ments go far be­yond their job de­scrip­tions. For­mer Be­naki Mu­seum pres­i­dent An­ge­los De­livo­rias, who is cred­ited with trans­form­ing the coun­try’s mu­seum land­scape through a uni­fied nar­ra­tive of Greece’s his­tory, is a man of ac­tion who is not afraid to ex­press his opin­ions. Then there’s Costas Syno­lakis, pro­fes­sor at the Tech­ni­cal Univer­sity of Crete’s En­vi­ron­men­tal Engi­neer­ing School, who has con­ducted in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed re­search on earthquakes and tsunamis; and last but not least, econ­o­mist Vas­silis Ra­panos, who has made ma­jor con­tri­bu­tions to bud­getary the­ory fol­low­ing ex­ten­sive ex­pe­ri­ence at lead­ing Greek fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions. Among oth­ers, they join Cypriot econ­o­mist Christo­pher Pis­sarides, his­to­rian Mil­ti­ades Hat­zopou­los, for­mer EU Om­buds­man Nik­i­foros Dia­man­douros and com­poser Theodore An­to­niou.

It would not be wrong to as­sume that the newly elected mem­bers could be­come a kind of in­tan­gi­ble bridge be­tween the Academy and a lo­cal so­ci­ety which is be­ing put to the test and is in dire need of calm voices that can speak with ra­tio­nal­ism based on thor­ough knowl­edge.

“Em­pha­sis is placed not only on the mem­bers’ sci­en­tific achieve­ments but also their per­son­al­i­ties and their abil­ity to help the in­sti­tu­tion lis­ten to new needs,” Thana­sis Valti­nos, the in­sti­tu­tion’s pres­i­dent, told Kathimerini.

“My elec­tion to the Academy of Athens is a huge honor and a huge chal­lenge, given that I’m one of the younger mem­bers,” noted Syno­lakis. “In my opin­ion, dur­ing these par­tic­u­larly tough times, the in­sti­tu­tion should con­trib­ute to the dis­sem­i­na­tion of ex­cel­lence and the pro­mo­tion of mer­i­toc­racy. Above all we should take a look at how these ac­cu­mu­lated in­tel­lec­tual as­sets could op­er­ate as an ad­vi­sory body based on its mem­bers’ spe­cial­ized knowl­edge for the cre­ation of a new nar­ra­tive for Greece and the de­vel­op­ment of a new vi­sion.”

For De­livo­rias, be­com­ing a mem­ber of the Academy of Athens was the “ul­ti­mate recog­ni­tion” of his ef­forts to forge ties be­tween “mu­seum or­gani- za­tions, the state, the pub­lic and cul­ture in gen­eral.”

“Peo­ple don’t change, no mat­ter how old they are, and I be­lieve that my work at the Academy will be to try to pro­mote the in­sti­tu­tion’s broader oeu­vre, dis­play­ing the same pas­sion as I did at the Be­naki Mu­seum. I think this tar­get will be wel­come in my new en­vi­ron­ment. The aim is for the in­sti­tu­tion to ac­quire stronger ties to so­ci­ety,” he added.

Ra­panos holds sim­i­lar views. “To most Greeks, the Academy of Athens might come across as an in­ac­ces­si­ble in­sti­tu­tion,” noted the econ­o­mist. “But times are chang­ing, the cer­tainty of pros­per­ity and com­pla­cency is over and the coun­try is fac­ing new chal­lenges. I be­lieve, there­fore, that the kind of so­bri­ety and so­lid­ity that de­fine this in­tel­lec­tual in­sti­tu­tion make it stand out as an or­ga­ni­za­tion of in­creased re­spon­si­bil­ity vis-a-vis Greek so­ci­ety, and this is why it is a huge honor for me to serve its sci­en­tific and moral prin­ci­ples.”

Speak­ing via phone, Lon­don-based No­bel lau­re­ate Pis­sarides noted that “science is use­less if not im­ple­mented in ev­ery­day life.”

“I was par­tic­u­larly pleased to be­come a mem­ber of the Academy of Athens and I wish for my home coun­try, Cyprus, to ac­quire a sim­i­lar in­sti­tu­tion. Mean­while, in Bri­tain, where I’m a mem­ber of the Royal So­ci­ety, I have been ob­serv­ing over the last few years the ma­jor ef­forts made by the in­sti­tu­tion to con­nect with the world of sci­en­tific re­search and ser­vice so­ci­ety. Look­ing at my field, I be­lieve that the sort of doc­u­mented the­o­ret­i­cal and prac­ti­cal knowl­edge that ex­ists at in­sti­tu­tions such as the Academy could very well in­clude the de­vel­op­ment of plans for eco­nomic growth,” he said.

The Academy of Athens con­ducts sci­en­tific re­search in the ar­eas of agri­cul­ture, in­dus­try, ship­ping and the econ­omy.

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