Posted by: Joseph J. Skarzenski | July 22, 2009

June 25, 2009 Summary

REPORT FROM WASHINGTON — THURSDAY, JUNE 25, 2009

After a quick breakfast, the Athens Fellows made their way downtown to Washington, DC and another full day of meetings and briefings, starting with…

A MASTER CLASS AT THE WOODROW WILSON CENTER

First stop for the Athens Fellows this morning was a breakfast briefing led by John Sitilides, chairman of the Southeastern Europe Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a nonpartisan think tank, supported by public and private funds, engaged in the study of national and world affairs.  Once the Fellows were ensconced in a comfortable conference room in the Reagan Building, which is a few short blocks from the White House, John asked them to introduce themselves and talk about their backgrounds.  After introducing himself and spending some time on his own background and career, John launched into an amazing overview of the issues that have dominated U.S. relations with Greece, how Greece and Greek Americans have responded to the challenges presented by those issues — and a stimulating, no-hold-barred discussion of how that has colored governmental relations between the two nations, particularly with respect to the situation in Cyprus and the U.S.’s need to balance relations with Greece and Turkey, who are both members of NATO and strategic allies in a volatile region.

Most importantly, Mr. Sitilides gave the Athens Fellows a penetrating look at lobbying in Washington DC and public affairs advocacy in general, in effect providing a guidebook of how anyone can organize themselves successfully to influence public policy and public debate on a national level — valuable knowledge for anyone interested in being an effective leader and change-maker in any arena, in government or in business, or as just a concerned (and motivated) citizen.

Where to take that knowledge?  How about to the Fellow’s next meeting…

IN THE OFFICE OF THE SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE

After a short drive up to Capitol Hill, and a brisk walk up the steps of the Capitol itself, the Fellows were escorted down hallways filled with tourist groups, through a discreetly-marked doorway tucked into a corner of the Rotunda, and up a narrow, winding stairway of solid stone that led them to a corridor where the guard showed them to the Office of the Speaker of the House currently occupied by Nancy Pelosi, and the dramatic location of their next Master Class — the Speaker’s private balcony with its amazing view over Washington DC.

Waiting for the Athens Fellows was Tom Manatos, a perennial favorite among our Master Class leaders, and a Special Advisor to Speaker Pelosi. After a brief introduction of his day-to-day work for the Speaker, including outreach to the public and the media on public policy issues, Tom talked about what it was like to be a young person working in such a high-profile and demanding job on Capitol Hill, what were the advantages and disadvantages of pursuing a career in public service — and what it is like to be able to make a positive difference in people’s lives through one’s daily work.

After giving each of the Athens Fellow his business card, and asking the impressed Fellows to stay in touch — accompanied by his (known to be kept) promise to help anyone interested in pursuing a career on the Hill or in public affairs — Tom was delighted to join the Fellows for a souvenir photo on the Speaker’s Balcony, and even offered to take the group shot himself, knowing from experience where the best spot would be to take picture.

IN CANNON HOUSE BUILDING

After descending from the Speaker’s lair behind the pillars overlooking the West Front of the Capitol, the Athens Fellows successfully negotiated the backstairs and maze-like passages underneath the Capitol to take the little-known underground tunnel between the Capitol and the House office buildings, carefully following the twists and turns (for a return trip in the afternoon), before arriving at the Cannon House Office Building and their next meeting…

WITH REP. DINA TITUS

Elected in 2008 to represent the 3rd District of NevadaRep. Dina Titus greeted the Athens Fellows and sat down with them in her office for a very friendly and informal discussion of what it is like to be a first-term Member of Congress, the committees she sits on, and the issues she faces back home and on the Hill.  Surprisingly relaxed (for a “freshman” Representative) and engaging, it came as no surprise to the Athens Fellows to learn that she had been a college professor (of political science) for 30 years.  And her take on the issues that were covered in her meeting with the Fellows was no less candid and forthright — whether it was the challenge of job creation during the current economic downturn, rebuilding the nation’s aging infrastructure or championing renewable energy sources, Rep. Titus conveyed a down-home, no-nonsense approach to complex issues that reflect both her southern roots and her desert home state out west.

It was obvious that Rep. Dina Titus was an instant favorite with the Athens Fellows, and if there had been an infinite amount of time in their day, they would never have left the Congresswoman’s snug office. However, it was time to get to their next meeting…

WITH REP. GUS BILIRAKIS

Back down the elevators to the basement corridors connecting the House Office buildings, the Athens Fellows made their way underground (a distinct advantage on such a hot day) to the Longworth building and the office of Rep. Gus Bilirakis, of Florida’s 9th Congressional District.  There, the affable Congressman Bilirakis greeted the Athens Fellows and questioned them all about their backgrounds, their schools and majors, and where they were headed after graduation.  Rep. Bilirakis shared his own career path that led him to public service, first as an intern in the Reagan White House and the NRCC before graduating from the University of Florida (no surprise there, with all the Gator items festooning his offices), then, after working as a congressional aide and as an attorney in private practice (and teaching government at a local college), serving four terms as a member of the Florida House of Representatives, leading to his election in 2006 to Congress.

Discussing his committee assignments, it was clear that Rep. Bilirakis has a strong concern for the welfare of the nation’s veterans,  an abiding interest in national security, as evidenced by his successful sponsorship of homeland security legislation during his first term — and a passion for international issues of importance to many in the Greek American community, such as the continued occupation of Cyprus, which he can spotlight using his position on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

With another delegation waiting outside in the corridor, the Athens Fellows had to say goodbye to Rep. Bilirakis, and make their way down to the subterranean levels of Longworth, first, for a quick lunch in its jammed cafeteria, and then… accompanied by a Senate aide, back through the tunnel to the Capitol, up to the public areas under the Dome, down a dark corridor filled with aides rushing to and fro, and into…

THE SENATE RECEPTION ROOM WITH SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE

Located directly off the Floor or main chamber of the U.S. Senate, and the cloaked-in-mystery Senate Cloak Room, the official Senate Reception room with its richly decorated interior is one of the few places you can catch a Senator whose constantly changing schedule demands proximity to the floor of the Senate.  In this case, it was the the perfect place for the Athens Fellows to meet with Next Generation Initiative Advisory Board member, and senior Senator from the State of Maine, the Honorable Olympia Snowe.

As debate on the floor of the Senate and a pending vote had made it necessary for her to change her scheduled meeting with the Athens Fellows in her offices in the Russell Building at the last minute, Sen. Snowe asked if the Fellows minded that they were meeting with her in the Capitol, in between speeches, so to speak?  Having never imagined they would have this rare behind-the-scenes glimpse of the inner workings of the Senate, no one was even thinking of complaining about this turn of events!

After meeting with each Fellow, Sen. Snowe congratulated them for winning the the chance to become Athens Fellows — and represent the Greek American community during their Fellowship here in Washington, DC and in Athens, Greece. Clearly delighted to finally meet the Athens Fellows after all the schedule changes, Sen. Snowe added how proud she was of their educational achievements and their leadership aspirations — especially of a delegation consisting of 50% women.

With her return to the Senate Floor required, it was time for the Fellows to say thank you to Sen. Snowe being so generous with her time, and ponder how fate and her own considerable powers had placed a Greek American orphan from the sparsely-populated state of Maine in such a demanding national role — as a pivotal vote in a divided Senate, which often gives her the ability, and the responsibility, to decide close votes over crucial issues — and still leave her with the highest popularity of any sitting Senator in  their own home state.

BACK TO THE HOUSE SIDE AND REP. ZACK SPACE…

Leaving the hushed confines of the Senate Reception Room behind, the Athens Fellows made their way back through the noisy throngs of the Capitol, down the back stairs off the tourist-filled Statuary Hall, and back to the tunnel and the labyrinthine passageways that led them, eventually, to the Cannon building and their next stop — the offices of Congressman Zack Space, Representative from Ohio’s 18th District.

After talking with the Athens Fellows about his own background, career path and choices, Rep. Space gave the Fellows a glimpse of how he looks at his job of representing his constituents in Congress.  Middle of the road and representative of the great middle in American politics, they say that as Ohio goes, so goes the nation — and the 18th District maybe even more so.  The district, long considered a safe seat for a Republican, went for Space in his first run for Congress in 2006 as a Democratic candidate pledging reform and accountability.  Targeted by Republicans in the next election in 2008, Space worked hard to stay in touch with voters back home and listen to their concerns — and was rewarded with a greater margin of victory than before.  The issues he works for his constituents are as bread and butter as you can get — gas prices, health care, looking after veterans, immigration, education — you name it.

Sleeves rolled up, and leaning back on his desk, the down-home Rep. Space guided the Fellows step by step through some of the thornier issues that confront Ohioans, such as dependence on foreign energy and seeing jobs go overseas, with a look at how the nation’s energy choices affect hometown economies as well as national security, and how federal programs — like the legislation he introduced to help increase the number of rural high school graduates who can attend college — can help citizens at the state and local level compete in a global economy.

Sometimes, Rep. Space pointed out, taking a stand on issues of national significance might mean taking the risk of voting against his party, and against the wishes of some his constituents — but that is a risk worth taking, he told the Athens Fellows, if it is the right thing to do for his country — even if it meant losing his seat in Congress.

…AND REP. JOHN SARBANES

As if on cue, in walked his colleague from the 3rd Congressional District of Maryland, Rep. John Sarbanes, who jumped right into the discussion, and picked up the theme of public service, and how it often meant crossing party lines and working with colleagues and leaders on both sides of the aisle on issues of common interest and importance — like working with Republican Gus Bilirakis on issues important to the Greek American community, for instance.

But what about just understanding what the right thing to do is — when the issue is so complicated?  Looking together at the intricacies of the upcoming health care reform debate, and recalling the complexity of the nearly 700-page economic stimulus package that they were called to vote on in the House at the beginning of this year, Rep. Sarbanes and Rep. Space treated the Fellows to a miniature debate that reflected internal party divisions as well as the national debate, but with a collegial back and forth that revealed a close friendship that has developed since coming into Congress as members of the class of 2006.

As examples of how Members of Congress can find common ground and work together to help solve critical problems, Rep. Sarbanes talked about health care legislation he has introduced, as well as legislation passed by the House to encourage public service while reducing the cost of college — at no cost to taxpayers — which he authored.

With the 6 o’clock votes coming up on the floor of the House, the Congressmen prepared to excuse themselves — but not before stopping a moment to take a picture with the Athens Fellows, and wishing them well on their trip to Athens and the rest of their Fellowship experience.

Before going, Congressman Sarbanes confessed that he had not one, not two, but three phone calls from his father, former Senator Paul Sarbanes, that morning about what a terrific group the Athens Fellows were — and how he had to spend some serious time talking to them.  With smiles all around, and warm memories of the previous evening’s dinner with Sen. Sarbanes, the Athens Fellows shook hands with Rep. Zack Space and Rep. John Sarbanes, their new mentors on Capitol — and champions of the Athens Fellowship.

With that, their day on Capitol Hill was done — but not over, as the Athens Fellows would spend the rest of the evening going over the day and all that they had seen and heard.  And coming up tomorrow?  Their journey to Athens, and the next stage of the Athens Fellowship…

Want to see how the rest of the Fellowship goes?  Check out the video updates and pictures of the Fellows and their daily schedule of meetings and Master Classes online at our Athens Fellowship 2009 blog. You can also follow them throughout their daily schedule with up-to-the-minute “news flash” updates via Twitter.

Posted by: Joseph J. Skarzenski | July 9, 2009

July 3, 2009 summary

The Athens Fellowship is the premiere international leadership program  for university students which focuses on Greece, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate students of Hellenic heritage majoring in political science, international relations, economics, finance and related fields a chance to see for themselves the new Greece — and learn how modern leaders are working at the highest levels of government and business to take this growing economic and political power to the next level — while experiencing the challenges many leaders face during long days of intensive, fast-paced briefings on a constantly changing array of issues with global implications. The first of its kind, this exciting and innovative program is conducted in partnership with Greece’s Secretary General of Communication Panos Livadas, our host in Athens since 2007.

REPORT FROM ATHENS  — FRIDAY, JULY 3, 2009

With their scheduled briefings, meetings and Master Classes on leadership in government and industry wrapped up, the Athens Fellows were up early this morning for a day of history, archeology (with a few surprises for them along the way)…

At the Acropolis

8:30 a.m. seems a bit early to show up at the front gates at the bottom of the winding path that makes it way up the Acropolis, but that is where we met our special guide for the morning — and a favorite of past Athens Fellows — Georgia Papadopoulou, an extremely knowledgeable teacher who specializes in leading cultural tours.  As in past years, Georgia led the Fellows up the hill, using the incredible views as opportunities to stop along the way and point out landmarks far and near, connecting them to the history of the Acropolis, Ancient Athens, and Greece — including the Odeon of Herodes Atticus where the Fellows had enjoyed a concert on Monday night… the Agora of Athens… the hill of the Areopagus, the site of Athens’ court of justice and appeals… and the Pnyx, birthplace of democracy and meeting place of the world’s first democratic legislature.

Having beaten the crowds and (most of) the heat, the Fellows entered the imposing stone gateway of the Acropolis and proceeded to stand in the shadow of the Parthenon, and gather around Georgia to hear the fascinating history of its construction, the statues (see this picture of Athena Parthenos) and sculptures it once held intact, its place in Athenian culture — and the sad tale of its destruction in modern times, the looting of the famed Elgin Marbles, and the government’s current work and long-term plans for restoration of the Parthenon and the Acropolis.

As they did last year, the Fellows left the Acropolis with great reluctance, but also great excitement, as they were on their way to the newest jewel in the crown of Greek art museums…

The New Acropolis Museum

Last year, the Athens Fellows were treated to a behind-the-scenes tour of the unopened museum that was to make such a splash with its debut on the world stage on June 21, 2009 — a little less than two weeks before these Fellows entered the stunning new Acropolis Museum for their first time.  Words simply cannot do justice to the experience of walking down from the familiar ruins of the Acropolis, and into the museum which so perfectly displays the great treasures and fragments that once graced the hill just outside the new museum’s windows — and the top floor which recreates in sequence and spatial position the existing fragments, the missing fragments, and the stolen fragments of the famed frieze and pediments of the Parthenon.

You simply must visit this museum yourself.

We wish we had more time to linger in this beautiful and moving museum, but the Fellows’ schedule made us press on, especially with a newly-scheduled appointment to meet…

With George Papaconstantinou at PASOK party headquarters

In yet another first for the Athens Fellowship, the Athens Fellows entered the new headquarters building of Greece’s main opposition party, PASOK, for a meeting with its press spokesman, George Papaconstantinou. Young, handsome and articulate, Mr. Papaconstantinou has been compared to “Sam Seaborn” the character of the White House Communications Director played by Rob Lowe on the American television show West Wing. A PhD in the economics of technology from the London School of Economics, and a recently-elected Member of the European Parliament, Mr. Papaconstantinou introduced himself by describing his duties as press spokesman for PASOK (beginning with “feeding the beast” that is the news media) and his role as the “voice of the party” which has made him a daily presence in the Greek press (which has its liabilities — he was recently attacked by left-wing students on a nearby street in Athens).

Mr. Papaconstantinou went on to outline the issues which define the differences between the two major parties — an emphasis on public vs. private investment, the need for health reform, the failing education system (demonstrated, in his words, by the fact “the entire political class has their children in private schools”) — as well as those issues which they are relatively close in their positions:  foreign policy towards Turkey and Greece’s neighbors in Southeastern Europe, dissatisfaction with the endemic corruption that has plagued the Greek bureaucracy as well as ensnared elected politicians from both major parties, and one thing that Greeks on both sides of the spectrum seem to agree on: “We love Obama!”  Noting that neither PASOK nor the current governing party, New Democracy, are “monolithic” parties, but made up of their own competing elements, Mr. Papaconstantinou pointed out that the overall two-party dynamic “adds stability to the system” as both parties end up competing for voters in the center of the spectrum.  Discussing the national elections which are slated to be held in Greece no later than next March (but may come earlier), Mr. Papaconstantinou quoted polls which show that if the elections were held today, ND would lose its razor-thin one-vote majority in Parliament, and PASOK would return to power.  What will make the difference in those elections? “What matters is who can capture the middle ground.”

With a lot crammed into their hour and a half with this candid and engaging press spokesman, the Fellows had a lot to think about as they shook hands and stood for a group picture with Mr. Papaconstantinou.  Getting a business card from their host on their way out, many of the Fellows confessed that, at a minimum, if a vote were taken at that moment for best sandwiches provided and coolest temperature in the conference room, PASOK would win hands down!

Making yet another swift shift in subject and scene, the Fellows re-boarded their waiting bus to quick visit to…

The Antikythera Mechanism at the National Museum of Archeology

Met at the front door by a young curator and archeologist, the Fellows were given a very select tour of the vast national museum of archeology, with its countless treasures of art, ancient relics and, well… treasure.  The focus of the tour: the discovery of the wreckage of an ancient ship of the coast of the island of Antikythera in 1901.  Going from room to room, the curator stopped at some of the many items found in the wreckage distributed throughout the museum — including statues, pottery, jewelry and even glass — which were uncovered by underwater archeologists and explorers over the years, including the world-famous Jacques Cousteau.  The major find in the shipwreck was actually overlooked for decades, though.  Ever since research on this singular object began, however, it has “puzzled and intrigued historians of science and technology.”  Now known as the “Antikythera mechanism” this object is basically an ancient mechanical calculator which is now considered the world’s first mechanical computer — and considered by at least one expert as being “more valuable than the Mona Lisa.”

Discussing its basic function for accurately predicting astronomical positions, eclipses, and dates over a 400-year period, the curator expanded on the implications behind the ability to calculate ritual dates — and the power this “key to time” gave to those who controlled its technology.  Facing this amazing object, one is flooded with dozens of intriguing questions:  Who made it?  Who owned it?  Was there only one?  If not, how many existed?  What if this technology had not been lost?  What kind of world would we be living in today?  Would we all be speaking Greek?

From this amazing example of ancient technology, the Fellows had one last stop to make for the day, involving somewhat more modern technology, with another newly-scheduled and magically impromptu visit taking us forward in time, by going back to Syntagma Square to meet…

With Leonidas Kikiras at the Athens Metro

The Athens Metro would no doubt amaze an ancient Greek who managed to travel through time to today’s world.  It is no less a marvel when one considers the challenges of building a major underground transportation system in a city sitting on 6,000 years of significant archeological gems.  Which is the challenge that faced Mr. Leonidas Kikiras, former CEO of the Attika Metro system, and the company that built its most recent additions:  the 11 kilometers of the Red Line, inaugurated in 2000, and the 35 kilometers of the Blue Line which reached the new Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport — just in time for the 2004 Summer Olympics.

Standing in front of a 20-foot tall glass wall revealing the multiple layers of Athenian history uncovered by the Metro project’s excavations — a wall stretching the entire length of the Syntagma Square station — Mr. Kikiras explained how teams of archaeologists worked ahead of, then alongside of, engineers for a total of 6 years, protecting and recording the archaeological evidence that was uncovered, including “ancient streets, houses, cemeteries, sanctuaries, public workshops, foundry pits, kilns, aqueducts, wells, cisterns, drains and sewage tunnels.”

Beyond the technical challenges of building a complex modern mass transit system, Mr. Kikiras — who is himself a happy user of his own Metro system — discussed his personal involvement in building the system, which began in 1982 with a role in the original studies for expanding and modernizing a system which started off in 1869 as a steam train line from Athens to Pireaus, and continued with him returning as head of the construction in 1994 — and on through to the inauguration of the Red Line and the Syntagma station in 2000, which was a personal highlight in his life (and one that still gives him goose-bumps on his arms when he talks about it), and the shaping of the Metro system’s Master Plan, which extends to the year 2020.

As the discussion continued, rush hour was beginning, and it was time to say goodbye to our last Master Class leader for the Athens Fellowship Class of 2009.  Mr. Kikiras gave each Fellow a bag of Athens Metro goodies, including a souvenir system map, and shook each hand — with a cheery promise to take next year’s Fellows to the Santiago Calatrava-designed Olympic Sports Complex he built for the 2004 Games.

Want to see more of this extraordinary day?  Check out the video updates and pictures of the Fellows and their daily schedule of meetings and Master Classes online at our Athens Fellowship 2009 blog. You can also follow them throughout their daily schedule with up-to-the-minute “news flash” updates via Twitter.


Posted by: Joseph J. Skarzenski | July 8, 2009

July 1, 2009 summary

The Athens Fellowship is the premiere international leadership program  for university students which focuses on Greece, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate students of Hellenic heritage majoring in political science, international relations, economics, finance and related fields a chance to see for themselves the new Greece — and learn how modern leaders are working at the highest levels of government and business to take this growing economic and political power to the next level — while experiencing the challenges many leaders face during long days of intensive, fast-paced briefings on a constantly changing array of issues with global implications. The first of its kind, this exciting and innovative program is conducted in partnership with Greece’s Secretary General of Communication Panos Livadas, our host in Athens since 2007.

REPORT FROM ATHENS  — WEDNESDAY, JULY 1, 2009

Another full day today for the Athens Fellows, beginning with…

With Dimitrios Katsoudas at the Foreign Ministry

The Fellows started off the day with another visit to the Foreign Ministry, this time with the informative and articulate Secretary General for European Affairs Dimitrios Katsoudas who offered his insights on Greece’s relations with Europe and, in particular, with the European Union.

After a brief overview of the EU’s history, Mr. Katsoudas invited the Fellows to look at the EU as “a web of relations,” describing how particular issues on the Foreign Ministry’s agenda were impacted by both its membership in the EU, as well as affected by Greece’s role as a front-line nation on Europe’s border.  From the perspective Mr. Katsoudas presented, the “web of obligations” created by Greece’s membership in the EU has often furthered his nation’s efforts — whether it was higher profile issues such as Greece’s support for the entry of its Balkan neighbors and Turkey into the EU, or  lesser-known developments such as Greece being tapped as the first country to command Operation Atalanta, the EU’s first-ever naval expedition, launched last year in response to the rising problem of piracy.

This rare chance to sit down with Greece’s point man in Europe (and the former Senior Advisor to Prime Minister Mitsotakis) came to an end all too soon, leaving the Fellows wishing they had more time with him. But it was time for the next briefing…

With Dimitri Tzianninis at the Ministry of Finance

The Fellows made their way across Syntagma Square to the Ministry of Finance, to meet with Dimitri Tzianninis, the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, equivalent to the position with the same name in the U.S. government held by economic luminaries such as Alan GreenspanJoseph Stiglitz and more recently Ben Bernanke.  The informal and engaging Mr. Tzianninis described his career path, which included a stint at the International Monetary Fund in Washington, DC (and living in Silver Spring, Maryland), and then outlined his duties as Deputy to the Minister of Finance, and his leading role in terms of Greece’s international economic policy.  With so many economists in the group, Mr. Tzianninis was happy to open up the discussion to questions — and the Athens Fellows happily obliged.  Several questions from the Fellows about the Greek state’s  “social safety net” centered on its impact on Greece’s overall economy.  Questions about the impact of the current economic crisis on Greece’s economy were met with deeper answers about the relative strength of the Greek economy compared to the French and English and German economies, and the dynamism of Greek business, banking and telecommunications sectors, and last, but not least, Greece’s shipping industry — still no. 1 in the world — which taken together make Greece, although a relatively small country of only 11 million people, a significant player in the EU and the dominant player in the region’s economy.

Time for a leisurely lunch?  Not really.  It was back on the bus and across town to the Fellow’s next briefing…

With Spiros Capralos at the Athens Stock Exchange

Once inside the gleaming high-tech headquarters of the Athens Stock Exchange, the Fellows were ushered upstairs to the Exchange’s boardroom and an informal lunch with the affable Spiros Capralos, CEO and President of the Athens Exchange (and incoming chairman of Greece’s Olympic Committee).  A brief power point presentation offered the Fellows a comprehensive overview of the Exchange and its history, capitalization, technical structure and plans for the future. With that under their belts, the Athens Fellows were treated to an in-depth look at how and why the Exchange has grown so rapidly, how the current crisis has affected it, and how it looks to grow in the coming years.

Pointing out that Greece has grown twice as fast as the rest of Europe in recent years, Mr. Capralos explained that, through some foresight as well as fortuitous circumstance, Greek banks did not invest in the so-called “toxic assets” and financial investment products that have been the downfall of other economies.  Nonetheless, with tourism and shipping as the major sectors in the Greek economy, the worldwide economic downturn has effected Greece’s economy, but not to the extent it has that of other nations.

The rest of the discussion ran the gamut from privatization of state-owned companies such as the recent sale of Olympic Airlines, the potential for initial public offerings in the Greek market, changes in taxes on dividends and capital gains, initiatives to open up the Greek market to international investors, and questions on other issues the Fellows pitched at Mr. Capralos.

Following the lengthy question-and-answer session, the Fellows left the Exchange’s sleek boardroom for a tour of the heart of the Exchange — in this case, the electronic data center, multi-terabyte capacity server banks and the emergency generators capable of powering a small city.  This brief respite in the coolest subterranean chambers of the Exchange’s towers led the Fellows to the end of their stay in this modern-day agora — and a journey back to the hotel where there was a chance for the Fellows to regroup and gather their wits for yet another wide-ranging discussion in their next fascinating encounter…

With Nikos Konstandaros at the “Kathimerini” newspaper headquarters

A perennial favorite of our Athens Fellow over the years, Nikos Konstandaras, the Managing Editor of one of Greece’s leading newspapers, “I Kathimerini,” welcomed the Fellows to the award-winning paper’s modern boardroom.  Founded in 1902, Kathimerini plays an important role in Greece’s media environment as well as Greece’s political life, often setting the agenda, in Mr. Konstandaras’ words, for the policy debate in and out of government.  The English edition of Kathimerini, published in cooperation with the International Herald Tribune, is a popular english-language news source for all things Greek.  The latest addition to Kathimerini’s media family, Athens Plus, recognized as Europe’s best designed weekly newspaper, is just celebrating its first birthday  — its first edition was being rolled during the Athens Fellows’ visit to the paper one year ago.  After describing how he came to be at the top of a leading newspaper, Mr. Konstandaras gave the Fellows an overview of the news business in Greece, the deep changes affecting his own newspaper as well as the entire industry — and engaged the Fellows in a lengthy discussion of their own views of Greece, the future of news, online news, and even the implications behind the growing use of social websites, such as facebook and the Twitter updates being posted about the Fellowship throughout the day.

9 o’clock at night, another Master Class done and still more to come?  There was just time enough for a quick group interview of the Fellows in a quiet conference room with one of the paper’s journalists, Margarita Pournara — and then a surprise visit from the paper’s publisher, the paradoxically publicity-shy Greek tycoon, Aristides Alafouzos.

…And that was more than enough for one day, even for these amazing Athens Fellows, who have been bound and determined to hit every high spot and make the most of every possible meeting.

Haven’t had enough yourself?  Don’t forget to check out the video updates and pictures of the Fellows and their grueling daily schedule of meetings and Master Classes online at our Athens Fellowship 2009 blog. You can also follow them throughout their daily schedule with up-to-the-minute “news flash” updates via Twitter.

Posted by: Joseph J. Skarzenski | July 8, 2009

July 2, 2009 report

The Athens Fellowship is the premiere international leadership program  for university students which focuses on Greece, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate students of Hellenic heritage majoring in political science, international relations, economics, finance and related fields a chance to see for themselves the new Greece — and learn how modern leaders are working at the highest levels of government and business to take this growing economic and political power to the next level — while experiencing the challenges many leaders face during long days of intensive, fast-paced briefings on a constantly changing array of issues with global implications. The first of its kind, this exciting and innovative program is conducted in partnership with Greece’s Secretary General of Communication Panos Livadas, our host in Athens since 2007.

REPORT FROM ATHENS  — THURSDAY, JULY 2, 2009

Another full day today for the Athens Fellows, beginning with…

Sofia Daskalaki-Mytilineou at City Hall

The Fellows began their day at another new destination for the Athens Fellowship — the City Hall of Athens, and a meeting with Sofia Daskalaki-Mytilineou, the Deputy Mayor of Athens.

As you may remember, the Fellows already had a chance encounter with the Mayor of Athens, Nikitas Kaklamanis, at dinner on Tuesday night.  Today’s visit was an opportunity to learn what it’s like to run a city which is the largest in the country, and is simultaneously a world capital, a major center for tourism, the leading center for business and finance in the region — and a city whose 6,000 years of history make it one of the great centers of western civilization.

After a brief tour of the City Council Chambers with its historic murals, the Fellows sat down in City Hall’s main conference room, for a meeting with Deputy Mayor Daskalaki-Mytilineou (who came into office with the current Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyiannis during Ms. Bakoyiannis’ first term as the first woman elected as mayor of Athens).  Her briefing, under the coffered ceilings and chandeliers of the imposing neoclassical building’s main hall, covered every subject encountered in successfully managing a modern city and historic metropolis at the heart of an urban area that extends for 159 square miles, with an overall population of more than 4,000,000 which makes it the 5th most populated capital city of the EU — urban planning, infrastructure, immigration, health, crime, the environment, culture, education, sports and even traffic and parking.  The Fellows, in turn, plied her with additional questions on topics that ranged from the effect of the dramatic influx of immigrants — more than 1,000,000 immigrants in a nation of 10,000,000 citizens — (Athens is helping homeless immigrants with shelters and food programs), to how the city handles the problem of graffiti (Athens is working with them as artists rather than as vandals — through a policy to “get closer to the rebel groups rather than simply punish them”).

Bearing their parting gifts from the Deputy Mayor, the Fellows descended City Hall’s dramatic marble staircase to their waiting bus and their next meeting with…

Giorgos Anastasopoulos at the Ministry of Development

A quick trip across town took the Fellows to the modern tower housing the Ministry of Development, and their briefing with Secretary General for Industry Giorgos Anastasopoulos. Once they were seated in the fifth floor conference room of the Ministry, the pleasant and charming Mr. Anastasopoulos arrived with his staff and a presentation in hand, ready to be delivered, and proceeded to greet with Fellows with an urgent question:  “Why aren’t you guys at the beach?”  After a brief discussion of the merits of various islands (and night-spots in Athens), the Secretary General’s advisor launched into an overview of his Ministry’s mission, with an emphasis on its ambitious 5-year strategic plan for increasing competitiveness and entrepreneurship. And then Mr. Anastasopoulos opened the floor to a vigorous back and forth with the Fellows, that included questions on the potential conflicts between promoting industrial development and curbing pollution and combating global warming (with the Secretary General referencing his own experience in negotiating the Kyoto protocol), the focus on streamlining large bureaucracies to reduce the tangle of regulation and red-tape faced by business, Greece’s increasing investment in research & development, which includes the little-known but growing network of high-technology parks and business incubators in Greece like the one at Thessaloniki, and initiatives to help graduating students and young entrepreneurs obtain seed financing to start businesses and launch innovative  ventures.

The Fellows shot question after question the Secretary General’s way, working to stretch their visit with the engaging Mr. Anastasopoulos as long as possible, as they clearly wanted to stay longer — as did Secretary General Anastasopoulos — but pressing schedules left little room for any extra time.  So, with an hour and a half gone so fast, the Fellows had to leave for their next meeting with…

Yanos Gramatidis at the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce

Conveniently located next door to the Ministry, our meeting at the offices of the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce was just steps away, which gave the Fellows time for a very quick lunch break before going upstairs to meet the Chamber’s President, Yanos Gramatidis and the Chamber’s Executive Director, Elias Spirtounias.  After introducing the Chamber and its 75 years of history as the largest bilateral chamber of commerce in Greece, the personable Mr. Gramatidis gave the Fellows an in-depth look at how the Chamber works to bring business leaders together with each other and with government leaders — working to improve bilateral business relations on many different levels between Greece and the United States, help American companies doing business in Greece (and Greek companies doing business in the U.S.), while promoting American-style innovation within the Greek business world, and increased cooperation between business and government on a variety of issues, from immigration to green technology.

The Fellows took advantage of Mr. Gramatidis’ expert insight into the business environment in Greece, and followed up their just-ended meeting with Secretary General Anastasopoulos at the Ministry of Development with a further barrage of questions on everything from business and high-tech trends in Greece, and Greece’s progress on adopting alternative energy sources such as wind power, to recent progress on battling centuries-old habits of systemic corruption inherited from the 400 years of Turkish occupation, and the much-discussed “brain drain” of young science-minded Greeks leaving for opportunities outside of Greece.

Before going, Mr. Gramatidis took an exciting step in turning the table on the “brain drain” problem, by announcing to the Fellows that the Chamber was anxious to see more bright, young Greek American students interested in business and high-tech opportunities in Greece, and ready to help them find such opportunities by working with the Next Generation Initiative to establish an active internship program in coordination with the Chamber’s member companies — bringing yet another American innovation to Greece that has had so much success in the U.S.

With one last meeting ahead of them, the Athens Fellows reluctantly rose to leave, posing for a picture with their newest friend and champion in Athens, Yanos Gramatidis.  Then it was off to their last stop of the day and their meeting with…

Christos Gortsos at the Hellenic Bank Association

At the end of a long day, a thoroughly tried-but-true contingent of stalwart Fellows arrived at their last official meeting on their schedule (and their last meeting requiring coat and ties) at the Hellenic Bank Association with the young and congenial Secretary General Christos Gortsos. A university professor in his other life, Prof. Gortsos rolled up his sleeves to give the Fellows an incisive introduction to the workings of the European banking system, how the Eurozone works and how that differs from the Fed and the US banking system.  Prof. Gortsos explained how the European Central Bank sets the interest rate for all of Europe, and how each country’s own central bank tweaks its interest rate a little bit differently from the one set by the ECB.  One major issue Prof. Gortsos highlighted is the likelihood that in coming years, the European Central Bank will cater increasingly to the bigger countries in the Eurozone (i.e. Germany) and be tempted to decrease interest rates to try to stimulate their sluggish economies.  At the same time, however, he pointed out that Greece’s economy does not need lower interest rates (they need higher ones) and it would likely overheat with lower rates, with the potential of leading to an economic downturn.

Heady stuff for the economists in the group!  Even more exciting, the energetic professor extended a very generous offer to take on qualified interns sent by the Next Generation Initiative who are on the level of our Athens Fellows.  Quite an honor to our Fellows — especially since this was the first-ever visit by the Athens Fellowship with Prof. Gortsos and the Hellenic Bank Association.

Hard to believe the Fellows could get through a day of top-level encounters like this — and still get up at 6:30 the next morning and be ready for more?  Just check out the video updates and pictures of the Fellows and their grueling daily schedule of meetings and Master Classes online at our Athens Fellowship 2009 blog. You can also follow them throughout their daily schedule with up-to-the-minute “news flash” updates via Twitter.

Posted by: Joseph J. Skarzenski | July 7, 2009

Student interview – Nick Koumoulis

The Athens Fellowship is the premiere international leadership program  for university students which focuses on Greece, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate students of Hellenic heritage majoring in political science, international relations, economics, finance and related fields a chance to see for themselves the new Greece — and learn how modern leaders are working at the highest levels of government and business to take this growing economic and political power to the next level — while experiencing the challenges many leaders face during long days of intensive, fast-paced briefings on a constantly changing array of issues with global implications. The first of its kind, this exciting and innovative program is conducted in partnership with Greece’s Secretary General of Communication Panos Livadas, our host in Athens since 2007.

Posted by: Joseph J. Skarzenski | July 7, 2009

Student interview – Mike Monovoukis

The Athens Fellowship is the premiere international leadership program  for university students which focuses on Greece, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate students of Hellenic heritage majoring in political science, international relations, economics, finance and related fields a chance to see for themselves the new Greece — and learn how modern leaders are working at the highest levels of government and business to take this growing economic and political power to the next level — while experiencing the challenges many leaders face during long days of intensive, fast-paced briefings on a constantly changing array of issues with global implications. The first of its kind, this exciting and innovative program is conducted in partnership with Greece’s Secretary General of Communication Panos Livadas, our host in Athens since 2007.

Posted by: Joseph J. Skarzenski | July 7, 2009

Student interview – Katherine Relle

The Athens Fellowship is the premiere international leadership program  for university students which focuses on Greece, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate students of Hellenic heritage majoring in political science, international relations, economics, finance and related fields a chance to see for themselves the new Greece — and learn how modern leaders are working at the highest levels of government and business to take this growing economic and political power to the next level — while experiencing the challenges many leaders face during long days of intensive, fast-paced briefings on a constantly changing array of issues with global implications. The first of its kind, this exciting and innovative program is conducted in partnership with Greece’s Secretary General of Communication Panos Livadas, our host in Athens since 2007.

Posted by: Joseph J. Skarzenski | July 7, 2009

Student interview – John Leveris

The Athens Fellowship is the premiere international leadership program  for university students which focuses on Greece, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate students of Hellenic heritage majoring in political science, international relations, economics, finance and related fields a chance to see for themselves the new Greece — and learn how modern leaders are working at the highest levels of government and business to take this growing economic and political power to the next level — while experiencing the challenges many leaders face during long days of intensive, fast-paced briefings on a constantly changing array of issues with global implications. The first of its kind, this exciting and innovative program is conducted in partnership with Greece’s Secretary General of Communication Panos Livadas, our host in Athens since 2007.

Posted by: Joseph J. Skarzenski | July 7, 2009

Student interview – Georgianne Papacostas

The Athens Fellowship is the premiere international leadership program  for university students which focuses on Greece, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate students of Hellenic heritage majoring in political science, international relations, economics, finance and related fields a chance to see for themselves the new Greece — and learn how modern leaders are working at the highest levels of government and business to take this growing economic and political power to the next level — while experiencing the challenges many leaders face during long days of intensive, fast-paced briefings on a constantly changing array of issues with global implications. The first of its kind, this exciting and innovative program is conducted in partnership with Greece’s Secretary General of Communication Panos Livadas, our host in Athens since 2007.

Posted by: Joseph J. Skarzenski | July 7, 2009

Student interview – Danae Roumis

The Athens Fellowship is the premiere international leadership program  for university students which focuses on Greece, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate students of Hellenic heritage majoring in political science, international relations, economics, finance and related fields a chance to see for themselves the new Greece — and learn how modern leaders are working at the highest levels of government and business to take this growing economic and political power to the next level — while experiencing the challenges many leaders face during long days of intensive, fast-paced briefings on a constantly changing array of issues with global implications. The first of its kind, this exciting and innovative program is conducted in partnership with Greece’s Secretary General of Communication Panos Livadas, our host in Athens since 2007.

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