Existence and activity of Ukrainian Diaspora organizations abroad play extremely crucial role in Ukrainian politics and relations with foreign partners, however it may be not so noticeable in Ukraine itself. In many countries, where Ukrainians of different waves of emigration live, such organizations not only provide mutual aid for our compatriots, but create cultural and personal connections and even can influence on the country’s policy. 112.international begins the series of interviews with remarkable activists of Ukrainian Diaspora organizations. The first hero is Elena Getseva, founder and chief of the United Ukrainian Diaspora Of Greece. The organization was founded near a year ago, and now it organizes not only events for our compatriots, but also educational programs for Greeks and even participate in wide-scale international projects. In the interview, Elena told about problems of bilateral relations and means to solve it, life of Ukrainians in Greece, and activity of the Diaspora.
Two weeks ago general elections were held in Greece. The new-old government created by SYRIZA and Independent Greeks has partly Eurosceptic character and quite warm and close relations with Russia. What is the general position regarding Ukraine, the conflict in Donbas, and Crimean problem to prevail in official Athens? Can you say that Tsipras is Putin’s adherent, and whether it is a kind of political game?
This is actually a very difficult question, relations are very warm, so Greece even declared the 2016 as the Year of Russia. Regarding Tsipras, he possibly does not know whose adherent he is, mayhaps the communist spirit does its work, but he perceives himself as the European. His government never spoke of the issue of withdrawal from Europe or denial of the euro as currency. Also realizing that his PR campaign can lead to a non-predictable result, he signed the recently proposed agreement, which his critics call a punishment for Greece. And in the last few days he supports sovereignty and integrity of Greece. It is difficult to understand the position of official Athens.
For the last years, Greece is mainly associated with debt crisis in the world and Ukraine particularly. Do these processes influence on social situation of Ukrainians in Greece? And what about migrants and flows of refugees through the country?
Now nobody, either Greeks or Ukrainians, does feel confident in tomorrow. But we have a big advantage to the Greeks, because, as they say, we are immune to crisis and more optimistic. What to flow of refugees, we do not take an active part in this matter. The Greeks are very friendly and sensitive to other people's troubles, assist refugees with clothing, food, attention despite the difficult state of their own economy.
On your opinion, is the decision to restructure Greek debt, reached in August this year, final, or can Athens lot upon further concessions? What impact this may have on the other problematic EU countries?
Of course we hope that will be in some way relieved later, but not under this leadership. I think that Greece, that has become a second homeland for many of us, faces a disaster, so we have double trouble. Now the small and medium businesses are being killed, the large escapes itself. I think this is an example of how other countries should not solve such problems.
Greece alone with Cyprus has not ratified the Association Agreement with Ukraine yet, of all the EU member countries. Is there a danger that this issue will remain the mean of pressure and blackmailing for Athens regarding Brussels? What can Ukraine do in order to escape such situation of dependence on hard relations between Greece and the EU?
It is definitely a political game, and the weaker, lacking forces to fight, often use blackmail, but there is also sympathy, and the level at which the Greeks perceive Russia defines their attitudes to Ukraine, and the only reason is the lack of proper information about Ukraine. Russia performs mass propaganda, from free courses of Russian as a language of the future, luxury cultural and entertainment events, to religious and historic issues, they draw lots of parallels, showing seemingly common features of two peoples and their history.
I was very impressed by the fact that it is written in Greek history handbooks that the Second World War ended due to Russia. 7 years ago my daughter came home from school and said that she discussed with her teacher of history, that in most Ukrainian families were veterans of the Second World War; my grandfather had many awards including the Order of Lenin. To which the teacher replied that by the word Russia they mean other countries of the USSR. We never were for them a country with its long history, language, culture, traditions. This is a drop in the ocean of works of Russian propaganda in the world.
Also, I must say that Russian Embassy is very active and works closely with some non-governmental organizations, forms a false idea of Russia.
I am not a politician, but in my opinion we must primarily unite and do everything to ensure that Ukraine is seen as a strong economic partner. Ukraine is extremely rich country with 45 million people in Central Europe with huge potential. Secondly, it is about information and culture, we have a great history of relations with Europe, and with Greece in particular, we practically are the co-heir of Byzantium, and we need to convey that to minds of the Greeks.
How do Ukrainians feel in Greece?
As in Ukraine, the main problems of the moment are economic issues - payment of wages, salary reduction, people in general are in undetermined condition, but despite all the difficulties, Ukrainians become more collected and selfless. For example, our team, all our volunteers, who devote a couple of hours to our organization every day. I am not sure that it was once else. In addition to the economic problems, our compatriots have tasted bitter truth that the "brand" of Ukraine in Europe and in Greece in particular is underestimated, because it is quite pro-Russian country, where we are now to collect our friends by drops and try to fundamentally change attitudes to our Motherland. My personal opinion is that it is fault equally of politicians and our citizens who lived or worked abroad. So together we must correct it.
How many Ukrainians living in Greece does it embrace, what are the main directions of your work?
Actually we are completely new organization, which was founded on October 3, 2014 as volunteer group From Greece with Love. As the official non-governmental organization, United Ukrainian Diaspora Of Greece, volunteers of From Greece With Love work since February 3, 2015. Our team is initiative, young, and energetic, everyone has university degree and speaks at least three languages, and near 95% are permanent residents of Greece.
We work in different directions. Firstly, it is fair informing the Greek community about Ukraine, its history and current events. We maintain our page and website in Ukrainian, Greek, and English for ten month already. The next is the humanitarian direction- helping orphans, internally displaced persons, targeted assistance to individual families; recreation, rehabilitation of Ukrainian soldiers from East Ukraine and their children. Third one is working with youth – both Ukrainians in Greece and Greek young people in order to acquaint them with Ukrainian culture and customs. At last, but not at least, we organize events in support of Ukraine in Greece, recreational activities for Ukrainians who are here (designed for all who are in Greece from workers to tourists).
Is this potential fully used by Kyiv, which are other areas for development?
It is not used at all yet. Therefore, we will ask for support in this. Last year we have done enough in humanitarian aid, sharing and initiating international projects to help people in distress, so we do not just say what should be done, but do it ourselves. Today more than ever, our state must support people both inside the country and abroad and it is not exaggeration to say that such support and such activities of citizens, who want to do something for the country, there are in no other country of the world. However, if the state does not use the potential of human resources, it will be the country's most terrible mistake in the last centuries.
And we must not forget that this small beautiful country with wonderful people unfortunately is pro-Russian one and has repeatedly blocked the EU sanctions to Russia. Therefore, despite the fact that Greece probably does not have the economic interests of Ukraine as the other countries, we need to make it our ally and take our place in the heart of Greece, a place that belongs to us by right.
How do you interact with Ukraine, embassy, business, NGOs?
Now it is only about volunteer organizations from Ukraine. However we are at the stage of signing the agreement on the provision of materials by the State Archive of Ukraine, our representative met with the management of the archive in Kyiv in July, and we are very satisfied with the result of this meeting. Also in May, we have submitted proposals to the Embassy of Ukraine in the Hellenic Republic concerning management and operation of our organization (for 2016-2018 biennium). Soros Foundation expressed its interest in our cultural projects in 2016. Now we are preparing a proposal and other projects to the Ministry of Informational Policy of Ukraine and the President of Ukraine. We are at the stage of negotiations with several international organizations. Our organization established bandages with Greek public bodies concerning several projects and joint activities with the Greek side. We hope that some of it will work, with assistance of funds, organizations, archives.
Can the cultural cooperation between Ukraine and Greece, including the employment of Ukrainian organizations in Greece and Greeks in Ukraine, contribute to the improvement of bilateral relations?
Of course, cultural cooperation and partnership with NGOs within the framework of long-term programs will lay the foundation for the younger generation, and this will lead to guaranteed results in the future. Good examples are Canada, America, Australia, where the Ukrainian Diaspora is active for generations, and it have impact on policy at the highest level now, and there are many Ukrainians in the authorities. You've seen how much support we got of those countries and what position they occupy.
One of our projects is aiming at Ukrainian roots among young people, and general joint Ukrainian-Greek youth projects. It may surprise that the Greeks are interested in joint cultural projects, if properly conveyed important information.
Another point is consumer’s position of many organizations. At present it is the wrong path in search of allies. I think Diaspora organizations should take patronage over schools, orphan homes, kindergartens and in Ukraine and in the same country they live, it will be a great opportunity to communicate, exchange gifts, made holidays to students, hold competitions of drawings, poems, etc.
As you can see, Ukraine first will win from this; it encourages our children to study languages, history, geography, meanwhile telling the little Europeans about Ukraine, gifting pleasant childhood memories of distant friends, in the same time parents perceive this information from children, start being interested in it.
And, of course, involving journalists, historians, cultural figures, sportsmen to joint conferences and events, not only cultural, but entertainment, educational etc. In my opinion, it is necessary first of all to eradicate the view that Ukrainians are just the cheap labor force, they cannot read, because, unfortunately, there were cases when women were told how to use the iron or vacuum cleaner. That should show the level of Ukrainians who come to Europe on an equal footing and with the same intelligence.
You must also not forget about religion, it has a sensible impact in Greece, they are considered public hint workers and the Greeks are very vulnerable in matters of religion. Furthermore, the Greek Church is our greatest ally and supporter today. We also are preparing a number of projects in this area.