Planet excerpts

Aled Gruffydd Jones interviews Syriza's Minister of Culture Aristide Baltas, who reveals how Greek citizens are reclaiming their ancient heritage in the name of radical democracy and internationalism, and offers inspiration for how other nations could expand cultural provision in the face of severe austerity.

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As I was leaving a crowded Syrian refugee camp in Piraeus one morning this Spring, one of the volunteers asked me where I was going next. I replied that I was heading back into Athens to interview the Greek Minister of Culture. He smiled and said ‘So, you’re going to meet our Plato in Government’. That is very much how Professor Aristide Baltas is regarded across the mainstream political spectrum in Greece. He is a distinguished physicist, philosopher of science, scholar of Wittgenstein, President of the Nicos Poulantzas Institute and a founding member of Syriza, the coalition of the anti-austerity Left that, since January 2015, has governed a debt-burdened Greece. His record in Government, both in his present post and in his previous role as Minister of Education, has been marked by controversy and criticism as he confronts entrenched interests and assumptions, from his critiques of the over-testing of schoolchildren to his appointment of Jan Febre, a Belgian, as Director of the Festival of Athens.

As funding for cultural institutions across many parts of Europe continues to diminish in the wake of the 2007-8 financial crash, Greece, more than any other EU member-state, has been caught in the eye of the storm. How then does a philosopher of the Left deal with political office at such a time of crisis, and what political and financial instruments are available to him to avoid the further impoverishment, or even the disappearance, of important sections of culture and the arts?

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