Ares Kalandides on rebuilding the country’s reputation

Interview with Ares Kalandides to Nikolas Nenedakis

Ares Kalandides is a Berlin-based urban planner and consultant in place branding. He is the founder and CEO of INPOLIS a Place Management & Spatial Planning consultancy that offers services to cities, neighbourhoods and regions. He has been a consultant toBerlin Partner (the city’s marketing organization) since 1996 and has consulted various districts, cities, and regions in Germany and worldwide. Kalandides is a director of the Institute of Place Management (Manchester) and editorial member of the Journal of Place Management and Development. He is currently a professor in Metropolitan Studies at NYU Berlin and the editor of the blog Places. Ares Kalandides spoke to Rethinking Greece  and Nikolas Nenedakis about  the Greek-German connection, the current crisis narratives, and how to rebuild Greece’s reputation.
Hans-Werner Kroesinger’s GRAECOMANIA 200 years performance (currently on stage in Berlin) tries to encapsulate the so called love-hate relationship in German-Greek history. How would you describe the German-Greek relationship/connection?
I think it is impossible to talk about the German-Greek relationship without discussing perceptions, i.e. how Greece is viewed in Germany and vice versa. We could trace the beginnings of that story at the end of the 18th century and the rediscovery of an (imaginary) ancient Greece during German Classicism. Goethe probably captures best the era’s nostalgia for a lost golden age in his Iphigenia in Tauris when he talks about: "Looking for the land of the Greeks with the soul” ("Das Land der Griechen mit der Seele suchend"). Yet, only a few decades later, in 1830,Jakob Philipp Fallmerayer develops a theory according to which "the race of the Hellenes has been wiped out in Europe" and what is left is a mix of Slavs, Turks and other ethnic groups.
I would say that Greece’s image in Germany still oscillates between the Goethe/Fallmerayer poles: admiration for (an idealized and selective) classical Greece on the one hand, and a contempt for (or relative ignorance about) modern Greek culture on the other. While several German museums and architecture in some German cities still bare witness to the former, interestingly enough the Fallmerayer theory pops up regularly in German media (it did so in an article in the national newspaper Die Welt as late as 2015). Somewhere in the middle lie oversimplifications of folklore clichés: ouzo, souvlaki, retsina and syrtaki against a backdrop of bright skies, blue seas and whitewashed houses. 
It was the wave of Greek migration to Germany since the 1950s that added that latter image on top of the existing ones and brought Greeks and Germans into direct contact. The Gastarbeiter, was the personification of the poorly qualified Greek who came to work in the industrial zones of the country bringing with her traditional customs, unfamiliar music and a new culinary tradition. In the opposite direction, the waves of German tourists who started visiting Greece in growing numbers at the end of the 1960s, were probably looking both for Goethe’s Greece and the new folklore. 
What has prevailed since the crisis is what I would call, following Edward Said, the “orientalist” view: stories of laziness, corruption, lack of discipline, profligacy and deceit.  This general concept of “backwardness” of course encompasses a much larger geographical area and includes other southern European countries, the Balkans, the Arab world and what we often call “the global South”. 
In Greece, see certain distinct eras that define the imagery on Germany: 1) monarchy and the presence of Bavarians during the founding years of the Greek state; 2) World War II with the German occupation and the atrocities committed during that time; 3) the post-war era with mass migration to Germany (s.Gastarbeiter above) and the growth of mass tourism. The large number of German tourists who visit the country, produce a very mixed image of Germans with highly educated, individualist explorers and amateurs of the country on the one hand and binge-drinking, mayhem-inflicting mobs on the other.
Germans are viewed in Greece with a mix of admiration, fear and hatred: organizational skills, technological and economic power, discipline and thrift are envied; blind obedience to power or stinginess are ridiculed; arrogance and superiority are feared; an unresolved Nazi history is still the source of hatred. I don’t think that this has changed much since the crisis, though the negative side probably prevails amongst a large part of the population.
That being said, let’s not forget that many young highly qualified people who’ve left Greece in the past few years go to Germany and especially to Berlin. The city is now perceived by many of them as a metropolitan, open-minded world capital of creativity, i.e. almost an aberration of the prevailing German image. It would be very interesting to record their experiences, which are not always positive, as I believe that this phenomenon opens up a new chapter in the relationships between the two countries and marks a different type of migration.
It seems that during the crisis years a certain interaction between the Greek and foreign media has enhanced Greek exceptionalism and over-moralizing narratives about the “lazy Greeks”, Greek society’s pathologies etc. In 2011 you had questioned the “Germans who are ants and Greeks who are grasshoppers” myth. Would you like to elaborate on these issues?
Well into the debt crisis, I had started getting very irritated with the way Greece and Greeks were portrayed in the German media (one could argue that the same thing took place in Greece, but I happen to live in Germany so it concerned me directly). In particular, the myth of the lazy Greek and the hard-working German was so present everywhere (s. above my remark on Orientalism), that even high-ranking officials, including the German Chancellor, did not refrain from using it. This lie was repeated even after figures and statistics were produced that clearly proved how flawed this narrative was. There were some serious attempts on the German side to address this issue that was clearly damaging the relationship between the two people. The best one I know is a small leaflet published by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation debunking the lies one by one. In a 2011 blog entry, inspired by an article by Yanis Varoufakis, I used the famous myth by Aesop, “The Ant and the Grasshopper”, as a metaphor, arguing that there were indeed hard-working people and parasites, but it’s not a division among nations we should be looking for: there are ants and grasshoppers in Greece as there are in Germany. Yet, I’m afraid that the damage that was done at that point is almost beyond repair in the short term. 

Is it possible to influence the way the mass media present and comment on a specific country? Could there be a national strategy to this end?
I think it is only possible up to a point to influence the way mass media present and comment on a specific country. The way that the German media, in particular the Axel-Springer complex, have been constantly portraying Greece since 2010 is not due to misinformation, but to a strategy. I don’t know exactly what and why, but not seeing that there is a hidden agenda there would be naïve. So, is it possible to influence what they write about Greece and how they portray the country, its government and its people? Probably only marginally and it would have to go through individual journalists. 
Yet, there are certain things that can be done and a national strategy is indeed necessary. German embassies and Greek ex-pats can become very important allies in collecting information and diffusing differentiated messages. This cannot be generated by some abstract scheme or some automated address list on some computer. It is part of a diplomatic effort that follows many different channels, including personal connections. Also, we should talk about the role of cultural diplomacy here, as culture in general ‘travels well’. Is there, for example, a strategy to use the momentum that will be created by the Dokumenta exhibition (documenta 14: Learning from Athens, Athens 8. 4. – 16. 7. Kassel 10. 6. – 17. 9. 2017) and turn it into a bridge to transport positive images of Greece to Germany? There are many examples like this that often go unnoticed. 
Also, please notice that I am not talking about a promotion campaign. I’ve not talked about logos and advertising, but about much more sophisticated tools. That does not mean that there should not be a dialogue between tourist promotion and the rebuilding of the country’s reputation – because the latter is exactly what we’re talking about here. 
There are probably few countries in Europe right now with a worse image than Greece. You have noted that Place branding is useful if the people living there are convinced that a place is better than its reputation. Is this the case for Greece?
I don’t think it is possible to answer with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Indeed, there are probably areas where reputation is worse than reality or vice versa and of course, somebody will always contest even this assessment. Part of a national strategy should be to analyze precisely that gap. This means a) a systematic research on the country’s reputation in defined areas, b) a realistic analysis of the country’s qualities in the same examined areas, c) an assessment of the difference between the two. Only such a systematic approach will permit us first to identify the areas where reputation needs management and then look for the right tools and channels.   

Is there such a thing as city / country identity? Is there an Athenian / a Greek identity? What do you think can be done to promote / develop Greek cities and regions?
I think that there is something we can call place identity (of a city, region or country), but its definition is extremely difficult, as it’s questionable whether places are ontological entities. Contemporary geographical theories see places as constituted by social relations, which are by definition multiple, conflicting and constantly evolving, yet embedded both in the material world and in history. Also, as soon as we try to distinguish between the “real world” and our “perceptions” of a place we see that, although analytically we can tell them apart, in reality one defines the other. For example, just consider how a neighbourhood’s bad reputation actually influences what the neighbourhood will become, as it’s reputation that may define real-estate prices and attracts or keeps away particular social groups. Reputation can thus become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because of this complexity of place identity (material world, human relations, representations, perceptions, history, mutability) I have found that art is usually better positioned than science in conveying a sense of place. 
Place branding can support other development strategies (economic, cultural, social), but cannot constitute a strategy in itself. So the question should always be to look at the visions behind other strategies, try to align them and see how reputation management can support them. Unfortunately place branding is usually limited to logos, advertising and promotion campaigns, which I think are absolutely pertinent to destination marketing, but have a very limited effect on place branding. 
Public and cultural diplomacy are the two fields that I believe to be most effective in creating, maintaining and managing a place’s, in particular a country’s, reputation. 
Place / Nation Branding theory emphasizes on coordination and a single message. Yet, modern democracies are based on argument, strong debates and distinct political positions. How can this issue be managed in the process of branding a place / nation?
Let’s look at the two different aspects of this apparent contradiction: 
1. Coordination does not go against strong debates, democratic processes or even conflicts – quite the contrary. One skill in democracies consists in coordinating difference, which is not the same as creating homogeneity out of heterogeneity. It is an endless power-game where lines of division are constantly renegotiated and boundaries are moved back and forth. Coordination in place branding is inscribed in exactly the same context. Place branding is profoundly political, even if marketing gurus want us to believe the opposite. 
2. I don’t think that the communication of a single message is possible in place branding. The intricacy of place identity, the political nature of social relations and a constantly changing reality make it impossible to reduce such complexity to a single, simple or straightforward message. There will always be a bunch of messages present at the same time. Although ideally they should correspond, we should not be afraid to leave space for internal contradictions. Stories generally work better for places. A narrative allows for variations, leaves openings for more complexity, even conflicting versions of the same story. Yet, we should not have any illusions, as even narratives are selective: There are always storytellers and their particular points of view.
What would you do, if you were asked to rebrand Greece?
I think at this point the term reputation management would be more exact. The country has experienced a serious damage in its reputation, but as I said above, this is not innocent: part of the damage reflects the real situation, part of it is politically motivated and part of it follows the path of word-of-mouth, reproducing itself. If reputation reflects reality, then we seriously need to work on that reality. If it is politically motivated, then we cannot be looking for solutions in place branding, but in politics. What we may be able to influence is the reproduction of that bad reputation. A robust assessment of the gap between reality and perception in particular areas, the identification of centres of information and opinion-makers, the activation of possible institutional allies and key individuals, coordination and cooperation among different sectors, design of a serious public and cultural diplomacy are only some of the steps needed in that direction. This challenge is far too complex for a small team, let alone for one person. What we need is a multi-disciplinary task-force able to tackle it.

First published on, 6.2.2016.

Ares Kalandides is a Berlin-based urban planner and consultant in place branding. He is currently a professor in Metropolitan Studies at NYU Berlin and the editor of the blog Places.