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Notes From a Diplomat | In Conversation with Haris Dafaranos, ex Greek Ambassador to Australia

“A diplomat is by de nition a generalist. He or she has to know a lot about many dimensions of life,” says His Excellency Mr Haris Dafaranos, Ambassador of Greece to Australia. “I would say that Law, Economics, History, Diplomatic History, International Relations, Literature and Philosophy are subjects one should master, together with foreign languages. A good critical mind is also necessary, with the ability of synthesis and analysis as well,” he adds. Good judgement, he explains, is also part of this equation, but it comes with time and experience. Add to this being a good listener and multiply it by being an everyday avid reader and you have some of the essential qualities of a quali ed diplomat.

Born in Athens, Greece, Ambassador Dafaranos had a certain penchant for languages, studying French, English and Italian in high school. He continued his interest in languages, studying English Literature and Law at university, where he realised that he wanted to follow a professional career which would give him experiences from a global perspective. So in 1980 he joined the Hellenic Diplomatic Service which has seen him serve in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Israel, India, West Africa, South Africa and Australia. “It was from a young age that I felt that I did not want to spend my life living in Attica only. I wanted to see the world.”

A diplomat is a professional who aims not towards partisanship, but a somehow objective distance from his object. Diplomats have a major mission: to work for peace and to cultivate mutual respect and build trust among states and their respective societies, as well as paying attention to the observance of human rights and civil liberties. Peace and human dignity are therefore the two most important values for diplomats. “ This is a heritage which we must relay to the younger generations. Peace must be accompanied with justice, and humanism presupposes tolerance. In today’s world we must have these four primary values,” Mr Dafaranos said. “Without them, global society will not be able to progress further. Knowledge and spirituality are important for the cultivated man and woman of this century.” This is his missive to the younger generations. In other words, perhaps with great power comes great responsibility, but at any stage in life, the responsibility of adopting a humanist approach to problems of our societies in our daily lives is paramount in ensuring peaceful coexistence and progress. His own conclusion from experience is not to be in a hurry in passing judgement on an event, or on an expression of the society covered and analysed by an accredited diplomat.

The typical day of an Ambassador is, not surprisingly, a full schedule, explains Mr Dafaranos. From morning till the late hours of the day, there is continuous activity at various levels in the office as well as in parliament, when in session interacting with Ministers as well as with media, academia and other missions. As Ambassador of Greece, Mr. Dafaranos has faced during his tenure the problem of the Greek debt crisis as part of the Eurozone Crisis.

“ The first lesson drawn from the Greek Economic Crisis, is the need for good governance; not to overspend, and not to overborrow,” he says. “There comes a critical moment when economic growth cannot be on borrowed money. There is a second lesson as well: too much austerity can destroy the economy with dire repercussions for the society at large.”

Greece is one of the 28 members of the European Union and represents a small percentage (2%) of the EU annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (around $USD 237.6 billion) but the debt problem faced by the country had an impact in late 2009 on the future of the course of the Eurozone, because of the risk of contagion at that time. The Greek side aims at a reasonable debt relief or an extension of maturities, explains Mr Dafaranos, so as to alleviate the sizeable nancial burden resulting from loans it was obliged to obtain through European solidarity and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in order to avoid default. It is sadly estimated that to every Greek citizen corresponds a debt share of 38 thousand Euros. This is a country that has lost 25 per cent of her GDP, consequently seeing 1,500,000 jobs lost, half of pensions cut and half of superannuation benefits curtailed as well – just in the last six years of strict fiscal consolidation and structural reforms.

Covering the eastern flank of Europe in the Aegean Sea, Greece plays a significant role as a bridging country between Europe, the Middle East and North Africa; a gateway which received recently a great influx of refugees escaping from the Syrian Crisis. This has been a recurring trend for Greece and Europe this year, certainly putting a strain on national and European resources, but what it demonstrates, explains Mr Dafaranos, “is the strong sense of humanism of the Greek people – a part of a Hellenic tradition since the ancient times in the form of Xenia – hospitality – towards the needy, irrespective of their origin, race or religion.”

From an Australian perspective, there are things that we as a nation, with good governance and as an advanced society, can do. Ambassador Dafaranos points out two, of which both pertain to nurturing philhellene sentiments: firstly by increasing the number of work and holiday visas to Greek youth applicants, and secondly by increasing the number of special skills visas towards Greek nationals.

 

Lord George Gordon Byron was a fervent supporter of Greece during the Ottoman occupation and the War of Independence in 1821, a man who was deeply ensconced with the culture of Greece, with philhellenism.

The mountains look on Marathon—
And Marathon looks on the sea;
And musing there an hour alone,
I dream’d that Greece might still be free; (15)

So wrote Lord Byron in e Isles of Greece, a testament to his wish to see an independent Greece, to see a return to humanism, and this is the spirit which Ambassador Dafaranos wishes to be remembered by as he leaves his post this year. “My legacy is humility with humanism; respect for the have nots and particularly for the needy, and foremost respect for human dignity,” says Ambassador Dafaranos. “We diplomats are facilitators. Consequently we must connect ourselves with the society we represent and the society we are accredited to. Our efforts are focused on enhancing communication and cooperation as well as promoting synergies and understanding between states as well as between societies; and culture plays a pivotal role. The Hellenic Spirit since Antiquity is an expression of humanism, tolerance and democratic values.”

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