Welcome, 77 artists, 40 different points of Attica welcomes you by singing Erotokritos an epic romance written at 1713 by Vitsentzos Kornaros

Monday, April 7, 2014

Erika Spyropoulos Appointed as Illinois Arts Council Commissioner by Gov. Quinn

PRESS RELEASE FROM THE THEODORE & ERIKA SPYROPOULOS FOUNDATION (APRIL 7): CHICAGO, IL – Erika Wilhelmine Knickmann Spyropoulos has been appointed by Illinois Governor Patrick Quinn as a Commissioner of the Illinois Arts Council (IAC). The agency is governed by up to twenty-one private citizens chosen for their demonstrated commitment to the arts and appointed […]

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Getty Museum to Return Rare Bible to Athos

LOS ANGELES— A 12th-century Byzantine illuminated New Testament that was acquired by The J. Paul Getty Museum in 1983 will be voluntarily returned by the museum to the Holy Monastery of Dionysiou on Mount Athos in Greece. The manuscript was acquired by the Getty Museum in 1983 as part of a large, well-documented collection. Recent […]

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SAE Brothers Say That Banning Pledging Will Destroy The Fraternity

The Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity made news last month when it banned new-member pledging in an attempt to shed its reputation as the "most deadly fraternity in America."

However, as SAE members' reddit discussions show, many brothers believe this decision will ruin their fraternity and its brotherhood. By quickly initiating new members — and exposing them to secret SAE rituals and traditions — brothers say that the fraternity experience will likely become devalued.

Perhaps the most important SAE tradition that brothers fear will be lost is the "True Gentleman Experience," the fraternity's new member education program. According to a 2013 new member guidebook, over the course of several weeks SAE pledges would learn the history of the Greek system, the "purpose of membership," and SAE songs, among other topics.

"When the new brother takes his place in the chapter he should have a pretty good idea of what the fraternity is all about. He should be able to effectively explain the role of Sigma Alpha Epsilon in the collegiate experience, i.e. the development of the individual toward becoming a solid citizen on campus and after graduation," the 2013 "The True Gentleman Initiative" guidebook says

Another sensitive piece of information is SAE's secret motto — "Phi Alpha" — defined on various websites as "Brighter from Obscurity."

Under SAE's revised new member program, which went into effect immediately after its announcement in March, "candidates for membership" must be fully initiated into the brotherhood within 96 hours of receiving their bids. "From the first day, the Ritual of Sigma Alpha Epsilon will guide members not in quiet allusion, build-up or allegory, but by experiencing it fully," states the new version of the "True Gentlemen Experience."

Now, new SAE members will have full access to the fraternity's secrets and rituals almost immediately after receiving an invitation to join, instead of having to go through weeks of lessons and exams before being initiated as brothers.

This quick access to fraternity secrets seems to be at the core of many members' concerns. As one SAE brother writes on reddit, "I cannot believe this is happening to our beloved Fraternity ... Pledgeship was my favorite part, now abolished entirely for the mistakes of few. Phi Alpha will not be a reward after twelve weeks, but now a privilege after one."

Members claim that SAE's pledge process led to a greater appreciation of the fraternity and its values, a connection that could be lost under the new system. "I don't think I would ever have appreciated SAE as much, nor had a relationship with my Brothers, had pledgeship been a week-and-done deal. It will be a gym membership: sign up, get involved for a month, then drop out when life offers you something easier," one member writes on reddit.

These fears were echoed by another SAE brother:

Now that new guys will be initiated they will not care for SAE like we do because they didn't earn it and now we will have random 17 and 18 year olds rushing, becoming brothers and representing our house in most likely bad ways. Sure we will get a few guys that will be TG and phi alpha but the amount of guys that will bring SAE down will be unbelievable. It's going to be so disgusting (from my perspective at least) when I have to call someone I meet my brother after 4 days ... I take pride in wearing my letters and living by the TG ever since I rushed, went through pledging and got initiated and now it's like I got slapped in the face.

Alumni members also joined in the discussion, with one writing on reddit, "I don't like seeing what I earned and worked my a-- off to achieve being given away to some little twerp that wants everything given to him. This is not a way to stop any hazing. I feel that this is only giving those individuals an easier way to become a part of something amazing...something they need to learn before they are given."

It is important to note, though, that several SAE members involved in the reddit discussions explicitly differentiated "pledging" from "hazing." As one SAE brother writes, "I am totally against any pledge program that involves hazing. Too many equate a hazing program as 'earning it,' when in fact, all you have done is select someone who has endured, not achieved. Give pledges real opportunities to prove themselves in skills that will be necessary to run a chapter, i.e., fundraising, philanthropy, scholarship, leadership."

Other members wrote that this change will actually create a worse situation for new members, who will no longer have a pledging period to determine if SAE is the right fit.

"Besides educating pledges, pledgeship helps sort out new people. If you're only a pledge you still have a chance to drop if SAE isn't right for you. If you get initiated instantly, well, you're kinda in a weird situation," writes one SAE reddit user.

As another SAE brother puts it, "Now accepting a bid from SAE is going to Vegas to get hitched. Now you're in so you better like it."

However, some SAE members wrote on reddit about what they viewed as the perseverance of the fraternity, arguing that their brotherhood would not be particularly affected.

"To all the brothers out there facing this, I urge you to remember that ΣΑΕ has preserved through every war, and governmental and ideological shift our country has encountered and we remain IMHO the greatest brotherhood out there. ΦΑ," one SAE brother writes.

A freshman SAE member took to reddit to write about the possible upside of the changes, which may offer an opportunity for chapters to demonstrate their leadership skills:

I've just been thinking about it in terms of life as a whole. Life is not easy, and it is filled with many situations that will bring you out of your comfort zone. You can lay down and die in the face of adversity, or you can learn to adapt. Yes, this new program sucks, and may destroy the fraternity, but it gives us a taste of experience in the world of business. Employers like leaders, those who bend but do not break. Learning to adapt to this new situation rather than let it kill us is crucial, and one of the reasons why fraternity men are so coveted in their post-collegiate careers.

However, a member of Chi Phi, a different national fraternity, responded with a slightly more cynical view. He writes, "I was under the impression that these actions killed the whole 'business atmosphere' of the Fraternity by making freshmen (entry-level employees) equal to the upper classmen (high execs)."

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Why Are So Many Greek Orthodox Leaving Church?

Why Are So Many Greek Orthodox Leaving Church?The American ConservativeIn a startling find, statistics disclose over 60% of Greek Orthodox families of the last generation and 90% of Americans with Greek roots are no longer in communion with the Church. It is a concern shared by learned religious leaders who understand the ...


Baltakos: I Am Part of New Democracy and Always Will Be

Former cabinet secretary Takis Baltakos told Greek reporters that he was, is and always will be part of New Democracy as he left the prosecutor’s office Monday,


Village with Highest Birth Rate in Greece

The village of Livadia in the prefecture of Heraklion in Crete, is the village holding the highest birth rate in Greece. The


Greek exports feel the pinch from crisis in Ukraine

Greek exports declined for a fifth consecutive month in February, data by the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) have shown, creating serious concerns about the sustainability of production in the country’s primary and secondary sectors.


Greece: Athens mayor candidates split on mosque referendum proposal

Athens' center-left mayor Giorgos Kamanis says Greece has an "international obligation" to build a mosque in the capital, criticizing a proposal by his main opponent in municipal elections next month to hold a city referendum on the project.


Souvla's Greek Fare Arrives in Hayes Valley Tomorrow

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Greece Sheds 200,000 State Jobs in Four Years

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Greece, Kosovo co-operate despite non-recognition status

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Ministry says 633 migrants returned home in March

A total of 633 migrants returned to their native countries from Greece in March according to figures released by the Public Order Ministry on Monday. The ministry’s report pointed to 271 undocumented migrants being forced to return home after being found ... ...


Gender discrimination in the workplace on the rise, says Greek Ombudsman

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Record day for Alpha’s stock on ATHEX

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Greeks in the U.S.: Colorado and Tarpon Springs

There is a historic preservation movement now underway all across Greek America. There is no central authority directing or organizing its progress. No lone academic crusader or collection of ardent scholars is/are monitoring or documenting its movements. Sadly, there is not even much news coverage found in the Greek or Greek-American press about this unprecedented […]

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Lucas Samaras: Father Of The Selfies

Lucas Samaras has been hailed as the master of self-depiction in the post-war American landscape. As a painter, photographer and filmmaker, his work has anticipated the era of the so-called selfie. The curator of the current exhibition “Lucas Samaras: Offerings from A Restless Soul” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Marla Prather, has noted that “innumerable precedents exist in the genre of self-portraiture but Samaras’ devotion to his own image is an obsession born of profound narcissism, for which he makes no apology…His ‘Autopolaroids’ and ‘Phototransformations’ are among the artist’s most transgressive inventions.” In light of the fact that two major New York exhibitions are currently featuring his work, the reclusive artist spoke to Michael Skafidas for The WorldPost about the power of self-representation in art, the superficiality of the selfie-era and his objection to be associated with it. Michael Skafidas: Are you surprised that 55 years after your breakthrough in New York, the "selfies," addicted as they are to Instagram, are manifesting an obsession with the self-image that has always been your trademark fixation? Lucas Samaras: Yes, but there is one slight difference -- that I am a professional and they are amateurs. I come from an art tradition, so there is a certain aesthetic desire to make it look good, whereas the so-called selfies could not care less whether it looks nice or not. They can do anything they want because it’s a different world. It’s almost like Sunday painting. There is a stage in art that you have to pass where if you are an amateur, magically you become a great professional. Instagram people could not care less about this transition. There is no self-criticism from an artistic point of view. A few perhaps pretend to be artistic. Out of those, it’s possible to get somebody who becomes a legitimate photographer with style, even though at the moment there is a style of no style. MS: It’s been argued that the selfie is not actually a new phenomenon; it is just a technological reincarnation of a very old one. As a critic remarked recently, even cavemen tended to be the subject of their own paintings. LS: Well, it wasn’t the self back then, it was an idea of painting what you saw. With the cavemen there was no mirror. They couldn’t see themselves, but they saw the person next to them, so they got an idea what they could look like. The self didn’t quite come then. The mirror came at the moment when glass was invented, before glass it was polished metals like bronze that enabled people to see their face there sometime in the ancient period. I assume in Homer’s time, there were small mirrors made of metal, but not glass. People did not have a chance to see themselves naked really, unless they saw their reflection on the pool like Narcissus. MS: How is today’s fast self-portrait of the selfie shaping the notion of art and the principles of self-portraiture in photography? LS: The critics get tired of the artists; they want to see something raw. What is going on now is considered raw and therefore of interest to analyze. That diminishes the value of self-portraiture, especially when someone decides to see the difference between the professional and the non-professional, which is mostly junk. Many people have stopped searching for an intelligent, intellectual criticism. The selfie mentality demonstrates a very aggressive behavior: it’s like going to a museum and saying : "screw the Rembrandt." The selfie era offers a big opening: everybody can do it; nowadays even five-year-olds know how to take a nude self-portrait. Remember how we were brought up with a huge number of valuable restrictions? Now if you are a kid, it’s all about escaping restrictions, and that’s a perfect example of escaping clasps of social upbringing. MS: Your Autopolaroids (a series of manipulated Polaroid self-portraits) were considered very raw as well back in their time. In a way you were escaping artistic restrictions yourself as a young artist. LS: Back in the 1960s, there was a great deal of experimentation. For me, the idea of exposing myself so other people can see it -- it’s almost like being a child discovering the water and jumping to its openness. I had been seeing how artists at different periods always painted themselves, maybe once or twice, maybe more. How can you paint other people and not paint yourself? Some artists, like Van Gogh, were sort of hooked. At the same time that they exposed themselves, they also exposed their environment -- Van Gogh’s bedroom, for example. The exposure of the self is not only your body; it’s also your space, where you live, what’s hanging on the wall. My fame is part of this exposure, and technology expedited it. Even though I’ve done a million other things, people still think that the Polaroids were the best part of my work. My Polaroids were quite open, raw and sexual also. I went lecturing with them, and I had people get up and leave the auditorium because they couldn’t accept the naked part. But exposing oneself is both a self-journey and a journey you share with other people. Some people use the term exhibitionism, which nowadays is trendy again because of the selfie mentality. Different words can try to explain the same situation. But I never saw it that way. My self-portraits are not strictly about sexuality, they are about the development of the self in time and the various stages of the self, from youth to aging. Aging is quite shocking and requires strength to continue."Photography is the best way to depict the idea that you existed. You don’t have to say that nature is aware of your existence, that God knows you are here. The camera gives you proof that you have lived at least once." MS: Is photographing your own body an erotic act? LS: No, it isn’t erotic for me. But there might be something in the nature of love –- eros and agape which are two different things in the ancient Greek context -- that brings tenderness to it, but no sexuality. MS: This tenderness for the self echoes Walt Whitman, the great American poet who celebrated the self in his poetry long before the wannabe narcissism of the selfie-era. In a way you do with images what Whitman did with words. You are recording a life that becomes paradigmatic for others. LS: Yes, in my pictures I am talking to my future viewer in a non-traditional way, which I guess is what Whitman did in his time with poetic language. But aside from celebrating the self, now that I'm getting older, I am also celebrating the lives of others through my photographs. Photographs reveal something inner about any self, and photography is an imprint of existence. Everything you see existed. As I’ve said before, photography is the best way to depict the idea that you existed. You don’t have to say that nature is aware of your existence, that God knows you are here. The camera gives you proof that you have lived at least once. MS: Has the selfie-era somehow justified your preoccupation with recording the self? LS: Perhaps, but I wouldn’t use this term. You see, this is my problem, I was doing what I was doing, and then 50 years later people are using the word "selfie." I hate the word, it’s awful. It almost has something childish into it. I detest it for that juvenile aspect of it. "Pop art" was stupid enough as a term, but at least it had some kind of punch. But "selfie" is diminutive and phony. It denotes a crowd mentality and transfixed stupidity, a massive movement that technology has enabled to release the need of the so-called "selfies" to see themselves as they want to see themselves. MS: You already sound like a disapproving father! So I assume you would resent the honorific title "father of the modern selfies." LS: I like to make my own titles. But if somebody gives you a title, you say thank you. (The exhibition Lucas Samaras: Offerings from a Restless Soul is currently in view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York through June 1. Samaras’ works are also featured in the current exhibition "What is a Photograph?" At the International Center of Photography in New York, through May 4).


Romanian Inmate Attacks Prison Guard

A prison guard in Greece at Trikala prison on Monday morning was attacked with a makeshift knife by an inmate of Romanian


Theocharis: Greek Tax Office of the Future

The General Secretariat of Public Revenue plan for tax compliance includes a simplification of the tax-paying process. According to the General Secretary


Greek shipper concerned over delays at Chinese yard

KathimeriniGreek shipper concerned over delays at Chinese yardKathimeriniGreek ship operator Dryships Inc has already put down a $11.56 million downpayment, 8.5 percent of the total cost, toward four cargo ships scheduled to be delivered in 2014, but Dryships executives said they aren't sure Rongsheng has even started ...


Greece draws up plans for market return

Greece’s first bond issuance for more than four years – probably about €2bn in five-year debt – would mark a turnround in the eurozone’s fortunes


Will the IMF Bailout Turn Ukraine Into Another Greece?

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European parliament angers Iran with human rights resolution

Islamic republic dismisses MEP accusations of freedom of speech restrictions and call for executions moratorium

Iran has reacted angrily to a European parliament resolution calling on diplomats to shine a spotlight on human rights in their negotiations with Tehran as part of a new strategy towards the country.

Iran's foreign ministry summoned the Greek ambassador on Sunday in protest at the resolution, passed by MEPs in a plenary session last week, which condemned the Islamic republic's record for "continued, systematic violation of fundamental rights". Greece currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU.

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Prometheus Greek Teachers Association Holds

Hellenic News of AmericaPrometheus Greek Teachers Association HoldsHellenic News of AmericaWe make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.' – Winston Churchill. Three unique promoters of Hellenism and Greek Education were honored at the Hermes Expo International April 1st Gala on Tuesday evening at the Best Western ...and more »


Greece's Left and the European Union: On the Need for an Anti-Euro and Anti ...

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Getty Museum to return 12th century New Testament to Greece monastery

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Greek journalist unions condemn columnist's arrest

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek journalists' unions and the government have condemned the arrest of a journalist over comments in an opinion column about a member of parliament.


Greek exports down by 7 pct in February as imports rise 1.6 pct

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Stournaras Cautious On Market Return

Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said Greece is testing the waters before returning to the bond markets any time soon.

The post Stournaras Cautious On Market Return appeared first on The National Herald.


Pre-Parade Events Fire up Greeks for Main Event

NEW YORK – Parade weekend in New York City began with the flag-raising sponsored by the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York in historic Bowling Green in Lower Manhattan on March 28. The celebration continued on the following the day with 6th Annual Greek Dance Exhibit at the Stathakion Center, but there were […]

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15 Undiscovered European Destinations

When it comes to the very best European destinations, bigger does not always mean better. While travelers typically gravitate toward larger cities like London and Paris, some of the region's most rewarding and best-kept secrets are alternatively set well off-the-beaten path. From a tiny Albanian cliff town with stunning mountain vistas, to a Swiss mountain village known for its beer and cheese, it's well worth the extra effort to get to any of our 15 picks for the best undiscovered European destinations.By Emily Wasserman1) Porto Palermo, Albania Nestled among rolling green hills just south of the town of Himarë is Porto Palermo. This Albanian village keeps a low profile, but features a towering 18th-century castle that overlooks a sparkling bay. Visitors can explore its well-preserved grounds, and take in the coastline's picturesque scenery.Photo Credit: Yelena011 | Dreamstime.com2) Sainte-Agnes, France Narrow stone-paved streets, arched passageways, and spectacular views make Sainte-Agnès one of Southern France's hidden gems. This tiny seaside village comes perched atop a mountain, offering visitors a lookout over stunning Mediterranean vistas. Climb its hills to see the ruins of a 9th-century chateau, or stop by the Maginot Line fort for panoramic views of the water.Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor's France GuidePhoto Credit: Kuz'min Pavel/Shutterstock3) Coimbra, Portugal Once a bustling capital city, Coimbra is now a vibrant university town touting plenty of historical attractions. Located halfway between Lisbon and Porto, this Portuguese town boasts one of the oldest academic institutions in Europe, and visitors here can partake in lively local festivals and traditions. Visit vibrant cafés and bars to hear authentic fado music, or take a tour of one of the city's ancient cathedrals.Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor's Coimbra GuidePhoto Credit: Arseniy Krasnevsky/Shutterstock4) Kotor, Montenegro Tucked away in a secluded channel of a Montenegro bay, Kotor exudes picturesque scenery and natural beauty. Visitors can walk through a maze of winding, cobblestoned streets, and tour buildings that date back to medieval times. For unparalleled views of the mountains and water, climb 1,350 steps to the town's ancient fortifications. Adventurous souls can also opt to paraglide from atop the surrounding cliffs.Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor's Kotor GuidePhoto Credit: Peter Guttman5) Warsaw, Poland Known as the "Phoenix City," Warsaw has experienced its fair share of change. The Polish capital was practically demolished during World War II, but has since reinvented itself as an up-and-coming metropolis. Visitors can browse upscale shops near the city's Palace of Culture and Science, or take a stroll around the majestic Royal Castle and Old Town Square. For a taste of local culture, visit the buzzing Praga District on the city's right bank, known for its lively bars, art galleries, and underground theaters.Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor's Warsaw GuidePhoto Credit: Marcin Jurczuk/Shutterstock6) Appenzell, Switzerland Step back in time in Appenzell, one of Switzerland's least explored regions. Located at the foot of the Alpstein mountain range, the area boasts delicious beer and cheese, quirky residents, and traditions that date back centuries. Explore streets lined with colorful houses and stop by a bakery to sample local confections like pear bread and almond and honey cakes. Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor's Appenzell GuidePhoto Credit: TwilightArtPictures/Shutterstock7) Smolare, Macedonia Small, landlocked Macedonia is often overlooked by travelers, but passing by the country would be a mistake. Visitors here can take in stunning mountain ranges, sparkling lakes, and architecture dating back to the Byzantine era. Stop by the tiny village of Smolare to see the country's tallest waterfall: Located 130 feet above the town, travelers can walk up 300 stone steps to gaze at the sparkling blue falls from a wooden bridge.Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor's Macedonia GuidePhoto Credit: Smolare_Watterfall by Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License8) Sibiu, Romania Built in the 12th century, the Romanian citadel city of Sibiu is an ideal destination for history buffs. Still boasting many of its original fortifications, visitors can walk through mazes of stone staircases and archways to explore the area's rustic architecture. Stop by Grand Square to visit Brukenthal Palace, a majestic 18th-century Baroque mansion that houses one of the oldest museum collections in the world.Photo Credit: Boerescu/Shutterstock9) Kosice, Slovakia While the capital of Slovakia, Bratislava, garners most of visitors' attention, travelers would be remiss to skip over Košice, the country's second city. Located on the eastern side of Slovakia, Košice boasts beautiful gothic architecture, carefully preserved buildings, and plenty of historic charm. Stop by the Villa Cassa to see Europe's oldest coat of arms, or take a stroll through the city center, with its medieval houses and palaces.Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor's Slovakia GuidePhoto Credit: silver-john/Shutterstock10) Korcula, Croatia Breathtaking scenery and rich local culture are what draw visitors to Korčula, Southern Dalmatia's largest island. Also known as "Black Corfu," the densely wooded islet boasts secluded beaches and bays, and verdant green hills perfect for hiking. The main town--also named Korčula--is the purported birthplace of Marco Polo, and features winding streets, medieval stone fortresses, and atmospheric red-roofed buildings.Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor's Korčula GuidePhoto Credit: Phant/Shutterstock11) Bolgheri, Italy Rolling green hills, blossoming vineyards, and winding pathways make Bolgheri one of Tuscany's most enchanting villages. Visitors drive past centuries-old cypress trees to reach the village center, where they're greeted with a view of the Bolgheri Castle. Nature lovers will enjoy the bucolic scenery, and wine enthusiasts can get a taste of the area's internationally renowned vintages.Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor's Italy GuidePhoto Credit: Bigpressphoto | Dreamstime.com12) Folegandros, Greece Often overshadowed by neighboring Santorini, Folegandros proposes a welcomed escape from the hustle and bustle of more popular Greek islands. Perched on a towering seaside cliff, the island doesn't offer much in the way of attractions--but makes up for it with local charm. Visitors can explore untouched beaches, sample traditional food, and spend quiet evenings contemplating the breathtaking, sun-touched cliffs.Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor's Folegandros GuidePhoto Credit: jcfmorata/Shutterstock13) Azores, Portugal Visiting the Azores feels a bit like stepping into paradise: Located midway between New York and Lisbon, the lush, volcanic archipelago is best known for its sapphire blue waters, colorful scenery, and majestic cliffside manors. Visitors can explore quaint seaside towns, take a dip in hot mineral springs, or hike through the island's verdant hills. Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor's Azores GuidePhoto Credit: Anibal Trejo/Shutterstock14) Malaga, Spain As the capital of Spain's Costa del Sol, Málaga enchants visitors with its ancient streets, picturesque villas, and lush vegetation. The city averages 324 days of sunshine a year, making it a perfect destination to explore by foot. Take a stroll through palm tree-lined streets and stop for a drink in the city's old quarter. Art enthusiasts will enjoy the Picasso Museum, which features a chronological exhibition of the late artist's work.Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor's Málaga GuidePhoto Credit: Kushch Dmitry/Shutterstock15) Kutna Hora, Czech Republic History takes center stage in Kutná Hora. This small Czech town began as a medieval mining village, and still retains much of its original architecture. Stop by St. Barbara's Cathedral for an up-close look at Gothic sculpture and panoramic views of the city. More morbid-minded visitors will enjoy the Sedlec Ossuary, or "bone church": One of the Czech Republic's most famous sights, this small chapel is decorated from floor to ceiling in human bones.Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor's Kutná Hora GuidePhoto Credit: Beneda Miroslav/Shutterstock More from World's Most Breathtaking Hotel Spas10 Non-Traditional Safari AdventuresCheap and Chic: 14 Affordable Hotels in Mexico


Helmut Schmidt: 'Why Chinese Civilization Has Lasted.' Part III

Recently, the Chinese scholar Wang Hui sat down for a conversation with Helmut Schmidt, Germany’s elder statesman, in Hamburg. Until 2007, Wang Hui was editor of the influential journal, Dushu, and is the author of the seminal four-volume study, “The Rise of Modern Chinese Thought.” Helmut Schmidt, 95, was chancellor of Germany from 1974-1982 and visited China several times to meet Mao and Deng Xiaoping. WANG HUI: I read some interview in which you talked about your early visits to China and you said that Deng Xiaoping smoked when you met him. [Helmut Schmidt is famous for insisting on smoking, even in public places, at 95- ed.] SCHMIDT: I met him three times in my life. And each time we had plenty of time. He was a great listener; quite different compared to Mao Tse-tung. Mao didn’t really listen. He did not speak a lot, but he did not really listen. He believed in what he believed and stuck to that that over a long number of decades. THE SELF-RENEWAL OF CHINESE CIVILIZATION HELMUT SCHMIDT: There is something about China that I do not really understand. The Chinese civilization, the Chinese written language, Mandarin, has existed at least for 3000 years now. Three thousand years ago we had the great civilization of the Iranian people, of the Egyptian people, of the Romans, of the Greeks. All of these civilizations have gone. Yet, the Chinese civilization has retained its continuity. And after more than 4000 years of Chinese history, all of the sudden the Chinese are exploding onto the world stage. Why? WANG: The Chinese civilization has had the tendency to construct and reconstruct itself continuously. It was interrupted many times, but continuity was always revived. No doubt it has much to do with Confucianism. Confucianism is a political culture and not only a philosophical culture."Confucianism is a political culture and not only a philosophical culture." SCHMIDT: The Confucian civilization starts only around the year zero A.D. -- 500 years after the death of Confucius. And later on Confucianism almost died out. And it came back around 900. So, Confucianism covers only one half of Chinese history. WANG: But even in the dynasties when Confucianism was in decline, rulers and scholars still attempted to reconstruct the ideology of the Confucianism to some degree. SCHMIDT: And it is coming back today. WANG: They always tried to reconstruct it. The thing most difficult to understand is that the Chinese civilization was interrupted by nomadic people from Mongol, Khitan, and Jurchen. But it is interesting that the nomads who came to China also tried to re-establish society in the tradition of Chinese dynasties. They tended to respect Confucianism while preserving their own cultures and diverse identities, hence enriching the Chinese civilization. SCHMIDT: The political civilization of China differs in one way from the rest of the civilizations. Chinese Confucianism does not seek to establish the belief in one religion. Confucianism is a philosophy, or an ethical system, but not a religion. You do not believe in God. In what do you, as a Confucian, believe? WANG: Confucius himself said that we should respect ghosts and spirits while keeping some distance from them. SCHMIDT: Your theory is that the impulse for reinvention so many times after so many dynasties is what gives Chinese civilization its sustainable longevity? WANG: To one extent, yes. SCHMIDT: What is the other extent? WANG: The other extent is that there was still an important legacy that always survived, especially in the countryside. Until the 20th century, China remained as an agricultural civilization. “Farming and studying as the family lineage,” or geng du chuan jia, had been the basic lifestyle. But now there is a big change. Another great transformation is happening now. SCHMIDT: Of course, farmers are always conservative. They stick to what they have learned from their fathers and from their grandfathers. This is the same all over the globe. It is not a Chinese specialty. WANG: No, of course not. But the other side of the coin is radicalness. Mao himself is such a paradoxical character. On the one hand, he was very radical. But on the other hand, he was so well acquainted with Chinese history and classics. When I was a student in the middle high school, I started to study the Chinese Classics under the influence of Mao. SCHMIDT: Did you do it with the consent of Mao or against his will? WANG: Well, both. Mao argued that we needed to criticize Confucianism and should be pro-Legalism (the school of thought emphasized strict obedience to authorities and the law—ed.) That political campaign started in 1974. That’s why even in middle school, we were required to read and then criticize Confucian texts. We were hence asked to read a lot of the classics. SCHMIDT: My impression is that Mao was even against Confucius being quoted in public. WANG: That happened mainly after 1974 when the campaign “Criticize Lin Biao, Criticize Confucius” started. Lin was criticized for attempting to revive Confucianism as a power move, so Mao launched this campaign. SCHMIDT: At the time of Confucius, there was another outstanding Chinese philosopher, Laozi. Did Mao also attack Laozi? WANG: No, at least he was not the main target. He was considered a master of dialectical thinking. Mao regarded Laozi as a strategic thinking above all. You may read Laozi from the perspective of military strategy. SCHMIDT: When I was in China in the 1990s, the general answer that I got when asking about Mao was the he was “70 percent was right and 30 percent was wrong” in what he did. Is that still the answer? WANG: For China, Mao is complex. Nowadays, some people dislike him very much, but on the other hand many people have a very positive opinion of him. It is difficult to evaluate such a man with such accurate metrics. SCHMIDT: By the way, he also liberated women in China. This is something that is overlooked at present. If you speak about what Mao has achieved, he paved the way for the liberation of women. Am I right? WANG: Yes, absolutely. And another issue is that, even though we suffered in a certain period, the history of his period would become the foundation for the next period. After the Cultural Revolution, Deng Xiaoping was under great pressure to denounce Mao. But Deng refused to do so. It was partly a political strategy since the legitimacy of the reform was derived from the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party. But it was also because he knew perfectly well that while the Cultural Revolution caused tremendous loss, the Mao era also laid the foundation and defined the framework for a unified nation that was the basis for “opening up and reform.” Deng’s decision strengthened the legitimacy of China’s political system. Otherwise, China could have fallen into chaos at that time. SCHMIDT: This could still happen -- not very likely, but not totally unlikely. And it would certainly, after some time, lead to reconsolidation of China once again. It is not the first revolution in history. By the way, Mao confessed to not being a Marxist. He never was (laughter) -- he was a revolutionary. WANG: How Mao should be evaluated remains a provocative question. But he said during the Cultural Revolution that, in his view, very few people in the Chinese Communist Party really knew Marxism. He made this comment in the 1970s. SCHMIDT: Marx believed in the revolution by industrial workers. Mao believed in revolution by the peasants. That had nothing to do with Marx. What they had in common was revolution. Right now in Germany, among every hundred people who earn their living by working, less than a third are “workers” in the sense Marx meant it. Many are not workers in a traditional sense. They work in an office and in front of them is a computer. WANG: The Chinese situation is different. We still have 260 million migrant workers -- who have come to the cities from the countryside. It is the largest working class in the world. But in the 20th century, when the Revolution took place, there were less than 2 million workers in China. HOUSEHOLD REGISTRATION, URBAN WORKERS AND MEGACITIES SCHMIDT: You have to consider the abolishing of the hukou system [the system or urban registration for urban dwellers. Without residence permits, migrants do not get urban services, as urban residents do, including education.. editor]. WANG: Now we are moving toward that direction -- not abolishing it, but making it much more flexible. . SCHMIDT: You need to do away with the whole system of hukou. It is one of the necessities or modernization. How long will it take? WANG: Some cities in China have already changed the policy for allowing migrants to get urban services. Compared with the past, the significance of hukou has already dwindled. The key issue for the present is land ownership. Each peasant has a small piece of assigned land, the rights of which they still own even after they migrate into cities. SCHMIDT: This has also to be changed. WANG: This is a big issue for China. There are heated disputes over it. Many peasants who live in the suburbs or cities don’t want to give up their land. SCHMIDT: I think one of the greatest changes that have happened in China is that you do not need so many farmers any more. And they are going into the cities. And the cities are becoming bigger and bigger. Beijing has about 19 million inhabitants now. Shanghai is close to 30 million. This means that the instinct of the farmer keeping to his father’s will in the Confucian tradition is bound to dissipate. WANG: That’s right. SCHMIDT: You Chinese today do not believe in your father or your forefather. You believe in making money. WANG: That is a big challenge. According to the estimation of some Western scholars, by 2035 China will have 25 of the most populous cities among the top 75 in the world. If true, that would entail a thorough transformation in the social structure of China. SCHMIDT: The urbanization of the nation also means massification. The psychology of the masses is something completely different than the psychology of the family, or even the psychology of the market. And the masses can be led astray. This is as big a problem as the smog over Beijing and Shanghai. WANG: Now there is a debate in China among the leaders and the intellectuals about the approach for the next reform, and about the trend of urbanization. Basically the consensus is that globalization renders the trend of urbanization inexorable. This has been the premise of such discussions. But in China, land is still state-owned and collectively owned, so the problem focuses on how to handle the relationship between cities and the countryside. In the end, the debate comes down to the issue of the privatization of land. Some argue that state and collectively-owned land should be privatized. But some other scholars disagree and promote the reconstruction of the rural society at the same time as urbanization continues. Even if our rural population is reduced dramatically in the next 50 years, we will still have a population of 500 million in the countryside. SCHMIDT: I guess that the average size of a Chinese village today is several thousand people. At the time of Sun Yat-sen, there were several hundred people. How great was the population of China in the year 1911? WANG: It was about 400 million. SCHMIDT: And now it is more than 1.3 billion. And an increasing share of that 1.3 billion is living in the cities. And the process is going on, whether you like it or not. WANG: Life in central cities is not that comfortable. The Chinese government does not simply encourage the expansion of cities. The trend is rather to get people to move to the smaller cities. THANKS TO THE ONE CHILD POLICY, TOO MANY OLD PEOPLE SCHMIDT: The problem is rather more complicated, because the standard of living in the big cities, is infinitely higher than in these small towns that are large villages. The standard of living per capita in Shanghai is probably 10 times higher than the standard of living in the small towns of which you have spoken. On the other hand, the bulk of the Chinese people are still living under the consequences of the one child policy. That means that as a nation you become ever older and you will need to care for the older people. And this is one of the great Chinese problems approaching the middle of the century. WANG: Yes, absolutely. One doctrine of Confucianism is about “expanding piety to your parents and to others as well.” It is about the respect for the elderly and about sympathy with those who came before, both of which are facing challenge as urbanization accelerates."One can expect a future race between America, on the one hand, and China on the other hand. Both of them will be forced to invent social security systems almost at the same time." A RACE BETWEEN THE U.S. AND CHINA ON SOCIAL SECURITY SCHMIDT: One can expect a future race between America, on the one hand, and China on the other hand. Both of them will be forced to invent social security systems almost at the same time. The Americans have an advantage because they already do have the beginning of a social security system and you do not have one, or it is very weak. WANG: Yes. China has been attempting in the last decade to rebuild the social welfare system, especially the healthcare system. Of course the standard is still low, but for the first time in history China has a basic healthcare system that can cover the whole population. We have to be realistic in a country with more than a billion people: The pressure on the state budget might be too much. SCHMIDT: Further, the science and the art of applying medicine today will extend people’s lives. Your children will become much older than yourself. They will become five years older at least. I am an example; I will become 95 this year. And I’m still alive, due to modern medicine. WANG: Average life expectancy is already over 70 years of age in China. SCHMIDT: Before long their lifetime will reach 80. WANG: I believe so. The average life expectancy in China is much higher than that in India, and is about the same as Russia. It is still lower than that in Japan. SCHMIDT: And this longevity will grow while the margin of manoeuvre for the state to act in a globalized world is dwindling at the same time. WANG: The pressure exerted by the society on the government has grown. The urban population has a strong consciousness. Most of the protests in the early days happened in the countryside. But now, they happen in urban areas. Globalization has certainly impacted China, but in comparison to other nation-states, we are relatively independent. SCHMIDT: And at the same time they are not revolting against the central government. WANG: That is another phenomenon. A lot of the protests call for social equality more than a change in government. Read Part IRead Part II


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