Welcome to European Solidarity-Συνέντευξη Στ. Κούλογλου στο in-cyprus


Συνέντευξη στο in-cyprus και στη δημοσιογράφο Melissa Hekkers

There is an element of timelessness in Stelios Kouloglou’s short documentary, which forces an undeniable debate about current impasse presented by the refugee problem within Europe. The informative piece was presented as part of EYD2015’s ‘Screening the World – Documentary Film Projections’ last Friday night.

Prominent journalist and filmmaker Kouloglou began sending warning messages long before he became a Syriza MEP earlier this year. In 2011, ‘Welcome to Europe’ was launched at the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, a result of Kouloglou’s attempt to send a strong political message condemning the way Europe treats refugees and calling on the bloc’s leaders to face the problem.

“At the time [2011] there was a wave of refugees in Greece but other Europeans weren’t worried about this at all,” Kouloglou tells me in response to my alarm over the fact that, almost five years later, he still tells the same story.

“Greece was handling things by itself – but very badly… It was also the rise of Golden Dawn, during which the refugee issue worked as a catalyst. I wanted to send a message to both Greek authorities as well as to the European ones.

“I wanted to underline that this was not the way you treat refugees: that it wasn’t according to the European values,” says Kouloglou.

Focusing on four ‘hot spots’, ‘Welcome to Europe’ is a play on images, featuring four refugee camps that at a first glance seem to be in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Sarajevo. Yet the punch-line (delivered through the subtitles) reveals that all the locations and people in the film are actually in Greece.

“I disclose that all of this is actually happening in Greece,” says Kouloglou, disheartened by the ease with which audiences are inclined to believe these locations are in less-developed countries. Yet the surprise location reveal that this is happening within the EU both creates the story and unravels the message. ‘Welcome to Europe’ indeed.

Through the eyes of parliament

Four years down the line Kouloglou can send his messages through other channels. Yet as an MEP, his message, once more, isn’t one of optimism.

“They [European parliament] are moving very, very slowly. They don’t care – as long as the problem doesn’t become an internal political one for their countries,” says Kouloglou.

“But when it became a problem; when there was a wave of refugees going to other countries from Greece, then it became a problem. During the summer, Angela Merkel tried to use this problem to improve her image for two reasons: one was her attitude towards the Greeks and the other was a famous encounter with a refugee, a young girl who was crying and wanted to stay in Germany… Merkel said ‘no, no, no’ and it became viral,” explains Kouloglou.

“She wanted to change her image and began accepting refugees… but there was also a background to this,” adds Kouloglou. “Germany is also facing a very serious demographic problem, the population is ageing very rapidly and they need cheap labour, this is why she let refugees in.”

“When people started to enter Germany, it became an internal problem. Merkel’s own party began to react… and what she’s done now is that she has changed the game. She’s asked Turkey and Italy to handle the problem. She’s asking them to take care of their European frontiers and she wants to give Erdogan some of the things he wants, such as visas, etc., in exchange for keeping the refugees in Turkey,” signals Kouloglou.

Political standstill

For Kouloglou, facing the problem is the way forward. Admittedly, the problem is here to stay.

“What they want to do is to hide the problem under the carpet; that was the idea from the very beginning, but you cannot hide an elephant under a carpet. They’re not taking full responsibility; full responsibility would be to address the causes of refugee waves and why people are leaving their countries and homes – and the reason is that there are wars and poverty.

“We [the European left-wing alliance], were always talking about the refugee problem in parliament, we had a lot of anxious people inside and out of parliament that were saying that they have to take care, that there is a growing problem…” says Kouloglou. “If we want to call ourselves Europeans, humans, civilised, this is not a way to treat human beings, because if you listen to what these people say, the conditions these people live in, the locations they live in, it’s unbelievable. It’s not only about Greece, if you go to Calais, in France, it’s the same, Lampedusa in Italy is the same: in Spain, in Morocco there is a Spanish enclave – it’s the same…” he adds.

Art as a message bearer
To this end, Kouloglou has approached the refugee problem as an outsider attempting to record a reality that will transmit a wider message as opposed to a sentimental approach.

“‘Welcome to Europe’ was short stories… I was not involved in their daily lives or looking at their personal stories; for me, it was not about telling a human rights story or a sentimental one, but more to send a strong political message.”

An advocate of free, uncensored press, Kologlou looks at documentaries as an important information tool. “I believe in [documentaries] more and more because the tendency internationally is for traditional media to be more and more controlled and having less and less freedom of displaying the real problems of the world,” he says.
“More and more, you see documentaries doing the job of the media. Take for instance Michael Moore with his documentary on the Iraqi war. This was a prophetic intervention because we now all know that this was a disaster…

“We have refugees because of the invasion of Iraq… We have an Islamic State because of Iraq, the Islamic State is the Frankenstein of Mr Bush and Mr Blair – they are the two creators,” he concludes.

‘Welcome to Europe’
will be screened in Larnaca tomorrow evening, in Paphos on October 31, in Paralimni on November 6, Limassol on November 13 and Agros on November 28 as part of EYD2015’s ‘Screening the World – Documentary Film Projections’.

More information about screenings can be found at www.cyindep.org

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