From the Archipelago to the Oceans

The perspectives, challenges, achievements and also the history of Greek-French cooperation at sea were highlighted during the conference entitled “From the Archipelago to the Oceans” held in Paris. The conference took place in the context of a scientific initiative undertaken by professors Michel Foucher and George Prevelakis and under the auspices of the Sorbonne Ocean Institute and the Delphi Economic Forum.

Cradle to the western civilization, since the ancient world the sea has played a key role in the development of communication and transportation while at the same time been the host of some of the most defining clashes of our history.

A main piece of the Greek identity itself, the Archipelago opened pathways through which the Greeks were able to expand, starting in the Mediterranean and from there the world. The Greek shipping industry makes for a great example of the change reflected in the title of the forum: From the Archipelago to the Oceans.

France, an undeniable and great historical nautical power, was able to spread its reach and influence across the continents, creating bridges to its culture and language and to this day holds the world’s second largest marine space, counted in 11 million square kilometers. Both countries however turn their back to the sea and need to reinvest interest to this major challenge for the future.

Professor Prevelakis noted that with the term Archipelago we refer to a geographical reality, i.e. islands and small coastal plains on the Greek and Anatolian sides that are joined by the sea and which over time have been centers of learning about navigation, an activity characterized by curiosity, responsibility, ingenuity and entrepreneurship. The Archipelago has been a source of Western values such as freedom and democracy, underlined Mr. Prevelakis, noting that as far as modern Europe is concerned, the question that arises is whether we want a Europe closed in on itself or an archipelago Europe, i.e. open to the oceans.

Ιn his book “The Wooden Walls”, published in Greek by Kerkyra Publications – economia Publishing, Professor Prevelakis presents the dialectical relationship between Hellenism and sea adventure. Moreover, Kerkyra Publications – economia Publishing published in English Prevelakis’ book “Who are we?”. Drawing on the insights of the French Geographical School and key ideas of Arnold Toynbee and Samuel Huntington, Prevelakis redefines modern Hellenism as a residue of Hellenic civilisation, left over from the diluting historical waves after the fall of Rome. Greeks share the Hellenic heritage with western and eastern Europeans, Muslims and Jews. Language, religion, landscapes and certain other less visible elements, however, link Greeks more directly to Hellenic civilisation.

Prevelakis argues that the Greek nation-state was a necessary adaptation of modern Hellenism to the conditions of modernity that emerged gradually after the European Wars of Religion. Alongside of the advantages of this early move among Ottoman populations to adopt modernity, Greeks also paid a heavy price for the mal-adaptation of this foreign form to their culture. But times are changing and the geopolitical, geo-economic and geo-cultural environment again seems favourable to certain traditional traits of modern Hellenism. Certain characteristics such as diaspora networks survived the pressure of the nationalist ethos, Greek and non-Greek, and are reemerging now. Other traits such as local identities still exist in latent forms.