The last six months have been astonishingly busy: so busy that we have had little option but to store up all of our news for this ‘bumper’ edition of the newsletter.
Our ‘public diplomacy’ has been active. The Queen’s Birthday Party in June, a reception with Baltic Exchange to mark British-Greek shipping co-operation, our poetry competition in remembrance of World War One, commemorative events across Greece, our consular outreach week. You can find out more in the newsletter.
Political contacts have been strong: the shipping Minister, the international aid Minister and the Minister for Europe and the Americas have all paid visits to Athens.
This newsletter marks the end of my term as Ambassador. These four years have been tumultuous. My team and I have worked hard not only to protect and advance British interests, but to foster British-Greek understanding and friendship. To serve here has been the greatest privilege of my life. And I take many happy memories home with me. I wish Kate Smith, my successor, every success in this wonderful job.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all our readers.
John Kittmer British Ambassador
Culture, Diversity, Education
This year’s Queen’s Birthday party marked Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary. On 15th June, to mark the 90th birthday of HM Queen Elizabeth II, Ambassador John Kittmer hosted a Shakespeare-themed event with British actor Jeremy Irons as guest of honour. More than 2,000 guests joined us at the Ambassador’s Athens Residence for a wonderful evening of Shakespearean music and performance and the finest British food and drink. Jeremy Irons performed extracts from some of the Bard’s finest works, and cut the Queen’s birthday cake, prepared especially for the occasion by Stelios Parliaros. As well as celebrating the 90th year of HM Queen Elizabeth II, the evening was one of many in 2016 marking the 400th year since Shakespeare’s death. On display for guests to enjoy were costumes from famous Shakespearean productions by the Greek National Theatre; a virtual tour of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre; a shadow theatre production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream; music by the Renaissance Quartet and Dimitris Vassilakis jazz band and the interactive Play your Part and Share Your Shakespeare where guests recorded scenes from their favourite Shakespeare play for a global VSO International campaign.
Celebrating Democracy Day with a Magna Carta exhibition
We joined with the Municipality of Athens to mark the International Day of Democracy, on 15 September. The theme of this year’s day was ‘Space for Civil Society’.The UK has a strong belief in the positive role of civil society in defending core democratic values and we were particularly pleased to be involved in an exhibition at Café Myrtilo, an award winning social enterprise that offers employment to young people with disabilities.
We loaned a facsimile of the Magna Carta, the great charter of liberties that placed the then English king under the law. Alongside Magna Carta, baronial rebel leader Simon de Montfort called the first English parliament of 1265. Montfort himself is often regarded as the founder of the House of Commons, and the process he began saw the further development of representative institutions and rule of law.
The 19th century saw these representative institutions catch up with the idea of citizenship first conceived of in Athens, with widespread social reforms affecting education, poverty and public health, along with extending the right to vote.
Although sealed 801 years ago, the Magna Carta still stands for many of the things we celebrate here today – human rights and democracy; it stands for trial by jury; it stands for free speech, the rule of law and personal liberty.
The Diana award for anti-bullying goes to students from Rethymno
Thirty students from Rethymnon, Crete, members of the Anti-Bullying Volunteer Group of “Asimenia Featham” English Language Centres were presented the International Diana Award, at a ceremony at the British Residence.
The International Diana Award was established in 1999 in Britain. It is a recognition of social action and aims to inspire young people whose actions help to make the world a better place. It was awarded to a Greek team for the first time and was presented at a special event held at the British Residence on Wednesday 31 August by the British Ambassador, John Kittmer. The Mayor of Rethymnon, Mr. George Marinakis, who has been a keen supporter of the students’ activities was also present at the award ceremony.
Since 2014 the group has taken forward a campaign to inform and raise awareness in their local community of Rethymnon and their activity continues to this day.
Consular Awareness Week
In February 2016 Athens Consular team ran a survey aimed at British Nationals in Greece to get a better picture of their experiences and expectations and to help shape the future planning of both our communications with local and central government and the development of our social media presence in Greece.
The survey generated 907 responses which provided important information about British Nationals in Greece. Respondents provided an array of views on the Mediterranean lifestyle and it was clear that British Nationals continue to enjoy living in Greece, despite the difficult economic environment.
To support the FCO Consular priority an outreach programme was developed offering concurrent expat meetings in Athens, Corfu, Crete & Rhodes. The aim of the meetings was to address issues highlighted in the survey, to raise awareness about Consular services and to encourage British Nationals to take greater responsibility for their welfare. Click here for photos.
Tour operator workshop in Malia, Crete on 24 May 2016
This year we designed and delivered an interactive training session with Tour Operators that was informative and fun; it had its learning element, gave ‘freshers’ a taste of non-routine incidents and gave managers the opportunity to check the application of company policy. Each mixed experience group and a Consular Officer worked through a scenario; a missing person, a death in suspicious circumstances, a rape case. They discussed and recorded their responses, thoughts and emotions. Their managers ensured proposed actions dovetailed with corporate guidelines. Feedback was unanimously positive, representatives enjoyed the session and developed a clear understanding of the extent of their policy as well as when and how the consulate can get involved in helping British Nationals and learned how we support them as Tour Operators and partners.
Victims of Crime Partners Workshop in Crete, July 2016
First assistance for victims of crime and/or their families is of the utmost importance. The initial handling of a case must be impartial, supportive and professional; personnel should be prepared to offer the best possible service. For various reasons Consular Officers are often not the first to assist victims of crime, therefore in order to assist Tour Operators and other partners in this role we ran a series of workshops on ‘Support for Victims of Crime’. This is type of work demands maturity and experience and we hoped to add some local knowledge to give staff the necessary confidence to support their guests competently in distressing circumstances far from their home environment. We also included a session on care of self/teams. Our own experience has taught us that listening to victims stories can have a traumatic impact on the listener and importantly for those who manage staff who deal with victim support, check on their welfare regularly – a “how you are doing?” call is time well spent.
Department for International Trade in Greece and GREAT.gov.uk
In the wake of the UK Referendum result and subsequent government reshuffle, UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) has now been incorporated into the Department for International Trade (DIT).
As we work our way towards negotiations on leaving the EU, the UK remains open for business – we are the same outward-looking, highly competitive, globally-minded, big-thinking country we have always been. In recent years, the UK has been the fastest-growing economy in the G7 and one of the strongest major advanced economies in the world. Britain has the highest employment rate in its history, low and stable inflation, and rising real wages and disposable income.
On the occasion of the launch of the GREAT.gov.uk campaign on 14 November 2016 and in order to take advantage of the global appetite for UK goods and services, we want to encourage Greek companies who are interested in products and services from the UK to contact us at:firstname.lastname@example.org
We hope to bring together Greek entrepreneurs with the most dynamic and innovative companies in Britain. Of the 2.5 million businesses registered in the UK, an estimated 360,000 who have an exportable product or service mistakenly believe there isn’t a global demand for it. The new digital trade hub is part of an effort to help a further 100,000 more UK businesses export by 2020. Contact DIT Greece for more information.
Posidonia and Lord Mayor’s visit in Athens
DIT Greece hosted the Lord Mayor of the City of London, Lord Mountevans, on a two day visit to Athens in June 2016. During a full programme of meetings and engagements organised by DIT Greece, Lord Mountevans promoted the City of London as a centre of excellence for the provision of maritime, financial and professional services. He also underlined the importance of Greek shipping to the UK economy.
Lord Mountevans’ presence in Athens aimed to stress London’s attractiveness as a base for global shipping and related financial and professional services. It came as a response to an explicit recommendation in the Maritime Growth Study undertaken by Lord Mountevans for Her Majesty’s Government (HMG).
He attended the Posidonia opening ceremony on Monday 6 June which was marked by high-ranking government and shipping officials.
He then had the opportunity to meet and support the UK presence at the exhibition. This year it consisted of 135 exhibitors from all sectors of the maritime industries, exhibiting independently or through their Greek representatives.
La Linguistica: Launch of the Wellbeing alphabet
The launch took place at an exclusive event at the British Residence in Athens on Thursday 27 October 2016. It was introduced to representatives from British Schools overseas, Teaching staff had the opportunity to review the programme and speak directly to the Founder, Ms Nathalie Carter, a graduate from the London School of Economics and Political Science, with experience in British Local Government, The National Health Service and the Department for Education. The event was held in conjunction with an Early Years Conference hosted by The Council of British International Schools (COBIS), which took place at Byron College in Athens on 28 & 29 October 2016.
Poetry competition to mark the Centenary of WW1 In cooperation with the British Council and Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the British Embassy invited all poetry lovers in Greece, adults and students, to participate in a poetry competition, that paid homage to peace, reconciliation and sacrifice by submitting either an original poem (in Greek and English) or a translation into Greek of a poem by one of the British WW1 poets.
Winners and runner-ups received cash prizes kindly offered by John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation and National Bank Cultural Foundation. The event was kindly hosted at the auditorium of B & M Theocharakis Foundation for the Fine Arts and Music.
Greek Culture Minister, actress Lydia Koniordou, read some of the award-winning poems.
Over 500 entries from all over Greece by participants 12-78 years-old were reviewed by a 4-member panel of award-winning scholars and writers such as Dr Alicia Stallings, Prof. David Ricks, Mr. Miltos Fragopoulos and Mr Harris Vlavianos, poet and head of the panel.
Remembrance Day services were held in Greece to remember and honour those who died in both World Wars and subsequent conflicts. The commemorations were held at Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries in Athens, Corfu and Souda Bay, Crete on 13 November, and in Thessaloniki and Rhodes on 11 November. The service in Athens, held at the CWGC cemetery in Faliro, was attended by diplomatic and military representatives of twenty countries, Greek veterans of WWII and a large number of the public. Several young people were involved in the ceremony, which included singing by St Lawrence College Junior Choir and a poetry reading by Rosie Vorri, also a pupil at St Lawrence. The 1st Athens Brownie Pack also assisted in the wreath-laying ceremony. The event at Souda Bay cemetery included representatives from the Royal Air Force and from HMS MERSEY which was visiting the island at the time. Many thanks to all those volunteers involved in all the services across Greece.
The Ambassador and Defence Attaché attended commemorations for the 189th Anniversary of the Battle of Navarino, held at Pylos on October 20th. This decisive naval battle marked a key turning point in the Greek War of Independence. On October 20th 1827 a combined fleet of British, French and Russian ships defeated the Ottoman armada in Navarino Bay. Commemorative events were held in the central Square of the Three Admirals of modern-day Pylos, while wreaths were also laid at three small islands of Fanari, Sfaktiria and Helonisi in the Bay — where there are monuments to the three allied countries whose navies fought in the battle. As the Ambassador said in his speech at a reception held by the Vice-Regional Governor of Messinia and the Mayor of Pylos-Nestoros, the battle “was known for the astonishing determination and superior skill of the three allied fleets. The battle lasted some four hours. By nightfall, the result was clear. The British, French and Russian allies had lost 174 sailors, but not one allied ship had been destroyed. It was noted at the time that ‘The harmony with which the ships of the allies operated was incredible….[as if they] belonged to one single nation’. By contrast, at least 60 enemy ships were totally destroyed, perhaps some 6,000 Turco-Egyptian sailors lost their lives.”
Trafalgar Night Dinner at the British Residence
The Ambassador hosted a traditional Trafalgar Night dinner at his Residence on 21 October in honour of the immortal memory of Admiral Lord Nelson. Royal Navy traditions were observed, including the ceremonial parading of the baron of beef by members of the Residence staff dressed as 19th century sailors and led in by a drummer from the Hellenic Navy. This was followed by the arrival of chocolate Ships of the Line decorated with sparklers. Guest of Honour was Chief of the Hellenic Navy, Vice Admiral Georgios Giakoumakis, who attended alongside other members of the Navy and representatives from the Greek shipping community. The Hellenic Navy Band provided the traditional musical accompaniment, including the singing of sea shanties such as Heart of Oak and What Shall We Do with a Drunken Sailor, which were expertly led and with much gusto by a Petty Officer from the Navy. Precious artefacts were kindly loaned from the Nelson collection of the Aikaterini Laskaridis Foundation, including a fragment of the flag from Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory, the same flag that was draped over his funeral bier. The Battle of Trafalgar was fought and won on 21 October 1805, and the dinner commemorates both the momentous victory and the memory of the great naval leader and strategist Lord Nelson.