Panayotis Sfalagakos and his family were first-generation Greek immigrants to Canada, where he was raised and lived until graduating from university with a BA in Political Science, followed by an MA in Political Science from a British university. He has lived permanently in Greece for the past 20 years. His main areas of professional activity are EFL teaching and Greek-English translation. He has also worked as a newspaper journalist, editor and civil service employee. He was recently awarded another MA in Translation Studies, and is presently studying for a PhD in Modern Greek Studies on a scholarship. He has lived permanently in Antiparos with his wife since 1998, and they have two young children attending the island’s primary school.
Mr Sfalagakos, what was the impetus behind the name “Menoume Antiparo”? The Greek verb ‘menoume’ can be rendered in at least two ways: It can mean ‘we live / are living’, or ‘we stay / are staying’. ‘Menoume Antiparo’ is about a group of people linked together by a common aim, by one desire, about citizens driven by the same determination – namely, for everyone to be able to live, to stay, on this island, together. We share the will to fight for both regular ‘everyday life’ issues – which in many other places people take for granted – and also for ‘bigger’ ones that may help usher in the island’s broader development.
A local newspaper called your party’s decision to participate in the elections a ‘bolt out of the blue’ as your members do not possess any experience with running the island. What do you say to that? Concerning the first point, the political ‘skies’ over the island have long been far from ‘blue’, and this was indeed what spurred us into action. Most of us have a longstanding record of active involvement in various associations and other organizations, such as local school parent-teacher associations, the Antiparos sailing club and the local branch of the Hellenic Society for the Protection of the Environment and the Cultural Heritage, to mention just a few. On a personal note, I worked for three years (on a fixed-term contract) at the KEP (citizens’ service centre) in Antiparos, where I gained much insight into and experience of the administrative workings of the state, at all levels. Notwith-standing, we view the issue of administrative experience as being somewhat overrated, perhaps even irrelevant; the island’s recent history has demonstrated that such experience in no way constitutes a guarantee for sound governance.
In a press release issued by your party you state that you wish to see an end to the divisions and political antagonisms that have polarised the community. How do you believe this can be achieved? Most would agree that polarisation and the atmosphere of suspicion and distrust prevailing on the island have impeded development. This was why we backed the attempt to create a single ticket. After this failed, we decided to express our concern through the creation of a movement composed of candidates without any political party affiliations and opposed to narrow, self-serving interests. Our final proposals will be at everyone’s disposal. The fact that these come from a new group might even make it easier for them to be adopted. Sometimes a third political centre can help bring people and groups together.
What are the guiding principles of your party? Our list of principles include: the involvement and inclusion of as many people as possible – of all ages, backgrounds and walks of life – everyone should have a voice, and every voice has a right to be heard; the creation of a local authority friendly to all and open to the suggestions and observations of its citizenry; a respect for people as distinct individuals, not as family representatives equal in importance to the number of votes they ‘bring in’; an ongoing consultation process with citizens and their active involvement in decision-making, to achieve the broadest possible consensus; governance governed by transparency, meritocracy, trustworthiness, reliability and sincerity; and, a love of and for the island, our desire to give to it and to society. These points may sound clichéd, as, unfortunately, many have become devoid of meaning through so much abuse; however, our belief in these points falls under what is perhaps our over-arching principle: We believe what we say, we say what we believe. We are not ‘professional politicians’ in the traditional sense, nor aspire to be; we simply wish to become more involved in our public sphere, ideally helping construct a viable future, with these principles serving as the cornerstone.
The consortium Egnatia Odos was recently assigned the task of the construction of a biological sewage treatment plant and drainage system for the island. Are you happy with this development? What other projects constitute a priority for Antiparos? The non-existence of basic and important infrastructure systems has played a fundamental role in lowering our quality of life. Naturally, we are pleased with recent developments in these project areas, and it is understood that we must and will help however we can to bring these to fruition. Unfortunately, however, Antiparos has fallen behind in other important areas. For example, the crumbling water network, the lack of potable water, the existence of unsightly overhead wires, the need for a public wi-fi system, the absence of a marina, the problems of the Community building and the medical office; the need for school facilities and the creation of a ‘multi-space’ for both cultural activities and the island’s youth. These are just some of the areas of concern. We realise the economic crisis makes things difficult, but nevertheless, we need to draw up a long-term, comprehensive plan and work towards these goals.
Are there or will there be any examples of sustainable development practices on your island? Unfortunately, terms and notions like ‘sustainable development’ and ‘de-development’ have not played a prominent role thus far. However, for real development to take place, it is necessary to attempt this through a framework of sustainable development. Better environmental management and protection are necessary, our cultural heritage must be safeguarded and preserved, and the special features of our island should take centre stage. These considerations and others can be incorporated into a broader sustainable development plan.
How hard has Antiparos been hit by the general financial situation in Greece? So far, it has been hit about as hard as expected, considering both the general and specific features of its economy. However, it is likely to be harder hit in the future. This is why we are all called upon to offer realistic proposals to local problems from a financial standpoint first and foremost. A major issue underpinning economic development is a change in the way of thinking and acting by both government and individuals concerning problem solving and forward planning. The active involvement of ‘fresh faces’ with new ideas and other ways of interpreting situations can help achieve much, within a genuine spirit of cooperation.
Has your party thought of ways to promote alternative tourism on Antiparos, as well as extend the tourist season? This is a basic component of any sustainable plan. Residents must play a paramount role in this alternative model by participating in discussions, decision-making processes and the drafting of plans. The nature and features of our island make it difficult to cater to mass tourism or to fulfill the demands of an expensive ‘celebrity’ destination. Today it is not easy for us to accommodate the large number of high-season visitors for longer stretches. One possible solution is to provide off-season travelers with more reasons to visit, without taxing the island and its resources. Some key actions are to promote the island effectively abroad, provide more sporting activities, showcase footpaths and trails, organise cultural events, offer archaeological and underwater tours, and encourage visitors to participate in traditional activities. This is just a sketch of some proposals aimed at helping tourism grow through the prism of sustainable development.