Visiting minister: Greece can learn from Israel’s success

Anna Diamentopolou says Israel presents a model of a small country that has invested in its human capital as a recipe for success.

January 13, 2012 05:47
4 minute read.

ANNA DIAMENTOPOLOU 311. (photo credit: Greek Press Office)

With the country’s economic future in doubt, Athens believes it can learn a lot from the academics, businessmen and hitech innovators who have helped make Israel an economic success story in the heart of one of the world’s most uncertain regions.

Visiting Israel this week, Minister for Education, Lifelong Learning and Religious Affairs Anna Diamentopolou (Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement) said that Greece believes that they can gain from collaboration with Israel, which she said presents a model of a small country that has invested in its human capital as a recipe for success.

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“We are a small country in a time of crisis.

We don’t have much physical resources so it’s the human capital we have to invest in and here we can learn a lot from Israel.”

When asked if she sees a parallel between the two small countries bordered by historical enemies, she said that while Israel’s history of wars and security flare-ups is different than the crisis currently facing Greece, “they have achieved so many things and now have four percent growth so I think of course we can extract optimism from what you have achieved.”

During a whirlwind two-day visit to Israel, Diamentopolou laid a wreath at Yad Vashem, met with Religious Services Minister Ya’acov Margi (Shas), Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Shalom Simhon (Independence), and her Israeli counterpart, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar (Likud).

She also toured the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, the Beit Dagan Agricultural Research Organization, Tel Aviv University’s Research and Development department, and held a meeting with heads of venture capital companies. In addition, Diamentopolou made time to meet with Israeli author Amos Oz, who she said is very well known in Greece, where a number of his novels have been translated and been bestsellers.

She said that her priority is to work towards strengthening cooperation between Greece and Israel in the fields of research and development and hi-tech, a goal that would seem to be complicated by the worsening economic crisis in Greece, which has had a serious effect on the country’s higher education system.

Diamentopolou said that the Greek education system “is in the most difficult period ever, in terms of everything. Not only in academics, but also the budgets for schools, teachers, it has affected everything.”

She said that professors’ salaries have been cut by around 30 percent during the budget and that tens of thousands of teachers have retired.

Diamentopolou said this situation has driven Greece to look for ways to “have the results with less resources,” and find ways that reforms can repair the education system.

Diamentopolou, EU commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs from 1999–2004, wrote an book called Exipni Ellada (Intelligent Greece), which deals with the importance of innovation and professional approaches to bringing about social and economic progress.

Following her visit with Sa’ar, Diamentopolou released a statement reading “my official visit in Israel is held in the context of the enhancement of the organized bilateral relations for the benefit of our people.

There are a lot of things the two countries can share and create in the sectors of education and research.”

She spoke of the how she and Sa’ar discussed cooperation on establishing academic centers of excellence and her invitation to have Israeli classical studies departments take part in studies at the Plato Academy in Greece.

“Our goal is the backing of a pilot program for a lynchpin of innovation in the framework of Israel’s experience,” Diamentopolou said.

She said that the cooling of Israel’s relations with Turkey has not spiked greater Greek interest in strengthening ties with Israel, saying “politics is always a puzzle, so everything influences everything but I think that it’s very important for our two countries to work together and develop their own relationship, independently of what Turkey or other countries do.”

Back on the subject of education, when asked if there are educational controversies like the teaching of the founding of the State of Israel and the creation of the Palestinian diaspora, she laughed and said “you’re not special,” in that regard.

She said that the teaching of Greece’s wars with Turkey, the teaching of the Balkan Wars and the issue of Macedonia can all lead to front-page controversies in Greek newspapers.

When asked how young Greek students see their future in the current economic climate of their country, she said that her countrymen are wrought with pessimism and a feeling of opportunity, but that in the darkest of days there is opportunity for change.

“It’s like a great cloud suddenly stayed over the country. I tried to stay optimistic saying we’re not the only country which has a crisis like that,” she said, “and through this crisis we have the opportunity to change everything that was wrong.”

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