Countries: Italy

Clarissa Rios Rojas
Molecular biologist, policymaking advisor
Biography:

Scientist who after finishing her bachelor in Biology in Peru (UNMSM) decided to look for new avenues of professional development. She did exchange studies in Finland at the University of Turku, got her master in Biomedicine at Karolinska Institutet University in Sweden, worked in a pharmaceutical company in Germany and later got a PhD in Molecular Biology in Australia at the University of Queensland.

While finishing the PhD, she started to feel the urge to contribute to the world with something else than only her scientific work at the laboratory. This feeling pushed her to create an organization called Ekpa’palek that empowers Latin-American young professionals through different free mentorship programs that align with the Sustainable Development Goals of reduction of inequalities, gender equality and education.

Encouraged by the impact these programs had on young professionals, she discovered the need for creating new local, regional, and international policies that could help to tackle global issues. Motivated by this, she applied and was selected to participate in numerous events (international conferences, forums, and workshops) in science policy, citizen engagement in policy relevant to science & innovation, science diplomacy, open science & education, science outreach and global governance in different countries (Argentina, Jordan, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Canada, India, Chile, Germany, Thailand and Morocco).

In 2017, she worked at the Agency for Environmental Assessment and Enforcement (OEFA) from the Ministry of Environment in Peru and since May 2018, she works at the EU Science Hub, also known as the Joint Research Center from the European Commission’s science and knowledge service where she provides scientific advice and support to EU policy. Also, as a member of the Global Young Academy, she works on initiatives related to science outreach, women empowerment and science advise.

Empowering Latinos and filling the gap between science and society

What is the social purpose of science today? How are ethics and research linked in the modern world? What are the policies that keep scientific and social paths going in the same direction? Clarissa Rios answers these questions from her position as a molecular Biologist and policy maker at the European Commission, deriving from her experience in both the social and scientific aspects of research the core values of the purpose of science in favor of the smaller communities.

Founder of Ekpa’palek, an organization destined to offer academic help to Latin American students who want to broaden their horizons and stock up on the experience and advice from other professionals before entering their own fields, Clarissa expands on the need for science to hold a truly useful track of investment to help indigenous communities and developing countries through scientific research and the encouragement of young professionals to assist in these projects. The values of growth and development through inclusion and action make Ekpa’palek a unique vision for the young professionals who will contribute to wholesome communities, richer societies and a brighter future.

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Read the transcript of Clarissa Rios Rojas's Video here

Nerina: Thank you, Clarissa, for joining me. Could you please introduce yourself?

Clarissa Rios: I am Clarissa Ríos Rojas, form Peru. I am a molecular biologist, and now I’m working in the interface of science and policy making, the European Commission in Italy and also, I’m the founder and director of Ekpa’palek, which is an organization that empowers Latin-American professionals.

Nerina: Could you tell us a little bit more about your position and your work right now?

Clarissa Rios: My project right now at the European Commission is to write recommendations for citizen engagement initiatives in the topic of social and ethical aspects of emerging technology, in this case, genomics and gene editing, and so on. So, for what I have found on my research so far, is that technology goes faster than policies, and sometimes it’s really hard to keep track of everything that is happening, and to implement the laws and the policies that need to be implemented in order to regulate science, as well.

So science, as we now, is research and innovation, but sometimes it goes to the next steps and becomes a start-up or a company that offers services that can be used for different reasons and by different types of people. I have seen right now that there are, for example, genetic testing companies offering a lot of ancestry testing and health testing, so it would be good to know who’s regulating these companies; are really experts the ones who are providing the information about your genes? What happens with your DNA once it is stored in their company? Is it in store forever or is it sold to another company? Can they trace it was your DNA?

These are things that are happening right now, and people don’t really know much about it. For example, genomics is also working at the interface with blockchain, so now we are having cryptocurrecy that is based on selling your DNA data, so what does that represent for business and society? Again, we have those ethical questions, but does it really help big companies to have more genetic data to have a better analysis of which diseases can come from different types of genes? There are many things that have to be evaluated, but it’s important to citizens to know what is happening, where it’s happening, and what is going to happen in their society if they accept it, or if they are consumers or become users of it.

Nerina: Why did you decide to take this new challenge?

Clarissa: I think that the in the European Commission, the Joined Research Center is the best place to learn about how scientists can contribute to society in terms of policy making, so I thought that this would be the best place to work and learn and contribute to, and I hope that this will be one of the first steps into a career and to a lot of work; I hope to use science-based evidence to create policies and help policy makers to better understand not only the citizens, but also the science behind every decision.

Nerina: Why is this relevant?

Clarissa: I think that the biggest problem that I see right now is that scientists are doing science just because; just because of curiosity and I now that’s a main drive that many of us had to become scientists, but I think we need to build places or spaces where we as scientists can speak with citizens. We can understand what are their needs, because I have seen during my time as a scientist that there are many projects that really don’t have any implications in solving anything at the moment; it’s just knowledge that is being generated with the hope that in the future is going to be used.

We can relocate not only the money, but the human capital, the PhD students that are being put into these projects, into something that society really needs. I think that we should have a priority table and see what the problems to see how we can fix the first hundred, instead of having fifty thousand projects and giving money to all of them and keep going.

I think that basic research is important, but I also think that basic research should be always tailored into fixing something, or producing some kind of technology. Without that, I think trust in science will never be achievable because citizens see this, citizens see their taxes are being used in projects that may never be published, that cannot be replicated, or that are not helping anything in their communities and local problems, and that just one side.

I also see that there is a problem with citizens not learning or trying to have some curiosity about science. I think they could interact more with scientists, see what they are doing, visit open days at universities, see where taxes are being used and have an opinion about it and learn from scientists, what they are producing, how they’re doing and use this scientific knowledge in order to make better decisions on the government they’re going to choose, about the political party they are going to vote for, what is this political party focusing on. Is it correct? Is it based on science, which is the most trustful thing that se have at the moment? Of course, it has its pitfalls, but it’s the best thing that we can work with.

The citizens should also think on how to improve science. If they don’t have faith in science, then tell us how we can improve it, how can science and society and citizens work together in order to make science better , achievable for everyone, and open in a way that everyone can understand it, and use it for the best of society and the environment, because sometimes we are just super anthropocentric and thinking about humans, but we are responsible, whether we want it or not, for all the species that are around us, and the ecosystems and the habitats we have, so I think that we should take our citizens’ role a little bit more responsibly.

Nerina: What would you suggest?

Clarissa: I think that’s why I was mentioning before that we should have these spaces where scientists can talk to other scientists, for example, about social science, as I talk about the ethics. I know that during university we have courses on ethics – animal ethics and human ethics -, but I think that we should have also courses with politics in science. Have courses where we bring politicians and scientist to understand how we’re both working together and making things better.

Other courses could be about scientists and citizens, and scientists and society, and create debate between them, answering questions form both sides, and trying to think how we can work together, because as you said, the theory of science in great, but who is doing the science? Us humans, with our imperfections, with our sometimes poor equipment, and with the limited knowledge that we have. I think it’s very important for scientists and citizens to acknowledge that scientists are not perfect; they are humans and make mistakes, and also the equipment and machines that they use make mistakes from time to time, but then having that as a premise to figure what we can do based on that, and then is when all these interactions with all the different groups take place, and then all three groups together can think about how science can be better, how can it have less errors and less mistakes, and how to bring all the traditional knowledge into it, as well as the ethics and the social aspects.

Sometimes we think that the problem has to be fixed by only one expert. That, for example, climate change has to be fixed by an environmentalist or a biologist, when in reality, problems are fixed by everyone. By economists, lawyers, citizens, biologists; it has to be fixed by everyone, because otherwise we are not creating a solution, we are just fixing a little patch, not the whole picture.

Nerina: You just mentioned traditional knowledge, and this is something that very often comes up when speaking with you. Why this interest in aboriginal culture?

Clarissa: Yes, well, my dad is from the jungle. Of course, he is part of an aboriginal community, but I guess that was my first encounter with aboriginal tribes and with people who are part that whole society. Also, when I was working with one of the agencies in the Ministry of Environment in Peru, one part of my job was to try to understand the narratives and how to bring the projects that the government had for these communities, how to make them learn, and how to learn from them what were their needs and priorities, and I think that all these encounters made me realize that they are not heard enough, their voices are not shared enough, their needs and their priorities are not communicated, and sometimes, with friends, I’ve heard them say things like “No, they should evolve like us, like the city people”, and I’ve been hurt by those comments, because I feel like our opinions are too superficial always, not just in these topic, but in many. It’s just something that has not has been thought through, you have not had an encounter with them, so how come you have a conscious and educated opinion about that?

For example, Ekpa’palek is a way to promote indigenous languages. Ekpa’palek comes from the Shiwilu language, form the Amazon in Peru, and it means to teach a little kid to take his first steps. Trying to translate everything in our programs on indigenous communities is a way to make it more accessible.

Nerina: You are the founder of Ekpa’palek. Can you tell us more about this organization?

Clarissa: We are an organization of around 45 to 50 people, and what we do is to offer programs for free to any Latinamerican students that want it. One of them is the professional mentorship, so we connect the students with professionals that are a little bit advanced in their careers so they can guide them, they can talk, they can tell them how to gain certain scholarships, but also about what’s out there. If I am a psychologist, if I am an economist, I want to know what’s happening in Australia, what’s happening in China, so that person can get inside information, so students in Latinamerica can shape their minds thinking about what’s next, and they should be studying now, or working on, or doing an internship with.

The second program is women empowerment. The first year, we were bringing new women from all over to schools; we had five professional women bringing their stories, bringing their pitfalls, the experiences they had been through and how they got where they are now. That worked for one year and then we had to stop it, so now we are focusing more on campaigns on line; we are doing the same, showing new women role models but in a visual way. We have engineers, economists, from different parts of the world that are Latinamerican women, and then they send a three minute video telling how they are there and why they decided on that career.

The third program will be the empowerment of indigenous languages, so basically we want our programs to reach everyone. We have started translating the articles on our blog into Quechua, which is a language that is spoken in Peru and Bolivia, and it’s a official language in Peru as well. Also, we have tree videos in Quechua, as well; we had one of our mentors make theses videos, telling how he went from a little town in the highlands of Peru to do his Master in France, and to study in Lima, Peru, as well. We are trying to promote translating everything that we are producing into different languages, not only Quechua.

Nerina: What motivated you to start this organization?

Clarissa: Well, because when I started my professional path, I was a bachelor student that really wanted to learn and to go more from theory to practice, and that was something that was not happening in Peru in terms of molecular biology. I think my motivation was to learn more, and I could do it with scholarships and people helping me take the next steps, as you mentioned, and then after ten years of doing my master and my PhD I realized that I was not the only one, and that the case that I had ten years ago where I didn’t have money to pursue studies, I didn’t have connections to create opportunities in professional development were still existing in Latin America, and we were at a disadvantage with the rest of the world.

So I thought about what I could do with this tools that I had gathered over the years, and one of them was my network. So I think it was really personal, because it was not that I was trying to fix something that happens somewhere else to some other people, but I was trying to help someone like me at this moment, someone who didn’t have opportunities, didn’t have the network, didn’t have ideas, or someone from outside to talk to and just get inspired.

Nerina: How did you become what you are now?

Clarissa: I studied Biology and Genetics in Peru; I was very interested and curious about science. Then I went to Finland for exchange studies, and I did a Master in Biomedicine and Neuroscience, which I was also completely in love with, specifying different types of neurons in the brain, and then I decided to move to Australia to do my PhD in sex development; how the sperm cells and the egg cells develop.

When I was finishing my PhD was when I decided to create Ekpa’palek, this organization that empowers Latinamerican professionals. And then, looking at the results and the people that we were helping, I started to realize that a nes passion was growing inside myself, and then I decided to leave the lab where I was doing experiments and start to communicate with citizens and policy makers and start to find a way where I could use my scientific background and I could help society in a different way, and that way is creating better policies for everyone. Now it’s in the European Union, but later I hope it will be in Latinamerica and in Peru.

Nerina: What is the most important lesson that you have learned?

Clarissa: I started this project thinking that I would help many people, but I’m being helped as well. I’m learning so much, I’m meeting so many people, we are doing so many nice projects outside Ekpa’palek as well. This has also motivated me to change my career; as I said, I was working in the lab as a scientist, and the Ekpa’palek happened, and then I started to pursue new paths within myself that make me happy, so what I would recommend to anyone is that if you always think that there is a problem and you want to fix it, try to do it with one friend, and it may grow and it may not, but you have the satisfaction to learn from it.

Nerina: What is your vision for Ekpa’palek?

Clarissa: When I created Ekpa’palek, it was only for Latinamericans, but in my wild dreams we have Ekpa’palek Asia and Ekpa’palek Africa interacting with each other. But that is also based on the idea of the «brain drain» – I think that’s what they call it in English -, when professionals and all the talent goes from the south to the north and then never go back, or just a few of them. So I thought it would be very interesting to have a blog of developing countries in the south, exchanging professionals, exchanging knowledge, exchanging what we already know how to do best, and empower each other, because the south also need to keep growing, to keep learning, and it would be really good to create these alliances between universities, student associations, and governments, and think about what are the good things and benefits that can come from it.

Of course, going to the north and having the technology to learn is really good, but I think the next step on that path could be to start doing these collaborations.

Nerina: Is there something you believe we should think more about?

Clarissa: I would just like to point out that we are creating so much technology, and these technologies are mostly created in developed countries, and are mostly created to fix and find solutions for local problems, so that means that the problem that, for example, indigenous communities have will never be solved by the technology that we are creating now, and I think they would benefit so much from that.

Sometimes we are talking about gene editing and blockchain, and how does that benefit indigenous communities? They are people who also have struggles and many local problems that they would like to solve; how good would it be if used these technologies to find solutions for those problems as well? So that would be my contribution, to make people think about technology is being biased towards certain problems, certain “local” problems, and not really towards developing countries and indigenous communities.

Nerina: And what is the relation between science and traditional knowledge, in your opinion?

Clarissa: It has always been known about, this traditional knowledge. Sometimes it is treated with respect, and sometimes it’s treated like it’s not science. It’s very curious that you ask me this, because in my group, one of the projects is about mapping arctic communities, so they are mapping every community that is Finland, Norway, Iceland, U.S, Canada, and besides doing the mapping, they are gathering the information that they have in the terms of climate change. They’re voices about climate change and how that’s impacting them in the first place because they are close to the first places where the impact is being observed, and what they have to say about.

I think that nowadays it is taken more seriously, and I’m glad to see that the European Commission, for example, is also taking them seriously and writing reports about it, having their voices heard and their opinions shared with policy makers and with people in the European Union.

I’ve seen this happening in Europe, but I have not seen it in Latinamerica. However, when I was working at the agency of the Ministry of Environment, I could see that the interaction between the experts, the biologists, the chemists was really open when they were informing them about what was happening, I think the efforts are becoming more and more important, and in order to listen from them as well, not just coming and giving a lecture about what is going to happen and what they need to know, but also empowering them in teaching them how to use equipment to measure pollution, how to analyze data so they can have their own data analyzed. Also, I heard that in Bolivia, if you want to be part of the government, you have to speak one of the indigenous languages, and I think that’s important, because, for example, for these types of jobs you can speak in Spanish and then you have a translator, but how would it be if you could speak to them in Quechua, in Aymara, and hear them, so they also feel more comfortable in sharing their ideas in their own language.

I think languages are a very powerful thing. I am going to learn more about different types of languages because I think that is the way to really go into a deeper connection with someone, especially if you’re working in this field, and understand what they want to see in their environment, what they want to contribute to the government, for example, in terms of analyzing the data, letting them know when they see a case of contamination, on the river, on the cause, etc.

Nerina: Do you have a wish or a dream?

Clarissa: Yes. I really dream sometimes that there is a society that is respectful of everyone, but more than anything, they have empathy. Everyone in this society has empathy that makes them really feel how the other person would feel in every situation, not only in how we interact as friends, but in different geographical parts. How these people may feel in different social classes; how these people must feel, what can I do to help this person. I think empathy should be the key factor in this society that I envision.

I think the society that I dream of in one where there is the feeling of connection and belonging with every single part of this habitat; not only humans, but plants, insects, birds, the rivers – I mean, the water we drink comes from the river -, so I think that connection is missing sometimes. We don’t feel like we belong or that we are part of something bigger that needs us to take care of it and to contribute to keep it going in a healthy way, so I think if that could be spread into all citizens and make them feel responsible for each other, for other species, for the soil, for the river, for the climate, it would be my second wish. That feeling of belonging and connection.

Nerina: What was the most beautiful day, and what was the mist awful one?

Clarissa: I think the most beautiful day for me is just being with my family having lunch together. It is something that I haven’t had for many years as a daily thing. I did a little bit when I finished my PhD; I could go back and leave again for six months back in Peru with my family, so I think my most warm and beautiful feeling is to have just that: my mom, my dad, my brother, now my partner as well. Laughing, talking about what happened during the day, maybe complaining about something that happened at university or at our jobs, just sharing and being together in a peaceful, quiet place.

Maybe the most horrible moment has been when sometimes I feel that I’m in a place where there is just too much horror, too much darkness, that all the good things really don’t compensate for the bad things, and that it’s not a nice world. Sometimes I feel like this world is the hell of someone else, or is the imagination of how hell should be, because I see so many awful things, so much suffering, even though I’m not experiencing it myself. I’m not a someone that has been a sex slave, or someone that has been raped, or someone who wakes up with bombs ten meters from them, but I still feel like it could be me, I feel people don’t deserve to grow in an environment like that; they didn’t ask to be born in this world.

I think those have been the hardest moments in my life; just to be overwhelmed by sorrow, by sadness, and to think that there is really nothing that we can do to change it, I’ve had those times as well. I think activists are always in that twilight, where you think that everything can get better if you do something, but you’re also on the other side where you think that everything is horrible and terrible and too much to take in.

Nerina: And what brings you up?

Clarissa: What brings me up is to see people doing amazing things. Because I’m doing Ekpa’palek, for example, I’m in touch with different organizations and meet people that are always doing something, and I see them and I think that there is hope.

There are a lot of amazing people doing things for animals, for the environment, for other humans, and I thin, Yes, things can change. At some point.

Nerina: What is life about, Clarissa?

Clarissa: I think life is about learning, experiencing all the feelings; sadness is part of and part of what we are as humans. I think we should be grateful that we can experience it, although it’s not a nice thing, but sometimes good things come out of it. Sometimes, not always.

It’s about meeting other people; trying to be, as Maya Angelou said, a rainbow in someone else’s cloud, and just to try and make other people happy, because sometimes you’re sad and the other can make you happy. Sometime the other person is sad and you can make them happy.

It’s just about trying to enjoy what we have. Talking as a biologist, we have theses fabulous senses of touch, smelling, seeing. It’s enjoying theses things that we can give ourselves. About learning more about what’s happening in all parts of the world, to see documentaries about the life of animals and how they interact; it’s absolutely beautiful.

I think those are pleasures that even if you cannot travel, you can see it and sort of experience it from afar, and I those are the things that bring me happiness and joy, besides being with my family and friends, and also things like reading books and entering the mind of someone else that you never met but they wrote a book and let you go inside their minds for a little bit and have a taste of it. Like music; humans make music and it’s beautiful, so I think that if we focus on those things, that is what life is, or what life should be.

Nerina: Thank you so much, Clarissa, for this conversation.

Clarissa: Thank you, Nerina.

Nerina: And thank you for listening, thank you for watching and thank you for sharing. Keep wondering and see you next time again. Goodbye and ciao.

Biography:

Scientist who after finishing her bachelor in Biology in Peru (UNMSM) decided to look for new avenues of professional development. She did exchange studies in Finland at the University of Turku, got her master in Biomedicine at Karolinska Institutet University in Sweden, worked in a pharmaceutical company in Germany and later got a PhD in Molecular Biology in Australia at the University of Queensland.

While finishing the PhD, she started to feel the urge to contribute to the world with something else than only her scientific work at the laboratory. This feeling pushed her to create an organization called Ekpa’palek that empowers Latin-American young professionals through different free mentorship programs that align with the Sustainable Development Goals of reduction of inequalities, gender equality and education.

Encouraged by the impact these programs had on young professionals, she discovered the need for creating new local, regional, and international policies that could help to tackle global issues. Motivated by this, she applied and was selected to participate in numerous events (international conferences, forums, and workshops) in science policy, citizen engagement in policy relevant to science & innovation, science diplomacy, open science & education, science outreach and global governance in different countries (Argentina, Jordan, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Canada, India, Chile, Germany, Thailand and Morocco).

In 2017, she worked at the Agency for Environmental Assessment and Enforcement (OEFA) from the Ministry of Environment in Peru and since May 2018, she works at the EU Science Hub, also known as the Joint Research Center from the European Commission’s science and knowledge service where she provides scientific advice and support to EU policy. Also, as a member of the Global Young Academy, she works on initiatives related to science outreach, women empowerment and science advise.

Elena Gerebizza
Researcher and Campaigner
Biography:

Energy and climate campaigner for Re:Common, a non-profit, public campaign membership-based organization based in Rome, Italy.

The Trans Adriatic Pipeline: between myth and reality

What are the most environmentally impacting structures in the world right now? Who runs them? What can you do to stop them?
Elena Gerebizza, from Italian organization Re:Common, tells us about the activist movements organized around stopping some of the most environmentally damaging structures taking place at this very moment, and how power and financial monopolies can end up destroying the fragile ecosystems of small town communities across Europe.

With a focus on the social consequences of big companies taking their toll on local European economy, Elena remarks on the importance of sticking together through strategic organization in order to help and improve the lives of many others affected by the finance oriented, and often corrupted, decision making that we see in our countries, our governments, and our everyday life.

Individuals reaching out to one another to secure a sustainable future is the way forward to a society in which everyone’s interests are safe, and Elena tells us how we can achieve that through awareness and collaboration.

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Listen to the Audiofile here:
Read the transcript of Elena Gerebizza's Video here

Elena Gerebizza: My name is Elena Gerebizza. I work for an Italian organization called Re:Common. I’m a researcher and campaigner.

Nerina Finetto: Thank you, Elena, for joining me. Could you tell me a little bit about Re:Common?

Elena: Re:Common is a collective based in Rome, in Italy, and we do public campaigning and investigation on megaprojects, in particular, mega infrastructures that receive public financing in different forms, from loans, from public financial institutions to guarantees, and we look into dodgy aspects related to mega infrastructure, including corruption and misuse of public funding in every different form, and we do it in solidarity with the communities who are on the frontline opposing megaprojects.

Nerina Finetto: One of the biggest projects you are involved in is the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline. Could you tell me more about it?

Elena: We’ve been working on it since 2012, 2013, so from the very early days. The Trans Adriatic Pipeline is a gas pipeline which Europe included in the list of so-called Projects of Common Interest, for the European Commission. Since then, the project received a massive support from the European Institutions, as well as from the Italian Government; this is the main reason why we started to look at it. The Trans Adriatic Pipeline is a section of a longer gas corridor, which is called the Southern Gas Corridor; it is a pipeline which starts in Azerbaijan and goes across six different countries, so Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Greece, Albania and finally, Italy. It is about 3500km long, and as we see, it’s basically crossing the life of hundreds of communities with massive environmental and human rights implications.

Nerina Finetto: One of the aspects you have been researching on is the political one, right?

Elena: The Trans Adriatic Pipeline was portrayed from the very early days as a project that should help Europe to build an independence from Russia. So really, a project that should help the energy security of Europe; this is how the Commission was talking about it, and it should help diversification. In fact, we realized from the very beginning that the very strong political connotation that the project was given, in fact was probably the lead motivation for it, because we couldn’t find any economic and financial sustainably in the project, and we couldn’t also see how this energy diversification and energy security would actually materialize. In fact, through the different years of campaigning, we realized this is not coming only from Civic Societies organizations, but it’s coming from economic and financial analysts and experts in energy matters. We realized that the resources of Azerbaijan are much smaller than what the country declared, and finally last year, it came out that a part of the supply gas that would transit through the Southern Gas Corridor will actually come from Russia, so the point of spending about 45billion euros to build this massive infrastructure, portraying it as something that will help Europe to diversify, is a scam for European tax payers, at the end, and it’s also providing a massive political support to governments like Azerbaijan and Turkey, which, today, it’s clear that are authoritarian regimes.

So, we seek the incredibly problematic, from the political to those from an economic and financial point of view. Part of our campaigning was about exposing how much public resources were drained by such a project, which instead could have been used in many other different ways, even more now after the Paris agreement was signed and so the project is just nonsense from the climate point of view, and it’s really not matching with the commitments that Europe and the different governments involved in the construction have taken in Paris. We really don’t see how and why Europe is still so much supportive of this project.

Nerina Finetto: What are the stakeholders here? Who is building the pipeline and who is paying for it?

Elena: So, the main proponents of the gas pipeline are SOCAR, the National Oil and Gas Company of Azerbaijan, together with BP, British Petroleum, one of the main oil corporations. Then, there are smaller shareholders, or let’s say other shareholders, that came in a later stage, including Snam, the Italian gas distribution company, Enagas, Fluxys, and the Swiss company Axpo, who had a key role in the very early days of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline, because it was actually the company that designed the project before it was then connected to the rest of the Southern Gas Corridor.

Who’s going to pay for it? The project is being portrayed as a private sector project. However we have seen that, for instance, Albania, Greece and also Turkey had to sign host government agreements with the consortium that is building the pipeline – TANAP in Turkey and the Trans Adriatic Pipeline AG in Italy, Albania and Greece -, and in the host government agreement it clearly said that the governments are ready to give a public guarantee for the financing of the project. So that means that if the consortium is, for instance, getting some loans from private banks and from public financial institutions the hosting governments the hosting government will provide a public guarantee, and that is a mechanism that translates a debt from a private to private into a public one, so it means that if anything goes wrong, it’s going to be the citizens of Albania, Greece and Turkey who are going to pay.

The other element is that it was declared in a number of public occasions that the consortium is aiming to get about one third of the funding from public financial institutions; that means the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, but also the World Bank or the Asian Development Bank, the Asian Investment Bank, all the variety of public financial intuitions. So one third of 45 billion is a huge lot of money and again, even the public part of the funding should come with a public guarantee from the government or from the commission. The rest of the money may come from equity or from loans from private banks, but again, also the private banks are looking for a coverage of risk, so at the end of the day, the majority of it will be covered by public money in different forms.

Nerina Finetto: And the consortium also received huge loans from the European Investment Bank, right?

Elena: Yeah, actually, the European Investment Bank provided the biggest loan ever in the history of the bank, so since it was set up as the financial institution of Europe, and also quite extraordinary is that it was given to a company registered in Switzerland, so outside the European Union, formally, which of course is interesting form the tax angle of the story. Why the consortium is registered in Switzerland? Also from the transparency point of view, because as we know, Switzerland is not in the black list of tax havens, formally, but it’s still a country where access to information concerning companies registered in Switzerland is quite limited. So, actually a 1.5billion loan was given to the Trans Adriatic Pipeline and now the loan by the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development is being discussed. The loan is 500million, but it will be combined with another 700million coming from several private banks, which, again, are matching with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in order to get the coverage of the risk connected to the loans.

It’s a massive amount of public money and the question mark is on how these banks will be actually able to the do the due diligence and to make so that the consortium will respect the environmental and social standards, but also the transparency and, eventually, the corruption angle is quite relevant considering, for instance, the massive scandal that was everywhere on the media last year, called the Azerbaijani Laundromat, so we know that the players involved are players of this kind, and we are really questioning if the European institutions are actually able to monitor how the money will be spent to avoid the human rights violations and environmental violations.

Nerina Finetto: Elena, could you please summarize shortly what this scandal is about?

Elena: So the Azerbaijani Laundromat was out on the media around October 2017. It was a leak, eventually, from one of the banks involved in a massive money laundering scheme where you had three different companies, or maybe even more, from Azerbaijan, who actually channeled across Europe about 2billion euros between 2012 and 2014; money which was then tracked by the authorities. There is an investigation, an internal investigation to Danske Bank, who was actually the bank involved in the money laundering factor; there is another investigation at the Council of Europe, and maybe the most important one is an anti-corruption and money laundering investigation by the public authorities in Italy. So the scheme was involving a number of politician, but also journalists and entrepreneurs in Europe who received huge amounts of money, mainly from Azerbaijan, and according to the public prosecutor in Italy, one of the beneficiaries was a former member of Parliament, Luca Volonté, who is still under trial in Milan, and the accusation for him is for international corruption and money laundering. Now the trial is still ongoing, the corruption accusation was appealed; we don’t know how it will conclude, but the key element is if people are asking themselves why this money was given.

Actually between 2012 and 2014, Azerbaijan was moving a massive political and communicational machine inside Europe to get recognition as a democratic country, which could become a key economic partner of Europe, mainly in the sector of energy. So there was a report on human rights violations in Azerbaijan, who was discussed at the Council of Europe, and Luca Volonté was the head of the European People’s Party at the time, so the accusation is that he was actually receiving the money in order to convince the entire political patty across Europe to vote against the report, and this is what actually happened. The report didn’t pass through the Council of Europe, and Azerbaijan was recognized as a democracy a couple of months after the Southern Gas Corridor became project of common interest for Europe. So, we think that there is a lo that should be looked at about how the decision was taken by European institutions, and we also think that it’s quite tricky for Europe actually choose a new authoritarian regime as a key energy partner after we have seen how the situation became very complex with Russia, so we don’t see a lot of a difference between Azerbaijan and Russia in this specific context.

Nerina Finetto: And it is also pretty interesting that Germany gave money to Turkey to build the pipeline in Turkey. How do you see it?

Elena: All of this was, of course, taking place at the same time as the war in Syria escalated. All the dynamic between Turkey and Russia and the EU, the refugee issue in Turkey, everything was happening at the same time and within that, the energy agreements and the Southern Gas Corridor as the biggest energy infrastructure that Europe is building at this moment, are overlapping with the other discussions, which is making it even more serious as a matter for European citizens, because we are actually bargaining human rights on one side, refugees and the new gas contracts, all on the same table.

Nerina Finetto: And from an energy point of view, does this pipeline make sense?

Elena: No, not in my opinion, and not in the opinion of many economic, financial and energy specialists. If you compare the cost of the pipeline and the quantity of gas that they’re claiming to transport, it doesn’t make any sense. It’s really too expensive. But at the end of the day, the real question is, do we need this gas? So the pipeline is expensive, it’s supporting authoritarian regimes, do we actually need the gas? The answer in ‘no, we don’t need ot’. We don’t need it because Europe has enough infrastructure in Europe already existing; we don’t need because the gas at the end of the day will very likely come from Russia, and we already have pipelines connecting Europe to Russia, and the energy path that Europe should follow for the future is rather a path where the consumption of gas should decrease. It has been decreasing in the last year, so if we really want to build an independence from controversial partners around Europe, then we should look into renewable sources and a completely different system where, eventually, communities may also be taking responsibility and control of the energy produced on their territories. So, it’s a completely different model what we should look at for the future if sustainability is the horizon that we are looking at, and also is the horizon is an horizon of democracy and participation of communities in the decision making. We don’t agree with those that portray gas as a bridge fuel for the future, simply because the time that we have to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels is quite limited. I mean, all the scientific studies are saying we are already consuming too much fossil fuels and we should rather reduce it and not build a new infrastructure.

If the Southern Gas Corridor is completed and is running at full capacity, we will all be consuming that gas for the next fifty years, and this is just completely unsustainable from a climate point of view, but also our main concern is rather on the democracy implications that this will have, as it will be basically supporting existing authoritarian regimes for the next fifty years, and this is, of course, very problematic, and if the pipeline starts to generate revenues, where will the money go at the end of the day? Will it go to the public coffers and will it be used also for the benefit of the people of Turkey, of Azerbaijan, and of the different countries involved, or will it go into the private pockets of the existing regimes and their entourage? This is a question that is not being addressed, and we think that the way that Europe is approaching it is not solid enough.

Nerina Finetto: And how about the environmental impact of the pipeline?

Elena: The pipeline you should imagine as not only a gas pipe underground, but you should imagine it as a corridor. So in Turkey, this is kilometers wide, and that means that not only a pipeline will be built, but we’re talking about 2,000km for something like 6 to 8km wide. It’s a huge section of the territory, so everyone who is living on that territory, its own interests and its own rights, are being put on a secondary level compared to the investment agreement that the government of Turkey signed. It’s very difficult, of course, to engage with communities who are opposing the pipeline in Turkey, and it’s very dangerous in Turkey today and in the last few years to be publicly against such a project, because the project is portrayed as a project of national interest, so it means being against the government.

The same thing is happening in Greece and in Albania; in Greece the pipeline is going across the most fertile area of northern Greece; farmers are on the frontline, in the region of Kavala and they are seeing the frontline today. So, since the construction started, they have been seen abuses and violations of their property by the companies, so they literally blocked the construction. There hasn’t been a proper assessment of their demands, neither from the government of Greece or from the European financial institutions involved, and we think that this really critical and, somehow, it’s a challenge to the European legislation on public participation and the environment, so the Orus Convention and every European law that should guarantee public participation are really at stake in this moment.

In Albania, the internal political situation is also very difficult. We talk about communities in the northernmost parts of the country which basically are about to lose everything. It’s farmers communities who live off farming and they may have some fruit trees and olive growths, and this is not for big business, it’s small land for basic sustainability of the family, so when this people are losing their land, you can compensate them for the actual value of the land, but the point is, what will those families survive from in the coming years? And this is not being addressed properly, we think.

If we arrive in Italy, the resistance is very strong. Since 2012, we have seen a popular opposition movement, really made of families, of mothers, of grandmothers, of youth and elderly, everyone together opposing the pipeline. The first thing is because of the environmental impacts, of course; we talk about an area of Italy which is having the most pristine beaches, and the sea is the main resource they have. All the economy is rooted on small scale tourism; it’s a community of farmers, they have olive growths and just basic agriculture, and for these communities, the pipeline is also representing an economic and industrial model, which is completely clashing from the economy they are living from today, and also from their idea of future, so it is really about the future, the future generations, and also protecting a healthy environment for them.

Beside the pipeline in Melendugno and actually in the middle of four different communities, the project is also about building gas pressurizing stations, which is like – you can imagine like a turbo gas power plant right in the middle of communities. It’s going to be polluting; the company can say whatever they want, but it’s really about burning gas right there, but also it will have a potential risk of explosion. We have seen, not long ago, a similar plant exploding in Austria. That one was in the middle of nowhere, luckily, so there were no humans hurt and no communities live next to it, but in Melendugno, the first houses are at less than 500m from the actual plant, so people are really afraid of their security on top of everything else, and this is just to give you the sense of why people are opposing the pipeline so fiercely. They are really putting themselves between the so called ‘construction site’, which is basically the land where they live, and the machines form the company.

So last year, we have seen a very strong resistance form the people, but also very strong repression the state, who sent hundreds of policemen and army on the spot to defend the interest of the company, and we have seen a massive democracy issue there, with local authorities taking the sides of the communities, and the state with the police taking the side of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline consortium.

Nerina Finetto: And the pipeline is going to be also underwater. Is this an issue?

Elena: The community of Melendugno, from the very early days, has set up a commission of experts, so they have screened rhe project from page one to page two thousand, and the way that the company’s portraying this undersea pipeline, from their point of view, is just impossible to do. They claim that there will be no damage on the beach, and that there will be no damage on the sea. They’re trying to do something really challenging in an area where the soil is very fragile; the coast is not made of hard rocks, it’s sand and a very fragile type of rock which is continually being eroded by the sea, so it’s a very peculiar area.

By the way, it’s also a protective area; there are several protective areas on land and in the sea. People simply don’t believe that there will be no damage and that they can continue to go on the beach just on top of the gas pipeline, which is what the company is saying. The community really informed itself through the years; there have been so many meetings with experts and with people really explaining the project to the residents, and now people feel empowered and they know simply that what the company is claiming they will do is just not going to help them, and so they are simply afraid that once the project starts, then they will have to live with a completely destroyed environment and with damages that will be irreversible forever, so it is really about the future of the community and protecting the environment as it is, but also deciding about the future. I mean, do we think that the community should have the right to decide about their future? They think they want to help that right, so they are reclaiming the right to decide about what should be done or what shouldn’t be done in their community. I think it’s really a strong cash of the democratic institutions of the state with the local authorities claiming the right to decide, and the central government basically giving everything in the hands of the company.

Nerina Finetto: And now we have also a new political situation in Italy, because the newly elected environmental minister is taking a new approach to the pipeline. Is it correct?

Elena: In Italy, we had elections in March. Finally. a new government is taking shape, and the first declaration of the environment minister is that the Trans Adriatic Pipeline is a pointless project, so it doesn’t make any sense for Italy. He’s looking into the environmental import assessment, and he claimed that they may reopen the process. So basically, the minister declared that something may have been wrong with the authorization of the pipeline; we, of course, now want to see the minister taking steps, so we want to see if the project is pointless, will the new government continue to support it or not? And this is a very strong political issue, so the communities and the popular movement have their demands, they are very clear, so we will see now in the coming weeks is the government will be consistent with the first declarations.

Nerina Finetto: What is your call to action?

Elena: We think that the Trans Adriatic Pipeline, and also the Southern Gas Corridor, is a project that everyone in Europe should be concerned about. It has to do with the future of Europe. We think that the communities in Italy, but also the communities in Turkey, or in Albania, in Greece, which have probably a political context that make it more difficult for them to respond, we’d like a popular resistance. These communities are in the frontline, but what they are defending is also our future, and I think that the support should be shown in a variety of ways. Support and solidarity from everyone across Europe. So one point is to understand who are all the different actors that are taking direct benefit form the construction of the pipeline, and to understand that what is being portrayed as our general interest, like energy security or independence from Russia, actually is just false. I mean, it’s really only political talks, but it is nothing to do with the reality that is behind this project.

I think if we all agree that we don’t need this gas, and if we all agree that the construction of the pipeline is hiding economic and financial interest that are rather personal and have nothing to do with the collective benefit of Europe, then we should just take a stand and decide on which side do we want to be.

Nerina Finetto: Where do you get you motivation from?

Elena: My motivation is really the motivation of someone who has the opportunity to be on the ground with the people who are on the frontline, so I do my investigation, but also I meet the people, I see the action impacts, I see the environmental and the social impacts, but also I talk with the people and I realize that what they want and the legislative framework that should protect them is actually somehow not working, like all the words about democracy and human rights, they just don’t match with what actually happenes on the ground.

When the interest is so high, the more we talk about projects of strategic interest for Europe, the more we realize that the voices or those on the ground are not being heard, and there is really a vacancy of democracy in Europe that has to do with that. So when the space is being restricted, when violence is being used, when the state is repressive towards the community and is not listening anymore, we think thet there is a problem, and when all of this is happening in the name of private interest, we realize that more and more it has to do with something that really is beyond what is the democratic structure of our country, and we think it should be exposed. So my motivation comes, I think, from the need of justice, and of seeing justice really being addressed, somehow.

I think we have to force the so called democratic institutions to take the stand of those that stand below, the normal people living everyday’s life, and I think also about questioning these new public-private combo that we see, where the public and private are basically all together, and so we see the State defending multinationals or big industrial and financial interests, but not in the name of the people. So, I think there is really the need to make clarity, and to take more and more concrete examples out there so that everyone can also have an informed opinion about what is going on, and whether this is really the place where we want to be. Are these are the rules that we think are the right rules, and is the State is still representing the interest of the communities when such things happen.

Nerina Finetto: What needs to be done?

Elena: I think that we need to be more and more responsible of our lives, and we need to take the responsibility of taking care of the place where we live and the people we live with. More and more we need to feel that we are part of a community, and that as a community we may be able to define what we want for our future. So it’s not the individual human being that decides, but it should be more and more the space of our community who decides and who is also able to take care of itself as the State is jut not able to do anymore. So in the places where people feel like they are forgotten by the state, I think that the challenge is to reorganize somehow and start to take the responsibility of taking care of each other, which includes the people, but also the environment, It includes also the type of economic activities that we think should take place in the place where we live if we want it to be sustainable in the longer future.

Nerina Finetto: What kind of society do you dream of?

Elena: I think this is the society that I dream of. It’s a society where people are able to take care of themselves and of each other, and where they feel that collaborating with each other is probably the best way to foresee a future. So I imagine a future where imagines are real communities of individuals that feel close one to the other and are able together to decide what they need and how to achieve it. I imagine that if we are able to be open and collaborative, we should be able to also redefine our future in a way that is sustainable for the planet and for ourselves.

Nerina Finetto: Do you have a dream, Elena?

Elena: A personal-? I think this is my dream, at the end. I mean, it’s a dream that I see. It’s not a fantasy, because I know people and I’m probably part of communities that are in the making, and I think that a lot of the resistance I’ve seen is also containing in themselves the seeds of the new ‘Other Worlds’, like the Latin-Americans like to call them. But our communities, by questioning an economic model, they also start to question how a society functions, and they are rediscovering a collective way of doing things, which is like aware of power as a big issue, and so they try to address it on one side, but they are also aware that being collaborative and able to do things together, including talking together to discuss and have different opinions, is a resource and not a problem. I think this is the way forward.

Nerina Finetto: Thank you so much for this conversation, Elena.

Elena: Thank you!

Nerina Finetto: And thank you for watching, thank you for listening, and thank you for sharing. Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any suggestion. Keep wondering, and see you next time again. Bye and ciao.

Biography:

Energy and climate campaigner for Re:Common, a non-profit, public campaign membership-based organization based in Rome, Italy.

Simone Beta
Professor of Classical Philology
Biography:

Università degli studi di Siena, Italy

Do you know where the word 'politics' comes from?

How were ancient Greek and Latin texts disseminated throughout history? Why should we care? And what can these texts tell us about the formulation of our modern societies, and how we should respond to current political events?

These are some of the questions that preoccupy Classical Philologist Simone Beta, a lecturer at the University of Sienna, Italy, who’s recent autobiographical retelling of the life of the Palatine Anthology, gives an insight into the histories of the Western world.

In the book’s retelling, Simone shows us how the ancient text has travelled across Europe, and the ways in which it still influences modern literature and societies to this day. In this video, Simone tells us how, in the 15th and 16th centuries, people all over Europe began to read and study Latin and Greek texts, and the story of Greece and Rome became a topic of discussion among the intellectuals of Europe.

Watch our interview to discover the tale of how modern Europe started from these discoveries, and see the ways in which our social, political, and cultural systems are founded on these ancient texts.

Watch the video:
Listen to the Audiofile here:
Read the transcript of Simone Beta's Video here

Simone: My name is Simone Beta. I teach Classical Philology at the University of Siena, Italy.

Nerina: What is Classical Philology Simone?

Simone: Classical Philology is the study of Greek and Latin literature and the study of the way their texts have come down to us since antiquity to modern times.

Nerina: How do we know what we know about Greek and Latin literature?

Simone: They had books. They made books out of papyrus which was a plant that grew in Egypt and they wrote on these. Some parts of these papyrus books had been saved by mere chance but the biggest part of Greek and Latin literature was saved because these works were copied all over the centuries by monks in the abbeys of Europe these regards Latin books and by monks in Athens or Constantinople that became the capital of the Eastern Empire and they have been copied, copied and copied. And then when these texts were discovered by the humanist in the 14th -15th century they were then published because in those years Gutenberg invented the printer. So when they began to print they were saved forever. So from that moment on there was no chance that these texts could be missed or lost.

Nerina: You have just published a book about a Greek manuscript with the title Io, Un Manoscritto, Me a manuscript, right?

Simone: I decided to write the story of this book because as many of the ancient manuscripts this book had a very interesting history. It was written in Greece of course in Constantinople around the 10th century A.D. and it’s called the Palatine Anthology the collection of the equivalent of small poems. It was brought to Italy in the years that preceded the fall of Constantinople and the attack Ottoman, the Turks and then from Italy it started to make a long trip all around Europe because it was owned by Erasmus of Rotterdam. He was one of the most important intellectuals of Europe and then probably he gave it as a present to Thomas More. Thomas More was the secretary of Harry the VIII and then after his death it became a possession of John Clement who was a very famous physician.

And then since this Clement was Catholic and England had become Anglican he went away from England and went to Belgium where the Catholic religion was more important. Then in the beginning of the 17th Century it found its home in the library of Heidelberg in Germany. But Heidelberg was a protestant town and when the town was conquered by the Catholics during the 30 years’ war the book was given as present from Maximilian of Bavaria it was given to the Pope. So book went from Heidelberg to Rome.

Then when Napoleon defeated the army of the Pope at the end of the 18th Century like many objects of art also this manuscript went to Paris. When Napoleon fell the books were given back not to the Pope but in this case their possessor Heidelberg. But since in all these travels the book had split up into parts the French gave back only one part of it and one part remained in Paris. So now the book is half in Germany and half in Paris.

During all these centuries its poems have been copied, published, made known, generated other poems. So I thought that the story of this book is important to explain how literature went over Europe and how it also influenced modern literature because among these epigrams there were epigrams, comic epigrams or there are love erotic epigrams and all of these small poems have generated other imitators all over the century.

Nerina: It sounds like an interesting cultural trip. Could you tell me more about this?

Simone: When humanism and then Renaissance began as I told you in the 15th and 16th century people all over Europe began to read and study Latin and Greek texts. Latin text had been studied all over the middle ages because Latin was a language that was not lost. Greek was lost in Europe but saved in Greece because that was the place where it was spoken.

When in the Renaissance these texts became popular they were printed and so they began to be sold and read. The story of Greece and being mostly the story of Rome became a topic of discussion among the intellectuals of Europe and the story of modern Europe started from this discovery basically. When they began to read again these texts and to build social, political and cultural system founded on that literature and that particular culture.

Nerina: Why is such a book so valuable?

Simone: The importance of such a manuscript was the fact that it contains some compositions that cannot be found anywhere else. So in a way this book contains some unique poems, some unique texts.

Nerina: How did you find out what happened to the book over the centuries?

Simone: Many people before me have studied the stories of these manuscripts. It’s like a treasure hunt. You must put together some different clues and discover that they’re connected. There are many people who have done a lot of work – scholarly work on this book. I chose to do something different because my book is an autobiography. It’s the book itself that tells its own story and describes all these travels all around Europe.

Nerina: Why did you choose this kind of approach?

Simone: Some colleagues said that I am good scholar but I like to write things that are not very scholarly. That’s what they said but I prefer to write something that is interesting. So I prefer to choose my topics, the topics I like and topics that I think can appeal to people of the 21st century AD.

Nerina: Besides of course the joy of writing interesting comedies, tragedies, and stories why is it important to study Greek and Latin literature?

Simone: It can help us to understand what we are and what we have become. Because for instance when you speak of political systems we use words, terminology that comes from the words and the terminology invented by the Greeks and the Romans. Basically all the terminology of politics comes from Greek or Latin. The word itself politics comes from Greek because ‘politics’ means belonging to the ‘polis’ and ‘polis’ means town and in the case of Greece its town state because as you probably know Greece has never been a nation or a state like it is now. It was made of different small towns, every town independent from the others. So politics means what regards the state basically.

Republic is a Latin word which means respublica; the things that belong to everybody. So it’s something that can explain why the study of Greek and Roman is very important because the political system which is most used in the world this republic comes from a Latin word and from a system democracy that was invented by the Greek. In fact democracy is not a Latin word but it’s a word taken from Greek and it means the power of the people.

Nerina: Could you tell me a little bit how the Greek literature developed and the relation to the Latin literature? A little bit of numbers so that we can have an idea what we are speaking about.

Simone: The oldest author in Greek literature is Homer; the poet who wrote The Iliad and The Odyssey. These poems have been composed orally about 1000BC and then starting from 7th and 6th Century BC these texts have been written down and Greek literature was born in those years. Historians, tragedians, comic poets and philosophers and all these literature became very important in the 5th and 4th Century BC.

Then when the Romans got in touch with the Greece that is since the 4th and 3rd Century BC they in one way became the heirs of the Greeks. So they developed their own literature based on Greek literature and of course this authors were the authors studied in Europe since the 4th Century BC until the 6th Century AD when the Roman empire collapsed but still the language was Latin and it remained Latin until the end of the middle ages when the Neo-Latin languages were born: Italian, French and Spanish and Europe was united also by these kind of culture and language. So what we have become now men and women of the 21st Century depend on what the Greeks and Romans wrote, taught and their culture. So that’s why I think it’s important that we still study this literature or at least that we do not ignore what they did many, many years ago.

Nerina: But who became an author?

Simone: There were not real public schools and people had to learn how to read, to write and to basically to talk by attending private schools. But there was in Athens in the 5th and 4th Century BC and then in Rome an elite that was able to write and to read. For instance some literature was enjoyed by everybody. In Athens in the 5th Century everybody, all the citizens went to the theater to watch tragedies and comedies and they received the ticket for entering the theatre by the state because it was considered something important for their own education and culture. So this is one way when we have a writer, a comic poet or a tragic poet who writes tragedy or comedy and of course this is someone who is skilled and is able to write such things. But everybody went to the theatre and watched these shows because it was part of their education, was part of public life and also part of their religion because this performances were performed during religious festivals in the town.

Nerina: But the Greek literature is a “men” literature…

Simone: This is true and actually it’s true that most of the authors are men. There are some exceptions though Sappho is surely one of these exceptions and Sappho is also a poet who ability was also recognized by man. Plato said that Sappho was the 10th Muse. So among the nine muses there was also Sappho but it is true that Greece and Rome were societies where the position of a woman was not very strong, it is true. There are some exceptions but very few.

Nerina: Who is your favorite author?

Simone: My favorite author is Aristophanes, so Greek comedy.

Nerina: And your favorite piece?

Simone: Lysistrata. Aristophanes, Lysistrata.

Nerina: What is the story and why?

Simone: The story is quite famous. The women of Athens are fed up with the fact that their husbands and their lovers are always away fighting in the war. So they say that they will not make love any more if they don’t make peace with Sparta and at the end men agree.

The meaning of this comedy is very clear that war is the worst thing ever for human beings. If there is war there is no life, love is life and so that’s what is clearly told by this story. It is told in a funny way and unfortunately it was not able to influence the Athenians because the comedy was performed in 411 BC and the war ended badly for Athens in 404 BC so seven years after but the story was very simple.

I have studied not only the comedy itself but also the many modern versions that had been made of this comedy since the 16th century. It has been quite funny because the Greek comedy ended well for the women while the modern versions end badly for the women and it’s quite strange the fact that in a society that was so clearly pro-male and anti-woman like Greece there might be a comedy where the main character is a woman and at the end she wins. While in the history of modern Europe it doesn’t happens so.

Nerina: How do you see it and why?

Simone: Because these versions were written by men who were not as smart as Aristophanes.

Nerina: An old comedy with a still relevant topic.

Simone: Yes. In fact during the cold war it became the most popular comedy of Aristophanes and it was performed everywhere and also in 2003 when the second Gulf war started there was the Lysistrata Project that is performances of the whole comedy or parts of it all over the world. I think it was the 17th of March of 2003. So this comedy of Aristophanes was chosen all over the world as a manifesto against war. So this also explains why classic literature is not dead but it’s alive, it can say something interesting even in our times.

Nerina: Why do you believe that knowing the past can improve the present?

Simone: Because we know what has happened before us otherwise it’s like starting again you know. If you ignore what has happened before it’s like starting from the Stone Age. Most of the problems that we are discussing now have been discussed by the Greeks and Romans before us. Just let me use an example which of course is very important right now.

Now Europe finds itself in a very difficult situation because of all these people that are trying to enter Europe coming from Africa or from Asia because of war, because of poverty. They try to arrive in Europe. This problem has also been present in the story of Rome for instance. It happened in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th century A.D. when the barbarians were pressing on the border. So what did the Roman do? At the beginning of the 3rd Century AD, Caracalla the Emperor gave the citizenship to all the people who lived inside the boundaries of the empire. So everybody became members of the Roman Empire without any kind of discrimination, these people came to the Empire and they became citizens. So that’s one answer and so we found ourselves in a situation which is very similar and knowing what they did before us might be important.

Nerina: But Rome went also down. It was the end. Was this a good solution for the empire?

Simone: Well they could survived another 200 years. Can we say the same for Europe?

Nerina: I’m not sure Simone it’s really a good question.

Thank you so much for watching, thank you so much for sharing and thank you so much Simone for this conversation.

Simone: You’re welcome.

Nerina: Thank you.

Biography:

Università degli studi di Siena, Italy

Marco Trentini
Professor of sociology
Biography:

University of Bologna, Italy

Economics versus economic sociology

In times of world crises we see the importance of understanding Economics. According to Marco Trentini from the University of Bologna, Italy, if we want to understand Economics it is of crucial importance to look at it in a different way. Marco’s area of study is in Economic Sociology. Economic sociology is a field inside sociology, which analyses the economic phenomena according to sociological perspectives.

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Marco: I am Marco Trentini, an Italian sociologist, and I work at the department of education, University of Bologna.

Nerina: What are you working on right now?

Marco: I just finished writing a book about economic sociology. It’s a book aimed at students of economic sociology, a sort of hand book. I hope to provide critical thinking, not just revision of theory. I met a student studying economic sociology and economics; there’s a big debate about how economics is taught in University. After the recent crisis there’s some disappointment about how economics is studied in the economics faculty or school. There is a certain movement mainly from students that it is assumed that there are necessary multi-perspectives to study economics and I think economic sociology could be one of these perspectives.

Nerina: What is the book about?

Marco: The book is an overview about economic sociology, and economic sociology is a field of sociology which analyses the economic phenomena according to the sociological perspective.

Nerina: What is the difference between economic sociology and economics?

Marco: The difference is the approach you use to study economics. In the beginning economics and sociology are not very distinctive; they’ve become distinctive during the last century. Since the end of 19th century economists used a particular language to describe economics in the economic phenomena and the language was math – they used a lot of modelling and so on. Economic sociology used a different approach, and not necessarily based on math and modelling. So economic sociologists can use quantitative data in a different way. What I mean is that when you use formal modelling, you have to simplify the reality but of course you cannot describe the exact reality. You have to choose some variables to include in the model and put out some other variable. Of course economists know that the model simplifies their reality and think that the model is able to grasp their reality.

Economic sociology uses a completely different perspective because some variables that in economic analysis are out are included in the analysis. It is rather common especially after new economic sociology in an approach introduced mainly in the USA starting from the 70s of the last century. It is quite common in economic sociology to use the concept of embeddedness. Does it mean that economic action happens in a social context? If you have to grasp and understand how economy works, you have to analyse also the social context. I don’t think that there’s just one perspective to look at society. I think a good point of sociology is to think of sociology as not a paradigm, it has plenty of perspectives. This gives a wider perspective, you have a different perspective to look at the phenomena, maybe you don’t have a strong theory but it’s not a weak point because sometimes strong theory constrains your perspective or your way to understand phenomena.

Nerina: How do these theoretical approaches we are speaking about influence our reality, or can they influence our reality? Why are they important to us?

Marco: Economics affects our reality because usually economics is used to develop political economies. We have seen in the last era the great debate on how to respond to an economic crisis: austerity or no austerity. This debate is based on theory, but some of these theories are not totally right. I mean if you look at austerity, the politics of austerity is not based on good understanding of economics.

Nerina: Do you think that we need the different perspectives in order to understand our society more?

Marco: If you want to understand economics I think it’s useful to have a different perspective. The recent events show that just one perspective does not help. If you look at for instance education, of course I am interested in education. It’s quite common to think of education as sort of a human capital investment. What does it mean? You pay in order to get a return, and the return of education is in income. I don’t think it’s a good perspective to look at education because I can say in my case for instance, my return is a total failure because I have studied, I have a degree, a PhD and so on, and my return is good, but not as good as it should be after all the time I have spent studying. Anyway I don’t feel my investment in education was a failure, but if you just look at the economic return it’s a sort of failure. I didn’t maximize.

Nerina: And why didn’t you maximize it?

Marco: I prefer to be a researcher, as it doesn’t matter how much my income is.

Nerina: Tell me, what do you like doing when you’re not working on research?

Marco: I do different things; sociology is not all my work. I read the news, I listen to jazz, and I watch sports – football.

Nerina: What makes music so special for you?

Marco: Music is important to me because it fills the silence, and I think it’s something that gives meaning to life to some extent. It gives you emotion, expresses sentiments, and so it’s really important.

Biography:

University of Bologna, Italy

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