Interview by Vassilios Nicolaos Vitsilogiannis
Lena Divani is a distinguished scholar, educator, and prolific writer whose multifaceted career has left an indelible mark on the fields of political science, diplomatic history, and literature. With a solid academic foundation in political sciences and diplomatic history, she has ascended to the position of Professor of Diplomatic History at Athens’ prestigious Law School. Her scholarly pursuits have predominantly revolved around the intricate tapestry of Greek and Balkan diplomatic history during the 19th and 20th centuries, with a keen focus on topics such as minorities, internationalism, and nationalism.
Lena’s contributions extend beyond academia; she has authored numerous books and articles, shedding light on the complex geopolitical landscape of the region. Her dedication to historical preservation is evident through her collaboration with the Historical Archive of the Greek Foreign Ministry, where she meticulously edited and published Greek diplomatic archives relating to the integration of Dodecanese into Greece.
Furthermore, Lena’s commitment to cultural enrichment is undeniable. Her literary talents have spawned an impressive literary repertoire encompassing novels, short stories, children’s books, and theatrical plays. Notably, her literary works have transcended linguistic boundaries, with translations into several languages, including English, Spanish, Italian, German, Hebrew, Slovakian, Turkish, Romanian, and Polish. As a testament to her global reach, Lena represented Greece in the Cultural Olympics, co-authoring the Global Novel alongside 14 writers from around the world. Her involvement in various cultural and human rights organizations underscores her unwavering dedication to the betterment of society and the preservation of Greek heritage.
You began your writing career with the collection of short stories “Yiati Den Milas Yia Emena” (English translation: “Why Don’t You Talk About Me”) in 1994. How do you feel when you see how your writing journey has evolved since then?
I feel truly happy that I managed to turn my childhood dream into reality, and that I touched the hearts of so many people without even having met them. It’s an overwhelming feeling. I can hardly believe it.
You have written many novels, short story collections, books for children, and historical studies. Which work has a special significance for you and why?
My childhood goal was firstly to understand how human societies function, then study, research, and write about it to pass on knowledge. That’s what books and their authors gave me, and that’s what I wanted to give back, to become another useful link in this chain. So, all the books I’ve written, whether literary or historical, try to do the same thing: to grasp the complex human condition. That’s why they all hold the same significance for me.
Your works have been translated into many languages and adapted for television. How do you feel about the international recognition of your work?
I didn’t expect it, to be honest, such success, because Greek literature doesn’t easily cross our borders. We are a small language and lack the state support that other small languages have. For example, Israel translates all the significant books each year through a government organization and tries to push them into different markets. Unfortunately, Greece doesn’t care about the authors.
You participated in the Cultural Olympiad and collaborated with many international authors. What was the most interesting experience you gained from this collaboration?
It was a joyful moment both for Greece and for us. Great names from all parts of the world came together to work on writing a contemporary Odyssey, each one taking their turn. We experienced it like an artistic relay race. We were so enthusiastic that I still remember it and puts a smile on my face even years later.
You have also ventured into theater with works like “The Angry Beauty,” “Delicious,” “Family Law,” and “Transitional Stage.” How does the experience of writing for the theater compare to writing for books?
Theater writing has an entirely different charm that captivated me completely. The words you write won’t be read; they will come to life, be spoken and performed by an actor who can either elevate them or completely destroy them. This risk, along with the possibility of a miracle, releases so much dopamine in your brain that you easily become addicted to theater. And don’t forget that theater gives you a rare gift: you can witness the audience’s response as it happens, which is very enchanting!
You have extensively explored the issues of minorities and the Greek diaspora. How do you believe these issues affect Greek society, and what is their significance?
I firmly believe that minority issues are of utmost importance, as they are entwined with both domestic and foreign policy. That’s why I’ve been engaged with them for so many years. The Balkans and our country, as you know, are regions that were part of the Ottoman Empire, where population migration was constant. This means that there is no state without significant minority groups within its borders. The insecurity this creates, along with lingering feelings of revenge, further obscure the future of Balkan cooperation and coexistence.
You are a founding member of the National Commission for Human Rights. What role does this commission play in today’s Greek society?
This commission was established during the prime ministership of Kostas Simitis under the auspices of the UN and was aimed at documenting violations and exerting pressure for any solution. It obviously holds great importance if we want to become a truly modern European state.
You have worked with the historical archive of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs. How has this experience shaped you as a writer and historian?
It was 30 years ago when I first went to the Historical Archive of The Greek Foreign Ministry and what I felt was truly lamentable. Researchers didn’t have easy access, entire bundles of documents were rotting away in warehouses alongside a small coffin containing the bones of an unknown Chinese person! Of course, things have improved considerably over the years, but we still have a long way to go. If we are truly proud of our history, we must prove it by preserving all the evidence for future generations, rather than stacking them in warehouses or taking them home, as many foreign ministers did until World War II.
What are your views on the younger generation and their role in Greek society?
The young generation is disoriented, you know. They realize they have many more qualifications than their parents’ generation, but unfortunately, they will live much worse than them. It’s not easy to handle, process, and accept this. That’s why I see our children going abroad or mentally giving up on the dream of a career and settling for jobs that are not demanding. Politically, this is expressed as anxiety combined with indifference, a very dangerous combination.
To what extent do you believe Greek society lags behind in certain areas, and what steps need to be taken to move forward?
Greek society has not managed to be modernized even 200 years after its founding. The political personnel is incapable of addressing the problems because they are not willing to take risks by making real changes that might jeopardize the votes received. The public sector resembles its 19th-century order, where various party cronies refuse to be evaluated. It’s a huge counter-state in our society that protests that there is no state! The same aversion to evaluation is shared by university professors, teachers, and all those who educate the next generation. Can you understand what is happening? (silence).