Interview with Professor Pantelis Lekkas

Director of Studies at the MA in Southeast European Studies – Faculty of Political Science & Public Administration, University of Athens

Interview conducted by Nikos Papakostas

1.    15 years of the MA in Southeast European studies. Why do you think the region is an important issue of study for students from Europe and the world in 2015?

The region’s importance as an area of study and understanding is self-evident. With an already overloaded historical past, the region is today further encumbered by security problems, waves of immigration, political upheavals, economic dislocations, foreign policy reorientations, and –not least– the Greek financial crisis and its global ramifications.

2.    If you were to describe the main changes that have taken place in the region since the launch of the program in 2000 – in terms of challenges but also of opportunities – where would you place the emphasis?

I would be inclined to go first for the manifold revival and persistence of nationalism – but that would be my professional bias speaking. There are so many interconnected aspects that have moved along in the past fifteen years, often in contradictory directions. I would single out the unexpected ways political developments have turned out, the uneveness of economic development, the vicissitudes of Europeanisation, the transformations of both Turkey and the former Yugosphere, as well as the novelty of security (Russia, the Middle East) and immigration challenges.

3.    And, what new needs have these changes brought about in terms of the program’s curriculum?

They have necessitated a radical overhaul of the original six courses and the addition of two new ones. The contents of the former were updated and streamilined in a truly multi-disciplinary curriculum, which was further enriched by the new courses on Turkey and Greece.

4.    Would you say that the program treats the region as a source of theoretical accumulation of historical, political, social and psychological knowledge and ideas or is there also a practical, job-related, aspect to it?

There are many practical, job-related, aspects to our Programme as is evinced by the subsequent careers of our alumni which we follow up as closely as possible. But I believe that such job opportunities as are generated by the Programme are due primarily to its uncompromisingly academic character. We strive, above all else, to ‘understand’ the problems of the region, not to provide ready-made solutions to them.

5.    For what reason would a European student choose Greece and crisis-ridden Athens, in particular, for their MA studies?

I think it would be a terrific intellectual challenge for anyone (from the region and beyond) to participate in an intense one-year Programme with a strong academic tradition; and to acquire such a rich experience in the midst of what is effectively a social sciences laboratory, i.e. crisis-ridden Greece.

6.    What opportunities does the program offer and what differentiates it from other programs in Greece and the region?

Besides being in itself a firm step in progressing one’s further academic pursuits, the Programme offers opportunities in business, public administration, NGOs and international organizations.

The differentiating characteristic of our Programme is undoubtedly its Syllabus, with its interdisciplinary focus on the region which is constantly enriched and deepened. But the Programme is also the focus of an exciting postgraduate life, with a tradition of bringing together students with different origins, backgrounds and experiences to spend an academic year in Athens, learning about Southeastern Europe with and from each other.

7.    What would the new students of 2015-2016 find different in the program? What “updates” have you realized in order to render the curriculum more appealing?

As I mentioned before (3), almost all of the original six courses were revised and updated while two new courses are also offered up for the next academic year.