Tsakas book cover

The Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies supports more than a dozen fellows each year who conduct intensive research at Princeton. Former Seeger fellows have published hundreds of books with leading publishers and thousands of articles. Their scholarship reflects the broad, interdisciplinary nature of Hellenic Studies, spanning fields from history to religion to literature and periods from antiquity to the present.

In the May 17, 2024, edition of Director’s Bookshelf, Seeger Center Director Dimitri Gondicas speaks with Christos Tsakas about Post-war Greco-German Relations, 1953-1981, published by Palgrave Macmillan in September 2022. Tsakas is a visiting professor at Catholic University of Milan. He was a postdoctoral research fellow at the Seeger Center from 2018-19.    

This interview has been edited and condensed.

How did this book project begin? 

Greco-German relations have been in the spotlight since the beginning of the Greek financial crisis in 2009. Surprisingly, however, public debates have paid scant attention to what the history of relations between the two countries tells us about the European project. The idea for this book came naturally when, in 2012, at the peak of the crisis, I traveled for the first time from an ever more restive Athens to a never-resting Berlin. I visited Berlin to do dissertation research in the archives of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In October 2015, having just received my Ph.D. from the University of Crete, I returned to Berlin as a DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) fellow. There, I had the opportunity to acquaint myself with the German perspective on the Greek crisis, kicking off the writing process. 

Please tell us about your time at the Seeger Center and the research you conducted then.

As a postdoctoral research fellow at the Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies and a visiting fellow at the E.U. Program at Princeton in 2018–2019, I had the privilege of pursuing my interest in Hellenic and European Studies in a non-European environment. This gave me the opportunity to share ideas with colleagues from many parts of the world, without the constraints to which debates on European integration are often subject in a European academic context. In the U.S., I was able to utilize Princeton University Library’s collections and archival holdings and visit the U.S. National Archives in College Park, Maryland.

How did that research impact your work as a whole and this book project? 

In the years of the crisis, the European public debate was undermined, from the very beginning, by references to the so-called “PIGS” (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain) a derogatory term for the poor but allegedly pleasure-loving countries of the South that were said to devour taxes paid by the reliable citizens of the North. 

In this political and intellectual climate, the most penetrating analyses came mainly from the United States. American universities’ separation from the European frame of reference provided a certain detachment from the priorities of Europe’s political leadership – and the ensuing blame game. By adopting this perspective, I tried to focus on the historical realities of divergence between economies – not merely with different levels of competitiveness, but different models of capitalist development. I continue to develop this line of thought in my new project, which seeks to study European integration through a perspective that departs from the teleological and moralistic assumptions of the so-called North-South divide within Europe.

What would you like your readers to learn?

The book tells the almost-forgotten story of how a country that suffered under the German occupation during World War II reestablished a connection with West Germany just after the war, and how West Germany, against all expectations, sponsored Greek integration into the European Community. In surveying the three decades between the Greco-German Pact of 1953 and Greece’s entry into the Community in 1981, this book offers a new perspective on the relationship between Europe’s center and its periphery. It also reconsiders conventional wisdom about Greece’s entry into Europe, challenging the way in which the so-called North-South divide, with all its moralistic assumptions, has been used to analyze European integration.

A transformative journey to Greece inspired Stanley J. Seeger to found Hellenic Studies programs at Princeton. Please tell us about a journey that expanded your intellectual horizons or influenced your research. 

After earning my doctorate, I researched and wrote parts of the book in Athens, Florence, and Berlin, and at Princeton and Harvard. The unpredictable trajectory an early career researcher is forced to follow was the journey itself (literally and metaphorically). In the end, my adventures only added new dimensions to my topic. Every country where I worked offered new perspectives and brought me into contact with an ever-wider range of non-Greek sources.

Photo of Dimitri Gondicas by Sameer A. Khan/Fotobuddy. Photo of Christos Tsakas by Stephanos Pappas. 


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