Nikos Koulousios is the voice and the man behind Hellas Pindakass, the Greek radio show on Amsterdams Municipal Radio «Salto/Wereld FM», 99.4 Mhz. We caught up with him and got to know a bit more about his show, himself and expat life.
Hi Niko, lets start with the name. Hellas Pindakass is loosely translated as peanut butter made in Greece, according to you. Our conspiracy theorists have loosely translated it as Greek Peanut or otherwise known to Greeks as "Greek Fistiki". What are your thoughts on that ridiculous notion?
None of the above... and all of the above at the same time. I wanted a title that would provoke some noise and a title that would be open to multiple interpretations. I wanted a cheerful title, which would also be a reference point between Greece and the Netherlands, a unifying title and not a divisive one. The phrase "Helaas pindakaas" is quite popular in Dutch and it means "unfortunately peanut butter". They use it when things don’t go exactly as planned and it sort of means "Oh ok, never mind". And since it rhymes, they also use it as a funny saying. So I took the first part helaas and played with the spelling to turn it into Hellas, which is the Greek name for Greece. I should also note that peanut butter is in high regard for the Dutch, but not so much for the Greeks. Do you think the Dutch would like Greek peanut butter?
We don’t know about the Dutch, but we already like the "Greek peanut butter". So, what’s the story behind the show and what do you get out of it?
I wanted to do something for all the Greeks that came to the Netherlands the last 2-3 years and didn't learn Dutch immediately. Something to make them feel a bit more "welcome", even a bit prouder compared to the negative image that Greece has on European press. I chose to do the show in Greek, something that the people in charge of Amsterdam’s Municipal radio Salto accepted immediately since the radio frequency the show is on (Wereld FM) only hosts foreign language shows. There is a British and an Italian one, and many from African, Asian and Latin American countries). Finally, on my show I wanted to pass the message that is encapsulated in the unifying title of the show, the message that our two countries have nothing to separate, they can co-exist in peace, just like in the radio airwaves of Amsterdam where shows from different languages and cultures co-exist harmoniously. I should also add that this is a personal bet I made with myself. I had never worked as a radio producer and I had never hosted a radio show before. It was a personal trial of discipline, faith in my own devices and it taught me that we should be creating opportunities for ourselves and not idly wait for someone to "rescue" us. Something that is both useful in the current times, but also timeless. Francis Bacon said “A wise man will make more opportunities than he finds.”
Salto/Wereld FM is a volunteer radio station. I pay a symbolic charge for use of the studio every Sunday and I prepare and fund the show on my own. I am the host, the chief editor, the sound technician, the DJ and the producer of the whole project. I am not trying to make money out of this. I get my reward from the interaction with the audience. I also want to pass the message that despite of all the adversities that we might come across, we should never lose our determination, our perseverance, we should always try to create opportunities for ourselves even if things don’t always look so bright. I am reaching out to anyone that has an issue that they would like to promote through the show. Just send an email at [email protected] and, if you are in the Netherlands you can even come by and talk about it on the air.
We know the irony of what we are about to ask you, but how come you are still trying to deal with Greeks?
The Greek issue has been in the heart of European public opinion more than ever lately. Because the problem isn't just Greek, but its more systemic/European problem, the things that are happening in Greece are like a preparation, even a test, of what might come to other places in Europe. Personally, it is kind of "schizophrenic" to be living in two countries, so to speak, at the same time, but also don’t forget that I am a member of the Foreign Press Association of the Netherlands, and in fact the only permanent Greek correspondent in this country.
You have been in the Netherlands since 1999. Is the food back home still the best?
Unequivocally yes! Without any hesitation I am calling out to all Greeks that are willing and able to come to the Netherlands to start their own modern Greek cuisine restaurants. Greek food is great compared to most food here and the Dutch will appreciate it. It’s a sure hit. It’s not just the food that is better, but even the raw materials and the Greek way of cooking are things that are missing here.
What do you think is the "Greek dream" in the Netherlands?
The same as the European dream, a European environment that will respect the European values and rights and will not forget them on the first hurdle, a fair economic environment that will have the citizens as a priority and not the banks, that will not a eliminate the financially weaker countries nor the weakest links of the "chain" for the benefit of the greater or stronger countries. A democracy that will not be trampled upon by bigots, ideologues, rightwings and all the monetarists of the world. You see, it bothers me a lot hearing almost monotonously from the Dutch media that Greece is a corrupt country, that there is corruption in Greece as if it is just a problem found only in Greece. Corruption exists everywhere, even here in Holland. I painted my house twice and both times the Dutch painter asked me if I wanted a receipt or not.
Are the Greeks that came here 15 years ago anything like the new wave of expats?
No, lately more and more Greeks are starting to move outside of Greece in order to find work. They are in their majority young and a lot of them have even appeared as guests on my show. The number of Greek students here has also grown significantly. This new batch is mostly comprised by educated young people that originally came here as expats but ended up staying here and becoming immigrants without having the option to return back to Greece.
We feel that suddenly there is a rush of new Greek expat activities in the Netherlands, including our selves, New Diaspora and Hellas Pindakaas. Do you think we are finally starting to get a bit organized?
There was always a Greek presence in The Netherlands, perhaps not on the scale that it exists in Germany, but it was always there and it was always active. There was a Greek radio show here in Amsterdam during the 80's but it didn’t catch on. There was also a show in Utrecht but the funding from the Dutch state ended at some point and so did the show. We even had a Greek bookstore in Amsterdam 2 or 3 decades ago. But, for a long time now I was watching these initiatives shrink and fade slowly instead of growing. That was the gap that I wanted to fill somehow and in 2007, pre crisis of-course, I started a blog on Lifo.gr named Amsterdάmned where I wrote about issues that concerned the Netherlands but were also related with Greece. I realized back then that there was an audience in both countries. Of-course the past couple of year the presence of Greeks has increased in The Netherlands. And thankfully so did the activities. The show, besides the things that it promotes already, has also the goal to give a voice to all these activities and to support them as well.
What would say to someone that wants to move here?
Systematic and methodical preparation and a lot of believe in ones self. The Netherlands as a country is quite different from Greece culturally but the trick to a smooth adaptation is to focus on the things that connect you with others, with a different culture, leaving aside the things that may divide us. That last part is also my show's moto. That is how I end the show every Sunday: "It was the Greek radio show Hellas Pindakaas. Join us and let’s find the few things that connect us, leaving aside the things that may divide us". It is a fact that the Dutch public opinion on Greece has been quite negative the past 2-3 years. This is also fueled by the one-sided way the Dutch media is covering the issue. The newspaper Telegraph for instance has started and is still continuing their propaganda targeting all Greeks alike. Generally the Dutch considered Greeks as frugal spenders and we in turn considered them as skimpy and cheap. It was this kind of stereotypes and preconceptions that gave footing to the propaganda of all those that wanted to present the "lazy" Greeks as the source of all their troubles. But things are changing slowly, the voices and shouts of the extreme ones are starting to die down and the real picture of how things are, is starting to show. Finally, it would be good to be aware that The Netherlands has also been affected by the crisis. Layoffs happened here as well, in big banks for instance and the opportunities for work are way less than they were 5-6 years ago. The crisis has also hit the housing market quite heavily. Working uninsured or working with terms of modern slavery (flexible working arrangements) has also been present here as well for quite a few years now. Also, the Dutch don’t save up, the live on credit. The past couple of years there have been some seriously painful spending cuts in many sectors of Dutch society, cuts on privileged benefits and on grants. It's just, that the Dutch are used to austerity.
About the show, do all you guests come on time and how long are you planning on doing the show?
Yes, all my guests, Greeks and Dutch alike are on time. I think that the era of national stereotypes has passed by a long time ago. That's the same thing that Dutch philhellene and reporter Ingeborg Beugel told me when she was on the show. Ingeborg was for many years a correspondent for the Dutch media in Athens. She started her career in the years that Melina Merkouri was Minister of Culture in Greece and ever since then her love for Greece is unending.
- Hit the red button Start to listen. If it still doesn't play, make sure to select the Date 16 September 2012 and the time 19:00-20:00, and then hit Start!
- First comes the news, then 2 commercials and right after Hellas Pindakaas.
- It needs windows media player. Not good with iphone/mac/Apple. If you have mac, you need to download a plug-in called Flip4Mac. With that you can have Windows media player on your mac.
How, when and why should we listen to Hellas Pindakass?
You can listen online from anywhere in the world via the website www.salto.nl. You can also find the link to listen to the show live from the Facebook page of Hellas Pindakaas but you can also listen to past shows on demand also through the Facebook page and Salto's website. So far we have people tuning in online from Germany, Sweden, Belgium, Greece, Britain, America, Russia. We also have a lot of Dutch that either speak or understand Greek. Believe me, they are quite a lot and many of them have even appeared on the show as guests and even had conversations in Greek. I'm actually thinking about making the show bilingual at some point. The show is being broadcasted every Sunday, 7-8pm, local Dutch time from Amsterdam's Municipal Radio, Salto/Wereld FM.
My goal is to highlight, through the topics and the guests of the show, that the issues are common and so is our fate as European citizens, even though that is not what appears on the surface. I am focusing on social issues with emphasis on the meaning of multiculturalism since it has been de-constructed by many, mainly the extreme voices but also the conservative politicians like Angela Merkel. Oh, and a lot of music, mainly Greek but with influences and often even English lyrics.
If you could have on your show, any one person, that decides about the future of Europe, who would that person be and what would you say to him or her?
I'd have Chancellor Merkel and I would ask her why does she think she can drag Europe around like a victim on her pre-election games. I would ask her to leave as she has proven that she has no European vision, something required for a country that is leading the European effort.
Tell us something that makes optimistic or something that disappoints, even infuriates you.
What bothers me is an audience that just swallows up insatiably anything that the so-called experts say. I look at what is happening now in Greece as a bubble that needs to burst but also as something that is way beyond Greece, as a sample of just how rotten the system is. And there is no virtuous Europe. Everyone is responsible for what is occurring in Greece and Europe alike. I'm optimistic when I see that slowly but steady, the alternative voices are being heard and that the European world will come out of this temporary state of shock, of fear, of ignorance or of indifference and will realize that we are all sailing along in the same boat.
You should also check out Niko's blog Amsterdάmned on LiFO.gr