Vicki Preston

Interview: Avgi Kalogianni

Be part of the change you wish to see

Originally from the UK, Vicki Preston has lived in Greece for over 30 years, 20 of them on Paros. She is best known here as the founder of the English-language magazine Paros Life & Naxos Life in 1998. In recent years she has been working on a voluntary basis setting up and expanding the programme of the bilingual Montessori school in Naoussa and as a member of the Innovaros team promoting the sustainable development of Paros.

You were the voice of the international community for 15 years with the magazine Paros Life. How did it feel to stop publishing the magazine?
I remember the precise moment when I finally made the decision to stop, and the overriding feeling was one of relief. Advertising revenue had fallen year-by-year since the financial crisis began. So, Paros Life joined the other 250,000 small businesses in Greece buried by the misguided policies of “austerity”.
As for being the “voice” of the international community, I always thought of my role more as a “bridge” between local and international residents. I still feel it’s my duty to keep the non-Greek-speaking residents on the island informed and spend a lot of time posting news and events in the Paros Life online group. I could use this opportunity to appeal to others to share their knowledge of news and events by posting it in the Paros Life space.

Your article “Come Fly With Me” in the final issue of Paros Life was about the new Paros airport. Tell us about the experience of researching for that article.
Writing that article was a fascinating experience and a perfect example of all that is extraordinary and wonderful about this country and all that is frustrating and dysfunctional about it.
I remember trying to find out the length of the current runway. I spent a whole morning being passed from one department to another in the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation Authority. Officials I spoke to refused to give me their names and became suspicious and evasive as soon as I said I was writing a story about the airport. Finally, when I was just at the point of thinking I would have to take a tape measure to the runway myself, the Paros Airport Chief called me and he was courteous, straightforward, and extremely helpful, giving me a precise and comprehensive answer to what was not such a simple question after all! The article was finally written, and I came to think of the project and the article as symbolic of the general state of affairs in Greece at that time, that no-one seemed to trust anyone any more. I believe wholeheartedly that re-establishing trust is the prerequisite for any kind of change in this country and that the Greek citizens for the first time in decades have the sense that their elected officials actually care more about serving their country than they do about their own political careers.

You have watched the economic, social and humanitarian crisis in Greece since the beginning up to today. What do you think caused it and what are the consequences?
I believe the situation has multiple causes and multiple consequences, both within and outside of Greece. I do think that every one of us has to shoulder our own bit of responsibility and that the government has to do its part. I recently heard Prime Minister Tsipras speaking about the inertia of bureaucracy. Imagine how much energy is required to make changes to the inert behemoth of Greek bureaucracy! It’s obviously not going to happen overnight. So, be cheerful, dare to hope, and be part of the change you wish to see in the world.

Summer 2015