Frequently Asked Questions
Based on our interview with The Greek Star, July 2013.
What is Omikron Project? What does it do?
Omikron Project is a bunch of girls and guys in Greece trying to address the country’s international image problems, to highlight the untold stories about Greece using creative online content. We’re a grassroots project made up of volunteers; there’s no company behind us, and we don’t have any ulterior motives, economic or otherwise. Our budget is nonexistent and anyone who supports our cause can join – we’re an open group.
How did the idea for Omikron Project first come about?
In March 2012 some friends were sitting in a cafe around the corner from Syntagma Square in Athens, which is often described as the epicentre of violent protest in Greece. We were talking about the awful headlines that were being attributed to Greece, and how they were quite detached from reality. The conversation developed, and we decided to actually do something about this injustice – we continued meeting, inviting people we knew to collaborate with us. That’s how Omikron Project was born.
Who comprises Omikron Project? What are their backgrounds?
We’re about 40 people in total, with core group of 8 or so. Other people drift in and out, with each person bringing with them various levels of commitment or activity – as it usual with a grassroots group.
A few of us have creative backgrounds, but most of us don’t. We find you don’t need creatives in order to come up with some really good ideas. So we’re not a bunch of advertising people or anything like that; we’re very diverse.
In fact, we disagree politically quite often during our meetings. But we all come together to support Omikron Project’s mission, which is above and beyond political differences.
What’s the problem that Omikron Project is responding to?
Well, firstly we’re not sugar-coating anything. Greece today is in the middle of a very serious, very damaging economic and social crisis.
But at the same time, the Greek people are suffering from an international image crisis, which is rarely discussed. The Greek crisis has taken sensationalism to a new level. Greece is often portrayed internationally as a failed state, or a poverty pit, or a 24/7 war zone. This in turn has a devastating economic and psychological impact on ordinary Greeks (take tourism and the perception of Greek expats, among other issues).
For example, when you see in international media images of a violent demonstration in Athens, you rarely learn about the hours of peaceful protest that preceded it. If you read about people here in desperate conditions, you’re not given the context to understand how common those terrible problems really are across Greece today, or in comparison with other countries.
Essentially, the issue is this: the images of poverty and violence that characterise coverage of the Greek crisis are real, but how representative are they? How many other stories of creativity in the crisis, or resilience, go untold? This is the debate people across the world need to start having.
Now, people here sometimes say “we don’t need to work on Greece’s image, we need to address the reality and then the image crisis will, in turn, be resolved”. This is a common misconception whenever anyone discusses Greece’s PR problems. We’re not proposing giving Greece a ‘makeover’ instead of real reform – not at all. The country does need reform, badly, but it also needs this damaging image crisis to be managed in parallel.
And again, we’re not minimising the problems that exist here. It’s vital that the truth of what happening in Greece does get out. But the stories should be told carefully, correct and in context, for the reasons we outlined.
What do you think of the efforts of the Greek state to manage Greece’s image crisis? What about the recently established ‘task-force’?
As far as we’re aware, up to now there has been no crisis management undertaken by the Greek state to try and mitigate the damage created by all the negative PR about Greece. On the contrary, the actions of the Greek state usually work precisely against that goal: every day in the headlines there’s another PR disaster for Greece. And that’s precisely the reason why grassroots groups here needed to take action: because the government wasn’t doing it for them.
Now, with the new ‘task force for Greece’, it’s great to see the state has finally recognised the problem. We’ll have to wait and see the results. But for three and a half years they did nothing, which has allowed misleading narratives and stereotypes to harden. So there’s even more work to do, unfortunately.
Why do you believe that international media has taken this position on Greece?
Sensationalism plays a large part: it’s easy to sell a story of angry Greeks burning down their country because they don’t want to be punished for living beyond their means, or to say the Greeks were lazy and corrupt and “that’s why they’re suffering today” or “that’s why this person is digging in the garbage to eat”. It’s much harder for media to do the research and take the time to explain the nuance, to show the wider picture, and provide the context for what’s really happening here.
International journalists regularly come to Greece for a few days and ask “take me to see poverty” or “give me a story of someone who’s recently unemployed or is thinking of leaving”, etc. The sources for their stories are often chosen based on the narrative, rather than a narrative emerging from what sources report is happening.
Of course, it’s unfair to solely blame the media. The media is a business, and its job is to publish stories and push information around that sells. Part of the blame also resides in people who consume information this way; the readers and viewers. They want their stories in bite-sized chunks, easy to understand and devoid of context, so they can believe they’re being properly informed with minimal effort.
A third factor is that people here in Greece often think they’re actually doing their country a favour by highlighting only the very worst of what’s happening in the country. There’s a fine line between showing the reality of what’s happening and feeding the crisis pornography machine; when these stories – true as they sadly are – become the default picture, something’s very wrong.
So, this is basically the kind of machine that we’re wrestling against as Omikron Project.
How is Omikron Project promoting its message?
Since we have no budget, we depend largely on social media to spread our message – buying ads and airtime is beyond our means.
We’re not trying to convince anyone of a particular point of view; we believe in simply showing the facts and letting people make up their own minds. Sensationalism leaves space for facts, and we’re trying to fill that space in a creative, fun and eye-catching way. We’d like to think these things contribute to helping our message to get around more.
What productions have you made so far?
Well, so far we’ve produced two animated videos about a regular Greek guy called Alex. The world is saying all these horrible things about him: that’s he’s lazy, corrupt, violent, a vandal, a cheat, and so on. Alex is a metaphor for the Greek people. In the first episode, which we put out in November 2012, we introduced the character and defined the problem. The second episode tried to deconstruct the stereotype of the ‘lazy Greek’, using the EU’s own statistics.
These videos both went viral, which is great. In future Alex episodes, we’re going to go further to see how much truth there really is behind these narratives.
We also publish online ‘ads’ to get to the heart of the issue, to explain that there’s an untold dimension to the stories that are circulated about Greece. The ads are basically an image that repeats the same photo on the left and the right, but each side has a different tagline that changes how you see the photo. Everything we do is based on solid data sources, and in the ads we quote all the sources we use. We tackle various issues from defence spending to police brutality to media freedom. It’s a creative way to tell a story quite quickly, and to get people to question what they’re reading – because most of these facts are not widely discussed at all.
Most recently, we’re making a short crowdsourced film called “Speak Up”. We’re asking Greeks to send us little video clips of themselves saying what they really think of today’s Greece, and then we’re going to try to make something beautiful and interesting out of it. The goal is for the world to get the honest views of Greeks, unfiltered and direct from the people themselves.
What about your grassroots map for Greece?
We’d been saying for a long time that there was a lot of grassroots activity in this country; people stepping in where the system is failing to provide healthcare, education, alternative media, etc. But we needed data, not speculation, so we spent two months researching all these groups and came up with our grassroots map, which we published in May 2013.
This production had two goals: We wanted to shatter the stereotype that Greeks are victims, sitting idle and helpless, watching events in their country unfold. And we wanted to provide a resource for international media and experts to learn about these groups, contact them and interview them, to correct the imbalanced narrative in the long term and give them much-needed exposure.
We’re really amazed and encouraged by the way that everyone here seems to be involved in something, outside their work hours, that’s for a cause they believe in. Greeks are very creative and very politically aware. And they also have a base of very active social media users. And when you combine all these factors, the potential to change things here via grassroots movements is enormous.
One of the ‘problematic’ characteristics attributed to Greeks is an inability or an unwillingness to work together with others. Is this changing?
We think so, although the problem is more complex than “people don’t want to work together” – people here are very happy to work together so long as they agree on the goal. What often happens is that people from different political persuasions fail to agree; they don’t want to work together because they don’t see eye-to-eye on the politics of it.
What people are realising though, is that there are plenty of issues that they can find common ground on. Omikron Project is just one example.
Granted, there’s still a lot of cynicism here in Greece. There’s a lot of paranoia about the ‘hidden hand’ behind everything. As Omikron Project we’ve had many questions about our agenda, our motivations, what company is behind us, what foreign power is funding us… There are still those here that are so cynical they can’t believe that people could just do something together because they want to take action.
Yet people are starting to realize that this paranoia works against them, that it stops them collaborating - which, if there is a hidden hand, would be precisely what that hidden hand would want!
What would you say the response has been like to Omikron Project’s efforts so far, both within Greece and throughout the international community?
Nearly a quarter of a million people have seen our videos so far, which is great, and several of our ads have gone viral. The grassroots map was very well received too. We’ve had a lot support; we’ve received hundreds of emails from people across the world saying “how can we help?”… from Greeks but also non-Greeks who are fed up with how Greece is being portrayed and want to do something, anything.
Of course there have been the usual haters who disagree with what we’re doing, which is fine. And again, the more cynical, paranoid people who think this is all part of some big conspiracy. But generally the reception has been fantastically positive and we’re open to having more people working with us on more projects, on more productions.
What are Omikron Project’s future plans?
We’re going to continue to chip away at the hardened narratives about Greece, to try and get the debate started and get people to question what they’re hearing.
More specifically, we’re going to continue our episodes of Alex. We’ll release our Speak Up film. And we’ll continue with our ads and keep updating our grassroots map to make sure the data is as fresh and accurate as possible.
We’ve got lots and lots of ideas. We just need to execute them, to find the capacity and the time to make it all happen, because we’re just a volunteer project. But we feel really optimistic about the future and look forward to creating stuff and putting it out!