The life of Greek Ambassador to Indonesia and prolific writer Georgios Veis revolves around making connections between two countries — Indonesia and Greece — and two passions: diplomacy and literature.
In addition to his 30-year career in diplomacy, Veis is also a reputable Greek writer who has written 24 books, including 11 collections of poems that have been translated into nine languages.
Veis is the only Greek writer to have won twice the country’s most distinguished literary honor, the State Literary Award, for his travel memoirs Asia, Asia and From Tokyo to Khartoum.
However, the 55-year-old diplomat explains that his love for literature began with poetry, a calling he could not ignore.
“The poems are given, meaning that the poems come to you. You cannot run after them or chase them,” Veis told The Jakarta Post recently, quoting a Greek ambassador, George Seferis, a Nobel Laureate in literature.
Veis said he fell in love with poetry while he was still in elementary school.
“I was very lucky because both my father and my teacher supported me. That was very important,” said Veis, who published one of his early poems in a prominent literature magazine in Greece when he was only 15.
The admirer of ancient Greek poet Homer had never thought of becoming a full time poet, despite his strong passion for literature and bright prospects of becoming a writer.
“Nobody pays poets. You have to find a job. Diplomacy is my job. Poetry is not a job. Poetry is a mission to keep alive the contact of this visible world with the other and the so-called invisible.”
Veis added that being a diplomat had always been his calling, particularly with his strong background in culture and literature.
Veis knew he wanted to be a diplomat when he was only 18 years old after observing his godfather, who worked as a diplomat, as a living role model. He joined Athens Law School in order to pursue his dream.
“I tried diplomacy because I felt I was good for that. It was more challenging to represent Greece, as a nation, than to act on behalf of a person or a company as a lawyer,” said the gentleman who attended postgraduate courses in international relations at Columbia University in New York.
He also feels his interest in culture and literature are great assets for fostering diplomatic processes between Greece and other countries.
“The culture field is more open; ready to welcome you. There are no barriers,” said the man who has represented Greece in a number of countries, including the US, Germany, Australia, Cameroon and Sudan.
Therefore Veis doesn’t see any overlap between his profession as a diplomat and his passion for literature. Veis, who claims to be a fanatical love poet, says he discovered many similarities between the two worlds, mentioning both as the “arts of harmony”.
“Poetry is a messenger, or a diplomat who wants to transfer ideas from the world of poetry to the world of every day life,” Veis explained.
On the other hand, Veis, who was set to publish his latest travel book Manhattan and Bangkok in April, also tries to adopt the practical mindset of diplomacy in his poems.
“Poems should be productive, to give a clear message, not to have holes for wrong interpretation. The poems must be concrete and harmonious.”
As the Greek ambassador to Indonesia, it is incredible Veis still has the time to write.
But the ambassador, who also enjoys swimming and playing chess, has managed to prove otherwise.
He successfully juggles his roles as an ambassador and a productive writer.
“I learned from my mother that there is no ‘I cannot’, but there is only ‘I don’t want’. So time for writing always exists for me.”
After his success bridging the two worlds of diplomacy and literature, Veis is now facing the same challenge of trying to connect two places in the world that he loves — Indonesia and Greece.
Indonesia is like a second home for Veis. His strong bond with the country began in 1995 when he started visiting every year for holidays.
Indonesia has fascinated Veis with its rich “cultural background, social mixture and beautiful arrangement of coexistence of so many thousands of islands.”
His love of Indonesia grew even stronger when he found many similarities between this country and his home country, especially in terms of language.
“So many words remind me every moment of Greece, you cannot count them. I found in Sumatra, in a door of a very small shop, a word platonic,” recalled the dignitary who was appointed as the Greek ambassador to Indonesia last July.
Indonesia is now more than a tourist destination for Veis, who married an Indonesian in 2004. The archipelago is now his work place and also his new love.
Proof of his love for the country comes across his literary works about Indonesia, which he hopes can connect people from his home country to Indonesians.
As if supporting his life principle of dualism, Veis plans to spend his old age in his two favorite places on earth: Greece and Indonesia.
“I am going to have two lives — one for Bali and one for Kallithea,” he says, referring to his hometown in Athens.