Arriving at each new city, the traveler finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places.
― Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
Spyros grew up in Athens, Greece in the midst of a military dictatorship, initially oblivious to it, but increasingly aware of the symbolic and physical violence inherent in the sanitized and sterile dystopia a handful of arrogant, mediocre army officers had been trying to impose on a society that was still trying to recover from a bitter civil war. He grew up in a house full of books, failed to learn to play the piano but became fluent in French and English fairly early on. With hindsight, he would describe his schooling as a mixed bag of tedious reproduction of clichés and kitsch about the nation, religion and patriarchy with instances of enlightened immersion to classics and humanities (he still remembers his ‘unconventional’ junior high school religious studies teacher teaching Fromm, Krishnamurti and Marcuse instead of the approved curriculum to a class of bewildered teenagers who did not recognize her passion and commitment). During these years, he developed an aversion to uniforms, military parades and to the tune of military marches and a liking for rock music * that had acquired the aura of the forbidden fruit in a country that sought to contain the whirlwind of change.
After finishing his secondary education, (and, by the way, developing more diversified musical tastes) he planned to study economics (for no obvious or logical reason other than the total lack of career counselling) but, by sheer luck, the otherwise rigid and bureaucratic Greek university admission system landed him at Panteion University where he studied politics and international studies (alongside a generous dose of law and economics) under the guidance of some of the most enthusiastic and innovative university teachers in Greece at the time. As Greece was undergoing a period of political transition, and what was later described in the literature as Europeanization and, while it experienced phenomena widely described as populism and clientelism, it felt like living in what would be the closest thing to a political scientist’s lab.
In 1985, after graduating (alas, second in his class), he attended a political sociology graduate seminar at Panteion University (the closest thing to postgraduate studies in politics in Greece at the time) and, having obtained a NATO-funded postgraduate fellowship, he enrolled at the department of sociology and social anthropology of the University of Kent at Canterbury where he studied political sociology. His doctoral research project focused on populism from a social movement perspective. Over the next few years, like a child in a candy shop, he could not resist the lure of critical theory (of all hues and flavours) and of psychoanalytical studies (and this does not mean only Lacan!) alongside more mainstream political and social theory. In that period he also started teaching sociology and being interested in the study of nationalism, postcommunist politics and the disintegration of Yugoslavia. He also became an avid cook and baker and wore out four bicycles cycling around Kent and Sussex (ok, he smashed one on a stone fence inconveniently located in the middle of his route coming down Tyler Hill), protested against a lot of things including an unpalatable government, the Gulf War and the atrocious food served in Rutherford College and ‘interrailed’ a lot throughout Europe until he found himself without a passport as he had to suffer the consequences of not doing his military service back in Greece – this, last, experience made him see airports and immigration officers in a totally different light, but that is another story…
In 1994, he joined the University of Portsmouth as a Research Fellow to work on a project on nationalism in Europe, and a few years later, after a lot of thought and soul searching, he temporarily returned to Greece to do his military service. His “tour of duty” started at a training camp in Crete informally designated as a camp for Greeks from “abroad”, including conscripts that had failed to report for duty in time and “returnees” (mainly Greeks from the former Soviet Union). As he started flirting with the idea of conducting ethnographic research in his non-existent spare time, he was transferred to a camp buried in snow at the northernmost point of Greece overlooking Bulgaria and Turkey, where, the only distraction in the frozen winter nights was music from Edirne’s radio stations just on the other side of the border.
Although one could assume that his interest in Turkey was related to that garrison posting, the fact is that this had its origins in the early eighties when he travelled throughout the country in the immediate aftermath of the brutal coup d’état headed by Kenan Evren and took Turkish studies as part of his first degree.
He returned to Portsmouth as a Senior Research Fellow and, later, Senior Lecturer in international politics. He worked with colleagues to set up the Centre for European Studies Research (CESR) that soon became one of the centres of excellence in European and international studies in Britain. In 2000, he moved to Kingston University as a Senior Research Fellow where he worked to launch Kingston’s MSc in International Conflict which he also directed. He also worked to bring to Kingston the Vane Inanovic library with its unique collection of rare books and correspondence related to former Yugoslavia and, together with a handful of colleagues, established the Helen Bamber Centre for the Study of Rights, Conflict and Mass Violence. It was at that time that he embarked on an ambitious research project on European Muslim identities that involved fieldwork in five European countries. In the midst of this hectic period his partner and he were joined by their son and, a couple of years later, their daughter.
After leaving Kingston, he took a visiting research fellowship at SEESOX, St Antony’s College, at the University of Oxford where he was part of a team working on a project on identities in Southeast Europe, while, as of 2012, he has been teaching and conducting research at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies of Lund University (and briefly at the Middle Eastern Studies programme of the Dept of Languages and Literature there).
Spyros has also been a visiting professor on conflict analysis and on nationalism and human rights at the University of Siena in Italy (MA in Human Rights and Humanitarian Action), on nationalism and multiculturalism at Tartu University in Estonia and a visiting lecturer on Southeastern European Studies at Istanbul Bilgi University in Turkey.
His research focuses on
- nationalism, inter-ethnic relations and ethnic conflict in southeastern Europe but also in a comparative context,
- Muslim communities and identities in europe
- transnational Muslim politics and networks
- the politics of populism (including islamist and neo-populist far right movements).
He has also been conducting research on divided societies and the different types of institutional architecture that have developed in response to societal fissures and conflict and he has been working on a project entitled Rethinking sovereignty which explores different ways of tackling the challenges of coexistence in areas where territory or resources are contested by different communities.
Spyros has been providing advice, consultancy and training services to NGOs, community organizations and local authorities.
He is member of the advisory board of Transconflict, a conflict transformation NGO. He has been chair of the Association for the Study of South Europe and the Balkans, member of the editorial boards of the Journal of Area Studies, Mediterranean Politics and the Journal of Southern Europe and the Balkans and is editor of the Journal of Contemporary European Studies.
He is currently editing a book series on Islam and Nationalism (with Umut Özkırımlı) for Palgrave Macmillan.
Nation and Identity in Contemporary Europe, London: Routledge (with B. Jenkins – 1996)
Tormented by History: Nationalism in Greece and Turkey, London: Hurst and New York: Columbia University Press (with Umut Özkırımlı- 2008)
translated in Greek as Το βάσανο της Ιστορίας, Athens: Καστανιώτης (2008) and
in Turkish as Tarihin Cenderesinde: Türk ve Yunan Milliyetçiliği, Istanbul: Istanbul Bilgi University Press (2013)
Islam in Europe: Public Spaces and Civic Networks, (with Roza Tsagarousianou – Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan- 2013)
* The Rolling Stones (which he doesn’t like that much) were the last international rock band that performed in Greece for over a decade just a few days before the colonels’ tanks took to the streets in April 1967 (he was just a toddler then). It was not until March 1980 when The Police (the band) reintroduced Athens into the international gig map (and, sadly, he has no photograph from their unforgettable performance).