It is an unfortunate reality that some of the world's foremost thinkers are often those who remain outside the limelight. One such thinker is Professor Agni Vlavianos-Arvanitis, the president and founder of the Biopolitics International Organization (B.I.O.), based in Athens. Educated in the United States, Vlavianos-Arvanitis later returned to Greece and founded B.I.O. in 1985. Among her accolades is a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995 and several times thereafter. In 1992, her organization also proposed the revival of the ancient tradition of the Olympic ceasefire, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly.
Biopolitics is a field which likely is unfamiliar to many. As Vlavianos-Arvanitis explained, "biopolitics is a word that is meant to give optimism and strength, because it includes bios -- life." The aim of biopolitics is to "make people more aware of the fragile gift of bios," while also focusing on policymaking that will prioritize the importance of preserving life and the environment. Within this framework, international cooperation is emphasized. According to Vlavianos-Arvanitis, "B.I.O. wishes to stress international cooperation on the environment, new educational systems, new diplomacy, new legislation, an international court for the environment, and an [electronic] bank of ideas." Other goals of the B.I.O. include a global referendum for citizens of the planet to affirm their willingness to safeguard the environment, and the establishment of a "green salary," that would be offered instead of unemployment benefits, to those who make voluntary contributions towards environmental protection.
Humanity, according to Vlavianos-Arvanitis, is facing multiple crises: environmental, economic, but mainly, a crisis in ethics and leadership. "Humanity is lacking enlightened leadership," says Vlavianos-Arvanitis, adding that "we are facing a major crisis... where enlightened leaders have to come in, and this is climate change." Instead of enlightened leadership, however, Vlavianos-Arvanitis argues that global society has prioritized superficial matters, such as overconsumption, to the detriment of more serious issues; a mindset which "leads us nowhere."
"Time is of essence," argues Vlavianos-Arvanitis. "Every second that is lost is lost time, because some form of life disappears forever."
Addressing the serious issues facing humanity poses a fresh challenge: how to solve these problems. The Biopolitics International Organization proposes solutions which combine sensitivity for the fragility of life with international cooperation and an emphasis on education, culture, and tradition. This is epitomized through the Youth Olympiad organized by the B.I.O. Held annually in Saint Petersburg, the Youth Olympiad brings together over 1,000 children in a competition focusing on artistic and scientific work. Presently, the 17th annual Olympiad is underway, which will culminate in a final awards ceremony at the prestigious Imperial Academy of Sciences.
"This is a model that we want to build in every country, said Vlavianos-Arvanitis of these Olympiads. "The new society requires vision, requires cooperation, and the participation of every citizen in the world, and this is related to Olympic ideas." While the Olympic Games are typically associated with athletic achievement, Vlavianos-Arvanitis argues that the Olympic ideal can encompass much more.
"Athlos in Greek means achievement, and achievement cannot be limited only to bodily achievements. Athletics today has limited the vision only to the body, and this is correct, but it is a poor interpretation, because our time indicates that we need to involve every profession." Through the inclusion of all professions, even those that are considered unglamorous, Vlavianos-Arvanitis believes that there will be additional motivation for humans to think of their responsibility to each other and the planet.
Having highlighted one of the major crises facing humanity as one of education, Vlavianos-Arvanitis has called for new educational models which will address the future sustainability of life. One step that the B.I.O. has taken in this direction is the establishment, in 1991, of the International University of the Bio-Environment. The university offers free online courses in such topics as bioarchitecture, and cities of the future. Last year, over 5,000 students enrolled.
In her discussion of the multiple crises facing the world, Vlavianos-Arvanitis did not neglect to leave out the economic crisis gripping Greece, which she believes was avoidable.: "It could have been avoided in a day, if we were to think hard, and if we were not to speak only of catastrophes and disasters and interest rates, which makes great profits for some centers." Vlavianos-Arvanitis stated her belief that Greece could become a world leader in environmental stewardship, and that this would provide a way forward for the country, through the creation of new opportunities for youth employment and tourism.
"Greece has inspired the Olympics, and has always been a source of light," stated Vlavianos-Arvanitis. "Greece could be the meeting place for bio-assessment of technological progress." Another of Vlavianos-Arvanitis' visions calls for Olympiads to be held in Greece, where the youth of the world would participate in a series of environmental projects, such as tree-planting, while also absorbing the country's history and natural beauty. A further proposal, the "pathway of Zeus" initiative, would attract tourism to Greece by allowing tourists to visit the country and rediscover mythology and the ancient lands which inspired it. This would serve as an inspiration for people all around the world, while attracting large numbers of tourists to Greece, helping the economy and promoting the spread of Ancient Hellenic ideals.
Notably, at a time where Greece is facing a tremendous "brain drain," with many educated young people departing the country, B.I.O. continues to be headquartered in Athens, and provides volunteer and employment opportunities to young people.
Perhaps more than anything else, the work of the B.I.O. can be summed up in one word: hope. "We have to be born optimists, and we should not allow all these negative messages that are given to us through the media to make us believe that life is negative," argued Vlavianos-Arvanitis. "Life is beautiful, and we possess this gift. Biopolitics belongs to all of you. How long can I be around? If people understand it, if they value life, if they value bios and all of these ideas, they will become a reality."
The podcast of the Dialogos Radio interview with Agni Vlavianos-Arvanitis can be heard here.