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Successful conclusion of the international economic history conference for the 90 years of the Bank of Greece

07/11/2018 - Press Releases

The international economic history conference “The birth of inter-war central banks: building a new monetary order”, organised by the Bank of Greece in Athens with the participation of fifteen prominent scholars from eleven different countries, as well as five Eurosystem central bank governors, has been successfully concluded. The conference, held on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the Bank’s start of operations, was dedicated to the establishment of central banks during the inter-war years, of which the Bank of Greece was one. The conference, which took place on Friday 2nd and Saturday 3rd of November, at the hotel “Grande Bretagne”, drew the attention of 250 participants, including several leading academics, bank executives and political figures.

Conference participants were welcomed by the Governor of the Bank of Greece, Yannis Stournaras, whose opening remarks chronicled the trials and tribulations the Greek central bank had to go through during its first years of operation, before gradually affirming its independence and establishing itself as one of the country’s primary pillars of economic stability. ”This was the very role it was called upon to confirm during the recent financial crisis, whilst maintaining its independence from political or business interference”, said the Governor, while also underlining the strong ties that now hold the Bank of Greece in the family of European central banks.

Foreign cooperation and the role of such international organisations, as the League of Nations and the Bank of International Settlements, was the focal point of the first session, which comprised the professor of international history at the University of Oxford, Patricia Clavin, the professor of economic history at the University of Rouen-Normandy, Olivier Feiertag, the professor in European studies at Princeton University, Harold James, and the head of the historical archive of the Bank of International Settlements (ΒIS), Piet Clement.

Barry Eichengreen, the distinguished professor of economics and political science at the University of California, Berkeley, delivered the conference’s keynote lecture and described the unprecedented challenges that inter-war years brought to central banks; the latter were called to serve multiple, often conflicting objectives and to reconcile – not always successfully – the priorities of their domestic economies with an awareness of the international repercussions of their decisions. The similar dilemmas that emerged after the global financial crisis of 2008-9, suggest that there is something to be learned from interwar policy choices and their implications.

The experience of three Central and Eastern European countries, specifically Austria, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, was the main focus of the second session, where Johann Kernbauer, lecturer of economic history at the Vienna University of Economics and Business, Györgi Péteri, professor of contemporary European History at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, and Jakub Kunert, chief archivist at the Czech National Bank Archive presented their research. Despite their different points of departure, all three speakers converged on how countries that emerged from the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire faced increasing difficulties implementing – and often ended up bypassing – the “rules of the game” of the inter-war gold-exchange standard, which they nevertheless regarded as necessary to stabilise their currency and obtain foreign credit.

The first day of the conference culminated in a panel discussion between central bank governors, devoted to monetary policy and bank supervision in Europe after the last financial and sovereign debt crisis. Five governors from Eurosystem central banks took part in the discussion: Ewald Nowotny (Austria), Olli Rehn (Finland), Jan Smets (Belgium), Mario Vella (Malta) and Yannis Stournaras (Greece). In their conversation, the governors did not only refer to the recent crisis and the reaction of monetary and supervisory authorities, but also to the many steps that have been taken to shield the eurozone economies from future crises and challenges. “He who doesn’t remember the past, is condemned to live it again”, said the Greek governor, adding that “being able to learn from the mistakes of the past is not enough. We also need vision, so that we won’t do the same mistakes again. At the same time, it is our duty to strengthen the safety net and our readiness to meet with any possibility”. The central governors agreed that many measures have already been taken in this direction over the past few years; at the same time, the European Central Bank remains vigilant so as to guarantee the eurozone’s monetary and financial stability.

The story of the Bank of Greece and its establishment opened the second day of the conference, on Saturday, November 3rd. The professor of economic history at the University of Athens, Kostas Kostis, offered a lively narrative of the political and economic challenges surrounding the Bank’s birth, in 1928, emphasising the cautiousness with which the new institution was initially received in banking and political circles. The Greek experience was flanked by those of Bulgaria, as presented by the associate professor and permanent fellow of the Centre for Advanced Studies, in Sofia, Roumen Avramov, and Turkey, presented by the professor of economics and economic history of the Boğaziçi University, Şevket Pamuk. Both also discussed the implications of the 1929 crisis for the agrarian economies of South-Eastern Europe, as well as the subsequent degree of state involvement in monetary policy.

Reaching beyond Europe, where most of the historical discourse on inter-war monetary developments remains focused, the last session of the conference was devoted to the experience in Latin America, as well as New Zealand, Australia, Canada, South Africa and India. Some of the newly established central banks in those countries were, as in the Greek case, products of an agreement aimed at stabilising the currency and restoring access to international capital markets. Elsewhere, especially in British colonies and dominions, the new central banks were originally established to facilitate the conduct of British monetary policy; it was thus inevitable that they would, sooner or later, find themselves at odds with London. The speakers of this panel were Juan Flores Zendejas, associate professor at the University of Geneva, John Singleton, professor of economic and business history at Sheffield Hallam University, and Gopalan Balachandran, professor of international history and politics at Geneva’s Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies. Whilst new central banks were modelled on the standards championed by the Bank of England, the Fed and the League of Nations, many doubted the applicability of these standards in countries where different economic and financial conditions prevailed.

• For more information on the conference, please refer to the Bank of Greece website or call 210 3202890 and 210 3203558 or send an email to conference2018@bankofgreece.gr.


Additional material:

 Photo 1. General view

 Photo 2. Bank of Greece Governor Yannis Stournaras

 Photo 3. From left: Bank of Greece Governor Yannis Stournaras, National Bank of Belgium Governor Jan Smets and former Prime Minister and Honorary Governor of the Bank of Greece Loucas Papademos

 Photo 4. From left: Governors Jan Smets (Belgium), Olli Rehn (Finland), Yannis Stournaras (Greece), Ewald Nowotny (Austria ), Mario Vella (Malta)

 Photo 5. Keynote speaker Barry Eichengreen

 Photo 6. From left: Piet Clement, Harold James, Eleni Louri - Dendrinou (former Deputy Governor of the Bank of Greece), Patricia Clavin, Olivier Feiertag

 Photo 7. From left: Györgi Péteri, Heather Gibson, Jakub Kunert, Johann Kernbauer

 Photo 8. From left:  Şevket Pamuk, Roumen Avramov, Dimitris MalliaropulosΚώστας Κωστής 

 Photo 9. From left: Gopalan Balachandran, John Singleton, Andreas Kakridis, Juan Flores Zendejas, Adriana Calcagno


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