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The hopeful seeds, story of Kostantina and other Greek students in Italy November 7, 2014

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It is an unexpected rainy day here in Thessaloniki and the city is getting ready to host the great national event of the “To Oxi day” that commemorates the rejection by Metaxtas government of the ultimatum made by the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini on the 28 of October 1940, few hours before the starting of the Italian military occupation in Greece.

After the second world war the re-building of relations between Italy and Greece started formally by the signing of Paris Peace Treaties that assigned Italy, the invader country, to pay her duties towards Greece through the ceding of the Dodecanese Islands and $105000000 war reparations. But this is the well-known side of the story. The hidden one tells about a treaty signed in 1954, the Cooperation agreement, that had the aim to facilitate: “the cooperation and the exchanges, the most complete entente on the intellectual, artistic, scientific field, and the mutual understanding for what concerned their respective institutions and social life”.

Briefly, inside this treaty was given the possibility to foreign students of Greece and Italy to join the educational system of the other country with several benefits as: the reduction of the registration fees if these were higher in the other country (article 3) and the provisions of subsidies and scholarships to enable students and holders of degrees (article 5).

This the reason why I am going to meet Kostantina, named Dina, a woman born and raised in Thessaloniki, and ask her about her studying experience in Italy when the Erasmus project didn’t exist.

I arrived in Padova in 1986 for studying Psychology and Pedagogy at the University” – says Dina – “it was a beautiful city in which I have enjoyed a great time meeting people coming from all over the world”. I am quite surprised by her perfect Italian influenced by northen-Italy accent. I wonder if she learned the language on the ground or if she studied it somewhere, when I ask her she replies: “thanking to the historical heritage we have a lot of places in Greece where old people still know Italian, especially on the islands; I took Italian lessons at the Italian Cultural Institute before leaving for Italy and when I arrived in Padova I already spoke a bit of Italian”.

According to the study “Una diaspora adriatica” made by the researcher Kostis Kornetis, the main reason that led Greek students to move to Italy was: the difficulty that a huge number of students met trying to enter in the universities of Athens and Thessaloniki because of limited number that regarded some faculties, especially Medicine, Engineering, and Architecture. On the second field there was an historical and cultural bond that the memory of the Italian occupation during WWII didn’t affect. Thirdly the existence of the Cooperation agreement.

For Dina it was the cultural bond that pushed her to come to Italy: “ besides the occupation we have kept a good memory of the Italians, my father shared the jail experience with an Italian” – she tells me- “ I have chosen to go to Italy because of our common cultural heritage: the era of Magna Grecia, Byzantium empire, our people have a lot of ties”. While she is talking I start wondering how it could have been, the first impact, as student in a foreign city. I ask her if she knew the cooperation agreement and his benefits: “I was the first on winning the scholarship, I lived in the “Casa dello studente”, the college of the University, and when I told this to my Greek friends they remained astonished, they believed that those of benefits were reserved to the Italians”.

On the contrary, the upper-class young Greek students usually moved to Northern-Europe (Germany, France, UK), while the middle and lower class young Greek students decided to come to Italy. During the 1960′s and the 1970′s, in the face of political and social tensions that both countries were facing, Greek students became politicized and started taking part to political movements inside the Italian student movement and, especially between the 1967 and 1973, creating Greek pressure groups against the military government.

In those years various newspapers were born, for example “Grecia libera” or “Eleftheri Ellada”, they had the aim to sensitize public opinion about the political situation in Greece. “I remember when we occupied our faculty in Padova, for some of us it was a moment that recalled the experience at the Polytechnic of Athens in 1973”, says Dina with a smile on her face that betrays the memory of funny moments.

According to Kornetis’s study until the collapse of the Greek military government, the Italian society was empathic to the claims of the Greek protest movements: the Italian intellectual, Oriana Fallaci, was engaged with the Greek poet and activist Alexandros Panagulis until his murder in 1976 and a Greek actress that in those years was working in Italy, Irene Papas, became the voice of the Greek movement against the military government. Furthermore, during the 1970′s Greek became the second main language inside Italian universities: the units of Greek students passed from 3.500 units of 1957 to 4.971 in 1970 and reached the maximum level in 1977: 16.042 units.

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a frame of the graphic novel “Le straordinarie avventure di Penthotal” (1977) . It is visible the written “Οι Ελλενες δημοκρατικοι”, the writer decided to include this frame of the social life because in those years at Bologna’s University there was a great Greek community joining politic and social claims. © “Le Staordinarie Avventure di Penthothal” Andrea Pazienza, Fandango Libri 2010.

At the end of the decade things changed, the political situation in Italy was getting harder with the break out of terrorism, Greek communities started to close in themselves and, slowly, the units of Greek students decreased, in the 1980′s the number soared the 8000 units.

The main reason was the approval of a law in 1982 by Italian government that introduced for first time quotas about foreign students in Italian universities, beside this, the new generations of Greek students preferred to move to Eastern-Europe universities or remained in Greece joining a more favourable context pushed by the Dracma devaluation and the opening of new universities.

The entry of a women and her child into the shop stops our conversation. Dina goes to listen their requests and I watch her moving between the desk and talking in Greek. After few minutes she comes back and I ask her about her life in Italy, she replies me that she stayed ten years in Veneto (italian region, edit), working inside disease communities and as interpreter for institutional events. In 1997 she accompanied the Patriarch of Thessaloniki in a meeting with the Bishop of Venice during the ceremonies for Thessaloniki Capital of Culture.

I ask her if she has still got some ties with Italy, she says: “I go back to Italy, when I want to visit friends,the “mamma” of my friends, and when I have to follow cultural exchanges”. After she returned in Thessaloniki, Dina started to teach Italian through private lessons: “some students want just to learn the language, others are looking for doing the Erasmus project in Italy”, she says.

Two more clients enter the shop and Dina leaves to assist them. I have to go and search for my umbrella because outside is still raining. I thank her for her kindness and for the pleasant chat. I start walking to the bus station thinking about the great circle of life where some things may repeat themselves despite the changes and how, from bad situations, can born hopeful seeds.

Michela Sartini

Armenian community of Thessaloniki October 31, 2014

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The Armenian diaspora started many and many years ago. From the Antiquity Armenian people emigrated abroad but their emigration grew in size at the end of the 19th century from the Ottoman Empire and Russia Empire. Right now the Armenian population around the world is estimated around 10 million.

If we talk about Armenian community in Greece in 1890 there was a small community of Armenians in Athens and in Piraeus. They were about 150 people which turned into 600 after the incorporation of Thessaloniki and some cities of Macedonia after the Balkan Wars.

After the Hamidian massacres some Armenians escaped and they arrived at the port of Piraeus. They were more than 1,000  but, after the genocidal campaign of the Ottoman Empire against the Armenians and Greeks, Greece welcomed about 80,000 Armenians. The refugees mostly came from Cilicia, Smyrna, Ionia, Constantinople and other regions of Asia Minor. The Greco-Armenians were very active in art and commerce. A lot of Armenians came to Greece also to build the railway from Istanbul to Thessaloniki and after the completion they stayed in the area.

cimiteroarmeno

Armenian Cemetery

About Thessaloniki the first stable settlement of Armenians in Thessaloniki was in March of 1881. They started celebrate their Masses in the Greek Orthodox churches. Once the community grew and became stable and stronger, they raised money to buy land so that they could build their own church. They also received help from others parish and contributions from other Armenian communities abroad. This is attested to by the inscription (in Armenian) which is set into the building above the door: “This Church was erected in the name of the Holy Virgin with the support of the community in Thessaloniki on the 16th of November of the Year of Our Lord 1903 and by the Armenian calendar 1352”. The church was designed by a very important italian architect, Vitaliano Poselli, who was one of the major figure in the architectural history of the city. The Armenian Father Michael Hovannesian also started to keep registers of baptisms, marriages and deaths, very important archives of the community. They are still in existence. In1887-1888 the community also builded its own cemetery, now close to the “Aghios Dimitrios” Hospital. In 1887 the Armenian priest also started to teach to the armenian children and in 1907 , next to the church was founded the first Armenian school. In 1896 in Thessaloniki there were around 320 Armenians and the population remained stable until after World War I, when it doubled to 500-600. During the initial phases of the community’s history the limited number of Armenian and its social composition permitted it to be not associated with the activities of the Armenian patriotic organizations and the revolutionary parties during the decades of the 1880s and 1890s. For this reason the Armenians of Thessaloniki escaped, in 1894-96, the terrible experiences of their brothers in Constantinople, Trebizond and in other cities and areas of the Ottoman Empire.

From 1910 to 1912 the community created  different institutions, one for example to relieve the orphans and other victims of the Cilician tragedy and another one to take care of Armenian prisoners in the First Balkan War. In the summer of 1915, with the news still branded on their minds of the systematic genocide practised in Ottoman Turkey the community of Thessaloniki organized many manifestations.

The biggest community’s growth occurred during the years 1920-1923, after the I World War, and the number of Armenians reach 10,000 in 1923.Thousands of Armenian refugees came from Eastern Thrace and in Asia Minor and a new phase began, marked by significant changes in its size and social character.The Armenians were determined to maintain their identities and they weren’t interested about greek citizenship and the majority of the population remained under the poverty line.  Starting in the autumn of 1924 and over the next three years more than 3,000 Armenians, or one in three of the total 1923 population, left the city. By 1929 the community numbered barely 6,500.

During the summer of 1946  began a real exodus of Armenian fellow citizens. The main destination was the Soviet Union, that invited armenian emigrants to settle in Armenia. By November 16, 1947, some 4,600 Armenian residents of Thessaloniki had left the city. A goodly number of Armenians also left Thessaloniki in the next five years. They went to Western Europe or Latin America. In 1953 the population was around 1100 people and the families were more or less 450.  This number has remained fairly stable and the current Armenian population of the city is about 1,200 but the community organize many cultural and political activities, especially after the creation in 1987 of the “Armenian Cultural Centre”.

Visual narrative October 21, 2014

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A Tuesday morning of October was the day which I chose to observe from the camera one of my favorites roads. The name of the street is Leoforos Nikis (Λεωφορος Νικης for the hellenic friends), and my route departed from the port to drop in the White Tower.

I walked since the blue left point to the blue right point.

Usually, I try to understand the environment from my own fact, but I took advantage of the chance to do an inverse way: understanding myself from my new landscape. The intention is to identify my reality although unavoidably it is influenced by the stories of the pictures. So, it’s a reciprocal building, the world affect us likewise we give a new sense that surround us when we discover it.

Undeniably, I have approached the city and with myself after that morning, as Apollo and Hermes did when he stole his oxen. They lived too an oncoming for some extrasensory event, so Apollo allowed Hermes to keep the cattle because he was attracted by the music he played with his lyre.

Alejandro Robles de la Vega.

16th LGBTQ Film Festival: Frames of freedom October 3, 2014

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The Thessaloniki International LGBT-Q Film Festival” was born in 1999 and still takes place each year in the Cinema Museum of Thessaloniki.
The society “SYMPRAXI – Partnership for Gender Issues” and the International Thessaloniki Film Festival organized the “Thessaloniki International LGBTQ Film Festival” of 2014, which started on 19th and finished on 28th September. (more…)

A GreenWave flood Thessaloniki October 1, 2014

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IMG_6640 (1) (more…)

Welcome to Georgia September 29, 2014

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ANTIGONE: FOR A BETTER WORLD September 23, 2014

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Antigone is a non-profit organization started in 1993. Its full name has the key to understand what it does: Information and Documentation Center on Racism, Ecology, Peace and Non Violence.

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Nightlife in Thessaloniki September 22, 2014

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Thessaloniki never sleeps. This is true. My weekly report is about how to have fun in this city especially for foreigners (and volunteers). At first I want to write about the reggae boat. In front of the white tower there are 3 reggae-bar boats, the entrance is free you can listen reggae music (or other kind), drink beer, coffee, whatever you want, but be careful prices is not cheap.
Yesterday Wendy and me were there and it was really nice. The reggae boats are working until 12 o’clock during wintertime, and they are full of people. The sailing distance is 11 kilometers, it means it starts from the White Tower, goes on the circle near the harbor and come back. Trip time is about 30 minutes.
In Thessaloniki there are a lot of clubs. Most of them are located in the city center name Valaoritou, which is a place with many narrow streets to walk. There are electronic music clubs , Plan B, Tropikuku club, Four Seasons, and many bars and clubs I don’t remember their names. (more…)

Active citizenship: participants and their ideas during the ACIL seminar September 22, 2014

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The seminar on active citizenship, entitled “ACIL: Active Citizens Laboratory”, took place in Thessaloniki, from 15 to 19 September. The week full of discussions, workshops and social contacts was organized by the Greek branch of the Anna Lindh Foundation and the United Societies of Balkans in collaboration with “Thessaloniki – European Youth Capital 2014”.

U.S.B. volunteers met and interviewed the participants of the seminar in order to find out their background, motivation to join the activities of ACIL and their view on the concept of active citizenship.

To begin with, the background of participants varied from being students, teachers, job seekers and volunteers. On their free time, some of the participants support people with special needs, teach in a Roma community in Thessaloniki, are members of environmental groups, local government and so on. Regardless of the differences in their occupations or study fields, all participants had a common willingness to join the seminar and share their views on the relevant topic, gain some knowledge or techniques and to apply them in a real life.

Moreover, most of the participants agreed that the concept of active citizenship is very important and that it is all about interconnection. According to Theodora, one of the participants, “being an active citizen is having a critical mind and thinking about yourself (not in a selfish way) and, at the same time, doing something for someone else and for the society. I think we are all interconnected”.

Finally, all of the participants expressed their intention of doing voluntary work and being active citizens in the future.  By joining the seminar, they expected to hear new ideas, meet interesting people and make meaningful connections with non-governmental or non-profit organizations, all of it in order to improve their future activities regarding active citizenship. As the other participant Nikos said, “the level of our life will improve if we all are active citizens”.
active citizen laboratory logo

Written by Kristina Gruodytė

AENAO’s activities based on a no-formal learning methodology September 22, 2014

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The first seminary of “ACIL: active citizenship program”, organized by Anna Lindh Foundation was about “Environment  and Volunteerism” and  has been held by AENAO, a NGO expert in no-formal learning methodology. The organization, established in Thessaloniki in 2006 by a group of scientists-volunteers, aims to promote health on its wide sense, exploring the health topics and focusing about mental, psychological and cognitive processes.  (more…)

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