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Celebrating the beginning of war? By Annemiek Schrijver November 29, 2012

Posted by usbngo in Older Posts.
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Between this story and the previous one, many things have happened during my stay in Thessaloniki. And I have learned how to love this city. But where shall I start? Well, maybe the most important thing is that I have learned to find my way in the city. I don’t get lost anymore even in the dark. And if still lost, there is always the sea to orient myself. The sea… sigh. It is the most beautiful and special thing of the city to me. Every morning, while walking up from my house to the office, I choose the route with the best view. Living in Ano Poli, at the hill, I have to view over the city, the sea, and mount Olympos. This view is different every day, sometimes very sharp, and other times misty and mysterious. And while looking, many stories and histories of the city are revealed with the architecture of the city. You can see old bathhouses and minarets remaining from the Ottomans who “left” the city since 1912; you can see places where the romans used to have their open market; you can see open spaces, which are old gardens of the king; there are beautiful houses that survived the great fire of 1918. Every piece, every district, each stone of this city has a story. And not only this: also the people are full of stories and histories, full of culture and tradition. 

Somehow, my activities here are interrelated to the stories and histories of the city as well. To start with, on the 27th of October 1912 the city was ‘liberated’ during the First Balkan War when the Ottoman army handed over the city to the Greek army. This was one day after the celebration of the city’s saint Agios Dimitrios, and therefore the 26th of October became the celebration of both Agios Dimitrios as well as the liberation of the city. Interestingly, two days later, the 28th of October, there is the Greek national Ochi Day, or the No Anniversary. This day is to celebrate the rejection of the Greek Prime Minister of the ultimatum made by the Italian dictator Mussolini on the 28th of October 1940. However, actually this ‘no’ was the start of the war between the Italians and the Greeks. As my stay in the city fell together with these celebrative days, I volunteered for some events related to this celebration; also, I have had many talks and discussions about it. And one major point of discussion was, why do Greeks celebrate the beginning of a war? Well, I will not repeat the discussions, but an interesting answer was that the beginning of each war in Greece is the only moment of unity between the Greeks. For Greece, in the last century after each war, a civil war took place. This means it divided the people instead of bringing them together. And of course, people of a nation will not celebrate the beginning of a fight between these people. This explains a lot. 

Anyways, when I am at my favourite point viewing the city, and the weather is bright, I see mount Olympos right in front of me, another element symbolizing history. Seeing that, I can imagine the creation of myths. The city and its location in the bay, it is all very mystic. To the right, I see the part of the city where the Jewish community that arrived from Spain used to live, which became an abandoned residential area since the Second World War. Straight in front me I see an Arch and Rotonda, left from the Roman Emperor built in the 4th century. The arch has become the main meeting point for people in the city, and Rotonda, back then maybe an mausoleum for the Roman Emperor, or maybe a temple. During its lifetime the Rotonda served as a Christian church, an Ottoman mosque, and back to an Orthodox church again while leaving the minaret. 

I can continue talking about all the buildings in the city, trying to explain the history. But the main point I want to make is the beauty of all these stories together, these symbols of history which make the city a special mystic place, next to its beauty. Of course, not everything is beautiful, and even more these years due to the situation of Greece at the moment. Due to lack of money, the municipality cannot collect the garbage for example resulting in streets full of waste on the streets, in which cats, dogs but also people try to find food and other material for their daily survival. Many shops are closed, and every day some new ‘for rent’ or ‘for sale’ plates are added to houses and shopping areas. Though having a very rich history, it is still the question how the future will be. This insecurity of Greece and its future brings also an insecure feeling to many of its citizens, trying to find different ways to keep their head above the water. But this is food for a next story.

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* This story firstly published at http://www.platformspartak.eu/log/archief/Celebrating-the-beginning-of-war.htm on November 21, 2012.

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