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

Posted by usbngo in Older Posts.

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.

image 3

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



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