A report in the Italian newspaper Libero‘s web site last Monday that a small Aegean island, Ikaria is considering leaving Greece created havoc in media. Der Spiegel English says:
A full century after the North Aegean island of Icaria gained independence by expelling its Turkish rulers, residents are reportedly now threatening to leave Greece. Many of the 9,000 residents of this roughly 250-square-kilometer (100-square-mile) island allegedly feel ignored by politicians in Athens, who have been busy trying to put out the raging fires of the country’s debt crisis.”
The so-called judiciary basis for this demand lies on an agreement signed one hundred years ago between Ikarians and the Greek Republic. Although Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs protested the arguments with harsh statements, the attitude of the islanders if it exists lies both in their history and the attitude of current governments towards remote Greek islands.
“According to ancient Greek mythology, Ikaria owes its name to Ikaros, the son of Daedalus who was the architect hired by Minos (King of Crete) to built the famous Labyrinth where the Minautor was held. Since Daedalus and Ikaros were the only ones who knew how to escape from the Labyrinth, Minos forbade them to leave Crete, to avoid the spreading of the Labyrinth’s plans. Daedalus created wax wings for him and his son in order to fly away from the island. Ikaros, ignoring the advices of his father, fled too close to the sun, because he believed that he could be as strong as the gods and fly as high as them. His extreme pride made him careless and he got too close to the sun, his wings melted and he felt into the deep sea surrounding Ikaria, which was then named after him.”(1)
The curse of mythology followed Ikarians in historical times. Inhabited since 7th Milelnium BC, Ikaria changed hands during throughout its history but its population were able to resist any and all rulers with their dogged inclination to freedom. Traditionally the island consist of loose concentrations of residential areas where every individual house, located far from the next has its own fortifications and defense mechanisms. Several famines and decades full of economical hardships created a group of people so hardened that they seldom used any furniture in history, rarely sold any of their food, and learned many ways of preserving every scarce means for their own consumption. Even Ottomans hardly sent any administrators to the island both because they knew that there will be no possibility of any revenue or cooperation.
After the 12th Century when Byzantine Empire cut back its naval existence in the Aegean, Ikarians concentrated on fortifying their defenses which only came to an halt only when islanders rebelled against their Ottoman rulers on July 17th, 1830. The island suffered tremendous losses in property and lives especially during the Second World War as a result of the Italian and then German occupation. After the war Ikaria became an exile island for communists including Mikis Theodorakis. Only after the 1960’s with the increasing investments of the Greek government, life standards on Ikaria developed with a special emphasis on tourism. Today Ikaria is one of the rare places (Blue Zones) on earth where life expectancy is higher than average due to their nutritional habits and the environmental conditions.
Ikarians were always people of solitude. They have developed a fragmented sense of living. Although they have created incredible communal strategies of defense through a line of towers and communications, their dispersed living habits are unique in the Aegean region.
After the recent economical crisis in Greece, like many North Aegean islands, most expenditures and supply routes were cut off. The tragedy that happened in Samothraki last year where the island was left without any naval supplies for months, affected most North Aegean islands to a certain degree. Increasing taxes and then increasing prices in touristic services dwindled already feeble income in the likes of Samothraki, Chios, Kastelorizo, Ikaria and many more. Greek periphery is always the first forgotten and the last remembered during times of economical or political crisis.
Yet the islanders are tough people. They are used to hardship. They have survived thousands of years of trouble and no twenty-first century trouble would derail them. Greek governors-to-be better start listening to the long unheard cries of the people of periphery in this time of turmoil. As they say in Greece, “Ελλάδα δεν είναι μόνο η Αθήνα” (Greece is not only Athens). The political disarray of Europe is one thing since even optimists no longer see a future in a political European Union, but well-being of Greece is the main issue which all Greeks in Greece or elsewhere should stick to and find a solution to keep preserving and enhancing our cultural heritage on this world.
Inability of Europe to create a political and to maintain an economical union in addition to the conservative tradition of Greek state mechanism forced Greek people into one of the worst impasses of all history. At one stage Europe should bring the mutual blaming game and racist slurs to an end and remember the basis of democracy: actions should not only be made in the name of the people but for the people as well. Over half of the people in Europe have fears for their future. Several generations in Greece and in many other countries will suffer because of the last failure of capitalism. If economic strategies do not benefit the people they ought to change.
And change stems from little minorities in a society among whom knowledge and stubbornness thrive. People will make their case known; little by little, a disgruntle here, a protest there. When the administration is not capable of working for their people, people will change the administrators until they fit society’s demands. And change is a by-product of stubborn, wise people going about their usual businesses day in and day out.
In the meantime we have to remember that Ikaria inhabits the solution, not the problem.
(1) Text courtesy of greeka.com