Thursday, May 3, 2018

On June 3rd we are going to Makronisos!

Not because we have been rounded up by the Greek police due to our political beliefs, but to never forget the 100,000 detainees who were held on that island 1946-1953 and tortured until they recanted theirs. There were other islands/prisons where enemies of the state (mostly communists)  were held or exiled for random, indeterminate lengths of time -- an ugly kind of political punishment favored in Greece during other periods in her history, too.

I recently stumbled upon the not exactly well-known Makronisos Museum and the Museum of Political Exile Agh. Straty -- both located in the same building at 31 Asomaton in the Keramikos area of Athens. Lucky for me, the latter was offering an educational program aptly  entitled "My whole world in a suitcase." It was a heart-breaker regardless of your political leanings, and it also resolved some lingering questions that had haunted me since living in Greece under the military dictatorship of 1967-1974. By then Makronisos had largely been those resisting the Junta were reportedly exiled to Giaros and Leros, and/or held at prisons in Oropo, Aegina, Hania and Corfu. But in our then mind's-eye, our hero friends were all being "sent to Makronisos*."

Makronisos and Agh. Straty had facilities often built by the prisoners themselves -- Agh. Straty subsequently becoming more palatable post-1950 due to growing criticism voiced by European allies. A theater there begat plays like "Perses"  (Act I), with hand-made costumes and hand-painted backdrops. There was regular feel-good (censored) correspondence with "greetings to those you know." Prisoners  created  poignant "works of art" with whatever materials they could find,  including rocks and bones. And a rather remarkable official holiday photo taken on Trikeri  clearly  shows to what degree detainees literally put their best foot forward to show that they were all right and still loyal to their beliefs. Just like a bunch of girlfriends on a summer vacation.

Agh. Straty
But political exile/detention with was no vacation, especially on Makronisos if you were forced to carry a large boulder uphill on  your back while tangled up in barbed wire. 95% of all detainees  finally  gave into the programs of "reeducation," disavowing their beliefs and signing on the proverbial dotted line to go home. There are too many stories "pou then leyontai" (which cannot be discussed), despite the creation of the museums, annual pilgrimages and a free press. Fearful former exiles destroyed documents to protect their children...or maybe to cover up their own capitulations. Many  NEVER  spoke about time spent on Makronisos, Agh. Straty, Trikeri, or any other island of torture and dehumanization.

It was, after all, a period in Greek history defined by a cruel Civil War* that followed the German/Italian occupations: Government forces (supported by the UK and USA) versus Communist insurgents (supported by the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Albania) who had also fought  as partisans during WWII. Brother against brother. Neighbor against neighbor. Too much of what happened then is still under wraps with the hope perhaps that certain people will forget or simply fade away -- a sentiment shared here in Naousa, where bitterness and mistrust still  simmer under the cover of normalcy. Occasionally some bit of information slips out if you dig deep enough, but the cycle of silence continues...

Some Greeks disgusted by the current financial/political situation have rather casually dared to say: "Bring back the Junta, they gave us discipline and built roads." Those people should be first in line to visit Makronisos on June 3rd for a much-needed reality check...never forget, or ever repeat!

NOTE: Visit Makronisos** by calling PEKAM (National Union of Those Held on Makronisos) at 210-3247820 or by sending an email to Makronisos Museum at 31 Asomaton Street is open on Tuesday-Friday 10 am - 1pm and on Saturday-Sunday 11am-2pm free of charge. The Museum of Political Exile has identical hours Tuesday-Friday, but is closed Saturday-Sunday.

*For a very good understanding of this terrible time in Greek history, please read ELENI by Nicolas Gage (Random House, 1983)
**Makronisos became a Greek Historic Landmark on May 16, 1989 [1285/24255], a decision signed by then Minister of Culture, Melina Mercouri.