Τhe national identity of places and countries (7th interview)
We now begin the 7th interview of the program regarding the national identity of places and countries within the European Union together and for that matter we have here with us Ms. Maya Tenosvili, a resident of Halki for the last two years, studying in Athens and Mr Petros Ioannou also being a Halki resident.
- Maya, let’s start with you, can you please tell us more on the topic of National Identity initially regarding Halki and how do you think that this issue is perceived generally in Greece?
Halki is a small place, a special place, so it is easy to maintain national characteristics. Besides, the residents want it this way and are they very interested in their national identity. Generally I think that happens in the whole of Greece itself, I think that we are a country that maintains local tradition and history and gives much attention to it. On the other hand, it is a country that is open to many different things because of tourism – and that goes for Halki too.
- Di you believe that this is something that has to occur in such a way or is it something that just happens let’s say?
In some ways I think people are stuck in the past and could actually be more open. On the other hand, due to tourism and immigration from abroad but also in other countries, they have become more tolerant and readier to accept their differences.
- Do you think this is true for Greece as a whole, or is true only for Halki?
It is true only for Halki. In Greece in general the situation is worse. Halki is a small community and it is much easier on a small scale to be able to combine national identity and foreign elements with globalization.
- So Petros were there immigrants in the past? That saying from Halki going abroad and vice versa?
Immigration from Halki to other places began in 1905, up until 1922. Beyond that time point the phenomenon was becoming sporadic, with the last wave of immigration taking place about 1960 towards America. Inversely from outside to Halki, there are only some immigrants mostly Albanians.
- Are there any other nationalities there too?
Of course, there are Bulgarians, Ukrainians, Romanians and people from Georgia, but they are mainly Albanians.
- What was the reason for immigration in the older years?
Previously, the sponge collection was the main occupation of most residents, but sponge itself suffered an illness and many people were forced to emigrate to America, especially in Tarpon Springs. There were only few who gave up the sea. Few of them returned, only 5%. Most people were in America and less in Australia and less in Germany. Before emigrating to the USA, many people migrated to Egypt, especially in Alexandria.
- Did they all keep their identity?
Of course, everyone down to their grandchildren still retain their national identities. They founded associations that exist even today, attenuated but of course they are still there.
All of them offered a lot on the island. If you have a look at many public buildings, steeples, churches, and the road up to the St. John were all made from donations of the Halki immigrants.
- As far as I know the Halki clock is a donation of immigrants from Weirton, Virginia, is that right?
Yes, the clock of Halki was built in 1925, and the mayor’s office which was the old boys’ school (Arenagogeio) on the island and the current school that was built in 1914 by a donation of Tarpon Springs Halki immigrants. Also the Halki immigrants from Egypt built St Lefteris church which is a private chapel. It was a family that gave the most money for this donation.
- So Maya tell me, isn’t this identity retain business in contrast with the globalisation that young people have to face these days?
Of course there is a contrast there, but as I said because of the small scale of the society in Halki, it is much easier to bind these two elements and at one time listening to songs that are called ‘American’ or watching blockbuster Hollywood movies and on the other hand to dance to traditional dances, hearing the old stories of Halki and listen to our elders with respect. I believe that none of the young people of my age want to lose that and some guys actually are more traditional than I am. People also talk the Halki dialect! People in Halki all talk with the Halki dialect, but when they leave they try to minimize that.
- You come from a family of immigrants, but were born and bred in Halki, how do you feel leaving this place for the first time?
Basically I waited for many years in order to be able to go. I was waiting for a way out, this is a little society and not many things are around to do for people my age, so in order to study to find a job, to broaden your horizons, you unfortunately have to leave the place here. That does not mean that I will not be coming back or that i will not do anything to help the island, but I am glad I left.
- Sounds reasonable. I can imagine that even if you did not want to go back (even this is not true) even in summer, your parents would go anywhere in the world to find you and bring you back.
I have no other choice!
- You are though a fully integrated family within the society here.
That is like all families of immigrants here. They all have their jobs, their children go to school, there is no obvious distinction at least.
- You come from Georgia, other families are from Albania, and as Petros said there are other families from Ukraine etc, and you and them still retain some of your national identity features?
The truth is that we do not keep our identity that much – especially me and my brother do not have any such contact. I do not know about the other guys, but unfortunately I do not think that we keep importantly in touch with tradition.
- If you don’t live and grow up in a place and don’t understand the value of your place’s tradition, you slowly drift away I suppose.
Yes, for my place and the traditions are from Halki. My parents want to keep contacts with Georgia because of their relatives, but even for them their place and traditions are located in Halki. At home we never talk about Georgia and between us we speak Greek. Globalization plays its role.
- It is not the time anymore as 60 or 80 years ago, when someone who was leaving for America and was completely isolated, sent a letter which arrived after a month, got a response after two months, ie it was only 2-3 times a year that families communicated. Now you enter Skype and see everything you want.
Maya, if the object of your studies would permit it, would you have liked to work here in Halki?
If Halki could satisfy my interests, yes I would like to, but I cannot come back now with what I have planned to do.
- Do you think that there is nationalism? There are people in Halki – because people are so few people that are talking about people rather than percentages – that are natioanlists? Meaning that they are absolute and do not want immigrants, do not want tourists, since they can not live together with them?
Now, with the situation in Greece and the rise of the Golden Dawn, it appear that there are some extreme cases, but it is strange that they live with others, they simply believe that they are nationalists, while coexisting with foreigners and certainly cannot live without tourism. I can not call it nationalism. It’s something else. Is mimicry of other conditions.
- What do you believe about this Petros?
I would not say they are nationalists, but rather looking after their own interests. Some are bothered by the financial situation thinking “what di I want him/her for?”. Even the locals are annoyed depending on the interest of many.
- Maya, would you like to add anything?
I don’t think that these people in Halki are nationalists but they are regionalists that consider foreign anyone that is not from Halki, even people from Rhodes.
- What you say is true because I’ve experienced that since I am someone with a Halki origin but living in Athens, being considered foereign and I also hear that even the people from Alimia (being of Halki origin) were also considered foreign.
Petros: Vangelis, I would like to add that Alimia used to pay a tax that Halki was not paying. There was even a separation between those living at the port (Emporians) and those living in the village (Villagers) and this is something you can still sense.
- Thank you for your time. I hope to speak to you again and looking forward for both of you to participate in the program again.