Day 131-LVII, from Πλαταριά to Μαργαρίτη, 19 km.
Margariti, March 17
We have turned inland, we are following the national road to Preveza. On both sides the valley is closed by wild green mountains. Near the coast you will find some small scale agriculture, but a little further down there is nothing. High up the slopes you can see a herd of goats and a shepherd.
At the time, the once mighty Ottoman empire was living the final stage of its long decline. For centuries it had dominated the Balcans, it had reached as far as the gates of Vienna, but when the Ottoman tide retreated, it left a myriad of nations in its wake. Serbia, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Albania.
Greece had conquered its independence from the Turks a century earlier, but she was much smaller than she is now. When war broke out in 1912, the Greeks wanted their part of the spoils.
The mountainous region of Epirus had been under the control of muslim warlords, and was largely inhabited by Albanians. When the christian Greeks took over, it caused conflict.
All through human history people have practiced ethnic cleansing. And even though it was widely denounced during the most recent Balcan conflicts, it wasn’t looked upon as a problem a century ago. Quite the contrary, it was considered a solution.
In the 1920s the Greek state expelled many muslim citizens and settled the emptied territories with its own citizens expelled from Turkey. It was all agreed on in the peace treaty.
Part of the Albanian population of Epirus was sent to Turkey. Not because they were Turks, but because they were muslims. The Albanians that remained were promised that they could keep their customs and language. The promise was never kept.
When Italy, and later Germany invaded Greece in World War 2, a great part of the Albanians collaborated and participated in atrocities. As a result of it, almost all of them were expelled at the end of the war.
“This is not Europe, this is the Balcans.” I will remember that phrase.
One of the things I heard about on the day of our arrival, was the strategy of fear. The Greek regime use the mass media to blackmail its subjects into accepting its measures, because otherwise… pandemonium.
Fear includes not only the fear for complete economic disaster, but also fear for the neighbours. ‘If the country collapses, then the Turks will come, and the Macedonians, and the Albanians. They will rip Greece apart. So there is no choice.’ The country is sold out to other nations and banks, and people are forced to accept to avoid worse.
Along the road today we encountered construction workers who were busy expanding a road on which there is hardly any traffic. They speak little English. But they let us know that they make 22 euros a day. It wouldn’t be so bad if prices were low, but they aren’t. They are about the same level as in Italy, which is about the same as in Spain, which isn’t much less than in France or even Holland.
Greeks are making starvation wages. And one of the funny things I heard is that some people want to keep cutting those wages. The idea is simple: if salaries in Greece are brought down to ‘Balcan levels’, then the multinationals will be stimulated to invest in the country, and the economy will grow again.
It has been two days. We haven’t seen nothing yet. “Over here, one way or another, we will pull through. Because we have the land, we have the sea. You will find the real misery in the big cities.”
The land and the sea. I have a feeling I will fall in love with this country. Yesterday evening a fishing boat arrived near our camp. Immediately four of us walked down there like a bunch of cats to do some récup. The fishermen were sympathetic to our cause. They left us a small box of their catch which we fried this morning at breakfast, to give us strength before heading inland.