March to Athens
Day 174-C, from Ερυθρές to Παλαιοχώρι, 23 km.
Palaiochori, April 29
This evening many of us wanted to kill me. All because the destination of today’s leg didn’t exist.
We went up into the hills, and down into a splendid valley full of vineyards, sacred to Dionysos. Then we went up a second slope, and down into another valley. The road just went on and on.
Our destination would have been the village of Thea. It was on the map, it was on the internet, but on the ground it wasn’t there. All my fault. Some people among us even accused me of sinister manipulations. They even insinuated that I had made the village disappear on purpose.
There’s nothing else to do but walk on. We climb another hill under the hot sun, we go over twenty kilometres, and at the first signs of habitation, we stop.
There’s a tavern along the road, a place that doesn’t seem to have changed look over the last sixty years. The old lady who runs the place cedes to all her motherly instincts when she sees us arrive. She can’t offer much, but we’re not allowed to refuse. We must eat.
There’s no square here, so for first time in five months, the march takes the meadow. Some of us are overjoyed, until they hear from the neighbours that the place is frequented by snakes.
This is Greece, there is the hills and there is the sea. The country has two faces. Tomorrow we will return to the sea.
For us westerners the history of ancient Greece is also our own history. It’s a the root of our culture. But the history of modern Greece is only a branch of it. It doesn’t quite have the same impact on the world, and so outside of the country there are not many people who know the ins and outs.
Me neither. It took me years to get a general idea of all the intrigues and dark alleyways of Italian contemporary history, so I didn’t expect to get a good understanding of modern Greece in one and a half months of marching. But still, I know about the key events. It’s important to be aware of them before we march into the metropolitan area of Athens.
What Greece has in common with Spain and Italy during the 20th century is civil war.
For Spain it happened before WW2, in Italy it was a part of it and in Greece it happened after the war ended.
In all three cases it was an armed conflict between the left – mainly communists – and the right.
In early 1945, when the defeat of Nazi Germany was only a matter of time, the allies and the Soviets drew up the map of post-war Europe in Yalta.
Eastern Europe and the Balcans would go to Stalin, but Greece and Turkey would go to the west.
The Greeks themselves were not asked for their opinion.
When the Germans retreated later that year, the communists of the KKE seized the occasion to start an armed uprising against the national government.
It became a full scale civil war, and it lasted for years. The nationalists held the coast, the communists held the hills. Finally the rebels were defeated with the support of the British first, and the Americans later. Stalin didn’t care, he had relinquished his potential claim to Greece at Yalta.
The Greek civil war was the first conflict in the context of the cold war. It left its mark on the society that emerged from it. As a result, the country never found a stable peace. Tensions continued. And the ever present possibility of a new uprising, or the fear for it, were the principal reason why a group of colonels staged a coup in the late 1960s.
The repression, the cruelty, and the fact that it was all blessed by the king and tolerated by the west, has left another mark on Greece.
The countries in the north of Europe, and America itself, have all known civil strife, but by now those conflicts have been buried in the history books. In Greece, like in Italy and Spain, not yet. Because even though most people didn’t live the years of civil war, the memory of violence between citizens of the same nation is hard to extinguish. If the old wounds don’t start to bleed again, it can take a lot of generations before they finally heal.