CULTURE

Children teach diplomacy in a Cretan village

On Crete, the village of Patsideros certainly does justice to its name. «Patsos» stands for peace and the residents put the word into practice by coexisting in good will and harmony through the one-teacher school that used to operate with one Greek and five Albanian students. Judging from the kind of conflicts that arise on days of national celebrations and conflicts over who gets to carry the flag, this seems almost unthinkable in other parts of Greece. A very powerful lesson in social diplomacy was given in Patsideros, however, through the children and their teacher, Yiannis Fragiadakis. Leading the pack was Manolis, a priest and a teacher of 14 years. «I had to explain that I’m not running a school of five or six Albanians, but one with six students,» he says in «The Other,» a documentary directed by Loukia Rikaki, currently being screened at local cinemas. It was «Pappa Manolis» who encouraged the immigrant children to attend the school. For two years, Rikaki filmed the daily routine in the class, visited the children’s homes and talked to their parents, trying to detect their emotions and thoughts. Through all this, the director managed to produce a documentary filled with love, caring and great attention to detail. Step by step, Rikaki introduces the students’ characters and shows their relationship with their inspired teacher Fragiadakis, their welcoming innocence and their indisputable intelligence. Together they go on excursions into the countryside, discuss the war, talk about peace. The children are taught and teach in return. Fragiadakis knows how to avoid friction: «We do not enforce the idea of a motherland,» he says. Andreas, Angela, Despina, Armando and Giorgos (the Greek) play together, learn and reveal their dreams. They are not arrogant. Brought up by the land and the idea of working in the fields, they develop a solid and balanced relationship with life. Their teacher’s work is complex. Not all parents are convinced of the necessity of peaceful coexistence. He has to persuade them, without insulting them. The director becomes a discreet observer, at times seduced by the children’s grace, at times allowing emotion to cover the necessary ground with the use of hyperbole and emotionally charged music. Though the one-teacher school – originally established in 1873 – has now closed down, Rikaki’s documentary guarantees a testimony for the years to come.