Labor of love keeps Greek corner alive in heart of Moldova

As Air Moldova’s small helicopter took off from Chisinau, capital of the young Republic of Moldova, the image of a young boy, Perseas, reciting a patriotic poem at a gathering organized by the Greek community for National Independence Day on March 25 would not leave my mind. Neither would the images of young people singing traditional songs and dancing syrtaki and kalamatiano, nor of people of all ages, with tears in their eyes, applauding each mention of «Mother Greece» during the national day event at Moldova’s Nationalities Center. I was haunted by these images on my return to Attic soil, and by that of Markos Benos, tireless teacher of the Greek language, who, sent to Moldova’s hospitable land by the Greek Education Ministry, teaches Greek language and literature at the Classics Department of Chisinau University. There, together with Moldovan colleagues, he brings dozens of young people into contact not only with Socrates, Pythagoras, Aristotle and Heraclitus, but also with Kazantzakis, Elytis and Ritsos. In Moldova today, there are 3,500 Greeks scattered in different parts of the country, a bastion of the Greek language and Orthodox Church. In the Classics Department of Chisinau University, the Greek element is highly visible. Photographs of various places in Greece, especially of classical sites, adorn the walls of the classroom. There is even a Greek room, with computers donated by Greek citizens, as a «simple move to boost attempts to spread the Greek language,» according to Markos Benos. The Modern Greek Department, commonly known as the «Greek corner,» was set up a few years ago with the help of Greek citizens, and has met with a good response from young people, judging from the numbers participating. «Serious work is carried out in the department, by all colleagues. We try with the few means available to expand the library with books in Greek. And since there is usually a huge shortage of books, we often use Kathimerini as a tool of teaching the Greek language,» Benos said. The situation would improve if the Education Ministry and the Greek State provided assistance in the form of books, computers, writings and dictionaries, or even with scholarships in order to prepare the «yeast that would help spread Greek language and culture in Moldova.» Moldova, with Albania, is the poorest state in Europe. In state enterprises, the average wage is 50 euros a month, rising to 80 euros in private enterprises. Despite its poor economic state, Moldova hopes that Greece will assist it in taking its place among the EU candidate countries.