Memories of civil war offer future hope for tourists

More than fifty years after the end of the civil war, the inhabitants of a border village in Florina, northern Greece, are counting on a leading figure in the bloody tragedy, Nikos Zachariadis, for their survival. They want to make a tourist attraction of the cave from which Zachariadis, then leader of the Greek Communist Party, directed the military operations of the Communists’ Democratic Army of Greece (DSE) against the official army in 1948 at Vitsi, in the hope it will increase their meager income. Pyli, a village of just 150 inhabitants, is about 80 kilometers from Florina, and just five from the Albanian border at Prespes. During the civil war it was caught up in midst of the conflict, being home to the DSE’s headquarters since 1948 when Zachariadis’s armed men, in a brilliant maneuver, managed to escape from Grammos where the army had them held down, and moved to Vitsi where they fought until they were expelled in the spring of 1949. Now the inhabitants of this remote village are struggling to survive by growing beans and raising a few animals. But the prospects are not good as both these activities are in decline; and the locals have now turned their hopes to a special type of tourism based on the civil war legacy. As villager Sotiris Yiangkos says, Zachariadis’s cave, as the DSE leader’s hideout is generally known in the locality, could bring them some economic relief. Don’t forget that the generations who fought at that time are alive and there is interest in those events and the sites where they took place. From time to time people from all over Greece come here and want to find out about them. They may have been fighters or they may have lost relatives in the war. We don’t take one side or the other. We want people in general to know about this place, which will go down in history. We want people to visit and to help us who live here. Former village chairman Lazaros Nalpantidis has erected a sign at the edge of the village which informs visitors about Zachariadis’s Cave, which is three kilometers into the forest and only accessible by a tricky unsurfaced road. We aren’t asking for museums; we just want them to fix the road a bit to make it more accessible. Even if there are only a few visitors, we’ll make a profit, because they’ll come here to have their coffee in our village, says Nalpantidis, who has a small guest house in Pyli. Ten kilometers from Pyli, outside the village of Vrontero, is another cave connected with the civil war, which the locals think could also be made into a tourist attraction. It was the DSE headquarters and bears the name of Petros Kokkalis (the father of leading businessman Socrates Kokkalis) who was a minister in the government of the mountain and a professor of surgery, who operated on the wounded there. Local authorities look favorably on the interest of the locals in making something of these sites. Prespes is one of the places in Greece that suffered greatly in the civil war, and the wounds have still not healed. Locals avoid discussing that era – the young because they don’t know about it, and the old because they don’t want to remember. One side saw the cave of Zachariadis as a base for freedom fighters, while the other saw it as a brigands’ hideout. Half a century later, and with no other prospects, the few remaining inhabitants hope to make a living from the remnants of the civil war.

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