In Moldova, a slice of Greek history emerges through restoration efforts by both countries

CHISINAU – The temperature was 32 Celsius and it was a relief to take a stroll in one of the many parks in Chisinau, the capital of Moldova. But the paradisal stillness of the park was disturbed by a familiar sound, a mobile phone ringing to the tune of «Never on Sunday» by Manos Hadjidakis. Knowing that thousands of Moldovans have worked in Greece, I wasn’t surprised. But I certainly didn’t expect to bump into someone who had come from Gagauzia (an autonomous region in Moldova where the local dialect is close to Turkish and the inhabitants are Orthodox Christians) to attend the first congress dedicated to the home and headquarters of the Filiki Etaireia, or Friendly Society, of Alexandros Ypsilantis and the enlightenment scholar and monk Daniil Philippidis. I met the man with that telltale ring tone, history professor Dimitri Larbrininov, again at the congress, sitting in a corner and listening to the speeches. He was moved. «It is really important that this is happening, and that the historical link between Moldova and the visionaries of the Greek revolution against the Turks is being highlighted,» he told Kathimerini. «When the house is made into a museum you will have achieved something great for Greek history.» The headquarters The home and headquarters of the Friendly Society was located some months ago by a team of researchers working with Deputy Parliament Speaker Giorgos Sourlas. Sourlas expressed his interest, which was picked up by the Moldovan government. Vladimir Voronin, the president of Moldova, promised that the house would be put into Greek hands so it could be restored and made into a museum. According to contracts that were found, the house was built in 1816 and belonged to society member Michalis Katsikas. It was the oldest house in Chisinau. The revolution of 1821 was planned in the house, and it was there that the flame of rebellion against the Ottoman yoke was first kindled. The work on this house as well as the revelation of its secrets was presented to the conference, which was held in late June in Chisinau. At the conference, Sourlas was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Moldovan Academy of Sciences, in the presence of the country’s political and intellectual leaders. Speaking at the conference, Sourlas emphasized the timeliness of the work of revolutionary leader Rigas Ferraios, who placed special emphasis on the contribution of Moldova to the Greek struggle for independence. Addressing Moldovan Parliament Speaker Marian Lupu, Sourlas conveyed the wish of Greek President Karolos Papoulias to meet his Moldovan counterpart early next year. Among the speakers at the conference were Greek academics who belong to the International Institute of Balkan Cooperation, and Moldovan academics. The participants decided to form a joint committee to study the historic archives of both countries. The city of Balts, with a population of 120,000, is situated in the west of Moldova. It was the last resting place of Philippidis, who was born in Milies, Magnesia, in Greece, which was a reason to create a link between the municipalities of Milies and Balts. At the ceremony linking the two cities, Milies Mayor Apostolos Arethas proposed to his Moldovan counterpart that the next conference be held at the Friendly Society’s house in Milies. He also proposed close cooperation between the two cities on culture, agricultural policy and the development of mild tourism. The representatives then attended a service conducted by the archbishop of Moldova in the Church of Aghios Nikolaos, where Philippidis held services in pre-revolutionary times. The Autonomous Republic of Gagauzia is 152 kilometers from Chisinau. It has its own government with 35 deputies who have legislative and executive powers that are subordinated to the central government in Chisinau. It takes about three hours to get there from the capital, because the road is in a dire state. Along the highway are dozens of villages, large and small. The wooden houses are close to one another, each with a well at the entrance. They look very dilapidated, due to the shortage of money for repairs. Here and there are a few modern two-story houses to remind the visitor that it is 2006. «The owners of these houses work abroad; they’ve built them with the money they send back,» neighbors say. A typical sight in the small Moldovan villages is of farm animals, cows, ducks and chickens, which amble along the main road, sure that they will come to no harm. Any car that goes by stops to let them pass. Komrat Komrat, the capital of Gagauzia, is in better shape. With lots of greenery, good planning and no traffic congestion or crowded shops, it looks like a town from the Soviet era. The local university has a department of modern Greek with more than 40 students. «Some of them have to travel 15 kilometers a day to get to Greek classes,» said Nikos Loukas, who is from Cyprus but lives in Komrat. We also met Nikos Kafantaris, who represents the development company of the Central Union of Municipalities and Communities of Greece (KEDKE). He told us he was in the area to observe the implementation of an aid program with a budget of 220,000 euros from the Greek Foreign and Public Administration ministries. «Money from the program will be used to repair university lecture theaters and install modern equipment, to install heating and hot water systems in the hospital in the city of Kopcak, and provide the local first aid center with an ambulance and a cardiographer,» said Kafantaris.