Letter from Thessaloniki

The belief that the effects of climate change would become apparent in 10, 20 or even 50 years’ time is erroneous. Thessaloniki has been feeling them since Friday, which was a real scorcher. People have been caught unawares. Some say that what we have right now is only a preview of coming attractions. We shall see… Summer sales have not started yet – officially at least. All the same, business is flourishing on Tsimiski Street, the main shopping area in Thessaloniki. During the weekend, the standard behavior in the city was to head for the shopping mall. Air-conditioned shops are very popular at this time. Of course, some Thessalonians were seeking the benefits of the rising temperatures and took advantage of nearby beaches to cool down, desperately congesting the access roads.  You must have noticed that whatever these Monday columns turn out to be, they are driven by a desire to be as «with it» as our second-page opinion columns usually are on Saturdays. It’s a sort of peer envy, I guess. This Monday will not be an exception, even though it is not easy to achieve with all this blazing heat. Therefore, here is something about a local, highly patriotic, celebration (No! It has nothing to do with the notorious Patriot Act, though it has a lot to do with guerrilla fighting, prisoner abuse and terrorist acts – all of them Greek style). It has been 100 years since Pavlos Melas passed away (his nom de guerre was Mikis Zezas), a leading figure in the Macedonian Struggle (the clashes between Greeks, Turks and Bulgarians from 1904 to 1908). Pavlos Melas was a member of the Ethniki Etairia (National Society), dispatched at the beginning of the last century by Athens to what was still Ottoman-held Macedonia to evaluate the situation here. And there was a most complicated situation at the time. The Balkan peninsula was one of the most ethnically, linguistically and religiously complex areas in the world. Thank God for the Helsinki Agreement some decades later! Starting with the national awakenings in the 19th century, the people of the Balkans did their best to retain their separate identities and cultures, often at the expense of their neighbors, who likewise made historical claims to the same specific territory. It was a time of massive Bulgarian infiltration in Macedonia. While the Ottoman Empire was dying, the Bulgarians felt – justly or unjustly – threatened with assimilation by the Greeks. As an old Bulgarian proverb says: «Save us, oh Lord, from the Bulgarian who becomes a Greek and from the Gypsy who becomes a Turk.» (By the way, my old-time Greek-American friend Alexandra from St Helena, in the heart of the Napa Valley, the beautiful spot she claims to be in, let me recently know in one of her e-mails that she is currently reading all about this period in Penelope Delta’s «Sta Mystica Tou Valtou»).  Initially, Melas seemed to believe that a Greek guerrilla movement should be organized with the financial backing of the Greek State. Later, he changed his mind, though I now forget. In August 1904, he undertook the leadership of the struggle in the area of Kastoria and Monastir. In October 1904, he was trapped in the village of Statista (today Melas) by a Turkish detachment and was mortally wounded. The organizers of the Demetria Festival, Thessaloniki’s big cultural event in autumn, announced yesterday that this year’s festival will honor Pavlos Melas. Once more I am off to Turkey. I decided to drive to Istanbul this time, 394.5 miles from Thessaloniki. The occasion is a wedding ceremony. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is giving away his daughter in marriage. Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis is going to be there as well – as a marriage witness they say. Yet, according to the basics of a Muslim wedding, there must be at least two Muslim witnesses present at the couple’s declaration in marrying each other. Therefore, look out for next week’s session: It is going to be about journalism in high places.