Healing the rupture

The yawning rift between the south and the north of the country has taken some people by surprise. Pundits and analysts have pointed the finger at Thessaloniki Prefect Panayiotis Psomiadis and Mayor Vassilis Papageorgopoulos, who are allegedly trying to polarize voters ahead of the local elections on October 15. That would be plausible if Psomiadis and Papageorgopoulos were actually lagging in the opinion polls. Nevertheless, some Athenian pundits look down on the people of Thessaloniki. They say Thessalonians have an inferiority complex, isolationist tendencies and an ultra-rightist bent. Sure, such high-minded, leftist critics choose to forget that communist ideas were introduced to Athens by the founder of the Socialist Labor Party of Greece (SEKE), Avraam Benaroya, in Thessaloniki. His views drew a vitriolic, if arrogant, response from Georgios Vlachos in the then newly established Kathimerini. Of course, it was not Benaroya who was responsible for the north-south antagonism. The divide was instead rooted in the decision by Eleftherios Venizelos to set up in October 1916 – three years after Greece’s victory in the Balkan wars and the liberation of Macedonia – a temporary government in Thessaloniki from which he attacked the «state of Athens» and the then monarch Constantine. In northern Greece, and particularly in Thessaloniki, the national division also took on a territorial dimension. Then came the exchange of populations in the 1920s and the settlement in northern Greece of refugees from Asia Minor, people who saw themselves as victims of Athens’s policies. On an ecclesiastical level, the so-called «new territories» were incorporated by the Church of Greece. Instead of exercising arrogant posturing, political leaders must assist with growth and economic well-being in the region.