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Sunday, 19 August 2012

Then and now (Πριν και τώρα)

Although I didn't study history formally at school, I enjoyed learning about the past history of the city where I was born and raised, Wellington, mainly through old photos of the first colonisers of New Zealand: the women in their frilly white dresses and long hair tied up in a bun, the men in their stiff formal suits, sporting old-fashioned hats and thick bushy moustaches.

Quite a different picture of the history of the town where I now live is gained from old photographs of the same period. The workers' association of INKA supermarket, a local supermarket chain in Hania, puts out a calendar every year to raise funds. This year's calendar contained an interesting collection of archive photographs showing how Hania was a century ago. I've copied a few of these photos and compared them with what the area looks like now (these photos are also available over the internet, along with many others).

The present law courts of Hania were once a Turkish hospital. The hills above are now part of the suburbs Lentariana and Agios Ioannis.


Koum Kapi, a phrase taken from the Arabic language, as seen from a distance; the area hasn't really changed much.



The Agora, the main market of Hania, was originally built as an open market with covered stalls.


Some things are gone forever; the Turkish kiosk at Splantzia is no longer with uss. Instead, there is a large open square in front of the Greek-Orthodox church of St Nikolas (which also has a minaret attached to its right-hand side, attesting its multicultural history), shaded by a plane tree.
http://www.chania-oldtown-walks.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Splantzia-Square1.jpg

A century (or so) ago, Hania was dominated by Greeks, who were mainly Christians, with a significant Greek-speaking Moslem population (whose origins were Turkish), and a Jewish minority. The different religions were all practiced openly by each group. The Moslems and the Jews lived mainly within their own enclaves in the city; some of their monuments have stood the test of time. A number of minority nationalities were also present in the town, notably the Halikoutides (presumably Egyptians). 

The town that my parents knew at about the time they emigrated was mainly a monocultural one. The Moslems were forced out during the population exchange with Turkey in 1922, while the Jews were forced to leave (and few survived) during WW2.


You can get a glimpse of monocultural Hania in this 1961 video.

The town I am now living in is still Greek-Christian dominated, but there are many other nationalities living among the Greek population. Albanians probably form the largest and most well established minority group in Hania (they are not leaving the town, as is the case of other Albanian immigrants in other parts of Greece), and there is also a large group of Greek-speaking Russian-Greeks whose origins are from the Black Sea. Bulgarians are also present in strong numbers, as are a number of North African nationalities. Although the town could be said to be multi-cultural in this sense, the rise in fascism has created problems for certain groups at certain times of the day (ie at night) in certain areas. This is especially a problem in the case of non-registered (illegal) immigrants.

These two photos have not been taken from the same position, but the same general view can be seen in the background, while some of the same buildings are also visible. The older picture has been taken at the site of the former Honolulu reception centre.  
The photo below shows the Honolulu reception centre, built on the beach.
This is actually nothing new in places like Crete - a century ago, different nationalities (at the time, represented by different religions) fought in similar ways: Christian Greeks and Moslem Turks lived together, but not always harmoniously. Both multi-culturalism and mono-culturalism have their problems. In the case of the former, the problems are often surface ones, but in the latter, the dangers are less noticeable. Mono-cultural thinking cuts a country off from the rest of the world; it's one of the factors to blame for the economic crisis, as it generally leads to a less open mind, which has an effect on the way the monoculture operates in business and trade. Greece is now paying the price, not just for bad spending habits, but for doing things her own way for so long and ignoring the way the rest of the world - the one that she belongs to - was going, which was pretty much in a Western rather than an Eastern direction. Her true Europeanisation didn't really happen at the point where she entered the EU or the euro - it's taking place now, with changes made to the laws to prevent her from slipping back into the easy comfort of pretending that there is no one else around except herself.  

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