ATHENS – The new Mayor of Ioannina, Moses Elisaf called the Greeks living abroad, “a great strength,” and invited them all to become ambassadors of Ioannina and Epirus to the United States in his interview with The National Herald.
Elisaf, a Professor of Pathology at the University of Ioannina Medical School, director of the 2nd Pathology Clinic of the University General Hospital of Ioannina, and the first Jewish mayor elected in Greece, spoke about the community of Romaniotes, the problems that he has to solve in the city, the refugee crisis, and the Palestinian issue.
TNH: As a Romaniote Jew, do you think your victory is a vindication for the community, which was almost completely exterminated by the Nazis?
Mayor Moses Elisaf: We could say that, too. Today, the Community has shrunk. It's just fifty people. However, its presence is interrelated with the long history of Ioannina. Christians and Jews co-existed, worked, and left their mark on the city. My election, however, was not based on religion. My fellow citizens judged our journey, our contribution, our experience, and trusted us for our proposal and our program.
TNH: You won a very close election against your opponent Thomas Begas, by a margin of 50.33-49.67 percent of the vote, a slim edge of 0.66 percent. What are your thoughts on the campaign?
Elisaf: It was a special night. Full of anxiety and great joy... We waited until the last polling station’s votes were counted to make sure we were the winners. Hundreds of citizens gathered to celebrate with us, while it is noteworthy that the heads of the larger factions came as well as the outgoing mayor to congratulate us.
TNH: What changes do you hope to make during your tenure and how will you manage the issue of Kleisthenis [provisions making the voting process more democratic that went into effect this year]?
Elisaf: The most important thing to do is to solve everyday problems in the city and to give Ioannina the opportunities it deserves. The operation of the City Council, as shown by Kleisthenis, and the simple proportionate system, is something completely new, which will be handled by most mayors in the country. The key to its efficient operation is cooperation. We insisted very much during the pre-election period on the need for cooperation of all the associated forces of the area to make a leap forward in Ioannina. This cooperation will be sought with the other factions and within the City Council.
TNH: Your victory garnered a great deal of attention not only in Greece but from large international news agencies. Does this give you even greater responsibilities?
Elisaf: It is true that a great deal of publicity was given by the Greek and foreign press. I consider it important that the city of Ioannina was also highlighted through it. Clearly, the visibility and dimensions given to my election created greater responsibilities. We have no right to deny the hopes of our fellow citizens and their need for a major change in the city.
TNH: As a professor of medicine, would you like to make a comment on the importance of the University in the life of the city, but also about its future?
Elisaf: The presence of the University has been and remains a catalyst for Ioannina. Its contribution is invaluable both for the spiritual and economic life of the area. I think we have one of the best Greek universities, with excellent infrastructure, with high-level teaching and research staff. I have served the University and the Medical School and from my new position I will seek the greatest possible cooperation.
TNH: Many refugees are in Ioannina. What is the attitude of the local community towards this issue and what is your position?
Elisaf: In recent years, our country has been facing the refugee problem. In Ioannina, there are organized structures for refugees as well as structures for minors. With the arrival of the first refugees, a wave of support and solidarity with the citizens took place. Besides, in Ioannina we had a similar experience when, in the early 1990s, we were called to look after and care for hundreds of people arriving from Albania.
We believe that Local Government should play an active role with the refugees, which until now were mainly handled by NGOs. Municipalities are required to address the issue.
TNH: On your social media pages there were questions from citizens about your position on the Palestinian issue. Would you like to make a comment?
Elisaf: I understand the logic of questions that have nothing to do with the operation of the Municipality. Today's issue for Ioannina is not the view of the mayor and his colleagues about international problems, one of which is the Palestinian issue, but the problems of our fellow citizens. This is what we intend to focus on without, of course, being indifferent to what is happening around us.
TNH: There are a large number of expatriates in the U.S. What is your message to them?
Elisaf: Epirus is a place tested by wars, hardship and poverty. As a result, people left for foreign lands and today we have communities of Epirotes in every corner of the world. It is a huge strength for us. We want them by our side. Everyone wherever they happen to be can help us with what we call "planned extroversion" and become an ambassador of Ioannina and Epirus. We have a large number of Epirotes in America with strong associations. We ask for their cooperation, we will pursue it because we regard them as our own part and we hope that they will also stand as assistants in our effort.