Hydriots seldom lack in pride for their island. Its physical beauty is almost mythical, its light, sea, and atmosphere a constant inspiration for both the artistic and those who admire life as art. It is also an island with a glorious history hidden in plain sight, the details of which are very familiar to all who are proud to identify with this island. The islanders' naval skill and grit, together with its vast wealth at the time of the Greek War of Independence is probably why we even have a Greece, whose 200th birthday we celebrate next year.
As can be expected from an island which led from the front in 1821, now, in anticipation of 2021, Hydra is once again assuming a leading role in the celebrations. “Hydra: Rock of Liberty 1821-2021” is an initiative with wide support from both the public and private sector, backed by a crew of volunteers whose goal it is to remind the world of this island which sacrificed so much for liberty.
Guiding the ship, to continue with the naval metaphor, is Hydra's mayor, George Koukoudakis. I thought it made sense to catch up with him to talk about this initiative.
Alexander Billinis: Mr. Mayor, so many stories are now told as `tweets' – a message in one or two sentences. What is your message about Hydra 2021?
George Koukoudakis: Hydra is the island with probably the greatest contribution to the Greek War of independence. Hydra is the `Rock of Liberty' as many artists and scholars like to call it.
AB: What types of events are planned over the next months or years to celebrate our island's role in the War of Independence?
GK: A series of events have already been planned. These include academic conferences, painting exhibitions, concerts, publications, and sport activities. It is worth mentioning, moreover, that in Hydra every year, on the last weekend of June, the Mioulia Festival takes place dedicated to the memory of the Hydriot Admiral of the Greek War of Independence, Andreas Miaoulis. The symbolic representation of the naval battle at Geronta with the setting on fire of a Turkish frigate outside of Hydra's port is at the epicenter of this festivity. During this festival the island is packed with revelers.
AB: In our previous conversation you said that most people either know “something” about Hydra's Role in the War of Independence or “nothing” about it. How do you plan to build awareness about the island's unique role in the years from 1821-1830?
GK: Building greater awareness, in Greece and abroad, about Hydra's role is the main goal of the events we are planning. For this reason, events will take place not only on Hydra but in different places. We are already in contact with municipalities in Greece and foreign embassies. With the Mayors of Spetses and Psara, for example, very shortly we are going to sign a twinning memorandum that will provide the basis for a closer co-operation in order to co-organize events about our islands' contribution to the Revolution of 1821.
AB: Hydra's wealth was built on trade, and connections with the Greek Diaspora. How do you plan on reaching out to the Greek Diaspora?
GK: As I mentioned earlier we are already in contact with foreign embassies in Athens as well as with organizations of the Greek diaspora abroad in order to co-decide on events that we can organize abroad or in Hydra.
Also, your question offers me the opportunity to make an appeal to the organizations of the Greek Diaspora and invite them to contact the Municipality of Hydra in order to propose events in Hydra or in their country of residence.
AB: The Hydriots succeeded despite the difficult politics and economics of the era. What does their story tell us today?
GK: The story of the Hydriots of 1821 tells us today that nothing should be taken for granted and we have to constantly fight for our rights and freedoms. By taking their determination and sacrifice as an example we should not be afraid about any challenge. They were few and militarily weak and they fought against many and the militarily strong. They won because they had determination and they were absolutely conscious about the just and sacred cause they were fighting for, and they were fully aware of their glorious ancestors.
AB: Finally, while the exploits of Hydra's fleet and its wealth are well known, I believe that it is equally fascinating to find out how Hydra became so powerful and wealthy in such a short time, from such humble beginnings. Are there going to be any initiatives, lectures, or publications to discuss this phenomenon?
GK: Absolutely, a series of lectures and publications have been already arranged. Distinguished academics and scholars are going to participate. Our goal as a Municipality is to organize similar events abroad and especially in co-operation of the Greek Diaspora. It will be very helpful therefore for Hydriots and Greeks that live abroad to organize such events.
We will be more than pleased to co-operate and even participate in these events. It is also worth mentioning that our Municipality managed to obtain original copies of archives of the Ottoman Empire with references to Hydra. The translation of these archives into Greek and English will be completed shortly. This development will enable us to further enrich our knowledge of our past in general and about Hydra in particular.
Mayor George Koukoudakis is Assistant Professor at the Hellenic Army Academy. His research has been published in various academic journals, conferences and monographs.