July 28th: On this day in 1974, Alexis Tsipras, the former Prime Minister of Greece, was born in Athens. In his early years, Tsipras joined the Communist Youth of Greece and was politically active in student protests against education reform plans. He studied civil engineering at the National Technical University of Athens, where he graduated in 2000. He eventually became a national secretary of the youth branch of the Synaspismos (a leftist political coalition) and went on to become the youngest-ever leader of the organization’s main body. Only 8 years later, he was elected as the leader of Syriza and subsequently became leader of the opposition in 2012. In January of 2015, Tsipras became Prime Minister of Greece riding into office ‘on a wave of popular opposition to the austerity measures’ imposed by earlier Greek governments as a consequence of its bailout loans from the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which Tsipras promised to renegotiate. He stirred controversy by openly criticizing the Greek Orthodox Church and by refusing to swear on the Bible at the time of his inauguration as Prime Minister of Greece. Tsipras and his domestic partner, fellow engineer Peristera (Betty) Batziana, have raised two sons, one of whom was named after the Marxist revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara.
July 29th: On this day in 1925 Mikis Theodorakis, the renowned Greek composer, was born on the island of Chios. During his lengthy career, Theodorakis composed some of the most recognizable and iconic music in the world, including the film scores for Zorba the Greek and Z.
His composition titled The Ballad of Mauthausen, based on the poems of Iakovos Kambanellis, has been described as ‘the most beautiful musical work ever written about the Holocaust.’ During the junta, Theodorakis’ music was banned and Theodorakis himself was jailed and sent to prison camps. He was eventually allowed to go into exile in France after an international solidarity movement demanded his release. The generations of Greeks who grew up with his songs continue to sing them regardless of political affiliation and in spite of the fact that Theodorakis has long been associated with the Greek Left. (As an aside, though he had ties to the Communist Party, he served as a government minister under right-wing Constantine Mitsotakis in the early 1990’s). Today, Theodorakis is revered for his outstanding contributions to music and to society at large.
August 2nd: On this day in 1918, the three-day Toronto anti-Greek riot began. Sparked by frustrated Canadian World War I (“War”) veterans who were angered and resentful about Greece’s neutrality during the War and with the number of Greeks in Canada with jobs, the riot caused $1.25 million worth of property damage, sent 25 people to jail, and injured over 160 people.
Over 50,000 people participated in the riot in Toronto’s streets which started when a mob attacked the Greek-owned White City cafe in response to rumors that a Canadian veteran had been roughly treated there. The mob gained more and more members who began looting Greek businesses throughout the city of Toronto.
August 3rd: On this day in 1989, Olympic Airways Flight 330 from Thessaloniki to Samos crashed in the Kerketus mountain range in Samos, killing all 34 people (3 crew members and 31 passengers) who were on board. According to the Athens News Agency, the bodies of all the victims were found – they happened to be all Greek – but only 10 were identifiable. The plane hit the mountain slopes on its belly in densely foggy weather and splintered into pieces about 100 yards from the top of the ridge of the mountain range. The devastating crash occurred at the height of the holiday season, when thousands of Greeks from abroad go back to their native country to visit friends and family.