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This Week in History: March 6th to 12th

Ευρωκίνηση

The late Greek actress Melina Mercouri. (Photo by Eurokinissi, file)

March 6th: 

On this day in 1994, Melina Mercouri, the Greek actress, singer, activist, and politician, died of lung cancer at the age of 73. Mercouri was raised by a politically prominent family and graduated from the Drama School of the National Theatre of Greece. Two of her most memorable parts were Blanche in a Streetcar Named Desire and the good-hearted prostitute in the film Never on Sunday (1960) – a role for which she was nominated for an Oscar. The actress was a passionate anti-Fascist who lost her Greek citizenship and property in 1967 for her aggressive opposition to the Junta that held power in Athens until 1974. After the collapse of the dictatorship, Mercouri returned to Greece and promptly joined Andreas Papandreou’s Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK). In 1981, PASOK won the general election and Mercouri was appointed to be Papandreou’s Minister of Culture and Sports – the first woman to hold this position. One of her major efforts was an attempt to persuade the British government to return the Elgin Marbles to Greece. She also increased government subsidies for the arts. In 1997, three years after Mercouri passed, UNESCO created the Melina Mercouri International Prize for the Safeguarding and Management of Cultural Landscapes – the prize is awarded every two years to this day.

March 7th: 

On this day in 1948, the Dodecanese islands officially became part of Greece again, ending Italian rule. The integration with the Greek state came after many years of struggles and sacrifices of the people of the occupied Dodecanese islands. The first attempt was made in the summer of 1912 when the representatives of the islands declared the independent State of the Aegean. However, it was ultimately the defeat of the Nazis during World War II where Greece fought decisively on the side of the Allied Forces that led the way to integration. Despite being occupied, the people of the Dodecanese maintained the Greek language, as well as the Orthodox faith and traditions of Greece throughout the years of oppression when the Italians prohibited the Greek language. In fact, when the officials from Athens arrived on Rhodes for the official unification ceremony in 1948, they had brought translators with them because they expected the people to speak only Italian. Instead, they were soon greeted in Greek by the people who were so excited for the reunification with their homeland.

March 10th:

On this day in 1925, Manolis Anagnostakis, the Greek poet, was born in Thessaloniki. During the chaotic period of 1944, Anagnostakis served as the Editor-in-Chief of Xekinima (The Start), a student magazine at the University of Thessaloniki. In 1945, he published his first book of poetry called Epoches (Seasons). He eventually became a critic at the forefront of the Marxist and existentialist poetry movements which arose during and after the Greek Civil War in the late 1940s. His left-wing tendencies inspired him to join the Resistance, which eventually led to his sentencing to death by a military court during the Civil War. He was arrested for his involvement with the Student Movement at the University of Thessaloniki in 1948 and consequently spent several years in state prison. His second volume, Epoches 2, was published after he was imprisoned. The following year, Anagnostakis was both expelled from the Communist Party of Greece and tried in court. He received a death sentence but out-survived the government and upon his release in 1951, he published the last book in the Epoches cycle. He then went on to study medicine (radiology, more specifically) and worked as a radiologist for about 20 years but always continued to write. Anagnostakis is considered to be one of the most important poets to have emerged in Greece after World War II. His poems have been translated into many languages including English, French, German, Italian and were set to music by composers such as Mikis Theodorakis, Thanos Mikroutsikos, and Giannis Markopoulos.