On this day in 1959, Archbishop Makarios III of Cyprus was elected the first president of Cyprus when Britain granted the island independence in the same year. In his three terms (1959-1977), he survived four assassination attempts and a 1974 coup. Born Michael Mouskos, the son of a goat-herder in the village of Ano Panayia (near Paphos in western Cyprus), he studied in Cyprus and at the University of Athens and later at the School of Theology of Boston University. Makarios was ordained in 1946, eventually elected bishop of Kition in 1948 and then Archbishop of Cyprus in 1950. Leader of the Greek Cypriots in the movement for enosis (union with Greece), he was exiled by the British in 1956 on charges of encouraging terrorism. Makarios was released from exile after a year, although he was still forbidden to return to Cyprus. Instead, he went to Athens, where he was rapturously received. Basing himself in the Greek capital, he continued to work for enosis. Upon his eventual return to Cyprus in March 1959, he was welcomed by the Greek-Cypriot community and in December of the same year, was elected president of the future Republic of Cyprus. Makarios’ funeral in August of 1977 was interrupted by a rainstorm – something unheard of in Cyprus for that month. Some called it a miracle – while a Greek-Cypriot newspaper referred to the event as proving an old Greek proverb that when a good man is buried, even the heavens shed tears.
On this day in 1883, Manolis Kalomiris, the Greek opera composer, was born in Smyrna. The son of a middle-class family, Kalomiris went to study piano in Athens and later on in Constantinople. He studied music at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna and following his graduation worked as a piano teacher in Kharkov, Russia (present-day Ukraine) where he became well-acquainted with Russian music. He wrote articles and published a famous manifesto for the creation of a “National School” of Greek music – making it his life’s goal to establish such a school. In 1919 he founded the Hellenic Conservatory and then in 1926, the National Conservatory – which he managed until 1948. Kalomiris wrote three symphonies, five operas, one piano concerto, and one violin concertino, along with various other chamber music and numerous songs and piano works. Kalomiris is honored as the father of Greek national music as he played a decisive role in shaping the musical landscape in Greece – and even more so in the founding and development of the Greek National Opera (where he served as Director General and Chairman of the Board from 1950 to 1952).
On this day in 2012, 18 asylum seekers drowned in the Aegean Sea on their way to Greece from Turkey. The corpses of 18 men were recovered off the coast of Lesbos (a Greek island close to Turkey). One of the survivors picked up by the Coast Guard officers said that the boat had sunk amid choppy waters and added that 28 people had originally been on the boat – inclusive of women and children. Although it is sometimes thought of as a more recent problem, many illegal immigrants have died trying to cross into Greece from Turkey over the past (at least) ten years. The borders between the two countries are a key entry point for illegal immigrants seeking a better life in Europe.
On this day in 1974, Kostas Varnalis, the Greek journalist, writer and poet, died at the age of 90. Varnalis was born in Pyrgos, Eastern Rumelia (present-day Bulgaria). He received a scholarship from the Greek community of Eastern Rumelia to study literature in Athens at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. A few years later, he was appointed to a teaching post in Greece. After 10 years, in 1919, he went to Paris for his postgraduate studies. While there, Varnalis changed radically as a person; he was deeply moved by the suffering of the common people during World War I and greatly influenced by the October Revolution in Russia. When he returned to Greece, he acquired the label ‘leftist’ or ‘Marxist’ which led to his dismissal from his teaching post during the Pangalos dictatorship in the 1920s. After 1926, Varnalis began his journalism career – a profession he practiced until the end of his life.