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This Week in History: January 7th to 13th

JANUARY 7TH:

On this day in 1934, Tassos Papadopoulos, the Cypriot politician and lawyer, was born in Nicosia, Cyprus. After studying law at King’s College London and Gray’s Inn, Papadopoulos returned to Cyprus to practice law. Papadopoulos was always drawn to politics and participated in the island’s political life. He was eventually elected as the fifth President of Cyprus and served the country for exactly five years – from February 28, 2005 to February 28, 2008. Papadopoulos has been described as a “hardline champion of Greek Cypriots.” In 2004, he urged the Greek Cypriots to vote against the UN-backed reunification proposal – the Annan Plan – with Turkish Cyprus. While Turkish Cypriots voted to accept the plan, Greek Cypriots overwhelmingly voted to reject it, and, as a result, Greek Cyprus alone was admitted to the European Union in May of 2004. Papadopoulos, an avid smoker, ultimately died of lung cancer in 2008. Almost one year after he was buried, his corpse was taken from his grave. At the time, news sources said that police described the act as “highly organized” – the body snatchers shifted a heavy marble slab encasing his tomb and dug through several feet of dirt to reach the corpse before covering their tracks with lime. Three months after the act of sacrilege the body was found in another cemetery in Nicosia after the police received an anonymous tip that the body had been moved there. DNA testing confirmed that the body was indeed the late president’s corpse.

JANUARY 12TH:

On this day in 1873, Spyridon Louis, the first modern Olympics marathon (40 km) winner, was born in Marousi, Greece. Louis was not favored to win the Olympic title but his unexpected triumph gave Greece its only victory in a track and field athletics event at the 1896 Olympic games. Before becoming a national hero as a result of his Olympic medal, Louis helped his father sell and transport mineral water in Athens, which at the time lacked a central water supply. After the race, he became a police officer, but eventually lost his job when he was imprisoned for more than a year for falsifying military documents before being acquitted in 1927. In Greece, various sports establishments are named after Louis – including the Olympic Stadium built in Athens in anticipation of the 2004 Olympics. Today, the phrase ‘egina/ginomai Louis’ (I became/I am becoming Louis) is known as a common Greek phrase meaning ‘to disappear by running fast.’

JANUARY 13TH:

On this day in 1822, the design of the Greek flag was adopted by the First National Assembly at Epidaurus. The national flag of Greece, popularly referred to as the ‘blue and white’ (Greek: Γαλανόλευκη) is officially recognized by Greece as one of its national symbols and has nine equal horizontal stripes of blue alternating with white (the colors of the famed Greek sky and sea). There is a blue canton in the upper hoist-side corner bearing a white cross; the cross symbolizes Eastern Orthodox Christianity, the established religion of the Greek people of Greece and Cyprus. The shade of blue used in the flag has varied throughout its history, from light blue to dark blue, the latter being increasingly used since the late 1960s. According to popular tradition, the nine stripes represent the nine syllables of the phrase ‘Ελευθερία ή Θάνατος’ (Freedom or Death), the five blue stripes for the syllables ‘Ελευθερία’ and the four white stripes ‘ή Θάνατος’. The nine stripes are also said to represent the letters of the word ‘freedom’ (Greek: ελευθερία). There is also a different theory, that the nine stripes symbolize the nine Muses, the goddesses of art and civilization (nine has traditionally been one of the numbers of reference for the Greeks).

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