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This Week in History: March 5th to 11th

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 islands. The first attempt was made in the summer of 1912 when the representatives of the islands declared it 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 the 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 9th:

On this day in 1956, Archbishop Makarios of Cyprus was arrested and exiled to the Seychelles. The British authorities ordered the deportation of the Greek-Cypriot leader in the hope of restoring law and order to the crown colony. The Archbishop was arrested after refusing to denounce the use of violence. Britain accused him of “actively fostering 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 (reunification). During the following two years, he attended the General Assembly of the United Nations where the Cyprus question was discussed and worked hard to achieve union with Greece. Upon his 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.

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