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Konstantinos Politis, President of the Greek Community of Tashkent, Uzbekistan. (Photo provided by Mr. Konstantinos Politis)
BOSTON – Last month, Konstantinos Politis, President of the Greek Community in Uzbekistan, visited the United States. He visited Saint Augustine in Florida, where his brother, Archimandrite Fr. Maximus Politis, is the presiding priest of the Holy Trinity parish. They spent the Christmas and Epiphany holidays together.
Mr. Politis is an architect and designer by profession and at the same time a driving force in the Greek community of Tashkent, about which he extensively and revealingly spoke to The National Herald.
Politis comes from Thessaloniki, and when asked how he ended up going from Thessaloniki to Tashkent, he said, “before Tashkent, I spent six years in Constantinople, where I worked as a restorer and designer. Specifically, in some Turkish museums, we did restructuring, collection organization, and restoration of some old buildings and churches. During that period, I met a lady who was the president of The Christensen Fund in Palo Alto, California. She hired me as a project manager, and in this capacity, I went to Uzbekistan in Central Asia where for three years, from 2004 to 2007, I was involved in some museum projects. I studied museology in France, and in Uzbekistan, we organized some museum collections.”
He continued: “This American foundation sent me to Tashkent where we organized some museums and collections. I also went Tajikistan, Kazakhstan – all those countries since I liked Uzbekistan very much, which was still a country untouched. I decided to stay and get involved professionally. I opened an architectural office and for several years, I worked with the Ministry of Culture and UNESCO. We did restorations in historic buildings from the Islamic period, as well as many private projects such as villas, hotels – on the design side. For the last four years, I have been the president of the Greek Community, which has been there since the post-revolutionary period, meaning with the end of the Greek civil war – around ten to fifteen thousand fighters, men, and women, stood in Tashkent.”
Politis explained that “the events were such that when the communist fighters lost the war, they crossed the borders into Albania and Yugoslavia and sought refuge in the countries of the Eastern Bloc. So, Stalin decided to send this large group of rebels to Tashkent, and their settlement took place in 1949, when the Greek Association was founded, which within two decades reached a count of forty thousand. A building was constructed with a theater, offices, a school – in other words, I a large installation that served the entire community during the Soviet era. During the transition, when amnesty was granted to the communists, repatriation from Tashkent to Greece began.”
He emphasized that “there was mass repatriation, and now in our era, from forty thousand, only fifteen hundred remain, and they are all third generation, so we can simply say that they have Greek roots.”
Asked if they speak Greek, he said, “no, the language was lost because essentially after the mass repatriation of the Greeks, the issue of the Hellenism of Tashkent was closed for the Greek State, meaning it was considered that everyone had returned, so there was no interest from Greece in cultivating this remaining part.”
Asked if this Greek Center exists, Politis said, “it does. I can say that we saved it from confiscation by the state, and I undertook this effort as an architect. I can say that it was crowned with success, and we have started a great project of revival and rebirth of Hellenism in Asia. I say Asia because it is the only Greek Center in all of Asia that is now operating dynamically.”
No, there is no church in this Center because, as Politis explained, “all the refugees were communists, they had no connection to religion. Last year, the Vice President of the European Union, Margaritis Schinas, visited, and he asked Politis how this Community was maintained without a church because usually the church unites. I replied that this space you see, the Cultural Center and the theater, was the Church of the People, meaning every Sunday the Greeks, including the children, came from morning until night, and the cultivation of the Greek spirit took place. This is what I am trying to revive now – the facilities exist, we have renovated them.”
He said that the Center “is economically maintained with our own local resources. Unfortunately, we still have no communication with the Ministry, with Greece. There is a big problem because there is no Consulate, and these people suffer because for any certificate, for a passport, we have to send it to Moscow. It’s a big process, a hardship.”
Regarding what the Greeks of Tashkent are involved in, Politis said, “in these cases [it is hard] to generalize. It is the same as with the Greek Community of Constantinople – those who remained are the lower strata of society, those who did not have money to leave. We are talking about private employees. Generally, life in Tashkent is easier, simpler – it is a society with Eastern elements but also with European elements. Personally, I like it because it reminds me of Thessaloniki forty-fifty years ago.”
When asked how they coexist with the local residents, he replied, “it is a society that has been changing rapidly over the past five years. It’s a two-speed society: the majority live a simple life, which is cheap, but [there is also] a more European or Western lifestyle – prices have skyrocketed, meaning they can be double what they are in Europe. Uzbekistan has 38 million inhabitants, and every year one million children are born.”
Asked if there is a Greek school, Politis said, “that is our sore issue. I make tremendous efforts, I have written to the Ministries, but we don’t have teachers. If we had two teachers, I could arrange the rest. We have around 35 children, whom I try to teach myself, and I have one teacher who is Uzbek and teaches Greek. Greece maintains a cultural presence in Asia. Many people tell me they want to learn Greek. Alexander the Great is more popular here than in Greece.”
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