Traditional mountain life

There are villages throughout the mountains, and you wonder why places so ruggedand inaccessible should ever have beenpopulated. But it is this very inaccessibility which provides the answer. Peoplesought refuge in these natural fastnesses,especially from the Turks, who overran andcontrolled the lowlands from their capture of Constantinople in 1453 until, in the caseof northern Greece, World War I. The out-lawed sheep-rustlers and brigands – kleftes- made their lairs in the mountains andformed what we would now call the lib-eration army that finally drove the Turksout and instituted the beginnings of themodern Greek state in the 1820s.During World War II many Greeks again took to their mountains to form oneof Europe’s biggest Resistance movements.With the outbreak of Civil War in 1946 -for which many Greeks blame the British- a new generation of outlaws made the mountains their base. This time they were  Communist guerrillas, mostly veterans ofthe Resistance, wtio felt that Anglo-American domination, restoration of the monarchyand the return of the old politicians fromtheir safe wartime haven in Egypt, was notwhat they had fought for. 11 was this warwhich occasioned the promulgation ofthe Truman Doctrine and America’s firstattempt to halt the feared domino effect:  the obsessive notion that if one state fellunder Communist influence, then otherswould follow.The mountain communities endured10 years of war in the 1940s, more thantheir fragile economy could stand.Populations were evacuated to the low-lands to prevent them supporting the guerrillas. Children went to school, adults found jobs. By the time peace came in the1950s village fields had reverted to nature and there was no other work. Many families never returned to their mountain homes.

You can still get a sense of how traditional mountain life must once haw been, although much has changed over the last 40 years. The biggest change has been the end of all economic essentially agricultural – activity in the mountains. Already in the 1970sthe population had been drastically reducedby emigration, but those who remainedwere still able to maintain a bit of farm-ing activity. Now they are too old and toofew. There is no longer any cultivation.There are no young children, no schoolsanywhere. The only economic activity is(he arrival of the shepherds in May, bring-ing their flocks to the mountain pasturesfor the summer, and the seasonal returnfrom the cities of now retired emigres,sometimes with their children and grand-children in the school holidays. Many villages are almost completely desertedin the winter.There is a certain melancholy in theovergrown fields and crumbling terraces,the ancient footpaths washed off the mountainside or impenetrably overgrown.

Yet, paradoxically, there is more life and investment than there has been for years. Thechildren of those who emigrated havebecome prosperous enough to rebuildfamily homes for holiday times. Villagesquares are freshly paved. Churches arerestored. There is at last a sense that therewas something valuable about the life thathas been lost, and people have begun totake a pride in saving what they can.

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