Elections in Greece: on the island of Karpathos, “outraged” residents face an absentee state

“We are treated as second-class Greek citizens!”: On the remote island of Karpathos in the southern Aegean Sea, resentment is brewing in a state considered absent ahead of Sunday’s elections.

Far from the ongoing political battles in Athens, residents of two villages in the Dodecanese archipelago, Diafani and Olympos, in the north of the island, are worried. This summer, the elementary school that currently houses two students may close its doors for good.

“We are outraged! Without a doctor that lasts for more than a year, without a pharmacy, and soon without a school… We are treated as second-class Greek citizens!”

There is a black-and-white photograph of their class in 1961 in their cousin’s cafe. At that time, there were about sixty school children.

The island of Karpathos, which has 6,500 inhabitants, lies between Crete and Rhodes. It takes more than 15 hours to reach Athens by boat. And the link is provided only twice a week.

Here, we live mainly from agriculture and, when the good weather returns, from tourism.

– No bank, no post office –

There is neither a bank, nor a pharmacy, nor a post office, nor a petrol pump in Difani. From the island’s capital Pigadia, the road built in the 80s is winding, often cobbled, poorly lit.

Theodora Koukourikou and her 11-year-old pupil Vassilis at the school in Diafani village on Karpathos, May 5, 2023 (AFP – Louisa Goulimaki)

Every morning at 8:30 the bus drops off for Diphani, Vassilis, 11, and Merinos, 8, who live in Olympos. His teacher, Theodora Koukourikou, is waiting to take him to her establishment on the heights of the village facing the sea.

“These schools in isolated islands are the breath of life for small communities. Once closed, nothing will be left of Diphani or Olympos … It will be just a destination for tourists in the summer!” Old, named in September.

At the beginning of the next school year, Vassilis will go to college in Olympos and will be among the eight students being educated there. Merinos could do this despite his young age.

The hilltop town of Olympos, with its windmills, pastel-coloured houses and chapel, has still managed to keep alive its craftsmanship, its dialect and its music.

Sofia Chatjipapa at her Olympos cafe in Karpathos on May 6, 2023 (AFP - Louisa Gouliamaki)
Sofia Chatjipapa at her Olympos cafe in Karpathos on May 6, 2023 (AFP – Louisa Gouliamaki)

“But for how long?” In her cafe, Sofia asks Chatjipa, who wears traditional dress: a flowered apron, a long black embroidered blouse, and a scarf on her head.

On his counter hang the pamphlets of the candidates for election. Seventy year olds laugh.

She says, “MPs, prime ministers, presidents, they all pass by praising our beautiful village.” “They take their picture. Then once in Athens, they forget us, us and our problems…”

For some residents, the entire future of the isolated villages is in question. Diafani and Olympos now have only 500 inhabitants, compared to 1,250 in 1961.

“In the 1960s, most of the residents went to work abroad, and few came back”, laments Yannis Hatzivasilis.

“The younger generations who aspire to a more comfortable way of life continue to leave. The desertification of our villages is an open wound that no government has managed to close!”, he explains.

– Beautiful Country –

Together with his father, he sculpted the school’s facade with bas-reliefs evoking mythological scenes. He says, “We have a beautiful country, but it doesn’t have a leader worthy of it.”

Hiding behind her stove in the tavern she runs in Olympos, Marina Lentakis, little Vasilis’s mother, worries: “If the primary school closes (…) it will increase the departure of all families, even if ‘still a few young children’.

Yannis Preiris at his Olympos workshop in Karpathos on May 6, 2023 (AFP - Louisa Gouliamaki)
Yannis Preiris at his Olympos workshop in Karpathos on May 6, 2023 (AFP – Louisa Gouliamaki)

Yannis Preris has a son barely two years old, but he already knows that if the school closes, he will be forced to leave Olympos.

He is the last cobbler to make the leather shoes that are part of the traditional dress of the women of Olympos.

“We demand a doctor, a school, safe roads, public transport, basic services that any state should provide to all citizens,” he pleaded.

The craftsman would like to stay in Olympos: “My grandfather and then my father did this work. If I leave, it’s a whole craft that will disappear”.

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