3.4.2012

Οικονομία, Πολιτική

Tourism of memory and pride

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Tourism of memory and pride

Tourism is usually linked to pleasure and escape; at times it is also linked to memory, and an interest in history. It is undoubted that in Greece the most popular site, in relationship to its history, is the Acropolis. It symbolizes the direct link of the country to the ancient Athenian civilization and its mesmerizing grandeur in the fields of politics, arts, philosophy and sciences. However, one might inquire whether people in Greece are emotionally linked to this past; if it symbolizes more a time forever lost than an active inspiration, and if more gravity should be given to modern and contemporary Greek history. It might come as a surprise but there is certainly much more than the Acropolis to Greece, and this uncharted history could also become good business.

For example, these days, one would imagine the Greeks as remembering the first Allied land victory of the Second World War; which is nothing else but the Greek defeat of the Italian invasion. It might look like a small event, but for a country which at the time was hardly a military power, this was a terrific achievement. One has only to recall that during the first days of April 1941, fifteen of the twenty one Greek divisions were deployed against the Italians; the other six divisions were ready to face a German attack on the Metaxas Line. Greece received help only from British Commonwealth troops, moved from Libya by orders of Churchill.

As a result, the British and the Greeks stood alone against the Axis, and formed the original core of what would then become the Allies. It is also interesting to remember that Greek and British forces were overwhelmed only by the intervention of the Germans, who on the 6th of April came to the aid of Italy and invaded Greece through Bulgaria and Yugoslavia.

Sadly enough, few tourists are made aware of this fact in Greece; on the contrary, other countries take pride in events of this kind, and they promote the image of their nation through them. This is the case of Belgium, which has played an important role in the European history over the last two-hundred years; and has organized memory sites that cover Wallonia, the setting for Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo in 1815, and various sites of decisive battles of WWI and WW II – as in the case of the Bastogne Historical Centre that highlights the importance of this battle on the outcome of WW II, and is currently being refurbished until March 2013.

Outside Greece, memorials that commemorate events with a sense of regret are considered profoundly interesting as well. Not only they open the past to the curious tourist, as they often narrate of genocides perpetrated by former regimes and try to recount the historical circumstances that permitted such an event to take place, but they also work as a warning to future generations.

One example of these memorial sites is Sighet prison. The first political prison of Communist Romania, the place is now a memorial site directed to tourists who want to understand what took place within the walls of the prison. The initiative came to be due to the campaign ‘Europe, a common heritage’ (launched by the Council of Europe in 1999), which tried to focus also on the heritage of suffering that unites the European citizens.

As for Greece, the memorials to take into account are several. One that could be easily given more importance to is found in Thessaloniki, and it focuses on the deportation of the Jew population. In line with the Holocaust memorials one can find all over Europe, such a memorial could tell stories of heroism, as a certain part of the population tried to help the Jews, but also stories of undeniable cowardly, as other people took great advantage of the situation.

The Jews of Thessaloniki, some who had been in Greece since the Spanish Inquisition and others since ancient times, were an direct target for the occupation leaders in Greece. By December 1941 the Jewish cemetery was demolished, and by March of 1943 the deportation began. Most of the Jewish inhabitants of Thessaloniki were sent to Auschwitz death camp; and some of them transited through the Risiera of San Sabba, the deportation and extermination camp in Trieste, Italy. A moment in history this that could certainly be of interest to many foreigners who visit Greece.

Finally, since people can be skeptical on the inspirational value and importance of any memorial sites, especially in a country like Greece which should only look at ways to improve its economy, let me recall the cases of Titanic Belfast and National September 11 Memorial.

Titanic Belfast is a tourist project that recounts the building of the ship Titanic, and its tragic end. Capitalizing on the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking (15 April 1912), and the romantic depiction of the tragedy offered in the film Titanic (2002), the memorial site has already sold over 90,000 tickets to people in over twenty different countries around the world. The museum recreates life on board, and reveals how it was built and launched; what is more, nine separate galleries tell stories of people who made the vessel.

The National September 11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site in New York was built never to forget the series of four coordinated suicide attacks that took place in the United States on September 11, 2001. It stands there where once the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York stood; and in the first four months of its existence it has welcomed an impressive number of visitors, as claimed in the article ‘Tragedy and tourism: 9/11 memorial draws millionth visitor’, Los Angeles Times (30th Dec. 2011).

As a cynical person would say: this might be about memory but it is also good business.

Ideally, memorial sites seek to educate tourists, to let them draw lessons from the past, so to create informed, democratic citizens; what is more, they offer inspiration, especially if they desist from offering a process of passive or mislead education. If monitored and cherished, they can have long terms effect on citizens’ psychology because they can promote respect and courage.

I hardly have found any answers to my questions. I do not know whether people in Greece are emotionally linked to the past symbolized in the Acropolis. I often have the impression that in spite of the sense of wonder it evokes, it represents more a time forever lost than an active inspiration. Therefore, I tend to think that some more gravity should be given to modern and contemporary Greek memorial sites. They would clearly help the local economy, adding to the already present tourist attractions; but they could also link the present to relatively recent historical times, when the Greek people were able of great acts of courage, and this could be a strong inspiration to us all.

Photo: The Kalpaki Museum (source: Balkanhistory.com)

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Γράφει η Romana Turina

Romana TurinaRomana Turina is a lecturer in Communication at the University of Indianapolis. She works as screenwriter and research thematics concerning dramaturgy, memory studies, and animation as applied to the divulgation of knowledge.

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