The neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn threatens those struggling minority in Greece. The Aromanian artist Constantine Themelis received death threats via Facebook.
It was in March last year as Constatine Themelis almost got killed because of a poetry event. Themelis was to arrange an event for aromanian poetry during the International Day of Poetry. The plan was to gather in a cafe and read poetry in Aromanian.
It did not take long before the Golden Dawn responded and began sending death threats to Themelis and his colleagues through Facebook.
– You will not leave the café alive in case you arrange the event, said one threat that we got on our Facebook page, says Themelis.
Then what happened?
– Nothing happened because I gathered around me a small private army of Aromanian friends. The event was a success. We shall see if this success story will be continued.
I meet Themelis with another aromanian activist Sotiris Bletsas at a cafe inside a secluded alley in the center of Athens.
The case Bletsas
The activist and architect Sotiris Bletsas grew up in a small village in Greece in the 1960s and 1970s. Then there were far more who spoke Aromanian in Greece but it was also during the time of the Greek military junta. Bletsas remember how there could be signs in school buses that invited one to speak Greek.
– We often joke that our language survived in the Ottoman Empire but died out during a Greek government says Bletsas and laughing so that his eyes are a pair of dark streaks in the round face.
Bletsas made a name for himself in the late 1990s when he was sued for distributing EBLULS (European Bureau for Lesser-Used Languages) leaflets. On the flyers, there was information about lesser-used languages in Greece, including Aromanian. He was accused of sedition and for spreading anti-nationalist propaganda and risked being sentenced to 15 months in prison.
After the District Court’s judgment of 2001, the case Bletsas some attention in Parliament and even in the same year Bletsas freed of all charges in the Court of Appeal.
– Now I’m here, free, and handsome! Bletsas jokes.
Why did you give out the flyers?
– When I lived in Italy, I saw how minority languages could be used freely and I thought it was time to bring something similar to Greece. I wanted to inform people about our language, that it is alive and that it can survive. That’s it!
Shame in using ones mother tongue
I ask about an event that occurred just before we sat down at a table in the cafe. A waiter came up to us and spoke Greek. But suddenly Bletsas shouted happily something in Aromanian and gave the waiter a hearty slap on the back. It was as if the two would have been friends since long.
The waiter almost ran away, and rushed inside to hide behind the bar. Bletsas explained that the young man is aromanian and wanted to exemplify how many Aromanians are ashamed of speaking their native language in a public place.
– The Greek community tries to stigmatize aromanian so that I would feel ashamed to speak it, says Bletsas.
Constantine Themelis interjects.
– Even the name Vlach, that’s the Greek version of aromanian, is a derogatory term that is connected to being hillbilly and into something disgusting, says Themelis.
Bletsas comes with an example of how the shame of speaking Aromanian visible.
– Many young parents scold their parents if they are trying to teach Aromanian to their grandchildren, adds Bletsas.
Since the aromanians do not have a minority status in Greece, nobody is counting how many people speak the language in Greece. According to one estimate, there are around 200,000 people in Greece who speak Aromanian, but only ten thousand speaks the language fluently.
– I believe that the actual number of Aromanians in Greece could be over a million, but these refuse to speak Aromanian.
Aromanian is doomed in Greece
When Bletsas was in the middle of his trial, he believed strongly that the Aromanian language has a future in Greece. Today he is not as adamant.
– The aromanian language has a black future in Greece. The hope for the language to survive lies in other countries with Aromanian minorities such as Romania and Albania. In Greece, the language is condemned to death, sighs Bletsas.
What should be done for the future to look brighter?
– The state should realize that minorities are not a problem but richness. Aromanian elderly should teach the language to their children and grandchildren.
Constantine Themelis, who has long sat silent and listened to the discussion with an intense gaze, nods.
– Each language is a country without borders, he says.>>
(Article translated in English by Rose-Marie Sundström, reporter)
The original Swedish article: ”Ni kommer inte att lämna caféet levande”