In the second of my series on the Modern Greece, we again join Simon Reeves, our convivial tour guide as he travels to Crete, the largest of the Greek islands and is positioned equidistant between Athens and Africa. Most Tourists stay on the coast, but to truly learn the character of the Cretans, it is better to go up into the mountains.
Simon embarks on a pretty novel and highly dangerous way of looking at the topology of the countryside. He sits on a flying trike with a parachute attached to the back. Launching this death trap involves a run up on the normal highway and involves a lot of shouting and gesticulating at the unsuspecting and surprisingly amenable motorists to clear enough road to safely ascend. I do not think Mr Reeves is fully certain of the safety of this particular enterprise, but it certain reveals the rugged beauty of the landscape.
From the sublime to the Ridiculous, Simon’s next visit is to Father Andreas, a large ,bearded and Jolly man who is also a pistol toting sharp shooter and President of The Gun Club. He says that Religion and guns are closely linked in Greece and that many Greeks have a relationship with Guns. He says they even teach their children to shoot. It is hard to quantify how many guns are held by citizens as most are unlicensed.
Now this got me to thinking about how Greece stacks up against the other place which holds Gun ownership as sacred, the USA. So a quick search revealed the following.
Violent crime > Gun crime
Guns per 100 residents
Ranked 23rd in the world
4 times more than Greece
Murder rate per million people
Simon admits to misgivings as he is given a loaded gun to shoot, an alien thing for any average Englishman where of course, gun ownership is minimal. The island was flooded with firearms when the Island became a smuggler’s rest for weapons headed to the Balkan wars during the 1990s.
I do not really hold with guns generally but I do see a correlation between the History of the Island( and Greece in general) and the number of guns still in circulation. There does not seem to be the same amount of evidence for the USA who have not been under direct attack by foreign forces since the British were routed.
I agree that to truly understand why guns are so integral in Cretans lives, you have to examine the island’s Strategic positioning in the Mediterranean. Centuries have seen the island attacked countless times by the Romans,the Arabs, Vandals, Slavs and Ottomans, but the real trigger point came in 1941 when the Germans invaded. The Cretans fought back with old rifles and clubs and was the first real resistance that the Germans had met since their campaign to rule Europe had begun.
Simon Travels with Father Andreas to Anogia, the town of his birth and a centre of the resistance movement, where Cretans would fight the Germans and helped British Agents to Kidnap a Nazi General. German retribution was swift and without Mercy, every male within a kilometre of the village was slaughtered and every house in the village was set alight or blown up. Ten Members of Father Andreas’s family group are memorialised on the memorial stone and he shows two particular names, two girls aged fifteen and seventeen, who were tortured, Raped and ultimately killed because they were caught at the outskirts of the village.
Higher up in the hills Andreas and Simon meet young Shepherds, rough men in a tough terrain who believe that Germany again seeks to overtake Europe not this time by brute Force, but through Financial Policy. Whilst the Second World War is a distant Memory for much of Europe a cautionary tale viewed through the lens of hindsight ,should a country ever get too big for it’s boots , it is raw and present for these men.
I do not wholly agree with their rhetoric, but see how the Greek Financial Crisis might be viewed that way as Germany does appear to be the driving force with most power in the Eurozone. They are not bad men, they just see the world filtered a different way, shaped by losses up fathomable to countries where Nazi boots never fell.
After spending a freezing cold night in a fortified Shepherd Hut, used rather like the Pillboxes on British Clifftops during the war, Simon is ready to a Travel on and Back , further into history to visit a site of extreme historical significance .