The composer Mikis Theodorakis, who was detained on Makrónisos, has said that the legendary wind there would pick up the papers on which his poems were written, hurl them around, and impale them on the barbed wire that separated the cage of the incorrigibles from the rest of the prisoners.
- Chapter 5. 1946–1949: Emphýlios
- » Poems Were Impaled on the Barbed Wire
Chapter 5. 1946–1949: Emphýlios
Soldiers started being taken to Makrónisos in January 1947, after being briefly detained in the temporary encampment at Porto Rafti, the port of Markopoulo, to the east of Athens, by the new airport. Makrónisos is better known than Yáros. First of all, it was established by a specific act of Parliament, whereas the establishment of Yáros was unacknowledged and because of that, I would argue, more horrific. It was a secret that everybody knew and no one was at liberty to articulate. Makrónisos has also been more extensively analyzed. Conferences have been organized, papers have been written, dissertations have been directed and defended, and, more importantly, many testimonials, Communist Party publications, and oral histories have been published about Makrónisos. There is no question that Makrónisos had more detainees and lasted longer. While the three camps (Yáros, Makrónisos, and Trikeri) were established simultaneously in 1947, Makrónisos was continuously used until 1958. Until 1950, once they had signed dēlôseis prisoners from Yioúra were taken to Makrónisos, and from there some of them were sent to the front to fight against the Communist army. After 1950, some prisoners from Makrónisos, primarily conscripts who had not signed dēlôseis before the time of their military service was over (so had not been sent to the front) were sent to Yioúra. Yáros was emptied in 1953 and used again briefly in 1954. In 1955 it was reinstituted by a royal decree that reactivated decree 1137/1942, issued during the occupation, and was used for a few exiles in 1958 until 1963, when it was emptied. It was opened again by the junta in 1967 and in 1973 to 1974.
But Makrónisos is also the more spectacular of the camps, with its complexity, its structures, its ruins, its proximity to Athens, and its literary production. What later became post–civil-war literature was initially produced on Makrónisos. Yiannis Ritsos, Aris Alexandrou, Tasos Leivaditis, Titos Patrikios, and Mikis Theodorakis wrote poems there. Often they committed these to memory, but occasionally they scrawled them on paper, which was almost impossible to find, and hid them in bottles or in crevices, trying to save them from the raids of the Military Police. Later, after the camps had been closed down, novelists wrote novels and short stories that, along with the poems, completely changed the literary landscape of Greece.
Makrónisos is a long island, 5 square kilometers in all, 10 kilometers from north to south (hence its name), and 500 meters at its widest point, from east to west. It is located off the coast of Attica, across the water from Lavrion, on the thirty-seventh parallel. Its western flank looks at Athens; its eastern flank looks at Kea (Tzia). Between Makrónisos and Tzia sank the Britannic, sister ship to the Titanic. It is a dry island, although not as dry as Yáros, given that it has two small springs. Its terrain is not as precipitous, even though its highest peak is at 281 meters. It is an island of ravines and slopes, full of poisonous laurels, myrtle bushes, low-lying junipers, and the ubiquitous afánes (“tumbleweed”). It has five natural coves on its western flank, facing Athens, but its eastern flank is completely inaccessible. The two springs are located on this inaccessible eastern flank, which faces the island of Tzia.
When I tried to find out whether anyone in Markopoulo (the main town near Porto Rafti, where the first encampment of detained soldiers was set up before they were moved to Makrónisos) knew anything about this temporary encampment, not only did no one seem to remember, but no one seemed even to know about this fact. It might have been kept a secret by the army (which is doubtful but not impossible), or it might have been erased from local memory (which is possible but not necessary). After repeated inquiries, Stamates Methenites found a trace of memory in someone in Markopoulo and published it in 2007. There was, however, one episode that almost everyone in the town knew and remembered very well (it was also more recent, having happened early in 2000). A bakery had opened on the edge of the town sometime at the beginning of the sixties, owned by a man from the Ionian islands. After a few years, this man opened a second bakery closer to the port at Porto Rafti. “One day,” my friend Kostes said, “there was a big commotion at the first bakery. They had to call the police and then an ambulance because a customer who had gone in to buy bread had seen the owner and had recognized him as 'his AM.' He got so enraged that he beat him to pulp, so bad that he had to be taken away in an ambulance.” “His AM” means his torturer on Makrónisos.
One of the most elaborate projects of a mimesis of antiquity was undertaken on Makrónisos, where the administration of the island required “recovered” soldiers to build small-scale replicas of famous structures of antiquity, such as the Parthenon, the Helakleion, and a number of statues. The high level of craftsmanship that went into this project testifies to the many artists who had been arrested as Communists, Leftists, or suspected Leftists. When one high-ranking visitor to the island commented to Director Vassilopoulos on the quality of the structures, Vassilopoulos replied that “all Greek intelligentsia” had passed through Makrónisos. The weight of antiquity in the modern Greek imaginary cannot be overestimated. It is so great that the declaration issued by the Society of Aesthetic Saboteurs of Antiquities (Syndesmos Aisthitikon Sampoter Archaiotiton) on November 18, 1944, calling for the destruction of the Parthenon, can be taken as only half serious. The declaration stated: “The blowing up and complete razing of the Parthenon is designated as our first act of destruction, because it has, literally, drowned us.” The declaration was signed by Yiorgos Makris, and the society comprised himself and a few of his friends, among whom was the later Minister Anastasios Peponis (quoted in Daloukas 2005: 64). The ruins of the replicas, ruins of ruins, remained on Makrónisos for a few years after the camp had been abandoned, and their foundations can still be seen. On the project of the replicas, see Hamilakis 2002.
On the literary production of and on Makrónisos, see Papatheodorou 2000 and Argyriou 2000.
“Makrónisos (ancient Helene or Kranae) Island belongs to the township of Korresia, of the Kea island, of the prefecture of Cyclades. Its 38 inhabitants of the 1928 census, the 32 of the 1940 census, and the 12 of the 1961 census refer to the shepherds seasonally established there from neighboring Kea, or fishermen, i.e. non-permanent residents. At the 1951 census it numbered 4,484 residents, still non-permanent ones. At a certain time it had reached the number of 10,000, primarily detainees and confined soldiers and civilians” (Greek edition of Papyros-Larousse, 1964).