Monday, 1 September 2014

August 28 – Nothing new under the sun

(The castle of Mytilene)

For years nothing has really happened on the island and suddenly there is a sparkling summer full of new events: at Sigri lots of new petrified trees have been found, Anaxos got connected with Molyvos by train, the opening of the OXY has put the island on the map for partying youngsters, many new charter flights have made the number of tourists grow. A few days ago the island got a new ferry between Mytilene and Izmir in Turkey, and the Spanish company Iberdrola started working on the creation of a so-called energy landscape: the windmill park in the west of the island. This part of the island will be turned into a new tourist attraction: listening to the buzzing rotation blades and looking up at the 67 meter high windmills, that will (just like the sequoias many millions of years ago) reach high into the sky. And all this is happening in a UNESCO geopark!

Lesvos (and Chios and Limnos) must be a Valhalla for Iberdrola where they can pick the money out of the air. It is not a facility but a commercial business: the electricity generated by the 153 windmills on Lesvos will be sold to the highest bidder party and this certainly will not be the island. In a Dutch tv-series (Ik vertrek; ( about emigrating Dutch people they showed a family that went to Spain and had to wait more than one year to get connected to the electricity net of Iberdrola, who owns most of the electricity facilities in Spain. Or maybe the family is still waiting to be connected. So I guess this island must be dealing with a bunch of smart and trustworthy men.

Another novelty on the island is the custom office in the harbour of Petra. Gates and buildings are all ready to receive tourists who want to make an excursion to Turkey. But the capital Mytilene is not ready at all: they, of course, prefer to keep this boat connection in their own harbour, afraid that otherwise no tourist will ever visit Mytilene. As of now, there are no custom officers available for Petra.

In ancient times Lesvos consisted of a small number of city-states, although it was Methimna (the original name of Molyvos) and Mytilene who dominated the island power structure.  When you read the history of the island you will see that lots of different people held power, like the mythical king Macaras, Amazons, Persians, Athenians, Egyptians, pirates, Romans, the Italian family of Gateluzzi and the Ottomans. Changing powers on the island was never peaceful, and sometimes Mytilene and Methimna supported opposing sides.

Mytilene used to be an island connected to Lesvos by a small strait that connected the harbour in the south with the one in the north. For pedestrians they say there were beautiful marble bridges. Some archaeologists think Mytilene used to be the Venice of the East. However the strait silted up and it was decided to fill it up, this way improving the defences of the castle. Nowadays the main shopping street Ermou runs where the strait used to be.

To be honest I have no idea where Methimna got its power and wealth. Like Mytilene, the city had its own coins, a large and strong castle, but no commercial harbour. But the two cities regularly fought for the power over the island.

In the year 428 BC Mytilene, a new member of the Delian League (a league composed of different Greek states), planned a revolt against Athens, which as the head of the Delian League, had misused its members. They first tried to get all city-states of Lesvos together but Methimna, a good ally to Athens, did not want to support the revolt. Mytilene secretly reinforced its fleet and bought extra grain in readiness for war with the Athenians. But even in those times there were spies and before Mytilene was ready, word reached Athens, and Mytilene was soon surrounded by Athenians.  The Athenian Assembly or ecclesia had to decide about the fate of Mytilene. Well, to be honest, it was a much more complicated situation, but the fact is that Athens decided that all men from Mytilene should be put to death and the women and children be sold as slaves. They started with slaughtering some thousand prisoners, but then the Athenians started wondering how they had become such barbarians. They asked for another session of the ecclesia and there a certain Cleon said that the punishment should be carried out, but another speaker Diodotus pleaded that it would be better for Athens if the Mytilenians were kept alive so that they could remain a future ally for Athens. The citizens of Athens agreed with Diodotus and that is how the Mytilenians were spared.
I bet that in those times a citizen of Methimna was not welcome shopping in Mytilene. But in any case, this second debate of the ecclesia has gone down in history as the Mytilenian Debate.

If today you were to organize an ecclesia here on the island, it probably would still be a matter of decisions being taken by the party who has the best speaker. For instance there were lobbyists from Iberdrola who spoke to the citizens of West-Lesvos, promising them that the windmill project would provide them with lots of jobs and money. I guess the speaker of the other side, amongst them environmental defenders, had probably nothing to offer but a warning of a natural disaster. The inhabitants of the west said yes to the large project, maybe not fully realizing that their habitat will be changed drastically by the building of 100 of kilometres of new roads, six metres wide, that are needed only for the installation of the windmills - windmills that will soon terrorize Nature with their flapping sounds.

A citizen assembly is also needed for the question of the tourist boat going from Petra to Turkey. It will be the Mytilenian shopkeepers opposed to those in the north and the travel agents. I say first they should all read about the Mytilenian debate, so that reason will win. Most tourists who stay in the north and west do not come to the island for Mytilene and just get irritated at having to travel so far in order to take the boat to Turkey. Mytilene should not complain because they have just got a brand new connection with Izmir, along with different planes from Istanbul.

Even though Lesvos is nowadays one municipality, it looks like the mayor favours his capital. He should realize that it will be better for the whole island when tourists spend more time in the villages and less time on the road and in buses. It seems to be the old song: Mytilene against Methymna. I wonder if Athens will have to intervene

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

© Smitaki 2014

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