A few pictures in out garden taken after it stopped raining for 20 minutes or so.
by Billy Cotsis, published with permision.
Ukraine, like many places in the Black Sea was an outpost for ancient Greek colonies dating back 2700 years, with famous cities such as Olbia and Chersonessos (Sevastopol in the Crimea) initially emerging in antiquity. I have been to this country twice and travelled to the area next to Russia, noticing the minority of speakers who speak Russian around the Sea of Azov, where most of the Greek people live. I found most over the age of 30 could speak Ukrainian and Russian and many could speak another language such as Greek or English.
It is estimated that there are over 200,000 Greeks living in the Ukraine. What makes this figure even more incredible is when you compare how many descendents of ancient and Byzantine Greeks remain in other places such as southern Italy (Magna Graecia), which has approximately 35,000. The Greeks of Ukraine have had to deal with the loss of Greek independence when Constantinople was captured in 1453; living in a foreign empire (under Russia and Ukraine); Russian wars with Turkey; famine and poverty; world wars; and communist rule. Perhaps it was communist rule that should have destroyed Hellenism in the Ukraine. Minorities under communist rule were not allowed to learn or speak their respective language, and for many Greeks, it wasn’t until 1991 that they were able to learn to speak their mother tongue. I am amazed at how well many Greeks have learnt modern Greek and how the ancient dialect has somehow survived despite the best efforts of the former communist regime to suppress the cultures of minorities.
One can’t help being inspired by visiting Marioupolis and the towns that surround the city, and the Greek towns. Despite the obstacles in their path, such as lower income rates (compared to the rest of Europe) and the effects of communism, there are many amazing people that I encountered who are a credit to the cause of maintaining Hellenism in their special region. There are 25 Greek towns and villages outside of Marioupolis and I had the pleasure of visiting six of them. From the moment I arrived until the day I departed from this country, I was impressed by the determination of the Greeks and their villages to survive. Many of these villages and towns have sizeable populations. Sartana for example has 10,000 with 70% being of Greek origin. A visitor is immediately struck and impressed by how the Greeks paint the houses white with either blue or green windows and doors to signify their ancestry. This is the local Greek way of displaying their determination and willingness to show the whole world where their hearts lie.
People in the Ukraine are proud of the Greek history and show amazing respect for Hellenes. After all, the Greek Orthodox religion found its way in to the area we now call Ukraine around the 10th Century.
The Crimea is a few hours drive from the main Greek 'areas' and it is important to know that the area has traditionally been a multi racial region and at various times under Russian or Ukraine rule. Until recent decades, it did not have a Russian majority, this came by the migration of Russian people under communist rule around the 1960's and 1970's. The Crimea was allocated to Ukraine in 1954 and has essentially been an autonomous region in the country.
The Crimea has a long history. When the ancient Greek colonist created a number of cities in the Crimea, there were already Scythians and others residing there. There followed the Greek Hellenistic Empire of Mithradates, Rome, Huns, Bulgars Kiev, Genoans and Byzantium which held most of the region with Greek as the main language until the Greek Empire of Trebiszond took control in 1204 until its collapse in 1462 to the Ottomans.
Crimea in the Middle Ages had a huge influx of Turkish speaking Tatar and for a while had their own kingdom. They make up over 12% of the population and do not identify with Russia.
by Billy Cotsis, published with permision.
I went to visit my friends from Australia who were living in Hungary, Amaury, Annette, Vicky and Kristian in 2010. It was an absolutely cold winter, however, lucky for me this is an architecturally stunning city, with plenty of options to offer a tourist. A real highlight was the Danube river, once the northern boundary of the Byzantine Empire during early medieval times. Being this far from Greece, you wonder how on earth a solitary Greek village found its way 60 km north of Budapest.
Amaury and Kriztian took me for a visit to a Belogiannis (Beloiannisz), an authentic Greek village that was purpose built by the Hungarian Government for the Greek communist refugees who fled Greece in the late 1940's. Most of the refugees were children. Heartbreakingly, Greece went through a civil war betwen 1946 – 1949, between supporters of communism and those who supported democracy and were backed by the great powers. It is estimated that 400,000 people died from direct fighting and famine. This is a shameful moment in modern Greek history that seems to be neglected, mainly because communism was 'defeated' when it had actually won the first post war election! From my end, the leadership of all sides involved including foreign interests should look at the high cost of human lives.
Thousands of people were forced to flee Greece. Hungary showed enormous courage and respect to welcome the communist Greek people.
The village is a very quaint, quiet place which has recently completed a small Byzantine church. I was told that they had never truly been religious, though the church was starting to grow in popularity. There is a Greek school and library and all the main Hellenic festivals are celebrated. At its peak there were 1850 people in the village.
When I was there, it was snowing and freezing, yet stepping in to a small bar we found the warmth of the people and ouzo.
The name of the village stems from the famous Greek communist leader (Nikos Beloyannis) who took on the Italian fascists but was betrayed by the Greek government who led him to the Nazis. Being an energetic spirit he escaped and helped lead the resistance against the occupiers. He was one of the communist leaders in the Civil War and the founder of the then banned KKE in 1950.
In Budapest I met many other Greek people and I was able to visit the Greek federation and their afternoon of Greek dancing. Here I met a nice man Nikos who had moved from Makedonia. He like many other Greek speakers in recent times has taken the opportunity to work in a foreign country.
If you have never been to Hungary, I urge you to give a go, and make sure you take in the Greek village.
by Billy Cotsis, published with permision.
Mention the name Ghadafi and one automatically associates it with Libya. Mention the name Belisarius and you will draw a blank but 1500 years ago this was a name associated with Libya. In fact before the coming of Islam in the 7th Century AD, northern Libya was a Greek-speaking territory.
I won't bore you with details about the great Byzantine general Belisarius and how he restored Greek rule over North Africa in 533 AD, instead I will give you an overview of Hellenic history in Libya.
Cyrenaica, the northern tip of Libya was once the Greek hearbeat of Africa.
Imagine you board a ferry from Mytilene to Crete and upon arrival instead of being greeted by the usual chaos of the Greek port you are greeted by #foreign#-speaking people who rather than offering you a supposed cheap room in a pension for 50 Euros (tourist rates), you are offered a kebab and warm hospitality. People in the ancient world would have been mystified to arrive in a place like Crete or Cyrene in Africa to be greeted by non Greek speakers. For in those days, this was a Greek colony!
The colonies were established by Battus from Thira (Santorini) commencing with Cyrene which was to be the most prominent of the 5 cities that would make up the Cyrenaica. According to Herodotus, Cyrene was the second Greek city established in Africa with Naucratis in Egypt being the first.
The 5 cities were affectionately known as the Pentapolis whilst the name Cyrenaica was officially used until the 1960s in Libya.
Cyrene was the birthplace of Eratosthenes the mathematician who calculated the circumference of earth and invented the Leap Day, whilst a number of philosophers lived here including Socrates' pupil Aristippus who founded the School of Cyrene. St. Mark the Evangelist was born here as was the Bishop Zopyros (of Barca) who attended the famous Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.
A significant portion of Libya was captured by Alexander the Great and then came under the Greek Ptolemies of Egypt. By the First Century BC, The Roman Empire was in control before a series of other rulers had gained the territory. Belisarius captured the Cyrenaica on behalf of the Greek-speaking Byzantine Empire before the coming of the powerful Arab military in 642 AD. Greek remained a strong, spoken language for a at least another 200 – 300 years. Today there a some Greek speakers and a small Greek Orthodox community ensuring an unbroken line since antiquity.
There are many well preserved ancient and Byzantine Greek ruins in Libya.
by Billy Cotsis, published with permision.
Aphrodite was born here just a few hundred years before the Myceneans settled on the island around 2000 BC. The Goddess of Love is not the only famous person from Cyrpus. You can read up on Cat Stevens, Michalis Hatzigiannis, Marcos Baghdatis, Stelios Hadji-Ioannou to name a few.
One of the most beautiful spots in the world to visit. The island was one of the furthest points in the Greek world until Alexander the Great and his successors expanded through Asia.
The island was part of the Greek world until 1192 when it was captured by Richard the Lion Heart from rogue Byzantine governor Isaac Comnenus. It was eventually bought by Guy of Lusignan (a novel way to capture territory) whose descendants held the island until 1489. They in turn sold the island to the Venetians, ensuring yet again that the local population was spared from the horrors of battle that usually proceeds the changing of overlords. In 1571 the Ottomans gained the island and the British arrived in 1878.
Britain and Turkey combined hold around 40% of the island. Whilst Britain granted Cyprus independence in 1960, they took possession of 2 bases. Turkey invaded in 1974 and despite constant UN condemnation, they remain to this day in control of the north. It is a very sad situation that Cyprus has to contend with.
Imagine if Queensland in Australia was occupied by Malaysia, I bet that the international community would do everything necessary to free Queensland. Alas, Cyprus is a small player and does not get to choose its destiny.
An example of how Cyprus gets treated was the 2012 economic crisis which was not of her doing. The EU who had forced Cyprus to downgrade from their strong Pound to the weaker Euro in 2008 did not provide straight forward assistance. Without going in to specifics, Cyprus was let down and punished for a situation not of their making.
A point about this beautiful island is it reminds me of Crete as both have many similar Byzantine traits, speak an older Greek dialect and icon painting has always been a strong tradition amongst both populations. Oh and they have great local cuisine to whet the appetite.
The island of love is a favourite of mine. I hope that one day soon the island regains total sovereignty and the dignity it deserves (EU, UN do your job please), with all her people, Greek and Turkish speakers, enjoying the history and culture of this wonderful island.
by Billy Cotsis, published with permision.
As Greece finds the going tougher than expected with the austerity measures and the recession, it is reassuring to see that many European countries are welcoming Greek speakers. When I went to The Netherlands I was surprised to learn about and meet members of the Greek Community, a community that had been entrenched in this country for perhaps a few hundred years.
The first Greek Orthodox Congregation was founded in the Netherlands by Erasmus of Arcadia, Bishop Gerasimos Avlonites around the late 1700’s. Another interesting point is that in the 1480’s, Greek was introduced at a school located at Deventer. The school was part of the clergy of the Lebuïnuskerk, St. Lebuin’s Church. This was the first time Greek was ever taught at a lower level than a university in Europe. This may have been a result of the Byzantine Empire refugees who fled when the Ottomans gained control.
Approximately 2000 Greek speakers live in the country now, though in the 1960’s there were 10,000. Rotterdam has few native born Greek speakers remaining. I was told by the representatives of the Greek community I met, that due to marriages with locals or a return to Greece, the numbers had declined.
I visited the "The Union of Greeks of the Netherlands" and was told about their regular catch ups on Sunday afternoons, a newsletter, Greek lessons and various other social activities that are held at the ground level hall. The hall may not be massive, but there was no doubt that it was big on imagination and a tribute to Greece. There were religious icons, Greek publications, tables set up as if it was a small taverna, and various Greek paraphernalia. I was also treated to Greek sweets.
The Union had until recently been funding and overseeing the local Greek Orthodox Church, which is literally 500 metres away from the offices. Agios Nikolaos Church is an architectural triumph. Its late Byzantine style makes it a beautiful place to worship. Due to the dwindling number of Greeks in the Netherlands, the church has been passed on to the control of the Greek Church of Belgium. The priest, Fr Christos Sidiropoulos, travels from Belgium to deliver his sermons and to work with the local Greek community. He is young and energetic and took the trouble to explain to me the meaning of the icons and the architecture. The church has been in existence since the around 1959.
In Amsterdam I met a few more of the Greek population. My cousin is a chef here at a Greek restaurant and a friend from my student days has been living here for a few years as well.
I can always find a local Greek Community just about everywhere I visit, though they are usually found close a Greek neighbourhood. Here they are spread across this beautiful country and make regular trips back to Greece. Most are involved with ships or are studying. As always, they were easy to spot and proud of their origin.
Just a quick picture posting about a butterfly we have in the garden.
These days Giota has discovered a beautiful blue-green butterfly flying around in our garden. Since I work next to a window facing our fence where there is a little tree, I noticed the butterfly for the second time and grabbed my camera to try to do some shots.
It wasn't easy, since it wouldn't stop flying and stand still much, but I managed to do some action shots.
Giota will love them 😉
I don't know what they are called here in Australia, so no references for the moment. Just enjoy the pics.
by Billy Cotsis, published with permision.
Since the state of Albania officially came into existance in 1913, the territory of Southern Albania has been disputed by Greeks and Albanians. Like most countries that share borders with Greece, boundary lines are often in dispute courtesy of the strange interpretations by the foreign powers that unfairly redrew all Balkan boundaries in the 20th Century.
The capital of the region is Sarandä, an interesting port with a population of approximately 35'000. There is a beautiful Greek Orthodox church, Ayios Nikolaos, and a number of Greek taverns and shops. In fact, the shops that are not owned by Greeks usually speak Greek or play Greek music. When I ventured there, I really felt like I was in mainland Greece, not in another country. I even tried my best to find Albanian cuisine, but ended up eating Greek food every day. Albania is a very nice place to visit and this region is a highlight. Check out the Byzantine medieval town of Gjirokastër.
There are perhaps 100 villages and towns in this region of Albania that speak Greek and identify with Greece. In the 1990's there was a movement to gain greater recognition in Albania or even independence which was met with a crack down by the government and significant tension which has eased over time. Tirana has worked with the Greek population to ensure that there is never a repeat.
Its worth pointing out that Greece occupied the region in 1912 as part of the campaign to defeat the Ottomans in the Balkan area. Sadly, the great powers gave the region to the new state of Albania the following year before he local population retaliated by creating the Autonomous Republic of Northern Epirus. This was eventually supported by the Great Powers and Greece as World War I broke out. In no time, the Hellenic military occupied the region once again. In 1919, Greece was again reaffirmed as the rulers of the region. Unfortunately, and disappointingly, when Greece was defeated by Turkey in the Asia Minor Campain in 1921, Northern Epirus was ceded to Albania. How this was allowed to happen when the area was predominately Greek and had nothing to do with the defeat in Turkey, is beyond most people to explain. Though it is noted that the Italians had the most to gain with this outcome.
In 1940, when Mussolini attempted to invade Greece, they pushed the Fascists back to Albania. Greece immediately occupied Northern Epiros until the Germans arrived in April 1941. Greece has stayed out of the region since then, although in the 1960's the USSR attempted to have the area declared an autonomous Greek state in a a failed attempt to influence Greece.
It is unlikely that Balkan borders will ever change again. Northern Epirus will remain in Albania where the Greek people are given more rights than they would have in the past. Having been there, I know everyone wants to get along, as they should.
For those of you who like digital artwork and are interested into the tools and software behind such amazing pieces as they can be found on many websites e.g. on DeviantArt or in special interest magazines, there is one brand which is often one of the key tools used for those artwork: WACOM.
Wacom has been around since ages in terms of digital years. I remember to have known them since the early 1990s. Their patented cordless inductivity pen technology was always one of the key features of those tablets, where competitors couldn't (or weren't allowed?) do without a corded digital pen.
Their products have been always a bit on the pricey side, but I believe most people who use them, they probably will agree, that they are worth the price.
I purchased my first Wacom tablet in the mid-90s. I don't recall the price, but back then it must have been more expensive than these days. Naturally back then, it had a RS-232 serial connector. I must have had also an ADB bus adapter, because I was using it primerily on a PowerMac 8100 (later on a Windows PC).
By end of 2000, when I was travelling around Australia being on and off Sydney with my 14" notebook, I needed a tablet, so I went to find a store in the Sydney CBD to purchase one. Back then a tablet and the name Wacom was still something unusual, so it took me a while to find a store which had it. I got a small USB tablet, it must have been a Grapphire one. Later when I returned to Switzerland, I gave away my old RS-232 tablet and kept the small USB Grapphire.
When the Intuos2 series was available, I bought one, which I still have in Switzerland. This one is attached to the computer through a USB (1.1?) cable as well.
However, the wish for portability was always there. So when the Bamboo series came out with a Bluetooth interface, I got once for the school I was teaching. It was useless. The Bluetooth was not up to the task with the speed and so delays when drawing did occur. Since then I don't like Bluetooth for wireless connections on pointing devices like a mouse and prefer 2.4 GHz wireless devices, as they usually come along e.g. with the Logitech devices.
A few years ago I also snipped a Wacom Cintiq 12wx cheaply, which I never really did use much. The reason is that it is bulky and heavy and the cabling is a bit annoying.
As you can see, the Wacom devices lasted a long time in my possession and usually I replaced them after having them for more than five years.
Recently, Wacom has brought out the Companion series, which are Windows8 or Android operated LED screen tablets. You can take them easily with you like a normal tablet. However, the price really is for professionals with AUD 1800.- and more.
The Intuos4 received some complaints from the users for its issues with the side keys, so I was reluctant to buy it. Recently I looked up the current model and saw that Wacom calls them Intuos Pro rather than giving them version numbers. I am not sure, if the Intuos5 equals Intuos Pro, however I don't like this Apple-like attitude, when they try to cover up the real model number from the users. The power-users want to have the real model number rather than some fancy names to not be able to distinguish between old and new models.
So, I finally I made up my mind and decided and ordered the Wacom Intuos Pro M as Special Edition in Australia. The Special Edition has this aluminium-lookalike borders on top and bottom of the tablet, while the normal version is just black.
It comes with a 2.4 GHz wireless kit and a Lithium-ion battery, which allows you to use the tablet more flexible without the cables for a while. I will do some more testing later, this is it for the moment.