Δευτέρα, 11 Δεκεμβρίου 2017


There are only so many times you can chant the Kyrie Eleison or its Ukrainian equivalent Hospody Pomiluy. The exact number eludes me. All I knew on that sunny day was that I had heard the latter quite a few times in the Kyiv-Orthodox* St. Michael's monastery, where I attended my first-ever "Service of the Bridegroom"** in a language other than Greek. However much I was valuing this experience, the absence of seating places -a normal feature of Orthodox churches in several Slavic countries but very rare in my country- soon got the better of me. I could no longer stay standing, or even leaning on the balustrade protecting a preserved restoration of the early part of this historic church, founded around 1100 and destroyed in the crude Soviet 1930s. I needed to walk.

I must confess (for getting out of church early is not exactly proper religious behavior) that I even enjoyed the fresh air and the unusually bright Kyiv sky. The colorful exterior and surroundings were further adorned by a soundtrack that surprised me. An upright piano was placed at the edge of the walkway, for passers-by to hear and hopefully leave a few hryvnias*** for the artist performing in the cool dusk. I'm not sure if I did; sometimes I bypass even those quality petty fundraisers, unfairly mixing them with instances of outright beggary - which I flatly reject.

That was pre-Easter Monday, a full eight months before my next encounter with an upright piano of that sort. Perhaps it was the same instrument and the same player but I wasn't looking at him and it didn't really matter. The day had surely been different, much different. Fog was obscuring even the tops of multi-storey buildings encountered in the afternoon walk. The gloom got more intense at the site of a huge massacre by Nazis, at what would otherwise be an innocuous and lovely suburban park. Babi(n) Yar**** features a modest set of monuments to the tens of thousands of Jews, Roma and other people executed after the German army occupied "Kiew" on its eastward campaign of 1941.

Music was needed to our ears after this emotional charge. Not any music but the film classic that translates as "anyone", Morricone's Chi Mai. The piano was now placed at a passage under the famous Maidan square, on the eve of yet another planned demonstration. Joining the dozen or maybe more people around the music surely helped add another precious Celsius degree or two, well above the outdoor zero that prevailed between two fits of typical Ukrainian snowfall. At this transition point, just before taking the deep metro for a quick glimpse of the non-touristy east Dnieper bank, I felt I knew what was the right thing to do. The afternoon tears had dried away and an evening smile shone on my face, as I let a yellow banknote drop into the piano man's hat, before moving on to downward escalators, high-capacity tunnels and two short walks on the wild side. Simple things that anyone can do, I guess.

*Kyiv-Orthodox means of the Kyiv patriarchate (as opposed to the Moscow patriarchate; the Orthodox church in Ukraine is fragmented)
**Service of the Bridegroom (based on the metaphor of Jesus as the Nymphios mentioned in Matthew's gospel) is heard on Palm Sunday and the two first evenings of the Orthodox Holy Week (pre-Easter)
***Hryvnia is the Ukrainian currency
****Widely known by its Russian name of Babi Yar

Τετάρτη, 21 Ιουνίου 2017

Thalwegs and jardinieres

Eighteen out of the twenty counties of Croatia are bordering neighboring countries. The country's V-shape, borne out of historical processes (most notably the Ottoman presence in today's Bosnia), makes it extremely easy to abandon by land - wherever you are, you can meet a border at a maximum distance of 50 kilometres. The most extensive frontier is with Bosnia: 931 km, of which at least half along river thalwegs. When "soon" Croatia joins Schengen -this "soon" being a mobile time target, given the refugee issue- control of entries from the partly Muslim country will be the primary headache of border guards. 

For the time being, pressure is on the opposite side. Traffic jams before the Croatia-Slovenia border, along today's Schengen line, is the only constant content of traffic bulletins, at all seasons -and especially in summers. The millions of tourists flocking by road towards the east Adriatic coasts are allowing this year for even more consumed time and fuel at Bregana and other "hot spots". This is caused by stricter controls on European citizens' passports on entry or exit from the single European space.

The situation is made more complex by the variability of Croatia-Slovenia relationships. Contrary to what one would expect of the two countries that almost simultaneously abandoned the old federation, their relationship is not trouble-free. Croatia's entry into the EU came only after an agreement for arbitration on their territorial-water conflict: Slovenes are claiming a corridor that will give them direct access to the Adriatic's international waters, which is denied by the Croats evoking the principle of equidistance. The verdict of the arbitration is expected on June 29th but may not provide a sure, conclusive solution. This pending matter leads to prolonged mistrust, which is expressed in various ways as regards border traffic management. The two sides' disagreement over the cause and manner of managing delays resulted in an extraordinary meeting on the matter, involving Juncker and the two prime ministers at the end of last April. Despite the deal reached, recent reports tend to flare up tensions again, mentioning a possible abolition of common controls at the large border stations - a measure introduced in 2013 as a showcase of friendly cooperation, which is however judged by some to be non-effective.

Those of us living in Zagreb, however, have our own way of bypassing queues. Together with the massive facilities on motorway E-70, Bregana also has another checkpoint, a few hundred meters to the west. The namesake village was once connected to nearby Slovenska Vas. Even after independence, Bregana's Croats could go for a quick beer to the Kalin guesthouse, showing their documents to the guard and passing from an opening between the jardinieres delimiting entry to Slovenia. Although nowadays this picturesque passage has been fenced properly, passage by car from the village's main two-lane street has considerably less traffic, giving us the possibility of grabbing a coffee "abroad" in less than a half hour from home.

Maybe I shouldn't have used the inverted commas. Slovenia's peculiarity is soon perceived. Belgrade's and Zagreb's Sava is a different river along its upper course: the winding flow on Croatia's plain is replaced by a narrow, wooded valley. Castles with German names such as "Reichenburg" (spelt "Rajhenburg") dominate the area around Sevnica, birthplace of the US's first lady -where, together with the indifferent ice cream called “Melanija” one can also buy a special series of food and other consumable products, branded “First Lady”, at the beautiful castle of the town. Perhaps the most characteristic feature in this corner of Slovenia is the coexistence of Gothic-style churches with factory chimneys, even a nuclear power station. One is tempted to think it is no accident that this former federal state -having a GDP per capita close to Greece's or even above it, already from Yugoslav times- was the first of its kind to enter not just Schengen, but also the Eurozone, even the OECD. 

Where exactly the Balkans end is a long discussion. It is sometimes said that Slovenia -due to its primarily economic peculiarities described earlier- does not belong to them, whereas Croatia only partly. Others may examine geographical factors (e.g. "The Balkans stop at the Sava river") or historical ones, such as "how far north the Ottoman raids extended" - according to one view, the limit was the Slovene small town of Kostanjevica.

However you may call our region, if you wish to talk borders -be it in the form of a thalweg or a jardiniere- you are at the right place.

Δευτέρα, 22 Μαΐου 2017

A matter of smile

We climbed to the Upper Town from the steepest steps, through a children's playground whose existence I couldn't even imagine, hidden as it was behind the Austro-Hungarian façades. Short of breath, I was trying to reach her; it wasn't easy, even though we were both kids of fathers born at approximately the same time.

At the top level everything became more familiar and predictable. Or nearly so. The usual crowd was enjoying the sweet dusk, some seated at the benches and the diner and others walking as we were. The musical background, however, held a surprise in store. It was difficult for Nina, a third-generation Greek in Zagreb, to know Gadjo Dilo's remake, let alone the original; neither was I able at the time to explain to her the relation between the verbs "sfyrizo" [part of the song's title, "Sou Sfyrizo", I'm whistling to you] and SerboCroat svirati.

On coming home after the short walk, I remembered that Nina-Demetra's father had asked me to tell him about Greek crooners. The unexpected fan of [Greek singer] Costas Hatzis wanted to widen his repertoire. However, he hadn't heard anything about [crooner] Jimmy Makoulis - who had been my first answer - nor about Tonis Maroudas, who (as I found out through Google) had first sung the song, more than a half-century ago.

Music - played either from the rich collection in his mobile phone, or from satellite Greek TV shows with "music for get-togethers"- is what helps writer and veteran journalist Aris Angelis get a little closer to our country, in which his paternal ancestors, from Smyrna, had only lived shortly. The uprooting of the Angelidis family in 1922 [after the Greek-Turkish war and population exchange] was followed by the usual process: a wirefenced camp on the dry [Aegean] islet of St. George's, passage to an installation we would today call a hotspot at Ermioni [in S. Greece] ― and, in the end, a split of the extended family among Thessaloniki and Athens.

"In the end", I said, but I shouldn't have. The family's adventure had only just begun. In the coming years, the patient woman Eleni Angelidis moved to Yugoslavia, where she lost in turn, one by one, all her immediate family. He husband, a merchant with business reaching up to Belgrade, abandoned her; she had to raise her two kids on her own. Her eldest son Aris was killed in the German invasion of 1941; this is why a street in Bitola is called Angjelovski today, from the Slavicized Greek family name. Lastly, the younger Takis went to the mountains to join Tito's partizans near Banja Luka, together with his stepfather, a military man, descendant of a historical family with its own coat-of-arms, who also became a guerilla. Shortly after the war ended, he begot his only child - but didn't live to see him grow: he died one year later due to an unusual disease. 

Mr. Aris, who took his name from his heroic uncle (and not, as I initially thought, from the more famous and more controversial namesake), didn't have to talk to me about these events. He has written about them vividly in his book From Smyrna to Saigon, a series of interviews ― not only with his Smyrniot grandmother but also with several of his guests in radio shows he ran over the years on Radio Zagreb. Nor did he have anything to tell me about the war of 1991; when I asked him he answered, in perfect Greek, "ikha doulia" (I was busy). When he told me so, while we were sipping wine at his small seaside place near Šibenik, it sounded like evasiveness, similar to that of a Greek clergyman who had used his "studying" as an excuse [when asked about the dictatorship times]. Now, having read the incredible family story, I can better understand not only his unwillingness to speak about the war - despite having the name of its ancient Greek god - but especially the typically Balkan melancholy one often sees on him. 

Despite being relatively tacit, Aris Angelis manages to impress in his own way. Before meeting him in person, I had seen him on a Greek TV documentary of the Balkan Express series. The young reporter was asking him about political life in Croatia, which was then a candidate country for the EU. In a few minutes, the "old hand" took charge. A politician sat - supposedly unexpectedly - at the next table. Mr. Aris became a reporter again and interviewed himself Ivo Josipović, for whom he prophesied that he would become president - something that truly happened some time afterwards. Even during our personal chat, some years later, the retired journalist had his notebook nearby and was taking notes. 

Above all he is a teaser, often with a young child's enthusiasm. Just before we were to watch a football game on TV, he asked me to guess his favorite football team. After letting me struggle with Dinamo and Hajduk and Greek refugee clubs with twin-headed eagle emblems - choices that I considered more obvious due to his family background - he took me by surprise once more. "Aris [Thessaloniki], of course!" he laughed, and then played another Hatzis song, his favorite - and one I hadn't known until that moment: "I zoi ine ypothesis hamogelo" (Life is a matter of smile).

Translated from the original published on amagi.gr.

Gadjo Dilo's song is here.

Tonis Maroudas' original is here.

Costas Hatzis' song on smiling is here.

Δευτέρα, 8 Μαΐου 2017

Greek traces in Zagreb, from 1770 onwards

Info on migrations of Greeks to Zagreb in the 18th and 19th centuries

Dimitriou family

The start was made by Gregory Dimitriou, a merchant from Siatista, who landed at Herzegovina around 1770, probably due to the Orlov events or other unrest that made difficult the life of a lot of Greeks, events not rare during the Ottoman rule.

He was followed by his two sons, Naum and Theodore. The family was active in the area between Trieste and Budapest, based in Zagreb. 

Naum Dimitriou got married to Catherine Popović. It is not known whether her origin was Greek or whether she was related to Elisabeth Popović, who married another Greek, Constantine Mallin (probable surname Mallinis or Mallinos, also found in Greek West Macedonia).

Theodore Dimitriou got married in 1790 to Afrati or Afratia Afksenti[ou] (the recorded surname is "Aksent", of Kozani) and they begat Dimitrios Dimitriou – later a nationally-acclaimed literary man in Croatia, known as Dimitrije Demetar (1811-1872 [link to my earlier blogpost in Greek]) – and several other children:

  • Elisabeth (born 1806) – wife of Baron Nikolić
  • Alexandra (born 1815) – wife of Ivan Mažuranić, the important ruler (ban) who reformed the legal and educational system of Croatia
  • Some more siblings - including brothers who reportedly took part in founding Trieste's Lloyds
Mallin family

Constantine Mallin (died 1809) begat John and Eva.

John Mallin (1786-1854) got married to Sophia, daughter of Naum Dimitriou (and cousin of Demetar). He had a store at today's Radićeva, the then Long Street (Duga Ulica) – the uphill road linking the downtown Jelačić square to the Stone Gate (Kamenita Vrata) of the upper town. It is mentioned that the prominent bourgeois had taken the title of the "free citizen" and had been exempted from paying dues at all "free towns", in which he traded cereals with the boat "Katarina". He is portrayed as a dynamic merchant, active in the city and the chamber, and a practical person, of deeds not words. 

Their son Naum Mallin (1816-1893) excelled in trade. In the area of the St. Joseph Ksaver monastery, close to the Mihaljevac tram station, there is a garden with his name, with "exotic trees" brought from an international trade fair. At 31, Naum Mallin became vice president of the First Croatian Savings Bank and was co-founder of the Croatian Commercial Bank. He became twice an editor of the Agramer Zeitung. He was the administrative vice president of Matica Hrvatska (a foundation for promotion of the Croatian national identity). His signature, as well as that of Anastas Popović, is featured in the contract with A. Fernkorn (in 1864) for erecting the statue of the Croat leader (ban) Jelačić, which dominates the namesake square downtown. For 40 years he was a secretary and treasurer of the Orthodox church community.

Son of Naum Mallin was John or Ivo (1855-1907). A street in his name exists a bit south of the Mallin park, close to the Romanian embassy. Ivo was a trustee and a lawyer, with a strong role in promoting economic development in continental Croatia. Ivo had two more siblings, Theodore and Sidonia. 

Popović family

Eva Mallin, Constantine's daughter, died very young - at 23. She only barely got married to Marko Kumanović and gave birth to a daughter, Christine. She got later married to Kumanović's assistant, Anastas Popović, family originating from Greece. Thus, the Popović surname gets again connected to the other branches of the Greek community. Anastas (1786-1872) was co-founder of the First Croatian Savings Bank (see Mallin) and helped this institution survive even after the tough year of 1848 – marked by internal revolt in Austria-Hungary, part of which Croatia was at the time. He was the first chairman of the Commercial Chamber from 1852 to 1866. He was also chairman of the Orthodox community and contributed to the reconstruction, in 1866, of the Orthodox church of the Transfiguration - which nowadays seats the Serbian metropolitan bishopric of Croatia/Slovenia and is located in the bustling Flower Square (Cvjetni Trg).

Anastas Popović's daughter, Maria, got married to major Stefan Miletić. The namesake son (1868-1908) was a famous playwright. It is an impressive coincidence that the early leader of Croatian theater was a Greek (Demetar) and the tradition was followed by Stjepan Miletić, also descendant of Greeks.

The intertwining of the Popović family with the remaining Greek clans does not stop here. Anastas' brother, Andreas, also got married to a Mallin descendant, and they had three children. For many years the family owned a shop on Jelačić square, where another Greek family also had their home (Gavella - a name to be found in central Greece and Euboea island).

Gavella family

The centrally located, alternative theater in the name of Branko Gavella (1885-1962), as well as the street name in the Folnegovićevo quarter – near the mosque –, are linked to that family. According to his granddaughter, the University lecturer of French Yvonne Vrhovac, Branko Gavella was of Greek origin, although it has been suggested that he was also a Činčar or Vlach (note: this view has also been expressed for Demetar and other Orthodox migrants to the Balkans). His grandfather, George, had migrated to Zagreb and was a successful merchant of rope and blankets. He funded many artists. At the onetime theater (of St. Mark's square, which no longer exists) there was a lodge with his name. The family house, in which grandfather Branko grew, was on the north side of Jelačić square, at the location of the only passage leading to the Dolac market. 


  • Text by the Croat author Đuro Szabo titled "On an old home and people from old times in Zagreb", written in 1933, part of a bigger project titled "On Zagreb" (O Zagrebu, in Croatian). Đuro Szabo was a director of Zagreb's city museum. 
  • Text by Theodor de Canziani Jakšić, in the review Acta med hist Adriat (2008), volume 6(2), p. 243 onw., titled "The heritage of Dr. Dimitrije Demetar in the Mažuranić-Brlić-Ružić memorial library and collection".
  • The Zagreb city museum, in which the three first families' names are mentioned, as well as a fourth one (Stova), of which I have not yet found any trace.  
  • Interview of Yvonne Vrhovac, granddaughter of the playwright, critic and essaywriter Branko Gavella, in the website of the leading newspaper Jutarnji.
Note: The biblical name Naum is a surname or first name used in northern Greece and neighboring countries. St. Naum was a missionary together with Cyril and Methodius and a church in his honor is located on Ohrid lake, at the namesake settlement of FYR Macedonia. 

Photo: Zagreb's Orthodox church.

Πέμπτη, 26 Ιανουαρίου 2017

Those who leave and those who remain

Text published in Greek in amagi.gr site in January 2017

Serb Zeljko Joksimovic did not just fill up the Lisinski concert hall, here in downtown Zagreb, last December, but also made a second, extra appearance. The pop singer's success in the Istanbul Eurovision contest in 2004, above Sakis and below winner Ruslana, is due to the twelve-point scores obtained from most ex-Yugoslav countries - among which the bitterly neighboring Croatia. The Serbian minority, now counting some two hundred thousand inhabitants, probably didn't determine the outcome of televoting. Just six years after the last border arrangement between the two countries -the return of troubled Vukovar to Croatia, in 1998- Zeljko in his way helped bridge some gaps - and continues along the same path, also doing duets, as with Bosniak Haris Djinovic and, recently, Croat Toni Cetinski.

Their common works are sung in a language which, to avoid hassle, you'd better call BCS (Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian). The limits of rapprochement are felt when you realize how old-fashioned, even unpopular, the formerly familiar term "SerboCroat" has become. Linguist Claude Hagege («On the death of life and languages») writes that the desire for differentiation may justify the identification of languages as separate, even if mutual comprehension still remains. In national divorces, as in human split-ups, there is usually the one who remains and the one who leaves; in the case of former Yugoslavia, those who left - the Croats - made the relatively more intense effort to hammer the identity of their new society using language (too) as a tool. How fresh these efforts are is something I can see in the difficulty of some people to get used to the Croatian month names, which replaced the known Roman ones and are associated with agricultural economy, nature and weather conditions (grass in April/travanj, scythe in July/srpanj, chill in November/studeni).

Those who remained after 1991 in the country formally called Yugoslavia, now that the scorched earth of the Dinaric Alps and southern Pannonian plain is cooling down, speak of the onetime brothers with a barely perceptible sense of superiority. They remind me somewhat of the references by Turks to the old times when "we all lived together" (Muslims and infidels) in the Empire, harmonically but still under the undisputed ruler. The anger of the Croat that left is mirrored in the complaint of the Serb that remained - or stuck, one may sometimes think - in the past. Although the leader of the Partisan and post-war Yugoslavia was a Croat (with a Slovene mother), his birthplace of Kumrovec is one of Croatia's few places where one will see his memorabilia on sale, in the small part of the village that has been converted to a folk monument. On the contrary, in Serbia nostalgia for the Tito era - as well as anything old and glorious - is much more evident: from the peddlers in the Knez Mihajlova pedestrian street of Belgrade, where the marshal is on display next to Putin, to the very flag of the Serbs, showing a crown that has not been officially worn by a head of their new nation-state.

We Greeks are now the "brother people" — the expression used by the taxi driver in my first visit to the Serbian capital, before he demonstrated to me his deep knowledge of my country's northern half and its shores. If the Serbs left from something, this was the Dalmatian coast, in which a Belgrade licence plate (or the use of the Serbian word for bread, hleb instead of kruh) can become a red rag. The Adriatic may be closer to Belgrade than the Aegean is, however the masses of Serbia (and FYR Macedonia) systematically visit our seas for years now. Croats, on the other hand, do not. Their Greece is that of the Westerner: the cradle of civilization, which first left its mark on the coastal area long before the Slavs' ancestors descended to the Balkans. Their islands may not boast the sandy beaches of Greek ones nor their size (each of the two biggest is approximately as large as Zakynthos), however they are next to them so they will hardly think of neglecting them so that they can explore ours.

Self-sufficient and brotherless, that's how they tend to feel as long as their independence is, still, fresh. However, the peoples of former Yugoslavia have ties that are not completely severed; some old links remain or are even revived, not just thanks to ear-friendly tunes and good-looking artists. Joint enterprises among Serbs and Croats are no longer a rare occurrence, nor are mutual invitations to scientific conferences; even the Serbian minority party has declared its support to the current Croatian government, a development signaling hope in a region where people my age are war veterans. Maybe it will be a while before we see again basketball brothers like those of the great "plavi academy", the legendary Yugoslav national team up to 1991 - as immortalized in the excellent film "Once Brothers" by Michael Tolajian on the friendship between Vlade Divac and the late Drazen Petrovic. However - and despite reaction in the beginning - basketball's Adriatic League is a living reality: this supranational championship features the best teams from the countries of the onetime common homeland: those who remained, those who left - and those who somehow found each other again.

Δευτέρα, 1 Φεβρουαρίου 2016

Karlovac(i) talk

Bottlenecks cause trouble.

Four rivers merge at Karlovac, Croatia. The Kupa (ending up at the Sava who in turn meets the Danube) and its tributaries bring down the waters of the Dinaric col in parallel flows. The area often experiences flooding, especially when snow melts.

But the town is also at a geopolitical bottleneck, not just a hydrological one. It is 15 km away from Slovenia and 50 from Bosnia, twice a border town despite being at the heart of the country. It was an outpost from its very foundation, by a Karl of the Habsburgs who had to face the Ottoman spearhead in the vicinity. Hence it was exemplarily fortified, with moats preserved today as a six-ray park known as Zvijezda, the star.

Only during the years of united Yugoslavia had Karlovac ceased being next to a national border. Many people didn't know it or confused it with the Karlowitz of the namesake treaty (this one is in modern-day Serbia, they aren't identical). Locals seem to have preserved historical memory. Before the attack of the "Yugoslav National Army" broke out, inhabitants smelt the gunpowder. In the autumn of 1991, the defence front of Croatian forces was at the southernmost of four rivers (the Korana). The town still hasn't recovered from the damage to its industrial production. 

Karlovac bus station during the days of 1991

Karlovac is peaceful but also melancholic nowadays. The current serene impression (close to dead quiet) on the road dividing the bus and train stations has no relation to the bombed scenery in the photo from 1991. In the main square, the Catholic and Orthodox churches coexist but are almost hidden from the visitor - standing there without info signs, like relatives who got sour just before the party and forget to introduce themselves to guests.  

St. Nicholas Orthodox church (left) and Holy Trinity Catholic church (right). Karlovac, Croatia

In a timid attempt to open up to the world, Karl's town hosted a small exhibition on the day of Croatia's accession to the E.U., in 2013. Perhaps because - apparently - there is no "sister town" yet, the exhibition presented several other European cities as related due to homonymous names. All, but one, are related to some Karl [Charles] - a different one from the Austrian that founded Karlovac in the 16th century (as Karlstadt), but never mind.

To make the exhibition bigger, however, the organizers included the glorious Karlovasi of the Eastern Aegean in the honoured cities. I confess that as a Samian I had been impressed by the similarity of names when I first heard of the Croatian town at the time of the Yugoslav wars. Now that my island's second town has become known here, it may be worth for history researchers to add one more possibility to the mystery of its name, for which no single explanation has proven satisfactory so far - "karlı ovası" is in bad Turkish and supposed to mean snow-clad plain, which is hard to witness on Samos, whereas an etymology related to settlers from Ikaria island, "(I)Kario-va-si", sounds equally implausible too.

I cannot tell if Karlovac, founded shortly before Karlovasi was first recorded, had been a source of inspiration for Samos settlers. Imitation is not just a modern habit; it was not uncommon back then either. The only certainty is that, 400 years later - i.e. in the early 1900s - Karlovasi was the only island town on the Aegean that boasted a specific transport means, one that has been historically associated with the urban milieu of the onetime Austro-Hungarian domain. Tram, in its horse-drawn variety, existed prior to the war in Karlovasi, as in Karlovac. Can this be just a coincidence?

Horse-drawn tram at Karlovac

Τετάρτη, 30 Δεκεμβρίου 2015

Dalmatian motorways

Published here in Greek on 18 April 2015

The new [then deputy] minister of infrastructure kept flattering those fellow citizens still naively believing in the abolition of tolls (and bailouts) by a single-clause law.

Even an inquiry committee to investigate the alleged scandal could be set up, who knows. For the time being, the government's only achievement on the matter is the reappearance of protesters enforcing free passage with lunchtime daytrips, especially as the weather improves - the struggle being continued in the next hours at seaside ouzo-restaurants (damn' crisis).

This whole anti-toll movement has a very interesting history. To many, it is identified with Syriza - and justly so. Several of today's MPs used to lead the dynamic actions after 2010. A separate "Won't Pay" movement's support got almost wholly absorbed by the new strong left-wing pole in the repeat election of 2012. 

Nevertheless, the 2008 pioneer was not a Syriza member, not back then at least. The Pasok man from Kalavryta, a former MP and prefect, appeared almost out of nowhere, preparing the ground. By invoking an outdated European directive, early refuseniks claimed that no toll should be levied on the Corinth-Patras route. 

Shortly thereafter, the concession agreement - passed by a large majority in Parliament - incorporated the existing State tolls to the funding scheme of the new motorway to be constructed. In exactly the same way (via a parliamentary process studied since 2002 and hardly a novel one), the State's operating rights on four other motorways were transferred at the same time (2007-2008) to private special-purpose companies.

This whole process didn't give rise to a serious left-wing and/or patriotic reaction. Local MPs and local authority leaders were almost unanimously happy that the motorways would be "made". People trusted the private sector, judging from the first generation of such projects. Construction progressed fast, service and safety were improving - and tolls were being paid without complaints. International finance parties acknowledged the existence of a "toll culture" in the country.

A driver wouldn't examine, for example, what exactly he was paying for through the State-run tolls, for almost half a century. "Children's fares" were an open secret, as were other frauds, part of an unhealthy management reality and - as revealed later by the State's auditor Mr Rakintzis - bad corporate governance.

There was no crisis in 2008, Greeks didn't sense that their incomes were being reduced or that they would have to be economical. Therefore, the rates of 0.04 EUR per kilometre (plus inflation and VAT) didn't appear excessive. Nor were they, compared to the rest of Europe, with which we were anyway converging in terms of purchasing power. 

Naturally, the gradual abolition of an all-purpose redistributional fund - and its replacement by bank accounts financing specific projects under clear conditions - was not a welcome development for everyone. How could one support, however, a non-transparent and outdated model.

The golden opportunity arose in 2009 when, with the first dark clouds amassing over the horizon of the Greek economy, Pasok candidates did not hesitate - despite having themselves voted for the concession agreements - to promise cheaper tolls.

And when recession started, from 2010 onwards, to show its teeth, the torch was passed on to the leftists who, taking advantage of the Pasoki's inability to make good on their promises, simply raised hell.

Local leaders joined too, asking for exemptions, jumping on the bandwagon and highlighting certain local shortcomings of the toll structure, who for its biggest part nevertheless achieves an optimal balance between construction cost and the required distance-based proportionality.

Despite commitments made in late 2013 (as concession agreements were amended) to correct these local issues, the reactions have since been provoked as well by the new political heroes: regional prefects. This is now a cross-party movement: the person who introduced the original concession agreements to Parliament (under the New Democrats) now calls tolls a plague!

Social envy is a key ingredient of reactions. It is clear that the liquidity of concession projects is being eyed-upon by public bodies which, for various reasons, cannot achieve something comparable. A revival of the infamous bucket-fund would probably be convenient for those agencies.

Abolition of tolls would mean the end of concession projects, but this minor detail is overlooked for now. A "smarter" variation calls for maintaining the contracts until the end of construction and then write these debts "on the snow". A less obvious, but equally important, detail is the need to maintain the motorways themselves, in whichever way their construction would be funded. Some have started labelling the current maintenance regime a luxury, as if "using a dog leash made of sausages" - despite the admittedly overwhelming improvement in quality during the concession years. 

A better dog metaphor would be the Dalmatians, purchased in huge quantities thanks to the namesake movie - only to be abandoned as soon as kids got bored of them. In 2005 everybody asked for "motorways everywhere", far beyond the Greece 2010 strategic plan (itself impossible to materialize in full, due to the crisis). Karpenisi, for example [a small town in mountainous central Greece], would be at the intersection of two major highways - one along the Megdovas river and another across the Veloukhi mountain. Populists (sometimes sons of modernist political families) currently engaging in toll-bashing had better tell the public how they intend to fund the projects - not the irrational ones they still promise or adopt, but the ones currently being built with a thousand hurdles and struggling to stay decent.