Amid a pandemic, the Greek village of Belogiannis in Hungary prepared for Christmas celebrations.
In distant Hungary the flame of Greece remains strong, with the spearhead being the village of Belogiannis.
There, among others, still live Greek guerrillas and some of their descendants who were saved from the American napalm bombs in Vitsi and Grammos.
They escaped to the then People’s Republic of Hungary and built the village named after the historical fighter of the National Resistance and the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) “Nikos Belogiannis”.
These events are remembered by the honorary citizen of the village, Laokratis Koranis, who lives between Budapest and the village of Belogiannis and until recently was a member of the Hungarian parliament and president of the Greek minority in Hungary.
“We are wearing a mask with the Greek flag in the middle of a pandemic. The Hungarians who see us on the street applaud us. Once some people smiled at us. ‘Why are you smiling and applauding?’ I asked them. ‘Because in the misery of the pandemic you gave us hope’, they answered me,” said. Koranis in speaking with Sputnik Hellas.
“The Hungarian people respect the Greeks. One of the reasons is that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, in his attempt to recognize Hungarians everywhere, supports ethnic minorities in his country,” said the 72-year-old.
Over the years the village has a mixed Greek-Hungarian character, but keeps the Greek traditions tight.
With a population of 1,300, only 400 are purely Greek, while the rest are of Hungarian and Greek-Hungarian descent. With the first repatriation permit, 2/3 of the village returned to Greece.
The Hungarian government wanted to name the village Ellinochori.
“We strongly resisted this because we are all first Belogiannistis, and then Greeks or Hungarians,” commented Koranis.
Laokratis Koranis speaks fluent Greek.
“I owe it to my teachers who dropped the rifle and picked up the chalk to teach me,” he said.
A few years ago, he saved the village school that was threatened with closure, offering, together with other villagers, his salary to cover his operational needs.
“There is an eight-grade primary school in the village where children are required to learn Greek and Hungarian. That’s why we fought,” he said.
Together with the Greek mayor of the village, Costas Papalexis, they are still fighting for the improvement of the living conditions of the village.
“We have built a health center and now we are preparing a sports and spiritual center,” he emphasized.
In the past, the people of Belogiannis found support in the person of the late Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias, but also of the late General Secretary of the KKE, Charilaos Florakis.
How they celebrate Christmas
Residents prepared to celebrate Christmas amid a pandemic.
Their lives have changed a lot, but things are not as strict as in Greece, explains the principal of the Greek-Hungarian school Machi Vladimirovska, who described life in the village while revealing that she will celebrate online.
“We have to wear a mask, but we have no obligation to send an SMS or state where we are going . Most shops are open, except for cafes, bars and restaurants, which only serve as a take aways. Also, there is a time limit, in the morning from 9:00 to 11:00 those who are 65 years old and over can go to the shops for shopping and from 20:00 to 5:00 in the morning we have a traffic ban.”
The village had few COVID-19. Among them is Laokratis Koranis with his family.
“We were mildly ill for 4-5 days. I advise everyone to get the vaccine when it comes. I will be vaccinated too.”
The Hungarian government is the only government in the EU to supply the Russian Sputnik V vaccine.
“If the government decides to supply only the Sputnik V, then it will not receive another vaccine.”
At the village school
In the village live about 130 children. Not all of them are of Greek origin or have Greek roots. The school years in Hungary are different.
In the village school there is a kindergarten with students from three to six years old and the corresponding six-grade school in Greece, with the difference that their own grade is eight-grade (students up to 14 years old). There are about 120 children in total and Machi Vladimirovska is the director of both the kindergarten and the primary school.
“Our school needs renovation. We try to cover our needs, unfortunately, through individuals and we hope, through a contract with the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and if all goes well, to complete some building renovations. There are also shortcomings in technological equipment such as computers which are obsolete.”
The school is bilingual and we teach 10 hours of Greek, four hours of language (s.s. Hungarian), three hours of gymnastics and one hour of music, painting and folklore in Greek.
“At the moment we have three teachers seconded from Greece, one gymnast and two teachers, who unfortunately are not enough to cover all our needs. We need two more kindergarten teachers and at least one more teacher to say that we have satisfactorily met the educational needs of the students.”
As he mentions, there is interest from children to learn about Greece.
“But it is difficult to express it without guidance through the school and teachers. We all try to establish contact with Greece. We preserve the Greek holidays and we promote Greek culture to the children who have no contact with Greece, but also to Greek children.”
There are Greek visitors to the village and they are moved when they come.
“The emotion comes from the history but also the image of Greekness in the village.”