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40 years of active presence

Sunday, December 10, 2023

    JOSEPH ELIGIA AND HIS TIMES political and social conditions

    While the Jewish Community of Ioannina was locked in a struggle to maintain its balance at a time of radical social reformation, the whole local society in the city at large was on a parallel course, dealing with similar conflicts and problems. And Ioannina was certainly not an isolated or exceptional case; on the contrary, in the 1920s the city was a microcosm of Greek society at that time; social reform, visions of grandeur in Greater Greece, the failure of the Asia Minor campaign, the influx of refugees and the rise of working men’s movements and unions all had their effect.

    A number of clubs and societies with a social or labour union purpose were founded in Ioannina around that time. Every worker, from baker to shoe-maker, felt the need for an official body that would stand up for his rights. So it was that the Pan-Epirus Workers Centre was set up in 1920 with shoe-maker N. Mavromati as its president. The May Day celebrations of 1923 saw the official appearance of a socialist-communist group in Ioannina, whose mission was to keep its own members and ordinary working people in Ioannina informed about what was happening in the social-communist cause all over the world, in America, for instance, or in Bolshevik Russia. In response to this radical activity, politically conservative organisations soon sprang up too. And as was only to be expected, the emergence of these newly-formed societies triggered a flurry of activity in publishing; newspapers, magazines, and all sorts of flyers and announcements informed the public about the activities of the various factions they represented.

    In addition to this activity of a clearly trade unionist nature, a small, but very active group of left-wing intellectuals also emerged. Their mission was to make people in the local community aware of ideological issues. They used the printed word and held public meetings to bring issues that concerned the rest of Europe into the ordinary life of people in Ioannina. A case in point would be the requiem mass that Joseph Eligia’s group held in Ioannina cathedral in memory of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht.

    Joseph Eligia could not stand by and do nothing in the face of all this socio-political activity. After all, he did not interpret his role as a poet to mean one who was cut off from the political and social issues of his time, as other poets of his generation did. He was, as Nietzsche put it, ‘The child of an as yet unproven future.’ Eligia saw a huge gap separating him from his complacent peers, and also from a large number of Jewish and Christian people of that time. This perception prompted him to join groups of intellectuals and set him on a course of radical activity that fed his poetical outpouring and put him in conflict with the political regime and conservatism of his city’s Jewish Community.

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