Friends of Tsamantas. December 2017
News from Tsamantas
During the last week of November, I visited the village of Tsamantas for the third time this year. Overshadowed by the massive bulk of Mounts Mourgana and Stougara, it was covered by a thick fog. The frequent autumnal thunderstorms had produced an abundance of vegetation, to the delight of anumber of grazing herds of goats, sheep and cattle.
Regrettably the gradual depopulation of the village has resulted in the abandonment of much of the land once used for agriculture. The traditionalterraces, vineyards and orchards, created by successive generations of Tsamantiots, is being overrun by uncontrolled vegetation.
The reason for my visit was the distribution, for a fourth year running, of foodstuff donated by the St. George’s Hellenic Benefit of Tsamanta(s), Inc, in Worcester, MA, in the United States. The generous donation by the Society, as well as providing a small bursary to four pupils who live permanently in the village, enabling them to gain access to the internet, was used to purchase and distribute a bag of basic groceries, olive oil and meat for the Christmas dinner to nine households, benefiting a total of 23 individuals. A similar distribution also took place before Easter, in April, and another one is planned for April 2018.
Despite the fact that the village of Tsamantas has a considerable amount of fundsdeposited in the National Bank of Greece in Filiates, none of this is available, as the village’s accounts are frozen (see below). Unfortunately, the few remaining inhabitants of Tsamantas, like other Greeks, continue to suffer from the profound economic (and political) crisis.
The crisis has exacerbated the internal wrangling among individuals, and their factions in the village, about who is in charge of dispensing the Bellos legacy. Regrettably, I have witnessed how village life has been disrupted by destructive quarrels and futile court actions.
The Unresolved Status of Tsamantas and the Challenges of the Bellos Legacy
As you know, the community of Tsamantas is one of the beneficiaries of the Bellos legacy. Prior to his death in 1999, the wealthy expatriate Stavros Bellos generously donated two lots of shares in American companies (presently a sum in the low six-figures, in US$), and in his will he left to the village a further substantial amount (the Bellos Fund: presently a sum in the high six-figures, in US$). Regrettably, in-fighting and accusations of mismanagement among the Tsamantiots themselves have led to the postponement of the remittance of funds from the USA to the village, and the freezing of its bank accounts.
Furthermore, recent administrative changes in Greece have resulted in Tsamantas – like all other villages in the country – ceasing to be a legal entity per se, instead becoming a part of the larger Municipality of Filiates (along with 40 other villages in Thesprotia). Due to this change, the question has now arisen of who is going to manage the Bellos Trust funds and pay any taxes due: the village itself, or the Mayor of Filiates.
The lawyers in Igoumenitsa who are representing the interestsof Tsamantas took the issue to the Ministry of the Economy in Athens. In October 2016, after a long delay, the deputy minister Mr Alexiadis announced that he was unable to make a decision, and referred the case to the regional court (εφετειον), based in Corfu.
The court case was scheduled to be heard last month, but has now been postponed until February 2018. In addition, the Ministry has assigned the supervision of the management of the Bellos Trust to the Region of Epirus and its Department of Legacies and Charitable Donations, in Ioannina.
The Department’s official in charge of the file of Tsamantas, Mr Dimitrios Goukos, has asked the individuals of the two church councils, namely St. George and the Dormition of the Virgin, to submit the necessary plans of works for benefiting the village.
However, a few years ago a couple of individuals from Tsamantas initiated a court action against others in the village (mostly previous members of the two church councils), accusing them of embezzling the remittances of the Bellos Trust funds.
During the last few months, the matter was referred to the Public Prosecutor in Igoumenitsa, who is now investigating it. As a result, the village’s accounts remain frozen, and the people of Tsamantas continue to be denied the village’s annual income of approximately US$ 3,000-4,000 (accrued from the Bellos Fund and the shares), perhaps for years to come.
I am aware of this situation through my own involvement in attempting to resolve the matter. In May 2017, along with the head of the St. George’s Society in Worcester, I visited the legal firm Fletcher Tilton in Worcester, MA, who are in charge of managing the Bellos Trust.
We explained the situationin Tsamantas, and expressed the hope that, with the involvement of the Region of Epirus leading to an upcoming court case, a solution to the status of Tsamantas might be achieved, so that the funds for the community can be released in their entirety on the 4th of January 2019 – twenty years after the death of Stavros Bellos, as stipulated in his will.
From Tsamantas to Melbourne and Worcester, and back to Tsamantas
I am delighted to report that I visited friends, relatives and members the Tsamantiot Communities in Melbourne, Australia in February and in Worcester, MA, USA in May this year.
I am grateful to fellowTsamantiots in Melbourne, Philip Dimitriadis and Angie Kenos, for their warm welcome and for the opportunity to discuss, with so little time, some important issues related to Tsamantas and its diaspora.
It appears that the St. Nicholas Brotherhood of Tsamantas in Melbourne has been inactive during the last decade.
Both Philip and Angie will try to revitalise it, at least for celebrating the centenary of the St. Nicholas’s Brotherhood, in the early 2020s.
In Worcester, MA, I had the opportunity to see a few relatives and good friends there, and in particularthe executive of the St. George’s Society – Nick Gatzios (head of the Society), Nick Athanasiou and Toula Koulidis – who have been instrumental in funding the foodbank in Tsamantas for the past four years. There are many people in Tsamantas and elsewhere, including me personally, who are eternallygrateful to the philanthropic activities of the Society.
Recent Successful Projects
The structural works for securing the foundations of the majestic church of St. George’s in Kamitsiani have been completed. I would like to express our profound gratitude to the Region of Epirus for providing the necessary funds, and especially to the Head of the Region, Mr Alexandros Kachrimanis,for his personal interest in the restoration of the Church, as well as Father Methodios, the Abbot of the Monastery of Giromeri, for his relentless work in securing the long-term future of our church building for decades to come. The fundraising appeal continues for urgent repairs to the main parish church of the Dormition of the Virgin in Tsamantas.
We remember those residents who sadly died this year, along with others in the diasporic Tsamantiot community.
I learned of the following losses during the course of the year:
Kassiani Stollakis (Tsamantas)
TSAMANTAS 100 YEARS AGO
“The joy that followed the liberation of Epirus from Ottoman rule, in February 1913, was cruelly short-lived. The creation of the new state of Albania resulted in the region’s partition, with disastrous economic consequences [...] Not long afterwards, in August 1914, dramatic events led to the start of the First World War, and a significant part of Epirus was occupied by the Italian army.
The situation worsened in 1916, when a blockade of Greece by the Allied Forces – intended to compel the country to abandon its neutrality – led to rises in the cost of food and other basic necessities, with dreadful consequences for the Greek people [...] In Epirus, the crippling economic hardship that ensued was compounded by the spread of diseases such as typhoid fever, which, together with the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918, drastically reduced the region’s population.
Nitsos, who himself was seriously ill for a while with influenza, tells us that villages commonly lost around one half of their inhabitants.
The mountain communities of the region were left to fend for themselves throughout this crisis, which resulted in a widespread feeling of having exchanged an indifferent Ottoman administration for a similarly unconcerned Greek state. Even though Tsamantas suffered far fewer deaths from these epidemics – allegedly due to its pure water and clean air – its people nonetheless shared this sense of having been abandoned, as Nitsos pointed out in a letter of January 1919 to the editor of Atlantis, a Greek-language newspaper in New York: ‘During the pandemic no one cared about us.
We were left to the mercy of God, and to our bodies’ resistance, in the fight to survive or die.’ His letter praises the generosity of fellow Tsamantiots living in Worcester, Massachusetts, who had sent home a remittance of 3,300 drachmas in response to the crisis, a significant sum of money at the time. Later, in his monograph of 1926, Nitsos makes it clear that, had the emigrants not stepped in to help their village, many would have died from famine (pp. 299-302). “
From my book (2014),
‘From Pax Ottomanica to Pax Europaea: the growth and decline of a Greek village’s micro -economy’, Vol. 11 of Byzantine and Neohellenic Studies,
University of Durham and King’s College London, Peter Lang, Oxford.
Best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year 2018
Bristol, UK / Tsamantas
Εmail: Dimitrios Konstadakopulos