Skip to comments.The Greeks of Hungary (Victims of Cold War Communist kidnappings)
Posted on 03/07/2004 9:32:49 PM PST by Destro
February 26, 2004 - Volume XII, Issue 9
The Greeks of Hungary
By Esther Vécsey
HUNGARIAN-BORN Greek Eleni Korani just celebrated her 30th birthday in the company of her extended family which included her two-year-old daughter Akilina, her parents Lefki Karageorgiou and Laokratis Koranis, cousins, friends and her Austrian-born husband in what was a truly multicultural celebration.
According to Theodoros Skevis, President of the Greek Minority Self-Government of Hungary there are some 4,500 Greeks in Hungary today.
"Compared to the 5 million Greeks living in the United States this seems a small number, but we are quite united and seek to preserve our language and culture as well as being good Hungarian citizens," states the energetic man who sounds like the proverbial Zorba the Greek over the telephone.
Skevis was born in northwestern Greece in the town of Igumenitza on the Adriatic coast facing the Island of Corfu. As a result of the 1946 -1949 civil war in Greece, he was sent as a small child first to Albania and then to Hungary. His three brothers and two sisters were scattered throughout the then Socialist countries of Europe - Albania, Romania, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, and even to the Baltic countries.
Lefki and Laokratis were born in Hungary, of Greek parents who, again due to the civil war, wound up at the ages of 17 and 23 respectively, in the town of Beloiannis in Hungary, 53km from Budapest. "Beloiannis was built with the united good will and cooperation of the Hungarians which welcomed many of the young Greeks forced into exile," states Skevis.
Skevis and the Koranis are part of the little known drama of the Greek diaspora following the Second World War which originally brought over 3,000 Greek children to Hungary. Besides Beloiannis, they were quartered in castles such as Dég, Solt, Fehérvárcsurgó and others whose aristocratic owners had themselves fled from Hungary and the Soviet occupation in 1944-1948.
"The Greek children in Hungary were treated with great humanity and kindness," states Skevis, who adds that they were all given the opportunity of higher education which allowed them to enter professions in which they have excelled as physicians, lawyers, professors and businessmen in Hungary.
In 1974 with the defeat of the military Junta and the advent of the Papandreu régime in Greece, many repatriated to their land of origins, but others stayed. "In some cases their towns had been destroyed, others had already established themselves in Hungary, marrying a Hungarian in some cases, but in most cases they remained due to their professions here," states Skevis, saying that more than 3,000 Greeks are already buried here in Hungarian soil.
Lefkis Karageorgiou was born in Beloiannis, where she attended primary school and then went on to university in Sofia, Bulgaria, and received her degree at the SOTE in Budapest as a Doctor of Medicine. She is recognized as one of the leading rheumatologists and physiotherapists in Hungary, with a successful medical practice in Budapest's Inner City.
Her husband, Laokratis, now President of the Budapest Chapter of the Greek Minority in Hungary, was taken from Greece at the age of eight months by his mother who, in 1948, was accompanied by 200 Greek children on a ship organized by the Red Cross which took them to Gdansk. From Poland Leos with some other children wound up in Héviz, Hungary.
He was educated at the Bánki Donát Fôiskola (College), received his degree in mechanical engineering in Budapest, but also studied philosophy in Sofia, Bulgaria. Their daughter Eleni was educated in Hungary but speaks fluent Greek. "We tend to speak Greek at home, but our cuisine is a mix of Hungarian, Greek and Continental," says Lefki.
Lefki. and her husband's families originate in northern Greece, and they often return to Thessaloniki to visit relatives. But her ties are also strong in Hungary.
"I am a Beloiannis girl, and growing up we had this dream of returning to Greece someday, but that is a dream of 40 years which I never realized, since I married here, my daughter Eleni and her twin, Stavros were born here and we have established ourselves in Hungary."
Together with thousands of Greeks, Lefkis took part in the meeting which was held at the Károlyi Castle in Fehérvárcsurgó in October last year and with her husband Leos, participated at the World Greek Conference held in Thessaloniki on December 10, 2003.
Perhaps the best known Hungarian-Greek is the actress Athina Papademitriou who lives a pastoral life with her second husband Gábor Magyar in Tahitótfalu north of Budapest.
"My parents came to Hungary voluntarily, with proper passports in 1949-1951." She followed in her father's footsteps, enrolling in the Budapest Academy of Dramatic Arts and working in films, television and radio.
The statuesque dark-haired actress appears regularly in Hungarian and in international productions.
She is a former member of the Rock Színház, and member of the Hungarian Nemzeti Theater and the Budapest Operett Színház.
"My main concern now is to raise my three children with a consciousness of their Greek origins by sending them to the Greek School to learn the language," she states.
The Hungarian Greeks, who since 1950 have maintained cultural ties in Hungary, formed their official organizations following the Hungarian Parliament's decision in 1993 to recognize ethnic minorities in Hungary.
"We consider ourselves both Greeks and Hungarians," states Skevis, emphasizing that the Greek organizations in Hungary seek to preserve the knowledge of the Greek language and culture among Hungarians of Greek origins, in accord with the European Union's declarations regarding the importance of preserving ethnic and cultural identities in the new united Europe.
According to statistical data gathered by the Greek Self-Government in 2001, some 6,133 people identified themselves as being of Greek culture, with 2,509 stating that Greek was their mother-tongue, and marginally less, 2,473, giving their religion as Greek Orthodox.
With 29 local Greek governments in 19 districts in Budapest, Greeks are also spread throughout Hungary, clustering in cities such as Pécs, Kecskemét, Szeged, Sopron, Gödöllô, Szentes, Karcag, Miskolc, Biatorbágy, andTatabánya.
The Greeks in Hungary will celebrate Greek National Day in the Duna Palota in Budapest on March 26, commemorating the Greeks' revolt against the Ottoman Turks in 1821. On October 28 each year they gather to celebrate the Day of Ohi (No! Day) commemorating the date when Greeks opposed the Italian Fascists during the Second World War.
This year's Ohi celebrations will take place at the Novotel Hotel's Congressional Center in District XII.
The Hungarian Greek Self Government maintains the Greek language school with classes several times a week, a choir, publishes a monthly paper Ellenismos and a quarterly magazine, Kafeneio which goes out to 5,500 members of the Hungarian Greek Minority each year.
These are supported by contributions by members of the Greek community in Hungary and from the Hungarian Office of Ethnic Minorities.
The Hungarian Greek Self Government Office,
Pest, District V. Vécsey utca 5, tel: 302-7275
During the civil war of 1946-1948, Greek Communists kept records on all the children aged three to fourteen in all the areas they controlled. In March 1948 these children were gathered together in the border regions, and several thousand were taken into Albania, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia. The villagers tried to protect their children by hiding them in the woods. The Red Cross, despite the enormous obstacles placed in [its] path, managed to count 28,296. In the summer of 1948, when the Tito-Cominform rupture became apparent, 11,600 of the children in Yugoslavia were moved to Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Poland, despite many protests from the Greek government. On 17 November 1948, the Third UN General assembly passed a resolution roundly condemning the removal of the Greek children. In November 1949 the General Assembly again demanded their return. These and all subsequent UN resolutions remained unanswered. The neighboring Communist regimes claimed that the children were being kept under conditions superior to those they would be experiencing at home, and that the deportation had been an humanitarian act.
In reality the enforced deportation of the children was carried out in appalling conditions. Starvation and epidemics were extremely common, and many of the children simply died. Kept together in "children's villages," they were subjected to courses in politics in addition to their normal education. At age thirteen they were forced into manual labor, carrying out arduous tasks such as land reclamation in the marshy Hartchag region of Hungary. The intention of the Communist leaders was to form a new generation of devoted militants, but their efforts ended in failure. One Greek called Constantinides died on the Hungarian side fighting the Soviet Union in 1956. Others managed to flee to West Germany.
From 1950 to 1952 only 684 children were permitted to return to Greece. By 1963, around 4000 children (some of them born in Communist countries) had been repatriated. In Poland, the Greek community numbered several thousand in the early 1980s. Some of them were members of Solidarity, and were imprisoned after the introduction of martial law in December 1981. In 1989, when democratization was well under way, several thousand Greeks still living in Poland began to return home.
The warm welcome extended to the defeated Greek Communists in the U.S.S.R. contrasted strangely with Stalin's annihilation of the Greek community that had lived in Russia for centuries. In 1917 the number of Greeks in the Soviet state was between 500,000 and 700,000, concentrated for the most part around the Caucasus and the Black Sea. By 1939 the number had fallen to 410,000, mainly because of "unnatural" deaths, not emigration; and there were a mere 177,000 remaining by 1960. After December 1937 the 285,000 Greeks living in the major towns were deported to the regions of Arkhangelsk, the Komi republic, and northeastern Siberia. Others were allowed to return to Greece. During this period A. Haïtas, a former secretary of the KKE, and the educator J. Jordanis died in [Stalinist] purges. In 1944, 10,000 Greeks from the Crimea, the remnants of what had been a flourishing Greek community there, were deported to Kirgizstan and Uzbekistan, on the pretext that they had adopted a pro-German stance during the war. On 30 June 1949, in a single night, 30,000 Greeks from Georgia were deported to Kazakhstan. In April 1950 the entire Greek population of Batumi suffered a similar fate.
Source. The Black Book Of Communism. by Stéphane Courtois, Nicholas Werth, Jean-Louis Panné, Andrzej Paczkowski, Karel Bartosek, and Jean-Louis Margolin. trans. by Jonathan Murphy and Mark Kramer. H.U.P., Cambridge, MA. 1999. pp. 326 - 331.