Is 2012 The Year Cretans Decide If They Want Out (from Greece)?



“Since Greece is such a geographically fragmented nation, do you think there is any movement for independence from any of the larger islands such as Crete?” No, this extract is not from some crazy local blog defending Crete’s independence movement.

Cretans do introduce themselves as Cretans first, and then as Greeks, and they are indeed known for their intense localism, but this question, rather than coming from a local newspaper,  comes from the blog of the top-notch British newspaper the Guardian.

The movement

More and more voices of  crisis-hit Cretans speak of doing something to distance themselves from Greece, maybe by gaining some autonomy and having a bigger say on what goes on in Crete. Throughout the island, from Chania to Ierapetra, there are more and more flags “decorating” homes while many residents have the Cretan State symbol on their car plates. According to pare-dose.net,  hundreds of SMS and MMS arrive on mobile phones advocating that Crete would be better off on its own and that it shouldn’t be paying taxes to Athens since the island has been left to its own luck for decades and it is basically the only part of Greece that produces wealth from tourism and agriculture. The phenomenon is more pronounced in Heraklion, where authorities have documented hundreds of cases of people (both in the city and in villages) that have made their central slogan for the “Cretan State” and proclaimed their vision of an “autonomous Crete”.

The Referendum

The whole “Cretan State” movement has picked up momentum in the last 2-3 years mainly because the treaty that binds Crete with Greece is ending in 2012, since the island was annexed to Greece 100 years ago. Some media publications insist that Cretans will be given a chance to hold a referendum and vote on whether or not they want to remain a part of the Greek state! However, lawyers, politicians, and prominent Cretans like the Mayor of Chania, George Skoulakis, dismiss such a scenario and refuse to even make a comment on the issue.

Ads, Flags, and Conspiracy Theories

From Vodafone TV ads depicting the Cretan flag, to German entrepreneurs who actually sell the Cretan flag on e-bay (!) there’s an ongoing “campaign” spreading the Cretan State idea. US-based telecommunications giant Motorola Solutions unofficially claimed that the island of Crete is an independent country. On a careers website, Motorola sought experienced personnel for Information Technology and described the position field as:

Scope of Responsibilities/Expectations:
Provide direct technical support to the customer(s) to which the FSR is assigned. Possible sites include but are not limited to the following countries: Spain, Italy, Crete, Bahrain, (Djibouti), or (Jebel Ali). Provide remote and onsite technical assistance, expertise, and collaboration to customer….

Crete is also occasionally listed as a separate state from Greece  by the US Military job site, probably because the ony American base left in Greece is in Chania.

Even ex-Prime Minister George Papandreou was accused of encouraging the notion that Crete should be independent. Last Autumn, while speaking to the Socialist International Conference taking place in Agios Nikolaos, which focused on the developments on the Middle East following the Arab Spring, Papandreou was accused by some media for referring to Crete as an independent country or upcoming independent state. Papandreou stated that “Crete wants to play an important role. It has historical ties with the Arab world and wishes them extended and reinforced.” Some blogs argued that only nations play important roles for other nations and questioned whether Crete has its own Ministry of Foreign Affairs that Greeks are not aware of. If Mr. Papandreou had rather said that Greece wants to play an important role in the Arab world and Crete, as one of its prized regions, will have a special role to play, then this would not have been misinterpreted.

A week ago, Indymedia.uk also brought up the Cretan State issue and referred to yet another conspiracy theory involving business groups within Germany. According to Indymedia, the Greek authorities believe that this movement is being funded and co-ordinated by powerful business groups within Germany, who obviously have their sights set on vulturing in and taking an economic stronghold on the island. In a scary, prophetic and realistic way, this transition could spread around the country, and lead to Greece being divided up into different economic sectors, each run by different European countries.

A classic case of divide and rule, Indymedia argues, which is similar to superpowers in the past, for example when they carved up control of Africa during the colonial days. This time though, the terrorists are from an economic rather than a ‘royal’ background. What is happening in Greece right now seems to be make or break for the European Union. EU leaders  know that if they can break the backs of the Greeks (the most revolutionary working class in Europe), then this will lead to a domino effect taking place, with countries such as Portugal and Ireland following suit.

But – according to Indymedia – this plan could backfire as Greeks might manage to win their struggle by resisting forced austerity and entering into a period of self-determination and a nationalised economy. Then the authors argue,  the EU policy of free market exploitation of its poorer members will fail, and perhaps lead to a domino effect of succession from the union and to its inevitable collapse.

“We want out”

So what about ordinary Cretans? What’s their opinion on becoming autonomous? One of the movement’s bold claims is that the Crete economy does  well but the poorer regions of the Greek state swallow much of this up. “We have tourism, we have agriculture, we have sun and wind for developing green energy. It they would let us we could easily stand on our feet and come over this nightmare crisis… By becoming autonomous we will expand economically even better. Many businesses like the oil industries are at the moment centralized in Athens. This could change…We are producing most of the GDP and most of the taxes in Greece and yet the development projects compared to other parts of Greece are basically non-existent. We are the ones who produce taxes but they get the development,” says an environmental engineer from Chania who wanted to remain unnamed.

Tourism does account for almost a fifth of the country’s gross domestic product and one in five jobs, and Crete is indeed Greece’s number one tourist destination based on numbers. In fact, last summer, should you have happened to be in Crete you would hardly know there was a crisis. As usual, around a third of all foreign visitors came from Crete’s most loyal markets: Germany — despite the whining over having to pay the bailout for “lazy Greeks” — and Britain.

“I believe that the island can maintain itself through agriculture and tourism. We produce olive oil. In northern Greece they grow useless tobacco, useless cotton and useless cereals and they have very little tourism compared to us. Why should we pay all these crazy taxes? We basically are the only part of Greece that actually produces something,” says a 37 year old farmer Manolis, who passionately advocates that Crete would surely be better off on its own right now. “We grow 80% of vegetables in Greece. Real development that’s bringing hot cash and  is expanding even now. And much of the production goes to Germany, the Netherlands and the UK.”

 (With information from: keeptalkinggreece.com, indymedia.uk, kritikipoliteia.pblogs.gr, 
www.greekalert.com,www.flashnews.gr, www.guardian.co.uk/world/blog, New York Times)