Sappho Square: Geo-trauma or a place of resistance and creation of commons? Contested habitus in the heart of Mytilene. No1

Sappho: “..What is the ultimate beauty?”

Some the cavalry, some the infantry,

some the navy

they define it as the most beautiful thing on black earth.

But I, the one that each of us falls in love with “…”[1]

In the place where Sappho dared to question the value of such an important issue for the time of the (Trojan) war, for centuries now there are disputed six, recurring habits.

The square is empty. The measures of “social distancing” due to COVID19 contributed to this. The square is full of birds. A gentleman, who escaped wars and attacks, and now lives trapped on the island, shares with them the dream of freedom. He stands next to the statue of Sappho. He holds dozens of pigeons in his fingers. It is December 7, 2020, one day after the silent anniversary of the student uprising – memory of Alexis Grigoropoulos, in conditions of pandemic and biopolitical capitalism. A few days after the occupation of the square by the special police force unit, on November 17, and after a team of doctors stopped banners from being hung up in it [the square]. Is anything changing in the square?

The square is full. It is full of children playing, seniors talking, immigrants, students waiting, meeting, exchanging knowledge, arguing, laughing, and learning. The square is being rediscovered[2], when, in pandemic conditions, it becomes a target for silencing the residents of the island. It is May 21, 2020. A day when the actors of its history awaken[3]. At the same time, the square reminds us that it is this patriarchy that is behind the genocide of Erato (1 year later)[4]. What bothered the authors of the proposal to ban demonstrations in the square?

A. The language:

The area of ​​the square is a place of ephemeral-urban-verbal interventions (banners, microphones, music) that communicate their ideas to people. But there are two fixed landmarks in it that bear permanent inscriptions:

– Sappho’s painting made by students of the POLIANA team, which began in November 2012 at the pumping station, which was completed in May 2018 on the day of a voluntary blood donor. One of the inscriptions says in English: “love is to share sunlight and virtue”, for passers-by from all over the world to read.

– Sappho’s statue, made by the sculptor Athanasios Limneos, was donated by the poet Rose Macaulay between 1964-1965[1]. The writing “Come now, kind graces and Muses with beautiful hair” is in ancient Greek. Sappho is closely connected with the anti-patriarchal struggles in Lesvos.

B. The struggles:

The square has been a landmark of struggles since its creation (in 1962, at the site of the demolished customs office). Demonstrations where the Labor Center, PAME, the primary unions, the Students, the Farmers, the movement of “Indignant Citizens” are called, but also the gatherings on landmark dates: December 6, November 17, Antifascist demonstrations.

C. The commons:
The square is also a place of co-formation of the “commons”. A public space that functions as an urban audience. Most socio-political and cultural gatherings take place in this square, but, also, the square calls for a joint meeting around a game, a movie screening, a meal (Other Human), a conversation, a dance… It is also the place of random encounters.

All these meetings hide many, potentially, uncontrollable situations, many political fermentations, and, organized or not, revolts by the oppressed, which usually worries the rulers (as noted by Bakhtin and Hobsbawm).

The above factors (language, struggles, commonalities) create repetitive habits of resistance and creation that constantly confront and are intertwined with the ingrained patriarchal habits of exploitation between humans, which blindly obey to the triptych “homeland – religion – family.

D. The flag:

The flag reminds us that we are at the border. It also emphasizes, as in any area that is systematically degraded, a sense of belonging. Many different events have taken place around it. The day of national liberation from the Ottoman Empire, the day of liberation from the German occupation and many more. From 2015 onwards, some groups attribute more and narrower “nationalist” characteristics to it.

These controversial habits have marked the history of Lesvos. The EU-Turkey agreement signed in March 2015 is a recent milestone and acts as a continuation of the global policy of state terrorism that took place after the fall of the towers in New York in 2011; it was named as “counter-terrorism policy”. See post: Sappho Square No2.

Christy Petropoulou
December 2021

[1] Original Text:

ο]ἰ μὲν ἰππήων στρότον, οἰ δὲ πέσδων,

οἰ δὲ νάων φαῖσ᾽ ἐπ[ὶ] γᾶν μέλαι[ν]αν

ἔ]μμεναι κάλλιστον, ἔγω δὲ κῆν᾽ ὄττω τις ἔραται·

Translation to Modern Greek, Δ. Ν. Μαρωνίτης «Εννέα Μεταφράσματα» Ποίηση τεύχος 9, Άνοιξη-Καλοκαίρι 1997) Στο: Σ. Πασχάλης,2004. Μυτιλήνη, Μια πόλη στη λογοτεχνία. Μεταίχμιο, σ.21.

[2] The local magazine Κλαξόν (Klaxon) comments “In the place where we grew up, the squares are the definition of public space…: By definition, open spaces. Sometimes emblematic.” Reference point: The open, free, public gathering space

[3] “Defeat Tsakyri. Sappho Square open to society »The Council of the Community of Mytilene rejected the proposal of the Deputy Mayor of Culture Panagiotis Tsakiris, which was submitted on the anniversary of the coup d’etat of April 21, 1967 and supported by the” Free Citizens “faction for the adoption of a” regulatory act ” Sappho Square at certain times of the year will be used only as a place of cultural and intellectual activities and not as a place of political or trade union gatherings unless there is an announcement of elections.Source: Ήττα Τσακύρη. Η πλατεία Σαπφούς ανοικτή στην κοινωνίαFrom NEWSROOM Published 21/5/2020



Photos: Christy Petropoulou