Greeks - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The majority of Greeks in the Soviet Union were historically (and remain) rural agriculturalists. Nevertheless, there are also increasing numbers of urban dwellers, who place great emphasis on education and whose occupations span a broad spectrum. The blossoming in the 1930s of Soviet Greek literature, arts, and theater is indicative of an artistic creativity that shows a few signs of reestablishing itself. Nevertheless, the widespread emigration by active and ambitious Greeks is not helping cultural development in the former USSR.

The type of work and consequent standard of living among Greeks varies greatly according to the republic where they reside. For example, Greeks in Ukraine include many coal miners, mining being one of this republic's main industries. On the other hand, most Greeks in Georgia are farmers, including many who became relatively wealthy because the former Soviet regime allowed them to sell their produce privately.

Pontian Greeks have a reputation for being hardworking and enterprising, both of which are reflected in their capacity for reestablishing themselves in new locations. It is not uncommon for Soviet Pontians to have been uprooted several times in a lifetime. For instance, many older people who left Turkey after 1916 to settle in the Black Sea regions of the USSR were later exiled to Central Asia in the 1930s or 1940s, and large numbers returned to the Black Sea and Transcaucasus after the 1950s.

Political Organization. Although Greeks are scattered throughout the republics of the former Soviet Union, they began to form local organizations in the late 1980s. Stimulated by Gorbachev's liberalizations, these societies began with cultural aims such as to encourage the teaching of Greek and the establishing of links with Greece. The formation in 1989 of the All-Union Association of Greeks of the USSR, however, marked a new phase. Its influential president is Gavril Popov, then mayor of Moscow, who is himself of Greek origin. Serious discussions are taking place about the possible formation of an autonomous Greek republic or district within the territory of the former USSR.

Conflict. Pontian Greeks have a history of conflict with other groups and of fighting for survival. For centuries the Turks persecuted them on grounds of their religion and their language; Turkish persecution culminated in the genocide of 1916-1924. This was followed by the Stalinist persecution and the exiles of the 1930s and 1940s. Today interethnic relations are one of the most acute problems in the former Soviet Union, and Greeks are frequently trapped in the middle of other interethnic clashes, in addition to having their own difficulties. In Central Asia there have been violent incidents involving the dominant Muslim population and Greeks, and in Georgia Greeks are caught between Georgians and Abkhazian and Ossetic seperatists. New Georgian laws have restricted the use of local languages and have banned local political parties from running candidates in Georgian elections. This has increased the problems experienced by Greeks and other ethnic minorities in the republic.

Partially as a result of their sufferings during the twentieth century, the Pontian Greeks have idealized Greece as a Utopian motherland that will put an end to all their troubles. Thousands of Soviet Greeks are now emigrating there. In reality, however, Pontian immigrants encounter a series of difficulties (particularly in the economic and linguistic spheres) in Greece, despite increased assistance by the Greek state.

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