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odyssey

In the diaspora, a first-generation immigrant finds his Greek identity
When Christos Karakassis set out to film a documentary about Greek migrants, he probably didn’t realize how current that film would become by the time of its release. But Between Two Homelands, the story of a Greek migrant to Finland, expressing many of the same sentiments being expressed by hundreds of young Greeks today who seek to leave recession-hit Greece in search of a more certain future.

 

Karakassis’s film centers on Ilias Missiris. Thoroughly engaging, he has a story to tell. It’s his story, unique, but also shared by thousands of first-generation Greek immigrants who feel caught between their two homelands–the place of their birth and the place they’ve chosen to make a life.

 

For Missiris, this is Finland. He lands there by accident–or actually a serendipitous encounter with a pretty blonde who will later become his wife. He sketches the parallels between the two countries: the same colors, blue and white, and a cross motif on their flags and languages that are barely spoken outside the country–although it’s worth noting here that Finland, which is not known for its nationalism, celebrates its language with a special day while Greece, which is, does not.

 

But when it’s when you start to look at the reasons why Missiris left Greece–and what he has learned from his new homeland–that you begin to see the parallels to today.

Missiris says his first migration was when he was seven years old and the family moved from Ksilokastro, a seaside town of the Peloponnese on the southern rim of the Corinthian Gulf, to an inland mountain village after his father was given an “unfavorable transfer” by the military regime which had risen to power in Greece. This, he says, set me on course of flight. But his real frustrations set in at university, which he says was heavily politicized in the wake of the 1973 student uprising against the military and its collapse the following summer. It was in this highly charged atmosphere that he found his focus shifting from his studies but also felt a growing desire to leave.

 

But it’s in between the images of the gorgeous Finnish landscape and the narration of Greek activities, such as a Greek band, a Karaghiozis shadow-puppet theater, Greek dances, and even a musical, Café Myth–joined mostly by philhellene Finns and the handful of Greeks who like Missiris immigrated there–that he speaks some startling truths. In Finland, he was finally “relieved of crying”, that is, freed of the frustrations he felt returning to Greece and hearing his compatriots’ complaints about the country and feeling, as many diaspora Greeks like him do, that it’s not the country that’s at fault, but the people.

In Finland, he says, he found the group or collective spirit lacking in his first homeland; in Finland, “I learned to listen”. Most painful of all, for Greece, is Missiris’s admission that he found his Greek identity not in his first homeland but in his second.

 

Karakassis’s film has had several screenings this winter and while it’s target audience has been Greeks and Finns, it does have a more universal theme and appeal. Missiris’s life story is simply yet beautifully distilled in a script by Vassiliki Kappa. “Vasiliki has followed this journey of self-awareness, as we all did, and thus we essentially achieved to capture the something that makes a project special,” Karakassis says. “To be simple, to be about human nature and enable us to think about tomorrow, while building the present, currently living in today, and critically looking back at yesterday.”

 

Except that looking back and looking forward are threatening to become the same.

 

article in the magazine