Miranda Dandoulaki and Alexandra Andriadi (ANEVO)

The Volos case study: description and rationale

Introducing Volos

Volos is a coastal city situated midway on the Greek mainland. The urban area counts for 150,009 inhabitants (as in 2015) and covers 496.6 km2. It is a port city and the only outlet to the sea of Thessaly which is the country’s largest agricultural region. The city has been a significant industrial centre which gradually declined mainly due to deindustrialization after the mid- 80s. The current economic crisis has deteriorated the situation. Presently, the city experiences very high unemployment rates.

Overview of the city of Volos

Volos has experienced several critical events, among them a massive influx of Greek refugees in the years 1922-26, WWII followed by the civil war, earthquake and flood disasters in the period 1954-57.

In the early ‘20s, huge numbers of Greek refugees from Turkey fled to Greece. The unsuccessful Campaign of Greece in Asia Minor in 1922 and the exchange of populations that followed resulted at about 1.500.000 Greek refugees moving towards Greece. A number of 13,773 of them came to Volos due to the easy access to the port and work perspectives in the commercial and industrial sectors. This number corresponds to more than 40% of the population of the city at the time. Ultimately many of the refugees settled in the outskirts of the city where the settlement of Nea Ionia (“Nea” means “New” and “Ionia” is the name of an ancient Greek city on the coast of Asia Minor) was formed. Although there was a need for workers, especially in the industry, the integration of this new coming Greek population was not smooth.

Nea Ionia became a Municipality and remained so untill 2011 when, due to a restructuring programme of local and regional administration, it was merged with other Municipalities to what Volos Municipality is today.

Nea Ionia Municipality and Volos Municipality in 2010

Another significant crisis in the history of Volos occurred in the period 1954-1957 when severe earthquakes and floods ruined much of the city. The greater area of Volos was known for its seismic activity but there were no disasters noted until the 1950s. On the 30th of April, 1954 an earthquake of magnitude 7.0 on the Richter scale in Sofades (50 km from Volos) brought down 231 buildings in Volos and seriously damaged 665, leaving another 930 buildings slightly damaged. Amongst others the City Hall was ruined. On the 21st of February 1955 another earthquake shook the city, now of a magnitude of 4.6R, causing the destruction of 36 buildings and causing serious damage to about 400 others. Two months later on the April 19, an earthquake of M=6.2R took place followed by strong aftershocks. The earthquake caused the collapse of many buildings already damaged by the previous shocks. Out of 10,047 buildings, only 1,237 remained sound. Public buildings were destroyed and the hospital stopped functioning. About 20,000 people became homeless and had to be sheltered. Strong earthquakes occurred also on November 2nd, 1956 and March 8th, 1957.

Volos Municipality today. Source: Sgouris, 2012

To worsen the overall situation, on the 13th of October 1955, six months after the first earthquakes, severe rainfall caused the city’s torrents to rise and large areas, mostly neighbourhoods in the outskirts of the city, were flooded. 36 people were reported dead, 24 injured and 1.500 people were officially deemed affected with newspapers raising the number of affected people to about 4.500. Floods are still a challenge for the city with severe floods occurring in 2006 and 2009.

Recovery was long and efficient, with a strong engineering focus. As an outcome, Volos gain in seismic safety of buildings and hard infrastructure, but the opportunity for a visionary reconstruction was lost.

Rationale of Volos CS: issues to be tackled

Volos has suffered major crises and disasters in its past. These have been experienced by only few of present population, this making cultural memory a key issue of Volos case study. Cultural memory of disasters becomes especially important in the era of the current economic and social crisis in Greece which alters the risk perception and the hierarchy of risks. Perception of present socioeconomic risks (such as unemployment, poverty, loss of access to the health and welfare system, homelessness, crime, foreign refugees influx to name only a few) seems to prevail in the risk landscape while disaster risk falls in the hierarchy of risks perceived by the society. Therefore It becomes crucial to employ memory of past disasters in order to advance DRR and disaster management.

An analysis of former catastrophes in Volos and in Greece brings up a number of issues and lessons learned that call for an enhanced use of cultural dimensions, among them cultural memory, in and for disaster management. Some of these are:

  1. Disaster protection in Greece has a strong technical and engineering drive; cultural aspects are noticeably less known and considered. Rising awareness on cultural aspects of and in disaster management and especially those relating with cultural memory, takes more than simply disseminating information to practitioners and scientists involved in the different phases of disaster management. There is a need to bring together players from different disciplines (such as engineering, geosciences, urban planning) and roles in civil protection and disaster management (such as civil protection practitioners at different administrative levels, local decision makers, school teachers and professors) and to enhance their dialogue on culture and disaster and on how cultural memory can become an asset to DRR and disaster management.
  2. Immigrants and foreigner tourists are identified as difficult groups to deal with in crisis and disaster management. The severe immigrant crisis in the ’20s in Volos left its mark in the city and still shapes the identity of parts of the society. Based on past crisis experiences, one should examine how the immigrant identity connects with crisis and disaster management. Even more, one should explore how the current refugee crisis in Greece and Europe is perceived by the groups of society originating from refugees of the ‘20s; even so one must take into account that there are significant differences in the profile of the Greek refugees of the 20’s and today’s multi-national and multi-cultural refugee influx.
  3. In general, city museums foster cultural memory of disasters. Nonetheless, they do not necessarily consider how this memory can become an asset for rising disaster awareness and initiating action for disaster protection. On the other hand civil protection and disaster management entities target disaster protection but as a rule fail to consider historic museums and relating communities as historians, museologists, ethnographers as their peers in disaster management. Bridging this gap can be highly beneficial for making cultural memory an asset of/for disaster risk reduction and disaster management.
  4. The Museum of the City of Volos presents in a contemporary and engaging manner, earthquake and flood disasters which devastated the city in the ‘50s. What is missing though is the link between been aware of the history of disasters and taking action towards earthquake or flood protection. There is a huge challenge in using existing historic information in order to trigger action for disaster protection today. This is especially true as regards social groups which are considered difficult in DRR such as teenagers. The effort here should focus in using a visit to the City Museum and information on past disasters in order to trigger action towards self-protection and protection at a family and school level.
  5. Although there are no memorials per se to commemorate past disasters in Volos, cultural memory of disasters manifests itself in various manners. A tangible outcome of past disasters is the urban tissue and the building stock generated through the recovery efforts following the disasters of the ‘60s. As an outcome of earthquake recovery, there are still building types and structural systems in the city that the population identifies as safe. Studying recovery in its various aspects and the changes it brought to the city exposes cultural memory and provides a basis for more informed handling of present disaster risk in the city. Of relevance here are both soft and hard infrastructure aspects and how they have marked the city and connect to cultural memory.

The objectives in Volos CS: how can the consideration of culture help to address the existing issues?

Cultural networks, cultural memory, infrastructure (soft and hard), empathy (mainly as enhanced through policy exercises and serious games), learning are the five core elements of culture that are examined in EDUCEN. Cultural memory in the centre of Volos case study and rightly so as Volos has suffered major crises and disasters in its past that have been experienced only by a minor portion of the present population.

It should be noticed that setting cultural memory as the focus of Volos CS does not mean that the other key concepts of EDUCEN namely cultural networks, infrastructure (soft and hard) and cultural empathy, are not relevant or even significant.

Links and interfaces between EDUCEN Case Studies and key concepts

Although the key concepts are not isolated and there are interfaces and links between them, for methodological reasons they are presented separately in the following.

Objectives of the CS explained to a technical audience/first responders

Overall, Volos CS aims at defending the case of culture and especially of cultural memory as an asset in DDR and disaster management. Cultural memory is an elusive concept as it refers to disasters and crises that present generations have not experienced. Studying the history of the city and identifying critical events that have marked the memory of the city is methodologically a starting point for examining how cultural memory can become an asset of DRR and disaster management.

Volos CS fosters the dialogue between different disciplines and different roles in the fields of culture and history on the one hand and civil protection, disaster risk reduction and crisis management on the other. Our objective is to demonstrate that earthquake and flood protection is not solely a matter of engineering and structural measures; understanding and employing tangible and intangible manifestations of memory of past disaster and crises has significant advantages for DRR and crisis management, especially at local level. Thus, this CS attempts to recognize, identify and operationalise cultural memory of disasters in Volos (and in Greece) so that it can be utilized for:

Better decision making incorporating knowledge (and wisdom) from past disasters in all phases of a disaster

More comprehensive urban planning that takes into account disaster risk in its social and cultural dimensions

More inclusive disaster protection considering social groups such as refugees, immigrants, elders

Better crisis and disaster management profiting from what remains in the memory of the society from past disasters; accumulated memories are tools for rising disaster awareness, promoting a culture of prevention, effectively engaging various social groups in handling emergencies, sidestepping past mishandlings of disasters and risks.

Objectives of the CS targeting the local population/users

Risk exists in every aspect of life; one has to deal with a range of risks every day. Within the landscape of risks, the risk of a disaster triggered by an earthquake or a flood often seems less important compare to everyday socioeconomic risks such as crime, poverty, unemployment, homelessness, loss of access to health and welfare services etc. Devastating past disasters indicate that disaster risk is not to be ignored both by the governments at various levels and by individuals, families and the society as a whole.

Cultural memory of disasters makes us more aware of disaster risk and shows the benefits of taking action for our protection in the event of an earthquake, a flood or other hazard today. Volos suffered from disasters in the past and the signs of those rise demands for present action that can save us sometime in the future. There are plenty of guidelines and instructions available indicating easy and less easy disaster protection measures that we individuals and households could take. Simple actions today can save us tomorrow, if only we could see the priority of taking action against disaster risk.

In addition, past catastrophes show that collective involvement in handling a disaster or crisis pays out. Trust in government action in the event of a disaster is important, but what if government intervention is not adequate? What happens if official response to an emergency fails? Individual and collective action in society towards disaster risk reduction is essential especially in the era of an economic and social crisis. How one can enhance collective disaster protection today? Social networks operate as a safety belt in adversity, but how one can use social networking to increase resilience to disaster?

These are issues that Volos CS attempts to tackle, focussing on how past crises affect the involvement in crisis management and disaster risk reduction today. Our main target groups are refugees and teenagers; regarding those groups our aim is to enhance disaster risk awareness and to promote taking action for disaster protection.

Selection of methods: operationalising culture as an asset

Given the spectrum of issues that have been identified as relevant in Volos CS and the range of objectives set, a number of methods were used with the aim to identify elements of cultural memory useful in DRR and how these can become operational.

It should be noted that the first key step towards selecting methods was to grasp main concepts relating culture with disaster and cities. Valuable tools in this have been the “Report on the State of the Art on Culture, DRR and Cities” (Deliverable D1.6) and EDUCEN wiki (http://www.educenproject.eu/wiki).

Guidance on methods and tools of qualitative research methods were provided by our partner NLDA (for example: International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (2007), “VCA toolbox with reference sheets” accessible at: www.ifrc.org) or found in the literature. Furthermore, significant for the selection of methods was the Document titled “Guiding questions: Operationalization of the State of the Art - Defining, identifying, and mapping key aspects of culture as asset and obstacle to effective urban disaster management” that was developed by NLDA within the EDUCEN project.

Exploring the role of cultural networks through Social Network Analysis as an asset in DRR

Social networks are present in all disaster and crisis situation, however their formation and impact varies widely. Volos CS examines the role of social networks only marginally to its prime focus; nonetheless important findings on the role of cultural networks in DRR stemmed during CS activities.

Cultural memory

Cultural memory is the focus of Volos CS. To implement objectives (i)-(iv), a number of methods are used to pinpoint how cultural memory can become an asset to DRR.

More specifically:

Having in mind objective 1

  • Semi-structured interviews were conducted with key informants in the field of civil protection and local decision making.
  • A round table discussion was organized with Greek civil protection experts and practitioners of different disciplinary backgrounds and having experience from different levels of administration. The guide of the interview is presented in Annex 1. It focused on how cultural memory of past disasters is handled within DRR and crisis management in EDUCEN CS cities. The event was attended by a broad Greek audience among them civil protection and DRR experts.

Having in mind objective 2

  • Field visits were made to formal and informal camps of newly come to Greece refugees and immigrants, namely in the informal camp in Piraeus Port, in the formal camp in Eleonas and in formal camp Mozas in Volos. During these visits, there were informal discussions with members of involved NGOs, assigned personnel from the administration and refugees-immigrants.
  • In addition, field visits were made to Nea Ionia which is the area of the city of Volos where Greek refugees of the ‘20s have been settled; spontaneous discussions with local people were conducted.
  • A focus group discussion was organised with representatives of refugee associations which are still active in Volos. The guiding questions of the discussion and a brief profile of the participants are presented in Annex 2. What is interesting, although expected, is that the discussion offered input also as regards other EDUCEN key concepts such as cultural networks and soft infrastructure.

Having in mind objective 3

Past disasters and crises which affected Volos is the theme of the exhibition in the Museum of the City of Volos. Moreover, Volos Documentation Centre (VDC) documents past disasters and crisis through old photographs, newspapers, books etc. VDC has organized in 2005 the Conference “Cities in the Mediterranean after earthquakes”. The book of proceedings offers much information on non-technical aspects of disaster reconstruction, among them on the significant role the social, economic and cultural context plays in reconstruction. EDUCEN attempted to bring together previously segregated communities and players; on the one hand the contemporary and very active Museum of the City of Volos and on the other the disaster and civil protection communities of practice. As an outcome, a better understanding of the ground they have in common as regards DRR and better ways to work together was identified.

Having in mind objective 4

To pass from knowing the history of the city and past disasters to DRR, EDUCEN brought together the Museum with earthquake protection experts. They both acknowledged that the primary goal of the Museum is not DRR, but they identified potential for jointly develop tools to link history of local past disasters with earthquake protection. Teenagers were recognized as a challenging group and it was decided to find ways to make a visit of teenagers to the Museum of the City of Volos a tool to trigger further action towards earthquake protection at an individual, family and school level, led to the development of a serious game. The game links the visit to the Museum and its exhibits with measures to be taken for self-protection. Personal stories and life stories and other documents from past disasters were used to enhance empathy of teenagers based on experience of past disasters mediated by a visit to the current exhibition.

Having in mind objective 5

Although cultural aspects are more obviously manifested in the response phase of a disaster, both literature and practice indicate strong cultural dimensions in recovery and reconstruction. To explore these, a Workshop was organized with the aim to trigger discussion on soft (non-engineering) aspects of earthquake reconstruction based on past disasters in Greece. The cases of Volos recovery from the disasters of the ‘50s, the reconstruction of Kefalonia island after the devastating earthquake disaster of 1953, the successful reconstruction of Kalamata after the earthquakes of 1986, the changes in urban tissue and street network after the Great Fire of Thessaloniki in 1917, offered the canvas for fruitful discussions among scholars, practitioners and the general public.

Policy exercises and serious games

A serious game for teenagers is developed linked with the Museum of the City of Volos. The aim is to raise disaster awareness of teenagers who have visited the Museum and to motivate them towards taking disaster protection measures. The game is developing with the collaboration of the Museum of the City of Volos.

Interaction between soft and hard infrastructure

Disaster recovery of different cities reveals how soft and hard infrastructure link with one another and shape together the future city.

Recovery and reconstruction of cities leaves signs of cultural memory, both tangible such as the urban tissue, the road network, the buildings stock, and intangible such as social segregation or converge, a dominant mentality such as high reliance in engineering or in the army, trust to institutions or resilience of individuals.

To examine these processes a Workshop was organized with the aim to bring together various fields and disciplines to discuss the recovery and reconstruction of Greek cities that have suffered disasters in the past. The Workshop targeted mainly but not exclusively the technical audience (engineers, urban planners, historians, teachers and also civil protection experts). A series of presentations and discussions brought up various elements linking disaster recovery with soft and hard infrastructure and also, with cultural memory.

Methods applied, synthesis and lessons learned

Advances in the operationalisation of culture as an asset in DRR: key outcomes

Volos CS attempted a number of methods of approaches with the target to operationalise various cultural aspects with prime cultural memory. Some are presented more in detail in the following.

DRR has a strong engineering and technical compel in Greece, while social and cultural aspects are considerably less studied and operationalized. EDUCEN organized a round table discussion among experts and practitioners in civil protection and DRR to discuss how culture and especially cultural memory connects with DRR and how they can be potentially be operationalized in civil protection and DRR.

The round table took place in Metaxourgio, Volos on July 7, 2016

Outline of the subject of the round table – Introduction of participants by the coordinator (5 minutes)

Opening statements by the participants (2 minutes per participant)

Three rounds of discussion

  1. Relationships between culture and disaster management at national and local level. Experiences and examples (3 minutes per participant)
  2. Cultural memory of past critical events and its use for civil protection and disaster management. Experiences, examples and proposals for better employment of cultural memory in disaster and crisis management (3 minutes per participant)
  3. General opinion about the EDUCEN project and Volos CS. Proposals on how the outcome would become more useful and usable for civil protection and disaster management. (3 minutes per participant)

Questions from the public - Discussion

Participants came from different levels of administration (national, regional, local) and different parts of the country.

  • Chrysa Gountromichou – Geologist, Head of Emergency Plans and Preparedness Department of Greek Earthquake Planning and Protection Organisation (EPPO) (National level)
  • Costas Ioannides - Civil engineer, Direction of Recovery from Disaster Impacts, Ministry of Transport, Infrastructure and Networks, ex-director of EPPO (National level)
  • Kostas Kokolakis – Civil engineer, ex- Director of Civil Protection of the Regional Administration of Central Macedonia (Regional level)
  • Michalis Houvardas – Engineer, Director of Civil Protection of Region of Thessaly (Regional level)
  • Stavroula Papathanasiou - Head of Civil Protection Office of Volos Municipality (Local level)
  • Athanasios Vitos - Head of Civil Protection of the Municipality of South Pelion (Local level)
  • Discussants: Aspasia Karamanou, Head of Civil Protection of Region of Attica (Regional level), Elena Lopez Gunn, ICA (EDUCEN)
  • Discussion coordinator: Miranda Dandoulaki (EDUCEN)

During USAR (urban search and rescue) operations in foreign countries, it is very common to face obstacles due to factors such as culture and lifestyle, religion, eating habits etc.; these are difficult to transcend as they are based on human actions, rules and beliefs. But even on a local level, and mostly in villages, there are similar difficulties. As an example, in case of a natural disaster about 20% of people would refuse to evacuate leaving their houses and property, despite the danger and great risk they put themselves and their beloved ones into.

When training at a local level, it is very useful to use examples from local seismic history and past disasters. There is an extended archive including photographs, methods and processes at the Greek Earthquake Planning and Protection Organization (EPPO). This information is used in order to communicate earthquake risk and its consequences. This makes easier to convince people to be prepare and makes easier to handle a disaster when it strikes. According to EPPO, their team use to organize a tour in the area they go to offer training to, so that they could get a feeling of how people there deal with a disaster. What was noticed is that as a rule, people in areas that have experienced disasters in the past are more prepared than in areas that who have very little or no experience of a catastrophe.

Additionally, what matters is how seismic catastrophes are managed at local level. Cultural memory is a very important element of risk reduction and disaster management. The lack of it can be crucial and it may cause a lot of problems. On the contrary, having cultural memory helps both people and organizations to have a better control over the crisis.

It is important that everyone gets the right information via workshops. People should be aware of their role depending on their working sector (e.g. teachers, office employees etc.) and accordingly act in the way they should in case of an earthquake alert. The way of reaction to a disaster is a combination of training.

Volunteers’ role is significant in terms of organization and action. On one side, they may be trained at a certain region, and they may be actually be needed at another place. Therefore, the knowledge that a person gains for a certain city or village can also be useful for another. In those terms, a manual referring to a local level would be very helpful.

Some regions in Greece, for instance Nea Liosia in Athens bear testament of lack of cultural memory. (Note: The area was devastated by earthquakes in 1999 and did not have earthquake disaster experience until then). At the same time, this was one of the examples, where people build on previous experience of floods; following the disaster, an urban regeneration project was launched and novel construction techniques were applied. An example of an island where people have cultural memory is Lefkada (Note: An island in the Ionian with high seismicity, which was devastated by the earthquake disaster of 1953); the buildings there are well-constructed so that they resist to earthquakes. Also, Anavros in Mangesia had to deal with some serious incidents of landslide.

Furthermore, cultural memory plays a major role regarding Civil Protection. Knowledge about the weaknesses of a place, about the organizing capacity in the event of a disaster, about peoples’ reaction and behavior etc., is fundamental for emergency response.

Cultural memory of past critical events and its use for civil protection and disaster management - Experiences, examples and proposals for better employment of cultural memory in disaster and crisis management.

Regarding cultural memory, if it exists and how well it is preserved, various points were raised.

Seen cultural memory of disasters at the level of the whole country, one can notice efforts towards keeping the memory of disasters and doing what is best to use it for civil protection and disaster management. For instance, in Kalamata city that was devastated by a severe earthquake in 1986, memory days were organized 10 years after the earthquake to commemorate the events and to denote the end of reconstruction. Also, the Municipality organizes events every year to commemorate the disaster.

An historical event that has been forgotten for years is the earthquake disaster in Chios island in 1855 (Note: The deadliest earthquake disaster in Greece). The municipality decided to reinstate the memory of it by publishing a book and making a compendium of the bibliography on this disaster and also by making a memorial (placing a big rock at the central square of the city). Additionally, earthquake exercises are every year and also other events relating to earthquake protection are prepared.

Moreover, in the frame of the European Project “EU Poseidon 11”, the administrative district of Crete decided to bring about cultural memory of the earthquake and tsunami- that occurred in Crete in 355 BC. Thus, an annual exercise takes place in Crete. Also, “Malakopi” Arcade in the city of Thessaloniki reminds of the 6,5R earthquake that occurred in 1978.

Similarly the city of Volos could commemorate the disasters of the ‘50s when the whole city fell down. After all, examples at national and international level prove that cultural memory has been appreciated throughout the years and is considered to be a great tool of disaster risk management.

Truth and memory for Civil Protection are indissolubly connected. Truth includes the knowledge of the phenomena, but it also contains the memory and selective memory. Japanese people say that “the next catastrophe comes as soon as we forget the previous one”.

Cultural memory may exist in a place but not everyone is aware of past disasters and especially the new generation. Unfortunately, people tend to forget easily and most of the times a possibility of an emergency do not cross their mind. Therefore, this is an evidence of what has already been said, i.e. sometimes memory does not exist and more specifically we choose not to remember.

The role of Civil Protection shall exist knowingly despite the hierarchy. Volunteers have been always contributing to the whole considering of disasters and they still do. Despite the good will of people with different backgrounds who want to provide assistance, one thing is noticeable; lack of legislation makes decelerate the effort of a lot of people.

Concerning the city of Volos, people feel more at ease knowing that the buildings they live in were built after the disaster.

General opinion about the EDUCEN project and Volos CS. Proposals on how the outcome would become more useful and usable for civil protection and disaster management.

The participants of the roundtable showed great interest for the EDUCEN project. They saw it like an opportunity to promote the role of civil protection and to indicate the importance of people being informed about disaster risk reduction. The information that EDUCEN generates should be usable both on a national and local level.

Communicating with residents is a crucial point for a society. Talking about disasters, collaboration between citizens, the civil protection and local authorities is essential in order to identify weaknesses and build a better strategy for disaster risk reduction and emergency management. A collaboration regarding such issues is essential for better results and a communication strategy could be the key for that. Thus, of essence is how people perceive the meaning of “risk”. This issue can be tackled using various procedures, keeping in mind the main goal i.e. how to be better prepared for a disaster in the whole. It is important for every generation to absorb the knowledge stemming from cultural memory; also, the experience of other cultures or countries can teach us a lot about handling diverse emergency situations.

At local level, what can be done is to take advantage of World Days and create a Civil Protection stand with disaster protection guides. These guides could be also distributed, for instance during a festival in summer. Another way is to create a website dedicated to that cause. People want to be informed. Another proposition that was brought to the table is the participation of Volos municipality in “Safe Greece” initiative and the organisation of the annual conference on emergency management and disaster risk reduction in Volos (“Safe Volos”)

Furthermore, each sector in the municipality shall have a constant communication with the volunteers based on the Civil Protection Plan and using cultural memory to raise awareness. Finally, a way of disseminating useful information to people of Volos and to anyone who is interested in risk management is by organizing a series of workshops on DRR involving civil protection and volunteers.

An example from Volos CS: Focus group discussion between refugee associations on cultural memory and its potential operationalisation in current crisis and disaster management

Is memory of past crises an asset for disaster and crisis resilience today and how? Does it affect present risk perception and acceptability? Do long past experiences of disasters and crises make a difference in risk perception in the face of present risk challenges? Volos case study examined these key questions using the case of Greek refugees of the ‘20s.

Such issues became even more relevant due to a new refugee crisis in Europe that came about during the EDUCEN project. According to data from UNHCR, more than 760.000 people arrived in Greece in 2015 and more than 170.000 in 2016, with 62.000 persons still remaining in the country in early December 2016 (data on December 5, 2016 according to UNHCR). In Volos, a refugee camp with a capacity of 200 people was set up in the outskirts of the city in a closed space that was previously a car exhibition. 209 persons took shelter there in early April 2016 and 81 persons are staying in December 5, 2016 (data according to UNHCR).

Informal refugee camp at Piraeus Port (April 2016)
First days of formal refugee camp “Mozas” in Volos (15/04/2016)

To examine these issues, among other activities EDUCEN organized a focus group discussion in ANEVO premises in Volos on July 8, 2016.

Participants’ profile

Principal of the 1rst Primary School of N. Ionia. She has 18 years of teaching experience in education of children with special needs.

(Note: 1st Primary School of N. Ionia was inaugurated in 1933. It was the first school in the refugee settlement of Nea Ionia. The school runs many activities for conveying the memory and the history of refugees from Asia Minor and for promoting an inclusive education.)

Professor in secondary education, responsible for consulting services to young people. He is in the Board of the cultural institution ‘Magniton Kivotos”.

(Note: Magniton Kivotos is an institution attached to local Metropolis Demetrias and Almyros which belongs to Greek Orthodox Church. Its main purpose is the preservation of local culture.)

Journalist who writes about issues related to tradition; also, General Secretary of Cultural Home of Asia Minor ‘Ionians’ which is based in N. Ionia.

“The association “Iones” was established in 1994 with the purpose to preserve, maintain and convey the history and tradition of Asia Minor to the new generations. This is attained through documentation (for example recording narratives) and also through publications; there are already eleven books published … Two thematic series of activities run so far: firstly, “Mikrasiatika” which refers to Asia Minor, Smyrna and the coastline, and secondly, “Mnimi Byzantiou” (meaning “Memory of Byzantium”) … Many distinguished lecturers and scientists have been presenting in those events. There is a great response and interest. … “Iones” also offers lessons of traditional dances and has recently started a choir which is unique in Greece on Asia Minor songs.

The Association has its own premises since almost three years. Our aspiration is to create a museum together with a research and cultural centre, on a privately owned plot in the centre of N. Ionia … Our goal is to build a fine building that can accommodate the association’s activities and that could also become a research center which will be open to all visitors and people who are interested in Asia Minor.”

President of the “Eglezonisi” which is an association of Greeks from Asia Minor.

“The association “Eglezonisi” was established in 1924 but its activities had to stop (due to earthquakes, floods, wars etc.) until 1988 when they started again. Our goal is to maintain cultural memory of the homeland. (Note: meaning Asia Minor)

Our activities include a choir, traditional dancing lessons and a theatrical team. We try to give prominence to our history through our chorus, theatrical plays, traditional dances, the collection of our museum, an archive of photographs, book presentations etc.

We aspire to expand the small “museum” we already have and to acquire one of the last remaining houses the refugees lived in when they first settled in N. Ionia, so that we could transform it to a memorial …”.

Observers: Lieke van der Zouwen (WU), Georg Frerks, Helena de Jong (NLDA), Funda Atun (POLIMI), Elena Lopez Gunn (ICA) and Alexandra Andriadi, Dora Pagkarliota (ANEVO).

Discussion leader: M. Dandoulaki.

Summary of main points identified

What is left today, positive or negative, tangible or intangible, from the refugee crisis of early 1920s?

Tradition and the customs, songs and dances, football, cuisine, festivities, amongst others, still remain as reminders of the refugee identity. In the words of a participant “People who came here were more Greeks than the ones who already lived in town. Even when they lived away from Greece, in Turkey, they always would find a way to honour their homeland, if only with a single Greek song at the end of an event. For instance, if they had a dancing event, the last dance would be a traditional one from Greece. They insisted on Greek identity, exactly as Greek expatriates do nowadays in Canada or Germany.”

Nonetheless, when refugees first came from Asia Minor they were faced many difficulties. As one participant said “The difficulties the refugees went through cannot be erased by anyone. In the beginning, the refugees were treated as enemies with major racism. This rivalry was expressed through the two football teams that exist: “Olympiakos Volou” and “Niki Volou”. The first was supported by the locals and the other the refugees. This is still the case today.”

Photos from football matches of Niki
Football match in the formal refugee camp Eleonas, Athens (April 2016)

The refugees of the 20’s are assimilated today. In the words of a participant “Circumstances have changed after all those years, so locals don’t call any longer people who came to N. Ionia as ‘refugees’.” “What is left is stories and oral tradition”. The refugee identity fades away especially for young people. As one participant said “First generation refugees keep their traditions and try to disseminate their history, but younger people can hardly understand the importance of their cultural background.”

The refugee associations make incessant efforts to keep alive the refugee identity and spread the tradition. In the words of a participant “It is impressive how local people embrace the refugee element and get involved with this culture, especially the cuisine.”

Even Nea Ionia changed with people from other areas moving there. A participant offered “Regarding the town of N. Ionia, there are still some houses left, abandoned. Many were unified by the people who lived there, because the initiate size was 4x6… This is something that destroys the Old Town’s image, but nothing could be done for that.”

Furthermore, 1st Primary School of Nea Ionia is a landmark of refugee identity; it also, attempts to promote the preservation of traditions to children. Using the words of a participant “Children in school receive great inspiration and knowledge of the past. In that way they can get more attached to their origins and feel proud of them.” At the same time school makes efforts to bridge any cultural differences now that there are children of various origins and from different ethnicities.

Are there any effects of the then refugee crisis on current behaviors and actions? Which are these?

The current social and economic crisis became the centre of the discussion. In the words of a participant “The crisis brought people together, both refugees and locals, because each and everyone could support the other.”

Regarding the topic in discussion, a participant shared her experiences “I grew up without actually knowing what it is like to be a teenager. Back in those days young people were trying to study while at the same time they were working hard for a living in order to have a better life than the one their parents who starved, had. They tried hard for a better future for them and their kids. On the contrary, children nowadays live in a better world in better circumstances and although they hear stories of their grandparents and grand grandparents, they still haven’t been in their shoes; thus it’s not very easy for them to imagine how hard life was.” Another participant said “Our children do not really understand it. In our times, refugee children and local children were different. As teenager we had to create, to work hard, in order to survive. I had to go to school, to learn, to study. Refugee parents had to do that, they wanted to do the best they could. When my turn came we were trying to do the same. But now it is different in Greece. Even when we say we have passed difficult times, this has been so far back in the past that we cannot really influence our children any more. Nevertheless, growing up in a refugee family can educate our children, not right away but gradually.”

A participant offered “Refugees’ children today are not allowed to give up because of the crisis. Their ancestors made it through in more difficult situations; they started their own families, raised and educated children who became scientists nationwide. The new generation doesn’t have yet acknowledged their identity and that’s why they cannot deal with difficulties in the same spirit the past generations could. “

Based on experience from teaching teenagers a participant offered “Children from locals cannot get as easily over obstacles because they are used to comfort but refugees can struggle. As a teacher you interact with many different children. For example immigrant children coming from Albania are different; they are more dynamic.”

How the memories of the past refugee crisis are preserved? Why? Is there a refuge identity today and what are its main qualities?

Regarding the refugee stance today a participant said “I feel a refugee. Refugees are creating, hard working, open hearted. Today’s refugees have to make things, to act, not look down and do nothing. They should act, make a home for themselves, and look at negative things from a positive side. They should embrace their situation. Our parents went through this.”

It is easier to maintain memories as a child in a family of refugees. Oral history is transmitted from one generation to the other. Memory is also maintained through dances, songs, theater, gastronomy etc. The refugee associations play an important role in preserving cultural memory and tradition; also the Museum of the City.

Schools promote awareness on cultural differences and integration; the difference nowadays is cultural inclusion at schools as children are of many ethnicities and countries of origin. The School Headmaster explains: “As a school we try to get into history by asking the children to bring something to show; first oral history, than written down. The goal is to combine traditions. We do not want to separate children from different origins. But the school wants to share knowledge and facts. After all, it is the first refugee school. There are specific days and events organized that children can attend.”

Memory is also preserved in tangible ways; as a participant offered: “Nea Ionia is still called like that, the 1st Elementary School remains as it was the day it was built, the Church remains there, some street names stemming from Asia Minor are still the same.” There is still the football team “Niki” in Volos.

To convey the refugee identity today the participants used words such as “hard-working, determination for creativity, openness”, “free-spirits, creativity, determined to overpass difficulties”, “Easterners, nostalgia, compassion”.

How the disasters (earthquakes and floods) of the years 1954-1957 were perceived by the refugees and how they are kept in memory? These memories affect in any way current behaviors, decisions and action and how?

The disaster affected all, locals and refugees, and bridged differences between them. In the words of a participant “Every citizen, either refugee or local, has been influenced by earthquakes and floods and that helped them to smoothen their differences. These incidents brought them together, as well as the German-Italian occupation and the deindustrialization of the 80’s.”

The refugees tended to have faith and stay positive during the harsh post-disaster situation said a participant. “I remember a photo of my mother and another girl standing in a huge camp tent in front of a table, a pot with fresh flowers placed on it”. She also said that her mother is still afraid of earthquakes.

A participant expressed the opinion that one cannot separate people in disasters; although he is not of refugee origin, he remembers that his parents had this great fear of earthquakes as well. He remembers his parents sharing stories about the disasters. In his own words: “First, the earthquake stroke and later the floods; then unregulated sprawl appeared because of people’s income and the lack of architectural plans.” He himself experienced an earthquake in the 80’s, but it was not strong as the one his parents have experienced in the 50’s. He said that people who are older than him still remember the disaster and have the fear of seeing their houses turning into ruins, many houses where not appropriate for living. He believes that the fear is difficult to go away and even nowadays it is hard to handle it.

Another participant who grew up in a “giota” type block (Note: typology of refugee houses) remembers that there was an empty space in the middle surrounded by houses and a huge camp tent was set up in it. The whole neighbourhood was sleeping there for a month and she can recall many funny moments, although she was only 7 years old. She remembers how the building was shaking and how the adults were grabbing the kids to take them out of the houses. She remembers that the adults were keeping up the positive attitude and they used to tell only pleasant stories.

The collective attitude of the refugees helped them cope with the disasters and also assisted them to keep their optimistic spirit.

Stance towards the newcomers of the present refugee crisis

These people don’t intend to stay in Greece permanently as refugees from Asia Minor did. The refugees that are coming here these days face constantly mistrustfulness from local people. However, because of having already experienced expatriation, the refugees of Asia Minor treat these people with extreme sensitivity. They also organized solidarity events in order to gather clothes etc.

The new school curriculums are more flexible and allow for responding to certain issues such as the ones related with the refugee crisis.

An example from Volos CS: Workshop on cultural memory and DRR focusing on the identification of cultural aspects in/of disaster recovery and reconstruction

Recovery and reconstruction from past disasters transforms cities and societies. Recovery and reconstruction of cities after disasters has strong cultural dimensions besides the well recognized engineering and technical ones. This is the key message of the Workshop on recovery and reconstruction of Greek cities hit by disasters which took place in Volos on April 6, 2016. During the event, invited experts presented four cases of recovery and reconstruction.

Experts presenting the case studies

Sofia Dimoula, PhD in GIS, National Centre of Public Administration and Local Government Topic: Using GIS to demonstrate change in Thessaloniki after the Great Fire of 1917

Vilma Hastaoglou, Professora Emerita, Aristotle University of Athens Topic: The recovery of Volos after the earthquake disasters of the years 1954-1957

Pavlos Delladetismas, Professor, Harokopio University of Athens. Topic: The reconstruction of Kefalonia island after the earthquake of 1953

M. Dandoulaki, PhD Urban Planning. Topic: The successful reconstruction of Kalamata city after the earthquakes of 1986

Case studies discussed in the Workshop

The case studies in a nutshell

Thessaloniki reconstruction after the Great Fire of 1917

The Great Fire in Thessaloniki in 1917 destroyed much of the city centre. Following the vision of modernization and westernization of this era, the city centre was totally redesigned and reconstructed. After the disaster, the geography of ethnicities in the city was changed following spatial transformations that are expressed even today when examining changes in street names and the street network.

Kefalonia island reconstruction after the earthquakes of 1953

In 1953, earthquakes devastated the Ionian islands leaving Kefalonia totally ruined. The reconstruction policy was comprehensive, took into account both the urban and the rural areas and had a strong developmental drive. Structural earthquake vulnerability was significantly mitigated through advanced engineering interventions and the urban tissue was totally redesigned. The city was radically transformed at the loss of its historic buildings and morphology.

The disaster generated advances as regards the building codes, the system of rehabilitation of buildings and urban planning legislation; it also led to the establishment of good rehabilitation and repair practices.

Six decades after, powerful cultural memory of this disaster can be still found; prevention culture is also advanced and this has been shown in recent earthquakes.

Volos recovery after the earthquakes and the floods in the ‘50s

Volos suffered from earthquake and flood disasters in the ‘50s. The city was devastated. Much of the building stock was destroyed and the population was severely affected. Aid provision and emergency response was immediate.

Volos recovery had a strong engineering drive and a focus on earthquake safety of individual buildings. The divergence between the Army and the Ministry of Reconstruction played an important role in this, with the Army eventually gaining a prime role.

Choosing a quick and efficient recovery, the city missed the opportunity to upgrade its city plan and to be transformed to a modern industrial and commercial city.

Reconstruction of Kalamata after the earthquakes of 1986

The city of Kalamata city was devastated by earthquakes in 1986. Much of its historic area around the Castle was destroyed and many historic buildings were severely damaged. Setting as a guide the new urban plan that was passed a few months before the disaster, the dynamic Municipality of Kalamata put forward the vision of making the disaster an opportunity for bettering the city.

While responding to urgent needs of the affected population, a comprehensive policy of reconstruction was set up targeting at the advancement of infrastructure and facilities, preservation of the city’ cultural identity and historic continuation, and economic and social development.

Reconstruction proved to be successful and instructive; furthermore, practices and policies were established that significantly advanced earthquake protection in Greece in all its phases.

Main findings

Every city and every recovery is unique; nonetheless, there is a strong influence of the context (historic, social, political, economic and cultural) on fundamental choices and decisions made, on policies set up, on financing, on policies’ implementation and untimely on the future of the city.

A key choice concerning recovery and reconstruction is whether to go for the improvement of the pre-disaster situation (a visionary approach) or to meet the terms of urgent pressures and “rush to rebuild” and opt rapidly for a reproduction of the pre-disaster situation (back to “normal”).

No matter which approach is followed there are usually advantages for some sectors or places or social groups and drawbacks for others. Recovery and reconstruction produces winners and losers. Which are these relates with choices made in decision making after the disaster and the recovery or reconstruction policy that was set up. To this point, inclusive and participatory decision making for recovery and reconstruction could generate more fair and balanced outcomes.

Finally, experience demonstrates that decisions on recovery or reconstruction that are made under urgency and severe pressures, may affect the future of the city and its people in the long run. It can be argued that the motto in recovery and reconstruction should be “What is urgent is not necessarily the most important”. While taking care of the urgent needs, what really matters is the long term view and the future of the city and its people.

An example from Volos CS: Involving city museums in DRR

The Museum of the City of Volos enhances cultural memory and is a great asset for the city. The current exhibition is structured around the critical events in city’s history among them the disasters of the ‘50s. The Museum is visited by schools of all levels from pre-school to high school and holds many educational activities. No matter how engaging and contemporary the Museum is and how vital is in maintaining historic memory, it is not within its purposes to advance disaster protection.

From Volos Municipal Museum
From Volos Municipal Museum

EDUCEN make an effort to bridge the gap between knowing about the history and culture of the city, past disasters included, and triggering awareness and action towards disaster protection. Therefore, the project acted as mediator between the Museum of the City of Volos and Earthquake Planning and Protection Organisation of Greece (EPPO); it also pushed for developing tools to advance visitors’ disaster awareness and to inspire taking measures towards disaster protection at an individual, family and school level. The project in agreement with the Museum and EPPO opted for tools targeting teenagers who were considered as one of the most challenging group of visitors.

To this end, a game is developing that connects the exhibits/exhibition in the Museum with sources of information on earthquake protection i.e. the website of Earthquake Planning and Protection Organisation of Greece and the one of Hellenic General Secretariat of Civil Protection. The game Card game is based on “Treasure hunt”. It connects the mosaic of exhibits / life stories / testimonies in the Museum exhibition, with sources of information on earthquake protection. It can be played in the Museum and in school. It can be played by 5-15 players and one play-through takes no more than 60 minutes.

Old classroom presented in the Museum of the City of Volos
1st Primary School of Nea Ionia

Lessons learned

Technical audience/first responders

The engineering and technical drive of DRR and disaster management in Greece is deeply rooted. Bringing together on the one side academics and experts on disaster recovery and reconstruction and on the other civil protection and disaster management practitioners and experts, advanced understanding between the two groups and brought up the significance of cultural aspects in disaster recovery and reconstruction.

The interaction between the two communities was recognized as mutually beneficial although it is difficult to pinpoint the concrete gains for DRR and disaster management. However the seed of a community of practice was planted which may in time generate partnerships and advance the use of cultural aspects.

Furthermore, city museums, historic museums etc. deal with history and memory and this includes memory of past crises and disasters. It is therefore clear that they could greatly contribute in enhancing cultural memory of past disasters and raising disaster risk awareness. Museums though, as a rule do not consider DRR within their goals and mandates. Therefore the challenge is to bring together museums and the DRR community towards a more wide-ranging use of history and memory for/in DRR. To this end efforts are required in two directions; first, to raise disaster risk awareness of the museum community and second, to convince the DRR community that museums are their partners in DRR efforts. In our case, EDUCEN initiated such efforts and proved to be the necessary mediator in achieving a win-win outcome.

At the end, what is learnt is that DRR community should recognise the potential museums hold towards DRR and make efforts to bridge its gap with the museums towards win-win solutions; nonetheless, a mediator (a wiling and knowledgeable party external to both DRR agencies and museums) may facilitate bypassing barriers erected due to separation of the two communities.

Finally, cultural memory of past disasters can be manifested in various manners, both tangible and intangible. Identifying its marks in the society and place takes effort especially for the non-locals; it is the locals who should lead the way towards revealing how memory of past crises of disasters was embedded in history and how it is registered in the various pieces of the mosaic comprising the city and the place. Different communities, social groups, places hold different memories of past disasters and one size fit all approaches may fail. However, if cultural memory of past disasters is revealed and operationalised it can become a valuable asset in pushing disaster risk up in the hierarchy of risks especially in times where everyday socioeconomic risks prevail. When present generations do not recall a disaster, cultural memory can become a key tool for disaster risk awareness grounded on historic facts and local knowledge.

The way forward

Keeping the efforts alive - Preparing for the next time

  • EDUCEN generated an active the network of experts and practitioners involved in the activities of the project. These experts belong to different levels of administration, have different backgrounds and disciplines and belong to the public sector, the academia and local government. This network is already an asset and can be valuable for DRR in Greece and in Volos if only could stay alive. The role of the Municipality of Volos is vital in generating useful activities for the network to be involved. As a tangible step Volos could become part of “Safe Greece” initiative and take up the organisation of a “Safe Volos – Safe Greece” Conference in 2018.

  • EDUCEN has been the mediator for maintaining the link between the Museum of the City and Earthquake Planning and Protection Organisation towards win-win solutions. The development of a serious game for teenagers that combines exhibits of Museum on past disasters with earthquake protection is a tangible outcome of this collaboration. However, this should not be a standalone attempt.

  • Volos CS Manual is mainly customised for Volos; however this is not strict so. Based on this Manual DRR and CP practitioners, local governments, national and regional organisations can and should learn how to identify and operationalise cultural memory. To this end, Volos CS Manual will be upgraded with the help of Greek experts so as to become more relative to other cities and will be translated into Greek. Making available a Greek Manual on the operationalisation of cultural memory for DRR and disaster management will allow for dissemination and use of EDUCEN results in practice.

  • Finally, the fruitful, creative and trying experience of EDUCEN brought up issues that should be considered in other similar projects. For one, language is of outmost importance when examining cultural aspects at a local level. Language is vital for participation and using English marginalises many national and local stakeholders, even those speaking some English. Language can be proved a main barrier and at the same time a tool for power and influence. Second, although not all hazards can be considered, a project on cultural aspects of DRR should not restrict itself only to hazards known or even considered more relevant to most partners. If a project is seen as an opportunity for cross-fertilisation and exchange of knowledge between communities, places, cities, disciplines, then experience on various natural hazards should be handled as an asset. Third, focus on the emergency phase of a disaster although understandable, leaves unexamined significant cultural aspects affecting all other phases of a disaster. The challenge is to maintain a balance between disaster phases when attempting to identify and operationalise culture for DRR. Finally, in times when the risk landscape changes due to the economic crisis, migration, CC and other, disaster risk should be examined taking into consideration the spectrum of risks societies and cities should handle; in this the role of culture and cultural memory is fundamental.

Tips for the dissemination and communication: how to best explain

Staying open when identifying peers in disaster risk reduction and civil protection – Think out of the box – Get ahead of segregation in scientific fields, disciplines, sectors, social groups

Identify new audiences and promote existing tools and means through new ways of communication

Approach the landscape of risks in a comprehensive way – Realise that disaster risk is only one of the risks people and cities have to deal with – Put effort into putting disaster risk higher within the current hierarchy of risks as perceived by the families, social groups, organisations and society as a whole

Use existing links and networking with the media to communicate DRR activities

Past disasters are fast forgotten especially in the face of new risks and developmental challenges. Commemoration of past disasters and shedding light to tangible and intangible marks they left, is a first-rate path towards pushing disaster risk higher in the present hierarchy of risks