(Un)Recognized Minorities: Αn Erasmus+ Meeting in Thessaloniki, 16th-20th March 2023


The intention of Erasmus programmes for schools is to connect teachers and students from all over Europe, with special emphasis on real-life conditions and situations in the participating countries and locations. That such inter-cultural learning not always goes without problems, two teams heading for the 5th and last meeting in Thessaloniki, scheduled for March 16 to 20, had to experience. In the night of March 1st, two trains crashed into each other on the railway line between Athens and Thessaloniki, with more than 40 persons dead and 80 injured. Greece was shocked and put the blame mostly on the postponement of safeguarding measures by the government, which led to a series of protest actions. One of them was a spontaneous strike of public transport on March 16, which led to a complete closing of Thessaloniki Airport. Therefore, the teams from Bolzano and Amsterdam were confronted with a cancellation of their flights. The teams from Romania and Germany had already arrived on March 15, so the airport was still open for them.

The organizing team at Thessaloniki reacted very flexible on the difficult situation; a planned visit to the Archaeological Museum (which was located within walking distance) was rescheduled to an earlier start.

Taxis were used to reach 2nd Model Junior High School, where the afternoon was spent with meeting each other, presentations and topical work organized by Ms Constantinidou. The day ended in a lively spirit with a welcome dinner in the evening.

On March 16 it was finally evident that there was no possible other flight for the Bolzano team, however, for the team from Amsterdam Ms Karagiauri came up with a brilliant alternative: to travel via Sofia! In spite of that, the Dutch team arrived in Thessaloniki late in the afternoon of Friday, so they missed the day where emphasis had been on topical work for the project. There had been two interesting and impressive talks, the first given by Venetia Apostolidou from Thessaloniki University on a project to improve the education of children belonging to the Muslim minority in Thrace – she belonged to the project team. The second speaker impressed especially as a person: Father Athenagoras, a priest working in Dendropotamos, which is a part of Thessaloniki where most of the Sinti and Roma are living. He has made it his mission to provide better education to as many children as possible with poor background, to put them on their way to a better future.

Not only the “Sinti and Roma” topic provided a connection to the two preceding project meetings – this was also true for the next item on the agenda, a visit to Thessaloniki Jewish Museum. During a guided tour participants learned that nearly half of the citizens of Thessaloniki had had Jewish ancestry until the Greek conquered Thessaloniki in 1912. In 1917 a large-scale fire destroyed about 30 percent of the city, including many Jewish institutions and residential buildings, causing a surge of emigration from Thessaloniki and leading to a major reduction of the Jewish population. By accommodating many Greek refugees from Asia Minor, the Jews finally became a minority in Thessaloniki which was not so well looked upon. In 1943, the remaining ca. 50000 Jews were transported to Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, with only few exceptions. In remembrance to that and also to an act of public humiliation there is a memorial march from Eleftherias Square to the former train station, which took place during the time of the project meeting and in which the Erasmus team participated.

Friday brought a visit at the Thessaloniki Centre of the Cypriot Association of Northern Greece. Not only did the students learn some facts on the history of divided Cyprus, but they were also visited by the Cypriot consul general, who showed great interest in the present project and in Erasmus projects in general.

Saturday was dedicated to exploring ancient Makedonia. Led by a very well-informed guide, the group visited the Archaeological Museum in Pella and the Kings’ Tombs in Vergina. Especially students with deeper knowledge on Alexander the Great were very impressed.

Also the city centre of Thessaloniki was visited, partly together, partly in groups. The sea with Mount Olympus at the horizon and a harbour boat tour were special experiences, also the joint meals at various taverns, with heaps of meat being served. At the final evening everybody had fun at a Greek dance workshop – time fled at considerable speed, on Monday the workshop results from Thursday were presented, and then it was time to say good-bye, not only to the partners from the various countries but in a special way to Ms Fotini Karagiauri, the “Mother” of the Erasmus projects at 2ndHigh School who will retire after this year. Special regards to her for collaboration in two projects!