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Year : 2005  |  Volume : 3  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 436-460

From Hostile Backwater to Natural Wilderness: On the Relocation of 'Nature' in Epirus, Northwestern Greece

School of Social Sciences, University of Manchester, Roscoe Building, Brunswick Street, Manchester M13 9PL, United Kingdom

Correspondence Address:
Sarah F Green
School of Social Sciences, University of Manchester, Roscoe Building, Brunswick Street, Manchester M13 9PL
United Kingdom
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Date of Web Publication11-Jul-2009


This paper focuses on a familiar process underway in recent years in many parts of Europe and indeed much of the rest of the world: the attempt (usually policy-led) to redefine relatively remote and depopulated ar­eas as sites of natural and/or cultural heritage, in order to enhance the viabil­ity of such regions. [1] Many studies have focused upon what this process means in cultural, political and/or environmental terms. [2] This paper concentrates in­stead on what such 're-branding' means in terms of the relative location and reputation of such remote regions: do peripheral places become more central as a result of being given a new gloss of cultural and/or natural heritage paint? Using ethnographic fieldwork carried out in Epirus, northwestern Greece, the paper argues that both past representations of Epirus as a 'hos­tile backwater' and more recent ones as 'natural wilderness' generate a simi­lar relative location between Epirus and elsewhere: i.e. that it is peripheral in relation to an imagined centre of things. The implication is that while con­cepts of nature and culture have been on the move in recent years, the past hierarchies distinguishing more marginal (and more 'natural') places from more central (and more 'cultural') places have been reiterated.

Keywords: cultural heritage, environment, landscape, policy, Greece, Epirus

How to cite this article:
Green SF. From Hostile Backwater to Natural Wilderness: On the Relocation of 'Nature' in Epirus, Northwestern Greece. Conservat Soc 2005;3:436-60

How to cite this URL:
Green SF. From Hostile Backwater to Natural Wilderness: On the Relocation of 'Nature' in Epirus, Northwestern Greece. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2005 [cited 2020 Oct 30];3:436-60. Available from: http://www.conservationandsociety.org/text.asp?2005/3/2/436/49321

   Introduction Top

Hostile Backwater and Looking Out Onto the World

Pogoni County, Epirus, 1993. About two miles from the Greek-Albanian Border, after taking a turning off the main highway, onto a small road that ran parallel with the border.

THE ROAD WOUND up the side of the hill, snaking its way through dense oak scrub that seemed to press against the edges of the newly-laid asphalt. After about two miles, the asphalt simply stopped with no warning, other than some road-building equipment (including a couple of barrels that had obviously had pitch in them, and a small bulldozer) scattered around a patch of cleared ground by a large bend. Beyond, for around half a mile, the road continued as a cleared and graveled path, and the gravel, made of a dusty limestone, was almost luminously white against the dull grey flysch and deep maroon terra rossa soils that were exposed where the path cut through the hill and oak scrub. The path continued to snake up, around, sometimes down, and then up once more. Again with no warning, the cleared path turned into a rutted and somewhat muddy, stony, dirt track. And then, up a final small section of fairly steep track, the village of Zavroho appeared, announced by a small official signpost at the edge of the road.

Zavroho was the first of a line of four villages, laid out horizontally half way up the side of the hill. The most striking thing about this place was how quiet it was. There was no sound of cars, and not much sign of people either, though I could just discern a couple of older men sitting inside a small coffee shop on the right. The houses, mostly stone-built and fairly old, were densely packed together up the hill from the main track, and most had verandas or porches. Some of these verandas, but not many, had vines growing above them, or had a neat line of plant and flower pots made from rectangular 5-litre olive oil or feta cheese tins. On the other side of the road, there were one or two newer, concrete and whitewashed buildings. One of these was a coffee shop with a huge concrete veranda reaching over the steep downward slope. Looking west from there, you could see beyond the oak scrub down to the large, wide, flat valley, ending abruptly at the opposite side with a steep and imposing line of mountains.

There was something strange about the look of this valley, as if it were two­tone: most of it, the area farthest away from the hill I had just driven up, was bare, and appeared stripped of almost any vegetation. The mountains opposite were also bare, with signs of occasional isolated shrubs and trees here and there. A much smaller portion of the valley, spreading out for a short distance below my vantage point, was, in complete contrast, thoroughly overgrown with oak scrub and mature trees, in a shock of chaotic vegetation.

This was my first lesson about the effects of state politics on the appearance of a place: the eastern side of the valley was in Greece; the western side was in Albania. The Greek side had experienced massive depopulation since the 1950s. [3] The majority of the remaining permanent residents in the four Greek villages along that hill, to whom the land in the valley directly below be­longed, were pensioners, and most had long since abandoned cultivating the fields or using them for sheep and goat pastoralism. In contrast, on the Alba­nian side there had been, during the same period, massive intensification of agricultural production, and the population had largely stayed, though not al­ways by choice before 1991 (Biberaj 1990; Jacques 1995). Hence the two­tone valley. [4]

Such political 'two-toning' of the landscape was a thought-provoking addi­tional element to what I had expected to find. I had arrived in Epirus on this occasion to investigate issues of soil erosion and land degradation, to try and understand something about the relationship between the local people and these processes. [5] I had driven up the hill as part of a general tour of the area, to get a feel for the place, a sense of how things were located, and to briefly introduce myself to the people. I had been familiar with a region of Epirus further east, the Zagori [Figure 1] made famous in anthropology by John Campbell's classic ethnography on the Sarakatsani transhumant pastoralists (Campbell 1964), but more widely known today as a rather stunning, ruggedly mountainous and deeply forested national park, favoured by tourists seeking 'natural wilderness'. It is the Zagori that appears most frequently in tourist brochures about Epirus.

So while I knew about the Zagori region, I was not then familiar with Po­goni County, which covers most of the north-western section of Epirus, run­ning along the Greek-Albanian border. Before venturing into that area, I had expected to carry out an ethnography on local people's perceptions, memories of and practical interactions with the immediate environment; the aim was to understand these dynamics in their specific cultural context, and to explore something of how people 'dwelled' within this place, in Ingold's terms (In­gold 1995). However, standing on the veranda in Zavroho and looking across the Greek-Albanian valley, it became obvious that focusing only on the 'dwelling' practices of the people in these villages, on the phenomenology of their experiences, movements and practices in relation to their immediate physical surroundings, was not going to be sufficient. The international border in the valley, separating an overgrown landscape from a bare and bitten-down one, pointed at the very least to the practical reality, etched visibly onto the land, of the territorial practices of nation-states. This vision was not only a trick of my modern eyes-a sight generated through the separation of the viewer from the landscape that is thereby constituted as an object to be viewed (Hirsch 1995; Ingold 2000a). The two-tone valley had been physically constituted, it had been built; and a significant aspect of that building was the separation of peoples and their activities across that valley, the prevention and control of movement and activity across it. It had been built into a place that visibly showed signs of separation between states. Moreover, the two-tone valley graphically demonstrated the point that Gupta and Ferguson (1999) (amongst others) have been making for some years: that treating culture and place as a self-contained, self-referential pair which together constitutes a 'lo­cal' is problematic. As they put it: 'we must turn away from the commonsense idea that such things as locality and community are simply given or natural and turn toward a focus on social and political processes of place making' (Gupta and Ferguson 1999 (1997): 6). What constituted 'local' here? Both the place and the people were clearly interrelated with processes that went a long way beyond this veranda and this valley.

That interweaving of wider processes into people's everyday lives was fre­quently discussed by people I met in the Pogoni area. Many (especially men) related their experiences of the region to international politics, generally de­scribed as a 'Great Powers' matter, and not simply-or even mostly-an issue to do with Greece and Albania alone. Who or what constituted the 'Great Powers' varied according to the topic of conversation: sometimes it was the United States (in relation to contemporary processes of globalisation); some­times it was Britain, France and Russia (in relation to past wars and centres of power); sometimes it was the European Union (in relation to contemporary policies and power within Europe). Whichever it was, the main message peo­ple wanted to get across was similar: the Great Powers do things that are about you, and which affect your life, but they are not for you. Herzfeld and others have noted for other parts of Greece that there is a common tendency amongst Greeks to regard Greek nation-state politics as being continually sub­jected to unjustified interference or betrayal, either from the `Great Powers' or from invisible enemies from `within' (Collard 1989; Herzfeld 1992a). How­ever, in the Pogoni region, there was less a sense of interference or betrayal than a sense of indifference: the Great Powers (and often, the Greek state as well) did not notice or care about the people associated with the Pogoni area during the pursuit of their various policies to do with nation-states, interna­tional boundaries, territories and such. [6]

For example, the President of Mavropoulo, who also represented Zavroho and another village along the hill, as the three constituted one administrative unit, recalled that as a result of the Second World War and the Greek civil war following it (1946-1949), many people had lost their animals and their liveli­hoods, and had begun to starve. Neither the Greek government nor interna­tional aid agencies, he went on, did anything about their plight, and it became increasingly impossible to live in the area:

`This is an infertile, unproductive land, one of the worst places in Greece. And the government didn't give a damn that we were starving. So, from around 1950, people started leaving and they've never come back. What to? Would you come and live here? Well, would you? There's no building going on, though there's a little bit more asphalt every year. The school closed down in 1970 - who is going to pay teachers for one child? You'll hear the same story everywhere, we're all cooking in the same pot.'

The President went on to describe the statistics for his three villages, which he knew by heart. Of people living, he said, 1170 were born there, but only 165 still live permanently in the three villages. In Zavroho, there had been about 300 permanent residents when he was a child; now there were 34, and all of them were pensioners. The last time someone was born there was 1958. The doctor comes every 15 days, and the bus comes twice a week-it used to come every day, but since the last school child left, it was decided there was no need anymore. The last marriage in the village happened about thirty years ago. The President himself had 10 stremmata of land (approximately 1 acre), but he was too old to work it he said, and it had overgrown. Before the war, the whole plain-about 2000 stremmata (approximately 200 acres)-was cultivated.

The way the President told it, none of this had been in the control of people in the villages: the place had thin soils and was unproductive anyway; the wars were not their doing, but having happened, the people were forced to leave because nobody helped them to stay; and there was now so little infra­structure that it was not in the least bit attractive for anyone to return.

By this reading, Zavroho had undoubtedly become an abandoned backwa­ter. The President did not add, as others did, that the valley had become a no­man's land after the second World War, because Greece and Albania still dis­puted the location of the border, making it virtually impossible to cultivate there even if people had wanted to; nor did he mention that many on the Greek side of the border left following the Civil War because they had fought on the losing Communist side, and they were subsequently severely treated by the government of the day.

On the other hand, he also failed to draw attention to the fact that a signifi­cant proportion of that ex-resident population regularly returned every year, either for Easter or for the summer; that much of his own family lived fairly nearby, in the capital city of Epirus, Ioannina, and regularly visited; that since the end of 1991, when the border with Albania had been re-opened, there had been enormous amounts of activity in the area (though much of this was not particularly welcomed by those on the Greek side, involving as it did the presence of large numbers of undocumented peoples from Albania; see Green (1998b) for further discussion); and finally, that there were plans for this place, being developed by the Greek government and by the European Union- plans that were intended to generate 'sustainable development' and 'economic regeneration'. This was not as isolated and abandoned a place as it initially appeared, then, even if the plans for it were based on the assumption that it was.

What the President had said, and what he had failed to say, was enough to suggest to me that what 'the environment' meant to people in this region was a matter of considerable political debate. The President had provided (on this occasion: at other times he provided other versions) one representation of this place: as an abandoned backwater, a place that had always been a matter of indifference, and through which various activities on the part of Great Powers in recent decades had now made it an impossible place in which to live. An­other, related but different version, was as a hostile, unstable and war-prone, rugged and wild place on the edge of Europe ('Europe' being defined in this context by the current boundaries of the European Union), which I will go on to discuss shortly. A third version, which removes the hostility and abandon­ment, but preserves the wildness, is as an untouched, 'natural wilderness', for which the Zagori region and its 'indigenous' inhabitants are most often used as representative of 'Epirus'. These different versions depicted a range of dif­ferent kinds of 'location' for Epirus in relation to other places, but as I shall go on to argue, they all seemed to maintain the region's relative location. One version focused particularly on the area just on the Greek side of the interna­tional border, and on abandonment and indifference; another focused particu­larly on a combination of the recent re-opening of the border and the forest overgrowth of the area, making the place appear as a dangerous, wild and un­stable frontier region; the third focused particularly on the Zagori region, rep­resented as an ideal of natural (and cultural) heritage; all three rendered Epirus a peripheral place in relation to the centre of things. While each implied a relocation, as it were, of the meaning of the place, there did not seem to be a simultaneous relocation of the relative status of the place.

In that sense, each of these representations was also apparently revealing an underlying, timeless truth about the place; what was happening was described not so much as change, but a kind of re-arrangement, or even re-emergence, of what was always already there. That should not be too surprising, given that these differing versions of the place circulated around ideas about nature and/or about nationality: the hegemonic versions of both these concepts in much of Europe appeal above all to ideas of fixity, to ancient origins that both legitimise and explain the present state of things (Herzfeld 1986; Horigan 1988; Malkki 1992; Strathern 1992; Descola and Palsson 1996; Gourgouris 1996; Donnan and Wilson 1999; Franklin et al. 2000). The land and the peo­ple were as they had always been-or, at least, they had been this way for so long that it was their fixed condition. The soils in the Pogoni region were 'naturally' thin and unproductive, and therefore the people were 'naturally' fairly poor and undistinguished as a people, not of much interest to anyone else; the mountains of the Zagori were 'naturally' beautiful and awe-inspiring, and the people who had lived in the Zagori area (such as the Sarakatsani transhumant pastoralists) were also therefore 'naturally' impressive and dis­tinctive as well.

Even the unstable and dangerous border between Greece and Albania was regularly represented in the popular press as 'naturally' unstable. That border was, after all, a Balkan border, the kind of border that is the very definition of political instability and trouble. [7] So the two-tone character of the valley below Zavroho, generated by a border that separated people and places, was popu­larly constituted-at least by people who did not actually live near the bor­der-as 'natural'. It is 'natural' to have borders in this region which separate out different people and territories, and it is also 'natural' that such borders are unstable and contested, that they cause trouble.

In sum, all three versions of the 'location' of Epirus are based on the idea of the place expressing its 'nature', either of the people, or of the environ­ment, or both. Even the Greek-Albanian border-which, for almost 50 years during the command socialist regime in Albania remained so quiet that people almost forgot Albania was even there-has, in one version of what is happen­ing in Epirus, apparently reverted to its 'Balkan nature'. It is notable, though, that this is not the way the President of Mavropoulo regarded the border; for him, the border's location, its closure and its subsequent re-opening was an annoyance that had been caused by Great Power politics and had rendered an already unproductive place one in which it was almost impossible to live.

What was missing from the various representations of the place was any area that appeared to embody placeless contemporary modernity, for want of a better phrase: an absence of places that could be anywhere in Europe, or ac­tivities that are particularly associated with the mundane aspects of contempo­rary life. For example, there was no mention of the large fertile plains running roughly through the centre of Epirus, which have been developed considera­bly in recent years and are now used intensively for commercial cultivation. There was no mention of the southern regions of Igoumenitsa, Arta and Preveza: Igoumenitsa is a major commercial and passenger port; Arta is al­most wholly flat and is a major commercial cultivation and pastoralism area; and Preveza is also fairly flat, has a long coast and is successfully developing summer beach tourism. And the capital city itself, Ioannina, a bustling and rapidly growing urban centre with a large university and two major hospi­tals-this place was not part of the range of stereotypical representations of Epirus either. These areas have no place in the imaginaries of the 'nature' of Epirus: it is the northern, highly mountainous, depopulated areas, as well as the Greek-Albanian border, that have gained prominence in both popular imagination and in official policies concerning what to do about the place. To that extent, the negotiations circulating around the relocation of Epirus (its 'replacement', as it were) have been already bracketed, bounded and con­tained within certain parameters: either abandoned hostile backwater and/or natural wilderness.

If that were as far as it went-talk and representations-it would be inter­esting enough; but it goes beyond that, for having been blended into policies aimed at developing the 'place'-into strategies for conservation, preservation and reconstruction-these imaginaries have been given political and eco­nomic power. In the rest of this paper, I will outline the interweaving of these images and reifications with the experiences of the people in Epirus.

Rugged and Politically Unstable Margin

I mentioned earlier that cultural and history-inflected stereotypes have a par­ticular relevance in Greece, not only because of the way in which the Greek nation state has used these to build a notion of Greek national identity, but also because so many European scholars have excavated (sometimes literally) Greek historiography to construct an idea of Europe-while at the same time, placing contemporary Greece at the periphery of such an entity. Indeed, one could say this point has been one of Michael Herzfeld's major contributions to both anthropology and Greek ethnography (e.g. Herzfeld 1984, 1986, 1987, 1997b). As Herzfeld puts it,

'The rise of an explicit ideology of European identity could not but ex­ercise a strong influence on Greece, a nation-state conceived in rela­tion to the idea of European culture and treated as an inferior variant by its politically stronger champions.' (Herzfeld 1987: 95).

Herzfeld's work demonstrates how there is no escaping the imaginaries of wider temporal, political and social scales in dealing with what kind of place Epirus could be. And within that kind of imaginary, Epirus is at the periphery of a periphery of Europe. Herzfeld himself draws attention to this stereotypi­cal notion of Epirus at various points, particularly in discussing Campbell's ethnography of the Sarakatsani (Herzfeld 1987: 33). Yet the Sarakatsani are not as badly off as some of the other nomadic peoples associated with Epirus: the Sarakatsani, at least, Herzfeld says,

'…are Greek-speaking, unlike most of the other, still more heartily de­spised transhumant populations of northern Greece. [8] For this reason, they serve particularly well as a Hellenic version of the 'noble savage.' (Herzfeld 1987: 33)

Herzfeld emphasises throughout his work concerning the ambiguities and am­bivalences of Greek identities that the combination of externally imposed stereotypes with official historiography generated by the Greek state has re­sulted in a host of localised resistances, re-readings and reconstructions; peo­ple in Greece, he suggests, continually negotiate between these various stereotypes and their own differences and experiences (Herzfeld 1997a). However, and this is the point, they are negotiated or resisted within certain parameters; and within this kind of 'serious discourse' about Greece, Epirus is depicted as something of a hostile and rugged place, containing hostile and rugged peoples. Campbell himself focused upon one of the more remote and rugged parts of Epirus, the Zagori region, where the Sarakatsani spent the summer season, rather than focusing on the low coastal areas where they went, as dispersed family groups, during the winter season (Campbell 1964). The Sarakatsani were somehow defined by the Zagori, despite being nomadic peoples; whenever Campbell described their activities elsewhere, such as in Ioannina dealing with bureaucrats, or negotiating grazing land rights in the south, the Sarakatsani were out of their element, like fish out of water. The 'nature' of Epirus, as a geomorphological and particularly geographically lo­cated entity (steep rugged mountains, difficult but beautifully 'natural' terrain, the difficulty of controlling people and activities, either militarily or adminis­tratively, in such a place), creeps in here, blending seamlessly with the Sara­katsani, as people. Both appear to be constituted through each other. [9]

These images of the ruggedness, inability to legally control and simmering underlying violence, still pervade a large part of the imaginary of Epirus, and is in distinct contrast to other imaginaries about Greece-for example, those concerning Athens (Faubion 1993), and those concerning the Greek islands. An appropriate popular example here is one of the most successful novels to be written in English about Greece in recent years, Louis de Berniere's Cap­tain Corelli's Mandolin (De Bernieres 1995). The book accompanies thou­sands of tourists to Greece every year.

Most of the book is set on the Greek island of Cephallonia during the pe­riod of the Italian occupation of Greece in the second World War. But a small portion is based in Epirus. In the following extract, de Bernieres establishes a stark distinction between Cephallonia and Epirus through the personal ac­count of an Italian soldier, who is stationed in Cephallonia at the time he wrote the account, about his memories of his participation in the Italian inva­sion of Epirus. This is how it goes:

'It fills me with incalculable bitterness and weariness to describe that campaign. Here in this sunny, secluded island of Cephallonia, with its genial inhabitants and its pots of basil, it seems inconceivable that much of it ever happened. Here in Cephallonia I lounge in the sun and watch dancing competitions between the inhabitants of Lixouri and those of Argostoli. (De Bernieres 1995: 100).'

The Italian soldier then goes on to describe Epirus, from which I have ex­tracted some snippets:

'We clambered through the inexorable rain and the clinging mud whilst above us the mist swirled about the titanic Mount Smolikas and the Greeks patiently waited… we longed for the squalid hovels that we had left behind us in Albania…'

'The misprised Greeks had manoeuvred us into positions where we could be surrounded and cut off, and yet we very rarely saw them. We were trapped in the roads and tracks at the valley floors, and the Greeks flitted like spectres amongst the upper slopes. We never knew when we would be attacked, or from where. The mortar shells seemed at one moment to come from behind, at another to come from the flank or in front. We whirled like dervishes. We fired at ghosts and at moun­tain goats.'
(De Bernieres 1995: 100-103).

This fictional account well describes the way the geomorphology, climate and people are combined in this imaginary, to create a vision of rugged hostility. However, that image does not only exist in fictional accounts. James Pettifer, one of the better known English language commentators on contemporary Greece, reproduces much of the same thing. In a book about the recent history of Greece, Pettifer focuses on different regions to discuss different periods. For Pettifer, Epirus is 'wild' and 'primitive' (Pettifer 1993: 3): and 'it is the Wild North rather like the Wild West' (Pettifer 1993: 3-4). For Pettifer, what does make Epirus 'central' is the region's role in both past and recent wars. He notes that the Greek War of Independence in the nineteenth century began in Epirus (although Epirus itself did not become independent as a result of this war); that the first Italian invasion of Greece of the Second World War occurred in Epirus and was effectively repelled by the Greek Army and resistance forces there (Pettifer 1993: 5), but also that Epirus constituted the last stronghold of the Communist side of the Greek civil war (1946-49), which was finally routed out of the Grammos mountain through be­ing bombed by the US Airforce, in what was reportedly the USA's first use of na­palm (Pettifer 1993: 5). [10] Overall, then, Pettifer leaves readers in little doubt that Epirus is not only 'marginal', but constitutes a fairly hostile environment in all meanings of the phrase.

People in Epirus were aware of this stereotyping of their region and they made use of it (often entirely conscious that it was a stereotype), in a range of differing ways, combining it with their own experiences. For those not living immediately on the border, and notably those living in the city of Ioannina, the more populist ideas about the re-emergence of 'Balkan troubles' in the post-Cold War era were often evoked; for those living directly on the border, ideas of hardship brought on by a combination of other people's political ac­tivities and the scrubby, shrubby and unproductive character of the land was often evoked; for those living in and around the Zagori region, ideas of 'in­digenous toughness', fierce autonomy and hardiness to match the (literally) spectacular mountainous and forested region was often evoked. However, there were no hard and fast rules about who expressed which opinions: the same people often skipped to and fro between these differing depictions, de­pending on the context of the conversation and the point that someone wanted to make.

Between 1993 and 1997, these variations were especially related to the re­cent re-opening of the border. The event drew people back to recalling stories of the second World War and the Civil War, during which the Albanian state had become communist and had more or less closed its borders until the end of 1991. The opening of the border and the memories of the conflicts before its closure in itself led to a range of different interpretations of what this re­flected in terms of the place. For some, it warranted an evocation of the 'natu­ral' instability and uncontrollability of the 'Balkan' region. That particular perspective was reinforced by the civil war erupting in Former Yugoslavia to the northeast of Epirus, and the Greek government's heated dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia about the name of the new state (Cowan 2000). Later in 1997, popular uprisings in Albania itself led to a sense amongst many people in Epirus that once again, 'chaos' was on the doorstep of Epirus; and the subsequent conflict in Kosovo only reinforced the sense that if globalisation is occurring, then Epirus' share of it was to reiterate and reinforce its 'place' as a politically unstable periphery of Europe, a reversion to its ('natural') 'Balkan' character. A place where trouble can be expected, and that might even require the intervention of international forces.

It is not difficult to understand how some people in Epirus, at least those not living immediately by the border, were persuaded by this particular vision of Epirus, incorporating combinations of their own social memory and more generally held reifications into current circumstances, and coming up with something that is confirmed by regarding the Epirot physical environment as proof of its self-evident truth: its truth is visibly etched into the landscape, for all to see. Once done, the whole thing folds back on itself and Epirus, as an 'obviously' rugged and violently unstable place, teleologically seems to 'natu­rally' generate certain kinds of peoples. Again, however, the same conditions were not seen as generating homogenous peoples: they might all be 'tough' and often 'hostile', but they were divided by their associated locations. The Sarakatsani were depicted, both by themselves and in popular texts as 'hardy, autonomous, tough' and most importantly 'pure Greek' peoples who were in­digenous to the awe-inspiring Zagori (see, for example, Makris 1992).

The peoples associated with the Pogoni region, right next to the Greek- Albanian border, were somewhat more ambiguous. This was unrelated to their identity, as such, for it was self-evident both to themselves and anyone else that they were Greek; moreover, they had quite distinctive costumes and a musical tradition that was recognisably Pogoni. However, the place with which they were associated, the Pogoni region, was more problematic in terms of generating a distinctive stereotypical vision of their 'location'. Apart from the fact that the Pogoni region's appearance, as a landscape, was not nearly as impressive as the neighbouring Zagori, in that it had much lower mountains, much scrubbier vegetation, much less impressive gorges and forests, and less impressive 'traditional' villages, it also had that Balkan border running along it. In fact, there was a strong argument by many people that the border ran through Pogoni, not along its western edge. When the border was established in 1912 (and re-established several times subsequently), several Pogoni vil­lage territories were split in half, and many peoples I spoke to recalled that friends and relatives were divided as well. The Greek-speaking peoples now on the Albanian side of the border came to be called Northern Epirots, but most in the Pogoni region said they were the same peoples as themselves (and often members of the same families). In that social sense, the border was not really a border at all for many older people who remembered its closure at the end of the second world war: the location of the border was established by an international committee (the 'Great Powers'), and its subsequent closure and re-opening were decided by national governments. In no case did it appear to anyone I met in the Pogoni region that Pogoni people's lives were uppermost in the minds of the decision makers regarding the border; so the border was not really relevant to how Pogoni peoples felt they related to one another. On the other hand, the border had, in both practical and powerful symbolic terms, separated the two sides and rendered the peoples on each side somewhat dif­ferent: being divided by two different countries has a habit of making cross­border groups somewhat politically and socially complicated (Donnan and Wilson 1999). As a result, Pogoni people would sometimes represent them­selves as being 'the same as' the people on the other side of the border, ren­dering the border of no account; but sometimes they would represent themselves as being quite distinctly different from those on the other side, rendering the border crucial to their social 'location'.

Natural Wilderness: Calming the Chaos

The third main variation on a theme in representations of Epirus, the image of Epirus as a 'natural wilderness', used (and developed) both by the Greek Tourist Board (EOT) and the European Union in its agro-tourism development projects in the region, is the most recent variation, and it may seem a far cry from all of that hostile, political instability. However, the distinctions I have discussed above had important resonances for the way in which different re­gions became available as 'visions' of this wilderness. Again, the central tropes focus firstly on the physical environment, and in particular, the moun­tains, steep valleys, forests and clear rivers in the northern region, depicted visually especially by the Zagori; and secondly on the 'authenticity' of the culture of the people, steeped as they are in a lengthy history, and living as they do in this natural wilderness.

One example should suffice here, an Internet site produced by a Greek tour­ist company. In the entry about Epirus, it makes a point of focusing on the na­tional park, and provides pictures almost exclusively from this region, stating:

'The Vikos-Aoos National Forest-a part of the Vallia-Kalda National Forest is of great ecological value, containing as it does such a variety of ecosystems. Amidst these superb mountains and forests live the last of the Greek bears, wolves, mountain lions, wild boars and otters. Wild goats and deer still browse on its precipitous cliffs, where eagles and vultures nest.' (http://www.vacation.net.gr/p/epirus.html; last accessed in 2000)

In the sections discussing culture within such internet sites, there is usually a discussion of the history of Epirus, which consists, after a passing mention of signs of human habitation as far back as 40,000 BP, mostly of brief discus­sions of hordes of invading peoples. The same website as I have quoted above went through the invasions of the Romans, the Goths, the Slavs, the Normans, the Crusaders, briefly passing over the Byzantine era before finishing with the Ottomans, noting that this occupation lasted '500 years'. The history then stops. Nevertheless, the anonymous author concludes:

'As we have seen life in Epirus had its origins well before the dawn of history. The region witnessed all the ups and downs of Ancient Greece, Rome, Byzantium and the modern era, gaining a uniquely individual sense of history and culture.' (http://www.vacation.net.gr/p/epirus. html, emphasis added; last accessed in 2000).

Yet the most recent 'modern era' had not been mentioned at all, if that is taken to mean anything beyond 1913, the period after the '500 years' of Ot­toman rule. Certainly, nothing is said about the second World War, the Civil War or the Greek-Albanian border. The apparently ceaseless invasions that characterised Epirus within this account occurred long enough ago to have provided the place with a deep and significant history, but stopped at the point that this history might be deemed to be somewhat inconvenient for tourists; this is, after all, about 'cultural heritage', not lived politics. [11] But the point is made in any event: even in tourist brochures focusing on the 'natural un­touched wilderness' of the place, Epirus is depicted as having had a fairly eventful few millennia of political conflict and invasion. The difference be­tween this account and that provided by the President of Mavropoulo is that this eventfulness occurs in the past, and therefore can be comfortably relo­cated as 'heritage' rather than as the source of 'current political instability' (the absence of any mention of Albania and the Balkans hardly needs explain­ing in this context). The difference between that account and those provided for other regions of Greece by tourist brochures (e.g. the Peloponnese: classi­cal Greek history and the birth of the modern Greek nation) brings out quite how much Epirus' political 'turbulence' has become a central part of its cur­rent popular understanding as a place.

Aside from the tourist industry's imaginings, which perhaps nobody takes entirely at face value, there are the far more powerful (in economic and politi­cal terms, at least) policies of the European Union. Epirus falls within Objec­tive 1 of European regions, which makes it eligible for the greatest amount of economic support due to its being judged as being economically under­developed. The EU defined Epirus as being one of the most deprived of such regions, but also as having a 'natural environment' that needs protection and conservation. [12]

It is not the place here to provide the full details of the European Union's range of funded programmes within Epirus, but an example of just one of these programmes gives a sense of the level of support provided: in order to 'develop the endogenous resources of Epirus, modernise the economic fabric and reduce the region's isolation', the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund and the European Agricultural Guidance and Guar­antee Fund together provided Epirus with 236,500 million Euros (approxi­mately £142,478 million) between 1994 and 1999. This for a region with a total population of some 340,000 (of which more than half live in Ioannina). But this is only one programme; there are literally dozens of others, aimed variously at improving the infrastructure (Zavroho's asphalt included), devel­oping local business and industry, improving cross-border links, clearing up polluted areas, etc. Most of all, for the rural areas, the focus has been on the combined development of 'eco' or 'agro' tourism, the restoration and conser­vation of 'cultural heritage', and the protection and conservation of the 'natu­ral heritage' of the region. Most of the projects were small, under the umbrella of the EU's LEADER I and LEADER II programmes, and they were scattered across the region. Generally, they involved activities such as creating a folk­lore museum, restoring a village church to its 'original' state, opening paths through oak scrub and overgrown forest for access to hikers, providing informa­tion points and hotels or hostels. Some of the more unusual projects included the creation of a wild boar sanctuary on the territory of one of the border towns, and the planned creation of a horse trail through the Zagori, including the creation of a horse stables in one of the villages involved, Doliana.

These projects, along with the larger infrastructural ones, were everywhere to be seen in Epirus, in various states of completion, and made visible by large blue signs with the tell-tale European Union logo of a circle of yellow stars, and detailing the name of the project and the budget. Locally, they were regarded as one of the few sources of (albeit temporary) income in the more remote areas, and I was frequently asked whether I could advise on how to se­cure funding for them, as most people had realised that my own funding for research came from the EU as well and, more to the point, was related to is­sues of the environment and development. [13]

Even if local residents were not directly interested in becoming involved in an 'eco-tourism', 'cultural heritage' or 'agro-tourism' development project, the ubiquity of European interventions in Epirus, and most particularly in the more remote, mountainous regions, meant people had no choice but to engage with the EU's wider strategies and policies, just as they had to engage with the closure of the Albanian border in the 1940s and its more recent re-opening. In any case, the 'location' of Epirus within its wider context was not only being informed by innumerable European strategy and policy documents; the actual appearance of the region, and what it was possible to do within it, was being re-inscribed under the weight of these policies as well. The 'modernisations' of the 1960s, such as covering up stone walls and church murals with plaster, were being removed; signs were going up everywhere informing visitors of the cultural or environmental significance of the location; in the national parks, long lists of forbidden activities were posted, and villages located in such parks were left in no doubt about the limitations of any planned changes to the architecture or 'style' of the village; new postcards appeared, providing images of the region that focused heavily on forests, mountains, rivers, an­cient bridges and churches. And so on. There was no ignoring these interven­tions, whatever people thought about them. The European development policies had effectively blended 'abandoned backwater' (and therefore in need of intervention) with 'natural wilderness' (mixed in with some cultural heri­tage; and therefore in need of conservation). The overall message being com­municated was that Epirus must change by 'returning' to its imagined cultural and environmental 'nature' and history. It was as if what had happened in re­cent decades (the modernisations) had been an erroneous human intervention: things had to be 'restored'.

The irony of this-change in order to remove change-was not lost on many people I met in Epirus. Some made fairly predictable (in the sense that they knew this was what they should say) complaints about their area being turned into a living museum, with the irritating implication that they them selves might be expected to be a part of that (as 'indigenous' peoples). Others enjoyed indulging in the irony, laughing about how, in order to become prop­erly modern, they were going to have to do an awful lot of work to make themselves traditional. These kinds of comments came most often from peo­ple living in the Zagori area. Others did not particularly care one way or the other about the symbolic or metaphorical implications of this new version of 'natural' and 'cultural' heritage; they were more interested in how to attract the funds that went with this new externally imposed policy about the region. This view was particularly expressed by a number of people in the Pogoni re­gion. With a couple of notable exceptions, people in the Pogoni region had found it more difficult to attract funds to develop the natural and cultural heri­tage of their region than had people in the Zagori; the landscape was not as stunning as the Zagori's, the people had not been the subject of stereotyping attentions as had the Sarakatsani in the past, and there was the problem of that border. The people associated with the Pogoni were unable to effectively combine their particular location with a cultural particularity, in the way that the Sarakatsani had achieved in generating a sense of indigenousness, an in­delible connection between themselves, as a people with special traditions, and the environmental characteristics of the place. The links between the Po­goni location and the peoples associated with that place had rendered them nothing notable, as already discussed. The most notable aspect of the land­scape was that border, and the reifications involved about its 'nature' was not transformable into a matter of cultural or natural heritage-at least, not so as to attract tourists.

The exceptions in successfully attracting funding to the Pogoni area are worth noting here: one was a wild boar sanctuary on the territory of the rela­tively large town of Delvinaki, just a few kilometres away from the main Greek-Albanian border post. The sanctuary consisted of an area which would be used to breed wild boar, so as to provide wild game for visiting hunters. The hunters were expected to be mostly Greeks and probably mostly Epi­rots-people visiting from Ioannina for some weekend sport. This project did not require appeals to cultural heritage (nor even natural heritage, really) in the way that the National Park in the Zagori had done. A second exception in­volved a relatively young entrepreneur called Christoforos, who had moved from Athens to build a strange combination of things for tourists: a traditional Sarakatsani straw hut for visitors to look around, complete with all the main implements and materials that might have been found in such a hut; a tradi­tional stone village house for visitors to stay in so as to experience an authen­tic Epirot household; an organic vegetable garden for visitors to experience authentic (and 'unpolluted') Epirot food; and an outdoor bar and disco, to at­tract younger people to visit on the weekends. All of this was on one site, lo­cated in one of the smaller villages by the border, Dolo. Christoforos paid for most of the work with his own funds, and complained that even the small amount of money he received from the EU hardly paid for building the toilets in his traditional stone hostelry (of course there had been no toilets in the stone houses used by Epirots in the past; some nod to the expected facilities in the contemporary world had to be made, after all).

It was difficult not to see this odd combination-a Sarakatsani hut where no Sarakatsanos would ever have built one, next to a disco and bar (complete with lighting effects) in a garden on the edge of the Greek-Albanian border- as a conscious ironic play with ideas about cultural and natural heritage. Christoforos himself grinned when I asked him about it, saying simply that he aimed to provide what he believed people living in cities wanted to experi­ence. As far as he was concerned, that meant he had to provide a combination of a sense of rustic authenticity (updated to provide the necessary comforts of modern living) and proper evening entertainment (a bit of the city had to be added to keep city folk happy). Along with most others I spoke to in the Po­goni region, he could not imagine tourists wanting to visit this place and spend money there simply because of what it was, unaltered. This was be­cause, he went on, what was in Pogoni did not compete well with the Zagori in terms of vistas; because it had been largely abandoned so there was not much to actually do there; and because nobody outside the region had any clear notion about the place or the people, except a vague idea of hardy and relatively poor peasants; so, he had to (re-)build a part of it to fit visitors' needs for entertainment and expectations of authenticity, expectations they had largely gleaned, he imagined, from the tourist brochures about the Zagori. Dolo had to be made 'modern', offering a selection of things that 'modern' people wanted (tradition and discos).

This kind of combination had not gone down too well with some of the cul­tural specialists in Ioannina. One such man (a folklorist), after expressing some deep suspicions about Christoforos's past, suggested that Christoforos had produced something 'plastic' and 'trashy' aimed at attracting people with no knowledge of the authentic traditions and culture of the region. After all, nightclubs do not belong in villages like Dolo, do they? A couple of years ear­lier, this same man had expressed surprise when I told him I was going to do research in the Pogoni region and strongly suggested I ought to focus on the Zagori instead, as that was much more culturally interesting. Yet, despite these kinds of comments about Christoforos and his project (he was aware of the 'gossip' about him, which he mostly ignored), nothing was actively done to prevent him from developing it. The Pogoni region did not contain a Na­tional Park and it was not nearly so marked as an important natural and cul­tural heritage location as other parts of Epirus. Christoforos's project might be 'tasteless' as far as cultural and natural heritage purists were concerned (in­deed, what made it tasteless was the lack of purity), but it was being tasteless in a place that did not matter that much. In Pogoni, it is possible to generate nature-culture hybrids (in Latour's sense) that might raise some eyebrows or comment, but it did not generate active opposition.

Somewhat more concerning for Christoforos than these attacks on his char­acter and activities was the fact that Dolo is extremely close to the Greek- Albanian border. In fact, as the crow flies, it would take ten minutes to walk into Albania. That occasionally worried Christoforos, because ongoing ten­sions about undocumented immigrants, political conflicts in Albania itself leading to popular uprisings in 1997, and the association the media made be­tween those things and what was going on in other parts of southeastern Europe, particularly Bosnia and Kosovo ('Balkan instability'), was not good news for his tourist business. Christoforos himself had close links with people in Albania and had hired some of these people to work on his tourist centre project with him (something else that caused suspicious comment). To him, the image of the Balkans as involving places and peoples that were 'naturally' politically unstable, as if that troublesome border was the fault of the land­scape and those who lived in it, was essentialist nonsense; but he recognised the power of the image, and the fact that it threatened his livelihood. All he could do, he said, was to promote his place using a different version of that imagery, the one involving a natural, rugged wilderness and a long history of indigenous, authentic, tough and autonomous people living in it, and to at­tempt to 'brush out' the border issue. He just hoped the various governments involved in disputes over this border (and other borders in the rest of the Bal­kan region with which this border was contiguously associated in the popular imagination) would stop shouting so loudly sometime soon. 'Things will settle down, I think', he said hopefully. 'Anyway, it's not like Yugoslavia here, and people know that, really. It's completely different here. Much quieter. People don't want civil wars here-not in Albania and not in Greece. It'll settle down, in time.' His hope was that the Balkans would disappear again, as they had done once before, during the Cold War.

Relocations and Dislocations

The European development projects were the most recent interventions in Epirus that involved attempting to 'relocate' the nature and culture of Epirus, to fix it in place as having been always already there; this nature, or essence, of Epirus, would now be 'celebrated' and 'restored'. I have suggested that Epirots themselves blended ideas about their 'locations' with such wider ac­tivities, images and policies, in a range of different ways. Echoing Herzfeld (1997b), people were clearly, though differently in different contexts, making use of these stereotypes and reifications in relation to their own experiences, and these differed depending upon with which part of Epirus people were as­sociated. Unlike Herzfeld, I did not conclude that the differing ways people used and interpreted these stereotypes were forms of muted or explicit resis­tance against hegemonic constructions. In that respect, I agree with Navaro­Yashin's argument that being conscious of the constructed and even inaccu­rate character of such stereotypes does not axiomatically lead people to resist them (Navaro-Yashin 2002). They might instead simply be cynical or ironic (a cynicism and irony that Herzfeld himself frequently noted) while at the same time in practice supporting the stereotypes that essentialise them, be­cause such stereotypes might literally be the source of the income they need in order to live. People in Epirus had lived for years both cynically and ironi­cally joking about, while at the same time not directly challenging, the stereo­types concerning themselves and the nature of their area. The focus on the mountainous and most rugged areas of Epirus made the European policies, while not the same as past constructions of the place, seem in keeping with the ones that had to do with Epirus as rugged, wild and war-like. It was an­other version of a similar thing.

What was different, however, was most Epirots' more recent relations with this place and its mountains. Whilst in the past, Epirots associated with those regions were familiar with every part of the area, both through using it for pastoralism and cultivation and by moving around it, the vast majority of the population are now limited in their direct knowledge to places that could be reached by car. The overgrown fields and grazing areas easily came to appear as 'natural wilderness' in such circumstances, particularly to those who now lived in cities (the majority, in other words; see Green and King (2001) for a more detailed discussion of this issue). The physical relationship between Epi­rot mountain residents and their environment had shifted, and had to some ex­tent come to make sense within the more recent versions of the stereotypical constructions of Epirus described above. The view that Epirus is a hostile and difficult place to live is partly informed by the reputation of conflict the place had. The end of Ottoman rule, combined with the more recent two wars, en­tered into social memory as a moment of rupture between past and present, as Anna Collard has also noted for other parts of northern Greece (Collard 1989). However, the more recent re-opening of the border invited thoughts that perhaps it had not been such a rupture after all, that perhaps this was a re­location rather than a dis-location of what Epirus always already was. That seems to confirm the repeated location of Epirus as an unstable margin, one that will continually reiterate the instability. To this is added a story about the ruggedness of the people, generated by the ruggedness of the place; but today, few people, even residents, engage with that place as they once did, and are no longer really intimately familiar with it, which somehow reinforces the idea of its being rugged, as well as a 'wilderness', and somewhat alien. The gradual disengagement from the multiple uses of the mountainous environ­ment has gradually disengaged people's familiarity with the place.

These images easily overlap with the one about 'natural wilderness' and cultural heritage (indigenousness) being encouraged by the European devel­opment programmes, but here there is a separation between the policies and the people. For many Epirots, neither the 'rugged and hostile' notion nor the 'natural wilderness' notion evoked the idea of Epirus as a place in which to permanently live and work comfortably. The first image implies discomfort and a difficulty of living and working there, in which nothing will be sustain­able for long; and the second evokes an image of a 'natural' place almost de­void of any people at all, except for those keepers of cultural heritage living in the stone-built villages and being hospitable.

These representations depend, in different ways, on the idea that Epirus will always reiterate or reflect its 'nature' (even its 'natural' political instability), and this is where the absence of other possible images of Epirus come in. The more mundane and 'unnatural' activities on the plains, on the coasts and in the cities and towns, where most people live and work today, were not evoked in the range of stereotypical images of Epirus. Also absent was talk about sus­tainable employment and production. With the exception of the rather excep­tional Christoforos of Dolo, when people did talk about employment and production, which they often did, images of the physical environment, whether hostile or naturally beautiful, disappeared. In their place were com­plaints that there was not enough industry in Epirus, not enough factories, and for that reason, there was not enough employment to keep young people from leaving. This returns again to the conversation with the Mavropoulo President.

These continual references to the need for factories and heavy industry in Epirus were initially extremely puzzling to me, given the predominant images that were being evoked to describe the place. What could factories possibly have to do with rugged wilderness? But that, of course, was precisely the point. Epirus as an imagined place, with its particularities in terms of histori­ography, nature and location, was one thing; Epirus as a region in which to­day's population lives and works was entirely another. It was as if two different places were being discussed, except that the second was not depend­ent upon evoking any notion of the specific character of the place as a histori­cally, socially, politically and topographically located place.

More recent ideas about unspoiled nature and cultural heritage were blended with other representations of the place as a hostile borderland; these representations did not contradict one another because they drew on the idea of vast, empty wildernesses and the idea of past. But as a place to currently live and work, neither the history nor the physical character or location of Epirus were invoked: instead, demands were made that the same opportunities available in other parts of 'developed' Europe should also be available in Epirus.

Into the middle of all this came the European development projects, aimed at encouraging economic regeneration of precisely the more depopulated, mountainous and remote areas. While there was clearly an overlap between the way Epirots were imagining the relocation of their place, and the way European development projects were doing so, they diverged in the imagined nature and location of contemporary economic activity. For Epirots, the mountainous and remote regions were represented, and largely understood as, constituting their past; the present is somewhere else, somewhere that could be anywhere. Depending on the context, Epirots may draw on the story of how the place came to become the past, and here the rugged and politically unstable character of Epirus was evoked, and sadness about the abandoned and overgrown fields and villages was expressed. Or they might draw on their current relationship with these remote regions, informed by their experience of living in cities and the way that is contrasted to the 'authenticity' of both the past and remote regions; by knowledge about the environmentalist move­ment; by the environmentalist and cultural heritage ideals built in to the Euro­pean policies guiding funding of development projects; and by concern over the current border situation. However, the mountainous region, while consti­tuting their past, no longer constitutes them, as such. In the relocation of the 'nature' of Epirus, Epirots have moved to somewhere else, yet their place has kept its relative location.[54]

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