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Culture History Liberation - 20th Century Larissa

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17/11/2008
From the Annexation of Thessaly to the New Greek State (1881) to WWII (1940)

Dimitris Agrafiotis, Historian

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On 31 August 1881, the incorporation of the larger part of Thessaly and a small part of Epirus within the body of the small Greek State was the second land and demographic growth. The first was that of the Eptanissa islands in 1864. The hopes for the reorganization and revitalization of Thessalian Prefecture were high and many; unfortunately, they weren’t accompanied by suitable actions and those energies that would lead to their realisation. That’s why, the course of Thessaly afterwards 1881 was an interminable facts of traumatic experiences, which were emanated either from the engagements that were imposed in Greece with Convention of July, or by the dramatic disillusionment of the people of Thessaly.

The most important reason was the unfortunate set of regulations governing their lives that favoured the powerful local or foreign economic -and frequently political - factors, who had acquired in legal and illegal ways the huge Turkish estates. That fact alone is the cause and the beginning of a bitter period in the history of Thessaly. It took a long time and numerous struggles, for the Thessalians to be able to improve their circumstances.

We shall refer to these struggles summarily as the most important moments of the Prefecture of Larissa from 1881 to 1940.
Larissa, the largest in population town of Thessaly, having during this period 13,169 inhabitants continued to be the centre of Thessaly and becomes the seat of one of the two Prefectures that Thessaly consisted of (Larissa - Trikala). It was therefore natural, due to its geographical position, to become a military centre, a seat of judiciary and administrative authorities and to turn into a significant point of attraction for populations from near and afar.

The Greek Legislation started to apply also in the «New Countries» from 1882, but the mismanagement was atrocious. The local executive power was in the hands of powerful local individuals who, directly and indirectly, were exercising the real authority in the towns and provinces. In the latter, the mere meaning of order was non existent. Especially after the abolition of the institution of Provinces and Provincial Governors (1887) and the concentration of all authorities under the Nomarch.

The creation of a town fit for humans wasn't going to be easy. The Turks had completely neglected that matter in the final years, appropriating all income from local taxes for military requirements. The town of Larissa was, as it also was during the Turkish Occupation, at the mercy of the flooding of the Pinios river, the waters of which caused frequent damages to its riverbank settlements, just as it did in 1883.

However, in spite of the difficulties, the town started to move. Newspapers with interesting material were published; other newspapers were brought over from Volos, which was even better than Athens at that. Larissa was filled with commercial shops and services and the first associations made their appearance.

One of the most interesting ones was the «Greek Agricultural Association» in 1884, aiming at promoting greek agriculture, spreading new cultivations, introducing farming machinery, informing - educating - enlightening the farmers by publishing a newspaper in popular language, organising exhibitions etc. The intentions were good, the aims timely, but the climate and surrounding atmosphere negative for their realisation. The majority of the farmers were crofters for the big landowners, that is, they didn't own the land they cultivated, which was a basic precondition for that kind of development. In the Greek Parliament the issue was making no progress. The politicians didn't even want to discuss it, making excuses that if the abalienation procedures went ahead, there would be complications because of the international conventions.

Moreover, Thessaly suffered a second occupation by the Turks (1897-1898), which was the result of the development of the Cretan Issue and the exaggerated actions of the Greek Government.

The twentieth century started with the huge problems it inherited from the previous twenty years. The strong shock of 1897-1898 brought the necessary awakening and reckoning. The cultural personages of Thessaly participated actively in the dominant issue.

The Uprising of the Farmers.
The need for plumbing-draining projects in Thessaly, for a solution to the Agricultural Issue, for the requirements of the local population to be satisfied and for a different attitude to be displayed for the problems of the country, finally became understood. However the «Socage» Bills, were far from solving anything, indeed at a time when in Thessaly and the Prefecture of Larissa there was an influx of refugees from Eastern Romylia, a fact that deteriorated the condition and demanded drastic measures for their rehabilitation together with that of the Thessalian farmers.
The reaction of the farmers was immediate. Farmers' associations, mass demonstrations, dynamic shows, made the big landowners uneasy, forcing them to react spasmodically, sometimes resorting to extreme solutions, one of which was the assassination of Marinos Antipas and the violent dissolution of the farmers' demonstration in Kileler and Larissa (1907-1910).
And while the hopes of the farmers of Thessaly and others were trusted to the good intentions of Eleftherios Venizelos, who had become the dominating politician on the Greek scene, the interest of the State had turned to the international developments, which didn't take long to break out in the form of the Balkan Wars - phase one against Turkey, phase two against Bulgaria - and WWI (1914-1918). During this time, Thessalia is completed by the conquest of the Province of Elassona by the Greek Army.