Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Southern Italian Nationalism: A look at the importance of Griko

Today’s Italiotes and Siceliotes that have not fallen victim to italianization continue to live in their ancestral homeland of Magna Graecia. A small community of these Hellenes still hold onto the regions Italiot Hellenic dialect that has been spoken since the days of ancient city-states. This dialect, know to most Hellenes as Katoitaliotika (“Southern Italian”) is also known by Griko, Grecanic and even sometimes Calabrian. Two small Griko-speaking communities that still survive today are located in the Italian regions of Calabria and Puglia. The community living in the area of Salento is made up of nine towns in the Grecia Salentina region. This small pocket of Hellenic speakers number roughly 40,000 people. The second community of Calabrian Griko is also made up of nine villages, although the populations size is unknown.

The origins of Griko are mostly seen to date back to the 8th century BC, making the dialect a long lasting connection for Southern Italians to their ancient Hellenic ancestry that once ruled Magna Graecia. The present Italian government does officially recognize the Griko community of Salento as an ethnic and linguistic minority under the phrase “Minoranze linguistiche Grike dell’Etnia Griko-Salentina” or linguistic minority of the Griko-Salentinian ethnicity. A much needed recognition from the central government in Rome since the repressive measures under Fascism that pushed to discourage the Hellenic dialect from being used.

The present day status of the Italiot Hellenic Dialect is one of a fading direct connection to a peoples past. Only two periodicals are currently being published in Greek-Calabrian. No radio stations exist and the dialect has never even been used on television. The one positive hope for the language is an annual festival called ‘Palea riza’ (Ancient Root) that is held in Bova and near by towns. At this festival traditional Griko music is played for all to hear. However, the slow decline of Griko’s use is a painful tragedy to watch take place. Many italianized Italiotes see it as nothing more then one in a dozen dialects of Italy that scatters the countryside. These dialects are viewed, as is Griko, to be an expression of lower class speech and illiterate country folk. Hence the population pushes to learn standard Italian. A language that was based on Tuscan, a Northern Italian dialect, and was forced upon the newly created Italian state after its ‘unification’.

As the Southern Italian ethnic consciousness continues to build momentum and more and more political movements formed to divide Italy into Northern and Southern states, it seems only natural for true Southern Italian patriots to adopt their original identity of Italiotes and Siceliotes. This is the only true legitimate claim for the regions separation from the central government in Rome. Thus being stated, the adoption of Griko seems the only natural choice any Southern Italian patriot would choose to replace the oppressors northerner’s linguistical domination.