THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) – A group of female protesters locked in a land dispute with the Greek Orthodox Church defied a 1,000-year-old ban and entered the all-male Mount Athos monastic sanctuary in northern Greece, a police official said Wednesday.
Police said the small group of protesters, who live in a nearby village, climbed over a
fence on Tuesday and briefly entered the self-governing peninsula, where women are strictly forbidden. The group included at least six women.
The protesters, angered by a land dispute with the Orthodox Christian monks, broke away from a rally of more than 400 people and evaded a police cordon, entering Athos grounds.
No arrests were made, but the public prosecution service in nearby Thessaloniki on Wednesday requested details of the incident from police.
The women included a member of Greece’s parliament who accused church institutions of illegally grabbing land.
Resident groups in the northern Halkidiki holiday resort area are at odds with several Athos monasteries over the ownership of land outside the sanctuary area.
Â«It was a purely symbolic act, to send a message that the church must pursue policies which serve the public and not its financial interest,Â» the parliament member, Litsa Amanatidou Paschalidou, said.
The 41-year-old lawmaker is a member of the small Left Coalition Party.
Monks at 20 monasteries on the Athos peninsula have imposed a strict ban on women for nearly 1,000 years. Even female animals are barred.
The ban is upheld by Greece’s constitution, and violations are punishable by up to a year in prison. In the past, female visitors are rumored to have entered the enclave disguised as men.
Â«If they are to take away our homes then it might be better for us to go to prison, as we won’t have anywhere else to stay,Â» said Kyriaki Malama, spokeswoman for the Halkidiki residents’ movement.
We are fed up and angry about this land seizure and the monasteries’ demands. It was an effort to persuade authorities to take action she said.
The court process is very lengthy. It is effectively a labyrinth from which one never escapes _ and we don’t even have the money to pay lawyers for the rest of our lives.
Paschalidou said the Athos land claims were based on titles dating back to the Middle Ages and the period of Ottoman Turkish rule. Greece has not completed a national land register, and land disputes are common.
I supported the women who wanted to make this symbolic gesture. The problem with the land has existed for years, not just here but all over Greece. Land is ceded to monasteries, which claim to own land, based on imperial Byzantine edicts, and decisions made by the (1967-74) military dictatorship.
Officials from the Greek Orthodox Church could not be reached for comment.
Thanks Vasilis for the scoop.
Vasilis provided us also with moving images here. I do not recognize the location but it had to be the border near Zygou.