The human geography of modern Eleusis is intertwined with human stories of refuge, economic migration, political persecution, and ethnic cleansing, all of which are facets of recent Greek political history, originating from different points on the global map and converging in Eleusis.
In the early years following the establishment of the Greek state, Lepsina was an agricultural village by the sea with a population of 275 residents. It served as the seat of the Municipality of Eleusis-Mandra-Magoula and the Province of Megara in the Attica-Boeotia Prefecture, according to the first administrative organisation of the newly established state in 1833. The choice of Eleusis as the administrative centre was based on its historical and geographical significance, rather than the population dominance of Mandra. The picture began to change with the establishment of the first industries in the city, which relied on the processing of the region's primary resources, olives, and resin. The early industries brought new people and absorbed a significant portion of the Eleusinian farmers.
The initial composition of the city
The 20th century found the city with approximately 1,300 inhabitants. During the first decades, changes in the social composition and appearance of the city were continuous. Technicians and labourers were increasing in number compared to farmers and shepherds, while the rapid development of the port's activity brought in new people, new forms of trade, and a cosmopolitan atmosphere that significantly contributed to the urbanisation of the city. The passage of the train through Eleusis further promoted its development as a resort for the capital. The pristine, tranquil beach with fresh fish was a magnet for Athenians and vacationers who socially interacted with the local population.
The Early 20th Century's first arrivals
With the transfer of the Dodecanese Islands from the Ottoman Turks to the Italians in 1912, the inhabitants of the islands faced Italian occupation, despite their desire to unite with Greece, and significant restrictions on matters of practising their faith and using the Greek language. Consequently, the first Dodecanesians, with the majority hailing from Symi, arrived in Eleusis and settled in vacant areas of the city, constructing their homes from the ground up (known as "Symiaka," "Stafida," etc.). Proficient in maritime professions, they primarily worked as dockworkers and labourers at Botrys, Olive Oil Factory, and TITAN, bringing with them various other trades and technical knowledge, including diving and wood carving. By the end of the same decade, their population reached levels comparable to the local population. They established workers' associations, sports clubs, and became an integral part of Eleusis to the extent that "when Panelefsiniakos (the local football team, the precursor of which was the Dodecanese) and Diagoras (a team of Dodecanesians) played, the Symians supported the former." Furthermore, they introduced new social elements to the local society, fostering a more progressive perception of women's roles alongside men, in contrast to the patriarchal organisation of the Arvanite society.
The Asia Minor Catastrophe doubled the existing population.
Eleusis, a city with 4,000 inhabitants, received over 2,000 refugees. Most of them came from the wider area of Smyrna, Constantinople, Cappadocia, and Pontus. They settled above the train tracks, outside the previously inhabited area, which took its name from the presence of the Asia Minor refugees and is still called "Synoikismos."
They brought with them their love and knowledge of music and founded the "Orfeas Philharmonic" in Synoikismos, which later evolved into the municipal philharmonic of Eleusis. They also brought their passion for good food and sweets, as well as their expertise in body decorations, clothing, and home decor. From the very beginning, they created an entirely new life in a new place, in the shadow of their lost homeland and the people they left behind or who they sought for years through the Red Cross. That's why when they shared a drop of wine, they clinked glasses and said, "Oh, good homeland".
These were populations with rich cultural capital that had a significant influence on the local community by enriching it with new traditions and customs, as well as a fresh mentality and way of life.
As the Eleusinian folklorist and author Vangelis Liapis notes, "A new world was being born. A new mentality began to flourish, wanting to express itself, to breathe in the new air. This explains the development of Eleusis with the opening of various centres there. The time had come when the young people of Eleusis felt the need to leave their homes and have fun."
It took about two decades and a multitude of stereotypical representations of Asia Minor women as "witches and pastrikes, a word that translates to clean but it was used derogatively for sex workers", which was an unfavourable starting point for a young man to fall in love with them, for the closed community of Synoikismos to become part of the local society. The taboos were shattered with the arrival of internal migrants from other parts of Greece, especially after the end of World War II and the formation of mixed marriages.
From every region of the Greek territory
After the end of World War II, particularly in the 1950s, populations from Crete, the Dodecanese, Chios, Corfu, the Peloponnese, Thessaly and Epirus relocated to Eleusis. These migrations were not massive or organised but followed the prevailing tendency of seeking better job opportunities in major urban centres. The survival in rural areas had become challenging due to the wartime occupation (1940-1944) and the civil war (1945-1949), which was fought with considerable intensity in some areas. The population movements to Eleusis paralleled the growth rates observed in the rest of Greece until the early 1980s. The newcomers primarily found employment in the industry, such as at TITAN, the harbour, and steelworks, and secondarily in the primary sector. They settled throughout the city rather than in segregated areas and formed marriages with the local population without distinctions or obstacles.
The Greeks of Pontus
From the early 1960s, Greeks from Russia, who shared common customs, traditions, and their own language (Pontic Greek), settled in the area known as "Leukes Papadede" in Eleusis. They moved as entire families, with grandparents, parents, siblings, children, ending decades of persecution and exile from the Pontus and Cappadocia in the steppes of the USSR and Kazakhstan. The solidarity and cohesion within the community are evident in all aspects of life after resettlement. Expressing an oral account of the time, "the houses are open. If someone needs something, a tool or a frying pan, they can take it and return it... we are siblings. We may argue for a moment, but immediately afterward, we are siblings again. It's a sin for someone to go to sleep while still at odds with another" (Lioni, 1993, p. 145). The reception by the locals is not warm. For the first few decades, the newcomers carry the stigma of being foreigners. The children are derogatorily called "little Russians," and the neighbourhood, originally known as "Pontian," is referred to as "Russian." Moreover, deficiencies in essential infrastructure, such as water supply and services, are quite scandalous.
Internal migration was considered an integral element of modernising society. Immigrants brought with them professions, techniques, arts, customs, and traditions, enriching the cultural capital of the receiving community. Marriages, coexistence in the factory, the union, the neighbourhood and the school led on a daily level to the inclusion of the newcomers. Even in cases where the local community initially received refugee populations with suspicion, it took 2-3 decades to overcome doubts and stereotypes and become fully accepted as equal members of the local society. Around the question, "Who are you?" in the social interactions of the people of Eleusis, a century marked by population movements and the life stories of tens of thousands of people in motion is traced.
Greece as a Destination Country for Immigrants
During the 1980s and 1990s, there was a nationwide decline and even a reversal of internal migration towards urban centres in Greece. The change in the country's political leadership, as well as Greece's entry into the EEC (former EU), led to a structured and EU-subsidised rural policy that provided incentives for support and a return to rural areas.
In the 1990s, Greece stopped sending migrants abroad and transformed from a country of emigration to a country of immigration. Balkan countries being a first destination, Greece received refugees from Albania, the war-torn Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania, Georgia, and all the former socialist countries. According to the 2011 census, around 485,000 Albanians live in Greece, which is significantly lower than the actual number as not the entire population participated in the census. The main employment sectors for Albanian immigrants are the construction industry, catering and the restaurant sector, as well as the primary sector, such as agriculture. The primary reasons for migration to Greece for men are job seeking, while for women, it's family reunification (Iosifides et al., 2007). They cover low-paid and demanding jobs that the population of the dominant group usually refuses to take. Their reception by the local population is accompanied by stigmatisation and marginalisation. Stereotypical representations of "thieves," "criminals," or "illegal immigrants" flood the far-right and conservative media, fueling the rise of neo-Nazism in the country. Until today, they constitute the largest national group of immigrant origin in Greece.
New migration flows have formed in the 21st century from North Africa and Middle Eastern countries, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, leading to the unprecedented refugee crisis in Greece in 2015 due to the war in Syria. The country received millions of asylum seekers from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the old apprenticeship schools in Eleusis's shipyards were transformed into temporary refugee hosting facilities. Dozens of families, as well as single women or single men, temporarily stayed 5 kilometres outside the urban area of Eleusis before continuing their journey to Europe or joining housing programs mainly in Athens. Greece, primarily through the Dublin II and III Regulations, has become the "external border of Europe '' and bears the responsibility of controlling the movements of third-country nationals who wish to enter within it.
Greek society is being tested. The acts of solidarity and tangible support for people in need are touching and memorable. On the other hand, there are expressions of anti-immigrant hysteria, as well as phenomena of racism, xenophobia, and violent attacks against migrants that seriously undermine common feelings of humanity, empathy, and social cohesion.