Long before the Blue Zone, Ikaria was known in Greece as the Red Rock.
It doesn’t get its nickname from the geology, but from its left-leaning politics.
A power vacuum in Greece after World War II led to the 1946-1949 Greek Civil War between the government army and the military branch of Greece’s communist party, the KKE. With the help of the US and the UK, the government won the war. What to do with all those communists after the war? Arrest them and send them places far, far, away where they can’t cause any trouble… like Ikaria!
Over the course of the 1950s more than 13,000 leftists were exiled on Ikaria, more than doubling the island’s post-war population. Greece didn’t offer much assistance with feeding and housing these people, but Ikarians are resourceful and communists are willing to pitch in. An unintended consequence of the government’s plan was that Ikarians became communist themselves. And it stuck: according to one source, around 75% of Ikarians belong either to the communist KKE or one of the radical left parties.
Since we were on the island on May Day we thought we’d check out the Workers Day celebrations.
The event started at a small park in upper Evdilos. People gathered along the road across from a monument memorializing three Ikarian communists who were part of the anti-Nazi underground. The three were executed by the government in Athens during WWII. Songs of protest played on a loudspeaker. A woman read the history of the events of leading to the death of the three men. Children put flowers on the monument and an elegiac poem was read.
Everyone moved down the hill to the harbor for more music, more poems, and a lot more history.
It was interesting and colorful, but eventually the novelty wore off for this non-Greek speaker. Lucky for us, the cooks at the gyro shop didn’t take this workers’ day off.