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Make it Livable Yiannis Katehis' vision in real-time on Othonoi island / Ionian Sea – MED Land project by Bojan Brecelj and many others involved / UPDATED May 2018

  • The island of Othonoi is the first (or the last) of the Ionian islands. It lies opposite Albania. Its name means “throne”, because in Paleolithic, three islands — Othonoi, Mathraki and Erikoussa — were one land and also connected to Corfu, as the sea level was lower … Although small and with as few as 60 year-round inhabitants, Othonoi has its very particular and strong character. It has an intensive history, being close to Italy on the fringe of the Strait of Otranto. In recent history, most islanders spent their productive time in the USA and came back with their savings. Now the island is flourishing! Why?

Five years ago, one man, Yiannis Katehis, returned to his father’s island, and step by step, his vision was put into practice by 21 members of the KIPPKO association. What do they do? As an independent group with a lot of followers, they are taking over the island, investing their own time and money: the port, water, waste, clearing old walking trails, promoting sustainable agriculture, everything connected with tourism … All of this is already happening here. According to Yannis, the only threat for the future of the island is the ongoing occupation of Greece, which is targeting the oil basin that lies beneath the Othonoi part of the Ionian sea.

I first met Yiannis at the anniversary event of the torpedo firing by Italian army vessel in 1940, at the beginning of WWII, which sank Greek submarine with 42 crew members on board. It was a very solemn event, with the navy present and the Pope as the main speaker. The memory of this tragic event survived because of a man who restored the discharged torpedo and made a monument together with the villagers. At the event, he was in charge of sound ... In my eyes, he looked like a dwarf who dressed solemnly but actually lived his isolated life on the island. Weeks later, I met him again, this time in the local bar, and he had so much to say about everything, with American English accent and a big smile. Several months later, I went back to the island, specifically in order to meet him. He revealed to me how a whole new chapter of life, from an individual to the entire community, can actually be co-created. [you can enlarge the images by clicking on them]
Yiannis: "The name of the island comes from the Greek word thrónos, which means “throne”, because in Paleolithic, the three islands — Othonoi, Mathraki and Erikoussa — were one land and also connected to Corfu, as the sea level was lower."
Yiannis: "Homer describes the island of Ogygia as smelling of cypresses and olives, which is true here [for Othonoi]. He also describes the cave in the sea. And we have the cave in the sea. He describes it as a very small island – which is also the description of Othonoi. And another interesting fact: when Odyssey wanted to leave the island, to go back to Ithaca, he arrived right at Corfu (he didn’t know it was there). And because his raft was destroyed, he had to swim. And how far can you swim? Distance from here is 12 miles – it’s a very logical assumption that he could swim there … It fits the description. It looks like this [Othonoi] was the Calypso’s island [Ogygia]."
Yiannis wrote "the whole story" of the island for Wikipedia article in Greek. It was translated to English, but since many words in Greek (such as philotimo) have no direct translations to English, Yiannis now also writes the English version. – Self-portrait in the Calypso cave

At our first meeting, Yiannis explained the origin of the name of the island, its history and mythology, of Phoenicians and their Palestinian origin, and of the recent history in one blow. Click on "AUDIO" below to listen to his story!

Yiannis: "I am also writing [on Wikipedia] about what is happening here right now, how the people live and how they make money. Most of them are over 50 ... 70% collect pension from the USA, the rest have small businesses and are waiting for the Italians to come during the summer, which means 1.5–2 months only ... and around 100 people altogether.” Click on "AUDIO" below to listen to the story. [you can enlarge the images by clicking on them]

Yiannis: "I do not live off the island and I do care for the island. The others, they make money from the island, but they forget about the things ... They disregard the problems. You know, if they would go and tell him not to fish with oxygen bottle, he could leave ... So for that reason, the board members [of KIPPKO association for environment and cultural heritage that Yiannis started] are those who already have sources to live, and that is why I did not choose shop owners or people like that. I choose people that are independent."

Yiannis: “I met some people who are interested in doing things for the island ... Slowly, I started to see things here, the island needs to be fixed up. The first thing should be the environment, to protect what we have, and number one on this list are garbage, water, fire. We should protect all the old stuff, the heritage. KIPPKO is an association for the protection of environment and heritage. I started the group by myself, then there were five of us, then ten, twenty … Currently, KIPPKO has 21 members. I could not choose people that make money from the island, because I know what would happen at the end." [you can enlarge the images by clicking on them]

Yiannis: "The vision of KIPPKO organisation is being implemented, because people are fed up of promises, and I think it is the right time for changes to happen worldwide, it is a time for people to win the liberation back ... Not with war, but with ideas. Our governments are already backing up a bit. It is the right time to start demanding correct life. We want to be on the island and manage our island. We live here and we will tell you what to do here. You want to collect your taxes, but this is it! You do not know what we need. We see the problems, we should manage them, I would even change the flag if you want, I know what is best for the place … It is an independent Greek Island … My fears are big ones! I know we have a huge deposit of petroleum here, there are three 'hot spots' around this island . My fear is that this oil will come out, because the Arab oil will run out and the Americans will want to take the oil. Well, they already took the oil ... How? They put Greece in crises just to take this oil. People do not realize what happened, we are siting on a huge oil wealth here ... I know this since 1985, because you can see on satellite images where the oil deposits around the world are, the red spots. When you have a treasure, everybody wants to steal it. I know how international politics work. I am afraid that if they will start to drill for oil here, they will spoil everything ... Oil refinery platform – there goes you tourism ... bye-bye. I think we need Greenpeace here. There will be accidents, oil spills ... They already signed the contract and it will all probably begin to unfold in the next year or so."

One of KIPPKO successes is a waste landfill. "You have to close it down!" And they did, since it did a lot of harm. Garbage went into the small river and river carried it downstream to the beach below. Aleksandros, board member, took care of the ground and planted trees to bring the site back to its natural state. [you can enlarge the images by clicking on them]
Yiannis: "First of all, we need a good port ... We have a dangerous port now! What happened is, some years ago, they took some money and made a terrible plan and did not protect the port. We [KIPPKO] brought a civil engineer and he started the project by first collecting information from local people at the meetings. He came up with the solutions for 2 or 4 million, which is what we need. A 12 million port that is being forced is overdoing it in my opinion ... Syriza, I do not know what the hell they are, they are not left or right. They do things as extreme right. All they do is they tax the people. So the next two years, until the government changes, we [KIPPKO] will continue to do the things even if they don't want that ... We got a new study of the new port project ..."
Yiannis: "After the port is fixed, you go to a better boat, something that you can go to Ajus Stefanos with. But for that, we need to fix the port in Ajus Stefanos, too, which is only an hour from here. All this means work, you have to ask for many things, go to the government. Then, there's the question of gas station ... Everything depends on the port. But you don't want to overdo it, for instance, a big hotel here would destroy the nature, what we do want is mini apartments made of stone, wood, ceramics." [you can enlarge the images by clicking on them]
Yiannis: "We need to keep the island contained, natural, but workable, step by step, and make people come and want to live here ... A doctor will come here if we secure the transport, which implies a good port, one goes with the other ..." [you can enlarge the images by clicking on them]
In 1537, Barbarossa (a pirate who the Turks selected to be their admiral), tried to take over Corfu, together with the three islands [Othonoi, Erikoussa, and Mathraki], but they couldn’t, because Venetians had two castles there that everybody could flee to. All who didn’t go into the castles were slaughtered. Turkish army paid their soldiers by robbing everything, and because they couldn’t rob Corfu, they had to look everywhere else – so they came here. They went up to the place we call Stavros (a place with a little cross in the center of the island, which is the mark of the battle of 1537). At that time, there were around 1,000 inhabitants of the islands, and they won the battle.

Yiannis: "It looks like the southern part of Europe, all the Mediterranean countries are going to be united. There will be two Europes, another European Union, because it looks like we can not live with the currency. Southern people have to be unified against the northern ones. England jumped out, other countries will jump out, but they will have to be unified because you can not stand alone against all the other problems and dangers around. It will happen in the next 10 to 15 years."

Yiannis: "I was studying robotics in order to be able to also create other things. You have to do good drawings and you need to know 3D. Flight simulator is a 3D application, and robotics helped me to know how things work in an airplane or a boat ... Now, I do 3D scenery and models ... Even when I was five, I used to play instruments but I always wanted to expand, I studied piano accordion, I wanted to study to become a conductor ... To learn more, that was my personal interest, the other one was my technical part and my work, which I separated. Music was my long-standing wish, I wanted to learn more. So I was studying conducting and jazz music, on and off fro about ten to twelve years, and I completed both. And now I am just playing around with both. Now is the time when I work with my ideas in the simulator. In addition to the flight simulator, I also want to do other simulations. For instance, i want to do an electric car, electric airplane ... I have this island in 3D in the simulator, so you can come here and land on the mini airport or heliport. I have done it as is, and now, I am doing the port and villas around the island. Traditional looking homes, 2, 3 room apartments. The very important thing is that the island goes beyond the season, otherwise we would lose the game."
Yiannis: "My motivation is my love for the island, it's as simple as that ... Nobody forced me to come here. I do music because I love the music. Here, I write a completely different music, because I have different motivation, a more romantic one. At the moment, I am experimenting with some contemporary Byzantine music. It is something they do in church; the sound is another thing ... We have a different culture, we are in the middle between the East and the West. Arabic music doesn't exist. If you go back 500 years, for instance, the Arabs and the Turks were playing sitar, Arabic flute, or the canon. Today, you hear Byzantine music reproduced ... I want to take the original Byzantine music and bring it up, the real Byzantine music that you can only hear in churches, and bring it up to date. Byzantine music includes semitones, so you need to untune the instruments! Semitones are due to Pythagoras, who made his own tuning system with algebra, with equal spaces between colors or sounds. If you take 7 iridium colors, they have the same space in-between. He wrote the music that should be played like the colors. These spaces are the sound of Byzantine music … Western music has a different system, 440 Hz divided. Some of the notes are equal, but Byzantine music used the Pythagorean system. The Byzantines invented classical church organ but they gave it away because it had no semitones. I have a studio, I play many instruments and write and record most of the tracks. I can use instruments that can play semitones. One song can take me up to 3–4 months, like a minute a month."
Yiannis: "My mother and father were theater actors, so when I was young, I would see Notre Dame, for instance, 200 times! My family, my children and grandchildren are elsewhere. I got married twice, once in America, once here ... I have a house in Athens and my two daughters live there, but I choose not to live there, even though I have a beautiful and big house. Athens is just a big city. If you want to give up some luxurious things, you gain others. You have to choose what you are going to do with your life, your activities. I was not an environmental nut before, but when I came here, I became one out of necessity. I said to myself, what is happening here is wrong, it's got to stop now. It is paradise here, what the hell are you doing. My kids support me, actually ... My mother is also understanding of what I do, and she says: 'let them talk, do what you want'; now she understand that I do what my father wanted me to do, what should be done, not for me, but for the island." [you can enlarge the images by clicking on them]
Yiannis: "My top four spots on the island are Calypso cave, sunset above the Calypso cave, Fiki beach, and Dafni village. As a child, I read Robinson Crusoe so many times, he was my hero, and living on a deserted island was my dream ... I could do it! Find an island and make it paradise, so I think this came right now ... I think I still feel like Robinson Crusoe. The other thing I wanted to do, of course, I wanted to become an astronaut. But I do not have the time to learn all this things, tt would take forever ... So I decided differently. My mother was playing music, my uncle was a musician, so it was in my DNA. To me, the island means above all tradition, history, becoming one with nature – in other words, not going away from where we came from. My DNA is here ... We search too far, sometimes what we need is right in front of us, but we don't see it. So it's like Odyssey, looking for his home bead. I feel like him, I feel I had to come back to find my home. I think I achieved that, and I am proud of that, because I could still be in America in the middle of a crazy town with crazy people looking for crazy things. It's war over there, it's a battle ... Who wants that war, where nobody wins? You go there and you have this battle of life, you fight to create, to make money ..."
... and then, you realize it was not really important, you spent too much time trying to do things that are right in front of your eyes, so let's go back.
Yiannis: "Here, there are enough of fish, but we have to make sure that Italians will not come to fish with oxygen bottles, or fishing with Chlorine ... We do cooperate with the coastguard, and since we put on some pressure, they got a new boat and a car, so they can act ..."
Yiannis: "When the oil sells for 1 or 1,5 EUR and it costs you 90 cents , and then you give half of it to the press ... If the government gives another 1 EUR, it works. Now, people would only grow enough for their needs ..." [you can enlarge the images by clicking on them]

Yiannis: "In Greek, Mithos means a short story. It means we know that things happened, but we do not know if it all happened exactly like that ... The whole Iliad and Odyssey, it is not mythology, because we found facts ... For instance, Homer was speaking of cyclops, and recently, it has been found that cyclops is a disease that happened and is still happening sometimes. They found skeletons with this deformity ... So when I did a study about Calypso, I was looking for what Homer said, and it looks like 90% of what he said is here ..."

Yiannis: "We invented God, because we need God ... But 'God', what does it really mean? If you take it literally, the word from Greek is Theos, it means becoming higher. Literally in English, the word comes from Latin and means geometry/order/dimension, it means mathematics, levels, balance. Does he have a name? I don't think so. It is a level of achievement. Elohim is the name for the Council of God … About the Universe – we don't even know how the Earth works. Yes, there is heavy water inside ... Another interesting thing is the Moon. It is very big, 1/4 of the Earth. Maybe there is life on Earth because of the Moon that rotates around the Earth, pulls the tides that make the seas release the oxygen and nitrogen, which make plankton and fish alive … It is one big chain. The balance is so delicate, and we think we know how it works ..." Click on "AUDIO" below to hear the rest >
Who is Yiannis, actually? During the 3 days on the island with him, I could see that he does many things, has many skills, and uses them well, most of them for people who have a need to fix this and that. Even if he is not asked, he offers his help. People were stopping or calling him all the time, but he still managed to notice that my autopilot on the boat was broken, and the night before I left, he took it to his workshop to fix it!
So at the end, I could understand his statement that it doesn't matter where you are, but what you carry with you. The environment affects you, but your main character is your main character ... If you are a bad person and you come to Othonoi, it is unlikely that you will become a good person.

Yiannis: "I would like an island where a traveler who would stop by accident would find everything that he needs, but only what he needs ... I envision the island as an oasis in the middle of the desert, an oasis that would be a resting place, a place for recreation, not over touristic, just enough to support business to prosper here. I would not like to see frozen fish to be served, but locally made fresh vegetable, fresh fish, chicken ... In order for young families to come, we need to extend the season, so a few more businesses will be able to open. It is a hard land ... Well, you can collect oil, but for this, you need young people, and they need motive, they need to have a doctor, good port, water, electricity ... I want the correct balance between going forward and sustaining our tradition, lets fix and restore what we have, clean the island, and ... make it livable. Computer is a tool to find and see things easier, and to communicate. That is why I can live here now, and work with flight simulators, and send it to the end of the world. We have WI-FI here, fine, but you do not want to copy a city. If you copy a city, you will have night clubs here ... Instead, I can imagine a small, simple piano bar, for everybody, where people would come in their everyday clothes ... Where people would come together to be one big company and sing together, that is what I would like to see."

UPDATE ! MAY 2018: After one year, we land on this divine island once again. And the first one we met that morning was Yiannis. We embraced like we really feel, like being good friends. I asked him, "what are the news for this past year," and in the next 10 minutes, I was already recording his really great achievements in challenging his biggest fear, oil. Summary below!

In 1997, the government slowly started to talk about the possibility of extracting oil from the Greek land, without giving any further information to its people. In 2010, when the economic crisis was at its highest, Greek government really got into this new logic: sell Greece for oil. It appeared that the way to give back the loaned money was to use the country as a “collateral”: that means that the financers (European & international banka) could sell the land (together with oil) to refund the debt. Othonoi was in the middle of this strategy because the island lies above huge oil reserves.

Yiannis is ready to help and do things for everybody on the island. Discussing "things about the island" with Yiannis also comes with the package.

By seeing and understanding this strategy, undisclosed to the general public, Yiannis and other environmental activists of the region decided to react. Because it was about the environment, but also about tourism and development.

YES...

The Greek part of the Ionian Sea is a seismic area, and the extraction itself creates small earthquakes. People won’t spend time in an area full of wells and oil extraction machines. Moreover, if an accident occurs, the area will be contaminated for the next 200 years, and Greek people are the ones who will suffer from it.

Everybody's opinion counts

Yannis created the association KIPPKO that unites many regional environmental associations to protect the environment against any enemy. First, they worked through petitions and signatures. But since the government didn’t answer their requests, they started sending more detailed letters to different ministries. The questions were the following: How are you going to extract the oil? What technology are you going to use? What are the guarantee for the security of people and of the earth? How will the oil be transported? What about seismology? What will Greece gain with it, and what will people from the area directly gain with it?

Yiannis takes his time to discuss "important things" with anybody he meets

The first conference happened in Corfu, with ministries, oil companies and non-governmental representatives. The result? The government couldn’t answer to any of these questions. The answer was: no answer. The government was completely unqualified to sell this land and had no idea of the consequences it could have – except for the money. A second conference took place, demanded by the supreme court. Once again, the government was totally unable to answer KIPPKO questions. Right now, the government has stopped the plans for drilling. And the idea of KIPPKO association is clear: postpone this oil extraction as much as they can, for the clean energy to replace petrol in the meantime.

drinking water coming from mainland only will be soon forgotten past !

Yiannis: "The next big problem is lack of water! Weather changes, growing population ..." Now, owing to the initiative and hard work by KIPPKO, fresh drinking water from the stream will be available on the island soon!

May 8, 2018

Yannis went into politics because it was his way of having a voice, a way to influence decisions and to make things change on his island. He decided to join the conservative party, not because he believes in their special ideas, but because he wanted to join a party that will give him an access to government. His main idea is to make things change on Othonoi Island, and to make it prosperous. First, they need electricity and water. “Politics is a means to speed up things and to make things happen. And if you use conservative party in the right way, you can make a place grow.” And things are already moving. The area of Othonoi, Mathraki, Erikoussa and Corfu should be divided in two principalities, so that the islands are not linked with Corfou anymore but have their independent Mayor. That is the only way to make Athens look toward the islands, to make sure the local needs are being fulfilled and to develop!

Released by MED Land project / photography, audio conversations, editing: BB / on-location team: Yiannis Katehis, Marko Vodanović, BB / reserch : Nejc Jordan, BB / text editing: Tadej Turnšek / godfathers of the story: Gaja Brecelj, Tadej Turnšek, Barbara Čeferin, Anuša Homec.
Created By
Bojan Brecelj
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Credits:

Bojan Brecelj/Proja.org-MED Land project

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