The Grecanici of Southern Italy: Governance, Violence, and Minority Politics

The Grecanici of Southern Italy: Governance, Violence, and Minority Politics

The Grecanici of Southern Italy: Governance, Violence, and Minority Politics

The Grecanici of Southern Italy: Governance, Violence, and Minority Politics


The Grecanici are a Greek linguistic minority in the Calabria region of Italy, remnants of a population that has resided there since late antiquity. Their language represents a holdover from the Middle Ages, at least, and possibly even to the Greek colonies of the classical period. For decades the Grecanici passionately fought to be recognized by the Italian state as an official linguistic minority, finally achieving this goal in 1999. Violence, corruption, and mismanagement are inextricable parts of the social fabric, but Grecanici have crafted the means to invert hegemonic culture and participate in the power games of minority politics.

The Grecanici of Southern Italy provides a comprehensive ethnography that examines the ways the minority developed and sustain enduring cultural forms of solidarity and relatedness. Stavroula Pipyrou proposes the concept of "fearless governance" to describe overlapping and sometimes contradictory systems of power, authority, and relational networks that enable the Grecanici to achieve political representation at the intersection of local, national, and global encounters. Refuting easy assumptions of top-down governmental influence, Pipyrou shows how the Grecanici find political representation through the European Union and UNESCO, state policy, civic associations, family networks and illegal organizations; not being afraid to take risks, incur wrath, lose friends, or risk death in challenging the political status-quo.


As I walk with my friend Gianni in his natal village high in the mountains of area Grecanica, he suddenly starts speaking in Grecanico. He warns me that if we want to avoid being seen by other villagers who will definitely want to invite us into their homes, an offer we could not refuse, we should head down this dark alley. We are walking side by side with our heads down—thank God he is unable to see the astonishment written across my face. I keep walking and manage to respond in a calm voice that this indeed is a great idea.

I have known this man of twenty- six from the very first days of my research in Reggio Calabria, on the toe of Italy. He and his family are some of the most welcoming people I have ever met. They opened their home and hearts to me and treated me with respect and honor that very few people are lucky to receive. On commencing my ethnographic journey with the Grecanici, the Greek linguistic minority of Reggio Calabria, I tactfully asked Gianni and his brothers whether they spoke Grecanico, a minority language officially recognized by the Italian state. a mumbled “ligo” (“a little”) revealed his discomfort in further elaborating on issues of language and politics. Gradually, as I became convinced he did not speak Grecanico, I withdrew from posing such questions.

Gianni had resisted my ethnographic inquiries for nearly ten months, but our relationship grew strong and transcended the realms of researcher/ researched. He and his family provided invaluable ethnographic material along with friendship, but Gianni had always abstained from speaking in Grecanico despite the fact he knew it was the focus of my research. That overcast winter day in his village, hurrying along and shivering under our thick overcoats, our relationship took a sudden turn. He started speaking to me in . . .

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