Becoming Pontic Greeks
Introduction In the summer of 1994, an elderly Greek woman from the Black Sea coastal village of Kabardinka was surprised when an ethnographer asked: ‘Do you speak Pontiaka [the Pontic Greek dialect]?’ She was amused and almost insulted: ‘What! Pontika, that’s a mouse!’ 1 She obviously confused the Greek linguistic term for the Pontic dialect with the Greek word for a mouse. 2 The absurdity of this dialogue, however, shows how little most of the Greeks in the former Soviet Union at the time identifi ed themselves with Pontic Greeks. In everyday life, they continued to defi ne themselves in the old Byzantine-Ottoman way as romeoi (literally, Romans) and their language as romeika , or preferred to use Russian concepts of greki (Greeks) for their ethnicity and grecheskii (the Greek language) for their language. 3
Ten years later, almost all my Greek informants considered themselves Pontians or Pontic Greeks and some of them called their Greek language pontiaka . Such considerable changes in local Greek identity coincided with the development of mass migration by former Soviet Greeks to Greece and Cyprus, where their ‘Ponticness’ was cited to attest to their otherness, as culturally different from Greek citizens born in Greece or Cyprus. The Pontic identity of the Greek migrants also suggests their identifi cation with Russia in particular, and the former USSR in general, as the territory of their origin (see Chapter 4 ). Thus the cultural identity of the Greeks of southern Russia is constructed through the transnational circuit of ideas, things and people. In the course of this circuit, the meanings which have been produced in geographically and culturally different locales become constitutive elements of the individual and collective identities of the Russian Greeks.