The small mountain community members develop productive and social relations and operate based on rules and values, with collectivity and solidarity being the primary ones. At the same time, the need to express political identity leads to the institutional formation of the Community as a political organization.
A vital feature of the Community has always been its autonomous and democratic function. The elected Community Council is the highest body. “What is certain is that the Community Council of our village was also the most central body,” emphasizes Apostolos Kostopoulos, former Member of Parliament.
Regarding the responsibilities of the Community Council, Christoforos Karageorgos, who served as President and Secretary of the Community, states:
“The most important concerns of the Community Council were the internal roads, the roads to the neighboring villages, the borders with the neighboring villages, the ditches, the water.”
The Community Council makes decisions after prior open consultation with the residents. The effort is to find mutually acceptable solutions and not to impose a decision, even if it is of the majority.
We read in a Council’s decision on irrigation in 1970:
“Farms are irrigated according to the irrigation schedule. Four hours per acre based on mutual agreement.”
However, after consultation and discussion in the Community Council, the Council’s decision is mandatory for everyone, and they check if the residents implement the decisions.
The responses of two former Presidents and the Field Guard to a question regarding the respect for what the Community Administration decided are indicative:
George I. Konstantinidis:
“They respected them, of course, they respected them. If someone did not respect them, the village was against him, so he could not do anything.”
“Certainly, respected… Maybe there was someone there. But first of all, he could not handle the pressure of the rest. Was it possible to live here in the village and be against all?”
“Yes, an inviolable law… The Community Council made a decision and said: In the Riza position, for example, corn this year…One can’t go and sow wheat”.
A rain saves us
However, there were tensions and friction. The most common reasons for the problems that arose were agriculture damages, pastures, and most importantly, irrigation because watering the fields was a matter of securing bread, thus the family’s survival. These tensions usually ended with the first heavy rain, usually in mid-August.
The field guard deals with agricultural damages and tries to prevent them, knowing which villagers are most prone to it. As he characteristically says:
“There were also some devils. But the majority of us were united.”
Apostolos Kostopoulos points out that conflicts were mainly resolved in the village:
“Of course, there were problems and differences between people. When many people live together, surely there will be such problems. But they solved these problems in our village on the spot. After all, the village was far from the central authority. The central authority was in Thermo, so it was very difficult for someone to go to Thermo. Therefore they were forced to solve the problems on the spot, with understanding, love, and cooperation”.
They usually assigned the arrangement of differences to a Committee of respected people of common acceptance.
“They preferred to settle their differences here on the spot. Initially, they complained to the President. The President discussed their complaints with the Community Council, then they asked the opinion of other respectful people, I mean the elders, and they tried to solve the problems here on the spot. (Christoforos Karageorgos).
The members of the Committees tried to be fair, and their proposal was generally accepted. “They always tried. They did not mind if it was a relative, a friend, or a neighbor. They cared for the common good, who was right and who was wrong. That’s why it was difficult not to respect the Committee’s opinion. These individuals were supposed to be the most respected in the village. If one in a hundred went to Court… But he would think he would lose the case if the Committee went to testify. So, whether he wanted it or not, he agreed” (Christoforos Karageorgos).
“The best people in the Committee. No passion. “Come here,” they told you. “Things are like this…. Give what the committee proposes, and let’s have a cigarette…” (Dimitris Karageorgos).
When unexpected problems occurred, the protester could immediately convene an extraordinary General Assembly. So, he “gathered the village,” having confidence in the proper collective management of the problem.
“When someone in the village felt deeply wronged by the water guard or sometimes by the field guard, the only thing he could do was to ring the bell. The President, the Community Council, and all the residents ran…. They held a discussion, and they solved the problem on the spot. They didn’t go to Court.” (Christophoros Karageorgos)
Appealing to the central institutional authority for the administration of Justice was not among the options of the litigants, as Apostolos Kostopoulos eloquently points out:
Nevertheless, someone might have been dissatisfied with the compromise made. He probably thought the field guard did not resolve the dispute correctly, or he thought he was more right than the Committee acknowledged him, and as a result, he left angry for Katis. What was Katis? Katis was the Court. But the Court was in Thermo. It was difficult for someone to go to Thermo back then because there was no public transport, no road, not even a dirt road.
I would say few disagreed and took the road to Katis. But the phrase “to the fir tree of Katis” is a well-known proverb in our village today. The story behind the saying follows: Opposite our village, there was a lonely and large fir tree in the “Skala” location, as we call it today. When a protester reached the specific place, on his way to Thermo to go to Court, he looked back towards the village and said regretting: “Why should I go so far?” And he let go of his anger by saying, “Give place to wrath,” and he came back. So, he never reached Katis in Thermo. That’s why we say “to the fir tree of Katis.”
The President of the Community tried to help even in family conflicts. “When something severe happened, the President also intervened in family matters. He called two respectable people and tried to reach a compromise. This is how things worked in our village.” (Georgos I. Konstantinidis)
“This’s how things in our village worked.” In the small community, there was no room for selfishness or individualism. The individual had to give way to the common good. There were unwritten rules concerning community life, and everyone respected them. Anyone who violated these rules faced every villager’s and the Community Council’s remarks, an outcry.
“Because our village was isolated, the law was rather customary than a law of written rules. Certainly, Justice was served, Social Justice in the best and most effective way, and all respected the results. People lived together in solidarity, with respect, and this cooperation has passed down to their descendants.” (Apostolos Kostopoulos)
At all times, the main priorities of the residents and the Community Council have been to improve standard living conditions by creating and maintaining public infrastructure. Thus, when in 1951, the road from Thermo to Proussos was built as far as Drymonas, they prioritized the road connection of their village with Thermo, the commercial and administrative center of the region.
They also tried to find solutions to vital issues like constructing an aqueduct for drinking water and water tanks for storing irrigation water carried to the village from a long distance.
Also, in a remote area, the issue of medical care was of great importance.
The bus of Yiannis Kaliakmanis. Argyro -Amvrakia line.
With the support of people who left the village and now live in other areas, mainly in Athens, but love their place of origin and care for it, they strongly claim with presentations, publications in the press of the time, and continuous memorandums of the Community Council and the residents to the Ministries and the Prefecture, and they have results.
Finally, in 1961, the Drymonas-Argyro Pigadi-Kokkinovrysi road was included in a Ministry of Agriculture program. It was built by the Forest Department and reached the village in 1969. Later, in the 1980s, the Forest Department also made the road through Amvrakia.
The bus of Vasilis Kritikos, fourth from left, 1972, at Gardikiotis
The road brought a significant change in the inhabitants’ lives. The until then isolated village acquired, in the 1970s, a daily transport connection with Thermo. Small, specially adapted buses, with highly skilled drivers, able to drive through the mud and rough roads, carried people and things, even animals.
In recent years, once a week, a small bus of KTEL Aetoloakarnania serves public transport, and its offer is valuable.
A modern mountain bus
Immediately after the road building in 1969, electricity reached the village and changed the lives of the residents. No prior action was taken for electricity, as the electrification program began in every village that acquired a roadway.
The first telephone line was installed in the 1930s, and until 1980 there was only one telephone device in the village.
The construction of an aqueduct in 1963 solved the water supply problem by carrying the water from the source “the rema of Scala.” The water greatly improved village life. A tap was installed in every neighborhood that provided plenty of water, making household chores unimaginably easier.
A community water tap
Washing in the wooden trough. Painting by Nondas Renzis.
Until then, for cooking and washing clothes, a laborious task in large families, women carried the barrel filled with water on their backs from a relatively long distance. But usually, they took the wooden trough with the laundry to the stream.
Let’s see how they describe these conditions.
“If we had water? Over there, at that small fountain of Tsolkas. We, a total of five, six, or eight women, went there and waited for our turn to take water. What could we take? Three kilos of water. It was a great punishment for us.”
Georgitsa Konstantinidis remembers.
And Spyridoula Karageorgou adds:
“We went to “the rema of Skalas” for water. We filled the barrel and the water pot in hand, even when I was pregnant, the belly over there. But we helped each other. Christina, Thanasis’ mother, would come and say to me: “Go, I’ll wash the clothes myself.” She would take the wooden trough and go to “the rema of Skalas” to wash them…”
Later water supply reached every household. So, they are justified when they are asked: – “What do you envy from women’s lives today?” to answer: “The water”
Ensuring bread is the first concern of each family and the whole Community. Thus, the primary concern of the Community Council is the irrigation of the fields by maintaining the ditches and tanks and by organizing the distribution of water to the beneficiaries by measuring the fields and calculating the watering time of each beneficiary.
In the 1970s, they solved the problem of carrying irrigation water from the Vasiliki and Gardikiotis springs. The old earthen ditch was abandoned and replaced by pipes laid along the road. They built two concrete cisterns to store water, destroyed the old earthen tank, and made the village square in its place.
The Community Council is also responsible for the smooth operation of the watermill, which the village residents built at the edge of a verdant ravine, at Loga place, on the road to the settlement of Tsornokos and Amvrakia.
Plenty of water from the springs of Gardikiotis, Vassiliki, Georgopoulos, the stream of Skala, and the “Amplas,” the great spring that sprang in their confluence, moved the millstone. So the mill worked the whole year round.
A water mill
Although we do not know when it was constructed and started its function, its existence and the residents’ lifestyle and financial activities are inextricably linked. The whole village’s corn and wheat production ended up in the mill to become flour and from there to reach the flour box and to every housewife to knead it.
They gave the mill ownership to the church of Saint Demetrius to secure an income for the church. At every grinding, the miller kept the “xai,” a quantity of flour, as his payment, and to pay the rent, he had to give to Saint Demetrius church.
The mill was put up at auction every one or two years by the Church Council in cooperation with the Community Council. There are written documents of the mill operation at the Center.
Unfortunately, the heavy rainfall in February 2015 caused a large landslide on the mountain, and a considerable amount of water, mud, and rocks swept away the watermill. Anyway, its function had stopped a long time ago.
The Community Council manages the maintenance of the roads leading to the region’s main town, Thermo, and the neighboring villages. It even takes care of the village’s internal roads.
The Community Council does not have the funds needed for the road maintenance. However, they have established the institution of “volunteer work.”
All residents are obliged to offer some days of labor, depending on the conditions and needs.
Of course, there are always those who are most willing and worthy and stand out, especially in emergencies, when immediate treatment of a problem is required.
Over time, the village’s population decreased, and internal and external migration took the young people away. The fields on the mountain slopes became forests again. Productive activity shrank. The school closed. The old strong Community lost its autonomy and became part of the Municipality of Thermo.
At the same time, however, country houses are being built in the village. New conditions and possibilities exist, people’s love for their place is constant, and they continuously fight for infrastructure and general improvement of living conditions.
Dedication to the place of birth led to the establishment of Local Associations that bring together the people coming from the mountain villages. Beyond the cultural activities, they care about life in the mountain places in the new conditions.
The Association of Argyropigadites was founded in 1972, with its headquarters in Athens. In 2003, it moved its headquarters to Argyro Pigadi, always aiming to highlight and exploit the village’s potential in today’s reality.