Chapter 8 THE SOCIAL IMPACT OF OCCUPATION
Although it was rumoured that Catholic women were more disposed to trading sex for food, which was ‘widespread’ in the town, Orthodox women were equally vulnerable. In fact, most soldiers had little contact with the majority of the Catholic population as they were garrisoned in Ermoupolis.Rigoutsos expressed shock that women from ‘good families’ resorted to ‘prostitution’, suggesting that on every level of society, no one was immune from the degrading consequences of famine. It was well know that, in the murky moral climate of a society in crisis, there were those who were ready to exploit this particular ‘market’, resulting from the Italian army’s demands for sex. These dealers were rated as the most amoral among Syros’s newly rich profiteers. According to Mihalis Stefanos, women were used to extract export permits from the Italians in exchange for a few scraps of food; the women then handed over the permits to the ‘irreproachable Greek operating behind the scenes’. Stefanos thought that the aim was to accustom the girl who returned ‘to be subjected to humiliation time and again, just to get something to eat for a short while’. He reviled his ‘fellow-citizens’ for their betrayal of their own society and nation. For him these men were traitors whose behaviour threatened the moral fabric of the island community. The perception that there was a link between the trade in permits and prostitution was common and came up in the first newspapers published after the occupation by the communist-led resistance group EAM. On the whole, the blame was cast on the women, and scabrous songs and jokes expressed the community’s disapproval of women who associated with the occupiers. Nevertheless there was an awareness that these transactions had ‘protected the lives of the women themselves and entire families’.
The harshness of sexual trading was mitigated in cases where men and women negotiated a stable agreement providing for their mutual needs, or were drawn together by genuine affection. One Orthodox interviewee, living in a village outside Ermoupolis during the occupation, was very reluctant to admit that she was a ‘housekeeper’ for an Italian soldier although this enabled her to survive after her brother and sister had died of starvation. But the scars of the past have still not been effaced and even today both she and her daughter are still reticent about the social stigma attached to her behaviour.