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"Until 1986 we all used to swim in the lake along with our children, we didn't even know what the sea was like. People used to come from nearby villages on carts, tractors or on foot, to swim and fish. The waters were very clean, there were no sewage or trash, both Greeks and Yugoslavs were very careful. During World War I, English soldiers used to wash their wounds in the lake's water, because they believed it was thermal water and it would heal their wounds".
The beach is desolated
Dimitris Ntenas is one of the few people who were born beside Doirani lake and he never left. The small hotel that he owns near the lake's banks survives thanks to the few truck drivers who cross the borders with FYROM, and the few Greek military officers as well.
A few kilometres away, in a patisserie in Mouries town, two pieces of cake and a glass of orange juice used to cost only four euros. The kind waitress had a sad tone in her voice: "We no longer go on excursions to the lake's banks with school, like we used to because the beach is desolated and there is also mud all over the place. The distance from the village to the lake is now longer as if a magical hand pulled the lake away".
The residents saw their lives start to unravel in 1986. Due to a huge drought, Greek and Skopjan authorities pumped water from the lake in order to irrigate the crops in Chalastra's fields, 80-90 kilometres away. However, the canals were grassy, the ruts broke and the water never managed to reach its destination. The water was lost and all that was left behind was destruction.
It was a total catastrophe for all the Greek and most of the Skopjan villages around the lake, once filled with tourists. The lake's level fell from ten to two and a half metres and all the fish and the mussels suffocated to death.
The cleanest in Europe
The Greek state has always had a problem concerning the management of the water. It either flows in the gorges of Mpeles and nobody cares enough to direct it to Doirani, which is right beside it, or it makes the Kifissos river overflow and 'drowns' entire neighbourhoods in Athens. But even though Doirani is fading away, it is still the cleanest lake in Europe and enchants whoever looks at it.
Tourists don't go to Doirani, but travellers and naturists do. They walk on the thick layers of dead mussels, they kneel before the tombs of thousands of soldiers who died in Balkan wars, they taste carps that only eat grass, and they break the frozen surface of the water in winter, to help the few fish "breathe".
TEXT-PHOTOS: GEORGE ZAFEIROPOULOS