The timing could not be better. At a time when people are still drooling over Harry and Meghan’s royal wedding, the Hellenic Museum is welcoming a prince, albeit not in his capacity as a royal – royal titles are not recognised by the Greek constitution – but in that of a landscape photographer.
To be precise, today the wonderful museum hosts the opening of the exhibition ‘Phos: a Journey of Light’, featuring the work of the son of Greece’s dethroned king, showcasing breathtaking and dreamlike landscapes of Greece.
A first glimpse of the works in question definitely justifies the choice of the brilliant museum to host the exhibition, alongside the other permanent and periodical exhibitions: the Benaki collection, Bill Henson’s ‘Oniroi’, and the work of the great Alekos Fassianos.
Still, the term ‘Prince Nikolaos’ is not easy to swallow. Yes, we live in the postmodern era, when each and every one of us is absolutely free to form their own identity, often creating it from scratch, building our own narratives, our own subjective truth. So yes, anyone is free to call themselves as they like, be it Lady Gaga, Childish Gambino, Banksy or Prince Nikolaos.
But this is not the case, here. This is not the eccentric moniker of a postmodern artist. No, if anything, Nikolaos, born and raised with the word ‘prince’ attached to his name, is a man carrying a title that is in itself a relic of pre-modern times. That is a very heavy burden to wish upon anybody. Imagine having a name that is a constant reminder of a fall from grace, like the one of the photographer’s father.
The official name of the dethroned monarch is ‘Constantine, former King, of Paul’ – this is how he was written down in the official public records of Greece when he had to apply for a social security number, in order to be able to manage his property and pay taxes for it. This happened because, despite the fact that the Greek state requires that all citizens are registered with a first and last name, Constantine insists on his refusal to present any family name, under the pretence that “none of the kings of the Hellenes had a last name, but only their Christian one.”
Of course, Constantine was in a way vindicated by the State Council, Greece’s supreme court, which recognised that “the former king of the Hellenes, already dethroned according to the result of the referendum of 8 December 1974, is deprived of a last name, due to historical circumstances”.
As a result, for the past quarter of a century, his title regarding Greece is ‘Constantine, former king of the Hellenes’, with the State Council clearly stating that the term ‘former king’ is not a royal title, given that the Hellenic Constitution forbids royal titles, but rather an identity definition, an adjective of sorts, given that Constantine has no last name.
In the official former royal family website, the patriarch explains that he prefers to be addressed as “King Constantine, former King of the Hellenes”, stating that the same stands for the rest of his family. Which means that the photographer whose work is featured at the Hellenic Museum is indeed called ‘Prince Nikolaos’, but this is just an adjective, not a royal title.
Which means that the Hellenic Museum is totally out of line, prefacing his name with the letters HRH. In fact, if they wanted to follow a protocol, they might have searched and found out that under Hellenic monarchy protocol, the spawn of kings were not called ‘princes’ and ‘princesses’, but ‘king’s children’ (‘Βασιλόπαιδες’). But ‘King’s Child Nikolaos’ doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it? It sounds a bit silly.
What is even sillier is this long-standing view that the title stands despite the fact that the office is abolished. Royal titles are absolutely tied to positions. Kings and queens represent sovereign states and people. A king without a kingdom reigns over nothing. It’s the same with a prince representing people who have abolished royal titles.
The whole thing would be an amusing nonsense, but the referendum to decide on Greece’s system of government was no joke. It took place when democracy was reinstated in Greece after seven years of the brutal dictatorship. By abolishing the monarchy, the Greek people punished Constantine for his responsibility in causing a constitutional crisis that eventually created a fertile ground for the junta. Apart from notoriously disrespecting the elected prime minister of Greece, Constantine had also been conspiring with the heads of the armed forces to hold a military coup of his own when he was sidelined by the hotheaded colonels.
The abolition of monarchy in Greece is a very serious issue that defines history, not to be approached with the light, ‘anything goes’ manner one approaches celebrity culture.
For the Hellenic Museum to recognise a royal title is an insult to democratic Greeks, if not towards the Hellenic Republic itself.
It is a pity that a cultural organisation that is doing such excellent work falls into this trap. And this has nothing to do with the artistic value of the exhibition. As far as anyone is concerned, Nikolaos may be a great artist and an inspired photographer. But he’s no royal. And he’s definitely no prince of Greece.