Rigas Pheraios, in his famous pre-Revolutionary poem: Thourios, conceived of the Greek revolution as a movement that would unite peoples of all creeds and colours against tyranny and intolerance. He wrote: «Σ’ Aνατολή και Δύσι, και Nότον και Bοριά,/Για την Πατρίδα όλοι, νάχωμεν μια καρδιά./Στην πίστιν του καθ’ ένας, ελεύθερος να ζη,/Στην δόξαν του πολέμου, να τρέξωμεν μαζύ./Βουλγάροι, κι’ Αρβανήτες, Αρμένοι και Ρωμιοί,/Aράπιδες, και άσπροι, με μια κοινή ορμή./Για την ελευθερίαν, να ζώσωμεν σπαθί.»
Rigas would have been astounded to have seen those people he especially saw as sharing common interests with the Greeks, the Bulgarians, the Serbs and the Albanians, squabbling over land during the Balkan Wars and other conflicts. He would have gasped at the failure of the proposed but ultimately failed proposal for a Greco-Albanian condominium. His conception of a Greek state, as a form of a multi-ethnic liberal polity inspired by the French revolution, never came to pass and he would, most likely, not have considered the modern state of Greece to have been a success.
Adamantios Korais, styled as one of the great “Teachers of the Nations”, saw education as a condition precedent for a successful revolution. For him, the revolution needed first to take place in the mind. The Greek people had to transform their world view through study and intellectual cultivation. Only then would they be in a position to successfully run a liberated state according to the principles of the enlightenment. Musing on what he considered to be the failure of the 1821 Revolution, he wrote: “If the race had rulers adorned with education, as it certainly would have had if the revolution had occurred thirty years later, then foreigners would have been inspired with such respect that the wrongs suffered from the anti-Christian Holy Alliance (ie the European powers) would have been avoided.” The modern rulers of Greece are extremely well educated. This, however, does not always seem to be commensurate to good governance.
Most of the time, other revolutionary protagonists, such as the clergy, saw the Revolution as a means of protecting people against Islamic persecution and ensuring that Christians would not be second class citizens. For much of the history of the resulting Greek State, which enshrined the Orthodox faith as the official faith of the state in its Constitution, this was a given. Now, however, we are seeing the exact opposite process: Muslim populations fleeing conflict or merely seeking a better life, wish to settle in Greece in large numbers, thus challenging for many, the unarticulated but deeply felt original rationale for the existence of Greece.
Some revolutionaries, such as Ioannis Kolettis, the erstwhile doctor of the infamous Ali Pasha and sometime Prime Minister of Greece, the Greek Revolution was a means of uniting all Greeks, inhabiting what was defined as “historic Greek areas” into one state with its capital at Constantinople. Termed the “Great Idea,” this defined Greek foreign policy to some extent right up until 1974. As a result, with a few brief reverses during the Greco-Turkish War of 1897, the first hundred years of the establishment of the Greek State was marked by its continuous territorial expansion. Yet 1923 saw the extirpation of the Greeks of Asia Minor from their ancestral homelands and although in 1947 Greece gained the Dodecanese, it failed to gain Northern Epirus, and bearing the trauma of the 1955 pogroms against the Greek of Constantinople that caused their mass exodus from that city, embarked upon a tortuous and ultimately failed attempt for the liberation of and union with Cyprus, culminating in the occupation of the north of that island. As we approach the two hundredth anniversary of the Revolution, with a Turkish leader who lays claim to Greek islands, violates Greek airspace, and threatens to push as back into the sea, as he did our ancestors, it is clear that Kolettis’ conception of the Revolution is well and truly dead in the water. Rather than see all Greeks united in one country, the modern history of the country has been one of constant migration away from Greece, pushing Hellenism to corners of the globe that Kolettis’ had never heard of, all the while redefining what it means to be Greek.
Revolutionary fighter Yannis Makriyannis’ idea of the revolution was that it would create a state in which all would contribute in accordance with their ability, for the common good of all, as characterised by his famous phrase: «Είμαστε εις το ‘εμείς’ κι όχι εις το ‘εγώ’. Και εις το εξής να μάθομεν γνώση, αν θέλομεν να φκιάσομεν χωριόν, να ζήσομεν όλοι μαζί.» The corruption that has mired governance in Greece, the erosion of social capital, the rise of xenophobia and violence, the collapse of the state’s financial foundation, the parlous state of the judiciary, and the way in which Greece, at crucial moments of its existence, such as during the Revolution itself, the National Schism between Royalists and Venizelists and the Greek Civil War had the propensity to let its social fabric turn inwards against itself and begin to self-destruct, all seem to belie this remarkable visionary’s aspirations.
Petrobeis Mavromihalis, and so many other revolutionary fighters of his ilk, wanted to get rid of the Ottoman Pashas so they could be free to lord it over the inhabitants of their regions in their stead. Their legacy endures within the political culture of Greece.
Arguably, despite the dreams of the Revolutionaries, Greece has never been entirely free in terms of sovereignty. For much of its existence, its freedom was guaranteed by foreign powers who imposed their political will and their own leaders upon the country. Nor was Greece free to make its own foreign policy, as was evidenced in 1854–59, when following the Crimean War, Piraeus was occupied by the Anglo-French fleet to forestall Greek expansionist intentions, in 1916 when the Entente Allies occupied Piraeus in order to force the king to pull his army away from Venizelist troops, into the Peloponnese and in 1967 when the CIA assisted treasonous Greek colonels to subvert the democratic process. Greece has never been financially free either. Forced to borrow way beyond its capacity to repay in order to finance the Revolution, Greece has stumbled its way from financial crisis to bankruptcy, trying valiantly but somehow always failing, to be a going concern. Since its creation as a nation, Greece has endured one war after another, brutal occupation, poverty and instability. It has not enjoyed an easy ride.
When Greek plutocrat Gianna Daskalakis-Angelopoulos unveiled the logo of the Organising Committee for the celebration of two hundredth anniversary of the Greek Revolution, I, like most was underwhelmed. Three stripes, that look more like barbed wire or jail bars but which, we are reliably informed, form the number two, penetrate the number one and then, for reasons inexplicable, having transfixed the said number, split off into five thinner rays that launch off into the distance. The prime number sequence, 3, 1, 5 may be code, or may be designed to befuddle numerologists and Greek parliamentarians, though these two terms are synonyms. A variant reading has five arrows (according to some, those belonging to the Rothschild family,) penetrating Greece. As a result a thrice flowing open wound symbolising the troika, flows from what should be the prime country of them all. Significantly, that wound is not finite. It merely disappears into the distance, giving no promise of its staunching or clotting.
The caption underneath the bizarre logo: 200 Years After the Revolution, Greece-2021 is bland and appears in font used in Greek school text books. In fact, the colour scheme and layout is reminiscent of a Greek grammar book. Rather than being brash, inspiring, triumphalist and celebratory, dripping with arms, armour and Hellenic heraldry, the logo is austere, dour, ambivalent and betrays a palpable sense of unease. Yianna, famous for presenting us with two pastel blobs as mascots for the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, states that the anniversary “is not simply history, but a great opportunity to escape daily reality, celebrate, as Greeks know best, and to remember where we started from; to realise where we stand and decide where we want to go…” You wouldn’t know it from the perforated numeric logo.
Escaping daily reality forms the basis of Greek civilisation. Remembering where we started from, necessarily entails recalling and analysing all the traumatic experiences that form part of the Greek collective conscience. It also entails realising that modern Greek society in many respects, whether one likes this or not, has diverged from the expectations of its revolutionary founding fathers. To many, this divergence must be responded with an immediate getting “back on track,” for others, it is the necessary and welcome consequence of historic evolution. The dawn of the third century of Greece’s existence finds its people, both at home and abroad struggling to articulate a coherent vision of their nation that is in keeping with the values of its founding fathers but able to address the challenges of the future. In many respects this is because apart from being an independent Orthodox country under their rule as stakeholders, Greece’s founding fathers may not have developed any further social vision for their country, in the first place. We are the neo-hellenes, stranded without a clue as to how to reinvent ourselves. And the belief that we all harbour in our bosoms, that somehow, neither we or the nation we identify with have lived up to our potential, is inescapable.
It is for this reason, for all of its self-conscious, incoherent, uneasy, disquieting, severe and claustrophobic inversion of neohellenic élan vital, that I have overcome my original revulsion and come to appreciate the 2021 Logo as a work of the highest genius. Signifying nought else but what the late Dimitris Mitropanos termed, «η εθνική μας μοναξιά,» it symbolises more than anything else, a nation at the crossroads, confused, unresolved, fraught with insecurity and ennui. Nonetheless, it is a nation that despite all odds, despite all that it has endured that has threatened to prove inimical to its very existence, has managed to survive. Rather than bread and circuses, what it does deserve, is a bit of a breather.
We take our leave, after politely hinting that the new logo looks uncannily similar to that appearing on an old Soviet stamp to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Great Patriotic War, suggesting the following lyrics, by Fatboy Slim as a fitting soundtrack for the marketing of Modern Greece’s bicentenary, with any luck featuring the terpsichorean stylings of Koulis M, Alexis Ts and of course, the limber Yanis Var:
“We’ve come a long, long way together
Through the hard times and the good
I have to celebrate you, baby
I have to praise you like I should…”