On 25 March 2021, Greece will commemorate the 200th anniversary of its national day. This bicentenary will be marked with great pomp and ceremony not only in Greece but in Greek communities of the diaspora around the world.

Most countries celebrate their national day at the end of their revolution or the termination of hostilities after their war of independence. That is not the case for Greece. The reason is that historians are unanimous in pinpointing the start of Greece’s war of independence.

However, they cannot agree on the year that Greece achieved its independence. In effect, the war of independence lasted over a decade and territorial victories were achieved over a protracted timeline.

The Greek War of Independence began in 1821 with the rebellion of the Greeks who had been under the rule of the Ottoman Empire since 1453. The Greek revolution started on 25 March 1821 with the slogan “eleftheria i thanatos” meaning “freedom or death”. A modern twist on the Ancient Spartan dictum that required Spartan warriors to return victorious or dead and carried on their shields.

The Greek struggle for independence captured the attention of leading European intellectuals, including British philhellene and prominent poet Lord Byron who fought alongside the Greeks in Messolongi, Greece. More recently, Greece was a prominent member of the allied forces fighting against the Nazis in the eastern Mediterranean, which prompted British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to remark in his flamboyant rhetorical style “no longer will we say that Greeks fight like heroes, but that heroes fight like Greeks”.

Greece is a small country, with an inquiring mind, an independent spirit, and a global outreach. Its sparse population of slightly more than 10 million inhabitants is deceiving. Census reports from around the world estimate that the Greek diaspora, which includes first generation immigrants, and second or third generations of Greek ancestry not born in Greece, is around 7 million.

The Greek mindset has always embraced a peripatetic nature and a global outreach. This explains the existence of Greek communities around the world. In Ancient Greece, Homer recorded that Greeks have been wanderers and travellers venturing through foreign seas and lands, motivated by trade, science, intellectual curiosity, poverty, or war, and creating colonies and cities far and wide. As a result, the Greek diaspora became one of the oldest and largest in the world.

Today, the Greek diaspora can be found worldwide. The largest contemporary concentrations of the Greek diaspora are in the USA, Canada, and Australia. The city with the largest Greek community outside of Greece is Melbourne, Australia. On every occasion that I visited Melbourne, I heard Greek being spoken everywhere I went.

The 2016 Australian census recorded 397,431 people of Greek ancestry, and 93,740 born in Greece. This makes Australia home to one of the largest Greek diaspora communities in the world. The census also revealed that the Greek community of Melbourne is one of the largest in the world with a Greek Australian population of 173,598 people. In fact, the city of Melbourne has the largest concentration of Greeks after Athens and Thessaloniki in
Greece. Furthermore, the Greek community of Melbourne is well known among the Greek diaspora for its passion for all things Greek, and for maintaining and nurturing the Greek language and traditions.

The largest Greek immigrant stream to Australia commenced after the second World War. The first-generation of Greek Australians were mostly self-employed in the service sector. They established restaurants, retail outlets and small businesses. Having instilled the value of education in their children to mitigate the effects of discrimination and improve their career opportunities, the second and third generation of Greek Australians have now joined the ranks of white-collar professionals such as lawyers, accountants, public servants, academics, scientists, engineers, nurses, and medical practitioners. Greeks of the diaspora will receive a special gift during the bicentenary.

Effective this year, the Greek government will give Greeks living abroad the right to vote in national elections. Greek expatriates will be able to vote from their current place of residence for at-large members of Parliament, whose number will expand from 12 to 15 in the 300-seat Parliament.

The 2021 bicentenary will provide Greece and Australian Greeks with an opportunity to celebrate the resilience and the accomplishments of this small country and its people. It will also serve as a call for all Greeks worldwide to strive for even more spectacular accomplishments in the service of humanity in the future.

Dr. Constantine Passaris is a Professor of Economics at the University of New Brunswick and an Onassis Foundation Fellow. He was recently included in the inaugural edition of Who is Who in Greece 2020.