We did not commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Greek Revolution as we had planned; we lived it. The pandemic may have deprived us of public spectacle but this is the nature of anniversaries – they force us to come to terms with our present circumstances as we measure ourselves against History.
The 100th anniversary, too, was restrained, as the Greeks were once again in a life-and-death struggle with the neighboring Turks, a struggle which, the following year, would lead to the end of the Great Idea. The ideal of expanding to incorporate all parts of the region where Greeks lived had been the adhesive for the new kingdom from the beginning. Defeat meant also the end of the long Greek presence in Asia Minor.
The 1821-2021 committee may have had to curtail its plans for the anniversary, the government and state may have been busy with handing the pandemic and its consequences, but the people “honored” the uprising in the most direct way: We lived, we debated, we dreamed, we worked, we clashed within the framework of a state that was born in a revolution which still seeks fulfillment in terms of stability (domestically and beyond) and prosperity for the Greeks.
The bicentennial gave a great push to the study of the Revolution, which may turn out to be more beneficial than the festivals that were canceled. Important books, albums and conference proceedings were published. Major exhibitions were staged and discussions held. Serious documentaries were produced. The academic community in Greece and abroad highlighted the broader significance of the Greek Revolution in an age of revolutions, examining the influences and the economic and political conditions that caused it, along with the influence that the Greeks’ uprising had on other countries and its long-term consequences. It is worth remembering that the Greeks achieved a nation-state before the Germans and Italians, among others. The state that was declared independent by the Great Powers in 1830 remained under their influence and acquired its long-desired Constitution only in 1843. Whatever the constraints, it was a state, with citizens and politicians who played the leading role in its development, in the nation’s victories and defeats.
Today, as a member-state of the European Union, Greece is once again under the influence of a great power. Now, however, it is an equal in a team of states who willingly decided to pool their resources. This could be the happy culmination of the struggle that began in 1821, if our era was not so unpredictable and we were not so reckless.
The continuing threat from Turkey forces the Greeks – as in the time of the War of Independence – to seek powerful alliances. It is significant that in this anniversary year, Greece signed an updated defense agreement with the United States, a new strategic alliance with France, reached agreement with the United Kingdom on post-Brexit relations and strengthened ties with Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Greece no longer seeks to expand by irredentism, but it is forced to be on the alert to defend its sovereignty and its rights. This is the situation that the warriors and politicians of 1821 knew well.
The revolutionary Greeks would recognize, also, the political culture that they bequeathed us. The plundering, which, to a great extent, funded the struggle, the clashes between notables and warlords, between regions, between “natives” and the “foreign-born” Greeks, between representatives of the Enlightenment and Tradition (to generalize), between supporters of different Great Powers – all these factors shaped a framework of suspicion and maximalist demands in politics and society. Polarization, division and the inability to compromise still determine the rules of the political game. And this continues even though the greatest problems that plagued the nation have been solved – the dispute between monarchy and republic, the language question, the legacy of the Civil War and, to a great extent, relations between Church and State. Like our ancestors, who knew that only through unity could they deal with the enemy yet succumbed to division, so do we, knowing the dangers of division persist in this as the framework of our political rivalries.
If this habit is maintained because, as a member of the EU, we have the illusion that we can afford it, we need onlyremember that the crisis of 2010 was very much the result of such collective complacency and recklessness.
What we need to understand, 200 years after the start of the Revolution, is that the often quarreling groups of the Struggle succeeded because, despite the problems among them, they all contributed whatever they could toward victory. Some cultivated relations with the Great Powers, others funded the struggle and provided ships, equipment and experience, others provided their bodies, others came from afar to contribute. Priests, rich, poor, soldiers and foreign volunteers joined forces.
After victory, they again split into quarreling groups in the pursuit of recognition and benefits.
With all of these attitudes and behaviors, they established the foundations of a state and a society which constitute the living proof that the fighters of this perpetual Revolution are still among us.