This month we celebrate the Bicentennial of the start of the Greek War of Independence. No question such a seminal event in a nation’s history must be honored, and in this publication and others I have been very clear that we must honor the event and that the event belongs truly to the Greek people everywhere, and not to some sterile, state-sponsored committee.
A friend of mine, from a country neighboring Greece, once commented to me about the resilience- to this day – of our common Byzantine heritage. He said that the success of Byzantium, and its long life and continued relevance was because “Byzantium was authentic.” Perhaps the greatest compliment one can give to a civilization.
I think that, in retrospect of two hundred years of existence, Greece can be both praised and criticized for a plethora of virtues and vices, yet ultimately perhaps the best commentary I can give to my country, as she enters her third century, is that Greece is authentic.
Greece was “an idea whose time had come” to paraphrase the great Victor Hugo. Great ideas often take a leap of faith to become a reality, and certainly the ragtag crew of Diaspora merchants and intellectuals, island corsairs, and rugged mountain guerillas, took a jump into a new era, inspired by events across the Atlantic in 1776, and France in 1789.
Like most revolutions, the Greek one was often ugly, and heroism stood side by side with cowardice, and civic virtue all too often struggled with private vice. Yet it spoke to people, not just to a captive nation reawakening, but to a larger world that was inspired.
Greece survived, often in spite of herself, and the identity of Greeks today – a heritage of Byzantium and the Ottoman era returned to a Hellenic identity – has survived because it is authentic. Every nation has its mythologies and contradictions, and certainly a Hellas reborn has her share, yet paradoxically the Greek mosaic works. The various parts fuse to create a coherent picture that informs the identity of Greeks today.
That’s the good news. Greece is authentic. The bad news – the institutional failures of a state all too Ottoman in heritage, the divisiveness of the Greeks despite a powerful, passionate adherence to the Greek identity – these remain a work in process. We must turn the challenges of geography and history into opportunities.
As we honor the heroes of 1821, there is plenty of work to be done. The Greek Revolution requires a constant Greek Evolution.
Let us do our part.