Deriving Communal Self-Knowledge from the Seminal Years of 1821 and 1922

Last year provided Hellenes worldwide the opportunity to look back at the miracle of 1821. This year, as an extension of the ‘harmolypi’ (mixture of happiness and sadness) that is a definitive trait of the Hellenic ‘tropos’, we honor and commemorate the martyrs of the Asia Minor Catastrophe, remembering Ionia – a cradle of Hellenism. However, in both instances, we maintain the measure and not focus exclusively on the triumphs of 1821 or the tragedies of 1922.

A balanced approach demands that we also focus on errors and passions that threatened to derail the Revolution or left it unfinished, as well as the dynamism and influence displayed by Asia Minor Greeks in shaping modern Greece.

One of the problems plaguing the modern Greek state since its liberation is the repackaging of western ways and the rejection of thousands of years of empirical knowledge in the handling and resolution of internal affairs. The complexes of the domestic elite and bias of the European West inhibit or often eradicate efforts to cultivate in-house solutions tailored to the Hellenic worldview and local needs.

Even prior to 1821, Adamantios Koraes developed his theory of ‘metakenosis’, or pouring the western understanding of Hellenic culture into Greece, making plain his admiration of the “enlightened and brilliant nations of the Occident,” which Greece ought to emulate. Ioannis Kapodistrias’ assassination led to the Bavarocracy, which completely replaced all the genuine apparatuses that maintained Hellenism during the dark years of Ottoman rule with foreign ones, with completely different reference points than the domestic ones.

No surprisingly, the adulteration of local governance begat institutions hostile to the citizenry, focused on perpetuating themselves and compelling the people to resort to alternative methods, such as bribery, to navigate through the reefs of corruption, cronyism, and a parasitic state apparatus.

It is both astounding and lamentable that all these years, politicians claim to be working toward fighting corruption and cronyism, but have never tackled the problem at its root by adjusting the institutions themselves and their manner of operation; beginning, of course, with the education system and local governance.

Greece’s political parties operate in an alien manner, dogmatically regurgitating Marx or Adam Smith. Either way, it is highly doubtful that Lenin, Bakunin, Gramsci or any other comrade would loan his revolutionary cloak to the average Greek increasingly struggling to make ends meet. The same, of course, holds true of Hayek, Friedman, Volker or like-minded neoliberals. Partisan politics reek of theory, however, “practice is the capstone of theory,” as Gregory the Theologian wisely notes.

Sadly, contemporary Greek politics lacks leaders who can back their words with deeds. Ideological ankyloses and foreign directives hardly ever benefit the local populace, because they weren’t designed to promote its interests or factor-in its idiosyncrasies. This has stymied Greece over the past two centuries, as it huffs and puffs trying to mimic other European nations, without taking into consideration the interests of its own people.

Examples are rife, from the sudden abandoning of lignite without a sufficient alternative energy source to the inconceivable tax system, which targets large families in a country facing a serious population shortage, and from granting seedy NGOs carte blanche to handle the illegal migration crisis to turning activism and

‘do-rightsism’ into a fetish while ignoring civics and civic responsibility.

On the heels of Greek Independence, men like Makriyannis and Papadiamantis, who left their writings as an invaluable national treasure, warned of the dangers of mimicking the West at the risk of losing our identity.

However, Hellenism of the Near East constituted an exception to the identity repackaging espoused by the modern Greek state, as it managed to combine the grandeur and nobility of the cultural legacy it bore with global developments that could not leave it disinterested. Of course, these Greeks were cognizant that the state did not belong to them, even though they ably served it. Therefore, they were obliged to attend to their community affairs with even greater sobriety and responsibility.

Indicatively, at the turn of the 20th century, the Greeks of Smyrna lacked nothing compared to the residents of Europe’s metropolises, without losing or negotiating their Hellenic identity in the least. The same held true for the Greek of Egypt and elsewhere.

How was it possible for them to be polyglots, exceptional entrepreneurs, aware of the latest fashion trends, present remarkable activity in the arts and letters (Greek and foreign), and at the same time faithfully serve the centuries-old Hellenic tropos and the cultural proposals it begat?

These cosmopolitan Greeks could regularly attend church, light their oil lamp at the icon stand in their homes, or fast without being considered…holy rollers. They could demand respect for their faith and advocate that it receive its rightful place in Greek society and institutions, without being seen as ‘medieval’ by stalwarts of Marxism or nationless neoliberals.

They could keep up with international developments and participate in them without any sense of inferiority, while maintaining their sense of uniqueness or the distinctive otherness of their culture. They could stand before international power brokers and converse with them as equals, devoid of complexes and without kowtowing, but rather, with the nobility befitting an heir of a millennia-old culture, which they represented and perpetuated as its modern-day continuers.

Their political and state leaders could worthily represent them, without marginalizing the symbols of the nation, the faith, and the institutions representing them. Their scientists and journalists could respect Pan-Hellenic values and not use their notoriety to impose their personal views and attack anything considered sacred and holy. Finally, they understood practice as the capstone of theory and sought out solutions that fit the needs of the people and nation, not foreign centers of power.

When the moment of truth arrives, the ‘saviors’ from the West will be nowhere to be found, and a radical change in the current outlook will be needed for Hellenism to survive.


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