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Historical Observations: The Greeks of Paris in the Early 20th Century

The Hellenes of Paris organized a two-day Congress on January 8-9, 1916 to “advise on the most appropriate means to safeguard, in the present circumstances, the interests of Hellenism.” Representatives came from the United States, Canada, France, England, Switzerland, Russia, Romania, Egypt, Turkey, and Tunisia to attend this very important conference. Since the United States’ and Russia’s Greeks didn’t have time to choose delegates, they delegated their compatriots of England and France to act on their behalf.

The organizing committee is composed: of MM. Ralli, Baltazzi, Paul Dukas, P. Negroponte, D. Petrocochino, N. Salvago, and was chaired by M.G Triantaphyllides. Speeches were pro-Venizelos and expressed concern regarding “the unconstitutional policy of [Constantine’s] government.” The Congress was greeted very badly by the Germanophile press, whereas the Venizelist journals in Athens supported it. The conference believed in the importance of French support for Venizelos. The time had come for Greece to “uphold its constitutional freedoms” and end its neutrality by joining the allies against central powers. Anglo-French troops were ensconced in Salonika who used the Macedonian front to go to Serbia’s aid and hoped that King Constantine would fulfill his obligations under the Greek-Serbian Treaty of 1913.

To strengthen their case, the Congress invited members of the French Press, academics, writers, archaeologists, and philhellenes such as “M.M. de Naleche, vice-president of the Paris press union, Joseph Reinach, Th Homolle, Chares Diehl, Colignon Gaston Deschamps, Moulin Laudet, Yves Guyot, Edmond Thery, Auguste Gaudain, Georges Mandel and Alfred Croiset.” The Congress proceedings were widely reported in the daily Parisian press.

The keynote speech delivered by Triantaphyllides was reported in full in some French dailies while others briefly covered it. Here is an excerpt of his presentation:

“In the name of the delegates of the Greek colonies; I thank the eminent philhellenes and the authorized representatives of the press who have indeed responded to our invitation.

I look forward to informing you of the decisions inspired in Congress by the rapid political events which justify the concerns of the Greeks. From the day after the frightful war unleashed by [Germany], every Greek imbued with the great traditions of his race, had but one thought, one single desire, to see Greece make a common cause with the allies against the enemies of European liberties and Greco-Latin civilization.

“The great statesman [Venizelos] who then presided over the destinies of Hellenism did not think otherwise and still thinks no less today, he immediately took his measures to allow his country to enter the European chessboard nobly to the applause of the vast majority of the nation.

He understood that the triumph of the German empire would result in the enslavement of Greece and lead to the destruction of Greeks in Turkey. It would result in massacres, mass expulsions, and confiscations of Greek property by Germany.

“Since the war of independence, supported with so much benevolence by the protective powers against the harmful policy of [the Austrian Chancellor] Metternich, the Greeks had always fixed their eyes on the two great liberal States of the West [France and England] which they consider as the [inheritors] of the true Hellenic culture; their sympathies were with them, their interests depended on them, their fate is intimately linked to them,

“If England, a country of freedom, gives them the perfect model of a constitutional monarchy, France shows them a specimen of a great republic that an aristocrat would not have been unwilling to dedicate. The young Greeks of essentially republican education, as soon as they arrive in France, feel they are not in a foreign country, but in a great Greece where, apart from the language, everything reminds them of the mother country; everything around them bears the stamp of a living Hellenic civilization, and by closely following the various manifestations of public life, artistic literature, they better understand their classic authors whom they henceforth reread with a thrilling interest by discovering between the lines a reality that had eluded them until then; the affinity of spirit and feelings between the two races seems to them so striking that they love this beautiful country of France which they aspire to make a second homeland.

“Thus, little by little, it was formed in Greece, with good reason, the conviction that Greece cannot live without France, and that a powerful France is essential for the safeguard of Greco-Latin civilization.

Germany could never boast of exercising such charm over the Greeks. I have heard more than one Greek graduate from German universities who confessed to me with disappointment, even horror, that he had never suspected that there exists at the bottom of the German soul perfidy, bad faith, and the cruelty of which we are eyewitnesses today. The term Germanophile is considered today in Greece as the greatest insult that can be done to a Hellenic patriot when he will gladly hear himself qualified as a Francophile.”

The French author and politician Joseph Reinach delivered a speech outlining the history of modern Greece and then added:

“Why are you here? You have to […] divert Greece from an irreparable disaster, which is not the invasion with all its horrors – are we not invaded? – which is no more the door of all the territory trodden by the boot of the great enemy, therefore Belgium and Serbia have been greater and more alive than today in the consciousness of civilized humanity, but this is a moral disaster, because it is the worst of crimes, according to Scripture ‘the crime against the spirit’ …what you have the devotion to do to prevent this disaster, you know it.

“It can be sweet to watch from the sheltered shore the winds that disturb the waves. But when the winds of war blow like a storm over the world, the shore is not safe. One does not assist with impunity; as spectators, in battles where justice is at stake; for if justice is vanquished, its defeat very quickly becomes that of the spectator himself, who is no more than a prey for the victor; and if it triumphs, it is eternal remorse for unfulfilled duty.”

De Naleche, and Dr. Aristidis Papadakis, the representative of the Greek community of Geneva, gave speeches like the preceding ones which were applauded with repeated cries “Long live Greece and Long live France.”



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