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That Greece Might Still Be Free – Thoughts on a Bicentennial

The year 2021 marks the bicentennial of the Greek War of Independence, which led to the rebirth of Greece and the formation of the modern Greek nation state. Ordinarily, this anniversary would be celebrated most ceremoniously, but the past year has been far from ordinary.

The prevailing covidocracy will inherently restrict public celebrations – at least for the next few months. That might not be all that bad, however, considering some of the controversial, revisionist, and downright offensive drivel being expectorated by the official celebration committee appointed by the current government. Better to honor the milestone humbly, rather than make a mockery of it for the sake of cheap PR and ideological ankylosis.

Moreover, Greece is facing intense pressure from Turkey, which is pushing its expansionist agenda across land, sea, and air. In the face of unprecedented encroachment upon Greek territorial rights, the story behind the bicentennial might be more about rediscovering the spirit of heroism and fearlessness to stand up to oppressive tyranny (which may well be required in the near future) than merely honoring the achievements of the past.

With that in mind, it’s important to remember that the Greek War of Independence of 1821 didn’t just happen overnight one day following four centuries of oppressive Ottoman rule. It was the culmination of an ongoing resistance that began on the heels of the Fall of Constantinople in 1453.

A recent article by Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus does a fine job of establishing this and debunking the argument that the uprising of 1821 was an offshoot of the French or American Revolution. Surely, these movements may have helped the Greek Revolution gain favor across European and American circles, however the impetus for the Greek War of Independence always lay in the Hellenes’ unwavering view of themselves as an independent, self-governing people, and their unquenchable desire to regain their freedom.

It’s worth citing the list of major uprisings included in Metropolitan Seraphim’s article “200 Years from the National Uprising – Historic Truth and its Forgery.”

During the 15th century, four major uprisings took place in Mani, Patras, Argos, Macedonia, Epirus, and Thessaly (1457-1472; 1466; 1479-1481; 1492-1496). Key figures include clergymen like Metropolitan Neophytos of Patras and Archbishop Andreas Palaiologos of Dyrrachion, as well as laymen like Krokodeilos Kladas and Theodoros Bouas.

During the 16th century, there were 10 major revolts all throughout Greece proper (1501; 1503; 1525; 1531; 1532; 1565; 1571; 1583; 1596, 1600). Key figures include men of letters like Markos Mousouros and Janus Laskaris, the bishops of Patras and Ochrid, and ‘Armatoloi’ (irregulars) like Theodoros Bouas-Grivas, Poulios Drakos, and Malamos. There were also attempts by Europeans to help liberate Greece, led by Genoese admiral Andrea Doria. Among the martyrs massacred brutally by the Ottomans were Metropolitan Dionysios of Larissa (skinned alive), Metropolitan Seraphim of Fanarion (impaled), and Metropolitan Efthimios of Rhodes.

The 17th century saw five major uprisings (1609; 1659; 1659-1667; 1684-1688; 1696-1699), including several in Mani, areas of the Peloponnese, and one in Cyprus. The ongoing fighting between the Venetians and the Ottomans also helped foment Greek revolts. An important figure during this era was the Maniot Limberakis Gerakaris, who succeeded in securing the recognition of Mani’s autonomy for the first time by the sultan.

The 18th century included seven more major rebellions throughout Greece (1705; 1716; 1717; 1749; 1766-1770; 1770-1771; 1788-1792), including Crete, Macedonia, and the Northern Sporades. This included the Orlov Revolt, which was a major precursor to the Revolution of 1821. Major figures during this century included Dakalogiannis in Sfakia, Crete, Lambros Katsonis and Andreas Androutsos, Metropolitan Zosimas, and the Armatolos Zissis Karademos.

Finally, in the 19th century, ahead of the great uprising of 1821, there were two revolts (1806-1807; 1808) led by Theodore Kolokotronis, as well as the Klephts-Armatoloi Nikotsaras and the Lazos family, to name just a few.

It’s worth noting that in his memoirs, Kolokotronis himself explains that the Greek nation was in a perpetual state of revolt against the Ottomans. He writes that “after we captured Nafplion, [British Commodore] Hamilton came to see me. He told me that ‘the Greeks must seek a compromise, and England will mediate.’ I replied that ‘this will never happen; freedom or death. We, Captain Hamilton, never compromised with the Turks. They killed some, they enslaved others by force, and others, like us, lived free from generation to generation. Our king was killed, we never signed a treaty, his guard waged a continuous war with the Turks and two garrisons never submitted.’ He said ‘which royal guard, and what garrisons?’ – ‘Our king’s guard are the so-called Klephts, and the garrisons are Mani and Souli and the mountains.’”

Four centuries – in some areas five – under the Turkish yoke, and the people – indigent and helpless as they were – never ceased dreaming, yearning, and more importantly fighting for their freedom. Today, there are some ‘elites’ in Greek society who campaign for Greece to voluntarily bow down to its would-be conquerors (Germany from the West, Turkey from the East).

Fortunately, the people respond with a resounding to their propaganda, whenever they are given the chance. The major demonstrations two years ago all throughout Greece and the Diaspora over the misuse of the term Macedonia and its derivatives demonstrated this – even though the former government and the current one don’t seem to have gotten the message. The same thing is true over the support displayed for the military’s valiant defense of the northeastern border last spring, when Turkey attempted to overrun it.

The best way to honor the 200th anniversary of the Greek Revolution is to remember that it wasn’t born overnight, but was instead centuries in the making. That same heroic spirit must live on today and manifest itself through actions, if Greece is to remain free. The needs are manifold and the areas of service are many. Let each contribute in their own unique way from the post in which they shall choose to take up.

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