New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
The participation of His Grace Bishop Irinej (Dobrijevic) of the Eastern America Archdiocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church and Consul General of Serbia in New York Mirjana Zivkovic at the June 13 EMBCA event at the 3 West Club, “Romioi, the Balkans and the Rigas Feraios Charta” on the 221st Anniversary of His Death”,brought Rigas Feraios’ 18th Century Modern Greek Enlightenment vision of unifying the peoples of the Balkan Peninsula into the 21st century.
The concept of overcoming national divisiveness in the Balkans is “relevant after 300 years”, EMBCA Founder and President, Lou Katsos stated in his talk, “Rigas Feraios’ Charta and His Vision of a Pan Balkan Federation”, and author Alexander Bilinis noted in his presentation, “The Balkans in Rigas’ Time: Commonalities in the Mosaic” (the title of his most recent book) that the cultural and linguistic similarities between Balkan peoples can promote unity. EMBCA’s first Vice President, Stamatis Ghikas, born an Arvanites, introduced the astonishing history of the Arvanites of the Balkan peninsula in his talk, “The Arvanites – Elena Ghika (Dora d’Istria)”.
“Romioi, the Balkans and the Rigas Feraios Charta” on the 221st Anniversary of His Death”, presented on June 13 at the 3 West Club, was the 5th Canoutas Lecture in the AHEPA Canoutas Lecture Series. It was held in Association with AHEPA District 6 and Delphi Chapter #25. Lou Katsos was recently elected AHEPA Governor of Empire State (New York) District 6.
A Hellenized Vlach born in Velestino of Magnesia near the ruins of the ancient city of Pheres, Rigas Feraios (Velestinlis) (1757 – 1798), a pioneer of the Greek War for Independence, is a Greek national hero in the Balkan uprising against the Ottoman Empire. He is considered a hero in Serbia, as well, said Consul General Zivkovic.
Katsos explained that inspired by revolutionary events in France and the ideas of the European Enlightenment, Rigas fought for the liberation of the Balkan Christians and other non-Muslims from the Ottomans—foreseeing, in other words, a single country that would be united by the Greek language. (This didn’t become the widely-held idea in the 19th c., however, even though the various Balkan peoples did share much the same background—the Byzantine, as we would call it today).
In the end, Rigas became a victim in the Balkan uprising against the Ottoman Empire. While traveling in Italy, he was betrayed by a Greek businessman, had his papers confiscated, and was arrested at Trieste by the Austrian authorities and was handed over with his accomplices to the Ottoman governor of Belgrade, where he was imprisoned and tortured. From Belgrade, he was to be sent to Constantinople to be sentenced by Sultan Selim III. On June 24, 1798, while in transit, he and his five collaborators were strangled to prevent their being rescued by Rigas’ friend Osman Pazvantoğlu. Their bodies were thrown into the Danube River.
His last words are reported as being: “I have sown a rich seed; the hour is coming when my country will reap its glorious fruits”.
Katsos discussed Rigas’ Charta, twelve maps of the area south of the Danube. “Rigas’ vision was for the Romoii, or Rum Millet, that is, Hellenes, Arvanites, Albanians, Bulgarians, Romanians, Serbs, Vlachs, etc., liberate themselves from the Ottomans and to form a nation starting South of the Danube and encompassing what is now the Balkans.”
From Rigas’ revolutionary writings, Katsos read from the Constitution of the Pan-Balkan Federation, which describes that its symbol, the club of Hercules with three crosses on it is placed in black, white and red stripes on the banner flags of the Greek Democracy.
Bilinis related that while in Vienna, Rigas edited a Greek-language newspaper, Ephemeris (Daily), and published a proposed political map of Great Greece which included Constantinople and many other places, including a large number of places where Greeks were in the minority, such as Constantinople. Showing a picture of the paper he noted that Ephimeris still exists and is published in Siatista, Greece. In 1804. the Greek school in Vienna was established in this longstanding diaspora community.
Rigas wrote enthusiastic poems and books about Greek history that aroused the patriotic fervor of his Greek contemporaries, and many became popular. He wrote in Demotic Greek, not Katharevousa.
One of his most famous poems (which, it is said, he often sang in public) the battle-hymn, Thourios (1797), one of the most famous, he wrote, “It’s finer to live one hour as a free man than forty years as a slave and prisoner”. It is noteworthy that the word “Greek” or “Hellene” is not mentioned in Thourios; instead, Greek-speaking populations in Greece are referred to as “Romioi”, Romans, citizens of the Christian or Eastern Roman Empire.
Rigas’ other writings: Anthology of Physics (1790), Hellenic Republic (Vienna, 1797), School for Delicate Lovers (Vienna, 1790), New Map of Wallachia, General Map of Moldavia (Vienna, 1797), New Political Constitution of the Inhabitants of Roumeli, Asia Minor, the Islands of the Aegean and the Principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia (Vienna, 1797), and New Anacharsis (Vienna, 1797).
Stamatis Ghikas, who remembers being told by his grandmother when he was a child, “You come from a royal family”, and being baffled by her statement until in his teen years he began to research the history of the Arvanites.
A population group in Greece who emigrated south in the 13th and 16th centuries, Arvanites traditionally speak Arvanitika, a dialect of Albanian, along with Greek in Greece, and self-identify as Greeks, tending to dissociate from Albanians. He named the actresses Melina Mercouri and Irene Pappas, and famous Arvanites from the Greek War of Independence such as Laskarina Bouboulina, Georgios Kountouriotis, from Hydra, Admiral (and briefly Prime Minister), Lazaros Kountouriotis, Dimitris Plapoutas, and the intriguing Dora d’Istria, pen-name of duchess Helena Koltsova-Massalskaya born Elena Ghica (Gjika/Xhika), (b 1828, in Bucharest) a Romanian and Albanian Romantic writer and feminist, most notable for having emblematized the Albanian national cause of the 19th century. She was the daughter of Mihai Ghica and the niece of the reigning Prince of Wallachia Grigore IV Ghica. She received a thorough education that was continued abroad in Dresden, Vienna, Venice, and Berlin.
As a writer Dora d’Istria was first noticed in 1855 while she was writing mostly in French under the name d’Istria. She published a number of works that not only showed her proficiency in Romanian, Italian, German, French, Latin, Ancient and Modern Greek, and Russian, but also her knowledge of scientific topics, her liberal views on religious and political topics. Her general world view was cosmopolitan, but she also worked to bring the resources and technologies available in Western Europe to Eastern Europe, and towards the emancipation of women.
EMBCA events never fail to be on intriguing topics. We look forward to what is coming next.