New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
An old world was going to be left behind, so now how to prepare to enter the new world, Europe?
In a virtual lecture, “Visions of Freedom in Greek Political Thought,1770-1821,”on March 20, Paschalis M. Kitromilides surveyed the gradual articulation of the idea of a free and independent polity for the Greek nation as reflected in Greek political thought from the 1770s to the outbreak of the Greek revolution. The lecture was part of a series of events organized by the Hellenic Studies Department of the University of Chicago to honor the bicentennial anniversary of the Greek Revolution of 1821.
Professor Kitromilides talked about how the thinkers behind the Greek revolution—Eugenios Boulgaris, Iosipos Moïsiodax, Rigas Velestinlis (or Feraios), Dimitrios Katartzis, and Adamantios Koraës (with somewhat more emphasis on Feraios and Koraës)—viewed the political aspect of the anti-Ottoman (note: not anti-Turkish) struggle they were advocating and supporting with their writings, which circulated outside of Greece as well as inside, in Western Europe, Romania, etc. Most of their writings were widely read but did not survive in very many copies.
The revolutionary fervor was widespread and not just a creation of these few people. The Greeks kept bouncing back after their reverses with resiliency and dynamism in theii determination to win the struggle of liberty after many centuries of Ottoman rule. During the full scale war that lasted more than a decade, with enormous suffering in terms of human catastrophes, the Greeks managed to accede to foreign statehood, the first such achievement in European history after the French Revolution and the Congress of Vienna. (The Serbs finally achieved the status of an autonomous principality under Ottoman sovereignty in 1831).
In answer to one of the questions addressed to him at the end of the talk, Professor Kitromilides said we have no way of really knowing what exactly the common folk, the leaders and followers who were actually doing the fighting, thought about these issues of government that were occupying the theoreticians.
In 1814, the secret organization called Philiki Etairea (Society of Friends) was founded with the aim of liberating Greece. A significant characteristic of the secret society, the Philiki Etaireia, whose slogan was “I swear by you my sacred homeland”, was that it managed to retain its secrecy, “quite an achievement for Greeks!”
RigasFeraios, who was martyred by the Turks after the Austrians gave him up to them, envisaged a new country, called Greece, in which all of its citizens, no matter what ethnicity or religion, would have equal rights. He chose as the colors of the flag red, white, and black, for respectively) blood or fervor, purity, and faithful-unto-death idea.
His political vision of democratic liberalism was influenced by the French Constitution. In an effort to stimulate a Pan-Balkan uprising against the Ottomans, Feraios, when he was editor of Efimeris, the Greek newspaper in Vienna, printed and intended to distribute pamphlets based on the principles of the French Revolution, includingthe Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, and New Political Constitution of the Inhabitants of Rumeli, Asia Minor, the Islands of the Aegean, and the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia.
Koraës, in Paris, inspired by the ideals of the French Revolution, Liberty Fraternity and Equality, strongly believed that nations were entitled to self-rule. He had believed in a liberated Greece consisting of a system of enlightened representational democracy for decades before the War of Independence actually began in 1821.Koraës reached out to Europe, and to Thomas Jefferson, whom he met in Paris and with whom he corresponded.
He believed that an ethical revolution would emerge from modern education among the Greeks. Greek education in accordance with the Enlightenment would cultivate language that was necessary to prepare Greek society toaccelerate to Greek nationhood, a new crusade that he calledthe “Great Earthquake”.
Koraës, contrary to the later stereotype of him, did not want to revive the ancient Greek language whole, rather he wanted ancient Greek to be used as a source of corrections for the “impurities” that had crept into Greek demotic.Part of the idea was that ancient Greek would be better suited to expressing the kinds of new ideas that Greeks were now facing as they entered the modern world.
One thing that was borrowed from the French was the idea of a unitary government, as opposed to a federation, or collection of little, largely independent regions, or states.
The Philhellenic movement involved not only enthusiasm and support for the fighting Greeks, but also a broader assertion of the aspiration of freedom and the hopes of the oppressed around the world. The first international recognition of the new Greek polity came from the Republic of Haiti in 1822, a gesture of solidarity among emerging new States, highly symbolic of the expectations of the revolutionary age.
Paschalis M. Kitromilides is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Athens, a member of the Academy of Athens, and recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the European Society for the History of Political Thought. He is author of numerous books, including Enlightenment and Revolution: The Making of Modern Greece. With Constantinos Tsoukalas, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Athens, he co-edited The Greek Revolution, just published by Bellknap Harvard.