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Greece: 200 years of fighting enemies within and without

By on March 23, 2021
Demetrios Rhompotis

Demetrios Rhompotis

We have a proverb in Greek that some attribute to Pythagoras and others to Plato, which goes, “η αρχή είναι το ήμισυ του παντός;”meaning, “the beginning is half of everything.” That is probably why the chronological counting of Greece’s independence from the Ottoman yoke starts with the official commencement of the revolution, March 25, 1821, and thus this year we are celebrating the country’s bicentennial.

Well, that beginning, if taken literally, was much less than half, as in the years that followed the small, sickly kingdom became more than three times bigger, and in 1921, with another Constantine as king (the last Byzantine emperor was also Constantine), almost materialized our nation’s Great Idea: the liberation of all the historical Greek territories with Constantinople as capital. That dream turned to a nightmare thanks to our own mistakes and the betrayal of our allies.

But “little” Greece didn’t stop growing. At the end of WWII, the Dodecanese Islands were returned to Greece by the defeated Italian occupiers, and in the ’60s, after a bloody liberation struggle for freedom from colonial Great Britain and union with Greece, Cyprus became independent, until 1974, when again due to our mistakes and our allies’ betrayal, the Turks invaded and occupy since almost 40% of the island.

In these 200 years, the Greek people proved their ascendancy from their Byzantine and ancient forefathers through a number of accomplishments that caused international awe and admiration. The country was on the side of the winners in the two World Wars and its participation proved decisive. Defeating the Ottomans time and again during WWI, Greece managed to destroy Germany’s southeastern flank, paving the way for the Entente victory. In WWII an under armed Greece defeated the Italians and resisted longer than any other European country the Nazi invasion that followed, keeping the German forces busy and delaying Operation Barbarossa against Russia long enough for the winter to start which proved fatal to Berlin’s planning.
Then the Civil War came, brothers took arms against brothers and the country was in shambles – and what the Nazis and Italians started was completed by us! Yet, in a few years time, like the Phoenix of the legend, Greece was reborn from its own ashes and gave the world poets, artists, musicians and wave after wave of immigration that reinforced our communities abroad and most importantly, enriched the various countries with more giants in all those fields, including business and commerce. The US is the perfect example that reflects this enrichment. Two Nobel prizes in poetry: one for George Seferis and another for Odysseas Elytis came, and almost two more if not for the sabotage by the Greek state, to Angelos Sikelianos and Nikos Kazantzakis. Yannis Ritsos won the Lenin Prize, the equivalent of Nobel in the communist world. Manos Hatzidakis won the Oscar for his score in Never on Sunday, a movie, that like Zorba the Greek, made Greece popular again in five continents (I think there six now?) along with syrtaki, souvlaki and saganaki! Greece’s merchant fleet remains the biggest in the world – even with Filipinos as crew! (Greeks stopped going to the sea en masse because the Albanian immigrants, and lately the Africans, would have a feast with their wives left behind!)

The Greek Revolution of 1821 did not only result in the creation of modern Greece, but became the catalyst for the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, paving the way for other liberation movements to erupt and lead to the formation of a number of countries in the area, including – Turkey, which was proclaimed a republic in 1923, the last independent state to come out of the former mighty empire.

The litany of our successes could go on for hours. As can the list of our tragedies, unfortunately, most of which were the result of our own making. Following the steps of our ancient forefathers, time and again we have proved ourselves our worst enemies!
Nowadays, having survived an economic collapse due to our institutional shortcomings, but also in order for the German and other northern European banks to avoid a fallout due to overexposure, Greece again had started recovering and reclaiming the lost ground–a stunning 25% of its pre-crisis economy. But then just when things looked finally to be in her favor – Covid ensued and put everything on hold! Let’s see how this will play out, not only there, but here as well. Happily, Greece is again part of the solution, because the first anti-Covid vaccine came out of Pfizer, a company whose CEO is Albert Bourla, a Greek from Thessaloniki!

Despite the downturns and the difficulties, this is a time to celebrate and rejoice in our nation’s accomplishments. Even people like me who see wrongs all over the place, and don’t miss an opportunity to criticize, most of the time for good reason, can take a break and this is what I’m doing basically. But celebrating isn’t only about being festive and proud, rather it’s about taking a short break to contemplate our way in order to start again with renewed will. This bicentennial isn’t an end but another beginning, After all, what’s 200 years in 5000 years history? We are a work in progress, as Archbishop Demetrios used to say “we are a nation on a mission,” not in …intermission. And the best way to look to our collective future with realistic optimism is to begin, finally, learning from our mistakes! If we ever manage to do that then sky is the limit–and I’m not referring to the Greek TV station by the same name–that would be a disaster…

Xronia Polla Hellas!

1) Behind almost every successful man is a woman – his mistress! (which explains why I’m not successful)! Happy Women’s Day!

2) Sometimes, getting out of prison takes a small step (and the guards looking the other way)…

About Demetrios Rhompotis

Demetrios Rhompotis is Publishing Committee Chairman at NEO Magazine. E-mail: dondemetrio@neomagazine.com. Phone: (718) 554-0308