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The Shining Example of Greek Liberation
A new book has been published called, simply, THE GREEK REVOLUTION, by Mark Mazower (Penguin Press), and it’s the first dense and scholarly work about the great event that I can remember for a long time. Its central premise is that the Revolution “was unique, not merely eradicating the power of the Ottoman states in their lands, but also sweeping away an entire ruling philosophy and the institutions that had supported it.”
It says there were uprisings everywhere, in Spain, in Italy, but there were easily suppressed.
“Only the Greeks fought on and, against the odds prevailed.”
And in the process, for the moment, these revolutionaries from a backwater and mostly rural state of Europe created a new nation where “faith, capitalism and constitutional representation were the watchwords of this new order.”
“The fundamental principle, wrote Lord Actor in his 1862 essay on ‘Nationality,’ was that ‘nations would not be governed by foreigners’ It was this principle that marked the Greek war out from the other revolutions of southern Europe and helps explain why it was sustained and widespread, and also unusually brutal and violent.”
And it not only inspired Byron and Shelley and other Philhellenes, “Members of other oppressed peoples—such as the Italians, Poles, and Germans—flocked to join the struggle, seeing in the success of the Greeks a promise of their own future.”
It’s been a rocky road since for Greece, and other nations, and as we see now, tragically, and horrifically, the brutality of overlord nations to suppress freedom is perennial and knows no bounds.
But perhaps the example of how a rural America overthrew a mighty world power, how the French overthrew their gaudy and corrupt dynasty, how the East European populace overthrew Soviet domination, and how little Greece, with its hardy band of klephts and sailors overthrew the yoke of a brutal Ottoman dominion, can inspire the Ukrainian people to resist the Russian onslaught and continue to inspire the world to support them and further their cause. In an era of chemical and nuclear weapons in the hands of a megalomaniac, this cannot be easy.
When my family and I lived in Chicago in the ‘60s, the custodian of my father’s Greek school was a man named Walter, who smoked a lot and left a trail behind him, who shambled rather than walked, and who had an accent that I thought was Polish (half the kids at my school had unpronounceable Polish names), but when I asked him finally, he said the accent was Russian, but he was Ukrainian.
And I had no clue where Ukraine was—was it even a country?
“It’s a great country,” said Walter, typically smoking and waving his cigarette, “and it’s full of wheat and freedom.”
Poor Walter wound up a custodian at a Greek school in Chicago, but he was a true patriot, as we all are patriots of Ukraine in its war of resistance to Putin, and as we perennially marvel as Greeks, particularly this year, at how a small vassal state in Europe 200 years ago, had kept alive the beacon of freedom, and its ancient birthright of democracy over hundreds, if not thousands of years of oppression, and won one of the most astonishing wars of liberation in history.
Dimitri C. Michalakis