By Evaggelos Vallianatos
In a few months, Greeks will celebrate the 200-year anniversary of their 1821 Revolution against the Turks. The decision to revolt and win their independence drew inspiration from the classical Greek past. Greece was full of ancient ruins: marble columns, wrecked temples, theaters, and athletic stadia. These stones and marble never ceased to speak, telling their stories.
In addition, there were Greek scholars like Adamantios Koraes, 1748-1833, who spent his life publishing the classics of Greek civilization and urging the enlightened Europeans to help the Greeks liberate themselves from the abominable Turkish tyranny.
What assured the success of the Greek Revolution was the tenacity, sacrifice, and heroism of the Greek people. They knew their enemies. And they did not stop fighting them. European Philhellenism kept the Greek Revolution alive in the European imagination and news, raised funds for the purchase of guns, and brought dozens of European soldiers who fought the Turks in Greece. Decisively, a joined Russian, French, and British military naval force smashed a Turkish-Egyptian fleet at the Bay of Navarino in Peloponnesos in 1827, thus guaranteeing the political independence of a Greek state.
Turks and crusading Europeans against the Greeks
That nomadic Mongol Turks ever reached Europe is one of those incomprehensive historical puzzles. Medieval Greeks had an empire spanning Asia Minor, Egypt, Syria and southeast Europe. But once the Mongol Turks pitched their tents in the neighborhood of Greek cities in Asia and saw the luxury and orderliness of how the Greeks lived, they wanted what the Greeks had. They waged war for centuries in order to conquer Medieval Greece.
By the time the Turks captured most of Asia Minor from the Greeks, in late eleventh century, there were no more polytheistic “ancient” Greeks. Instead, the world was divided among Christians and Moslems. Christianity reigned in Greece and Europe and Islam reigned among the Turks and the Middle East.
Christian Western Europe remained divided, making the aggressive path of the Turks in Christian southeastern Europe easier. So, by 1453, when the Turks conquered Constantinople, Greece’s Medieval capital, Europeans had already prepared Greece for the inevitable Turkish conquest. Their 1204 capture of Constantinople and most of Greece had sowed the seeds of division, poverty, destitution, alienation, religious hatred, and grave military weakness.
The Turkish military occupation of Greece lasted for about four centuries. Huge numbers of Greeks in Asia Minor had no choice but convert to Islam. The Christian Orthodox clergy, however, governed the country on behalf of the Sultan. This new tyrannical regime instinctively built a permanent wall of mistrust and hatred between Turks and Greeks.
The Greek state that emerged in the 1820s had a great deal of work to do. It went into debt to pay for everything, including the support of King Otto and his Bavarian bureaucracy the European “protecting” powers imposed on the Greeks. The independent kingdom had a tiny portion of Greece under its jurisdiction, and that fragment was wrecked.
Greece spent most of the nineteenth century and the first two decades of the twentieth century recovering the rest of the Greek territory under foreign occupation.
Greece in World War II
Greece won the first victory against fascist Italy in World War II. This disrupted Hitler’s plans for invading Russia. He had first to save Italy from the Greeks. The time Germany spent fighting Greece, gave Russia an opportunity to strengthen its defenses against a massive German invasion. The Russian winter did the rest.
The Germans revenged Greece. They nearly annihilated the occupied country, what with their plunder of archaeological treasures, slaughter of farm animals, starving Athens and other large cities, blowing up the infrastructure and wiping out dozens of villages and killing thousands.
Americans in the Mediterranean
Cold war followed WWII and America replaced England as the regional hegemon. America immediately recruited Greece’s historical enemy, Turkey, for NATO, the military organization it founded to run Europe. Like Rome, America had little patience for details or sensitivity for Greek history and culture.
The Greek island of Cyprus became the apple of discord between Greece, Turkey, and England. The US and England wanted to accommodate Turkey and allow for the Turks to grab a substantive section of Cyprus. Greece refused to participate in such a colonial venture. Cyprus was Greek. But this attitude displeased the United States that saw everything from the magnifying glass of the Cold War with the Soviet Union (Russia) bordering Turkey.
In a conversation between president Lyndon Johnson and the Greek ambassador to Washington, DC, Alexander Matsas, in June 1964, Johnson said to Matsas Greece had to agree to divide Cyprus between Cypriot Greeks and Turks. Matsas replied this was impossible because the Constitution forbade giving Greek territory away. Johnson became extremely angry and said:
“Fuck your parliament and your constitution. America is an elephant. Cyprus is a flea. Greece is a flea. If these two fleas continue itching the elephant, they may just get whacked good …. We pay a lot of good American dollars to the Greeks, Mr. Ambassador. If your Prime Minister gives me talk about democracy, parliament and constitution, he, his parliament and his constitution may not last long.”
The United States followed through with this threat. It encouraged the Greek military to shut down democracy in Greece. The military grabbed power in 1967. In 1974, the United States and its Greek military client did nothing to prevent a Turkish invasion of Cyprus. Turkey still occupies about forty percent of Cyprus.
With a pro-Turkish American boss in the Mediterranean and nearly zero Greek influence in American politics, Greece has been tolerating Turkish offensive behavior for decades. Turkish warplanes violate Greek air space in the Aegean routinely. The Turks say the Aegean is not Greek. They have become so bold, they explore the waters near Greek islands for petroleum. Turkish agents interfere in the internal affairs of the Greek Moslem minority in Thrace. And adding insult to injury, the president of Turkey, Erdogan, in late 2020 converted the sixth-century great Orthodox cathedral St. Sophia to a Mosque.
The austerity-debt weapon: Money or Your Life
As if the Turkish threat was not sufficient, the West, represented by the European Union and America, humiliated and punished Greece severely for failing to pay back debts to European and American banks. This experience of foreign interference and utter humiliation resulted in “austerity,” which translated into hunger, destitution, and anti-Western sentiment. This calamity of money or your life took place only yesterday — during the second decade of the twenty-first century – primarily in the course of the Obama administration.
The overall effect of the EU-US imposed austerity in Greece was not that much different from the crusaders’ attack on Greece in 1204, which used debt for the conquest of Constantinople and the dismemberment of the country.
Dreaming of Hellas
There’s an alternative future for Greece: becoming Hellas and powerful enough to do to Turkey, if necessary, what Alexander the Great did to Persia.
The beginning of this cultural and political transformation is history. The country must look back at its ancient Hellenic traditions and incorporate all that wisdom into its life and policies. In other words, Greece must become Hellas in both spirit and political reality.
The power of ancient Greek
Start with teaching ancient Greek to students from pre-school to university. This may sound silly, but it is not. Greek governments have practically abolished the teaching of ancient Greek, so embarrassed they have been in accommodating the fashionable multicultural agenda of the European Union and America.
Learning ancient Greek opens immense vistas of understanding the genius of ancient Greece: how a small country, made up of hundreds of poleis (city-states) spread all over the Mediterranean, opened the human mind to self-government, law, democracy, beautiful art, architecture, theater, organized athletics like the Olympics and other Panhellenic games, and science for the discovery of truth in society and the cosmos.
Under Alexander the Great a united Hellas spread Hellenic culture the world over. Alexandria, Egypt, the capital of the wealthiest and most powerful of Alexandrian kingdoms that emerged after the death of Alexander in 323 BCE, became a global metropolis of Greek science, technology and civilization. The Antikythera Mechanism, the world’s first geared computer of heavens and Earth came out of this flowering of Greek culture in the second century BCE.
Potential effects of ancient wisdom
Young Greeks with this understanding will build their country to, once again, become model for Western culture. The examples of renowned thinkers like Homer, Pythagoras, Herodotos, Hippocrates, Demokritos, Aeschylos, Sophocles, Euripides, Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, Aristarchos of Samos, Archimedes, Hipparchos, Galen, and Ptolemaios should be unforgettable and inspiring. These thinkers invented science and civilization.
Gorgeous art and architecture will remind them that the good and the beautiful are measures of civilization.
A visit to the National Archaeological Museum in Athens and the museum in Pela, Macedonia, for example, bring you face to face with masterpieces of jewelry, statues made of bronze, silver and golden coins, weapons, other useful tools, and painted ceramic vases depicting life, the gods, nature, and mythology that you remain speechless. How did the Greeks reach this high level of craftsmanship and technology?
History and military power
Possessing sophisticated technology helped the Greeks fight Persians. Their successful defense against two Persian invasions of their homeland in early fifth century BCE, and Alexander the Great and his conquest of the Persian empire in late fourth century BCE, will guide and motivate the Greeks in the twenty-first century to make their military invincible.
History of art
Transform the Greek museums and their inestimable archaeological treasures to cultural institutions that earn more than euros. Expand their beauty and knowledge into teaching tourists, including local Greeks, the history of the art treasures, temples, theaters, and athletic stadia.
With that enlightenment, tourists will become Philhellenes, and Greeks more curious to learn even more about their ancestors.
It’s possible Greeks will conclude they should employ their ancestors’ arts and architecture in rebuilding their country. That’s a gigantic project that could take decades. The Greek government could prohibit the building of any more beehive cement monsters, while encouraging the return of the classical style.
Greeks know that the most beautiful buildings in America and Europe have Greek classical architectural origins.
Olympics back in Olympia
Reclaim the Olympics in Olympia, Peloponnesos. Sponsor every four years the best athletes from all over the world to compete on the very games of the ancient Greeks. Ignore modern additions to those games. This would probably mean breaking with the modern Olympics organization that has converted the Greeks’ sacred Olympics into business without concern for the virtues ancient Greeks built into the Olympics.
A Renaissance for a reborn Hellas
This modest proposal for a Greek Renaissance in Greece at a time of a pandemic promises to remake the country, bringing it closer to its roots. The emerging country will restore its self-respect and dignity the EU-US have taken away.
Self-respect fortified with knowledge (from ancient Greece and modern science) will likely have beneficial effects in the rebirth of Hellas. Add to that love for their ancestors, Greek scholars in time may probably lead the world community in classical Greek studies and archaeological excavation and research.
It’s also reasonable to expect that a reborn Hellas will be much more than a theme park. It will be giving birth to social and political institutions for a just society and a livable world.
There should be no more political parties inspired by foreign ideologies. The politics of Hellas should be dominated by citizens inspired by love for their country, practicing and living direct democracy on the model of Athenian democracy of the fifth century BCE. Citizens should serve as jurors, magistrates, and soldiers. Ostracism would serve well in expelling for ten years those citizens peddling foreign interests or having tyrannical tendencies.
The state should embrace solar and other renewable technologies for sustainable non-polluting energy and for fighting the dire threats of climate change.
This proposal may be a dream at this uncertain and dangerous era. However, times of stress are usually times of radical change. Those who dreamed the Western Renaissance of the fifteenth century started envisioning the future during or after the Black Death of 1347-1348 that devastated Florence, other Italian cities, and Europe.
My hope is that Greeks in Greece and the diaspora think about a better future for Greece, one without the Turkish danger or the threat of indebtedness to banks. They need never forget that their small country had enough science and cultural power that even fragments of its original civilization dissipated the dark ages and made our world possible.
The article first appeared at https://vallianatos.blogspot.com/