Greece and the heritage of 1821

Submitted by martin on 27 March, 2012 - 4:37

In official parades and unofficial protests, on 24-25 March 2012 different political forces in Greece contested the heritage of the start of Greece's 19th century revolution, on 25 March 1821.

Since the spirit and the historical facts of the 1821 revolution has been systematically distorted by Greece's political establishment in order to fit it to their needs it is important to remind them of a few facts.

The state celebration of the 1821 revolution emphasise the "rebirth of the Greek nation" and the end of the Turkish occupation. In fact, 1821 was the result of conscious effort by thousands of men and women to join the fight and sacrifice the stability of their life with the hope of forming a Greek nation and changing their life for the better.

Contrary to the school history books and mainstream nationalistic Greek historians, the revolution of 1821 did not mainly come from the accumulation of 400 years of subjugation. It was mainly influenced by the French revolution and exacerbated by the contradictions and the economic crisis faced by the Ottoman Empire.

Theodoros Kolokotranis, one of the best-known heroes of the 1821 revolution, said that it was the "French revolution and Napoleon" that "opened our eyes".

The major dividing line of the revolution was not "Greeks against Turks". The revolution was also against "gerondes", the Greek "kotzambasides", who were the local ruling class. The revolution of 1821 was against oppressive authority figures independent of their national identity.

In school celebrations the role of the Greek Orthodox Church is overstated. It is not said that in a lot of cases the church played a regressive role. For example, Patriarch Grigorios approved of the murder of the revolutionary Rigas Feraios on the grounds that his revolutionary actions that were not "in agreement with God's wishes".

The Ottoman Empire was not organised on national lines. Millyets, populations that spoke different languages and practised different religions, were not oppressed as wholes by the Turks. The ruling classes of the different millyets, and especially of the Greek-speaking population, had a high position in the Ottoman Empire. They were in charge of economically exploiting the ordinary people and enforcing law and order on behalf of the Sultan and the Ottoman Empire.

The 1821 revolution should be viewed within the context of the Balkan revolt. In some areas it was directed against the Sultan, and in some other areas it was directed against the local ruling class, which in many cases was Greek-speaking. In January 1821, during the revolt in today's Romania and Moldavia, the major targets were the Greek Fanariotes.

The leader of the revolt made the following statement to all people independent of nation and religion: "Brothers of Blachia, independent of your nationality, till when are we going to tolerate the dragons that eat us alive, those that are standing on the top of us, the priests and the politicians that are drinking our blood. For how long are we going to be slaves?" The supporters and followers of the revolt were mostly peasants with social rather than national or political aims.

Within that historical context, the people of the Peloponnese and Roumeli and the islands entered the struggle in March 1821. Greek national ideology did not have its roots in ancient history, but was formed, alongside the development of the Greek ruling class, during the centuries prior to the revolution.

The Greek speaking merchants and the ship owners started to get connected with European networks and feeling constrained by the Ottoman empire. The cotton industry (viotechnia) was making its first steps and the agriculture was entering international trade.

The ideology of the nation was linked with the influence of the French revolution and was directly connected to the interests of the vanguard section of the Greek-speaking ruling class that wanted to establish a nation to win wider scope for their merchant transactions and activities and the accumulation of profit more broadly.

That section of the ruling class managed to gain the support and the active involvement of the majority of the poor, who had a thousand reasons to get rid of the tyrants and the Ottoman Empire. The ruling class and the poor people were united for a short period of time.

191 years later, as between the people that "broke the law" and protest during the parades and the Greek establishment, there is not an inch of doubt that it is us, the Greek working class, alongside the students, the poor peasants and the neighbourhood community activists, who are connected with the spirit of the 1821 revolution. We pay our tribute to all the known and unknown heroes of 1821 not by participating in militaristic parades, but by continuing their struggle to final victory against capitalist oppression.

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