The 200th anniversary of the Greek Revolution and the modern day Greece
Article written by Nikolaos Zerzelidis, member of the Editorial team of Libertas
On 25 March 2021, Greece celebrated its 200th anniversary of the beginning of the Greek Revolution and the War of Independence undertaken against the occupying Ottoman Empire back in 1821. Key ideas and features that characterised the Greek revolution were patriotism, courage, persistence, loyalty, braveness and faith in God. One of the main contributors during the Greek revolution was the Church, whose religious Greek Orthodox leaders were among the fighters for liberty. The Greek Orthodox Church played a crucial role in the formation of a common Greek national willingness and ‘thirstiness’ for ‘Liberty or Death’, which was the national slogan among the Greek rebels during the War of Independence. The Greeks had instrumentalised their struggle and suffering towards a free and independent Greece. However, it has to be pointed out that the Greek revolution was accompanied by the intervention of the three great maritime powers of that period, namely Great Britain, France and Russia, which sent a joint naval task force into the Aegean in 1827 and were drawn into a conflict between Greeks and Ottomans. This particular military intervention resulted in the Battle of Navarino and thus in the victory of the Greek War of independence, but simultaneously in a disputed settlement that Greeks did not fight for because the three foreign powers decided that the new state would be a monarchy instead of a republic.
The Greek revolution was a key event for the future of Greece as a nation-state. First of all, it functioned as a critical tool of forming a common national identity and engendering patriotic sentiments in Greece, where Greeks could independently decide on the faith of their State through democratic processes. Additionally, Greece was connected ideologically with the West and integrated into the geopolitical developments of Europe, adopting political and economic norms that existed that time. Moreover, it is noteworthy that the Greek revolution was the first successful national liberal movement in the Old World of Europe and managed to inspire other national movements striving for liberty and for the formation of a nation-state, which became the norm in the European continent. The Greek nation-state became the example and the turning point of a critical change in the geopolitical map of Europe, from the Old Europe of the multi-ethnic empires towards the New Europe of independent nation-states.
Developments in Modern Day Greece
Despite this achievement, even during and after the Greek revolution, there was friction among the leaders, their ideas and vision over the future of Greece, resulting in violence on the verge of the civil war. The situation persists today. Friction is a dominant feature of Greek society and the political landscape. Society is often divided regarding governmental decisions that have a direct effect on the well-being of people and the economy. A recent example of a governmental decision that resulted in the polarisation of the Greek society and in violence between protesters and the police forces in Athens was the legislation passed by Greek lawmakers in February 2021 that established a special campus police force as part of the education reforms to guarantee the safety at the Greek universities. The bill was justified by the conservative Greek government as a critical measure to bring an end to lawlessness at Greek universities. However, the safety of campuses is not the main problem facing the education sector: instead, its greatest problem lies in the lack of important funds to fill the gaps and deficiencies of Greek universities, such as the enhancement of research, quality and equipment necessary for their capacity and reputation. Regarding the unrest, this could be solved through the reallocation of funds to enhance private security companies to guarantee the safety of the campuses: such security companies would be accountable to the Greek universities and not to the Greek government.
This decision to establish a campus police force was taken while Greece had in effect some of the strictest lockdown measures in Europe since November 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which still continue today, suppressing a wide range of civil liberties. The economy is weak, Greek society is divided and exhausted due to measures taken by the Greek government to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, but these are not the only major problems that Greece faces today. Greece is faced with a quadruple crisis: the ongoing economic crisis since 2008, which created a humanitarian crisis and a deterioration of the public spending and the public health, the refugee crisis of 2015, the COVID-19 pandemic and a belligerent Turkey. Turkey continuously violates the Greek airspace and sea territory, creates disputes over Greece’s sovereign rights on its continental shelf and maritime zones as well provokes upheaval through its aggressive rhetoric against Greece and Cyprus.
The refugee crisis is a pressing issue for the EU in general, but it has been particularly pressing for Greece. Greece and Italy are the EU countries that bore the burden of dealing with the high intensity of refugee flows as well as with reception and integration policies for thousands of refugees, mainly due to their geographical position as primary entry points to the EU. However, Greece is a transit and not a destination country, with little prior experience in the reception and integration of asylum-seekers and the country’s difficult social and labour conditions make it impossible to effectively integrate high numbers of asylum-seekers into Greek society.
Greece currently stands at a crossroads. Instead of correcting the mistakes and the friction of the past, producing culture and value that modern Greeks can be proud of as well as being pioneer in policy ideas and providing solutions in critical EU issues, the latest Greek governments take decisions based on short-term organisational planning and on the accommodation of their policy agendas. Greece needs a restart and fresh ideas to overcome the present challenges that it faces. Furthermore, the brain-drain of the Greek youth is an extremely negative outcome of the country’s current political torpor, itself a result of bad administration, poor organisational planning and an overall lack of credible institutions that could effectively remedy the deficiencies of the Greek political system.
The restoration of people’s trust towards the democratic institutions in Greece should be a priority of today. Paradoxically, ancient Greece gave birth to democracy, but in modern Greece there is a democratic deficit and people are divided and polarised over the credibility of the democratic institutions in the country, mainly due to corruption cases as well as the inefficient and frequently controversial governmental planning. Modern day Greek culture should also flourish and the Greek political system should be an example of good politics and decisions. Greek people should have the chance to feel proud of their modern day Greek heritage and be relieved of the continuous recursion to the glorious past of ancient Greece and the Greek revolution of 1821. The characteristics that made Greece successful in the past such as unity, courage, ambition and persistence are still innate to the Greek people and society but what is absolutely necessary is a restart in the political landscape and promotion of liberal ideas and values that are currently weak in Greece.
About the Author:
Nikolaos (GR) currently holds the position of Secretary and Volunteers Coordinator at Young Liberals Greece. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations and European Studies from the University of Piraeus and a Master’s Degree in Nationalism, Ethnic Conflict and Development from the Leiden University . He has also completed an internship at the Greek Section of Amnesty International. Currently he is doing a second Master’s Programme in Human Rights and Migration Studies at the University of Macedonia in Greece. Nikolaos is passionate about migration and asylum policy, human rights and security issues, conflict management as well as the European integration and its future. He speaks Greek, English, Portuguese, German and French.
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