Philhellenism, Then and Now

Stratos Pantavos:

On behalf of the Aegina Association of Active Citizens I welcome you to today’s function, which is entitled “Philhellenism, Then and Now”. We welcome the President of the Aegina Municipal Council, Mr. Petros Petritis. We also welcome Mr. Panagiotis Koukoulis, municipal councillor and former mayor of Aegina. The organization of this function was prompted by the creation of the movements in recent months all over the world supporting the position of Greece but also in a way deriving energy from Greece in the way the international crisis is being confronted. The slogan “We are all Greeks” which has been heard in various languages throughout the world, and here we have it also in German. It came to us yesterday with our dear friend Thanos Contargyris, who has just arrived from Frankfurt, where a similar mobilization has been taking place these days, motivated by the situation of Greece. The slogans are reminiscent of the slogan that was heard fifty years ago in Berlin: “We are all Berliners”, of course in different political and geopolitical conditions, from the then American president John Kennedy, a slogan, a motto, of solidarity and support. So we want to understand, as we commence, how Greeks can derive benefit from this international movement of solidarity that is being created at this moment, but at the same time how we, in our collective choice, and the response that we make to these stimuli, will convey certain messages concerning the way out of today’s economic, social and moral crisis. We have the honour to have with us today an extraordinary panel of speakers. Thanos Veremis, Thanos Contargyris, Pedro Olalla and Dimitris Potamianos, co-ordinator, accepted unhesitatingly the proposal we made to them some months ago to participate in this function and to contribute, each in his own way, and with his own knowledge, to this very important subject. On behalf of the Association of Active Citizens, Wayne Hall and I, Stratos Pantavos, thank you again for your participation in today’s function, and we hope that there will be a creative and productive dialogue of ideas. Thank you. And we welcome the mayor Mr. Sakis Sakkiotis.

Wayne Hall:

I am a member of the Aegina Association of Active Citizens and for me today’s function is a continuation of the Capodistrias-Spinelli-Europe initiative that was undertaken by the Association during the mayoralty of Panagiotis Koukoulis, who is here with us today, along with the present mayor, and which deserves to continue. The connecting link is the conviction that European integration is on the wrong road and will either fail or will change course. Due to the peculiarities of twentieth century history, European integration, which should have started from Greece, started from Belgium, Holland, Western Germany, France….. It was further derailed by the failure of the Draft Constitutional Treaty of Altiero Spinelli, which was adopted in 1984, with a large majority, by the European Parliament, but was rejected by the parliaments of the member states. After this failure the European Union made a turn towards neo-liberalism and in 2007 with the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon the European Union became the only polity in the world which has written into its constitutional principles the economic principles of neo-liberalism. The situation is complicated even further by the creation of a common currency, the euro, without there being a corresponding common polity that might control it. That is our reality today and it is in these conditions that there has developed both the hostility to Greece and the Philhellenism.

Dimitris Potamianos:

Good day. My name is Dimitris Potamianos. I am resident of this blessed corner of the earth that is called Aegina. Thank you, friends, for responding to our invitation to participate in today’s meeting. We will have, I believe, today, a lively and interesting discussion, firstly due to the contributions of our distinguished speakers, and subsequently due to your questions, statements and references. Without further delay I present to you the speakers on our panel, born or settled in Greece, Hellenes, Philhellenes and certainly friends of Aegina, who we gladly welcome today. With us are Mr. Thanos Veremis, a historian with a brilliant academic career who recently supervised the television series 1821, which many recognized as a lesson in self-knowledge. Mr. Pedro Olalla Gonzalez de la Vega, pardon the length, but it is such a sonorous name, of Spanish origin but settled in our country since 1994. He is a Hellenist, a man of letters, with a career as a lecturer. He also writes militant analyses on the internet and he is moreover a translator, a photographer and a film-maker. Mr. Thanos Contargyris is a distinguished economist, founding member of the Greek section of the international activist organization ATTAC, corresponding to the French acronym for Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions for the Benefit of the Citizens and at a more technocratic but at the same time light-hearted level he is the local co-ordinator of the European programme SMILIES, which aims at stimulating small and medium businesses in the Mediterranean.
Our subject, “Philhellenism, then and now”, as was perhaps foreshadowed very briefly by the speakers, but also the presentations of the two representatives of the Aegina Association of Active Citizens who organized this meeting, this subject has something more than two aspects to it. Obviously we could talk about breaks in continuity. But equally obviously there is also continuity between then and now. The old Philhellenes of the 19th century were keen supporters of our country, and in particular the justice of our struggle for liberation. The justice of our position is something that is being defended once again, zealously, by those who do not hesitate to declare their total identification with our claims “We are all Greeks”, “Give Greece a Chance”, and so on. However, at any rate according to many, certainly justified, assessments, the centre of gravity of the problematic on the question, has shifted. We were enslaved to the Turks at the beginning of the 19th century, and those who stood by us then, seeing us as an inseparable part – large or small, that’s not so important – of a cultural heritage in which they themselves undoubtedly participated – precisely that enslavement, and the attendant risk of our disappearance, and the degradation of the shared heritage, was what they wanted to fight against, with us. Today, as most of us see it, and indeed as our friends here today see it, we are enslaved to debt. Somewhere in this a role is played by our charismatic Hellenic tradition. We have seen, and naturally welcomed, quite a few movements so far of solidarity with countries that are in thrall to debt. I might mention indicatively the international initiatives of twenty years ago for defaulting on burdensome debt in third world countries, a movement in which a leading role was played by the British Chancellor of the Exchequer of the time Gordon Brown, and enjoyed media support through the keen participation in it of Bono. But, for better or for worse, the Third World is one thing, and glorious Greece another. The fact that the chaos of today’s casino economy has engulfed this particular thrice-blessed country, the acknowledged cradle of Western civilization – like it or not – has a distinct significance to it. At the same time, and more practically, and perhaps more effectively, other debt-ridden European countries, particularly of the south, are de facto in a position, and are inclined, to form a common front with us. But these are things that our invited speakers will tell us, in more detail and much more authoritatively. Allow me to close with a different kind of observation: it is all very well for outsiders to be Philhellenes, but what about inside? What is happening inside? How Philhellene are we the Hellenes? How much do we care about our country and what kind of pride do we feel for it? Let’s leave aside the fabulous history. That’s fine: everything was said and done first by our ancient ancestors. I am primarily interested in the ground we walk on, or rather trample underfoot and dirty, in our living potential – for how much longer, one wonders – which is being devoured by the voracious state, this protective godfather-cum-bogeyman, in our neighbours, those who also live in this region, not to mention our fellow-humans who have come from afar to share with us the good things, and perforce also much that is not so good, of this blessed country. To what extent do we find ourselves and ultimately also recognize ourselves amidst all this? Forgive me for perhaps misusing my privilege of being co-ordinator of this discussion and without further delay hand you over to our speakers, and first of all to Mr. Thanos Veremis.

Thanos Veremis:

I would like to thank the Aegina Association of Active Citizens that did me the honour of inviting me here and you who came here on such a nice day when you could have gone on a pleasant outing. This is a small sacrifice, and we acknowledge it. Now, my subject is the Philhellenism of the 19th century, above all in the decade of Greece’s national uprising. And I would like to say from the outset that there is not just ONE kind of Philhellenism. It is an umbrella term that covers many different phenomena. There are many different categories of Philhellenes. One numerically large category was the professional soldiers of the European armies who found themselves without work. When Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated, many of his officers were left unemployed. It is a profession, and particularly in the nineteenth century was a profession, that knows many ups and downs. When there are wars there is full employment. When there are not there is unemployment. That reminds us of today also. So these large numbers of officers, some of them ideologically motivated, others professionals, were in search of other routes to glory, and many of them came to Greece, many with the best of intentions. I could cite by way of example Fabvier, the celebrated organizer of the first professional army, or rather regular army, in Greece. One dream of the modernizers of the Greek nation: Mavrocordatos, Capodistrias, and many others, was to establish an army on the model of the organized armies of Europe to make the revolution and the struggles. Every man and his dog joined it, of course. Professional soldiers range, as I said, from people like Fabvier, who was an honorable and liberal Bonapartist of that time, to others who were simply mercenaries and if they were paid came here and with the same ease could go to the other side and, disillusioned as many of them were with what they found here when they had expected to find streets paved with gold – and didn’t – moved on to their next employer, who might well be the Ottoman army. So it was a mixture, and we should perhaps mention some good people: there was a Portuguese, Almeida. There were many Bavarians, who preceded the coming of the Bavarians, and many others who came, or rather came back, with the Bavarians. One significant example of those was Eideck, one of Otto’s vice-regents who was, I believe, well-disposed. He did what he could. He didn’t always succeed as he would have wished, but in any case he was an officer of his time, and a Philhellene, in the broad sense of the term.
There were other kinds of Philhellene: there were those with a genuine ideological commitment to revolutions such as the French Revolution, who after the victory of the Holy Alliance found themselves on the margins, nostalgic for the glorious days of the French, and all the liberal, or indeed Jacobin, revolutions, of the time. Some such people said: “Here is the opportunity to help a revolution of that kind, namely the Greek Revolution.” And in this connection we must say that the Greek Renaissance in general terms belongs to the tradition of the great liberal revolutions of Europe. It’s not a sui generis phenomenon. It has its idiosyncrasies, of course, because all societies are different. But it belongs to the same ideological family. They recognized the affinities of this Greek Revolution with the bloodless English revolution that took place a century before its French counterpart, its most prominent apologist being John Locke, spiritual father of the liberal tradition. A hundred years later the French….or rather in 1776 the American Revolution, was in the same family, the offspring of John Locke also. These are John Locke’s later children. And a hundred years later the French Revolution of 1789, well-known to everyone and particularly in the Balkans because it was from the French Revolution that the ideas came, primarily via the route of trade. There is a magnificent book by a Serbian-American historian Trajan Stojanovic – I recommend it to you – it was translated into Greek many years ago and published in a series by Melissa called “Societies and Economies in the Balkans in the 18th and 19th centuries”. In any case the title is the “The Conquering Orthodox Balkan Merchant”. It says that the ideas of progressive Europe travel along the route of trade, arrive in Greece and are disseminated via this route of trade. It is an exceptional book. I recommend it. And it doesn’t talk only about Greece. It deals with the other Balkan countries as well.So, there is also the category of the ideologically committed, nostalgic for the era of liberal revolutions. After the defeat of Napoleon, Europe was in the hands of the Holy Alliance. This represented an attempt to go back to the ancien regime, which had supposedly been overthrown forever. Anyway, in history we have restorations of this kind: some of them are significant; others are less so. We remember the protagonists of the Holy Alliance: of course the key protagonist Metternich, who represented the Austrian vision for reconstructing the old regime; the less enthusiastic stance, because of Britain’s position on the map, of Castlereagh, who was the British Prime Minister, who colluded with Metternich, but also kept his distance. And finally there is Czar Alexander I, the most powerful, in bulk, partner in that alliance, but a little bit of an outsider because he is not at the centre of European developments. He is a provincial – admittedly powerful both militarily and numerically, but he doesn’t know exactly where he belongs. He started his life as a liberal. In mid-course he discovered that he wasn’t a liberal. He was an exponent of the divine right of kings. And Metternich suborned him quite easily saying: “Come along and you too can play the game of the civilized great powers. We will make you leader if you like. But forget all that talk about war against the Ottoman Empire and the brotherhood of Christians and that kind of thing. And indeed for a while he did forget about it, but not for always. And here I must say that there is a very interesting reference to our very own Capodistrias – you know I am a crypto-Capodistrian and I don’t lose an opportunity to say something about Capodistrias – but there is a marvellous chapter, and I would recommend that you see it, that you read it, in the book by Henry Kissinger “A World Restored” where he pays a tribute to Capodistrias that very few foreign historians, and in fact no foreign historian, that I know of, has yet done. So, a whole chapter on the Holy Alliance – we should point out here that Kissinger was an admirer of Metternich because, as he says from his viewpoint, Metternich succeeded in securing peace in Europe for very many years, and bravo for him. And the next great peacemaker, and in that he was perhaps right too, was Bismarck, paradoxically, who also kept the peace in Europe. How and why is another story. Anyway, he talks in that chapter about the battle between Capodistrias and Metternich for the mind of the Czar. Both were trying to win the Czar to their side: Capodistrias to incite him into war against the Ottoman Empire, Metternich to deter him from embarking on such a war and bring him round to his own positions. He does say that this battle was lost by Capodistrias, because naturally Metternich possessed advantages that Capodistrias did not have. Capodistrias didn’t even have a country to represent. Greece was under occupation at that time. Kissinger nevertheless pays tribute to him and says that he was indeed a most skilled diplomat who came close to winning. I refer to that in passing in order to make it clear what the prevailing climate was at that time, a time when the future of Greece was being determined for the most part by developments in Europe. What is the added value of the Greeks in this story? This is what we must say: it is that they managed to keep the Greek Revolution going for three years. A huge success. If many object that “yes but after that the civil wars started and we made a mess of it”, the answer to that would be: it is a miracle that the civil wars did not start earlier. That is the miracle of the story. Not that they happened. It was to be expected that they would happen. We are talking about a society that wasn’t even like today’s society. There was no integration of the institutions, of democracy, of school. It was a fragmented society, like baklava. It is composed of related materials but different bits, separate bits, the society of 1821. It was the society of this person, the society of that person, the society of brigand A, anti-brigand B, village elder C. It is incredible that they managed to understand each other, if only for only two and a half years. That in itself is an achievement. That is something that people should see, and in particular the why and how. I don’t say this emotionally, to see that we are wonderful and exceptional people. To see it analytically, why in spite of all the obstacles we managed to keep all this alive for two and a half to three years. Of course after that we started to go downhill but those two and a half to three years were decisive for the “Philhellenes”, the many categories of Philhellenes who helped us, and when times changed and the ship of the Holy Alliance started to founder, with a few holes in the hull that were letting in water, this gave the opportunity to the third category of Philhellenes, who were not Philhellenes in the emotional sense of the term and didn’t love Greece as their native land, because it wasn’t their native land. They were people who identified the interest of their own countries with the interest of Greece. George Canning. If you asked me who was the most effective Philhellene of all, I would say George Canning, who was less interested in the virtues of Greece than all the other Philhellenes. Of course in the category of the ideologically engaged Philhellenes we would have to place Lord Byron, who wasn’t the head of a state, nor did he have infinite power at his disposal. But he played a role which nowadays we would call a public relations role of the first rank. If present-day terminology had existed in the age of the Greek Revolution we would say that Lord Byron was Greece’s great public relations success. It was as if he had spent billions with companies promoting the Greek revolution, through a person who came and died in Greece, the greatest Romantic poet of his day, who was read by everybody. Even his enemies read him. Those who hated him because of his ideas read him because he was a great poet. And so with poetic licence he reached all the households of Europe. Right, left, centre, everyone. He came here and died in Greece. Good luck to him. And we must say, also, that Byron wasn’t at all the romantic that we think he was in making that choice. Byron came with a good idea of what was happening in Greece. He did not become disillusioned immediately and throw in the towel as many other Philhellenes did, saying, “Let them go to the devil. These scoundrels killing each other from morning to night. I don’t want to have anything to do with you.” Not at all. He said: “It is natural that this kind of thing should happen.” And what did he do in Messolonghi? He made a great contribution. He helped, and he gave whatever financial assistance he could himself, to keep alive the only class of professional warriors that existed at that time, who were the Souliots. One Souliot was worth a hundred others. They were military professionals. They showed their hands and they said: “Look, my hands are like those of a girl. They have never held a hoe, only a rifle and a yatagan. They were formidable warriors. And if Messolonghi withstood three sieges it was because of the Souliots, let’s face it. The unfortunate Messolonghians were good people and battlers and worthy. But the Souliots were professionals of war. They knew how to fight. They were the commandos of that time. Lord Byron realized immediately that they were the people who could sustain the revolution and he brought them onboard. And he was right. If you want a genuine Philhellene, an educated person, with the right priorities, I would say that we should conduct a survey to see who is the most genuine, the best, the most proper and constructive Philhellene, personally I would choose Samuel Gridley Howe. An American, he didn’t have behind him a great power with designs on Greece, so that his intentions were straightforward. He didn’t represent national-state vested interests and he came here because, like many Americans he had read the ancient writers. He had been watching the Greek Revolution, he had been moved by the heroism of the Greeks. He came here as a doctor: he helped, he gathered up children, abandoned children, because another scourge of the time was the abandoned children. You know this because you have the celebrated Orphanage of Capodistrias which was one of the greatest contributions of that very great man. We don’t know so much about that contribution. He constructed the first generation of craftsmen of this country. He took all those abandoned children that were traipsing about like in the films of Bunuel – Dimitris do you remember Los Olvidados? They were wandering around the streets. He gathered them together, those children who would have become anything you might imagine. At best they would have become robbers. And he taught them to read and write and made them Greece’s first craftsmen. And a contribution was made to that by another kind of Philhellenism. There was the Frenchman Charles X, the last of the Bourbon kings. Charles X was also by sentiment a genuine Philhellene and when Capodistrias become President he appealed to him to contribute money and purchase the little slaves that had been sold. Because of course when there was a war or a battle, the victors, the Ottomans, when they won, and the Egyptians even moreso, gathered together the population, killed the men, sold the women, and with them the children, to slave markets. This was an altogether commonplace process. If you wanted to find your relatives that you had lost in some siege you had to go to the slave market to buy them. And if it was a large number, as was the case with the children they rounded up and sold them all together. Charles X purchased – I don’t know, twenty or thirty children of that kind – who Capodistrias brought here to the orphanage of Aegina.So there are many categories of Philhellene and we remember them because some of them were entirely selfless in the contribution they made to this country, and wholehearted, because let’s face it when you do a good deed you do good to yourself first and foremost and no only to others. So for them too it was an act of salvation. But we must also remember the brilliant Philhellene politicians who, like Canning, did the best possible things that it would have been possible for a person to do for Greece at that time. I won’t go into details, because it would take a lot of time, about the good that Canning did. Canning said two things: firstly that it is not in the interests of Great Britain, his country, for uprisings in the world like those of Greece to stop because we, the English, prefer that the Spanish empire of Latin America should be destroyed and we are therefore on the side of the revolutionaries. And we give money and assistance to Simon Bolivar and not to the Spanish proprietors and masters. A first, admittedly self-interested but for us proper and useful activity. The other was that we are a maritime country. What do we want? We want order and security at sea. We can’t conduct trade when there is this piracy plaguing the Mediterranean in the Ottoman period, because the Ottomans weren’t any good at controlling the sea. They were more powerful on land. At sea their performance was something of a mixture. They were effective when they employed pirates such as Barbarossa, well-known in Aegina because he went and destroyed the old village and collected huge numbers of slaves from here. He sailed around and he gathered up slaves from the islands slaves and sold them. That was his business. Until the Ottomans said to him: “Come and we’ll make you an admiral so that you don’t have anxieties and insecurities. And they made him an admiral and today he is buried at the Kerateos Gulf. They have built him a magnificent tomb: Hayreddin Barbarossa. Probably of Greek extraction, from Chios, most likely. A child of the paidomazema. Devshirme, who ran away and became a pirate. Anyway, the English didn’t like this piracy. They said: “It’s better for us to help them to become a Christian country, a little bit like us, we can bring them onside and make them friends of our system, so that we can control the seas.” And in fact one of the first actions of Capodistrias, and very properly, was to clamp down on piracy in the Aegean. And he was a great success. I say all this to make the point that Philhellenism has many faces, self-interested and otherwise. There is a great category that is not much discussed in the official school history – they tend to hide the dark points. They are the renegade Philhellenes, the conspirators. Those who went over to the other side. Who said, “Oh, go to hell. You are hopeless. We’ll go with the Ottomans, who are more powerful. Another aspect of Philhellenism is how the Philhellenes, and the representatives of the Great Powers, influence the Greeks themselves. The three categories, the familiar English, French and Russian parties. We should say here that Philhellenes also differ in terms of how they imagine the country. The English and French imagine Greece as it was in antiquity. They don’t know anything about Byzantium and are unfamiliar with the church, the religion, and so on. By contrast the Russian Philhellenes are Byzantine in orientation as this has a bearing on their own history and they feel a great affinity for the Greeks since they are Orthodox, brothers in Christ and so on. At this point we must say that the Russophile party had a larger following because the Greek people clung to their religious tie with the Russians. As a result such popular figures as Theodoros Kolokotronis and Andreas Metaxas, to name only two, were ardent Russophiles. Alexander Mavrocordatos, by contrast, an intellectual who managed the external affairs of Greece, was an Anglophile. Of the Great Powers the only ones that did not have followers in Greece were the Austrians, because of Metternich’s negative view of the Greek War of Independence. We are certainly grateful to all the Philhellenes who contributed, with or without self-interest, to the cause of Greek liberation. As Greeks, however, we honour such figures as the Italian Santarosa, who gave his life in the Battle of Sfaktiria; the American Samuel Gridley Howe, who offered his valuable services to the insurgents; and most of all Lord Byron, who through his own death in Messolonghi made the Greek War of Independence known to most of Europe.

Thanos Contargyris:

Good day, friends of Aegina. And thank you to the Association of Active Citizens who did me the honour of inviting me to today’s meeting. And it is my particular honour to speak after Professor Thanos Veremis on this subject of Philhellenism. Mr. Veremis gave us a picture of the Philhellenism of the last century (in fact of the 19th century, translator’s note) and in particular he gave us a key for recognition of the different categories of Philhellene that existed. My presentation focuses on the Philhellenes of the present and their attitude to the present crisis. What I can say overall is that we have the same categories as those that you described. I did not have them so well categorized. If I had heard your paper previously I would have made my own presentation more structured in that direction. I would also, before citing a series of examples from the cataclysm of manifestations of Philhellenism that we have seen in the most recent period, like to give an assessment of what it means, and what it could mean. It is precious, spontaneous solidarity which makes certain minimum demands. It is our responsibility not to provoke disillusion, through nationalisms, racisms, narrow ideological exclusions, which unfortunately are one current that exists, and to show that we are the proud, free, democratic, bold, hospitable people that they think we are. We should perhaps also situate the Philhellenes in relation to the others, and as you put it very well in your paper, there is also the question of the Greeks of Greece, foreigners in Greece, Greeks abroad, Greek-speakers everywhere – a special category, Philhellenes, foreigners, Hellenophobes. All these people comprise the setting in which we find ourselves in this crisis. And something I noticed just after I prepared this talk, or while I was preparing it, the Philhellenes have been very much in evidence, in the last months particularly, whereas by contrast we haven’t heard much from the Greeks abroad. Perhaps this is also a question to be discussed later.

So I will now mention a series of examples. Yesterday I was in Frankfurt, and there again we had people who for various reasons, just as with the movement of Philhellenes at the time of the Greek revolution, supported certain ideas of their own. I found myself in Frankfurt with Germans who were taking a position against the policies of Merkel. And the best way they found for bringing together a large number of little parties was the Philhellene slogan “We are all Greeks”. There were twenty to twenty-five thousand demonstrators there and what made a great impression on me was that I saw some people who had come there with a Greek flag. I saw later that none of them were Greek. They were all Germans. And although there are a lot of Greeks living in Germany, I found only one couple, along with another person. And the other person, while the Germans were saying: “We are proud that we are Greeks too”, had a placard that said: “I am sorry that I am Greek”.

As for solidarity, in the streets there has also been solidarity from some others who came on foot to Athens from faraway European countries: some of them came from Finland. I received a message in the night, from Foskolos here in Aegina, which said they had been arrested and were being charged with degrading the physical environment, and they were locked up. This is an answer.
(Interjection: We have a photograph. Reply: Yes, I know, I had it in my computer.)
Many others have come, and continue coming. Sometimes they are a little unprepared. On 15th February I received a message, we heard about various solidarity functions. What can we do? We have to organize a visit, to go and see the people who are struggling there. How they are dealing with the crisis. I received the message on the 15th. On the 27th they arrived, twenty representatives of various movements to conduct discussions with people here.
Apart from the political contacts, many are extremely interested in the social situation and offer to donate sums of money. The example of the Italian mayor is well known. He donated his salary to Greece, two months ago. There are not many in Greece who have made similar gestures… “Secours populaire”, which is an organization in France that concerns itself with the problems of social solidarity, came here and went to Perama to donate food and medicines. Because money and was raised in France in solidarity with Greeks…
(interjections from the audience protesting that this kind of solidarity humiliates Greeks)
Dimitris Potamianos: Please I would ask….
Thanos Contargyris: Yes, well. The fact is that there are people outside who are willing to help us financially, while Greeks don’t pay, and don’t want to pay, their taxes; that we could be ashamed of that is another debate. What I said is that there are people who feel the need to help financially also if it is needed. In Germany, where I was, people came to me with such offers. One of the things that is happening today is that they give of us the picture that we have fallen into poverty. And it is right to react by saying that we have not fallen into poverty. It is one of the things we should publicize. But this doesn’t mean that we have to be hostile to these people who are willing to become mobilized even financially. My answer is “If there are cases of need we will tell you. For the moment hold on to your money. ”
In the European Parliament there are also many who are involved in other forms of solidarity: yesterday I received a message that the Green group, with Cohn-Bendit, Rebecca Harms, Sven Giegold, Chrysogelos from here in Greece is working on some draft proposals for changing the terms of the Memorandum so that there will be plans for the day after. These are more concrete and more practical contributions that we can have also. In the same way we note in recent days – and here we can make the parallel with the moves made by certain Philhellenes of the last century – based on the vested interests, in the positive sense of the word, of their own countries, consider that they should declare solidarity with Greece and that European policy must change. They see that isolation of the policies of Mrs Merkel is proceeding well, with Hollande (not exactly a Philhellene but he can at least be an ally), and possibly his Prime Minister and foreign minister, in their most recent statements, which slightly change the scenario in Europe. We will see what will come out of it. But there are indications of interesting attitudes. The statements that with this change in climate we are hearing also from Obama, from Prodi, from Delors, even from Juncker, are very encouraging.
We had a cataclysm of other events and statements, as I said at the beginning. From the French side, which I follow in particular, as a Greek-Frenchman, I will give several examples, such as
“Sauvons le people grec de ses sauveurs”: this was an appeal made by French intellectuals in February for intellectuals to unite to save Greeks from their saviours, and there are three appeals that are of particular interest.
an appeal that has attracted a number of signatures, which is the appeal for a million signatures for Greece, which is underpinned by the constitutional right deriving from the most recent Treaty whereby with the concentration of a million signatures there can be a proposal to which the European Commission is obliged to respond.
the movement that has been given the name: “We are all Greeks”, with a more specific focus, and from it there are a few special lessons to be learned.
the movement “Je suis grec”, which started in France.

I’ll say a few words about each of these because I don’t want to speak for too long, and afterwards we can say more if you wish.

“A million signatures for Europe” is a letter that is addressed to the President of the European Commission calling for immediate action to deal with the question of the Greek public debt. It requests that there should not be capitalization of interest, that interest on interest should be included and that the commencement of a state of emergency be declared so that we don’t have social consequences from the way that the debt crisis in Greece is handled. Most of these movements started in February.

The movement “We are all Greeks” started with an action that aimed at making 18th February a day of international mobilizations for Greece. There was a great response to it in all countries. Websites were opened in all European countries on that subject. And we had support in various European cities – I particularly followed the one held in Paris. But there were also small functions in Athens. We had a function in front of the French Embassy of the French living here and in fact it was attended by the presidential candidate Eva Joly, who among other things – and perhaps this can be linked with the subject of Capodistrias, proposed a Treaty of Athens for Europe. It would be a treaty for a Europe of solidarity. If refer to it simply because within Hellenism, one component that is important, and we should have it in our consciousness that it exists, is the symbolic value of Athens and of Greece. This symbolic value of Athens and Greece remains high in the stock exchange of values. We have lost in the other stock exchange but we still have this.

The initiative “Je suis grec”, which was the appeal of a group that started at Nantes in France, began in November 2011. It is a movement of solidarity with the Greek people, which is interesting because on the one hand as a symbolic movement, French citizens sent letters to the Greek Embassy asking to become Greek citizens. As tangible solidarity with what was happening in Greece. This is one aspect of it that is interesting. The other interesting aspect is the justification, the reasons why, this solidarity is being expressed. They have a series of things that are very symbolic and of great value and make it clear to us on what basis Philhellenism is generated:

The first thing we see, reading this declaration, is that they request Greek citizenship because Greece gave to the world the activating myth of Antigone as invincible revolt of consciousness against arbitrariness and tyranny. So, the first element is all this mythological dimension from symbols of Greek civilization generally in ideas. Because Greece gave to Europe the first seed of a direct democracy, not that which remains with an elite class of professionals but that which is exercised immediately by deputies chosen by lot.
Another contribution that is generally recognized by the movement refers to the Ancient Greek History’s contribution to politics in general and Democracy more specifically. The movement reminds that the inaugural act that established the Athenian democracy, again a first seed, vulnerable and imperfect, was that the archon Solon decided in 594 B.C. the abolition of debts and general emancipation of citizens from the slavery of personal debt. It is interesting here to see how much the Philhellenes are following, and are aware of, and know how to put the right construction on, facts of ancient history which are very interesting for the light they shed on the present day.
Nor do they forget the heroic Greek resistance during the Second World War, later participating to a very great extent in the liberation of Europe. The French do not forget the Resistance that emerged out of the Greek “Ochi” (No) to the Italians. France collapsed in a few days. Here we resisted much more, such that there was in 1940, in Nice, a sign that said: “Greek soldiers stop here. This is where French territory begins.” In their text there is also reference to the blowing up of the Gorgopotamus Bridge as a symbolic act of our National Resistance in which all its tendencies participated, something which also sends a message not to indulge in internal quarrels. All of these texts exist in greater detail and I can distribute them to you.

There are translations into Greek of these texts. They are texts that should give us inspiration. They are movements that give us inspiration.

And I would like to close saying that Philhellenism is a treasure that we have, which requires as a response pride and responsibility. Our history inspires it. Our cultural contribution inspires many people. Our hospitality inspires. This is what was said by many of the Germans I met in these days in Frankfurt. I told them I had this meeting and I convey to you the message that there are many Germans who are standing by us, something we should not ignore.

And our language inspires them, of course, with everything it brings with it: democracy, Europe. Everyone speaks Greek and Greek words carry great weight. Even today Philhellenes extend to us admiration, solidarity and love. Philhellenes are everywhere, and particularly in Europe. We have the responsibility of remembering what they honour and not disappoint them, and not discourage them. It is a precious force that will be very valuable to us in the weeks and months to come because they provide us with access to a public relations outlet, as was the case also with certain Philhellenes of the past, an opportunity to influence the political balance in Europe, as occurred before with the same mechanisms because there are vested interests that are served when certain European politicians give us their support. Because Philhellenism exists, whether as a self-interested phenomenon or as something authentic, is in any case a central idea associated to it is that of solidarity and it will be of very great importance for how the situation develops we should not deceive it. For this the main thing we must avoid is to show sympathy to tendencies such as those expressed by a minority in the elections just held, in directions that are extremely nationalistic if not something worse. If we do, we can lose that sympathy.

Pedro Olalla:

Thank you. Thank you Mr. Potamianos. I thank you for your attendance here today and after those two very informative contributions on Philhellenism then and Philhellenism now I am the third and I will try to make what I say as supplementary as possible so that we will not be repeating the words of others and so that I will not be tiring you because the most interesting part of this meeting will perhaps be the open discussion afterwards. I would like as a writer to read to you a text. I think that we all have in our mind the marvellous painting of Delacroix: “Greece on the Ruins of Messolonghi”. I would like to start then, with a reference to that picture, which is emblematic of Philhellenism, from my most recent book: “Minor history of Greece”.

Paris, 1826.

April is nearly over but spring is late in coming. Fragments of an old chair burn in the stove in the atelier of Eugene Delacroix, casting a flickering light on the canvases stacked against the wall, the piles of old newspapers and a still life of pomegranates beginning to go bad. Half-kneeling on a heap of pillows, Laure is posing, gazing towards the window with her arms open and her breast exposed. She is clad in superb Greek costume, with chiton, with the sleeveless pullover called kazak and with the belt that M. Auguste, friend of Eugene, brought with him from his journey to the East. It is cold, and in her immutable pose Laure finds that her teeth are somehow starting to chatter.

On the other side of the easel, as if in a place very far away, young Delacroix is caught up in a ceaseless motion, silent and surveying all through blazing eyes. The work must be ready for Pentecost if he is to take part on the famous exhibition organized by the Galleries Lebrun. From the time that the first news of the massacre at Messolonghi had reached Paris two weeks before, all the city’s liberals had been mobilizing to organize humanitarian initiatives and fundraising in support of the Greeks. Anyone who had retained any honesty and conscience saw the struggle of the Greeks as their own struggle, the struggle of human beings fighting barbarism.

The proceeds from the Lebrun exhibition were given to the Turks as ransom money for freeing the women and children who had been snatched from among the few survivors of Messolonghi to be sold in the slave bazaars. This was why Delacroix wanted his painting to be a reminder of the disaster.

Mixing the ochre colors for representing the woman’s tawny skin, illuminated by the moon, he became aware of the distance that separated him from his self of two years before, when on the same easel he had been painting the Massacre of Chios. In his silence he was quite well aware that at that time there had been some opportunism in his choice: the predominating factor had been his quest for a theme with greater chances of drawing-room success than that of King Balthazar desecrating the Holy Grail of Jerusalem or the Pharaoh of Egypt act ordering the children of all the Jews to be thrown into the Nile. And he managed it: his work did indeed ultimately win some recognition. The news of the massacre at Chios of course elicited powerful emotions at the time, but Eugene didn’t see it as the subject for a painting until, a year later, he heard the old warrior Colonel Voutier telling stories of Greece.

Now it was different. Now Byron was dead. Now the voices in the street were making him wake in fright. The first drafts, with statues and classical references, were burning in the stove. The bodies of women and children quivering on the ground were disappearing, one by one, from the painting. There remained only this white figure, like a banner proclaiming the human.

His painting was now not to be a painting of a war: it was a picture of all wars. To immortalize those tragic events that have not made it into history. He was not about to paint armies, nor the battles of the heroic siege. He would simply paint a human figure who, in the night, lost and innocent, was opening her arms to surrender to the absurd.

He would paint her with her body erect and her bosom exposed as she trod on blood-soaked stones, at the moment of her surrender into subjection, amid a boundless desolation, captured at the very last moment, when her gaze turns inward, with animal innocence and artlessness.

From the moment that they decided on her final posture, Laure has been posing with her left knee on a pile of cushions and her unfocused eyes turned towards the windowpane. Opposite her Eugene, immersed in silence, paints a white chiton against the dark background of the night, a brief effulgence, a white flame.

Delacroix E. Lettres de E.D. (1815 à 1863), recueillies et publiées par Philippe Burty, avec fac simile de lettres (ed. Burty Ph. Quantin. Paris, 1878)
Delacroix E. Journal (1822-1863) (ed. Wellington H. & Norton L. Phaidon. London, 1995)

Tourneux M. Eugène Delacroix devant ses contemporaines Rouam. Paris, 1886
Sérullaz A. Delacroix et la Grèce Η Ελληνική Επανάσταση. Εθνική Πινακοθήκη. Αθήνα, 1997
Bajou V. Οι εκθέσεις της γκαλερί Lebrun το 1826 Η Ελληνική Επανάσταση. Εθνική Πινακοθήκη. Αθήνα, 1997

Firstly I would like to thank the Active Citizens of Aegina who invited me to take part in this function on “Philhellenism: Then and Now”. I feel a great honour as a Spaniard, as a foreigner, as a Hellenist and above all as a Philhellene, that is to say as an active citizen of that homeland of the spirit as which to this day Greece has built the prestige of its name. At the moment that Delacroix was, in Paris, painting Laure as an allegory of Greece, on her knees in the face of horror, for the first time in Europe a non-governmental popularly-based solidarity movement of supranational character was being born in the name of the Hellenic spirit. In the preceding years there had been revolutions in North and South America, in Europe, even in the Balkans against the Ottoman Empire. But none of those struggles had succeeded in creating a movement comparable to Philhellenism. Why? Wasn’t the abuse of power the same? Wasn’t the horror, and the arbitrariness, the same? Of course it was. As it always is. The difference was that in the case of Greece everything acquired special symbolism. That interminable siege of Messolonghi, which finished with the hounded population being condemned to massacre, those thousand heads and two barrels of ears, in salt, that Bahit Pasha sent to the Sultan as evidence of the exemplary punishment that had been meted out to the infidel insurrectionists of Chios, this atrocious news that seeped into Western Europe: it wasn’t a question just of crimes against a certain people. It was a question of crimes against the human race, against all human beings, against humanity.

And if in the final analysis there was something universal at stake, it was thanks to the universality that had been acquired by the spirit of Hellas through protracted endeavour from the distant times of Homer and Hesiod. Through an effort to achieve respect for the human begin as such. Through a stance of confidence in his/her ability and consciousness and capacity freely to choose the good, through a continual struggle to build a world freed from dogma, following the principles of inquiry, ethics, aesthetics, justice and freedom. This was always an endeavour of the few, within an environment of – often barbarous – opposition. It was from such an input that through the ages the humanistic spirit of Hellas had been shaped. It is not an exclusively Hellenic stance, and indeed has been repeatedly betrayed by Greeks themselves, but it was unquestionably invented, cultivated, supported and regained, again and again in the flow of history, primarily through recourse to the Hellenic element.
So what was at stake when Philhellenism emerged? It was the right to life, to freedom, to national sovereignty, the dream of re-establishing democracy. What is at stake today? Is it not the same? Is it not freedom, national sovereignty, survival itself, that is threatened today, even within our borders? Is it not democracy, civil society, social justice, the right to work, and to health? Have these gains been consolidated forever? At the time of historic Philhellenism revolutions were taking place against the great political empires, invoking the dignity of the peoples. In our day the revolution must be against the great empire of financial and economic globalization, invoking not just the dignity of the peoples, but the dignity of each human being, the common denominator that must unite us, more profoundly than vested interest and belief.
Today’s Philhellenism, like yesterday’s, is a movement of solidarity, grounded in the citizenry, non-governmental and transnational in character. It is an act of resistance, a stance of engagement in favour of the human being and in the name of the Greek heritage. Where is it manifested? I will refer very briefly to my experience of the last three years. From the time that the economic attack started which some call “crisis” or “rescue”, my Philhellene consciousness – in the sense described above – impelled me to interest myself seriously in the state of this country and to take a position on what was happening. At that time I had just published the Greek version of my book “Minor history of Greece. A humanistic view of the turbulent history of the Hellenes,” and I believe that it was the lessons I learned during the writing of that book that induced me to start acting. Above all the investigation of ethics as a motive force in history: the conviction that what had made the world better is the will and the integrity of certain people, and that if today the world is a little better than in the past, it is because there have been people who at a specific point in time preferred to do what they thought was right, even if they failed or retreated or, rather, even if sometimes their victory was only a moral one. I think that in every age the obligation of the person who would consider himself progressive is, with whatever force he possesses, to combat injustice and ignorance, because the interest of the reactionary is nothing other than to promote these phenomena.
Thus, utilizing my voice, I began to publish on the Internet various thoughts on the difficult times Greece is experiencing. These thoughts emerged out of Athens, out of day-to-day contact on its streets with arbitrariness, deceit, passivity, confusion, injustice. To my agreeable surprise these thoughts struck a chord in various places around the Internet. They passed from blog to blog, they reached the “official” media, even mainstream television and radio stations, and sometimes the ideas that had been sent out came back to me in the form of brief messages that gave me the greatest joy that can be experienced by a person formulating a thought in writing: the joy of discovering that there is someone, somewhere, who is pleased when he/she reads it. This whole process made me aware that certain ideas, seen from Greece, have great resonance internationally. While the politicians of the establishment in Spain tell themselves with disdainful relief that “We are not Greece”, there are thousands of voices on the Internet articulating a courageous message that I would categorically classify as Philhellenism. The videotaped talk “A few words from Athens”, which I posted on the internet at the time the so-called rescue plans were being announced, received half a million hits in two weeks. All these people see Greece not as their distant past but as their immediate future. The same threats are hanging over their heads. They see how fragile are the gains that have been achieved and how necessary it is that mobilizations be generalized. All these people see in the situation in Greece the failure of Europe as democratic and progressive, a project of solidarity. All these people see hostility towards Greece as an attack on the gains of civilization. It is for this reason that many have raised the banner that proclaims “Greece is all of us”. They have organized themselves in social networks and formed action groups, in full awareness that what is happening in Greece now has a universal dimension to it. Greece has taught us that democracy is a polity based on the virtue of citizens, and that without them it lacks a grounding. It has taught us that democracy presupposes a “demos”, a free citizenry, responsible, with an awareness of its own dignity and a determination to assert it. Where is that “demos” to be found today? Assuredly not in the parties and the other inadequate institutions that are said to represent us. It is dispersed. It communicates on the Internet in the absence of a new “agora” where the demos might assemble. It gathers in the streets, in this way peacefully exorcising fear and inertia. It mounts a continuing resistance to those who, for their own benefit, pay the debts from speculation and political misjudgement (if not complicity) through surrendering the revenues of the social state, national resources, national sovereignty. It is fighting on different fronts to make democracy evolve, to propose and defend progressive ideas so that tomorrow they will appear as unquestionable rights. It struggles, finally, for emancipation from the role of the mere subject to claim that of the citizen, the conscious and active bearer of society’s political character.
Many of those who today are engaged with such endeavours act in the name of the Hellenic spirit, deploying the slogan “Greece is all of us”. They are, in my judgement, the new Philhellenes, who have grasped that the “problem” of Greece is not a problem of merely local character. They have understood that the threat here is the threat to their own house also. To everyone’s house. And they understand profoundly that in the face of the abuses of power of economic globalization, it is indispensable that resistance become similarly globalized.

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