Small communities throughout the United States, like many other far flung diasporan communities celebrate Greek Independence Day. Parents and relatives watch proudly as young children, dressed in traditional costumes, present their poems and renditions of patriotic songs on this important Greek holiday. Greek Independence Day was always exciting for me. It was a big deal. Especially the thought of marching in the parade down Fifth Avenue. Since those days I have had some time to ponder the true meaning of Greek Independence.
The history of the struggle against the Ottoman Empire is replete with tales of daring and bravery, unfortunately, it is also a litany of man's inhumanity to man. Struggles of this type, against a determined and fanatical enemy, are never high-browed affairs as many Philhellenes like Lord Byron found out. The uprising in 1821 was a no holds barred war of attrition that can only be characterized as a fight to the finish. No quarter asked and none given. After all, the Greek subjects of the Ottoman Empire were nothing more than slaves. Slaves either submitted to the will of the Sultan or were to be made an example of and easily expendable. As happens in the writing of history, national mythologies have been developed around the events of those years. The winners and losers in any armed conflict often see things differently.
The question every Greek must now ask, no matter where they may find themselves today, almost two centuries later, is whether the Greek world actually achieved "true" independence when the revolution ended. Despite all we have accomplished in the modern period of our history, and it is substantial, are we truly free of the shackles that weigh us down? Hellenism as an idea is not encumbered by the narrow borders of the nation-state. Any reading of history or a survey of where one can find communities of Greeks will attest to Hellenism's worldwide reach. Nevertheless, our outlook tends to be parochial, shortsighted and xenophobic. Hellenes throughout the world have to look inward and reassess where we are going as a people.
Modern Greeks have always been beholden to outside powers. We could not have achieved our independence without their intervention. That is a historical fact. Unfortunately, ever since, Greeks have aligned themselves with one power or another in order to achieve national goals. After liberation Greeks were forced to accept a foreign monarch and they divided themselves into warring political factions according to political loyalties based on allegiance to foreign powers. Eleftherios Venizelos saw fit to align Greece with Britain in order to achieve the goals of the Megali Idea. Ioannis Metaxas, a monarchist and opponent of Venizelos, again sought British help during World War II. During the subsequent Civil War, George Papandreou put his faith in the United States to defeat the Communist insurgency and the Colonels put their misplaced trust in the US to help them in Cyprus with disastrous consequences. Greeks then turned to the membership in the European Union as their savior from the threat posed by their unruly neighbors, only to see history repeat itself as their interests were put aside. It would be easy to place all the blame for the current state of affairs on friends, real or imagined. It would be easy to see the root of Greek problems in our enemies, real and imagined, whether we live in Greece or not. Before we look for scapegoats, we need to take a good look at ourselves. Before we look for solutions elsewhere, we need to devise our own, based on the inherent ideas of our own rich culture.
In order to achieve true independence we must liberate ourselves from the constant debilitating infighting between Left and Right or between Diasporan and Helladic Greeks. We must free ourselves of our reliance on discredited, bankrupt foreign dogmas and look at the road map that our own ancestors drew for us. Let us cast aside the "isms." Let's reject nihilism, anarchism, narcissism, consumerism, secularism, multi-culturalism, statism as inappropriate and destructive to the eternal essence of the Greek spirit. Why are we producing young people that are alienated from their ethnic roots and Orthodox faith? Why do young Greeks increasingly fail to recognize the beauty and value of the gift that our martyred ancestors placed in our hands at such great human cost? Why do some Greeks take to the streets to kill other Greeks and to burn and destroy? Why do young Greek women abort their babies in a despicable genocide that we as a people silently countenance? Where are the Greek leaders untainted by corruption and scandal who able or willing to come forward and actually lead? Why have Greek schools and streets been abandoned to violent hoodlums and become centers for political indoctrination rather than learning and debate? Why have we lost our moral compass as a people?
These problems are not exclusively Greek, they are Western problems. What saddens me so is that Greeks, wherever they live, are not in the forefront of the battle to save what is good and important. Why are we not, once again, standing at the pass of Thermopolyae and showing the rest of the world how to combat the rot overtaking us. Does what remain of the Greek spirit lie dormant and asleep only in forgotten places like Northern Epirus or Occupied Cyprus, waiting to awaken once again like a King made of Marble? Οne of the great heroes of the struggle for independence General Makriyiannis reaches across time and speaks to us in his memoirs. Perhaps it would behoove us to listen well to his words:
"Posterity should learn to sacrifice for their country, their faith, to live virtuously according to our religion. Without virtue, love for the homeland, and faith in their religion, nations cannot exist. And they should be careful that they are not deceived by personal motives. And if they trip up, then they will head towards the cliff, as we did. We are headed towards the cliff each day.”
In 1821, our ancestors fought an enemy made of flesh and blood, to liberate our Patrida. Today we must fight a much more elusive and insidious enemy, that enemy is a set of ideas that corrupts and debases our societies. It sucks the very courage and fortitude we need to preserve our legacy right out of us. Let's hope that we can summon the spirit of our ancestors to fight the good fight and prove ourselves worthy of their legacy. Then Greeks will have truly achieved a lasting independence.