By H.E. Mr. Nicolas P. Plexidas, Ambassador of the Hellenic Republic.
March 25, 2021 is a fundamental historic milestone for my country, marking 200 years since the outbreak of the Greek Revolution in 1821, which led to the creation of the modern Greek state in 1830.
The Greek Revolution was born amidst the emergence of nationalism and liberalism in Europe, largely inspired by the French and American revolutions. Contrary to other radical national movements of the time, it did not seek to overturn the European order. Instead, it was the result of the uprising of a people that had preserved its national consciousness and religious identity through the centuries against the Ottoman oppressor. It was an armed struggle aiming at creating a “shell state” for the Christian Greek nation by breaking the chains of its multireligious, multiethnic Ottoman rule. In this sense, the Greek Revolution was ideologically related to German romantic nationalism, rather than French enlightenment.
During the first two years of the Revolution the Great Powers, to avoid engaging in power struggles among themselves, were opposed to it, thus supporting the integrity of the Ottoman Empire. However, in 1823, a shift in British diplomacy occurred, when they started to perceive the new Greek state as a useful ally in the south-eastern Mediterranean and recognized the Greeks as “nation in war”. Soon after that, the rest of the Great Powers became more involved in Greek affairs, claiming also a share in the resolution of the “Greek Question”.
It was not only political agendas and timing that left their mark on the Greek Revolution, but also Philhellenism, an international movement of sympathy for the struggling Greeks, which became a crucial instrument for moral and financial support to them. With liberal ideas of the French Revolution spreading in Europe, admiration for ancient Greece and abhorrence for the Ottoman atrocities against the unarmed people, as well as the successes of the revolted Greeks in the battlefield during the first two years of the Revolution, contributed to Philhellenism steadily gaining ground.
Its enormous contribution to the Greek struggle for independence was intertwined with the increasing Greek Diaspora, as prosperous Greek communities of merchants and intellectuals scattered around the world formed “Struggle Committees” to secretly contribute to the independence cause. In fact, many Philhellenes participated in the struggle with some giving their lives fighting for the Greek cause, most prominent among them the English poet and philosopher Lord Byron, who died in the besieged city of Messolonghi in 1824.
During the Greek Revolution Dutch Philhellenes were also active throughout the Netherlands. Τhe “Amsterdam Philhellenic Commission” was founded to support the cause of Greek independence, with existing evidence proving transfer of funds and goods to the Provisional Government of Greece. Similar “support committees” were also founded in other Dutch cities, such as Rotterdam, with relevant documents relating to the period of 1825-1828 preserved in the City Archives.
An important role in the spread of Philhellenism in the Netherlands is attributed to the scholar Adamantios Korais, the father of the modern Greek enlightenment, who lived in Amsterdam for 6 years (1770-1776) as member of the Greek community of merchants settled in the city since 1750. Korais attended the Athenaeum Illustre in Amsterdam, as well as the University of Leiden, discipline of classical literature Professor Daniël Wyttenbach, whose widow, Danielle Jeanne, a philosopher and writer herself, became a renowned Philhellene. Her work is housed in the Collection of Manuscripts of the Department of Special Collections of the University of Amsterdam Central Library, headed by the Department of Greek Studies.
In our contemporary world the Greek Revolution of 1821 remains an eternal symbol of an ancient people’ s struggle for independence, freedom and statehood. The emerging new Greek state, the first ever nation-state in the eastern Mediterranean until the late 19th century, was founded from scratch on an ideological basis: to become an advanced outpost of the developed West in what was at the time perceived as underdeveloped East.
Two hundred years after the Revolution, Greece has found its place again in world history, along with its ecumenical cultural heritage of values and principles that gave birth to today’s western civilization and has since inspired people all over the world.