Revisiting the Greek Warfare of Independence Whereas Ukraine Fights for Its Personal


Mark Mazower, The Greek Revolution: 1821 and the Making of Modern Europe (Penguin Press, 2021)

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Think about a poor nation on the sting of Europe. Its folks, Orthodox Christians, have an ancient history, however scant expertise of sovereignty and self-rule. It has till not too long ago been a vassal state — the western marchland — of a giant, authoritarian empire. The nation is riven by regional divisions. Its conventional elites are factious, fractious, corrupt, and self-dealing. A few of them stay loyal, or at any rate beholden, to the old empire — which is way wealthier, has a a lot bigger military, and has simply invaded to reassert management.

Because the invaders besiege and lay waste to cities, many residents take flight. Their sheer quantity creates a massive refugee crisis. The invading military has a large numerical benefit, but it surely proves to be poorly led and provisioned. Because of this, it struggles to translate its superiority into a transparent victory. However neither can the defenders hope to win outright. They’re just too few and too poorly armed and financed to do greater than maintain out.



Either side invite outdoors assist, hoping to tilt the steadiness. The empire calls upon the navy help of an obstreperous, technically topic however in practice semi-autonomous province on its southern border. The younger nation seeks help from the opposite nice powers of its day, international locations with which it asserts ideological affinity. Alas, the second will not be propitious. The interval’s nice liberal energy is sympathetic, but loath to risk war. The biggest energy on the continent is hesitant to sever its historically close economic ties with the invader. A number of volunteer fighters trickle in, whereas some financial assistance and weapons deliveries are organized. However nice powers decline to intervene straight. The combating and distress drag on.

This, in fact, is a abstract of the current Russo-Ukrainian conflict. However it additionally describes the Greek Warfare of Independence, fought from 1821 to 1827. Many commentators have described the present conflict as a transformative second that can reshape European political realities. As Mark Mazower exhibits in his masterful new account, it was the Greek revolution that helped create these realities within the first place.

Mazower’s competition is that, in the middle of combating for freedom from the Ottoman Empire, the Greeks wrought a revolution not just for themselves, but additionally — by galvanizing worldwide public opinion and bringing it to bear, for the primary time, on interstate affairs — within the observe of contemporary politics, diplomacy, and conflict. The numerous resonances between Mazower’s account and in the present day’s information make his case all of the extra convincing.

Historical past doesn’t supply pat classes — however typically it presents analogies that assist us suppose by means of the challenges of our day. Mazower’s historical past of the Greek revolution exhibits how a localized however extremely evocative conflict can find yourself shaping its wider historic second by seizing the world’s consideration and drawing in outdoors powers. Studying it in dialogue with the current invitations us to think about the attainable outcomes of creeping Western intervention and rising Ukrainian cohesion occasioned by the present conflict.

A Brutal and Transformative Battle

The Greek Revolution: 1821 and the Making of Trendy Europe is certain to face because the definitive English-language account of those occasions and their reception. Its narrative is lucid, complete, even handed, and harrowing. If it indulges in uncommon moments of sentimentality — as one would possibly count on in a e-book commissioned to mark the revolution’s bicentennial — these flights of feeling are greater than excused by its unsparing account of the conflict’s horrors. Mazower depicts, in various particulars, the fast descent of either side into wholesale slaughter. From the revolution’s first engagement within the small Danubian port of Galati, the Greeks made a behavior of massacring not simply enemy combatants but additionally Muslim civilians. “There was a widespread sense that it was time for his or her former masters to study their place,” Mazower writes. Once they took the stronghold of Tripolitsa, “the theft, butchery and looting went on for 3 days.” Related fates awaited Kalavryta, Navarino, Corinth, and Athens. “I turned disgusted with the Greek trigger,” one in all its personal leaders wrote, “as a result of we have been a whole lot of cannibals.”

The Ottomans have been no higher. “The livid sultan … toyed with the thought of getting all of the Greeks of the empire put to dying,” Mazower writes. Advisors dissuaded him from that genocidal course, however he nonetheless had Greeks occupying senior ministerial and clerical posts — together with Patriarch Gregorios V — hanged. In an deal with to the empire’s Muslims, he additionally issued what amounted to an open invitation to slaughter. Constantinople, Edirne, Smyrna, Salonica, Ayvalik — all witnessed massacres. The worst was on Chios, the place 30,000 Ottoman irregulars “roamed unchecked for almost two weeks,” killing, plundering, and looting “with the blessing of the Ottoman governor.” The island’s inhabitants has by no means, to this present day, recovered.

“The violence of the official Ottoman response shocked European diplomats deeply,” Mazower writes. “It started a sluggish and in the end deadly erosion of the Sultan’s legitimacy within the judgment of European political opinion.” The Greeks’ depredations acquired far much less consideration. Overseas observers on the bottom have been constantly appalled by what they witnessed however tended to chorus from publicizing their expertise in order to not hurt the trigger to which they’d grown connected. (Right here the parallel with the Ukrainian case breaks down a bit, because the culpability of either side is hardly equal.)

In each the Ukrainian and the Greek instances, Western audiences have been gained over by the efforts of a savvy chief who framed his folks’s plight in methods they might respect. Alexandros Mavrokordatos, the primary president of Greece’s provisional authorities, was an urbane, Western-educated man, apparently acquainted with 10 languages and steeped within the Enlightenment. He didn’t imagine that Greece may obtain independence by itself. Anxious to safe the assist and intervention of outdoor powers — like Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky in the present day — he took pains to current his nation’s battle in a sympathetic mild and tailor-made his appeals to his viewers. Simply as Zelensky has performed upon German guilt over Nazi atrocities in Ukraine and reminiscences of the Berlin wall whereas invoking 9/11 and Martin Luther King in an address to the American Congress, Mavrokordatos appealed to the conservative powers of his day when it comes to Christian unity and the liberal ones by citing “Western political principle, methods and summary ideas.” This being the period through which Lord Elgin acquired his marbles and museums throughout Europe started to exhibit Greek antiquities, he additionally made positive to capitalize on Europe’s newfound obsession with the classical previous.

Within the conservative political local weather of the early 1820s, when after the Congress of Vienna the good powers have been fixated on sustaining stability and forestalling revolution, these appeals discovered even much less traction within the capitals of Europe than Zelensky’s have in the present day. However within the realm of arts and tradition, it was an age not of response, however of Romanticism. Amongst first intellectuals after which a wider public, the Greek trigger caught hearth. Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote a lyrical drama in regards to the rebellion, Hellas, which he devoted to Mavrokordatos, a private good friend. Eugène Delacroix exhibited Scene of the Massacre at Chios to rave opinions (Stendhal praised it as “Shakespearean”). Giaochino Rossini wrote an opera, The Siege of Corinth, which was ostensibly historic, however clearly an allegory for present occasions. And naturally Lord Byron — the world’s first trendy celeb — travelled to Greece to combat, solely to die from fever in Missolonghi. The information of his demise captured the world’s consideration and positioned the revolution — for which he was celebrated as a martyr — on the middle of public debate. “The surge in Europe’s sympathy for the Greek trigger was probably the most outstanding political and cultural phenomena of the post-Napoleonic period,” Mazower argues. Philhellenism turned “a cultural power uniting very various swathes of European society,” certainly created “one thing we would time period a European liberal conscience.”

Once more, one can’t assist however be struck by similarities with the current. Our age might not measure up — at the least but — within the aesthetic high quality of its engagé output, however one detects an identical phenomenon afoot, with the likes of Bono writing a poem about Ukraine for Nancy Pelosi, and Arnold Schwarzenegger recording a speech appealing to Russians’ conscience. Whereas bien pensants of the Bourbon Restoration produced an “outpouring of odes, cantatas, laments, and elegies,” the involved observers of in the present day vent on Twitter, Telegram, and TikTok. The conflict in Ukraine, just like the Greek revolution earlier than it, has grow to be a worldwide trigger célèbre — eclipsing different tragedies within the course of. Simply as Europeans of the Romantic period paid lesser heed to revolutions in South America that “lacked the historic and cultural attract of the Hellenic ideally suited,” so are Western peoples in the present day accused of giving short and prejudicial shrift to tragedies beyond Europe that elicit much less frisson than the recrudescence of their outdated foe.

In time, all this poesy and protest started to reshape politics, inspiring — for the primary time, Mazower argues — a brand new sort of mass mobilization oriented towards sensible help. The thinker of utilitarianism Jeremy Bentham and his enthusiastic acolytes seized upon the Greek trigger as a possibility to show some great benefits of their ideology and penned “a torrent of … texts, translations and what would in the present day be known as coverage suggestions.” From this angle, Mazower notes, “the Benthamites have been … forerunners of these late twentieth-century technocrats who fanned out throughout the globe … advising governments how one can handle their folks’s affairs.” The London Greek Committee, established with the Benthamites’ help, offered two loans by floating bonds (with “positively deceptive” prospectuses that amounted to “puffery”) within the Metropolis of London’s new sovereign debt market. Related philhellenic organizations sprang up in France, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, and elsewhere. Their collective efforts helped maintain the Greek trigger going — and its provisional authorities afloat — throughout essentially the most attempting years of the conflict. Useful, too, have been new organizations set as much as help refugees and traumatized non-combatants — a sphere through which “essentially the most decisive and concrete response” got here from “a relative newcomer to European affairs: America.” This exercise, Mazower argues, marked “the start of a contemporary phenomenon — a coverage of organized worldwide reduction, one that may be intently recognized with America’s projection of its energy and values overseas for the following two centuries.”

The Query of Intervention

However what ought to America and its allies do past offering reduction and help? The query of navy intervention was simply as controversial within the Greek case as it’s in the present day. After years of conflict and piles of dispatches detailing Ottoman atrocities, “assist for intervention on the facet of the Greeks was rising throughout the political spectrum,” Mazower writes, “bringing collectively radicals calling for republicanism, liberals demanding constitutions, and [conservative] voices … demanding solidarity with Christians threatened by non-European despots.” The tipping level got here when an Egyptian military, which had intervened on the sultan’s behalf, captured Missolonghi — the erstwhile seat of Greece’s provisional authorities, well-known as the positioning of Byron’s demise — and slaughtered and enslaved its inhabitants. Public outrage at these occasions “was a decisive issue within the elementary transformation of European diplomacy that now passed off,” based on Mazower. “Within the face of Greek stubbornness and valor, the cupboards of Europe have been being compelled by fashionable strain to just accept that they might not acquiesce in what gave the impression to be ‘the inevitable destruction of a complete nation.’”

America, to not point out NATO, enjoys no such unanimity in the meanwhile. Proponents like Rory Stewart and opponents like Stephen Wertheim each pronounced the period of intervention over when America withdrew from Afghanistan. Whether or not they’re proper stays to be seen; Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is testing their assertion. Interventionists see the conflict as a golden alternative to restate their case, and their profile is rising. However to this point non-interventionists are carrying the debate. President Biden has refused to entertain the thought of committing forces, as an alternative imposing financial sanctions — a modern contrivance to which Mazower’s examine doesn’t communicate.

The tide of opinion might properly flip, because the conflict in Ukraine is in its early days. The destruction of Mariupol might not have been a tipping level, à la the autumn of Missolonghi, however public opinion has had mere weeks to awaken and make itself felt — and there are indicators that this conflict may turn into one of grinding attrition. Current information of massacres in Bucha has led to calls for sterner action. Had been Russia to make use of chemical weapons or proceed executing civilians, public strain for navy intervention might well swell. Probably the most generally urged subsequent step is imposing a no-fly zone — and right here the historical past of the Greek Warfare of Independence is certainly instructive.

When the good powers lastly determined to intervene on behalf of the nascent Greek state, they despatched a joint fleet to discourage the Ottomans from “persevering with to wage conflict … by measures in need of hostilities.” This, Mazower writes, “was the final word diplomatic fudge,” designed to supply “some sort of credible menace” whereas avoiding direct battle. Name it a no-sail zone. In the long run, it didn’t work. The allied powers ended up having to combat, and sink, the entire Ottoman fleet. “Insurance policies of deterrence essentially contain wishful pondering,” Mazower notes dryly.

The nice powers’ intervention might have made Greek independence attainable — but it surely additionally set in movement a prepare of occasions that roiled your complete area. Outraged by interference in his empire’s inside affairs, the Ottoman sultan abnegated the Akkerman Conference, which had settled affairs within the Danubian principalities the place the Greek revolution started. This led to the Russo-Turkish Warfare of 1828–9, “the primary main hostilities on the continent because the defeat of Napoleon.” French forces, which had been mobilized to make sure the Egyptians’ withdrawal from Greece, stayed on “for what we might now name peacekeeping duties.” They quickly discovered an outlet for his or her new “crusading spirit” in “the bloody conquest of Algeria, which ended three centuries of Ottoman rule there as properly.” And the Egyptians themselves, seeing the sultan’s weak point, invaded Anatolia to press for recognition of their very own de facto independence.

It could be facile to counsel {that a} no-fly zone in Ukraine is certain to set off an identical cavalcade of conflicts. However the probability of it resulting in direct battle with Russia is excessive, which may show ruinous in and of itself. No matter occurs, the conflict in Ukraine appears more likely to outline our period because the revolution in Greece outlined its personal.

An Rising Nation

If Ukraine manages to emerge from the present conflict with its sovereignty and independence intact, it’s probably to take action with a firmer and extra workable — as a result of extra civic — nationwide identification than it has to this point managed to conjure. Russia’s gross exaggeration and exploitation of Ukraine’s inside divisions however, it’s honest to say that Kyiv has to this point commanded a factious land. Oligarchs and the clans of competing interests over which they preside have been the prime political movers. Nationalism of the blood-and-soil-and-language kind has been a minority project: one ill-suited to a rustic with a wealthy, cosmopolitan previous and a Jewish comedian-cum-world-beloved-mensch as its wartime chief. A capacious, forward-looking, non-compulsory collective identification has proved elusive. However conflict and displacement have a method of uniting folks by means of the tangible and shared expertise of struggling — as Mazower’s historical past exhibits. When their conflict started, the peoples of the peninsula we now name Greece spoke many tongues and had various identities derived from religion and locality. By the point it ended, that they had “a brand new imaginative and prescient of political group,” one based mostly on “the wartime refugee expertise” and the social recombinations it imposed. How ironic it will likely be if, by making an attempt to bomb it again into the imperial fold, Vladimir Putin seems to be the abusive father of the primary really built-in Ukrainian nation.



Marc Edward Hoffman is a author who has lived in Istanbul for the previous 13 years. He has written about Turkey, Russia, and different international locations within the area for a variety of publications. He’s presently engaged on a political and financial historical past of the Turkish Republic.


Picture: Episode from the Greek War of Independence, Eugene Delacroix


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