ATHENS: Greece yesterday celebrated 200 years since the start of its independence war with the Ottoman Empire with parades and ceremonies attended by foreign dignitaries, though the pandemic forced officials to scale back events. “Today the nation celebrates,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said as the Greek flag was solemnly raised over the Acropolis in Athens.
“Two centuries ago, a handful of determined fighters in and outside Greece raised the banner of independence… with the help of their allies, they fought heroically and won their freedom,” he said, ahead of events planned all over Greece and among diaspora communities overseas.
In a sunny interlude to cloudy weather that later turned to snow, a parade of tanks, artillery and overflying jets and helicopters marked the occasion in the capital, alongside mounted troops and children in traditional costumes from the 1821 conflict and other wars. French Rafales and American F-16s were part of the show, while a cannon on Lycabettus Hill overlooking Athens had earlier fired a salute of 21 shots.
‘Wellspring of Western civilization’
Security was tight, with 4,000 police, drones and snipers deployed in Athens, a police source said. Owing to the coronavirus pandemic, no spectators are allowed to attend the parade aside from a small number of reporters. Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, Britain’s Prince Charles, Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades and French Defence Minister Florence Parly had earlier placed wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Greece’s foremost military monument.
US President Joe Biden and French counterpart Emmanuel Macron-who pulled out of the event at the last minute owing to the latest COVID-19 lockdown in France-and other EU leaders sent messages of support. “Your liberty is our (liberty),” Macron said in Greek in a recorded message. “We are here, and we will stand by your side when history is unfair towards you, when solidarity may be lacking, when menace returns,” he said in an apparent reference to ongoing tensions with Turkey.
Britain, France and Russia were instrumental in helping Greece attain its independence in 1830 after nearly a decade of warfare against overwhelming odds. Americans, including a nephew of George Washington, were among volunteer combatants. At the time, the Ottoman Empire extended through the Balkans and modern-day Turkey to North Africa, the Arabian peninsula and the Caucasus. “As the wellspring of Western civilization, Greece’s spirit runs through our societies and our democracies,” Prince Charles said at a dinner at the presidential mansion on Wednesday. “Without her, our laws, our art, our way of life, would never have flourished as they have.”
Sympathy for the cause
“We must always be on the side of our European allies when they are attacked in their sovereignty,” Macron said Wednesday in an interview with Greek state TV ERT, referring to decades-old tensions between Greece and Turkey over their disputed maritime border. Ankara last year sent a research ship accompanied by a navy flotilla into waters near the Turkish coast that Greece claims on the basis of postwar treaties.
In contrast to other EU and NATO allies, France strongly backed Greece during the showdown. Sympathy for the cause of Greece in 1821 sparked a movement in Europe and the United States known as Philhellenism, with proponents including former US president Thomas Jefferson, French novelist Victor Hugo, German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Russian author Alexander Pushkin and English poets Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron.
Hundreds of Philhellene volunteers fought and died for Greece’s liberation, with Byron among them. A joint effort by France, Russia and Britain eventually defeated a Turkish-Egyptian fleet in the pivotal 1827 Battle of Navarino, and further military reverses forced the Ottoman Empire to recognize Greece’s sovereignty in 1830. Mitsotakis yesterday said victory was also in sight against the pandemic, which has claimed over 7,600 lives in Greece. “Our country comes out of this adventure stronger,” he said. Critics say months of lockdown have failed to slow the spread of the pandemic, which the government has blamed on virus mutations. – AFP