A few months ago, in an article referring to the 200th anniversay since the Greek revolution and the corresponding planned festivities, we had written that one of the main points for reflection at this time should be the question of making a choice between “East and West”, which was very prominent during the last decades of the Byzantine empire. Choosing between East and West was a problem that was faced by all sections of the society, church and state during the four centuries of the Ottoman occupation. It would be interesting to examine how this dilemma, which continues to exist until today, has affected our way of living, customs and mentality during the two centuries of the existence of the modern Greek state.
Here is an excerpt from the above-mentioned article: “Οur reflection should focus on the four different societal groups at the beginning of the revolution and their interrelations. These groups were: a) the militant groups (armed fighters) both on the land and in the sea with their leaders (“captains”), b) the local representatives of the Christian population during the Ottoman rule (“kotzabasides” and bishops), c) the leading Christian orthodox group in Constantinople (the elite class of “Fanariotes” and the patriarchate) and d) the Greek merchants and intellectuals who brought the Enlightment from Western Europe to Greece. All these four groups had different ideas about the revolution, which affected their actions. They proceeded with caution and participated in the fight for independence in different ways”.
Ordinary Greek citizens were influenced by the ideas of these leading societal groups, adjusted them to their needs, and voted accordingly in the elections that started almost immediately after independence, and were held regularly after the uprising of September 3, 1843. This uprising was organised by the Greek Army in Athens against the autocratic rule of King Otto, which resulted in the end of the absolute and the beginning of the constitutional monarchy era. Unfortunately, the decision-making during national elections was most often influenced by “eastern” customs, such as cronyism, tax evasion, deceitful submission to those who are stronger, etc. In fewer cases, the electorate voted for political candidates who had innovative ideas, such as establishing secure trade conditions, combining personal or family interests with state interests, and in general novel and progressive ideology. Although the Greek people had long been used to the Ottoman way of running public affairs, during the last two centuries before the revolution they had also been exposed to the ideas of the Enlightment, which were prominent in the west, and which were introduced to Greece by merchants and intellectuals. These ideas were naturally leading to democratic governments. The expansion of trade, the production and transport of products from the west to the markets of the east, helped bring to our country some of the new elements that had been developed in the west. These elements of modern liberal ideology were steadily reinforced by Greek immigrants who had returned permanently to their homeland, after having lived in western societies and having experienced first-hand the novel way of democratic living in several European countries.
The eastern and western ideologies were succeeding each other rapidly in Greek politics, according to the ideology of each incoming leader. The big chance for Greece’s radical modernisation was lost forever after the assassination of the Governor Capodistria, the very politician that the national assembly had invited in 1827 from Switzerland, where he had resided since 1822, to Greece, in order to save the faltering Greek revolution! The fact that the assassination happened at a time when a new loan had just been arranged by Capodistria is very unfortunate. This loan would have secured a strong governance structure for the new state, which so far was financially supported by the Governor himself (who liquidated his assets) and by his friends who were fundraising for the Greek cause in various European countries.
The first years after the revolution were years of extreme difficulty and poverty for Maniots. Lack of war action and prohibition of piracy meant that Maniots could no longer find employment in these two fields, which unfortunately were remains of many centuries of the eastern way of living in our area. Families did not have the means to feed and support hemselves. Employment in the army and the public administration were also not possible, because of lack of government funding. Trading with the West, which was robust during the leadership of Tzanetos Grigorakis, was declining in the decade after his removal from office. All these facts were forcing the majority of Maniots to continue to support the old eastern ideas and the local political system of καπετανίες. Dire financial circumstances led to cruel conflicts.
In this article we have given a brief general idea of the first uncertain steps between tradition and modernisation during the first period of the modern Greek state. (We will return to this topic, analysing various social characteristics during the years that followed the post-revolution era).