Rot – Part 20

Today is March 25th, Greece’s Independence Day, its national holiday. Liturgically, it commemorates the beginning of the Greek struggle for independence from the Ottoman empire. In fact, it represents both the initial catalyst to and the continual reference-point of a fabricated modern historiography, a seemingly endless fraud whose only purpose is the preservation—indeed, sanctification—of a mendacious national ideology whose claims are as pathetic as they are specious.

First things first. Every country invents tradition, imagines its national community, and continually manufactures (majoritarian) consent. Every country invents history, in other words, rather than simply “recording” it. (How does one “record” a human—which is to say a subjective—construction such as “freedom” or “justice” or, even more nebulous, “patriotism” or “identity.”) After all, everyone knows what the phrase, “official history,” means and why it is, almost by definition, a victors’ history. Still, all of us also know that history is never written, but, rather, repeatedly rewritten, and that, in any case, embellishment—magnification, prettification—or sometimes even diminishment (invariably of mass crimes and systemic violence) makes for infinitely more persuasive propaganda than utter and complete invention.

The first words on the Declaration of Independence, for example, read: “In Congress, July 4, 1776….” So, it is a fair assumption that this fundamental document of a nation’s self-creation is pretty much linked to that date.

Moving across the Atlantic, we know for a fact that, on July 14, 1789, the Bastille was stormed by an angry (very soon to become revolutionary) multitude of Parisians (probably less than a thousand men and women) that liberated its seven prisoners—four forgers, two inmates incarcerated as “lunatics,” and a “deviant” aristocrat (but not the Marquis de Sade, who, it turns out, had been transferred to the asylum at Charenton on, coincidentally enough, July 4)—murdered its governor, Bernard-René Jordan de Launay, cut off his head (which was then stuck on a pike, to be paraded through the streets of Paris), and, before evening had fallen, taken control of this medieval emblem of arbitrary royal power. Indeed, we have so much detailed knowledge about what transpired on that day in Paris that it’s almost as if it happened a week ago. Historians have been able to reconstruct a virtual hour-by-hour account: 10:30, the citizens of Paris meet outside the Hôtel de Ville and dispatch a delegation to De Launay; 11:30, a second delegation is sent to the Bastille; 13:30, De Launay orders his troops (82 invalides and 32 grenadiers from the Swiss Salis-Samade Regiment) to open fire on the crowd that is now massed in the prison’s outer courtyard; 14:00, a third delegation is sent to the Bastille; 15:00, the attackers are reinforced by mutinous troops; 15:30, a detachment of 61 soldiers commanded by Pierre Hulin, a former sergeant of the Swiss guards, arrives with five cannons; 17:00, De Launay orders a ceasefire; 17:30, les vainqueurs de la Bastille free the fortress. Besides De Launay, 99 people died in the fighting, 98 of them vainqueurs, roughly 600 of whose names have come down to us.

So, yes, we know a great deal about July 14, 1789 (as well as, I might add, July 11, 12, 13, and 15, not to mention the days and years that followed). Under the circumstances, again, it’s understandable that this day was chosen by the French as their national holiday.

And now we come to Greece. March 25 memorializes the onset of the Greek war of independence; specifically, it celebrates what is presented as the foundational act of nationhood. On that day, as every Greek “knows,” Palaiôn Patrôn Germanos—that is, Germanos, bishop of Old Patras—blessed the “λάβαρο(α),” or banner(s) (or flag[s], depending on the version) of the Greek revolution at the Monastery of Agia Lavra in the Peloponnese, to the shouts of “Ελευθερία ή Θάνατος,” (“Freedom or Death”), before the insurgents went off to begin their national liberation struggle.

Unfortunately, none of the above ever happened. Not the event in general, nor any of its constituent elements. Palaiôn Patrôn Germanos was not at Agia Lavra on March 25, 1821 (the monastery was apparently closed to outsiders that day); he did not bless a gathering of Greek insurgents there; and the war of independence, in any case, had started a month earlier when Alexandros Ypsêlantês, head of the Filikê Etaireia, landed in the Danubian Principalities and issued, on February 24, his now famous call for a general Greek uprising against the Ottomans, the “Fight for Faith and the Fatherland” (“Μάχου υπέρ πίστεως και πατρίδος”). It is not at all coincidental that Ypsêlantês’s call is, first, a fight for faith and only secondarily a call to struggle for (actually, for creation of) the fatherland. Just as it is not coincidental that, centuries before March 25 was manufactured by the Greeks as their “national” holiday, they—and most Christians throughout the world—were celebrating it as one of their most important religious ones.

March 25 is, of course, the Feast of the Annunciation. My use of the term, “liturgical,” in the first paragraph was, therefore, quite literal. The symbolism, and symmetric absurdity, is almost too transparent to be true: just as it is (presumably) revealed to Mary that she will bear the Son of God on that day, it was revealed to the Greeks on the same day that they would give birth to their freedom. (In Greece, by the way, we wish pregnant women, “Καλή λευτεριά,” or “Happy Liberation.”) What is painfully sad is that this fabrication, this nonexistent “history,” continues to be taught to Greek schoolchildren, and that most Greek adults also undoubtedly believe it to be true.

The truth about the Greek war of independence is that, among other things, it was plagued by two civil wars and various massacres by the Greeks (that of Tripolitsa perpetrated by Theodôros Kolokotrônês being the most infamous), including the wholesale destruction of several Jewish communities throughout the areas of conflict. Moreover, in the end, Ibrahim Pasha’s ruthless campaign in the Morea after his landing at Methônê had essentially defeated the rebels by 1827. Which is why the Great Powers, seeing that the Greeks could no longer be counted on to further European interests regarding the “Eastern Question,” finally decided to take matters into their own hands. It was the Battle of Navarino, which decimated Ibrahim’s fleet and, so, his warmaking capacities, that allowed the Great Powers to—there’s no other way to put it—bestow freedom upon the Greeks.

So, what happens to a nation that so shamelessly invents its history? How does it contend with the present, and future, given such a fundamentally fraudulent and, above all, deluded relationship to its past? Does it learn from its (self-)deceptions? Does it redefine itself according to history rather than in opposition to it? And does it perceive the future as prospect or fear, as an unbending road of insistent self-justification or as a turn, a redirection, into a different, transformative geography? The question, ultimately, is not whether those who ignore their history are condemned to repeat it, but whether those who fabricate it are doomed to suffer the consequences of their forgery.

(To be continued)

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