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Dimitris Loules. Ass. Prof. of Modem History, Faculty of Philosophy University of loannina – GREECE


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The Great Revolution Of 1798 in France may tightly be considered as the crucial point between modern and contemporary histo­ry and also as the landmark which separates the period of the theo­cratic state based on the monarchy « by the Grace of God », from ‘one side, and the era of nationalizm and the acceptance of the prin­ciple of people’s sovereignity. However at the day in which the rather symbolic prison-castle of Bastille crumbled under way of weath of the Paris revolutionist, thus provoking a painful surpise flot only to the ruling class of France but also to the royal circles in other Europen countries, in the distant Balkan Peninsula there were only a few, who could foresee that this worldwide event was just – the beginning of a series of unexpected development, which in tum would decisivly affect the future of the Balkan populations still liv­ing under the Ottaman administration.

« Man » -had once declared Robespierre- » is born in order to live in freedom and prosperity; but everywhere he is enslaved, and unhappy. Society which should aim in preserving his rights, still it oppresses and denotes him. It is already time bring him back to his real destiny. It is the evolution of the human logic which prepared the road to this Great Revoluiton ». If those words of the prominent French revolutionist became for millions of their hopes to put an end to social inequality, for the Balkan peoples unsuspicious so far­they would cause, slowly but steadily the hasteing of the procedure, which eventually led to their national self- consciousness and later to their political independence.

The French Revolution was a synthesis of various factors-social and economic- and may be characterized as the most succes­ful attempt, until that time, of the bourgeois class to claim and ob­tain the political power, where it already had achieved a serious ec­onomic presence. To be sure this class greatly benefited by the revolution, but is is also certain that the whole 19th century which created and forrned the cultural frame in several countries and often enforced remerkable reforms on the prevailing socio-economic sys­tem in others, was deeply sealed by this great historical event. The new capitalistic social structure, whic was based primarily on mod­ern productive relations and was promoted by the economically powerful, and ambitious stage within the Balkans, although in a lesser degree in Grece, where, for geopolitical and cultural reasons, the capitalistic productive forces began, albeit slowly, to emerge during the 18th century, mainly through the Greeks of the Diaspo­ra, but also in proper Greece with certain special differentiations..

The new pamphlet doctrines of the Enlightenment which was phenemenon preceding to the French Revolution, began to be spread throughout Greece, especially after the revolts of the 1770’s, which contributed to the strenghtening of the Hellenic land and sea­trade as well as to the establishment and growth of several manu­facture centres in Greece and in other Balkan areas. The enlighten­ment as a social movement was to be altered as to its concept following the revolution meanwhile the development of a petty bourgeoisie in the Balkans and mostly in Greece is closely related to the foundation of an impressive number of schools in which, contrary to the practice of the past years, new subjects were taught from the field àf naturàl sciences, while at the same time the teach­ing of classical and religious studies was accordingly restricted. For obvious reasons these innovations in the education met with strong reaction from the the’ ir spiritual establishment, which at that time, was represented by the higher clergy. The main principles of the French Revolution-Liberty, Equality, Fratemity- were officially de­nounced, while the study of mathematics and other natural sciences was similarly discouraged. But this reaction, which actually should flot be surprising- however vigorous it became in the course of the time- had a limited influence, since the new ideology sponsored by the bourgeoisie class began to acquire its first followers among the large masses of the people, slowly but decisively.

Following the conflicts between Russia and the Ottoman Em­pire in late 18th century and the famous treaty of Küçük Kaynarca, which was crucial for the financial and social development in Bal­kans, the American war of independence in 1776, in which for the first time were openly proclaimed the rights of the citizens, greatly contributed to the ideological formation of the Hellenic national awakening. However the consequences of the French Revolution, which followed soon afterwards, had an even stranger influence in the intellectuel development of the Balkan peoples. The well known text of the « Droits de l’Homme et du citoyen » which was the ideological base of the French revolutionists, offered an additional impulse and certain new orientations in the national liberation movement of the Balkan Peoples, especially of those who had al­ready acquired their national self-consciousness.

Very important was the role of the Greek Enlighteness in order to prepare their compatriots in accepting and assimilating the doc­trines of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. Already by the second decade of the 18th century we notice the emergence of the first representatives of the Modern Hellenic Enlightenment, who were the « products » of the new social and economic changes, which capitalism had inflicted in Western Europe. The majority of these « Teachers of the Greek Nation », as they are called, wore the clergy cloth, so that their work was facilitated by the Ottoman Em­pire, which while it had already begun its long but steady course to decline had by large moves hindered the development of education within the Balkans, Their main contribution is mostly concentrated in attempting to reform the their predominant education system, ac­coding to the new progressive social principles. At the same time they helped to promote both, the new philosophic theories, firstly expressed by Western European Enlighteness, as well as the natural sciences knowledge -as already mentioned. Also, and contrary to the then existing anachronistic system of education to Greek schools, they introduced the British originated, and widely applied in western Europe, method of mutual instruction or « lancesterian » education system. Meanwhile we should observe that though the odious reaction of the local social and religious establishment against the new progressive ideology. It was concealed a form of class struggle among the traditional ruling class and the emerging bourgeoiSre, which at that time, played a rather progressive role and within its ranks had succeeded to gather a considerable part of the Hellenic Intellegentsia. The ethnic ruling class, mostly repsented by the rich landowners was able to foresee the danger which threatened its absolute secular, and in some ways spiritual, domina­tion above the illiterate popular masses,, which -to the advantage of the same ruling class- were methodically rept in dark ignorance. The sense of liberty, which was propagated by the French Revolu­tionists, had been characterized as the devil’s work by the « Patemal Teaching » (Patriki Didoskalia) a text with open anti-French contains, which was published in 1798 widely distributed in Southem Balkans, and is attributed to the Patriach Gregory V. Although these preachings, as well as other similar proceeding could flot in no modest the value of the French Revolution or cause a bad fame to the Enlightenment, they had however some negative conse­quences for the intellectual -Greeks who adopted its principles and further attempted to spread them over Greece. Most of them had to face various prosecutions, others were obliged to go abroad, while in the case of Methodius Anthzakitis, a high school teacher in Ioan­nina-an important cultural centre in Ottoman Greece- the practice of the Spanish inspired auto da je was promptly rapeated. Anthzaki­tis himself was obliged to bum his own books, since according to K. Koumas, another Greek scholar and Enlightener, « the teaching of mathematics was considered as a source of atheism ».

However, in sipite of the numerous and unceased persecutions, the efforts of these Greek preachers of the Enlightenment were flot without results. Among other, their contribution to the formation of the common people’s language (Dimotiki), is considered of high importance, the most prominent on this task were D. Kataztzi­Photiadi and Rhigar Phezaios. The latter had once declared that his mind was only dealing with Freedom and the language issue, which often was divided the people, Also, their work to modemize the Hellenic education system helped to the further strengtening of the Greek nations self-consciousness. Althogh there miglit exist certain inevitable imperfections, these could certainly flot reduce the obvi­ously progressive and regenerating results of their work, which pre­pared spilritivally the Greek in their future national liberating strug­gle. It was for this aim that they decisively attempted to spread among the Greeks the doctrines inspired by the French Revolution. « The greatest part of the Greeks » -wrote with some exaggeration the Paris newspaper Gazette de France in 18.12.1797- « had so gladly accepted the new ideology, that when they try to compare their present condition with that in Liberty and Equality, they be-came totally abstracted and from ecstasy they are passed to frenzy ».

The effects of the French Revolution, while they had decisive­ly influenced in many aspects all nations in the Balkan Peninsula, they had also left their traces in Ottoman administration, and espe­cially among its official elements who favours administrative re­forms. It is noteworthy that although France, especilly during the troublesome Napoleonic period, was in continuous warfere with al­most ail European Powers, it maintained friendly relations with the Ottoman empire, tt is also remarkable that there were even cases in which the Sultan himself affected by the principles of the French revolutiori, attempted to dealy the decline of the empire by adopt­ing certain reform issues mainly as far as the strenghtening of cen­tral administration was concemed. A typical example is that of Sul­tan Selim III who concluded an alliance with the French Emperor and on the pretext of a mutiny of the genissaries in Serbia, he tried to abolish this, often dangerous and rather anachronistic, military order although his sincere efforts were fru’ itless and eventually he was dethroned in 1807. We can possibly consider bis reform meas­ures as the first steps to the modemization of the Ottoman state­some how the prelude to Tanzimat- which in turn had positive ef­fects upon its Christian subjects.

The French revolutionary ideology by itself, the well known political and social changes which followed and finally the rise of the impressive personality of Napoleon, had left indelible sings to the Balkan Peninsula. Many Balkanians, mostly Greeks and Serbi­ans were recruited as soldiers in the battalions created by the French, while the latter occupied militarily the seven Ionia Islands. When these battalions were abolished later on, they returned to their respective countries and became, often unvoluntary, the mis­sionaries of the new progressive doctrines, which were diametrical­ly opposed to, until that time, the predominant social order. In addi­tion to these factors we should not disregard the role of the students, Serbian, Romanian, Greek and other Balkanians, who went for higher studies in Western European Universities and hav­ing comp. leted their courses. They came back to their motherland to be there after the warmest partisans of the political and social re­forms in the west. Last but flot least we should flot ignore the im­portant, although inadequately investigated role of certain contem­porary semi-political societies notably the free masonry, which contributed to the formation of the free thinking and the Balkan in­tellegenria. Tectonic lodges were freuqently emerged in many Bal­kan trade centres soon after the breaking of the French revolution.

Besides the indirect circulation of the new ideology in the Bal­kans, we should also mention the direct contracts between the bal­kan peoples and the French. As a result of the French presence in the area, during the occupation of the Ionian Islands which lasted from 1797-1798 and 1807-1814, as well as in the short lived, though important. French supported puppet state, which was creat­ed along the Dolmation coasts at about the same period.

Another note worthy point, which should be an object for fur­ther historical research, is the effect of the French revolution in the economic development which apÈeeared at the beginning of the 19th century, especially in the field of the merchant marine. « The French Revolution » -wrote an author contemporary to the fiest Greek Pres­ident Kammis Capodistzia » reaminated the appressed souls of the Greeks and gradually contributed to the foundation of their com­mercial fleet, thus augmenting their trade transactions. From those who had emigrated in the West European countries, some acquired knowledge and others collected money, which both -ail of them­they decided to dispose of, when they returned to their motherland, in order to promote their great and permanent wish! ». Certainly it is not by chance that the education in Greece had dramatically pros­pered after 1789, and was almost exclusively licanced by the ethnic bourgeois class inspired by the new progressive doctrines.

The Hellenic audient a lesser degree-other balkan communities in central and Western European countries became an additional channel for the spreading of the revolutionary ideology in the Pe­ninsula, since the various commercial houses retained strong eco­nomic and other links with their respective countries. The « Napole­onic Wars » in early 19th century caused the egradual weakening of the West European merchant fleets in Eastern mediterennean Sea; the gap was promptly and succesfully filled by the Greek ovvned merchant marine which rose to the zennith of its strength during the European coast blockades, imposed alternatively by the belligrant powers, until the final fall of the Napoleonic regime in 1814. The demand of agricultural products from the East-especially from the Southern Balkans where, because of the easy transportation through the sea ports, trade bussiness were increasingly facilitated augemented considerably and was subsequently followed by an equal development in manufacturing. The economic regeneration of Greece before 1821, which is partly or result of the consequenc­es of the French Revolution, brought along other important effects ; it created a new ideological background and stretched the emer­gence of new progressive social and political elements among the Greek people, which undertook the difficult task to prepare the na­tion for its political emancipation. The works of Adamentios Ko-, zaos From Hios perhabs the greatest Hellenic schoolar and thinker before 1821, who livod in Paris during those decisive years, are strongly influenced by the spirit of the French revolution and have immensly contributed both to the formation of Modem Greek Lan­guage and to help the Greek people be acquainted to their brillant classical past.

Another typical and may be more effective example of the influence of the revolution among the progressive part of preindepen­dent Hellenic intelligentsia is Rhigas Phezaios a native of Thessaly & Rhigas was the first to coursive a concrete and elaborated plan for a democratically based Balkan confederacy, in which ail citiz­ens would enjoy equal rights regardless of religious or race. His po­litical constitution was inspired by the principles of the correspond­ing in France and his proposed anthem (Thourios) derived from popular French revolutionary verses. His plans to organize a multi­national revolutionary movement, which would involve the whole of the Balkan peninsula, were connected with the ideological frame and the political powers of revolutionary France. It was flot by chance that in the same printing office in Veinna, whose his propa­ganda pamplets were printed, the firt Hellenic newspaper was also published, the articles of which expressed an open acceptance of the doctrines vowed by the French Revolution. Rhigar himself had repeatedly attempted to get in touch with Napoleon, in order to de­mand moral and material assistance to his plans, but was failed. The French emperor, however, perhabs within his plans in future military enterprices in the East, attempted some indirect contacts with certain prominent Greeks in Manisouthem Pelopenese- which were also fruitless. It goes without trying that the draft constitution. desingned by Rhigar Phezaios was openly condemned by the Greek higher elergy, for it was full of rottennes because of its muddy thoughts which are contrary to the doctrines of our Orthodox faith.

Undoubdetly the founders of the Philiki Etaizia (Society of Friends), the secret organization which prepared the Greek Revolu­tion in 1821, were members of the reemerged Hellenic bourgesie and most of them had an under the influence of the French Revolu­tion. N. Skonfar was well acquainted with Rhigar Phezaios plans ; among the other leaders E. Xanthos, a free mason hinriself, direct relations with French Officials during his early stay in the Ionian Islands, while A. Tsakalof, boni in Ionnina, had spend much of his early life as a student in Paris. It must also be mentioned that in Tzarist Russia where the Filiki Etaizia was founded in 1814 the progressive ideology created by the French Revolution had been weel received by members of the progressive section of the russian mobility, froin which the reform movement of the Decabzrists brbke out in 1825. Recent historical research in the Soviet Union, has proved that there were frequent and essential contacts between them and leading elements of the Philiki Etaizia.

It was mainly due to the lack of adeqdate communication and the predominant illiteracy which some how hampered, as already mentioned, the great mass of the Greeks to embrace in a wider de­gree the new, full of hopes, social reality which the French Revolu­tion directly or indirectly imposed in most parts of Europe. Gradu­ally however from the second decade of the 19th century, and even after the reactionary wave which the notorious holly Alliance im­posed in most parts of the European continent in 1815, began to ap­pear within the Balkans the first elements of the influence of the newly formed social concept, which were inspired by the principles of Fraternity, Equality, Liberty and the rights of the free citizen. In this formation of modem political and social teories, the emergence of contemporary literature, the beginning of new economic transac­tions the spreading of new philosofic ideas, the improvement of the education system and in general all aspects of social life in preinde­pendent Greece were profoundly marked by the French Revolution, rightly Theodoros Kolokotzonis, a prominent leader of the Greek war of Independence, had commented that this great event « had opened up the eyes of the people ». Of course one could observe that the Greek Revolution- and the French in certain ways- failed to fulfill its socio evonomic aims, and this is today widely accepted as possibly unavoidable. However the most important result was that the political anticipation of the Greeks prepared the way for an even harder and painful struggle in order to ‘end the social unjus­tice; in that endless war nothing is -or can be- lost.


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