Greece celebrated on Thursday 200 years since the start of its war of independence with the Ottoman Empire with parades and ceremonies attended by foreign dignitaries, even though the pandemic forced officials to reduce events.
“Today the nation celebrates,” said Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis as the Greek flag was solemnly raised over the Acropolis in Athens.
“Two centuries ago, a handful of determined warriors inside and outside Greece raised the flag of independence … with the help of their allies, they fought heroically and won their freedom,” he said ahead of planned events across Greece and among diaspora communities abroad.
Security was tight, with 4,000 police, drones and snipers to be sent to Athens, says a police source. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, no spectators are allowed to participate except a few reporters.
Russia’s Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, Britain’s Prince Charles and French Defense Minister Florence Parly have placed wreaths at the tomb of the unknown soldier, Greece’s main military monument, ahead of the national parade.
Britain, France and Russia helped Greece achieve its independence in 1830 after almost a decade of warfare against overwhelming odds.
At that time, the Ottoman Empire extended through the Balkans and modern-day Turkey to North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and the Caucasus.
“As the source of Western civilization, the spirit of Greece runs through our societies and our democracies,” Prince Charles said at a dinner at the president’s mansion on Wednesday.
“Without her, our laws, our art, our way of life would never have flourished as they have.”
The three allies from the conflict of 1821-1829 are among countries that have sent military hardware for Thursday’s celebration.
A parade of tanks, artillery and jets will mark the occasion in the capital Athens, along with assembled troops in traditional costumes from the 1821 conflict.
A cannon on Lycabettus Hill overlooking Athens had previously fired a salute at 21 shots.
Sympathy for the matter
In an interview with Greek television on Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron – who could not attend due to the pandemic deadlock – referred to tensions between Greece and Turkey over their disputed sea border.
Hostilities flared up last year when Ankara sent a research vessel accompanied by a fleet in waters near the Turkish coast that Greece claims belongs to it – a claim that the EU supports.
“We must always be on the side of our European allies when they are attacked in their sovereignty, when they are threatened in their independence, the respect for their borders,” Macron said.
Sympathy for the cause of Greece in 1821 triggered a movement in Europe and the United States, known as Philhellenism, with advocates including former US President Thomas Jefferson, French novelist Victor Hugo, German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Russian author Alexander Pushkin and English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron.
Hundreds of Philhellene volunteers fought and died for the liberation of Greece, with Byron among them.
A joint effort by France, Russia and Britain eventually defeated a Turkish-Egyptian fleet in the important battle of 1827 at Navarino, and further military turns forced the Ottoman Empire to recognize Greece’s sovereignty in 1830.