200 YEARS OF HISTORY – The role of the Great Powers in the Revolution of 1821

by Dimitris Polymeros.

As 2020 comes to an end, very soon it will be two hundred years since the Greek Revolution of 1821. On the occasion of this anniversary, it is worth remembering the role of the Great Powers in the outcome of the 1821 Revolution.

The beginning of the national liberation struggle of the Greeks in 1821 began under unfavourable conditions.

On the international political scene, the Holy Alliance had just been formed in 1815 by the countries that had defeated Bonaparte (Russia, Prussia, Austria, Britain and, from 1818, France) and was intended to suppress any revolutionary movement in Europe, much of which was in turmoil under the influence of the ideas of the French Revolution.

…the atrocities committed against the rebellious Greeks stirred up waves of Philhellenism in Europe.

The Greek Revolution was saved by the diplomatic genius of Kapodistrias, the Tsar’s foreign minister, who succeeded in securing the non-intervention of the members of the Holy Alliance to suppress it, on the basis that it was different from the social revolutions that were shaking Europe: A Christian Nation, it was unbearably oppressed by the barbarity of the irreligious Turkish conqueror.

As a result of the time, as the Ottoman Empire was unable to suppress the Revolution with arms, the leaders of the Great Powers, mainly England, France and Russia, oriented themselves towards the solution of creating an independent Greek state, aiming at promoting their own interests, each one of them their own. At the same time, the atrocities committed against the rebellious Greeks stirred up waves of Philhellenism in Europe.

How it evolved during the development of the National Liberation Struggle

The victories of the Greeks and the Turkish atrocities of 1822 (culminating in the massacre of Chios, which was to shock European public opinion and turn it in favour of the Greek cause) consolidated the belief in Europe that the two peoples could no longer coexist. At the same time, a strong wave of Philhellenism was developing in Europe and in America.

So the president of the United States. Monroe, in his draft Proclamation of December 1823, recognized the creation of Greek territory and proposed to Congress the sending of an ambassador (known as the “Monroe Doctrine”, the first favorable manifestation by a Great Power of recognition of Greek independence).

…the interests of the Powers were increasingly oriented
to the Greek side.

In 1824 Russia submitted a plan to the Powers which became known as the “plan of the three sections”, i.e. three semi-autonomous regions in Greece, which was accepted in principle by France, Prussia and Austria, but met with the opposition of England, to whose assistance the Greeks resorted, who were not satisfied with the Russian plan, while Britain’s response was cautious. The response of the British Foreign Minister Canning to the request of the Greeks to come under the protection of Britain, known as the “Act of Submission”, on 21 July 1825, was also negative. This move, however, encouraged the British minister to attempt to resolve the Greek issue, reaping the greatest possible benefits for Britain.

On 4 April 1826, the Protocol of Petroupolis was signed between England and Russia, which essentially dissolved the Holy Alliance and was the first official diplomatic document to recognise political existence in Greece.

Despite the unfavourable development of the struggle for the Greeks in the following period (civil war, the invasion of Ibrahim, the destruction of Psara and Kasos, the suppression of the Revolution in Crete, the siege and the heroic fall of Messolonghi), the interests of the Powers were increasingly oriented towards the Greek side.

The attitude of the European Powers during the final phase of the race

On 6 July 1827, the Treaty of London was signed, with the o-cial addition of the Powers’ demand for a truce between the warring sides, specifying the means of coercion in case of non-compliance, thus interfering in the internal affairs of the Ottoman Empire and recognising the Greeks as an equal party.

The failure of the Gate to comply with the instructions of the three Powers resulted in the dispatch of their warships to supervise the observance of the agreement. This was followed by the conflict at Navarino on 8 October 1827. The destruction of the Turkish-Egyptian fleet paved the way for Greek independence.

What was the role of the Great Powers in shaping economic reality

From the beginning of the struggle, the revolutionary governments realized that the insurrection could not be sustained without financial support from abroad and sought sources of loans. The guarantee for this was the mortgaging of “national property”.

After many risky attempts and suspiciously adventurous proposals, two foreign loans to England were obtained in 1824 and 1825. The London stock market fever, the tendency of capital to risky investments and speculative adventurism, under the guise of philhellenism, were favourable conditions for this conclusion. As we know, the hand that gives is always stronger than the hand that takes.

The terms were particularly onerous in both cases for Greece, while the accusation hurled by foreigners -and adopted slavishly and unquestioningly by the Greeks- that the English “donation” to the state under foundation was allegedly seized, is far from the truth, as modern Greek research has proven, with the irrefutable evidence of numbers.

The efforts of Kapodistrias improved the fiscal situation somewhat. From May onwards, Russia decides to send 500,000 rubles and France 500,000 francs per month. In 1831 England also sent 500,000 francs, which arrived after the assassination of the Governor.

The main characteristic of the Othonian period is the effort to establish the Greek national economy. Domestic capital was scarce and the government had trouble mobilising the capital that was available. Contacts and negotiations with foreign banks led to the establishment of the National Bank of Greece in 1841.

The role of the Great Powers in shaping political reality

The influence of the three Great Powers began already during the Revolution and extended throughout the entire Ottonian period [ 1832 – 1863 ], but also afterwards. The first Greek political parties were referred to as “English”, “French” and “Russian”. The involvement of the Powers in Greek affairs and their tutelage of the newly established state was due to its geostrategic importance in securing their ambitions in the Eastern Mediterranean, while the constant political instability in Greece was one of the main reasons for their intervention.

The competition between the various factions resulted in recourse to the three Powers and, as the interests of the latter clashed, they often caused even greater instability instead of stability.

…the three great powers were involved
in the national liberation struggle of the Greeks to safeguard their conflicting interests.

Moreover, the economic stuntedness and military weakness of the Greek state led to its negotiating disadvantage vis-à-vis the Ottoman Empire, within whose borders more than two thirds of the Greek nation continued to live as slaves.

Greek political leaders tried to compensate for this weakness with the help of the Powers, at the price of interference in the composition of Greek governments and reaction to Greek foreign policy, which aimed at liberating the remaining Greek territories.

In conclusion, the three great Powers were involved in the national liberation struggle of the Greeks to safeguard their conflicting interests. As the newly emerged Greek state was economically stunted and politically unstable, the role of the three great Powers was decisive in shaping both the economic and political reality of this newly established state. Something that is still more or less the case today.

This “lame” beginning of the Greek state explains the various pathologies between which the Modern Greeks constantly vacillate – rayadism on the one hand, megalo-ideatism on the other. As, of course, were the centuries of slavery that preceded it. So, when we do our self-criticism as a people (as we should), it is good to take all this into account – and let’s be a bit lenient.

Finally, it is worth noting that it is very rare to find a specific person who, with the skills, acumen and will of Ioannis Kapodistrias, managed to change the course of history. We owe him much more than we owe all the Great Powers combined; and yet, for all his services, we have repaid him with a bullet and a knife.