ROMANITY, OR BARBARITY?


Richard Blake

Note: I don’t know where this came from originally. It was sent to Mr Blake by one of his fans. But its tries to put the difficult relations between the Greeks and West Europeans in a general context. There is some truth in the claim that the modern Greeks have only themselves to blame for what is happening to them. They lied to get into the Euro. The broke all its rules. They then elected a government of thugs that is still trying to blackmail more subsidies out of the Germans.

At the same time, there does seem to be a fundamental difference between the Modern Greeks and us, the descendants of the German and Slavic invaders of the Roman Empire. They remain foreign to us in ways that even post-Soviet countries like the Czech and Slovak Republics are not. Indeed, go to Prague or Bratislava, and you find yourself among fellow Europeans. Go to Athens, and you are among aliens.

What to do about this I have no idea. SIG

INTRODUCTION

Thirteen years after the incorporation of Hellas in the European Economic Community, there have been increasing indications around us, of a profound economical and social crisis. Despite the hefty transfers of funds by the European Community, Hellas appears to be drifting away from, rather than drawing nearer to, its European colleagues. To this day, the Hellenic political reaction to this reality is limited to attempts at securing the largest possible amounts from the European funds. In other words, the viewpoint that is predominant is that the problem is purely one of ‘uneven development’, which can be solved only when sufficient funds and technical know-how pour into Hellas from the European Community.

Our opinion is that the Hellenic crisis is of a different nature. It is more of an overall national identity crisis, where the emerging prevalence of a foreign civilization is provoking spasmodic and uncontrollable personal reactions, beyond every moral framework and every form of hierarchy. The transfers of funds will not resolve any problem (not even the immediate economical one), if we do not previously acquire a realization of what our identity is, and what the cultural causes are, that differentiate us from the rest of the European Union; causes that can negate the customary formulas for transcending the crisis. Unless we do this, Hellas will continue to be asking for the others’ “understanding” with regard to her problems, while our European colleagues will continue to express their indignation over our non-conformance to their instructions.

In our opinion, the crisis that we see today is nothing more than the outcome of an age-old contest between two worlds, two civilizations, and two different perceptions of life. However, there is a tendency nowadays to demote the historical differences between Hellenism and the West, in our attempt to invoke a “common European heritage” which supposedly unites the people of the European Union. For example, the acceptance of the Maastricht Treaty – in absentia of the uninformed Hellenic people – was accompanied by a propagandistic bombardment, whose central message was that Hellas has “at last discovered its destiny”, in Europe. Given this kind of backdrop, any viewpoint that opposes the notion of a uniform European Idea and is reminiscent of the historical opposition between Hellas and Western Europe, is most assuredly condemned to be marginalized during the years to come.

The way to the acceptance of this neutralized version of History was opened two centuries ago by certain Western-educated Hellene scholars who imposed on our people a perception of life and History entirely opposite to those that the Hellenic people themselves had preserved during the years of the Turkish occupation. The systematic distortion of our cultural physiognomy has nowadays reached the extreme stage of schizophrenia.

We observe and analyze ourselves, our History and our religion, through a Western point of view. In other words, we look at ourselves in a mirror that doesn’t reflect us, but only an image of us, designed by Western Europeans. Thus, it is only to be expected, that we will not be able to solve our true problems, if we can’t even recognize them in our distorting mirror.

The result of this distortion, but also proof of our cultural difference, is the continuing misapprehension regarding Hellas’ place in Europe. Thus, we have Hellenes feeling flattered whenever they hear official foreign guests praising the country that gave birth to democracy, philosophy etc., and yet, these same Hellenes insist on overlooking the fact that those foreign guests are the ones that also regard today’s Hellas as a decadent country – an embarrassment to Europe. While Hellenes want to boast that they belong to the West, Western Europeans see us as an annoying remnant of the East inside their Community.

These misapprehensions often lead us into major national issues, even into national catastrophes, when Neo-Hellenes refuse to comprehend the Europeans’ reaction to our “justified” national demands. Thus, as a State, we are continuously perplexed by the foreigners’ stance towards the “Grand Idea”, the catastrophe of Asia Minor, the Cyprus issue and more recently, the “Macedonian issue”. In our opinion, it is unfortunately inevitable that the increasing nationalist tensions in Europe today will be bringing us new surprises in the near future, on account of the misguided expectations that we have of foreigners. Already, during the last two years, we have been witnesses to an incredible – for European colleagues- anti-Hellenic sentiment, as displayed in publications of the Western press.

And as far as Western Europeans are concerned, it is only natural for them to harbor whatever views they might have. The problem lies in our own ignorance of the different historical background on which they judge matters.

Our study consists of an effort to historically detect the advent of the different viewpoint through which the Hellenes and the western Europeans see Hellas. Some of the more important problems regarding our national identify cannot be addressed, unless we are familiar with the roots of our historical differences with the West.

An example of such a problem is -as we said before-the opinion that Westerners have about today’s Hellas. It is an opinion of deep contempt, as the millions of our compatriots abroad have had the chance to daily ascertain for themselves. Neo-Hellenes are of the opinion that this contempt has its roots in the Turkish occupation, when foreigners visiting Hellas had observed for themselves the locals’ tremendous lag in progress, as compared to the West. To the extent that Hellas still carries residues of the Turkish occupation, Westerners continue to maintain their contemptuous stance towards her.

This perception is utterly wrong and historically unfounded. The Westerners’ opinions of Hellas were NOT shaped during the Turkish occupation.

This same scorn is observed during the last centuries preceding the fall of Constantinople, when the Latin church had launched its all-out campaign to Latinize Romanity – in its religion as well as in its language. This same contempt is also observed during the time of the Crusades. And should we desire to seek its deeper roots, we will have to go back even further, to the beginning of the Mediaeval period, from the 5th to the 9th centuries, during which time, the idea of “Western Europe” was first formulated.

Consequently, the contempt of the Westerners does not originate from today’s “superiority” of the West’s civilization, but from the historical differences that existed as far back as the time that the western Europeans were still living in the darkness of mediaeval barbarity.

This very essential point is dealt with in more detail, in Part 3 (chapters 6, 7 and 8) of this study.

A second example of a problem that cannot be addressed -unless the historical cause of our difference with the West is researched- is the familiar dilemma as to whether Hellas belongs (culturally, that is) to the “East” or the “West”.1 In our opinion, the related discussions on this matter often do not take into account certain elementary historical facts. As we shall see in our study, Western Europe was born between the 5th and the 8th centuries, when the barbarian Germanic tribes clashed with the Hellenic-Roman civilization, whose exclusive carrier was, at the time, the so-called “Byzantine” Empire. The Western European conscience was shaped within this very conflict with Constantinople, and was defined by it.

From that time onwards, a “Western European” was defined as anyone who was not Christian Orthodox; one who did not feel that he belonged to the Ecumenical Christian Empire with Constantinople as its capital; and one who did not acknowledge the civilization that was formed from the synthesis of Hellenism and Christianity in the Eastern Roman Empire.

If we accept this basic historical definition, then any and all discussions regarding Hellas’ place in Europe, in the West or the East, will cease to be of any relevance. To the “Europeans”, Hellas by definition does not belong to Europe, since she is the heir of an opponent tradition – the opponent civilization which they themselves had to fight against tenaciously, so that they could become what they are today. It should not escape us, that European Mediaeval history between 800 and 1400 A.D. is essentially a continuous conflict between Latins and “Byzantines”.

But even nowadays, most of the seasonal discussions regarding the so-called “common European heritage” do not include elements of our Roman tradition. On the contrary, the remnants of this tradition are looked upon as anachronistic impediments for the fulfillment of Europe’s new cultural profile.

On the other hand, the Hellenes see no reason to identify themselves with either the East or the West, since these two concepts are both defined by an (opponent) relationship with Hellas. That is, the West exists –in the cultural sense- only because it fought against – and annihilated – the Hellenic-Roman civilization, otherwise, all of Europe would have continued to be a Roman province. The East was also something entirely different to the Hellenic-Roman culture, albeit deeply influenced by it during Mediaeval times.

The conclusion is that –historically- the West and the East are both defined by their relationships with Hellas, and not the other way around. This is a true fact, for the simple reason that Hellenes were for at least 1800 years (from 600 B.C. through to 1200 A.D.) undisputedly the most civilized nation in Europe. Subsequently, what happened was that all the other nations that came in contact with us had to take sides and either accept or reject the elements of the existing Hellenic civilization.

The historical framework that we are proposing here will assist in the understanding of certain problems and misapprehensions which will otherwise remain obscure. A characteristic, recent example is Durosel’s renowned “History of Europe”, which ignited multiple reactions in our homeland, the reason being the absence altogether of any mention of ancient Hellas and Byzantium in the history of Europe. To the Hellenes, it is self-evident that ancient Hellas and the “Byzantium” were primary factors in the shaping of Europe. To the non-Hellenic Europeans however, Europe “begins” from the moment that the Westerners themselves make their appearance on the scene; in other words, in the 4th century A.D., with the invasions of the Roman Empire by the Germanic tribes. 2 The whole “European idea”, which is so widely advertised in our day, is nothing more than an attempt to reunite the descendants of those Germanic tribes.

In this context, it is not very obvious why Hellas or “Byzantium” should belong to “Europe”. In fact, the entire course of Europe after the 4th century was nothing more than the expansion of the “Europeans” (=the barbarian tribes), to the detriment of the “Byzantines” (=the Romans). Western historians of course strive to convince us that Romans and barbarians merged and thus produced today’s west-European civilization. This viewpoint constitutes a witting distortion of History, which the Westerners have imposed, in order to secure amnesty for the crimes of their ancestors and to simultaneously usurp the achievements of the Hellenic-Roman civilization. We shall have the chance to say more about this fundamental distorting of History, in chapters 4, 6 and 8 of our study.

The Durosel viewpoint was “heretical”, only inasmuch as he had ignored Ancient Hellas. The omission of “Byzantium” is a common denominator in the Western stories of Europe. In lieu of the many examples of this fact, we could mention one instance which is quite recent (1980), in a multi-volume, French “General History of Europe” (C. Livet and R. Mousnier, Presses Universitaires de France publications), recently circulated in the Greek language (1990) by Papazisis Publications. The Hellenic edition is in fact prologued by the President of the Athens Academy, Mr. G. Vlachos, who expressed his amazement over the absence of Byzantium therein. But why the amazement? To anyone who has lived overseas, it is a well-known fact that for the Westerners, mediaeval and latter-day Hellas are not included in that which is called “Europe”. Even when reasons of “courtesy” and “cultural pluralism” demand that “Byzantium” be included in such publications, its role is inevitably portrayed as a peripheral one, as though it were some insignificant duchy of the East and not the most prominent political and cultural power of Europe for many centuries.

Unfortunately, the age-old enmity of the West towards the Romans of Mediaeval times does not allow them -even to this day- to objectively study such an “innocuous” subject like mediaeval history.

As a last characteristic example, we could refer to the collective work “Handbuch der Europaischen Geschichte” (Publishers: Ernst Klert-Cotta of Stuttgart, with General Publisher: Theodore Schieder), which presents European History from latter antiquity until our times, in seven large volumes. In the first volume (which was published in 1976) the publisher certifies that this work is not limited only to western and central Europe, but that it also extends to Eastern Europe, in order to include the Slavic and Hellenic-Orthodox civilizations. And yet, the first volume – which covers the period between 400 A.D. to the middle of the 11th century – of its total 1061 pages, dedicates a meagre 81 pages for Byzantium! Seven whole centuries of Byzantine History take up almost the same space as the text that analyses the organizing of the barbaric tribes during the 5th century (75 pages) !!!! 3

We believe that comments would be redundant at this point, in the face of these examples. One has to be blind, to not perceive what the European opinion is of us, of our History and our tradition.

Instead of trying to convince West Europeans with inferiority-ridden protests and announcements asking to include us in their History, we should have grabbed the rare instance of honesty displayed by them, with the opportunity of Durosel’s History. We should have –at last– acknowledged that both as peoples and as civilizations, the Hellenic and the Western European sides are conflicting sides, ever since the first appearance of “western Europeans” in the 4th century A.D. It is subsequently not at all peculiar, that certain books express that which is ingrained in the conscience of every western European. 4 Durosel could have become the pretext for us to stop and reconsider more seriously what our position is, towards a civilization that is exceptionally hostile, exceptionally anti-Roman. A civilization that tries to impose a universal model of man, by eliminating the memory and the lifestyle of different peoples, including the Hellenic people.

Our study will attempt to highlight some of the historical causes of the gap between Hellenism and the West, by stressing those that are usually overlooked or purposely falsified in “official”

European –but also Hellenic– historiography. We believe it is redundant to refer to the cultural differences per se; they have already been described in a superb manner by some of the most inspired minds that our country has given birth to during the last hundred years, and have been deposited in the life works of a certain Per. Yannopoulos, a certain G. Seferis, a certain Ph. Kontoglou…..

Our study is therefore purely historical. Part 1 (chapters 1,2 and 3) is necessarily dedicated to the clarification of the confusion that was caused by our national names. In the past 1500 years, we have been referred to with four different names (Romans, Greeks, Byzantines, Hellenes). The reasons for this confusion did not originate from our people, who always knew their one and only name, throughout these centuries. They originated from our west European enemies, who concocted various names, in their desire to cut us off from our national continuity.

These names were used as ideological means, for the extermination of Hellenism.

In Part 2 (chapters 4 and 5) we shall examine the shaping of our “Roman national conscience”, which differs radically from the tribal, national ideologies of the Western lands, beginning from the time that the Germanic tribes invaded western Europe. The two constituents of this Roman conscience are: the supranational model of the State, and the Christian faith. An understanding of the Roman national ideology is a necessary step towards comprehending the individuality of Romanity versus the West.

In Part 3 (chapters 6,7 and 8), we shall present some of the problems of the “Dark Ages” (7th – 8th centuries), when an immense “rupture” appeared in European History : a barbarian tribe, the Franks, began a conscious effort to distort History, for the purpose of usurping the Roman imperial title. As we shall see, it was from that moment on, that western Europe made its choice of renouncing and turning against the Hellenic-Roman civilization. From within this conflict, “Europe” for the first time acquired a conscience of its own, and “western civilization” was also born of it, as a distinctly separate phenomenon. It is within this “rupture”, that the sources of our difference with the western Europeans can be found.

From the beginning of the 9th century onwards, Romanity and the West followed diverging courses, as the West now began to reveal its mortal hatred towards anything Roman. The external expressions of this hatred (the Schism, the “Crusades”, the Frankish domination, etc) were especially revealing for our ancestors, and they became the determining factor of Romanity’s orientation thereafter. However, a more analytical description of this period is beyond the scope of this study. What concerns us more at this point is the ever-widening gap of the original rupture, which was the source of the conflicts that were to follow.

The publishing of this study would not have been possible, without the love and the prompting of the reverend father Hierotheos Vlachos, who read the manuscript and offered his suggestions for its improvement. For all of these things, I would like to express my warmest thanks.

For the informed reader, it will also become obvious that this study owes much to the pioneer work of fr. John Romanides, “Romanity”. In our opinion, the reasons for “Romanity” not reaching as many readers as possible, is due to various reasons. Anyway, because father Romanides’ views are sometimes ambiguous, we tried to proceed to an independent study of certain other sources, in order ascertain which points can be verified. Thus, wherever we had the potential to check our sources, we did so, without needing to reference Romanides. The conclusion reached through this research is in almost absolute agreement with Romanides’ conclusions.

One could counter-observe that, regardless what the conclusions of such a historical study may be, they have no bearing on the scalding issues of today’s Hellenic society. We disagree with this view. It is our belief that, firstly, History itself provides answers to questions that are being posed nowadays, precisely because those same questions had been posed in the past. The entire issue of Hellas vs. the West is a characteristic example of a problem that persists for over 1500 years. Especially during periods when our national threats are exacerbated, it becomes self-destructive, to have no conscience whatsoever of the deep-rooted cultural adversity that characterizes the sentiment of Westerners towards us.

Beyond this, however, historical knowledge also shapes the vision that we have for the future. The impression that we have of ancient Hellas, of “Byzantium”, or of western European history, defines – either consciously or subconsciously – what kind of society we envisage for ourselves. Perhaps that is what the poet Seferis meant, when he said that “by erasing a part from the past, one erases a corresponding part from the future.”

The only way to overcome our problems today is to rediscover our lost historical memory and to regain contact with what we truly are, with what our heart truly desires. Only then will we discover that – no matter how hard we try to deny it by believing that we are one with western Europeans – our everyday life, our joys and sorrows, our hopes, our celebrations and our disappointments feasts are all permeated with a sensation exclusively our own, unknown to the Westerners, which can also be called “Romanity’s longing”.

3 thoughts on “ROMANITY, OR BARBARITY?

  1. This is the intro to

    Romanity, or Barbarity
    The Historical problems of the Roman Empire, Hellenism & the West
    Anastasios Philippide
    Pelagia 2007 (Publications of the Theotokos Monastery)

    and for those interested the whole text in English is available from

    http://oodegr.co/english/biblia/romiosyni/perieh.htm

    Greece is indeed not “European” but neither is it entirely alien (sure you weren’t just confused by the funny writing, Sean?). On the other hand it helps to have read Braudel on Mediterranean culture/history/economy, and a bit of sane anthropology, and know a bit of the country’s political history since independence to see why (and how) Greeks think the way they do. Not to mention the language, in which—slight exaggeration—half the words in Lidell & Scott are alive & well.

    I could pick arguments with some of the statements posted, but it’s p’r’aps best to read the whole book first. Thanks very much for the pointer.

    —Peter B

  2. “The only way to overcome our problems today is … to regain contact with what we truly are, with what our heart truly desires.” I might agree with this sentence, but only if edited. Especially if “we” means everyone alive today on planet Earth.

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