Sunday, December 5, 2021

The Bicentenary and Contemporary Greek Identity in Relation to Interethnic Encounters

For my contribution to the conversation about the bicentenary, I have been working on a host of narratives which connect the Greek revolution with the making of contemporary Greek identity in relation to historically disenfranchised populations. The context of my initial sample of narratives included both Greece and the diaspora (see my presentation at the Yale conference on the Greek Revolution and the Diaspora here). 

But as I turn my talk into a book chapter, and in the interest of space, I focus exclusively on the diaspora component. Still, the section on Greece belongs to the broader problematic of the paper, namely bicentenary narratives which place the making of Greek civic identities in the context of interethnic encounters and in relation to people not historically connected with the revolution. 

I am sharing it here: 

An essay by Dimitris Christopoulos (2021) brings the Greek revolution and the making of a Greek civic identity today in conversation. The author singles out the first provisional revolutionary constitution––voted by the national assembly of Epidaurus on January 1, 1822––as a prism to reflect on citizenship practices in modern Greece. As the “most robust birth-right citizenship [jus soli] law Greece has ever known,” he writes, the Epidaurus constitution calls to “reexamine Greece’s version of ‘we the people’” in the context of the country’s multiethnic present. Do we consider the children of the immigrants “members of the Greek nation”? he asks. “Do we want them in our polity? … who do we want to be, after all?” 

Christopoulos reminds us that a revolution “confronts the primary political question of power”: “who has power, who claims power, who questions power, who gains power. It defines those we want, those we expel, those we tolerate, those we prefer, those with whom we proceed and those we leave behind.” 

This position recognizes that identity is more than an act of defining the self; it implicitly or explicitly positions the self in relation to others. As John Gillis’s (1994) statement in the epigraph indicates, “every assertion of identity involves a choice that affects not just ourselves but others” (5). 

Two hundred years since the revolution, the question of Greek civic identity is raised once again with urgency in view that since the 1990s, at least, Greece has become the destination of waves of immigrants. The reigning jus sanguine (the right of blood) at the time presented a legal barrier for conferring citizenship rights to immigrant children born in Greece and consequently a roadblock for their social integration and mobility. It is upon the Greek state’s power to legislate, and the Greek people’s power to decide about the place of non-ethnically Greek demographics such as immigrants, refugees, and their children in the polity. 

The birthright legal principle of the revolutionary era¬¬––whose cycle ended in 1835––presents a legacy, Christopoulos advocates, to be adopted and adjusted (1) to the current circumstances of multiethnic Greece. And while in fact the legal framework has been shifting since 2015 toward an inclusive jus soli ideology, the place of naturalized immigrants and their children in the nation is still contested. 

Will those immigrants who are conferred the legal right of citizenship be rendered as equally Greek in the national imaginary? The question requires further reflection about the necessary political arrangements and cultural mechanisms toward this inclusion. It also calls for investigation about how certain intersections between civic and cultural Greek identities might facilitate the process of inclusion.

Yiorgos Anagnostou 
October 2021. 

Note 

1. For the ideological and pragmatic motivations regarding the criteria for citizenship in the provisional constitutions during the revolution see E. Vogli, «The Greek War of Independence and the Emergence of a Modern Nation-state in Southeastern Europe (1821-1827)», στο Plamen Mitev et al (επιμ.), Empires and Peninsulas: Southeastern Europe Between Karlowitz and the Peace of Adrianople, 1699-1829 (Berlin 2010: LIT Verlag), σ. 194–195]. 

Works Cited 

Christopoulos, Dimitris, «Giannis Antetokounmpo and 200 Years of Greek Revolution», OpenDemocracy, 8 March 2021, [accessed June 10, 2021].

Gillis, John, «Memory and Identity: The History of a Relationship», στο John R. Gillis (επιμ.), Commemorations: The Politics of National Identity (Princeton 1994: Princeton University Press): 3–24.