From Agathangelos to the Megale Idea : Russia and the emergence of modern Greek nationalism

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John Nicolopoulos


The socio-economic and political processes which forged strong links between Greeks and Russia in the 18th and 19th centuries have been adequately described. Subject of this paper is the myth of unconditional Russian support to the Greeks on their initiative, offering them an irresistable model for the necessary transition from Byzantine universalism to modern nationalism,
a transition which was completed with the emergence of the Megale Idea.
The climate of expectation of deliverance through the Russians was reflected in popular media, as well as in more literate forms. A pseudonymus collection of prophesies called Agathangelos enjoyed extraordinary popularity. Polyeides, author of the book, wrote it from the point of view of the Greek diaspora in Central Europe. His historical material forms three sections: the Catholic West, the Protestant North and the Orthodox East. Protestantism will crush Catholicism and prepare the way for the ultimate triumph of Orthodoxy. In the East he celebrates the rising star of Russia. The new zealots appropriated Agathangelos as a favorite medium for their propaganda. Their first organizational umbrella was the “Russian Party”, led by a coalition of the remnants of the Capodistrian beaurocracy. The apocalyptic visions of Agathangelos seemed to materialize with the eruption of the Anatolian crisis in 1839 and the anticipation of the imminent dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. The banner of Agathangelism covered two classes of rebels to the Othonian regime; it became the medium of protest of the “plebeian” base of the Russian Party, especially the Peloponnesean peasantry. Urbanization and economic development in the 20th century changed the terms of reference of social and political conflict and emigration depopulated the focal areas of primitive rebellion.

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