the city of Freedom gets ready for the 200th Exodus
The financial prosperity in Messolonghi went hand in hand with the educational flourishing. In the middle of the 18th century, there were two famous educational institutions in the city (the Palamaiki School and the School of Greek Studies) which attracted remarkable teachers and students from all over the Greek world. The founders of the schools were aware of the importance of their work, not only for the trainees themselves but also for the entire community. The people of Messolonghi had a real thirst for learning, a fact that was clearly demonstrated by the concern they showed for the establishment of schools during the years of the revolution. In these schools, the students had the opportunity to learn ancient Greek, Italian and French, in order to strengthen the new relations with the Europeans that were forged during the war.
The young people of Messolonghi did have the opportunity to use their language skills. The city was the most significant military and administrative centre of the western part of Central Greece. The Ottoman armies heading to the Peloponnese had to go through Messolonghi and the inability of the Turks to occupy the city laid the foundations for its transformation into an expeditionary base for the liberation of western Greece. The local chiefs gathered around them numerous soldiers who led the clashes with the Ottomans in the wider area. The presence of European philhellenes who ended up in Messolonghi in the summer of 1822, as part of the ambitious campaign of Mavrokordatos to help the besieged Souliotes was particularly important. Many of them remained in the city after the devastating battle of Peta and gathered, a few years later, around the famous English poet Lord Byron.
Messolonghi during the revolution was a bustling and multinational community; a place where refugees, romantics, adventurers and professionals of politics and war gathered. The shores of the lagoon resounded with the voices of the Souliotes arguing with Swedish officers or the dreamy words of the Swiss Meyer and the Englishman Stanhope. The people of Messolonghi manned the walls alongside German, Italian and French volunteers, who sought in the Greek revolution the realisation of their ideals. The Greeks fought stubbornly for their freedom, but Messolonghi fought for something more: the belief that this barren corner of Greece represented the stronghold of a new conception of the formation of European societies. Liberalism and the recognition of the value of individual freedoms and rights gradually replaced 18th-century conservatism and oppression, but the reaction was fierce and the sacrifices required were enormous.
The decision of the people of Messolonghi and the Philhellenes to fight to the end shocks and raises a fundamental question. Why did they choose conflict over salvation? Why did they refuse to surrender and leave safely but preferred to pave the way with swords and guns? The exodus is the ultimate solution to the insurmountable problem of food shortages, but it remains a transcendental decision that almost defies logic. The final failure of the military part of the exodus and the consequent slaughter of the civilians seems, at first reading, an absolute disaster. The death that indiscriminately reaped Greeks and philhellenes put an apparent end to a pan-European effort to defend a dream. Freedom seemed to be buried in the ruins of Messolonghi.
The sacrifice of its defenders, however, was in fact a valuable legacy for the revolution and future generations. The heroism and self-sacrifice of the people of Messolonghi and the Philhellenes shocked the Greek and European public opinion. The international philhellenic movement revived and pressed the governments of the Great Powers to finally intervene in favour of Greek freedom. The blood that watered the ruins of the city turned Messolonghi into a global symbol and reference point in the timeless effort to defend human freedom. A handful of people stood up to the vast Ottoman Empire and the conservative forces of the European political establishment in order to proclaim their belief in the possibility of building a better world. A world where individuals and social groups will have the opportunity and the right to act and exist without fear, oppression or the need to hide.
Freedom is not a univocal or simplistic concept. It takes various forms and manifests itself in multiple manifestations that form a set of complementary demands in order for the individual to be able to experience real and essential freedom. At the most obvious level, we recognize national and political freedom, which are manifested in states and societies where citizens live without fear or the presence of foreign forces and have the right to act and make decisions without restrictions and through democratic processes. Social and economic/professional freedom are complementary forms that exist when there is no discrimination and meritocracy and equality prevail.
At the second level, the existence and necessity of inner freedom is recognized, which takes four main forms. Psychological freedom is structured by the elimination of fears and insecurities that hinder the social and personal development of the individual. Intellectual freedom is based on the rejection of prejudice, stereotypes and authorities that undermine the development of individual critical ability. Finally, moral freedom stems from the individual’s personal struggle against passions and human pettiness.
The distinction of external and internal freedoms or the recognition of individual forms does not imply an evaluative hierarchy. All these forms are legitimate and contribute to the optimal development of the individual and society. These are inalienable rights and are a universal issue. Ensuring them requires constant vigilance and requires struggle at multiple levels. The Greek Revolution of 1821 clearly expresses the demand for national and political freedom. There are, however, in it the nuggets of other forms of freedom, which were expressed consciously or unconsciously during the many years of struggle. The defenders of Messolonghi may not have been fully aware of the multilateralism of freedom, but they did their utmost to try to limit injustice, oppression, pettiness and the violation of human rights.
The Exodus of Messolonghi as a historical event lays the foundation for the modern city to develop into a global centre for the study and promotion of the idea of freedom and the challenges it faces today. The fighters of 1826 contributed to the national liberation of Greece. They placed a small stone in the edifice of world freedom. Two hundred years later, the effort to preserve and expand this building encounters many difficulties. Democratic societies where citizens and individuals enjoy the full range of forms of freedom are rare. Authoritarian regimes appear resilient to the pressures of democratisation and cause disastrous violations of individual rights, devastating civil wars, and sweeping migratory currents that subvert countless lives.
Freedom is threatened, however, even in the most favoured and (in theory) democratic states. The causes vary from case to case, however, there are some common components that facilitate the direct or indirect restriction of individual and collective freedoms. Powerful states interfere in the internal affairs of the weakest and deprive them of their freedom where it is deemed appropriate or feasible. The influence of the media leads to political, economic and social manipulation of citizens. Advertisements, which dominate the public space, turn people into consumers who seek happiness in the excessive search for goods.
Dominant ideologies and fanaticism, manifested in areas such as politics, religion or national issues, deprive citizens of critical and autonomous thinking. Racism, intolerance and prejudice against the different raise walls that exclude people or trap them in dead-end behaviours. Minorities are often exposed to oppressive behaviours and prohibitions that deprive them of the opportunity to fully and equitably participate in public or democratic processes.
Internal freedoms are also under persecution. Many people face psychological difficulties, phobias, insecurities and complexes that are a hindrance to their desire to participate in the community or to complete their personal development in the way they want. Difficulties in accessing education, misinformation, fragmented access to knowledge and the consequent lack of critical thinking or the ability to assess events trap individuals in unfree situations. They become subordinates of people who are projected as authorities or guides and end up reluctantly serving the personal pursuits of others.
Moral freedom is under particular pressure. Modern societies put significant pressure on individuals to meet specific consumption patterns. When this is not possible, people may turn to dishonest practices and acquire material goods that they consider to be rightfully theirs by methods that prove their moral enslavement to controversial principles. This is a problem that arises with particular intensity in those societies that we would call primarily democratic and prosperous. Within the abundance and satisfaction of their basic rights, the individuals are easily drawn into streets that are far removed from the ideals of true human freedom and dignity.
Moral freedom is under particular pressure. Modern societies put significant pressure on individuals to meet specificThe international dialogue on the causes of the restriction of freedom in modern societies, the violation of human rights and the actions that can and should be taken to address these challenges can and should begin in the Sacred City of Messolonghi. The valuable legacy of the exodus gives Messolonghi the right to become an ambassador of the global demand for freedom and protection of human rights. Its citizens have experienced first-hand the sacrifices required for freedom. They have been nurtured by the example of their ancestors. They live in a place where fighters and philhellenes surpassed themselves.
This theoretical and somewhat romantic approach, however, alone would not suffice to justify the request of the Sacred City of Messolonghi to be recognized as the forerunner of freedom. Such a project requires infrastructure, networking and interfaces in order to have the maximum impact. The modern city is changing its face with a series of significant investments in infrastructure projects, which make it an economic, cultural and educational centre.
The dynamics of the two hundred years since the Revolution (1821) and the Exodus (1826) draw the attention of the Greek and world public to Messolonghi. It is a unique opportunity to highlight the legacy of the Exodus and the city. This is where Exodus’s strategic planning comes in, investing in the remarkable potential of the city and its inhabitants to launch multi-level actions with results at local, national and international level.