Thursday, October 26, 2006


There really was a Prince of Pindus, though his principality and indeed his royal self warrant scarcely a mention in Greek historiography. Indeed the first I heard of him was during my student days, from the mouth of the esteemed Professor Richard Clogg, who while visiting my university, issued two research challenges: 1. To find extant copies of Karamanli texts (been there, done that thanks to the ubiquitous Ebay,) and 2. To find out whom Alkiviadis Diamandis actually was. To do so is to immerse oneself into the swirling whirlpool of competing nationalist and irredentist claims that so pockmarked the development of early twentieth century Greece.
A Vlach hailing from Samarina, by virtue of his primary schooling in Romanian, Diamandis developed a conception of his 'Vlachness' that was inextricably linked to Romania, given that his native dialect was closely related to the Romanian language. He left Greece on the eve of the Balkan Wars, graduated from the Commercial Academy in Bucharest and in 1916, actually served in the Romanian Army.
For those interested in the history of Northern Epirus, Diamandis makes a cameo appearance in Korytsa, which was successively occupied by the Northern Epirus Autonomous Republic, Albanian secessionists, the French Army and finally in 1918 by Romanian funded Vlachs who set up the extremely short-lived "Republic of Pindus." Diamandis appears on the proclamation of the establishment of the "Republic" as co-founder.
After the dissolution of the Republic, Diamandis tarried in Albania, befriending the first president of Albania, Fan Noli, also known by his native Greek name, Theofanis Mavromatis. He is also reputed to have been the Kingdom of Romania's consul in the city of Avlona for a time. He then drifted to Rome where he fell in with Mussolini's fascists and in particular, the dream of establishing an empire of Latin-speaking peoples around the Mediterranean. Contacting the Romanian Legation in Rome, he was issued with a Romanian passport and returned to Greece where he would travel to the various Vlach-speaking villages of the Pindus mountain range attempting to variously inculcate in the villagers, a Romanian national consciousness or at least, Vlach national consciousness as separate of that of a Greek, as a fall back position. Cash gifts and material goods were supplied to families who sent their children to Romanian schools or openly professed a "Vlach" consciousness.
Diamandis' activities were known to the Greek authorities. He received a pardon for what were termed his 'seditious' activities in 1927 and re-surfaced in Athens as vice-president of the "National Petroleum Company of Romania," living in Kolonaki and enjoying a flamboyant lifestyle. His frequent travel to Italian-occupied Rhodes attracted renewed interest in his activities by the Greek counter-intelligence services. As a result, during Ioannis Metaxas' regime, when a general crackdown against cultural manifestations other than those conforming to the strictly "Hellenic" stereotype" delineated by the government, Diamandis was issued with an expulsion order. However, owing to the gathering storm clouds and intelligence of an imminent Italian invasion, his expulsion was never carried out.
Indeed, Diamandis also seems to have been privy to the Italian invasion plans. When the invasion actually occurred, he was already in Konitsa, at the Greek border. The Italians offered him the rank of Commendatore and he was appointed translator and aide to general Alfredo Guzzoni. After the heroic Greek counterattack that saw Greek soldiers repel the Italian invasion and expel them from Northern Epirus, Diamandis fled to Tirana, returning only to Greece after the successful conclusion of the German invasion in 1941.
It was then that Diamandis decided to create the "Autonomous State of Pindus," later renaming this the "Principality of Pindus" or "Principatu di la Pind" in Vlach, after deciding that he would like to be referred as Principe. The state was to be comprised of Vlach speaking villages in Epirus, Macedonia and Thessaly. To this effect, his now self styled Highness Prince the Prince of Pindus traveled to Grevena to receive the acclamation of his subjects and then to Metsovo, which he renamed Aminciu and declared it to be the capital of his principality. Further, he founded the Roman Legion of Larissa, a paramilitary group, poorly provisioned from Italian army surplus seconds to assist the Italian and German occupation. It indulged in the wholesale terrorization of the Vlach inhabitants of Larissa, who identified themselves as Greek and wanted no part in Diamandis' state. He also set up various other Vlach organizations such as the lame "Koutsovlach Community Party" which was supposed to be a constituent of the "Union of Romanian Communities." It is clear that while attempts to destabilize Greek society by fragmenting it were condoned by the Italian authorities, any autonomous attempts to establish centers of power were frowned upon, thus explaining Diamandis’ frenetic attempts to create unions and associations to legitimize his illusory rule.
Just how illusory that rule was is exemplified by the fact that when Diamandis summoned a parliament of his principality to take place in Trikala in June 1941, its activities and sovereignty was severely curtailed by the Italian authorities who had no intention of permitting their collaborationist minions to exercise real power. However, the Trikala parliament did manage to issue a series of local regulations, making Vlach the official language of the region and proscribing the use of Greek. Other cosmetic regulations effected by the 'toy' parliament included the changing of all town and village entry signs from Greek into Vlach and Italian. Diamandis was quite puzzled at the resistance he encountered by his 'subjects,' against such measures.
Perhaps the zenith of Prince of Pindus' rule was reached when in 1942, a faction of the so-called Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation offered the throne of Macedonia to him, styling him: "His Highness the Prince of Pindus and His Most Serene Excellence, the Voivode of Macedonia." Despite this transforming Diamandis into a major Balkan player, he still felt insecure about the future of his Principality, and rightly so given that he did not enjoy practical sovereignty in any region other that where he happened to be with his Roman Legion and Italian escort at that moment. He issued a Manifesto where he called for the Principality to be placed under the sovereignty of the Romanian crown as a free state and traveled to Romania to curry favour with its fascist leader, Ion Antonescu. It seems that his primary motivation for this suggestion was that it would entitle him to attend Crown Councils in Bucharest of the ski resort and mountain spa of Sinaia. Antonescu's response only being lukewarm, he also sought to link the Principality with the ruling Italian House of Savoy.
None of these pipe dreams were realized. Instead in late 1942 the local Greek resistance, a good proportion of whose members were Vlach-speaking, intensified their activities against the Italo-German occupation in the Pindus mountains. In the chaos that ensued, Diamandis fled for his life and was never heard of ever again, though it is rumoured that he was included in a captured mission of Vlach soldiers who were sent to Corinth by the Germans on a spying mission in 1944.
The Principality of Pindus lingered on as a pitiful paradigm of perfidy for a little while longer. Diamandis was deemed to have 'abdicated' and his throne was assumed by a Vlach lawyer, Nicholas Matoussis who was subsequently hunted by the Greek Resistance and escaped to Romania. The throne was then 'offered' to the Hungarian baron Gyula Milvanyi-Csesznegi who was proclaimed Prince Julius I of Pindus, simply because his family provided cereals to the Italian army. He never set foot in the region, with various collaborators terrorizing the local Vlachs in his name in his absence and indeed in 1943 was compelled to abdicate by the Germans and arrested after they discovered that he was partly of Jewish blood. Finally, in 1944, a certain M Hatzi was appointed by the Germans as 'military governor' of the Vlachs of Pindus, until the liberation of Greece saw an end to the pitiful principality.
The passing of the principality was met with relief by the vast majority of the Vlachs of Pindus, as they identified themselves as Greek and fought for the liberation of their country from oppression. Those few Vlachs who falling victim to foreign propaganda, collaborated with the Italians were either executed by the Greek resistance or fled to Romania. Today, Alkiviadis Diamandis' name is scarcely known in Greece, his principality seldom talked about except with extreme embarrassment by a few Vlachs. Perhaps the saddest legacy of the Prince of Vlach's rule was the abandonment of traditional Vlach culture and its language by Vlachs. As the Helsinki Greek Monitor of Human and Minority Rights states, after the War: "Vlach assimilation was extensive and usually ‘voluntary’, i.e. helped by the Vlach leadership. Vlachs today, with few exceptions, insist on their being ‘the most genuine, the best Greeks," while 'Vlach' in mainstream Greece is used as a pejorative term. Meanwhile, somewhere out there, in Internet-land there is still a pretender to the Pindus throne, a Prince Nicholas, of unknown provenance. This notwithstanding, Diatribe this week pays tribute to the victims of demented nationalism, while acknowledging our peoples' perverse tendency of denying our own identity and assuming another, for no apparent reason whatsoever.

First published in NKEE on 23 October 2006