Saturday, March 27, 2021



During the Greek Revolution, Greek dress was all the rage among the fashion-conscious women of Paris. Wearing “robes de dame à la Bobeline” or assuming a costume that the couturiers of the capital assumed was being worn by doughty female freedom fighters other than Bouboulina, was not only a way of expressing solidarity with the beleaguered Greek people, but also a revolutionary act signifying the liberal ideals of equality and democracy, as well as a modish way to express the fact that one was abreast of the times. To this effect, women sported Grecian headscarves, and in a fundraising concert held by the Parisian Philhellenic Committee, in which the great Rossini was conductor, gentlemen wore armbands in the Greek colours, while musicians decorated their instruments with blue and white ribbons.  




In salons and in the stately homes, of Europe, removed from the hubbub of the crowd, entitled, privileged and powerful women who sympathised with the cause of Greek Independence did valuable charitable and propaganda work, raising money for the Greek insurgents and influencing male diplomats and politicians. As “Athens Insider” has recently pointed out, their stories are multi-faceted, complex and diverse. 


Élisabeth Santi-Lomaca for example, of Greek origin, urged her husband, the Parisian diplomat Louis Chénier to assume direction of the “L’ Hôtel Hellenophone,” a secret organization established in Paris in 1814 by founder of the Philike Etaireia Athanasios Tsakaloff, whose purpose was to educate the Greeks and prepare the revolutionary struggle. That organisation would go on to organise a shipment of 40,000 weapons to insurgent Greeks in the Peloponnese, Epirus and Macedonia. 



Many of the European Philhellenic women came from even higher echelons of society. Princess Sophia Albertina of Sweden, the sister of the Swedish king led appeals for the Greek revolutionaries in that country. Turning the palace into the headquarters of the Swedish Philhellenic Society, her patronage and prestige inspired a multitude of well to do women to donate generously to the Greek war effort.  


To the west, in France, the daughter of the French king and future queen of Belgium Louise of Orléans also organised fundraisers for the relief of Greek refugees. Apart from the widespread sympathy felt by members of the restored Bourbon family for the Greek revolutionaries, Louise also had another motive. Her prospective husband was considered a likely candidate to assume the throne of a Greek monarchy. He eventually assumed the throne of the newly created country of Belgium instead, but in the meantime, Louise had donated 3,000 francs out of her own funds, to the Greeks. 


Hapless and scorned wife of King George IV of Great Britain, Caroline of Brunswick, whence the Melbourne suburb with a historic Greek community gets its name was also a great philhellene. Although she died in the August of 1821, she was a firm supporter of Greek Independence and various British support organisations such as the London Philomous Society. Caroline was one of the few members of the European aristocracy to visit the country, visiting it after her estrangement from her husband in 1816, where in Athens she conducted archaeological excavations, also visiting the isle of Melos and Corinth. 


Barbara von Krudener, a Baltic German religious mystic and theologian who exercised a great deal of influence over the spiritual yearnings of Russian Tsar Alexander I, also petitioned him continuously to intervene in favour of the Greeks, something the Tsar was reluctant to do. When Alexandros Ypsilantis crossed over into the Danubian Principalities, she wrote to him proclaiming the divine mission of the Tsar to take up arms in defence of the Greeks on behalf of Christendom. He did not do so, and von Krudener settled in the Crimea, founded a Swiss colony and organised appeals to aid the Greek revolutionaries. 


Von Krudener’s introduction to the Tsar was occasioned by expatriate Phanariote, Roxandra Sturdza, master of ceremonies at the court of the Tsar and wife of the German count of Edling. A close associate of Ioannis Kapodistrias, Metropolitan of Hungary Ignatios and scholar Anthimos Gazis, with whom she founded the pro-Greek Independence Philomous Society in Vienna, in the face of Austrian hostility, she not was not only abreast of and actively involved in the considerable amount of work being conducted in Russia by the Philike Etaireia in preparation for the Revolution but after its outbreak, enlisted the support of the Tsarina Elizabeth in organising relief appeals and ministering to the thousands of Greek refugees arriving in Odessa from the Ottoman Empire on a daily basis. 


Other benefactresses such as French socialite Juliette Récamier, capitalised on societal fame , specifically as an icon of neoclassicism, to promote the cause of Greek liberation. In order to maintain public interest in the Revolution, she published letters of French philhellenes with whom she corresponded, describing the condition and customs of Greece as well as providing glamourised accounts of battles. Her popularity and influence also enabled her to raise significant amounts for the Greeks through public appeals, to which she contributed substantial sums of her own. 



The contribution of European Philhellenic women was also significant in the intellectual sphere. A multitude of female influential thinkers, authors and poets wrote enthusiastically and passionately about the Greek renascence, their words reaching the hearts of the reading public. 


Most prominent among them was Mary Shelley, companion of profound philhellene Percy Shelley. Befriending revolutionaries Alexandros Mavrocordatos and Metropolitan of Hungary Ignatios, she managed to learn Modern Greek, planning to move to Greece upon its liberation. Shelley managed to imbue her sympathies for the Greeks in Lord Byron, whose original interest was in liberal reform in the Italian peninsula. Eerily, her ultimate work, “The Last Man,” an apocalyptic dystopian science fiction novel, envisages the ultimate aim of the Revolution: the conquest of Constantinople. Soon after, a pandemic sweeps the world, leaving just one survivor. 



In Germany, Baroness Julie von Richthofen wrote the pro-Greek work, ‘Helas und Helianor,’ referring to the Philike Etaireia and the Greek people’s aspirations for independence, while member of the member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts, Amalia von Helvig, a student of poetic titans Goethe and Schiller continuously published poems advocating the liberation of Greece, culminating in the release of a collection specifically dedicated to Greek independence in 1826. 



For some of the European women philhellenes, the Greek struggle for Independence served as a metaphor for their own national yearnings. Polish patriot Emilia Sczaniecka found hope in the insurgent Greeks, for the liberation of her own homeland from Russian rule. Founding a committee to aid Greek orphans and victims of Ottoman depredations during the Revolution, she went on to play an active humanitarian role in the Polish uprising of 1830. 


In some cases, support for Greece endured beyond the close of the Revolution, transforming into a commitment towards the welfare of the beleaguered Greek State that emerged and in particular, its female inhabitants. The Franco-American Duchess of Plaisance is noteworthy in this respect. Having financially contributed to the Greek war effort, she then went on to identify the education of young Greek women as a priority, overseeing and financing the education of the daughters of Greek freedom fighters. In similar fashion, American missionary Frances Maria Mulligan Hill travelled to Greece in 1839 and established schools for young Greek women, considering education as a primary tool in the process of their emancipation. 


At the time of the declaration of Greek Independence, the Great Powers, which had reconstituted the European political order after the downfall of the French Emperor Napoleon, prized stability and sought to ignore or stifle national and liberal impulses on the continent. Jealously seeking to maintain the status quo and prevent each other from obtaining undue influence in the Balkans, it is arguable that the extremely subtle and nuanced role played by the many female philhellenes of Europe in generating and maintaining sympathy for the Greek freedom fighters and the plight of Greece in general was instrumental in sustaining a climate of empathy for the Revolution that made it impossible for those in positions of power to completely ignore the Greek people’s national aspirations, in the same manner as they did with Poland for example, thus making it socially unacceptable in the fashionable salons of the European capitals, for the Greek enterprise to fail. It is in no small part to these passionate and formidable ladies, that the Greek people owe their liberty and expectations for future progress today. 

In the words of Mary Shelley: “Let us live for each other and for happiness; let us seek peace in our dear home, near the inland murmur of streams, and the gracious waving of trees, the beauteous vesture of earth, and sublime pageantry of the skies. Let us leave 'life,' that we may live.” 



First published in NKEE on Saturday 27 March 2021

Saturday, March 20, 2021



Last Wednesday, the 17th of March, the City of Moreland, home to one of the most historically significant Greek communities in Melbourne, held a Greek Bicentennial Day Celebration and Flag Raising Ceremony. I was honoured to be asked to give the keynote address 


And musing there an hour alone, 

 I dream’d that Greece might still be free; 


When Lord Byron penned these immortal verses, Greece was not free. For the West, Greece was a memory, a cultural legacy into which they put whatever meaning suited their own aspirations. As Byron put it: For what is left the poet here? 

For Greeks a blush—for Greece a tear. 


For the people living inside the country, Greece too was a memory. A memory of a free, independent, cosmopolitan people, a curious tribe, that liked to discuss, explore, examine, ponder and share with others. As Cardinal Bessarion, one of the leading intellectuals to flee Greek lands prior to their subjugation observed: “We intermingle with all foreign peoples, we interact with all races….We collect what is best from everywhere, selecting what is useful and trading in every kind of knowledge.” 


These days, when nation states appear to many to be an antiquated construct for defining and governing a people, it is hard to realise just how revolutionary the 1821 Greek struggle for independence was. 


The Greek fight for freedom was exactly that. At the time the Revolution commenced, there were two categories of people. The privileged and second class citizens. You belonged to the second category if you had a different faith from your rulers. As a result, you had to dress differently. You were not allowed to ride a horse. You were limited as to how many rooms and windows you could have in your house. You were not permitted to build houses of worship. Your testimony did not count in court as much as a member of the privileged class did. There were certain jobs you were not allowed to hold. If you encountered a person belonging to the ruling class walking down the street, you had to stop and afford them right of way. Every so often, you would be placed under pressure to change your religion. You lived in fear that your children would be taken from you and your girls abused. This was the climate under which these disenfranchised people lived for four centuries. 


Now if this seems far-fetched, it is worthwhile to remember that in many countries around the world today, there are minorities that suffer from the exactly the same type of treatment. Indeed, the City of Moreland is home to many of their members, who have settled here, fleeing persecution. The only difference is that in 1821, the Greeks decided they could take it no more and resolved to do something about it, in the face of worldwide official indifference and no matter the cost. 


It should be noted that between 1453 when Constantinople, the last free Greek city was conquered, to 1821, when the Revolution that led to the establishment of the Greek state broke out, there was a revolt every ten years or so, because the Greek people never accepted that their sovereignty was ceded. What was different in 1821, was that there was widespread sympathy and support for the Greek cause within the West.  


On 25 March 1821, the Revolution was proclaimed at the Holy Lavra Monastery in southern Greece.  A month prior to this, a Greek prince crossed over from Russia and proclaimed the revolution in modern day Romania. Thousands of volunteers from all over Europe but especially the Balkans flocked to Greece to fight for freedom. In doing so, they believed that that they were fighting for the right of people all over the world not to be discriminated against because of creed, colour or race. 


The Greek struggle for independence captured the imagination of Europe and galvanised well-meaning philanthropists into action. All over the continent, from England to Russia, families contributed to humanitarian appeals to alleviate the plight of Greek refugees and the war afflicted. In Paris, Greek traditional dress became the fashion statement of the season. Across the ocean, the brave, newly created Caribbean nation of Haiti, having only recently thrown off the shackles of slavery, was the first state to recognise the independence of Greece, its president, Jean Pierre Boyer, writing: 


“Such a beautiful and just case and, most importantly, the first successes which have accompanied it, cannot leave Haitians indifferent, for we, like the Hellenes, were for a long time subjected to a dishonourable slavery and finally, with our own chains, broke the head of tyranny.” 



The path towards independence was a slow and difficult one. Bloody battles were fought. Terrible massacres and atrocities were committed. There were times when it seemed as if the cause was lost, yet the revolutionaries with the help of the European powers, finally prevailed.  


In the first Constitution of Greece, which was drafted in 1822, a year after the revolution broke out, we find these clauses: “All Greeks living in Greece shall be treated equally under the law. All non-Greeks living in Greece shall also be treated equally as Greeks under the law.” 


Let’s reflect on that for a moment. At that time, Catholics in Great Britain were discriminated against by law and continued to be so until 1828. 

In Austria and Russia, millions were serfs and owned by their masters, a regime that lasted in Austria until 1848 and in Russia until 186. 

In the United States, millions were enslaved because of the colour of their skin until 1865. 

In contract, this tiny new country was formed on two important  principles: 

1.         As a refuge against persecution; and 

2.         As a safe haven where everyone is treated equally. 


And these are the key elements that continue to reverberate and are of particular relevance to us here in multicultural Australia today. 


For arguably, it is because of this small group of people who fearlessly took a stand against violence, oppression and inequality that here in Australia we have a commitment to treating people equally and decently, helping those that need it most and condemning those who consider their fellow citizens to be inferior. 


We don’t always get it right but that does not mean that our commitment to these core values, that were personified for the first time in the Greek state founded as a result of the revolution whose bicentenary we commemorate today, is not absolute. Indeed, they lie at the very heart of what it is to be an Australian.  

It is therefore fitting that in the years that followed  Australia would go on to act to implement those principles, on the battlegrounds of Gallipoli, a peninsula populated by native Greek villages, and also in Greece and Crete during the Second World II, defending the freedom of the country that was created in order to protect and personify the very essence of freedom. 


And indeed, in the aftermath of that war, welcoming so many people of diverse backgrounds into Australia, so many Greeks among them, allowing them to thrive and contribute to the development of this great nation. 


I feel very proud as an Australian, to be sharing these thoughts with you, here in the City of Moreland, one of the most vibrant multicultural municipalities of Melbourne,  a region in which the historically important Greek-Australian community is such an inseparable part, where all peoples, in the spirit of the 1822 Greek Constitution of Freedom are treated equally, and celebrating and respecting each other’s beliefs, customs and traditions, thrive. 


Lord Byron finishes his poem “The Isles of Greece” by declaring  

“May hear our mutual murmurs sweep; 

A land of slaves shall ne’er be mine—” 


Rudyard Kipling, on the other hand, renders the last stanza of the Greek national anthem in English as follows: 

“From the graves of our slain, 

Shall thy valour prevail, 

 as we greet thee again, 

Hail, Liberty! Hail!” 


The word for liberty in Greek, ελευθερία, literally means the state of being able to go wherever you want to. Long was the path that led to that liberty. Long was also the path that led us here, to these shores, to this municipality. Either way, it is this liberty, this freedom, this most precious ideal, that we celebrate and cherish today.. And when do, not matter where we come from, or where are going, we are all Greeks.  



First published in NKEE on Saturday 20 March 2021

Saturday, March 13, 2021


In her book, “Women of ‘21,” Greek historian and feminist Koula Xiradaki observes that the historiography of the 1821 Revolution has become “like the monasteries of Mount Athos: a place where no women enter.” Although efforts have been made in recent years to include women within the narrative of the War of Independence, they are still largely assigned a role secondary to the male luminaries who tend to be the subject of hagiography, rather than historiography within the broader Greek discourse. Most significantly, it is largely males who have determined the manner in which such Greek women participants in the revolutionary struggle are portrayed. Their role is stereotyped as either passive, restricted to the contribution of funds, or in such cases as those of the war-like women of Souli, ancillary to the martial activities of their menfolk, with the emphasis given to women of powerful families and notable lineage, ordinary women scarcely receiving a mention. Consequently the women’s own voices are silenced, access to their own perspective is circumscribed, their significance is portrayed as secondary in importance to men and even their memoirs are seldom quoted or subjected to critical analysis. 


As a result, we are generally denied knowledge some of the more fascinating clandestine activities of particularly resourceful ladies skilled in the art of subterfuge. The remarkable story of one of these, Marigo Zafaropoula, exists only through the attestations and testimonials of such revolutionary heroes as Nikitaras, P Mavromihalis and Chatzichristos Voulgaris, as contained in the “Archive of Revolutionaries” in the Greek National Library. What emerges from these sources however, is of a multi-faceted woman of breathtaking subtlety and blind commitment to the cause of Greece’s liberation. Without her intervention, not a few heroes of the Greek Revolution would have not survived in order to claim that hallowed title: put simply, they owe their life to her.   


A Constantinopolitan from a well to do family, Zafaropoula lived in Tatavla, a quarter originally built in the sixteenth century as a residential area for Chian Greeks, settled there to work in the principal dockyards of the Ottoman Empire which were situated in the neighbouring Kasımpaşa quarter. It was possibly her family’s economic standing that facilitated her swearing in as a member of the overwhelmingly male Philiki Etaireia, the Secret Society whose aim it was to overthrow Ottoman rule and establish a Greek state.  


A socialite with a particular penchant for obtaining hard to come by information, Zafaropoula’s skills were soon desperately sought after. In February 1821, while leading members of the Philiki Etaireia, Papaflessas, Perrhaivos, Lemonis and Chrysospathis were in Constantinople, preparing for the revolt in the Peloponnese, a Phanariote Greek member of the Etaireia, one Asimakis Theodorou, betrayed the existence of that organisation and its plans to the Ottoman authorities. According to a written testimonies signed by some of the greatest revolutionary heroes of the age, not only was Zafaropoula quick to learn of the betrayal through her clandestine network of informers, she also went “door to door to learn what fate was being planned for the fighters and if developments were able to be anticipated and their fate averted….this is owed in large part to her vigilance and patriotic zeal.” It is considered that Zafaropoula was also possibly behind the initiation of a whisper campaign that saw the perfidious Asimakis discredited as an agent of Ali Pasha of Ioannina and a disseminator of false information. He was jailed by the Ottomans for his trouble. 


The leading Etairists were able in the confusion to make their escape. Zafaropoula stayed behind in Constantinople, secretly collecting money from wealthy families, in order to aid the revolutionaries. Expertly employing her extensive connections, she was able to effect via elaborate means and many bribes, the escape of the sons of Maniot grandee and revolutionary Petrobeis Mavromihalis, who were being held in Constantinople as hostages by the Ottomans, to safety in the Danubian Principalities.  


It was this brazen act of daring that led to her betrayal as an agent of the Etairists.  Her brother was arrested and executed by the Ottomans on 23 April 1821. Despite being pursued by the authorities, Zafaropoula was able to elude the Ottomans, managing to escape to Hydra, a centre of revolutionary activity. Ever resourceful, she brought with her, a large sum of family money which she placed at the disposal of the Revolution. 


The leaders of the Revolution were quick to perceive Zafaropoula’s worth as a gatherer of intelligence. Theodoros Kolokotronis and Dimitrios Ypsilantis both sent her on clandestine espionage missions to the towns of Tripolitsa and Nauplion, where, her innate ability to infiltrate the echelons of power, no easy task for a ‘respectiable’ woman in late Ottoman society, and her aptitude for extracting information from those in key positions, assisted in the formulation of the Greek revolutionaries’ strategy for their capture. Later, when the fortunes of the Revolution turned sour owing to factional infighting and the invasion of the Peloponnese by Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt, Zafaropoula, at great risk to her own personal safety, was deployed to the areas where Greek prisoners and slaves were being held, tasked with giving and receiving vital messages. 


Such was the fervour of Zafaropoula’s dedication to the Greek Revolution that she also privately financed French philhellene Charles Nicolas Fabvier’s mission against the almost impregnable fort of Karystos in Euboea in 1825, going so far as to load a ship with provisions for his men at Spetses and sailing it herself to the island. After the failure of that endeavour, in 1828, she also financed Epirot freedom fighter Chatzimihalis Dalianis’ expedition to revive the revolution in Crete, meeting the cost of an army of six hundred infantry and one hundred cavalry. That campaign too met with disaster, resulting in Dalianis’ death. 


While bankrolling the Revolution and providing valuable intelligence, the adept Zafaropoula also found time to have a personal life, marrying a fighter variously named Giorgos or Theodoros Stefanou and having two children with him, before he was killed in battle. 


Ageing, having lost her husband, donated all of her fortune to the Revolution and effectively socially sidelined, by 1865, Zafaropoula was completely destitute. By all accounts she was not embittered so much by the economic loss caused by her contribution to the cause of Greek Independence, but rather by the young Greek State’s indifference and lack of recognition of her efforts. Nonetheless, it is this ingratitude that served as the catalyst for the preservation of her astonishing story. 


Bereft of any State assistance and seeking in her anguish to alleviate her parlous personal circumstances, Zafaropoula turned to those of her erstwhile revolutionary comrades that were still alive, or the children of those who had passed away for assistance. Together, they drafted a lengthy testimonial detailing all of her activities in the cause of Greek Freedom, signed  among others, by Gennaios Kolokotronis, the son of the legendary Old Man of Morea Theodoros Kolokotronis. The document, dated 19 April 1965 is executed on behalf of Marigo Zarafopoula by the Solutiote Christos Tzavelas, because for all of her considerable abilities in reconnaissance and infiltration, she remained to the end of her life, illiterate. 


Part testimonial, part petition, the document ends with a plaintive plea for the grant of a state pension to Zafaropoula, it being pointed out that a lot of people who had contributed much less than she, were enjoying a government stipend, while she who had given all, now had nothing.  


Sadly, Zafaropoula died in the same year, isolated, unmourned and soon forgotten, her marvellous role in securing the safety of the protagonists of the Revolution and the Freedom of Greece, relegated to the archives, safely out of the way of the popular discourse. Her ultimate fate must necessarily be compared with that of both Manto Mavrogenous and Laskarina Bouboulina, both of whom also expended their considerable fortunes in furtherance of the pursuit of Greek Independence, only to be reviled in their subsequent destitution - a cautionary feminist tale about contributing to the patriarchy’s state building, if there ever was one. 


In this, the bicentenary of the outbreak of the Greek Revolution, it is hoped that the largely untold stories of heroines such as the unappreciated Mata Hari of the Greek Revolution Marigo Zafaropoula will emerge from the shadows, be afforded due honour and their rightful place within the Greek historical narrative and contribute to a re-evaluation of Greek women’s role in this most crucial of historical turning points. The juxtaposition and comparison of such fierce freedom-fighting heroines with those bravely spearheading the current Greek #metoo movement is timely and valuable indeed. 



First published in NKEE on Saturday 13 March 2021