Haunted by the
Greekness, Turkish “Contamination,”
and Narratives of Greek Nationhood
in the Dilessi/Marathon Affair (1870)
with minor line editing changes, from the Journal of Modern Greek Studies
20, no. 1 (2002): 47-74, with permission of the author and the Johns Hopkins
University Press. © 2002, 2009 The Johns Hopkins University Press]
This essay explores Greek and
British observations on the phenomenon of brigandage in Greece following a major
Anglo-Greek diplomatic episode which is known as ‘The Dilessi/Marathon Murders’
(1870). Brigandage in Greece was a much-discussed issue abroad after the
foundation of the Greek state in the 1830s. But the Dilessi Murders triggered a
debate in Britain on Greece’s inability to become a fully modernized state.
Other European voices, sympathetic or not, also joined this debate. The unhappy
coincidence of this ‘trial’ with the creation of the Neohellenic imagined
community produced an internal (Greek) debate which was nicely reflected in the
rhetoric of Greek journalism and administration. In this debate brigandage was
represented as an ‘epidemic’ phenomenon communicated to Greece from Turkey. The
Turks had managed to contaminate the ‘nation’ with the help of the Vlachs and
the Albanians who lived within the Greek Kingdom. These populations were
subsequently expelled from the ‘nation’ through a series of symbolic actions.
This discourse, which was crystallized after the Dilessi Affair, assumed a
double function in the Greek imaginary: as a response to British and indeed
European accusations of Greek backwardness, and as an expression of the Vlachian/Albanian
contribution to the process of Neohellenic self-recognition.
Historical Survey: towards a genealogy of Greek brigandage.
century was the era of an agonizing struggle by the ‘Great Powers’ of Europe to
discipline small subordinate ethnicities that were striving for emancipation. In
principle, the colossal empires of Austria, Russia and Turkey were powerful
enough to hold back this flood of national ‘awakening’; in practice, the galaxy
of these would-be nations constantly threatened the harmonious imperial universe
(Jenkins 1961: 3-4).
The Greek Ghénos or
race constituted one of these historical communities that strived for liberation
from Ottoman rule.
The Greeks, who had
spent almost three centuries under what they called Ottoman ‘yoke’, founded
their modern state in 1832 following a bloody revolution (1821-1828). In doing
so they had the help of three of the Great Powers of Europe: Britain, France and
Russia. However, the
generosity of these Powers, which after the institutionalization of Greece
assumed the duties of its protector, generated ambivalent feelings amongst
Greeks. The involvement of such external political actors in the new state and
their aspiration to take control over Greek political developments, suggested
that the Greeks had simply replaced one master with another.
In theory, the battle of Navarino
(1827) was regarded as an unsubtle sign of European philhellenism, which would
help the ‘newly-born’ state to acquire a decent place in the ‘European family’
of nations. But in practice, the Greece the ‘Protecting’ Powers decided to
found, consisted only of the Peloponnese, Attica and some islands and was deemed
by Greek patriots to have become a plaything Kingdom, which would serve as an
arena for the diplomatic struggles of its protectors. The Bavarian Prince Otho
was designated King, but was replaced in 1863 by another foreigner from the
royal house of Denmark, who became King George I. Inevitably, many Greeks began
to dream of a bigger and truly independent state, which would include all the
so-called ‘unredeemed’ territories: Thessaly, Epirus, Macedonia, Thrace, the
Aegean Islands, and the umbilical cord of Byzantium, Constantinople. This
project of reconstruction of Byzantium, which was born on the day of the death
of Constantinople in 1453, was one of the uniting factors of Hellenism during
the difficult times that followed subjection to the Ottomans. But in the
nineteenth-century context, it re-emerged with the name ‘Great Idea’, led to a
series of conflicts with the Turks and invoked the wrath of the Protecting
Powers, who could not accept Greece’s uncontrolled expansion during a period in
which she could not impose order within her imposed and restricted borders.
Ominously, a ‘Great Idea’ ignored the national dreams of other emerging Balkan
nations that were not disposed to exchange the Turkish ‘yoke’ for a new, Greek
one (Stevens 1989; Skopetéa 1984).
The concurrence of
the nationalist and the imperial projects in the Greek national imaginary
was destined to aggravate the already problematic life of the Kingdom. One of
the most frequent accusations leveled at the Greek governments by the
magnanimous protectors was that of their incapability in suppressing the
criminal elements that infested the mountainous and remote districts and
appeared to overran the country. These elements constituted what contemporary
Greeks called lestía or brigandage – a phenomenon the British patrons of
Greece in particular found unacceptable for a country that wanted to claim a
Of course, things
were easier said than done. The harrowing political experience of the
post-independence era made Greek brigandage a perfect form of what Thomas
Gallant has termed ‘military entrepreneurship’ subsidized and supported by the
state itself (Gallant 1999; Dickie 1993; Dickie 1999). The ‘Bavarisation’ of the
Greek administrative machine, which ignored the actual social problems of the
Kingdom, and the European call for a rapid modernization of the country, acted
as a catalyst in the Greek body politic and the wider society of Greece. The
failure to compensate the veterans of the War of Independence (1821-1828); the
pending question of land distribution; the use of bands for the intimidation of
the electorate by various factions that began to operate within the
constitutional framework in the 1840s;
(Finlay, II, 1973: 313, 315) and the use of brigands as an irregular army force
against the Ottoman empire for the promotion of the ‘Great Idea,’ were some of
the underlying reasons for the transformation of the phenomenon into an
institution (Petrópulos-Kumarianú 1980, 38-39; Kallingás 1987: 152-154;
Koliopoulos 1988: 218-219; McGrew 1985: 9-11).
Who was to be
blamed for this chaos? The role played by brigandage in the process of nation
building was, after all, equivocal. On the one hand, after the creation of
Greece it kept alive the popular belief in the heroic spirit of klephtism,
the only spasmodic form of resistance developed by the Greek and the Balkan
peoples against their rulers - whether these be Turks, Albanians, or indeed
Greeks– during the ages of ‘thralldom’ (Damianákos 1987: 78; Jenkins 1998;
Hobsbawm 1972; Hobsbawm 1959). This romanticization of the klepht-brigand
(for the two were inevitably confused in the Greek mind) was further reinforced
by the fact that brigandage was incorporated into the logic of the Great Idea.
On the other hand, brigandage subverted the image of modern Greece as the
heiress of ancient Greek civilization – the unifying European signifier of
order, harmony, democracy and intellectual rigor. This split response to the
socio-political phenomenon of lestía, made it stand in the Neohellenic
imaginary both for a ‘scourge’ and a demonstration of Greek irredentist heroism,
a dangerous ‘disease’ and an almost innate Greek virtue. The present-day
historiography of Greece does not always escape this confusion. It needs to be
borne in mind that lestía and klephtism were not
necessarily recognised by the nineteenth-century commentators as separate and
distinct categories; and when they were, they may have signified different
practices from the ones we tend to fit nowadays into these two concepts.
Before setting out
to examine nineteenth-century British and Greek debates on Greek brigandage, it
is therefore desirable to present the state of affairs before the episode on
which we will focus. It is necessary to bear in mind that Greece was
economically depended upon its patrons, among whom Britain appeared to be the
most dissatisfied with the course things had taken in the tiny Kingdom.
Objectively, the Kingdom suffered from maladministration. When King George
assumed his duties in 1864, the state machine was in ruins. The corruption of
the army had its roots in the Ministry of War itself. That slow-moving machine,
whose inefficiency was also due to the incessant changes of government, could
not take on the persecution of the brigands (Vitti 1990: 210-12). The Greek
judicial system, influenced by external factors, was even more inefficient, with
courts often releasing criminals because of their powerful backers (Kallingás 1987: 83-86). Agricultural work had been violently interrupted by
brigand raids and foreign visitors were able to observe that across the country
fertile and beautiful valleys in the mountainous districts remained desolate and
visited only by goats (The Times 29 April 1870). State records show that
from April to August 1865, the government had put a price on the head of at
least forty chief brigands and that in many cases it raised this three and four
times, looking for informants in vain. Troops were sent everywhere to hunt
brigands, but all attempts proved fruitless (Koliopoulos 1988: 148).
Bearing all these Greek domestic problems in mind, we can begin to understand
why the prospects for immediate solutions of the problem were limited. However,
it has to be stated that Greek public insecurity was not a unique phenomenon in
the Mediterranean region and in Europe in general. With regards to brigandage,
as Martin Blinkhorn has explained in a recent article, the third quarter of the
nineteenth century was rich in episodes of kidnapping in other European
countries (Blinkhorn 2000). British travellers, whose status or wealth attracted
profit-making brigands, often became targets for kidnapping and ransoming in
Spain, Italy and the Balkans, long before the episode we will sent out to
Even though brigandage and outlawry were not unknown phenomena to Britons,
nothing could prepare them for the tragedy that descended upon their country in
In April of that year a group of upper class Englishmen was kidnapped in Pikérmi,
a location close to Athens. Despite the efforts of the Greek government (of
Aléxandros Zaímis) and the British Minister at Athens, Erskine, to negotiate
their ransoming, three of them were brutally murdered by the band of the
Arvanitákis brothers. A diplomatic episode ensued, and members of the British
liberal government and the Foreign Office, as well as members of the
Conservative Opposition, considered a war with Greece (Jenkins 1998). This
cause célèbre of the 1870s, which remained in the annals of history as the
Dilessi/Marathon Murders, had a very strange effect on the Neohellenic mind,
especially because Greece was accused by many European philhellenic countries of
having failed utterly to keep up with the European, ‘civilized’, standards of
security. The fear that ‘Europe’ was not well-disposed towards Greece after
Dilessi troubled the Greeks and made them feel that they had to apologize for
their domestic problems.
Following Dilessi, Greek apologias were addressed to many different audiences:
an internal (Greek), a European and an English.
The present analysis concentrates on
the Dilessi affair because the episode served as a nodal point for the
development of an Anglo-Greek encounter. It is a fact that Greek representations
of brigandage as a non-Greek phenomenon were not exclusively addressed at
Britain. Also, such Greek narratives pre-existed and outlived the Dilessi
conflict; but in the Dilessi affair they were mobilised and transformed into a
defensive mechanism towards European accusations. The mechanism also activated
self-reflections which shed light on processes concerning the formation of
modern Greek identity. For this reason, as the analysis proceeds, references
will be made to the status of the primary sources before and after the Dilessi
The diaries of Sir
open this analysis because the date of publication suggests that they were
addressed to an English audience that was familiar with the Dilessi case. The
fact that Winifred Wyse, Sir Thomas’s niece and editor of these diaries in 1871,
dedicated her long Introduction to Wyse’s account to the question of brigandage
in Greece is also suggestive in this respect. Wyse’s Impressions
were in fact produced during his travels through the greater part of liberated
Greece at the end of the 1850s. The travels aimed at the production of reports
which would cover all aspects of the economic and social condition of Greece,
and which would be used by the Commission the three Great Powers constituted to
look into the state of Greek affairs after the end of the Crimean War (1857).
Whether one chooses to see in Wyse a representative of British administration or
not, he was a sharp and insightful observer. In one of his ritualistic
excursions in Attica, he had come across an encampment of Vlachs: ‘a wild,
savage-looking race, but courteous enough when talked to’. ‘Our Theban friend,’
continued Sir Thomas, ‘looked on them with less indulgence, saying that they
were of those who protected and harboured Davéli and Karabelíki and other
brigands, and by their aid and sympathy kept up that state of things in the
country’ (Wyse 1871: 70).
impressions were part of the Greek cultural landscape. One of the things
independence brought to the surface was the diversity of cultures and customs in
the Greek peninsula that the system of communities had preserved throughout
Ottoman rule. Constant migration of populations to mountainous areas,
inaccessible to the Turks, had transformed the human geography of the Greek
space. Thereafter, the demographic legacy of the Ottoman period had been handed
down to the Greek state; social fragmentation was never eliminated partially due
to the existence of mountain peoples who spoke languages other than Greek and
who lived separately from the main body of the Greek population of the
metropolis and the lately formed towns of Attica and the Peloponnese (McGrew
Among all these
ethnic groups within the Greek Kingdom the Vlachs and the Sarakatsans were the
ones most strongly linked to economic activities such as stock-rearing that
forced them to live in the countryside. In some territories of European Turkey
the largest of these groups who considered themselves Greek was the Albanian,
but there were also instances in which the Albanians’ ethnic designation was
confused with that of the Vlachs. In so far as the Vlachs in Eastern Thrace and
Western Macedonia were of Albanian origin, there is a historical basis for this
association. However a series of further associations then plunged the origin of
these groups into obscurity. The Vlachs and the Sarakatsans were constantly
confused in Bulgarian records while in those of the early modern Ottoman empire
it was the Greeks and the merchant Vlachs of the Balkans that became
terminologically interchangeable. According to Tom Winnifrith (1987), within the
framework of modern Greek identity, this blurring formed a historical
problematic, because there was a direct correspondence between the eighteenth-
and nineteenth-century Albanian activities at a time when the Ottoman empire was
losing its authority, and the collapse of the Byzantine authority during the
thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, which led to movements by both Vlachs and
Albanians into the Greek peninsula. Apart from the hint we have that the
Albanians were of Illyrian origin (Winnifrith 1992) and that the Vlachs spoke a
Latin language, it would be difficult to trace back the racial links of all
those groups; the Greek state had serious difficulties as well. In 1836 the
government of King Otho had identified at least four such groups of
‘tent-dwellers’, in whose eyes the Greek state was only an intruder and the
Greeks remained a shadowy urban people, scarcely know in their communities.
But the purpose of
this study is not to restore some primal truth concerning the origin of
the Vlachs and the Albanians of Greece — contra the truth of the
nineteenth-century Greek state. The ‘real’ of the origins of the Vlachs/Albanians
itself has no place in this analysis, which will focus on what truly mattered
for the spokesmen of the Greek imagined community: symbolisation of identity. In
any case, erudite and specialised researchers found it difficult to arrive at
definite conclusions, or they had recourse to further classification of regional
identities (Dhima 1994) – a venture that cannot be pursued here. The research
could be placed within the historiographical debate Romilly Jenkins (in the
Dilessi Murders) and John Koliopoulos (in Brigands with a Cause and
Listés) initiated, although the aim of it is not to examine the
phenomenon of brigandage per se but the implication of brigand crime in
the question of nineteenth-century Greek identity.
The bitter comment of Wyse’s
interlocutor that the Vlachs harboured brigandage has to be examined. There was
a grain of truth in that verdict. The Vlach shepherds, being geographically cut
off and socially marginal, passed their lives close to brigand hideouts; hence,
extortion as well as recruitment of them by brigands was a very common
phenomenon. In 1869 Andréas Moskonísios, a Greek second lieutenant, published a
treatise under the title The Mirror of Brigandage in Greece (To
Kátoptron tis Lestías en Elládi), in which he argued that two
thirds of a brigand band usually consisted of Vlach shepherds and only a third
of peasants or deserters (Moskonísios 1869).
But identifying particular social
circumstances that encourage or force a group to have recourse to crime is not
the same as suggesting its complete identification with that crime. Long before
Moskonísios, the question of brigandage as an ‘endemic national malady’ had been
laid before and discussed in the Greek parliament (1856). As John Koliopoulos
has explained, over the same period the outcome of this on-going debate led to
the appointment of a commission to examine the problem. Interestingly, the
reports of the commission repeated the narrative Wyse had recorded in his travel
journals: The Vlach shepherds, these ‘“illiterate” and “uncouth”’ (Koliopoulos
1987: 173) tribes were certainly to be blamed for this ‘scourge’. As for the
rest of the Greek nation, well, it was innocent.
It becomes apparent that the internal
debate concerning the relationship of tribes in Greece with brigandage dates
back to the Othonian period. There were, however, objections to this argument.
For the purpose of this study one example will be presented in which the chosen
voice appears to negotiate rather than reach conclusions regarding the story’s
credibility. The poignant protest against this national myth is unwoven in
Thános Vlékas, Pávlos Kallingás’s novel on Greek brigandage, which was
published in the mid 1850s. The reason I chose this example has to do with
Kallingás’s involvement in politics and public affairs at that time.In
this novel the Greek brigand Tásos who is pursued by Greek troops escapes,
crosses the border, and together with some Albanians first works for the Turks,
and then resigns his ‘job’ and devastates Greek villages (Kallingás 1987:
43-47).The audience for Kallingás’s
deconstruction of the Greek ‘truth’ was the Greeks and not the British. It is
not surprising therefore that his ‘anti-Greek’ narrative did not find an
imitator within the community of the Greek literati and sank into oblivion:
nobody was prepared to accept that brigandage was a Greek problem.
Hence, the argument that ‘exorcised’
the evil was ready at hand when the Dilessi episode erupted. It was not
therefore a big surprise that it was mobilised during the Dilessi crisis, when
the Greek state had to re-address and solve the question of brigandage to the
satisfaction both of the Greeks and of a British government in which extreme
voices that echoed Palmerston demanded an occupation of Greece. In addition, the
Greek nation had to restore Greek honour in the eyes of a broader, European
audience that in the Greek imaginary demanded nothing less than the political
and social regeneration of ancient Hellas. It must have been evident to the
defenders of Greek national honour that the Arvanitákis did not exactly
represent a modern Aristotle abroad.
After the Dilessi murders, the Greek
Ministry of the Interior sent Aión, a pro-government newspaper of the
day, a report which included the names of the dead and captured brigands.
Aión was probably one of the first Greek newspapers to contribute to the
official crystallization of what Romilly Jenkins rightly termed ‘ethnic truth’.
For Aión did not just publish the report; it also enhanced it with the
argument that most of the brigands ‘belonged to the tribe of Vlachopimènes’,
or Vlach-shepherds (9 April 1870). According to Palingenesía, another
Greek (nationalist) newspaper, the Greek nation always denounced such crimes.
This phenomenon would not have been
regarded as something disgraceful if we had approached it from the standpoint of
those nomads […] but it is a fact that the Greek nation does not consist of this
small race, which lives a primitive and savage life.
(15 May 1870).
It is necessary to add here that the
title of the article was ‘The English Press’ and that it was a response
to the bellicose language of the English journalists, who harped on a profound
association of brigandage and Greek politics and showed no respect for ‘the
natural rights of the nations (such as the Greek)… consolidated by treaties’ (op.cit.).
This rhetorical practice had a double aim: on the one hand the Greek journalists
tried to discipline their British ‘accusers’, by reminding them of the holy
cause of the Greek Revolution and the subsequent treaties of liberation. On the
other hand, they generated a discourse in which brigandage was placed within the
category of savagery which, in its turn, was associated with Vlach identity. The
geometry of the discourse was predicated upon the binary opposition Vlach
tribes-savagery-brigandage vs. Greek society-civilization-order.
The same argument was repeated in a
more challenging fashion some weeks later. The question of the origin of
brigandage was investigated after the Dilessi murders by the director of the
French school at Athens, Émile Burnouf, in a treatise published in the
Revue des Deux Mondes,
a journal, initially associated with the Orleanist regime, which had come by
1870 to occupy a generally open-minded position and display an attachment to
middle-class French culture. The
Revue des Deux Mondes
was a widely circulated
journal and the thesis Burnouf presented hit the mark: For the Greeks this
‘voice’ came to (conveniently) represent French opinion. In addition, Burnouf
was considered an ‘up-to-date’ observer, who knew Greek affairs. There are
therefore two reasons for using Burnouf here: first, his treatise supported the
Greek journalistic argument, and thus made it appear more reliable in
Britain; and second, Greek newspapers anxious to attack those British
commentators who found the Greek argument concerning the Vlachs unconvincing,
were able to present his reflections as the voice of ‘France’, another
civilising protector of Greece. Moreover, Burnouf’s comments somehow
counterbalanced the French ‘satirisation’ of Greek brigandage by Edmond About,
a French novelist whose ‘anti-Greek’ works sold more than any other novel in the
Europe of the 1850s and infuriated the Greek readership.
For Burnouf the brigands in Greece
were not Greeks ‘properly speaking’ but ‘Albanians or Vlachopoiménes-Vlachs’.
His comments were translated and published by the English radical newspaper
The Pall Mall Gazette (20 June 1870), which found his views
plausible. Not surprisingly, Palingenesía also translated Burnouf’s work
Mr. Burnouf admits and believes, like
any man of integrity, that the Greek nation is not guilty of those crimes, but a
victim of villains. Another very wise foreigner, who has been a resident in
Greece for a number of years, was also forced to draw the same
conclusion, but he took the childish initiative at the same time to argue that
since we accept in our nation the good and virtuous Vlachs, it is fair to be
charged with the crimes of the vicious ones!
(15 June 1870)
The ‘wise foreigner’ who was ‘forced’
to submit to the Greek discourse was the long-standing philhellene and the
Times correspondent in Athens George Finlay. Passionate though it
was, the statement that Finlay was persuaded to accept the Greek version of
truth was inaccurate. In The Times of 3 June 1870 Finlay had produced a
detailed analysis of the ways the Greek authorities and King Otho had himself
occasionally co-operated with ‘brigand Vlachs’ for their own interests. It was
unfortunate for the Greeks that Finlay was in a position to illustrate his point
by reference to the example of Tákos Arvanitákis. Tákos, one of the brigand
chiefs of the Dilessi band, although a Vlach, had participated in the revolution
which King Otho instigated in Thessaly and Epirus during the Crimean War;
thereafter, he was employed by the Government to pursue brigands. Albeit his
biographical note touched the Greeks on the raw, it was the second part of
Finlay’s skilful analysis that thrust the knife into the heart of the question
of national identity. If, Finlay argued, one examined the processes that take
place in the melting pot of Greek society after the Revolution, Greekness
appears as an arbitrary category, inclusive rather than exclusive.
It must be observed that many of the
benefactors who enriched the Greek Kingdom and the city of Athens by their
donations of money, by founding charitable and scientific societies, and by
erecting some of the principal buildings that adorn Athens had been of
Vallach and not of Greek nationality. This non-Hellenic race furnished
Greece with one of its most eminent statesmen in Colettes and one of its best
judges in Clonares; and if I am not mistaken the first Greek press in Turkey out
of Constantinople was established, not by men of Greek race, but by these
Vallachs at Moschopoli.
(3 June 1870)
The argument was
not new in the British circuitry of ideas, and it certainly did not apply to the
Vlachs only. A similar comment appeared in the 1850s in one of the volumes of a
popular and influential series by an anonymous writer
signed his books as ‘The Roving Englishman’.
popularity of his travel diaries increased when Lord Palmerston himself took him
up as an authority upon Eastern Affairs. In the second edition of his volume on
Turkey, originally written before the Crimean War, the author praised the
‘self-denying race of Epirus’ (Albania-Vlachs) for its contribution to the
foundation of the Greek Kingdom, and its excellence in the civil service and the
Chambers of Greece (The Roving Englishman 1877: 215-216). Finlay was at the very
least informed of this passage, since this volume is in his personal library,
stored today in the British School at Athens. The interesting part of the story
was that in Finlay’s erudite essay the Vlachs, like the Roving Englishman’s
Albanian-Vlachs, were presented as Greeks, but categorized as ‘non-Hellenic’.
The careful choice between the term ‘Greek’ and the term ‘Hellene’ is suggestive
in this instance. Greek from Graecus
word the Romans used to designate the Hellenes as imperial subjects – an
effective twist which divested the latter of any claims on a glorious and
admired past, their cultural heritage, which was appropriated by their masters.
Amongst Greeks, Grecós was an ambiguous designation that could signify
but also the ‘slave’ of Turkish values. It is more likely that Finlay’s comment
was a reference to the pre-hellenic historical background of the Vlachs – a
comment that should be borne in mind.
The way the Greeks
used Finlay’s commentary is exemplified by the responses to his article in the
Greek press. It was translated and published in Clió
July 1870), whereas the more aggressive Palingenesía attacked Finlay
relentlessly because in it he dishonoured the names of Klonáris and Koléttis.
‘Even if we presume that they were born Vlachs - something yet to be verified -
one should not dismiss the fact that they were born in the bosom of Greek [Έλληνική]
society, they were fed by its milk […] while the brigands are born and nurtured
as nomads and receive nothing from our society’, (15 June 1870) was the
response. Evidently Palingenesía suggested that the nomadic way of
living characterised one category of Vlachs. These Greek Vlachs were the
‘savages’ of the Greek narrative on the Dilessi affair.
Under such adverse circumstances the
nation needed desperately an object on to which to project its defects; it
needed a plot and a setting. Consequently, Greek imagination transformed the
Vlach/Albanian brigands of the Greek Kingdom into brigand invaders from the
Ottoman empire. Fragments of this suggestion appeared in three pamphlets
published after the Dilessi murders. They appeared first in Thoughts on the
Suppression of Brigandage (1870: 6-7), a pamphlet that circulated in Athens
‘anonymously’ and was praised by Aión in its issue of 13 May 1870.
Notwithstanding his supposed anonymity, the author was well known in Athenian
circles as Antónios Rikákis, a lawyer and public prosecutor. Suspicions are in
order concerning Rikákis’s performance, not only because he ‘failed’ to remain
anonymous but also because the circulation of his pamphlet almost coincided with
his Association’s sending a protest to Zaímis in response to rumours that
Athenian lawyers acted as solicitors for the Arvanitákis band (Aión, 4
May 1870). Rikákis’s pamphlet invited the ‘nation’ (a term used interchangeably
in his narrative with ‘Greek authorities’) to reflect on the situation so as to
avoid humiliations similar to that at Dilessi in the future. The rhetorical
patterns he employed in his work are interesting: although he explicitly
addressed himself to a Greek audience, the opening and concluding paragraphs
reminded his readers that the Greek Kingdom was under British and indeed
European surveillance (3-4, 28).
Major Dimítris Antonópoulos, the
second and more sharp observer, proposed a series of remedies for Greek
‘disorder’ in his pamphlet Reflections on a Successful Persecution and
Elimination of our Country’s Catastrophe, Brigandage. Nevertheless, he
started his pamphlet with the verdict that ‘the brigands have this facility to
escape to Turkish territories, in which not only are they not pursued, but they
are also harboured’ (1870: 1). Although the Vlachs did not figure in his work,
his analysis was symptomatic of the Greek cast of mind. The identity of the
brigands became a secondary issue, thus giving way in his discourse to the
connection of the Greek brigands with the historical enemy of the ‘nation’:
Turkey. Unlike Rikákis, Antonópoulos did not mention the Dilessi Murders in his
pamphlet; his analysis was explicitly concerned with potential changes in the
Greek legal system and with the efficiency of the Greek state machine in matters
concerning the pursuit of brigands. Aión, nevertheless, placed the
pamphlet within the framework of the impact the massacre had on Anglo-Greek
relations and Greek administrative changes (11 June 1870). Antonópoulos’s study
itself intended to revisit the question of the official measures that ought to
be taken against brigand bands and to rekindle an internal dialogue.
Bits and pieces of the question of
the Vlachs and the Albanians can be spotted in other sources. Colonel Pános
Koronéos proceeded to show that the name Arvanitákis derives from
‘that is, nomads’ (1870: 8) and exulting over the supposedly defeated English
commentators, he concluded:
Is it the opposition’s or the
nation’s fault if General Arvanitákis transferred his camp from Turkey,
where he prepared his campaign, and marching into Greek territories reached
In Koronéos’s argument, the Vlachs
and the Albanians were merged (Arvanítes-Vláchi) and then associated with
Turkish anti-Greek propaganda. Thus the fear of internal threat (coming from a
tribe that lives in Greece) was externalised (like other Arvanitóvlachi,
the Arvanitákis take refuge in or come from Turkey). Koronéos’s work was
explicitly addressed to an English audience, as the title of his pamphlet shows.
Central to the Greek response to the
Dilessi affair was the work of John Gennadios (Ioánnis Ghennádios) Notes on
the Recent Murders by Brigands in Greece, which was published some months
after the episode. Gennadios was the son of the great Greek scholar Geórghios
Ghennádios and of Άrtemis Benizélou of a famous Athenian family. At the time of
the crisis he was a clerk in the commercial enterprise of the Rhállis Brothers
in London, but after the publication of his diatribe he had to resign his job.
However, there is evidence not only that he received financial help from his
but also that he was in touch with the Greek government for the translation of
his book into Greek (a task that was left unfinished in 1871 and can be
consulted today in the Ghennádion in Athens). In his diaries Gennadios
listed the names of several individuals who belonged to the intellectual and
ruling elites of Greece and England, all of whom received a free copy of his
The London Hellenic Society contributed to publication expenses, but some
unanswered questions still remain: Where did Gennadios find the rest of the
capital for publication? How did he become Secretary of the Greek Embassy at
Did he act independently, or as an agent of the Greek intelligence services?
Putting aside the gossip concerning
the web of political contacts which Gennadios might have established, his
rhetorical skills remain impressive. Despite the fact that his argumentation was
not intrinsically original, his ability to absorb and classify information from
the English and the Greek press enabled him to reconstruct the frame of the
Greek discourse concerning the social and ethnic identity of the Vlachs and the
Albanians in Greece, and their relationship with the essential qualities of the
Evidently, his argument was primarily addressed to an English audience – which
is why he published his work in English. His statement that the Albanian-Vlach-brigands
were Turkish agents who wanted to damage Greece’s reputation abroad was based on
a brilliant combination of argumentative fragments. The first and most important
of these (which will be examined much latter) was that because the accomplices
of the Arvanitákis and the mysterious instigators of the crime had committed
high treason, they no longer belonged to the Greek imagined community (Méllon,
21 April 1870; Aión 9 April 1870). The second was that the Arvanitákis
band consisted of Vlachs. The third was that the Ottoman empire repeatedly
refused to co-operate with Greek authorities in the suppression of border
crimes. The alchemic outcome of this mixture was the golden theory of the
immaculate nation: the murders had not been committed by Greek brigands, but by
Vlach/Albanian brigands in Greece.
It is important to follow the logic
of this argument, because it provides us with an insight into nineteenth-century
Greek self-definition predicated upon history. Gennadios’s point of departure
was similar to that of Aión: that is, the list of the names of the
Nos. 8, 12, and 18 are natives of Greece and Greek subjects; the rest are all
from Turkey, and belong to a class of nomadic shepherds [footnote: these are the
“Wallach Shepherds” whom Mr. Lloyd
mentions in his diary (No. 5, p. 4)] who exist both in Greece and Turkey, and
who form a nationality of themselves. They are known by the name of
Koutzo-Vallachs, a tribe who immigrated from the borders of Danube into Greece
during the twelfth century. They have a dialect of their own, but most speak
Greek. The brigand bands that infest Greece and Turkey are composed and are
recruited almost exclusively from this tribe. […] That these men were not of
Greek but of Slav origin it would be evident to all who have glanced at
the ghastly photograph of the heads of the seven brigands shot during the
engagement […] Their names are also sure indications of their nationality.
“Arvanitaki” means “little Albanian,” and is not a surname, properly so called,
but a kind of distinct epithet, such as most of these men are known by, so as to
contradistinguish them from others of the same Christian name.
(1870: 117-119, emphasis added)
Gennadios cited Lloyd, one of the
victims in the Dilessi episode, because he wanted to make his argument plausible
in the eyes of an English readership. In his discourse, none the less, the
Arvanitákis were Albanian-Vlachs and most of the members of the band of Dilessi
belonged to the Vlach communities of shepherds. What is interesting in
Gennadios’s argument is the ambiguity concerning the identity of the brigands
that infest Greece: (a) the vast majority of the members of the Dilessi band
is of Slav origin – yet another statement that has to be borne in mind (b)
brigands in Greece often come from
and (c) sometimes they speak Greek. What is left outside Gennadios’s argument is
also important: not only is he not concerned with his Albanians/Vlachs’
self-designation, but also he avoids the question.
Gennadios went as far as to condemn
Finlay for his article, thereby following Palingenesía’s policy. ‘The
correspondent’, he declared, ‘has evidently
confounded the Greeks of Epirus, who have undoubtedly shown themselves the
greatest benefactors of our common fatherland, with these Vallach nomads, who,
far from having ever produced anything but good soldiers, are proverbial for
their inaptitude to intellectual culture and civilization’ (118). At some
point he even claimed that the brigands appealed for amnesty both in Greece and
in Turkey, because they were ‘Turks-Albanians’ (Turkalvaní). Gennadios
followed the journalistic argument: ‘civilisation and culture’ become intrinsic
Greek qualities that the Vlach tribes of Greece (not to mention those of Turkey)
did not possess.
Gennadios offered a fascinating
narrative of Greek identity by using the principle of negation, that is, by
defining what was not Greek. Later, Greek politicians embraced his
argument and used it to defend Greece against European criticisms (Milísis 1871:
20; Chadjískos 1871: 11). With hindsight, it could be said that the whole
argument was unfair. Romilly Jenkin’s melancholy reflection that the Vlachs-Albanians,
whom all these commentators wanted to expel from the Greek nation, were, if not
Greek-speaking, at least Orthodox Christians, ‘who formed a part of exactly that
persecuted population which Greece was claiming the right to “free” from Ottoman
“oppression” and annex to herself’ (1998, 1961: 125) is accurate. Some of those
Vlachs could claim a share in the Greek struggle for independence – perhaps the
lion’s share, if matters were examined carefully! But this hardly mattered. It
is not because the Greeks ignored the truth; it is rather that, in general,
truth should not be thought as being in a consistent or identical relationship
with the ‘real’ world (Žižek 1992: 243-244). Different societies have different
regimes of truth, or what Foucault called ‘general politics of truth, the types
of discourse which they accept and make function as true’ (Foucault 1980: 131;
Van Dijk 1993: 96). However, contra Michel Foucault one of the things
that must be investigated here is not only how, but also why this
particular ‘truthful’ discourse had come to have such a hold on Greek thought.
In the second half
of the 1860s, there was in Greece an anxious repetition of this association
between Vlach shepherds and Albanians, and brigandage. This is not surprising,
given that the Greek nation had to respond to the needs and demands of the
Cretan Insurrection (1866-1869) against the Turks, which was seen by Greek
governments as the point of realization of the Great Idea, and which was
secretly supported by them. Greek governments used brigand bands for the Cretan
revolution, a measure that was deemed by the Great Powers of Europe to be
unacceptable. The unstable political situation during the Interregnum period of
1862-1863 had allowed crime to flourish and led many political fugitives to join
brigand bands. In order to sever the attachment of political fugitives to
brigand bands, the Aléxandros Koumoundoúros government of 1866 was left with no
choice other than to grant an amnesty to them. In the debates in Greece on
brigandage, certain Greek newspapers examined together lack of Turkish
co-operation in suppressing brigandage and the role of the Vlachs. In articles
published in 1864, 1866 and 1867 Palingenesía presented this situation to
the Greek readership as a ‘miasma’ (1 June 1864; 11 June 1866; 22 July 1866; 26
June 1867). The notion of ‘miasma’ was predicated upon a series of argumentative
combinations. These combinations represented the brigands in Greece (a) as
Albanians originally from Turkey; (b) as Vlachs from Turkey; (c) as
‘uncivilised’ Vlachs and Albanians resident in Greece; and (d) as Albanian-Vlachs
of Slav origin. The attempt to implicate Turkey and the suggestion of a Slavic
element figured in most of these articles. Interestingly, Palingenesía’s
narrative of 1867 was recorded by the Reverend Bagdon in The Brigands of the
Morea(9-10) and thereby
disseminated to the English-speaking readership. Bagdon’s two-volume work was
the translation of an account by Sotíris Sotirópoulos, MP for Trifilía in the
Peloponnese who had been kidnapped by the notorious band of Kítsos Laphazánis in
the summer of 1866. Sotirópoulos produced and published this account of his
kidnapping in November 1866 following his release. Two years later the Anglican
clergyman in Zante, Bagdon, published the English version of Sotirópoulos’s
story and the article by Palingenesía.
Perhaps we should examine these
narratives together with another source, published over the same period, which
aimed at ‘educating’ the Greek readership. In 1867, when the Greek nation was
still looking for some help from the European Powers for the Cretan
Insurrection, the anonymous Greek author of this book commented on the
‘obscurantism’ of the Turks, as opposed to the love of knowledge that
characterized the Greek nation. For ‘Anonymous’ Turkish lack of civilisation
transformed brigandage in Turkey into an ‘industry’. His observations included
all the essential pieces that Gennadios and other Greek commentators put
together three years later:
Brigandage in Turkey is a normal
state of things […] and because it devastates the country, the state [i.e. the
Turkish state] organizes attacks across the Greek borders [...]
One of the worse, probably the worst,
accusations ignorant foreigners address to Greece, is that it is a brigand
country and that it harbours brigandage […]
If only all these ‘prosecutors’ knew
that Greece’s social situation is better [than the Turkish]… the constitution
and the laws of the country [i.e. Greece] are grounded upon liberal and
civilized principles […] This is a concrete proof that brigandage can neither be
generated nor be sheltered in Greece; brigandage in the frontier areas of
Fthiotis and Acarnania is the result of intrusions of lestric bands from Turkey
[…] If in the interior of Greece we come across lestric bands of
Vlachopiménes who live a semi-civilized nomadic life we should never forget
that the appearance of brigand bands is not an unusual phenomenon even in
powerful European countries, in which isolated cases of robbery take place quite
What constitutes civilization for
‘Anonymous’ is a set of technologies of power and governance designed to survey
Greek subjects and make them useful citizens. Those elements that do not comply
with the rules of the power apparatus stay beyond the pale of civilization which
is identified with the Greek state. Note though that again the binary
coupling of Greek civilisation becomes Turkey; the Vlachs simply appear as
accomplices or agents. ‘Anonymous’s’ mourning has a ‘performative’ element: his
addressee is the Greek ‘nation’, but his ultimate desire is to communicate his
thoughts to an imaginary European interlocutor, who is civilised but
still has to deal with internal disorder and anarchy.
Stigmata and Scourges: Vlachs, Albanians and the politics of Neohellenic
Of course this does not explain why
Greek anxiety is directed against the Vlachs and the Albanians. This chain of
interchangeable terms (brigand, nomad, Vlach, Albanian, Turk, Slav) would often
be followed by the fear that brigandage/disorder was a ‘pest’, a ‘scourge’ on
Greece, a sin that had to be swept away. Martin Blinkhorn noted that the
language of dirt constituted a pattern in Greek and English discourses on
brigandage during the nineteenth century (2000: 343). In the Greek Kingdom the
argument went like this: the ‘miasma’ was imported from Turkey, and like flu
epidemic attacked the body of the Hellenic Kingdom.
Greek hysteria concerning
contamination was acted out in a suggestive way within the context of
nineteenth-century debate on brigandage. The Greek language of
separation/exclusion that accompanied it was that of the edicts issued by the
Holy Synod for the excommunication of brigands from the Greek body social. As
Koliopoulos has shown in his study of Greek brigandage, the Holy Synod had taken
similar action on the question of fraternization - a very common ‘heathen’
practice in the brigand communities (1988: 224). In 1855 an encyclical directed
Greek priests to preach against brigandage so as to unite the faithful against
brigands and their collaborators. Koliopoulos notes that in this instance the
priests had to ‘explain’ to their audience that brigandage was ‘both a “sin” and
a “betrayal” of one’s neighbour’ (1987: 173). If one bears in mind that Greek
Orthodoxy entails and imposes a series of practices that enable the operation of
Greek communal life, then one realizes how drastic that step was. On a symbolic
level, these edicts might have been designed under a logic which would stress
the importance of religion as a purifying power. The edict issued after the
Marathon Murders was along these lines, because it denied the brigands and their
accomplices the right to belong to the Orthodox (i.e. Greek) community (Aión,
2 and 4 May 1870). The measure was the outcome of British threats against the
Greek government that, unless it managed to root out brigandage, Britain would
have to take over in the Greek Kingdom. Additional threats concerning the future
of Greek sovereignty (a temporary British occupation of Greece) but also the
general European ‘outcry’ caused the preconditions for Greek self-reflection.
One must not disregard the profound
connection between dirt and social disorder in Greek discourse. If we are to
believe Mary Douglas, any structure, any ‘order’, is extremely vulnerable at its
margins, when identity definition falters and confines present cracks. Dirt is a
by-product of systematic ordering and classification, which the Greeks had to
present to their European interlocutors in order to be recognized as part of the
civilized/ordered European world. To achieve this, they decided to take some
precaution against those who had no fixed place in the ordered Greek social
system – and those were the Vlach/Albanian nomads of Greece. Since the crimes of
outlaws were likely not only to go unpunished but also to disgrace Greece
abroad, the Greeks called in ‘pollution beliefs to supplement the lack of other
sanctions’ (Douglas 1993: 132). This is the reason why correlation of
marginalization and crime was used extensively by the Greek state after Dilessi.
State propaganda addressed to the British readership was nicely reflected in the
Greek press, which advertised massive arrests of Vlachs and the introduction of
restrictions in their roving movements (Aión, 13 May 1870;
Palingenesía, 26 May 1870).
Finally, it cannot be a coincidence that shortly after the episode, there took
place a parliamentary debate on laws to deal with the question (Kofos 1980:
It is suggestive
that, although the Slav origin of those Vlachian/Albanian tribes in Greece was
mentioned in the Dilessi sources, the main target of the Greek discourse was
Turkey. While the Vlachs and the Albanians of Greece were by no means considered
foreigners in the Greek Kingdom, their inferior social status was none the less
indisputable. Michael Herzfeld notes that in official discourse at least the
term Vláckhos signified the Koutsovlach-speaking shepherd whose identity
was Greek but whose primary mark of difference was language, or dialect. As
opposed to state discourse, in everyday parlance ‘the term [became] one of moral
exclusion’ (1987: 132). Even nowadays Vláckhos signifies in Greek the
illiterate or the unintelligent, one who lacks civilised manners. It also has to
be borne in mind that the state did not manage to stabilise the meaning of Greek
identity until the beginning of the twentieth century. To compensate for this
frailty, the Greeks defined their identity by social analogy and relativity:
those who were designated as outsiders ‘were the people [the Greeks] “knew less”
– a clear relationship between social distance and knowledge’ (op. cit. 154).
The relationship between social
exclusion and knowledge was a common topos in Greek commentary on Dilessi
also, but with a significant difference. In Greek observations during and before
the Dilessi crisis, a third pair of opposites, namely Greece versus Turkey,
accompanied the binarisms between civilisation and lack of civilisation, Greek
society and Vlachs/Albanians. Here we observe an initial internalisation and
eventual exorcism of a Western discourse of Greek identity. In this Western
discourse Neohellenic culture had appeared to be infected by ‘Oriental
barbarism’ after the conquest of Byzantium by the Turks. Greek ‘regeneration’
was concomitant with the restoration of order, which in the modern state
vocabulary signified public security and competent administration. When the
Greek state was accused of uncivilised contact, brigandage, the defect
recognised by British politicians and journalists, was presented as ‘foreign’.
Consequently, the Vlach and Albanian shepherds who had been linked to it also
element of secondary importance that featured in the Vlachian and Albanian
identities was the Slav. This is no minor point. In Greece reflections on the
role of the Vlachs and the Albanians in Greek national identity were the
offshoot of the discussion concerning the Hellenic identity of the modern
Greeks. This debate was instigated by the obscure Tyrolean historian Jacob
Fallmerayer (1790-1861) — the figure who embodied mishellenism or hatred
directed against the Greeks in post-independence Greek culture. Although
Fallmerayer was a classicist by education, his main interest became the
continuity of Hellenic civilization in the Byzantine era. His work, a product of
its age, signified the moment the Greeks decided to poison themselves with the
evolutionist controversy. Fallmerayer’s reading of Byzantine sources led him to
the conclusion that the modern Greeks were a Slavonic race, which emerged during
the fifth and the sixth centuries out of a racial intermixing of the Slavs who
settled in the Greek-Byzantine peninsula and its Greek inhabitants.
Needless to say, Fallmerayer, who was seen by the Bulgarians as the agent of
Panslavism, was not interested in producing anti-Greek propaganda. His theory
was the result of a terror of degeneration the Panslavic elements – stubbornly
backed up by Russia — might have introduced in Germanic/European culture (Skopetea
1999: 100). Indisputably, his whole argument rested on a confusion of
‘continuity and origin, of race and culture’ (Gourgouris 1996: 144). But the
unhappy coincidence of his theory with the institutionalisation of modern Greece
in the 1830s, thrust upon him the status of a ‘Satanic figure’ bent on
destroying the ‘nation’. It was ironic that such a controversy, which dictated
to the Greeks the absolute necessity of consigning this ‘impostor’ to the fires
of hell, made Fallmerayer a first rate star in Europe.
Now it is easier
to understand why both the Albanians and the Vlachs were represented at the same
time as an Ur-hellenic and an Oriental element in the Dilessi affair. The
Greek narrative which presented brigandage as an epidemic phenomenon during the
Dilessi episode, led to the re-contextualisation and repetition of a
pre-existing idea. The discourse that the Greeks directed to Britain, Europe and
themselves after Dilessi succeeded in correlating the Vlachs and the Albanians
of Greece, an ‘internal limit’, with an ‘external border’, the Turkish/Slav evil
‘others’, thus transforming them into ‘a surplus’ of Greek identity. According
to Etienne Balibar, internal limits ‘[refer] to a problematic of purity, or
better, of purification, which is to say that they indicate the uncertainty of
the identity, the way in which the “inside” can be penetrated or adulterated by
its relation with the “outside”, [that is] the foreign’ (1994: 63). Not only
were the Vlach/Albanian brigands symbolised as foreigners (Slavs), but they also
became accomplices or agents of the main Greek national enemy, the Turks.
In this way political ‘disorder’, the Greek Kingdom’s defect, would cease to be
regarded as a domestic problem. The narrative had two functions to fulfil in
Greek reflections on Dilessi: to enable the Greek ‘nation’ to recognize itself
as a pure unity, and to seek recognition from its admired protectors,
Britain and the rest of Europe.
The aftermath: reception and rejection of the Greek discourse
The phenomenon of border crime in
both Greece and Turkey continued to be discussed by British officialdom long
after the Dilessi Murders. In a Parliamentary Report of 1874 the Queen’s
Secretary of Legation in Athens, Malet, recorded a passage from a dispatch of
the British Consul at Thessaloniki to Sir Henry Elliot, the British Ambassador
at Constantinople. Although the dispatch refered to the flourishing of
brigandage on the Turkish-Greek border, the sender ‘very much apprehended’ that
‘brigandage [would] revive at not distant date on the border of Greece and
Albania, especially if all these surrendered brigands [were] kept on parole in
localities where they [had] so many confederates and harbourers’ (The Times,
6 July 1875). The geographically marginal location and the terror of
contamination, which is communicated to the reader through the repeated use of
the concept of ‘scourge’ in the report reminds us of the vocabulary the Greek
newspapers used after the Dilessi Murders.
Other British visitors to Greece
quoted this report later. James Foster Young, an Oxford student, used it as a
compass during his tour to the Greek Kingdom. Young’s diary also included a
letter from ‘a British resident in Athens’, who may have been George Finlay. ‘At
present,’ wrote Young’s friend, ‘this country is free from this scourge, partly
in consequence of the severely repressive measures taken by the Government after
the Dilessi massacre, and partly from the cordial understanding […] between the
Hellenic and Ottoman authorities […] although the race of Albanian Wallachs (or
Vlacks), amongst whom these bands are raised, still exist to the number of about
30,000 in Greece’ (Young 1876: ix). The letter contains George Finlay’s
estimations and illustrates the climate of Greek debates. Young himself was
convinced that the Vlachs he had come across conformed to the description of
‘banditti’, (op. cit. 225-226) but he did not explicitly comment on the
truthfulness of the Greek argument that these Vlachs, because they
brought shame upon Greece, were no longer considered part of the Greek imagined
As was mentioned
above, after the unfortunate Anglo-Greek diplomatic episode of Dilessi the
Greeks were anxious to convince Europe, and Britain in particular, that their
version of truth was the correct one; Burnouf had served as an intermediary for
this purpose. However there were other, more important, authorities whose
statements were appropriated so as to support the Greek discourse of Oriental
contamination. I refer here to the US Minister at Athens, Charles Tuckerman,
who, despite his incisive comments on Greek culture, initially found the Greek
suggestion that brigands in Greece were Turks-Albanians convincing. Tuckerman’s
work on brigandage, which first appeared after the Dilessi Murders in the form
of a report, was republished in his travel diaries two years later and enjoyed
immense popularity in Britain (Tuckerman 1872, 1877: 203). The Greek translation
of his travel book, which followed five years later (1877) re-imported the
narrative in Greece and bestowed upon it the legitimacy that was lacking.
Tuckerman had no illusions about the enthusiasm for his report in Greece and he
did not miss the chance to record it in his travel diary. It was unfortunate
that his British readership was given the chance to read his reflections. I
translate from the Greek diary instead because it is more colourful:
My diatribe caused
great sensation in the East, a reaction that was initially irrational for me. I
later managed to explain that: my work explored an issue not much reflected upon
[by Greeks]. I bore witness to almost a dozen of translations and reprints of
that report and the Greek newspapers reproduced it with thousands of praises.
But I was not so blind as not see that the main reason of so much gratitude had
to do with those passages in which I put the whole blame for the existence of
brigandage in Greece on Turkey.
nevertheless did not daunt his Greek translator who ignored this insinuation and
praised Tuckerman once again (op.cit). Equally, nobody in Greece thought that in
1872 many Britons and Americans who had purchased the book read his reflections.
The fact that Tuckerman had supported the Greek official thesis made them think
that in the final analysis the foreigners were coerced into acknowledging the
‘Nation’ was innocent: brigandage, Turkish/Slav legacy and Greek
Behind the label of ‘truth’ can be
found another form of political truth. Narrations of identity incorporate
defence mechanisms to attack centrifugal powers developed in the imagined
community and to prevent the components of the nation from acknowledging that
there is in fact no centre, no core of the ‘nation’. It is the ritual of
defence and constant re-selection of the nation’s components that makes the
nation ‘real’ – or, rather, brings the nation into life. In the modern world of
the nineteenth century, the interests of the Greeks were represented by the
Greek state – a not yet fully formed power apparatus, which was looking for ways
to consolidate itself and achieve recognition from the Greeks and its European
protectors. The immediate problem the state had to overcome was the diversity
and richness of cultural experience (the Greeks of Diaspora, the unredeemed
Greeks, the liberated Greeks). Even within the Kingdom, there were different
scales of experience (the local, the social). And then, there was a series of
problems that accompanied the very process of state-emergence. Brigandage was
the by-product of this process, but also a ‘slur’ on national honour abroad. In
a sense, the Dilessi Murders realised the worse of Greek nightmares: in a period
in which the Greeks were seeking ways to define themselves as a ‘civilised
European nation’, they became the object of derision abroad. In the expression
of anti-Greek sentiments Britain, one of the leading Great Powers and a
‘civilised protector’ of the ‘small Greece’, had a leading role. When in the
British journalistic discourse of Dilessi, Greece became an uncivilised country,
the ‘nation’s’ spokesmen tried to find a way to redefine Greek national
qualities. It was obvious that the defects the foreign, and especially British,
observers, identified in the Greek nation had to be excluded from it — they had,
in other words, to be identified as alien.
The defect named
brigandage was transferred (in Freudian terms) to the Vlach nomads and
the Albanians brigands who were in a marginal social position in the Greek
Kingdom. These ethnic groups were symbolised as aliens although
they were in fact populations that often regarded themselves as Greek and that
the Greek state wanted to claim as part of the Greek imagined community. But in
the imagined life trajectory of the Greek ‘nation’ their social difference had
already become a threat to unity which had to be obliterated at all costs.
Subsequently, in the Greek national imaginary the ‘scourge of brigandage’
despised abroad became a non-Greek quality that defined the ‘Arvanitóvlachi’.
The allegedly Slav historical origin of the Albanians – or Albanian-Vlachs – of
the Greek Kingdom was an additional characteristic the Greek commentators on
Dilessi took into account. For the nineteenth-century Greeks, to act out the
fear of contamination from alien elements became equivalent to what Žižek called
‘the future’s primacy’ (1999: 18): repetition of this ritual of re-selection of
‘national qualities’ testified to their collective engagement in the
preservation of their identity. A historical past also haunted
this narration of Greek identity. In order to identify this past we may
reconsider what was said in the introduction to this essay about the role of
brigandage in the pre-revolutionary period. This phenomenon was a form of ethnic
resistance in the close ‘Oriental past’ of the Greeks but after the institution
of the Greek state it became a despised defect that was projected on to
the ‘enemy’ against which it had been used: Turkey. Thus official discourse on
Dilessi became a discourse of separation and purification (in Mary
Douglas’s terms) from the filthy Ottoman elements that adulterated Neohellenic
culture. The attempt fell wide of the mark: for the British there was simply too
much history in the Greek practice of brigandage – a history they would
not let the Greeks disavow.
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I am grateful to Professor Martin Blinkhorn for his advice and his critical
eye; this article was improved considerably after his feedback. Many thanks
to Dr Majid Yar and the anonymous reviewers for their incisive comments and
suggestions. Needless to add the usual disclaimer: none of them is
responsible for my mistakes and misunderstandings.
The term ‘imaginary’ (imaginaire)
comprises part of the Lacanian theory of the triadic order
imaginary-symbolic-real. Lacan’s reading of Freud suggested that the
substantial Cartesian self exists only through a system of symbolic
functions. Hence Lacan’s symbolic became equivalent to the Lévi-Straussian
order of culture – a primordial law that exists prior to the individual
subject, and which the subject has to acknowledge and obey in order to
assume its social identity. The symbolic order is the prerequisite for the
social, since the latter is predicated upon a set of pre-agreed laws and
regulations which actualise it (Miller 1998). I will use the term symbolic
in a very specific way in this article to designate the performative
relationship the Greeks developed with their powerful imagined
‘interlocutors’, Britain and Europe. The Greek symbolic is constituted,
therefore, as a Neohellenic attempt to join the European imagined community
by accepting the law of ‘political order’ that regulated nineteenth-century
The Lacanian imaginary co-exists with the symbolic, but it is not
transcended by it. Whilst the subject has to enter/be inscribed in the
symbolic order, no subject lives only on the symbolic plane, that of
language and communication: a series of unconscious imageries always coexist
with it. In this essay I try to capture the Neohellenic repository of
nationhood imageries (the ‘national imaginary’) by investigating a set of
not fully conscious rituals of (Vlachian and Albanian) exclusion from the
Greek imagined community. My hypothesis is that Greek stereotyping of the
Vlachs and the Albanians belongs to the imaginary plane (Bhabha 1994:
74-79), though in the context of the Dilessi Murders it ends up assuming the
symbolic function I explained above.
The real is not identical to what we call reality; for Lacan the real is
what escapes and resists symbolisation: in our case, who the Vlachs
and the Albanians of the Greek Kingdom truly were and where they came
Wyse was an Irish Catholic who had managed to enter Trinity College at
Dublin because the penal law that excluded Catholics from the College had
been repealed by the Irish Parliament in 1793. He was married to Laeticia,
the eldest daughter of Lucien Bonaparte by his second wife, and thus he had
very strong links to the French imperial royal house. In the struggle for
Irish emancipation he co-operated with and indeed ranked close to Daniel
O’Connell. He voted for the Reform Bill in 1832, the abolition of slavery,
the repeal of the Corn Laws and the extension of popular education in
Ireland. However, the views he expressed in his published diaries as the
British Minister at Athens at that time do not always differ from those of
members of the British state apparatus.
Kallighás was a jurist, Professor of Law at the University of Athens, MP and
Minister of Justice in 1854 (Vitti 1991: 29).
The King of the Mountains, a French satire of the late 1850s on
modern Greek brigandage, was discussed in the British press extensively
after the murders at Dilessi (see for example The Pall Mall Gazette, 28 May 1870).
About had visited Athens
when he was still a student, and he experienced the usual shock of a
philhellene who dreamt of a Greece identical to the world of the classical
texts. It is said that it was About’s disappointment at Greek political
behaviour that gave birth in his fertile mind to the personality of
Chadji-Stavros, the Greek brigand with the peculiar Turkish name, the bank
accounts in England and the various protégés in the Greek National
Assembly (About, 1990).The novel
tells the story of abduction of two English ladies and the botanist Schultz
by the Greek brigand chief Chadji-Stavros. It is a witty satire of
the nineteenth-century Greek cast of mind presented through the eyes of
Schultz - About’ fictional alter ego.
accurate translation of the term into English would be ‘Albanian’ (Arvanites
or Αρβανίτες) ‘Vlachs’ (Βλάχοι). Pános Koronéos was
appointed in 1869 to extirpate brigandage in Acarnanía. The report he
produced on the results of his venture was published the same year under the
title Reflections on the Establishment of Order (Sképsis peri tis
Empedóseos tis Tákseos) It was a very perceptive work, in which we
detect allusions to the political extensions of brigandage (Koliopoulos
1980: 176-177). In 1870 he wrote an article on the Dilessi affair, which
infuriated both the Greek and the British sides, because in it he presented
Greece as the political puppet of Britain. The very same article was
published as a pamphlet (Under the title Pros to Anglikón Dimósion).
bought many copies of the Notes for £100.
names of these persons are in the archive of cuttings at Ghennádion (Tricha
Gennadios attracted the attention of the American ambassador at Athens,
Charles Tuckerman, who suggested to the Greek Prime Minister, Deligiórgis,
that he exploits his talents. That is probably why he was first proposed as
a second secretary in the Greek embassy at the United States (Tricha 1991:
Jenkins (1961: 113) attributed the paternity of the argument to Gennadios,
but a careful research in the years prior to the Dilessi incident proves his
theory wrong. The argument can be traced in the Greek press before the
publication of the Notes.
Lloyd was an English lawyer resident at Athens; he and his family joined the
party that visited Marathon on the day they were kidnapped by the brigands.
His family was released together with Lord Muncaster, one of the captives
who negotiated a ransom for those who were detained by the band, but Lloyd
was not released and he was murdered. The widow demanded compensation from
the Greek government, which she eventually received.
measures had been taken in 1867 (Palingenesía, 12 January 1867).
analogous, though not identical, of the nineteenth-century discourse can be
witnessed in Greece nowadays.
Recently, the idea of
‘leaking (Greek-Albanian) borders’ was reintroduced in the Greek media,
after the massive migration of Albanians and Epirote Greeks to Greece. These
populations formed part of the Greek imagined community as long as they
stood outside the Greek borderland, and during the nineteenth and the first
quarter of the twentieth centuries were part of the unredeemed Greek
populations. The collapse of the old regime in Albania, and the massive
migration to Greece woke up the old uncontrolled fear of boundary
transgression. Nowadays, those who cross the border to Greece, be they
Albanians or Greek Epirotes, are presented in the journalistic discourse as
dirty, criminal and uncivilized aliens (Seremetakis
Lazaridis and Wickens
A further association could be made here between Fallmerayer’s theory that
Athens became an Albanian city at the end of antiquity, and the Neohellenic
persistence that brigands in Greece are Albanians; but this opens a major
historiographical question, which cannot be pursued here.