The Big Idea – Freedom or Death

Today is the one hundredth anniversary of Crete becoming part of Greece. After nearly three centuries of rule by the Ottomans, Crete finally joined the modern Greek nation. Greece started its war of independence in 1821 and became independent in 1828, but Crete was prevented from joining Greece by the Great Powers until 1913.

The Μεγάλη Ιδέα or “big idea” at the time was for a nation of ethnic Greeks. It would have extended beyond the boundaries of modern Greece and encompassed most of the coast of Asia Minor, including what is now Istanbul and Cyprus.

Today the big idea is no more. Bad politics and foolish decisions displaced about a million Greek people who used to live in Asia Minor and Cyprus. The Big Idea did not do too well for the Greeks; in wars with Turkey in the last century more than a million Greeks fled the shores of Asia Minor, their home for three millennia, 50,000 fled Bulgaria and many were dispossessed of their homes and lives in the northern part of Cyprus as a result of bad decisions and foolish politics. Eventually the Greeks became more concerned about their economy than they were about their dream of ethnic union, and managed to handle their economy with the same foolishness as they handled their politics.

But bad politics and bad decisions are the prerogative of a free people, as the Greeks taught us.  Freedom does not bring wisdom or even moderation. If you are free you must accept the problems that freedom brings together with its benefits because they are so closely intertwined as to be inseparable.

Crete was oppressed for 276 years by the Ottomans, ruthlessly exploited and virtually enslaved. Great Powers oppress small ethnic groups and that oppression unites the oppressed. That is the way of the world. Nations make mistakes and that is also the way of the world. The Greeks have made mistakes but they prefer to make their own mistakes rather than be oppressed. It is better to suffer from your own mistakes than suffer from the ruthless oppression by strangers who rule over you.  It is no accident that the Greeks, when seeking independence cried Ελευθερία ή θάνατος – freedom or death.

The bigger idea is freedom or death, and sometime both.

I wish all Greeks the best on this centennial anniversary of their reunion.


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