200th Anniversary of Greek Independence Day14 April 2021
The Greek Independence Day, which falls on the 25th of March 2021, marks the 200th anniversary of the Greek revolution. Greece was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire and Turkish occupation for 400 years, and in March 1821, began their revolt. This War of Independence established Greece as an independent state. An underground secret society at the time called ‘Filiki Eteria’, meaning ‘Society of Friends’, worked to initiate this revolution to regain their freedom. This wasn’t Greece’s first fight for freedom and their struggle continued long after 1821. Female war heroes such as Laskarina Bouboulina (freedom fighter and naval commander) remain the faces of this war and represent Greece’s struggle for freedom.
In honour of this milestone, buildings around Melbourne’s CBD were illuminated with blue and white lights. Melbourne participated in this event along with other cities around the world including Sydney where the Sydney Opera House was lit. Each year, Greeks dress in traditional costumes to pay tribute to those involved in the war and to this momentous occasion. In Melbourne, all Greek schools and members of the Greek community gather at the Shrine of Remembrance to march in silence whilst in traditional costumes. Though the march is unfortunately not running this year, the anniversary was still honoured.
Melbourne’s Greek community has thrived over the last decades with many Greek migrants choosing to reside here. The 2016 Australian census displayed that out of the 422,234 Greek-Australians living in Australia, 173,598 live in Melbourne. Outside of cities in Greece, the city of Melbourne has the most Greek speaking residents in the world.
There are countless Greek schools across Melbourne where primary and high school students can learn the language and connect with their heritage. However, studying Modern Greek at a tertiary level has become a rarity. La Trobe University is the only university in Melbourne which offers Modern Greek at a tertiary level. It is imperative that we support the Greek education system to allow the next generation of Greek students to have the opportunity to study the language and learn about historical and cultural events such as Greek Independence Day.
Stavroula Nikoloudis, lecturer and coordinator of Greek studies at La Trobe, kindly shared her thoughts about this day with me. She spoke of being inspired by the Greeks’ struggle for freedom during the Revolution of 1821, which demonstrates that “unity of purpose and steadfast commitment to a worthy cause can turn dreams into reality”.
It is vital that Greek university students find a way to keep our culture alive for the next generation. Melbourne University’s Greek Association (MUNGA) has played an integral role at the university in keeping Greek heritage vibrant by frequently organising events which celebrate parts of Greek culture, including food, music and history. Members of MUNGA have also appeared on the podcast ‘Ta Leme’, which is run by The National Union of Greek Australian Students (NUGAS).
MUNGA President Kion Sapountzis fondly describes the anniversary as a celebration which “helps connect Greek leaders in our community with the next generation of Greek Australians as a way to celebrate our history and our identity as Greeks”.
Kion continued to say that “in order to keep supporting the freedoms we have today as Hellenes, we must continue to support the activities and events here in Australia which help celebrate our identity and for those sacrifices to never be forgotten”.
As the next generation of Greek Australians, it is our duty to continue this support and ensure that Greek history is always discussed and remembered.
Similarly, Modern Greek teacher and former MUNGA President, Kristian Raspa, shares one lesson that he finds timeless and relevant is how the “work of the mind and the spirit are as important as the work of the body and the sword”.
“ The message of the Greek Independence Day for all Greek-Australians is to highlight the importance of preserving our cultural wealth and passing it on to future generations,” he said.
I grew up learning about Greek Independence Day on Saturday mornings in Greek school. It was instilled into me that this event shaped Greece’s history, and I wore with pride the fact that my heritage was linked with such a significant part of history. However I soon understood that if someone wasn’t Greek and hadn’t been raised hearing stories about Greek war heroes or hadn’t attended the yearly Independence Day March, then they were quite unaware of this event.
This has made me realise that we all have to be asking questions. All the time. Asking questions about the people around us, the cultures and countries they come from. There are so many histories out there that many remain oblivious to. I hope you’ve learnt something from this piece about a bit of Greek history! Please, always ask questions and learn about other cultures—you never know what you’ll discover.