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Foreign volunteers and indigenous rebels: A colonial studies approach of the Spanish and the Greek Revolutions



Foreign volunteers and indigenous rebels: A colonial studies approach of the Spanish and the Greek Revolutions


6 February 2021


"Philhellenism originated in modern Western societies as a manifold transnational movement along with the development of the public sphere. It mobilised public opinion in support of the Greek struggle for independence and this solidarity rapidly gained a wide audience. The success of the philhellenic movement can be explained by its alignment with the main popular demand in the aftermath of the Restoration, i.e. freedom as a human right and the rejection of absolutism, feudal burdens and the coercion of the church. It manifested itself in public interventions via newspaper articles, books and pamphlets, fundraising galas and auctions, and artistic creations of romantic inspiration. Among the abundant printed material put into circulation in the 1820s about the war in Greece, we would like to pinpoint here the original approach of the Greek issue as an anticolonial struggle. Set in parallel by its contemporaries with the anticolonial struggle in Latin America against Spain, the Greek revolution is thus vindicated as the rightful revolt of a colonial people against its despotic oppressor. The solidarity with the Greeks also took the form of military aid including shipments of ammunition and arrival of volunteers ready to fight by the side of the rebels. The close contact between two distinct groups of fighters, Western officers and indigenous warlords, brought out the clear rift separating local conditions and practices with Western tactics and mentalities. This paper proposes to compare the reactions of the foreign volunteers in the Peninsular War and of those in the Greek Revolution. Spanish liberals fighting an asymmetric warfare against Napoleon’s army from 1808 till 1814 had the support of British regular forces under the command of the Duke of Wellington and British volunteers. In the reports and the Memoirs of the latter, the Spaniards are invariably described as a barbaric and savage indigenous people, ignorant of the noble virtues of civilisation and underdeveloped, laying clearly outside the modern world. Similar qualifications apply also to the accounts of their experience in Greece by the philhellenes: the Greeks are coward, barbaric, rude, deserving only some kind of colonial administration like the Indian people under British rule. This paper will probe the colonial aspects of the Greek War of Independence in its relationship with the West and the subaltern status of the European south already recognisable in the early 19th century."

(Slightly modified abstract from the Initiative 1821-2021 website)

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