December 11, 2009

The Diplomatic Potential of Romanity in the 21st Century

The National Herald
Christopher Tripoulas
October 01, 2009

In a recent interview with TNH (June 19, 2009), Thea Halo stressed the importance of the Christian genocide that took place in Asia Minor. Ms. Halo called for a concerted effort by all the ethnicities affected by the massacre (Greeks, Armenians, Assyrians) – the first genocide of the 20th century – as opposed to the go-at-it-alone approach presently being undertaken by individual ethnic groups. In doing so, she expresses the characteristic perspective of “Romanity” – which has been overshadowed since the rise of the nation state.

In a post-modern era, with the need for broad collaboration driving individual nations to come even closer through mutual participation in international unions, organizations, and other bodies (EU, NATO, etc.), it is evident that no nation – not even superpowers – can afford to stand alone. The eight years of Bush Administration isolationism that led to Barack Obama’s sweeping victory, amid widespread calls for America to restore its international image, is proof of this. Global developments show that the day may very well come when Romanity - written off as passe by 19th and 20th century Greek politicians eager to mimic the West - might return to the forefront.

On June 24th, Greek author/politician Nikos Dimou was quoted in the NY Times as saying “we used to call ourselves Romans.” Prolific theologian and author John Romanides argues that the revolutions sweeping through Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries were the product of oppressed Roman peoples rising up against Frankish warlords turned landowners. The late Samuel Huntington seems equally aware of this dynamic, maintaining that Orthodox societies are inherently different from the Protestant/Roman Catholic West. Preeminent Greek poet Kostis Palamas summed it up nicely quipping: “We are Hellenes in order to hoodwink the world, but in reality Romans.”

By no means should this be interpreted as an attempt to minimize our connection or relation with Hellenism. However, there is no such thing as a “bridge” that leads from antiquity to the modern era, without being grounded in our medieval Roman past. The term “Roman” is as close to heart a “Hellene” because one does not exist without the other. The Western Renaissance can never truly grasp Hellenism without being baptized in Romanity. And so, it is worth looking into what aspects of our Romanic heritage can be incorporated into the amalgam that is the European Union, and by extent Western culture. Orthodoxy must certainly play a central role. Also, priorities of traditionally Orthodox “Roman” societies, pushed aside with the formation of the modern nation state, must also return to the forefront (i.e., prevalence of a community of “persons” over a society of “individuals”).

Presenting the genocide in Anatolia in its Christian context is a good start. The undertaking would engage members of different ethnic groups who share similar characteristics in a common effort to commemorate the martyrdom of their ancestors. It would bring our communities closer together. It would also help reestablish Romanity as a force in international world affairs.

Meanwhile, there is a growing movement to promote cooperation between Orthodox Christian deputies in the European Parliament. In April 2009 MEPs from Cyprus and Romania broke party lines to join their Bulgarian counterparts in defending the rights of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church against a ruling made by the European Court of Human Rights over schismatics’ attempts to seize local churches. Similar views have been echoed by the new Patriarch of Moscow about trying to advance the values of Orthodox civilization in a Europe whose demographics are rapidly changing.

Efforts to have the Armenian genocide recognized have achieved a good deal of progress, but continually stumble upon the powerful Turkish lobby, and Turkey’s willingness to make good on threats of diplomatic/economic repercussions against nations recognizing the genocide. Turkey's geostrategic stock remains high, in spite of its refusal to allow US troops to pass through its land during the Iraqi War (a show of Muslim solidarity). Until the country is fully discredited in the eyes of its Western partners, or until it overextends itself in its bid to gain regional hegemony, it will prove difficult for smaller nations to go head-to-head with a country of 80 million, with the second largest army in NATO after only the U.S.

Even Greece has come under pressure from certain “new world order elements” or Realpolitik practitioners who “encourage” downplaying the Pontian Genocide and Asia Minor Catastrophe in history books, school curriculums, and political rhetoric. And so, rather than competing against each other to gain support for the recognition of an ethnic Pontian, Armenian, or Assyrian genocide, it would prove wiser to adopt a common strategy. Presenting the genocide as one against Christian Romans of Anatolia would likely muster more support because of the evident religious persecution committed. It would also demonstrate the diplomatic potential of Romanity as a multi-ethnic strategy in the 21st century.