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Friday, 12 June 2009

Ένoσις - 'so perilous an experiment'

I'd been told by a British friend, some years ago, in one of those generalisations filed under 'conjecture - revisit', that Corfiots were fiercely proud to be Greek but sustained a certain sense of superiority over other Greeks. Our dear young Hellene friend Nancy, from Patras, did mention, when we were happily debating politics at table this January, that some Corfiots (and presumably some inhabitants of the rest of the Septinsular) felt that in abandoning the Protectorate in 1864, the British had delivered what could have been an independent Ionian Republic into the hands of the Greek Monarchy, embroiling them in the machinations of Athens.
I suspect that it will necessary first to understand the machinations of Britain and her agents. I expect this to bring uncomfortable revelations about what went on in the Ionian Islands under our 'amical protection' - notwithstanding roads, education, cricket and sin tsin birra (echoes of Life of Brian on "what have the Romans ever done for us?"). Original sources offer direct insight but, subliminally, they draw a student through time, so that one finds oneself wandering in another dimension. A reader invents the voices of fiction in their head. Film-makers pre-empt such imagining. I've travelled thus before when pursuing research. As ever it depends who writes the history and what interpretations most credibly explain the motives and actions of individuals.

From Warlike England as seen by herself (1915) by Ferdinand Tönnies - insight into British foreign rule from a great sociologist
I will ever revert to Anglo-Hellenic relations because my necessarily sober study of texts is driven by inchoate emotions. At times what I thought was Greece turns out to be my reflection in a foxed mirror. I'm neither detached nor disinterested. I'm mindful of Kevin Andrew's passion for Greece, in whose seas his life ended, undimmed by a rare fury at 'uncritical, unquestioning adherence to the revolting shame of lesser people’s stupidity, cynicism and cheapness' and Byron, his heart buried in the Hiera Polis, writing, in a burst of vexation, that 'there never was such an incapacity for veracity shown since Eve lived in Paradise.'

In the National Archives reading room at Kew: British Colonial Office records for the Protectorate of the Ionian Islands
On only my second visit to the National Archives, last Thursday, I focused on the months between November 1858 and late Spring 1859, getting the hang of ordering documents on-line, remembering to put pens in my bag in the downstairs locker chained by my folded bicycle, requesting a desk, swiping my reader's card at security, collecting documents - one file at a time - from the glass-doored locker with the same number as my computer allocated desk space, collecting the polystyrene forms to support thick heavy volumes, donning white cotton gloves to turn pages...

Sir Thomas Wyse, author of Impressions of Greece, was British Minister (or ambassador) to Greece, sending reports on local affairs back from Athens to the Foreign Office in London since his posting in 1849. On 2 December 1858, in a dispatch to the Earl of Malmesbury, Foreign Secretary in the government of Lord Derby, Wyse describes how, on the evening of 24 November, he'd just left a party given by Ozeroff, the Russian Minister to Greece, when a young employee from the Hellenic Foreign Office called Typaldos arrived with the news 'that the Ionian Islands had been ceded to Greece'.
..the dance ceased…groups were to be seen in every direction congratulating each other, especially amongst the younger portion of the company on so unexpected and auspicious an event.

This news may have come attached to reports of William Gladstone's extraordinary mission to the islands (journeying from England by train through Dresden, Prague and Vienna to Trieste where he took the paddle steamer HMS Terrible down the Adriatic, arriving in Corfu on 24 November [see p.367 in this ref] reporting the magnificent Albanian landfall we've several times enjoyed - the Karaburan Peninsular then called the Acroceraunian mountains). The day after news broke of unification, people in Athens had started ...
... to hesitate as to the advantages of the change. The more sedate and experienced did not see that either party could gain much by the proposed union. Others went so far as to express apprehension of immediate danger to the monarchy and dynasty, from annexing their turbulent neighbour little used to the restrictions of genuine Hellenic liberty...(The Ionians) couple with the hope of such annexation, the means of establishing by their audacity or preponderance, a new state of things in Greece, involving in some of the theories, a radical alteration, not in the constitution only, but in the dynasty and Monarchy of the State...The time is not yet ripe, it is added, for so perilous an experiment. It would be not so much an annexation of the Ionian Islands to Greece, as of Greece to the Ionian Islands...(FO32/263 ~ p.165)

Letter from Sir Thomas Wyse to the Earl of Malmesbury ~ 2 Dec 1858
Background: The news that broke at Ozeroff's party was of course a rumour, since union with Greece did not actually occur for another five and a half years on 21 May 1864. Gladstone, over three months in late '58, early 59 had sought to convey to Ionians - in ways and for motives I'm trying to understand - that union with Greece was, for the time being, unrealistic. Inclined towards self-rule, he became convinced that a catalogue of complaints against the Protectorate could be attributed, in part, to the style of the previous Commissioner Sir John Young who had recommended an Ionian partition converting Corfu and Paxos to British colonies, ceding the remaining islands to Greece, in part to inbuilt flaws in the Maitland Constitution of 1817 that corrupted prospects of evolution towards self-government, making the Ionian Protectorate, a Colony in all but name, and unready for the 'home-rule' he perhaps hoped to seed (echoes of Gladstone's later preoccupation with Ireland) or union with Greece which he came to doubt was really what local people or the Greek government really desired. Having ensured the departure of Sir John Young, Gladstone sailed away from the islands on HMS Terrible, leaving a reform package for approval by the Ionian Senators that would strengthen Ionian conservatives, weakening radical pressure for enosis. But his successor Sir Henry Storks was left to face almost immediate rejection by the Ionian Assembly of Gladstone's proposals as well as continued demands and petitions for union with Greece. Thus we enter the last five years of the Protectorate.
Gladstone, during his twelve week Ionian mission had visited Athens to sound the Greek government and court on the idea of union. On 13 December 1858 he wrote to Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Secretary of State for the Colonies under Lord Derby, noting ‘divided sentiment’ about union in the Greek Kingdom - something ‘feared as well as desired’. It is exciting to see the signature and writing of Gladstone dotted about the records, but although it’s referred to in Holland and Markides as being in CO136/165 I couldn’t find it. That file starts in January 1859 where I did find a letter marked 'most secret' from Sir Henry Storks to Bulwer-Lytton, a few months after Gladstone's departure for England on 19 February. Sir Henry matched Gladstone and Wyse in conveying Athenian ambivalence about extending the Hellenic Kingdom to the Ionian Islands:

Sir Henry Storks at the Palace, Corfu, to Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton
Downing Street, London ~ 9 April 1859
'No doubt the King of Greece would find the inhabitants of these islands very difficult to rule, and in many respects superior in attainments, and less docile than his own subjects, but still territorial aggrandizement, and the commanding strategical and maritime position of these islands, are objects of ambition which the Court of Athens is not likely to underrate...'
...adding a full measure of jaundice towards King Otto, Queen Amalia and their court.
'It is my duty to acquaint you that I have heard from sources in which I have confidence that little reliance is to be placed in anything the King or Queen of Greece, or the Ministers may say on the subject of the annexation of these States to the Kingdom of Greece. I believe there is an undercurrent of intrigue fanning the flame here, and that the chief movers are Greek agents. (CO136/165 ~ p.645-646)
Dropping in on the Scrutiny offices at Southwark Council in mid-afternoon I mentioned my visit to the National Archives. As I left, Rachel one of Shelley's colleagues, explained how security at the NA had, through its focus on preventing documents being stolen, overlooked the possibility of them being introduced. Some rogue had sneaked in fake correspondence to prove that Himmler, rather than committing suicide, had been murdered by British agents. The fake letters intended as evidence (scroll down this URL to see) were printed on a 'high resolution laser printer', written by someone risibly incapable of imitating official circumspection, a bit like those ridiculous, but at least technically clever, Meegeren imitations of Vermeer. But then Trevor-Roper was initially deceived by The Hitler Diaries, to which Richard, knowing his le Carré, adds "unless it was double bluff."
* * *
  Email from Ayios Markos:
I forgot to comment on your learning Greek. It can be hard, or it can be fun, depending on the teacher and the teaching methods. I found it more fun and learned more when I taught myself. There are some advantages to having the teacher though, such as pronunciation and grammar. When I took classes I found it too frustrating. There were a couple of times I had to grab the teacher by the throat. She kept me sitting across the table so I wouldn't grab her. Ha! She is my very dear Greek friend here.
There was a rather comical incident up here in Agios Markos. They are working on the road, cutting a trench for water pipes. This, of course creates more problems for the already narrow street. Consequently, there was major frustration by the bus driver who was having a problem getting through. He called and complained to the mayor, who then called the police and they came up and wrote tickets on 30 cars! Each costing €80. Everyone was up in arms. They have been parking there for nearly 20 years without ever being told it wasn't legal. They all embarked on the police department in a rage. The mayor was red faced and admitted he might have made a mistake. Last I heard they were told not to worry about it, and today I noticed they were all, once again, back in their old parking places. Don't you love Corfu? The Greeks are as much fun as the italians. Love, X
* * *
Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) meeting in Corfu under the auspices of Dora Bakoyannis near Gouvia.
Forwarded email: I see there’s a big summity event at the end of the month in Corfu. Everyone get ready to be hustled off the road by large cars with flags, and off the sidewalk by burly gentlemen with ear pieces. Here comes the cavalry...
Reply from H: Yes. I heard from the neighbor. Hillary Clinton is coming! [she cancelled] Actually, as much as I would love to see her, I would rather not be around with all the police lining the streets. I've experienced it before when a dignitary came to town. We've been amused at the things they've been doing to the main roads. You would not believe all the painted white lines! You will laugh when you see them. And also cats eyes, which are already popping off. Ha!
And a call via Indymedia to protest at the implication of Fortress Europe
 * * *
Back to the future ~ 16 June 2009 re the Iranian Election result: I think I and many others may, at last, take Twitter seriously seeing its use along with mobile phone photos to evade attempts to silence those challenging the poll. See this witty lass on YouTube where she speaks of things in Iran and of Twitter ' the so-called "death of attention span" medium (2.26).
See also Iran: Nation of Bloggers plus accompanying comments. It reminds me of the way the mobile phone circumvented attempts by leaders of the 1991 August Putsch in Russia to control the media and the telephone network.
Back to the immediate future - 23 June 09: I was informed on Facebook across the globe by my student Takanori Ogasawara in Aomori Prefecture: 'The movie of the moment of Neda's (ندا آقا سلطان) death are so shocked. We receive the full benefit of peace here in Japan. On the other hand, on the another side of the Earth, a lot of people are dying.' The face of a woman, Neda Agha-Soltan, a philosophy student shot by a Basij militia sniper, on 20 November, dying in the street, was sent by an attending doctor's mobile to a contact in the Netherlands who put it on

the web from where it was picked up and relayed on live-blogs, flickr, facebook, mainstream media, wikipedia to be printed on placards in Iran. I'm just hearing a BBC R4 report in our kitchen at 13.26 23 June 09.
...and one of the most informed of commentators Iason Athanasiadis who spends a lot of time in Iran in The Spectator on 17 June 09 - cautious.
...and from Eric Margolis a sage warning about the higher-politics: 'In viewing the Muslim world, Westerners keep listening to those who tell them what they want to hear, rather than the facts. We are at it again in Iran...President Obama sincerely wants to enter into talks with Iran over its nuclear program and try to convince Tehran to give up enrichment. But hardliners in his cabinet and Congress are urging Obama to seize the opportunity to further destabilize Iran. Bad idea. A stable Iran is essential to a stable Mideast....US and British efforts to subvert Iran’s government could yet blow up in our faces.
...this on internet interception and this from Greek bloggers
[Back to the future -  22 June 2011: A More 4 programme For Neda]
[Back to the future - 14 November 2012: BBC News magazine 'Neda Soltani: 'The media mix-up that ruined my life'


  1. Hey, thanks for reading my blog! I always enjoy getting comments!

    England, huh? That's really cool! I want to travel when I am older, but I am very fond of my town.

    And yup, and just getting started... Hoping to break ground in writing eventually. :)

  2. A writer I knew said that "you should when writing stick to what you know." In a few lines you created a place for your town in my mind. I would like to do that for Ano Korakiana:

  3. Very interesting Simon! I read it all.

  4. It is intriguing - literally. I wonder what there is to be found in the historical records on Corfu?


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Simon Baddeley