- [inline-graphic xmlns:xlink="http://www.w3.org/1999/xlink" xlink:href="01i" /][inline-graphic xmlns:xlink="http://www.w3.org/1999/xlink" xlink:href="02i" /], and: [inline-graphic xmlns:xlink="http://www.w3.org/1999/xlink" xlink:href="03i" /][inline-graphic xmlns:xlink="http://www.w3.org/1999/xlink" xlink:href="04i" /]
Rhigas Pheraios (a.k.a. Velestinlis) had an answer to the Balkan problems two centuries ago. He was born around 1757 in Velestino, near the ancient Pherai, a small village of Thessaly (hence his alternative surname). Multi-lingual and well educated, he made his living as clerk of well-known Phanariots and as a successful businessman by moving between Bucharest, Vienna, and Wallachia. While in Vienna, he embarked on an ambitious publication program connected with his grand plans for the liberation of the Balkans from Ottoman rule. His central vision was a multinational, unitary state, dominated by Greek language and culture, graphically displayed in his celebrated map of Hellas (). His planned return to Greece to organize and educate the "pallikars in bondage" was thwarted by the Austrian authorities who arrested and extradited him to the Turkish authorities in Belgrade where he and seven of his fellow conspirators were executed on 24 June 1798.
As one might expect, historians, writers, and poets have been fascinated by Rhigas, calling him "the proto-martyr of the Greek struggle for independence," "the great national hero of modern Greece," and "the "supranationalist Balkan visionary." On the two hundredth anniversary of Rhigas's execution, Paschalis M. Kitromilides of Athens University, a well-known scholar of the Greek Enlightenment, was commissioned by the Greek Parliament to prepare a commemorative study. Two well-documented and elegant publications were his response, one treating Rhigas's "theory and praxis" and the other presenting an anthology of his most representative works.
Rhigas Velestinlis: Theory and Praxis is based on the latest research into Pheraios's life and on Kitromilides's excellent studies of the Enlightenment (The nlightenment as Social Criticism: Iosipos Moisiodax and Greek Culture in the Eighteenth entury, 1992). Unlike most other studies, the book emphasizes the intellectual rather than the conspiratorial side of Rhigas, explaining clearly the development of his political philosophy and broad vision which were encouraged by his contacts with the Greek intellectuals of his time and with well-known figures of the European cultural elite. Kitromilides believes that Rhigas's thought, although founded on Greek revolutionary tradition, was directly influenced and inspired by the political and social ideas of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. At the same time, he believes that Rhigas's aim was not primarily an armed rebellion but rather the national awakening of the Greek people through education, political awareness, and cultural emancipation which would help bring about advanced social and constitutional reform in all of southeast Europe. As a realist, however, he could see that freedom from oppression came first, and he eventually accepted, albeit reluctantly, a violent solution. Thus, he began a frenetic program of publication, with his radical anthems and maps, his [End Page 225] evolutionary manifestos and proclamations, and his revolutionary songs. In these publications, we see him turning to a "radical republicanism," advocating fraternity and equality for all in the future state, and hoping for political unity in the area, something which he believed would emerge from the patriotism of the freed populations and which stemmed from his faith in the reconciliation of ideas. In this new, unitary state, a Hellenic Republic did not mean hegemony. higas's views on multiculturalism and ethnic pluralism made him advocate, for each area, the maintenance of its ethnic rights and identity, and even the consolidation of local potentates.
In the companion volume of texts, based primarily on the classical work of Leandros Vranoussis's we can read excerpts from Rhigas's prolific writings, divided into three categories: 1) translations of French novels and scientific treatises, 2) political philosophy, and 3) revolutionary tracts. The emphasis is on works translated and modified by Rhigas such as...