Illuminated in blue and white, landmarks across the Southeast U.S. paid tribute March 25 to the bicentennial of Greek independence, spurred on by the country’s consulate in Atlanta.
The city halls of Atlanta and Savannah joined Nashville’s replica of the Parthenon in taking up the hues, acknowledging a country whose ancient ideas inspired modern democracy and whose architecture continues to inform today’s built environment.
Greece revolted from the Ottoman Empire in 1821, a move that would lead formal independence in 1830, marking the beginning of modern statehood for a Hellenic culture that had existed for millennia.
Amid a pandemic that has wiped out tourism and dampened educational exchanges, the illuminations provided a way to keep Greece front-of-mind and to reach out to members of the diaspora around the South, said Theodoros Dimopoulos, the country’s new consul in Atlanta.
Global Atlanta caught up with the consul for a brief interview on historical significance of Greek independence, his ongoing outreach and the prospects for post-pandemic exchange. (The interview has been edited for flow.)
Global Atlanta: Greece is often seen as an ancient civilization, so the fact that it’s celebrating a bicentennial may surprise some people. What should people know about the history behind the independence anniversary you’re marking this month?
Theodoros Dimopoulos: Indeed, when someone speaks about Greece, he automatically envisions the Parthenon, ancient Greek philosophers, politicians, scholars and figures: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Demosthenes, Homer, Leonidas, Pericles and so many others.
However, a nation’s course and identity through history is not static, it rather evolves, gradually encompassing new elements.
Likewise with Greece, there is a natural, inevitable flow through history, from the Minoans and the Trojan War of Homer to the classical age of Pericles, the Peloponnesian War, the Hellenistic World and Kingdoms, the times of the Byzantine Empire and medieval Hellenism.
Consequently, the Greek Revolution of 1821 comes after almost 400 years under the Ottoman banner. It is the collective effort of all forces of Hellenism for freedom and independence that we commemorate on this day, 25 March 2021.
And it was not just freedom in terms of sovereignty. The revolution was also the continuation and the fruit of the Greek Enlightenment., an ideological movement that built on the great liberal revolutions of that era.
What is also unique, is the movement of Philhellenism that was manifested across Europe and the U.S. during the Greek Revolution, which was a product of exactly this rich, millennia-old legacy that we mentioned above.
The modern Greek state, counting almost 200 years of statehood, also celebrates this year the 40th anniversary of its accession to the EU.
Global Atlanta: What is the consulate doing — in person or virtually — to capitalize on this anniversary, both within the Greek community and with the Atlanta and Southeast U.S. community at large?
Mr. Dimopoulos: As far as Atlanta and Georgia are concerned, we organized in close cooperation with the Georgia State University Center of Hellenic Studies and the CMII, a virtual event ‘’Reflections of the Bicentennial in Atlanta’’ providing a multidisciplinary array of perspectives.
On a state level, I am also deeply honored, firstly for House Resolution 88 on the recognition and celebration of the Greek bicentennial and, of course, for the chance I had to meet with Gov. Brian Kemp in the Capitol, where he delivered a special signed proclamation in commemoration and recognition of our 200 years.
Due to pandemic restrictions, we were not able to organize in-person events, however we commemorated this unique anniversary by illuminating landmark buildings across the Southeast (and the U.S. and the globe in general.)
To this end, we were really excited to have the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta in blue. We are also grateful for the celebrations in Savannah, where Major Van Johnson really assisted us on all our efforts, by illuminating the Savannah City Hall as well as hanging our flag at the Savannah Convention Center and, of course, handing over a special Proclamation for our 200 years to representatives of the vibrant local Greek community.
Where else across the South did you find a receptive audience to the illumination project?
Mr. Dimopoulos: We are also proud of the very rich and vibrant celebrations organized in Nashville.
The Hellenic Institute of Cultural Diplomacy USA, whichi is headquartered in the city, presented as its inaugural “1821-2021” virtual project: “Illumination: Bicentennial of the Greek War of Independence.”
Recognized for over 130 years as “The Athens of the South” and home of the world’s only full-scale replica of the ancient Parthenon, Nashville enriched the virtual experience by combining academic presentations with performances.
The program concluded on March 25 with the dramatic illumination, in blue and white Greek flag colors, of four iconic structures: the Parthenon, Tennessee State Capitol, Nashville-Davidson County Courthouse and the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge.
How did the celebrations continue after March 25, and how does this set the stage for future collaborations?
A combined in person and virtual streaming event was also held at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation of Atlanta, under the auspices of His Eminence Metropolitan Alexios of Atlanta. This included a wonderful program of doxology, historical presentations, traditional Byzantine hymns and a musical ensemble highlighting songs of the Revolution.
All of the above demonstrate real dedication and a multidimensional participation and contributions to the celebration of this important anniversary for Greece.
I would like to express my gratitude to all local authorities here in Atlanta and in Georgia in general, that demonstrated real Southern Hospitality!
Finally, as we are gradually exiting from this pandemic, I am confident that in the post-COVID era, new opportunities will appear both in business and in international travel. We will definitely work in close cooperation and determination to bolster every aspect of our presence here in Georgia and the Southeast.
Contact the consulate of Greece at https://www.mfa.gr/usa/en/consulate-in-atlanta.
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