The emancipation by the ottoman power started in the districts. Two uprisings took place in the first decades of the 19th century that worth to be called revolutions: the one of the Serbians in the province of Belgrade in 1804 and the Greek one in Peloponnesus and the islands in 1821. Both districts were communicating with Europe, either because of their direct geographical adjacency, like in the Serbian case, or through an extensive network of communities of diaspora and a high commercial communication, like in the Greek case. In both cases the revolutions took place in grounds, which, in the turning of the century, enjoyed an era of financial recovery, which was followed by a respective period of aggravation but also radicalization of the people as a result of the wars and disorders. Finally, in both cases the struggle for national independence was a double movement: of the elite that came from outside the empire and the local elite. The great mass of the agricultural population appeared next to them.
The Serbian revolt of 1804 10 is the first episode of the 19th century revolution series in the Balkans. Was it really a revolt with clear national orientation and endmost intention the liberation by the Turk dictator, as it is described by the national narration? The answer is absolutely not. The request of the people was the return to the communal way of life that was deranged by the wars of the Gate with Austria and Russia in the end of 18th century and the anarchy that followed with the settlement of the janissaries11 and the peremptoriness that accompanied it. It was not a revolt against the sultan, whose power did not virtually obstructed this way of life, but was an attitude of the Christians against Muslim appropriators. Next to the people we find knez, the merchants and the educated Serbians of diaspora (especially the ones from Hungary) who see the revolt as a medium for their financial and social unreel and the replacement of the old structures with the market world. A member of the arising merchant class, ex- thief and successful pig dealer with great fortune, George Petrovich- Karageorgevich appeared as the leader of the first phase of the Serbian revolt. From the patriarchic agricultural self-management we pass gradually to an urban society.
The protagonist of the second phase of the Serbian revolt and subsequent prince and king of Serbia was Milos Obrenovich. It is worth noting that the personal benefit for Milos by this process was huge and shows in the greatest degree the benefits that are obtained by the elite through national liberation procedures that take place pretending the good and the interest of all. In 1840 he was one of the richest men of Europe and held the monopoly of salt in the whole of Serbia. What has to be underlined is the conscious choice of Obrenovich to stand for the private ownership. His reform was crowned with great success. Therefore, the Serbian revolution converted the communal organization of the ottoman province into a national economy of small private ownerships. The abolition of the Turkish administration that ensured the trading monopoly for the Turks gave the ability to the Serbians become entrepreneurs and this reinforced the new bourgeois.
Similar characteristics can be found in the Greek revolution of 1821. The Society of Friends (Filiki Etairia) played the protagonist role in the motivation of the Greek revolution. Which were in reality the social characteristics of the people that created this organization? 54% of its members were merchants, 13% entrepreneurs, 12% notables, 9.5% churchmen, 9% men-at-arms and thieves and only 0.6% farmers (Κοππά, 2002). It is worth noting that Greeks were already a type of trans-balkan bourgeois. They substantially established a commercial empire inside the boundaries of the ottoman empire (Daikin,1973). During 18th century they owned ¾ of the transit commerce in eastern Mediterranean (Σβορώνος, 1956). These are, thus, the pioneers of the Greek revolution and their participation in such proportions gives a more bourgeois tone and not a liberating one. The Society of Friends chose Peloponnesus for the revolution to take place. In general, the Turkish occupation in the area was nothing more than a military presence in some cities and fort positions. From a population of 400.000 inhabitants the Turks were only 10% (Daikin, 1973). The ottoman dominance was preferred in comparison to the Venetian because the taxes were lower, the administration less capable and thus less austere and the Muslims were more tolerant in religious matters than Catholics.
Even though only one single aim was visible for which the Greeks started the revolution, there was a variety of reasons and such an interest conflict that during the struggle self-interest, topicality and civil conflict became synonyms of the mobilization. The higher social classes wanted the ottoman society without the Turks, the merchants wanted a civil state for the satisfaction of their interests, the militaries (men-at-arms and thieves12 wanted to obtain for their profit the respective independent satrapies and become a miniature of Ali-Pasa. The lower classes just wanted to improve their condition, get rid of the taxes, become owners and increase the size of the land that were cultivating. It is often, though, in these cases to get mobilized more by the factor of fear and less by the profit that will be gained. Between the poorer and richer classes there was always a conflict. However, the people that did not comprise a uniform mass did not have leaders and no intellectuals or politicians appeared to rule the social class. Their leaders were finally the local notables who were higher in the social scale and with whom were connected by cliental and patronage relationships.
At this point we have to refer to the role of the church. Apart from a few cases of active participation in the movement (especially lower status churchmen) in general the standing of the church and patriarchate was reactionary. And this attitude stems from the institutional relation between the patriarchate and the Ottoman Empire. In reality, the patriarch was the minister of the Gate, as far as the Christian affairs were concerned. He valued full autonomy, trust and respect by the sultan and his power was upgraded in comparison to the previous period (byzantine). The financial and political power of the church was increased as it was excluded from tax payment and took charge of the political powers that concerned the arrangement of internal affairs of the Christian milieu. In other words the church was one of the ideological mechanisms of the empire and a body for the legalization of the ottoman power.
Conclusively, the local oligarchies and elites have seen the revolution as a weapon for the replacement of the Turkish power by themselves. Under this prism the “national liberating” revolutions of Serbia and Greece were not “national”, but “bourgeois”. For the large mass of the population life did not change dramatically, neither improved, now that the national sovereignty was “restored”. The communal organization continued to inspire the agricultural populations and the new “national labels” were not in the position to mobilize them. A new centralized power and a new ideology were, thus, needed in order to totally subsume them in the new social formation and the needs of the market. This task comes to accomplish the modern state with its flag being nationalism.
10 The first phase of the Serbian revolution lasts from 1804 to 1813, while the second commences in 1815 and terminates in 1834. Back
11 Janissaries 1801-1804. Back
12 The thieves were stealing both Christians and Muslims, but the popular imagination and the subsequent national fiction converted them to supporters of Greek oppressed that struggled against the Turkish oppressors. Back