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Democratic unification of Balkan region in Rhigas' revolutionary plan

People of the Balkan Region during the end of the 18th century  groaned under the despotic authority of the Sultan and his local representatives and as Rhigas Velestinlis declares characteristically in his Revolutionary Proclamation "not one of  any social class and religion is certain, about his life, his honour nor his property".

Rhigas Velestinlis, 1757-1798. (National Museum of History, Athens)
Rhigas Velestinlis, 1757-1798. (National Museum of History, Athens)

Furthermore he adds that "even the most peaceful, innocent and honest citizen is in danger at every moment to become a disgraceful sacrifice of either the tyranic fnantasy of the Sultan or of the savage deputies and incompetent lords of the tyrant".  Emphasized though, that all these representatives of the Sultan are left unpunished  "without any question, or any judgement". Also in his Thourios Rhigas recounted this situation and noted that all people of  the Balkan area even the Turks become victims of  this despotic authority:


            Gallant commanders, popular parsons,

            And masters who all died by an unjunst sword ;

            And countless so many, and Turks and Greeks,

            They lost their life and treasures without a cause", (Thourios, lines 17-20).


Rhigas Velestinlis, as a true revolutionary, aware of the ancient Athenian democracy  and one who studied Rousseau and Montesquieu, emphasizes in his Revolutionary Proclamation that all sufferings of the enslaved people of the Balkans "are due to the bad and wretched administration and the deprivation of fair laws". That's why he prepared a specific revolutionary plan so as "enslaved people to gallantly raise their exhausted nape, arm their arms with persistence, with the weapons of vengeance and despair to shout aloud with a thunderous cry before the whole world their holly and immaculate rights, given by god, in order to live peacefully on earth".

Rhigas knew that freedom is not given. Freedom is gained through struggle, by revolution to overthrow the despotic authority of the Sultan and his local representatives and creating in their position the ''New Political Administration'', the new political reality based on the democratic spirit, in the representative state, in which the basic principles of  Human Rights and his Constitution would be applied.


Rhigas' revolutionary plan 


For this reason, Rhigas methodically prepared his revolutionary plan. First he wanted to elevate the morale of the enslaved with his enthusiastic Thourios, which circulated mainly in a hand-written form. It is not answered in the history of the people as in Thourios' diffusion and spreading in the Balkan area. Rhigas stressed that it is better to have an hour of freedom than forty years of slavery - this being, the experience of his forty years of life - and even above man's life, the ultimate possession of man is freedom. Therefore his message was directed  to all people of  the Balkan area:


            "Bulgarians, Albanians, Armenians and Greeks,

            blacks and whites all with the same fling,

            for freedom the sword let's all gird

            and everyone should hear that brave we will be'', (Thourios, lines 45-48)


Moreover he stressed freedom of  faith of every man, religious tolerance,


            "Freely in his faith everyone must live", (Thourios, line 43).


Also Rhigas in his revolutionary plan used the psychological factor to succeed in his aims. He had to crumble and bring down as a myth the general impression that the Ottoman troops were unbeaten, and that is why he offers the specific example of  ''Girzianlides'', who lived in Thrace and revolted against the Sultan. He declares in his Thourios that Sultan is not so powerful as the slaves believed:


            "Never consider that he is strong,

            the same as the rabbit his heart strikes and trembles.

            Three hundred braves Girzialnides made him see

            that he cannot with cannonballs beat them in the field",

(Thourios, lines 11-114).


That being the reason for his printing the image of Alexander the Great so as to encourage the enslaved and to give them a model of a fighter and determination. It is characteristic the fact that in an era where all praised Napoleon Bonaparte as a liberator and had hopes in him, Rhigas did not even write a verse, not any phrase for him, as others of his time did. On the contrary he printed the image of Alexander the Great, and  in his Patriotic Hymn he writes"


            "Alexander, step out from

your grave and once again

see the Macedonians,

how brave they are,

how they defeat their enemies,

with bravery in fire, (stanza 33).


For the preparation of the armed battle of the revolution, Rhigas translated the book about the art of warfare of the Austrian General von Khevenhueller (1683-1744) and    printed it under the title "Military textbook". His aim of the translation was for there to be a military textbook for training of the revolutionary slaves in the art of warfare, as were the Sultan's armies. Through this manner Rhigas would increase the moral of the revolutionaries, who would finally know the military art as their enemies did.

            As to how important this  action of Rhigas was, to translate and print the book about the modern warfare art,  is proven by what the writer states in his book "Greek Prefecture", printed in 1806, eight years after Rhigas' death. He characteristically writes that "the science of war is important and therefore it is necessary to have a written work which  the Greeks are in great need of and may someone, one day achieve it and so all slaves to learn the importance in the art of warfare". And Rhigas had the prudence to translate and print it in 1797, because as a real revolutionary and leader, he very well knew of its necessity. That's why in the main attributes of his personality we mention that he was also a military mind.

            Now as for the military part of Rhigas' revolutionary plan, it is ascertained by the documents of the investigation, of Em. Legrand and Konst. Amantos, that Rhigas was planning the start of his revolution from the area of Mannis in Peloponneso, where lived the battle-hardened Maniotes. Then he would move on to liberate the remainder of Peloponneso and with the parallel military training of the enslaves he would walk to Epirus, where lived the other battle-hardened Greeks, Souliotes. Characteristically Rhigas Velestinlis in his revolutionary song Thourios questions, till when the batlle-hardened people of Maniotes and Souliotes will stay inactive, so as to direct them to a real revolutionary fight, which was prepared by him:


Souliots and Maniotts, lions well known,

How long in your caves with shut eyes you ΄ll sleep?


From there he would continue to free the rest of Greece and the other Balkan areas, Albania, Serbia, Bulgaria and others.

Of outmost importance was the fact that Rhigas supported his revolution to the local power of the enslaved and not to the help of the powers of his time. Nowhere in his works, in this Thourios, does he make a request for help to the great powers for his revolution. Rhigas knew that the foreign powers were interested only for their interest and not for the interest of the enslvaved. This conception of Rhigas was probably the result of his historical knowledge and his experiences by the recent conditions, after the war of the "Three empires", (Sistov, August 4, 1791 and Iassy January 9, 1792), among Austria and Russia with the Ottoman Empire.


The New Political Administration of Rhigas


Rhigas' revolutionary plan did not stop at the outbreak of the revolution, as it usually happens in an uprising, where there is no plan for the after victory situation. The areas  that he would have successfully freed from the Ottoman tyranny, there he would progress to create new political conditions, the "New Political Administration". It was of  the outmost importance to Rhigas as to what would happen right after his military victory. He believed that anarchy is a form of tyranny, as he notes in his Thourios (line 27). For this reason he prepared his Constitution, so that immediately after his military victory the state would be ready to be governed with a specific democratic constitution. That is why Rhigas had translated the French Constitution of 1793 and had created his own constitution which he called "New Political Administration", in which there is the Revolutionary Proclamation, Human Rights and Thourios. Furthermore he added many texts of his, in which his political thoughts are expressed, to consolidate and organize his state.

            As to the fact that Rhigas had the foresight to have a plan ready for  his state's Constitution after his revolution, is confirmed from what Adamantios Corays writes later. Specifically he notes that "the difficulty of the organization of the revolution was not only at the destruction of slavery but more to the connection and harmonizing of the new state itself, of which the citizens would not be subjected nor be in danger of the others, or  to submit to any other rank than the rank of the law". Rhigas supported the new political condition in democracy with heretical election of the archons and not in the hereditary power. Also he inserts provisions to the "Human Rights, article 35" for the protection of democracy from its enemies, who would try to abolish it, by giving specific manner of action, evidence of the organized revolution.

The aim of  Rhigas was the creation of a new class of affairs in the Balkan area with the application of the Democratic Constitution and the Human Rights. It was for his country that he printed the Map. He wanted to have a map ready of the democratic area that he would free and create with provinces and regions (Eparchies and Toparchies, Επαρχίες and Τοπαρχίες). His map would be a helping tool of the "New Political Administration", of  the Constitution, as it is formulated in our recent results of our research, after our involvement in the republishing of the Map and the syntax of  its  index.

He also emphasizes on the co-operation and solidarity of the people, who were enslaved, to face the difficulties and not ignore the problems of  each member. Each one  is a part of the  general total. Furthermore, Rhigas considers as a unit  all the people of the Balkan area, and wonderfully describes in his map that they must all work together for the general good. He characteristically  stresses in the Human Rights, article 34, that  "no one can ever say that, that state is in war, but  I do not care, as I am at peace in mine. But I am at war, when that country suffers, as it is a part of where I am". Rhigas gives examples of this important saying, so as it is understandable by the enslaved, and through this manner, we see  of  how methodical he was in planning his revolution. Specifically he writes "the Bulgarians must mobilize when the Greeks suffer. And he for the other. And both for the Albanians and Walachies.


Rhigas, being aware of the importance of  knowledge, in the understanding of democratic ideas  by the citizens of the democratic state, advises in the last article 124 of the Constitution that in every city and village there must be bronze copies of the Humans Rights and the Constitution placed "where every citizen at any time could see the priceless treasure of freedom". 


                                    Rhigas' Political Maps


During 1797 Rhigas published in Vienna the twelve page "Map of Greece", the  "New Map of Vlachias" and the "General Map of Moldovias". Rhigas was not a professional Cartographer. These publications he included in his revolutionary plan, as we have supported in our recent republications of Rhigas' cartographical works, which are accompanied with the according indexes, giving us the chance to discover the elements by which these maps are considered political maps of his democratic state of the Balkan area.   

            His maps are divided in Provinces and "Toparchies" with specific planning, as were the boards of his state, which he does not mention in his memorandum of his Map.

In this part of Rhigas map (page 10) the specific borders among "Lower Hungary" and his state  along Savas River are clearly shown but it is not mentioned in the Memorandum. Also we can see the border for the provinces of his state.


In the Memorandum of  Rhigas Map are only shown  the borders of  the provinces and "Toparchies" and not the borders of his State


He planned to further print the maps of Bulgaria and Serbia with the according provinces and ''Toparchies", as he did in his previous maps. For Rhigas it was of outmost importance to have in his hands his political division of the Balkan area, which was under the absolute power of the Sultan and sought  with his revolution to overthrow and create a unified democratic state in this Balkan area. In continuation to arrange the elections for the representatives of every Province and "Toparchia", for the parliament, according to his Constitution, which he had the foresight to have ready, before starting his revolution.

As for the name of his big cartographical plan of the Balkan area as "Map of Greece", we have supported for the first time during its authentic republication, that at that period in Vienna every publication had to have the permission of the Austrian Police. Rhigas managed for six months to publish the map by diverting the Police using the title, the Topographical Planning of Ancient Greek Cities and Coins and whatever was for clarification of  the trip of New Anacharsis.  It was not possible to print that it was his state's map, as he would immediately be arrested, although he had specific division for the borders of his state, as we have noted, without of course stating in the memorandum of his map (Page 3) this specific outline, something he does for the division  of the Provinces and "Toparchies". 

The symbolic presentation of the sleeping lion  with the Herculus' club at its feet and on  the lion's back were lay the symbols of Sultan's power. 


Special interest is shown with the presentation on the first page of his Map, with the topographic plan of Constantinople, with the sleeping lion on whose back lay the symbols of the Sultan power. But Rhigas has put at the feet of the lion the club of Hercules, giving the meaning that when the enslaved people of the Balkan area are awoken by the revolutionary Thourios and grab the club - the armor - they would demolish  the despotic power of the Sultan and they would create the "New Political Administration", his democratic state.  In the same way Rhigas has put the political partition on his maps of Vlachias and Moldovias (Vienna 1797) and also at their presentations he has put the club of Hercules under the  symbol of Vlachias and Moldovias, which was noted for the first time during their re-edition (2005). It is ascertain that the meaning of the symbol of Hercules' club extends until his epoch and to all provinces of his state, which he wanted to create. 



 Rhigas Velestinlis, 1757-1798. (National Museum of History, Athens)

The club of Hercules in horizontal position under the symbol of Moldovias.


The democratic state of Rhigas in the Balkan area


The unification of the Balkan area during Rhigas' epoch was kept by the despotic power of the Sultan. Rhigas wanted to keep this unification of the Balkan area by replacing this despotic power, in which there was no respect for  "Human Rights", as he describes them in "the New Political Administration",  and which also contains his Constitution. He would create the representative, democratic state, which would have the same rules for all the people of the Balkan area. Characteristically, professor Nikolaos Pantazopoulos notes that, "the state of based on the contribution of all the enslaved nations, according to the general clause of equality-solidarity  of the people, who are in his state, irrespective of  their  national origin and religious beliefs".

It is important to emphasize that the democratic unification of the Balkan area  would be as a result not of the Despotic power but as a consequence of  the common will  of the nations to co-exist, to have common laws, common electoral system of representatives at  every province, and common government, elected rulers,  without discretion among nations, as Rhigas had the foresight to have written and have ready for the hour after his revolution. Rhigas believed that the non-existence of  laws was the cause of the miserable situation of the people of the Balkan areas, as he notes in the Revolutionary Proclamation.  The break-up of nations within the Balkan area  would be against these people. Rhigas wanted the co-operation of the people of the Balkan area, their democratic unification for the development and progress of all nations. 

We note that in the Balkan area, there were no actual borders of the nationalities  during the Ottoman control and furthermore in the state which would be created after the revolution of Rhigas. His state would be, as he notes in his Constitution, (article 2) without discrimination of  race, religion and language, so it would be a multinational, multilingual and multi-religion state.

In the "New Political Administration" of Rhigas are announced the equality of citizens towards the law, personal and national freedom, freedom of speech, religion beliefs,   gatherings, freedom of press, the security of citizens, the rights of ownership, the abolition of slavery, resistance to violence and   injustice and many others. 

Rhigas furthermore added many of his own texts in the French Constitution of 1793, which he translated and had as prototype. Indicatively is mentioned, mendatory education not only for boys but also for girls (Human Rights, article 22), an order which for the first time is added to a Constitution, military service for women being considered as the introducer of  equality among men and women in his epoch. The protection of citizens from high interest rates (Human Rights, article 35), the protection of democracy from those who were against it and others. He even emphasizes that the democratic citizens would have to actively participate in the party and support the democratic laws considering this obligation "as the most sacred of all their obligations", (Human Rights, article 35).

After the prevalence of Rhigas revolution in the position of absolutist Ottoman power he would create the ''New Political Administration", the new rank in the Balkan area, with the application of the Democratic Constitution and the Rights of People. Rhigas' prototype was the French Revolution and the Democracy of ancient Athens. That is why he honorably names his state the "Hellenic Democracy" with the broader meaning and not with today's national meaning. He supported the new political situation in democracy and not in the hereditary power. Rhigas was against noble  titles, as it is characteristically described in his book "School of delicated lovers", (Vienna 1790, p. 304) and privileges. After the revolution he would cal for election of elected representatives, members of parliament who would be elected accordingly from every province of the Balkan state.

            As for the objections that were expressed, that supposedly Rhigas wanted Greeks to have the first place in his state, and because he gave the name "Hellenic Democracy", we could say in a few words that Rhigas' position for the placement of the representative democracy gives an answer to this objection. The Greeks were a small minority in the Balkan area and therefore the analogical representation in the Parliament would be small.    Furthermore in article 25 of the "Human Rights" it is written that "the sovereignty is founded to the people. This is indivisible, indeterminate and inalienable". Rhigas characteristically explains that he is not for one class of people but on the contrary "the people  as a unit can order and not only a fracture of the people or a city. People can order on everything, without any impediment".

As for Rhigas position to suggest as the official language of his state  the Greek language instead of the Turkish, which was the official language of the Ottoman empire, we may say that he did it from a realistic tactic and not of intention. And this, because the Greek language was the most widespread in the Balkan area and "easy to be taught", as Rhigas himself comments in article 53 of his Constitution. In his Constitution he establishes the respect of the language and the trust of every nation, which constituted part of his state. Also in article 7 of his Constitution he stresses with emphasis that the governing people of his state after the revolution would be the residents who reside in this "without exempting due to religion and dialect, Greeks, Bulgarians, Albanians, Vlachs, Armenians, Turks and others". Impression is caused by the fact that Rhigas wanted in his state all the people who resided there even the Turks, because these people also suffered under the despotic power of the Sultan and his representatives, as he stresses in his Thourios, (verses 17-20). Similarly in his verses 121-122 he voices "to slaughter the wolves, who oppress and tyrannize Christian and Turks".

            Rhigas with the revolution of the enslaved Greeks and other people of the Balkan area visualized to establish in the place of the absolute Ottoman power the New Political Administration, his democratic state.  All enslaved nations "regardless of religion and language" in article 2 of his Constitution, would constitute the representative state, which would bear the title "Hellenic Democracy", the political prototype of the classical period of civilization, unique in history of centuries and customs of people.  Democracy was for Rhigas one human ideal accomplishment with wide spread national  extensions.

            All the residents of the new state would be equal towards the law, there would be freedom of religion and respect for the language of every people who would participate in his democratic state. The people would relish the positive results of democratic rule, with assurance of  their lives and the ownership of their property. He also notes the co-operation of the people who were in slavery, so as to face the difficulties and not to be indifferent to the problems of each member. Each one is a part of the unit. Rhigas even considered as a "Whole" all the people who were in the Balkan area  which he wonderfully describes in his Map.  Characteristically he stresses in "Human Rights" article 34 that  "no one could say that, this or that country ia at war, I do not care, because I live in peace in my country, but I am in war when that country is suffering, as part of the whole world that I belong to". And Rhigas gives the example of this important suggestion so as this to be understood by the enslaved  and showing how methodical his revolutionary plan was. Specifically he writes "The Bulgarian must act when the Greek suffers And he again for the other. And both for the Albanian and Vlach".

            If one studies the revolutionary works of Rhigas "New Political Administration" and "Thourios" as also the works of his capture, interrogation and imprisonment, it is possible to understand Rhigas' vision -with his revolution by which he wanted the destruction of the absolutist power of the Sultan so as to create a democratic state in the Balkan area. With the unification of the Balkan area as Rhigas had planned, the following  increase of nationalism in the Balkan area that began after the Greek Revolution of 1821, and resulted in the beginning of nationalism, would have possibly been avoided.


The "Revolutionary Proclamation" is the first part of  the "New Political Administration" of  Rhigas Velestinlis and the other parts are  the "Human Rights", the "Constitution" and the "Thourios (Rousing song)",   and in 1998 was translated in Bulgarian language by Prof. Nantia Danova.

Rhigas Velestinlis in his book  "Anthology of Physics"(Φυσικής απάνθισμα), which was published in Vienna in 1790, quoted from the work "Aimilios" of Rousseau and wrote an announcement that he has translated the work of Montesqieu "The spirit of laws".

Regarding  the meaning of this phrase see Dem. Karaberopoulos, Rhigas and Orthodox faith, edition of  Scientific Society of Studies Pheres-Velestino-Rhigas, Athens 2005.

Cl. Fauriel, Chantes populaires de la Grece moderne, Paris 1825, vol. 2, p. 15. Fauriel, included  Thourios in his popular songs because it had widespread fame. 

Rhigas mentions these people 'Girzianlides'' in his  Map of Greece, page 8.

For example see Adamantios Corays, War song (Ασμα πολεμιστήριον)", 1800, p. 11.

This translation of  "Military textbook" by Rhigas  was published because it had been confiscated from the printed house by Austrian Police when he was captured.

Anonymos the Greek, Hellenic Prefector (Ελληνική Νομαρχία) or speech about freedom», 1806. This edition was dedicated to Rhigas

Em. Legrand and Con. Amantos, Unpublished scripts about Rhigas Velestinlis, Athens 1891 and 1930. Photo-mechanic edition by the Scientific Society of Studies Pheres-Velestino-Rhigas, with the addition of index (Dim. Karaberopoulos), Athens 1996 and 1997.

Thourios, line 27. Rhigas formulates his political ideas about anarchy, which political opinions in every epoch are expressed  by people who  want to destroy and not build, as they do not propose a specific political program. Rhigas proposed a specific political program and tried to apply it and that is why he is classified as a great personality in  the Balkan area.

Adamantios Corays, Introduction in second edition of Becarias, Re offence and punishment, Paris 1823, p. 52.

The biggest part of this article is Rhigas' addition, who gives directions of strategic  organization, a point which shows that he was a military mind.

See Dem. Karaberopoulos, "Map of Greece by Rhigas. Its prototype and new evidence", in  Map of Rhigas, re-published by Scientific society of  Studies Pheres-Velestino-Rhigas, with the support of Academy of Athens, Athens 1998, (second edition 2003).

  According to information provided by Johann Cristian von Engel, Rhigas was preparing to publish maps for the remaining  areas of  his state, Bulgaria and Serrbia. See. G. Laios, "The maps of Rhigas",  Δελτιο Ιστορικής Εθνολογικής Εταιρείας, Journal of Historic and National Society, vol. 14, 1960, p. 298. 

See Dem. Karaberopoulos, The Maps of Vlachias and Moldovie of Rhigas Velestinlis, Vienna 1797. New evidence-Index-Authentic re-edition, published by by the Scientific Society of Studies Pheres-Velestinlis-Rhigas, Athens 2005.

Nikolaos Pantazopoulos, Studies about Rhigas Velestinlis, published by the Scientific Society of Studies Pheres-Velestinlis-Rhigas, Athens 1994, p. 88.

Characteristically professor Nikolaos Pantazopoulos notices that "Rhigas proceeded beyond the declarations of France Revolution, which recognized political and personal rights only  the individual and not to the societies meaning the minorities. In that way Rhigas was to become the pioneer of the Global Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, which for the first time recognizes human rights with the same spirit of Rhigas to small or great groups like the Communities and Societies". See Nic Pantozopoulos, Studies about Rhigas Veletinlis, Puplished by the Scientific Society of Studies Pheres-Velestino-Rhigas, Athens 1994, p. 106.

Const. Triantaphyllopoulos, «The fight of Greek Independence and the beginning of nationalities», Proceedings of  Academy of Athens, vol. 23, 1948, pp.99-123.

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