Greece celebrated 200 years since the start of its struggle for independence from the Ottoman Empire on Thursday with a ceremony to mark a new beginning after years of financial crisis – a ceremony that had to be pared back due to coronavirus restrictions.
Prince Charles, who is the heir to the British throne and whose father Prince Philip was born in Corfu as part of the Greek royal family, attended the annual independence day parade, as did Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin.
French President Emmanuel Macron pulled out because of COVID-19 lockdowns in parts of France.
Soon after taking power in 2019, the conservative government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced the celebrations as a symbol that Greece was back after a decade-long financial crisis that left half of young Greeks unemployed and sent some 500,000 people abroad in search of work.
“The challenge for our generation, 200 years after the ‘Revolution of National Rebirth,’ is to make it a ‘Revolution of National Reinvigoration’,” Mitsotakis said in televised remarks.
After almost 400 years under Ottoman Turkish rule, Greek revolutionaries launched an uprising in 1821, and with help from foreign sympathisers from countries including Britain, France and Russia, won their independence in 1832.
Saluting the resilience of the Greek people during the “desperately difficult years” of the economic crisis, Prince Charles said the world needed to rebuild after COVID-19, which has plunged Greece back into a deep recession.
He added: “Perhaps we can take some inspiration from the courage, determination and the ambition of 1821.”
Thursday’s ceremonies, at a time of renewed tension with Turkey, featured a flypast by Greek, US and French fighter jets as well as a military parade including cavalry units and “Evzones” – presidential guards in their ceremonial kilts.
A relic of the Aghia Lavra banner, associated with the start of the Greek revolution, was featured for the first time in the annual parade.
Following a dawn ceremony at the Acropolis, the centre of Athens was heavily guarded and a carpet of blue and white flowers forming a Greek flag was spread out over Syntagma Square, the scene of riots during the crisis.
In a televised message, United States President Joe Biden said the relationship between Greece and the US would be closer than ever.
“It’s our shared commitment to liberty, human rights and the rule of law that empowers us to write our own futures whether 200 years ago or today,” he said.