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The 'Orthodox Commonwealth': A Russo-Hellenic Utopia for the Balkans, 1815-1856

Sun, November 12, 12:00 to 1:45pm, Marriott Downtown Chicago, Floor: 2nd, Streeterville


For the Christian elites of the Balkans, the hope for emancipation in the early 19th Century posed the question of which foreign power should replace the Sublime Porte. This paper will describe a prevailing political utopia, that I called “Orthodox Commonwealth” (an autonomy of the Hellenized lands, under the benevolent hegemony of the Russian Empire). It echoed the “Greek Dream” of Tsarina Catherine, that Orthodox Russia would resuscitate the Byzantine Empire and become the sole protector of Christian populations in the Balkans and the Levant.

This conception of an Orthodox commonwealth will be examined through three different and often contrasting viewpoints: official (Alexander I and his successor Nicolas I), intellectual/diplomatic (epitomized by John Capodistrias, Ionian-born Greek, then chief of the Russian diplomacy) and insurrectional (through the Greek organization Philiki Eteria operating from Odessa in Russian territory).

However, this Russo-Hellenic utopia met with a starkly different reality, ushering in the age of “balkanization”. This paper will argue that the causes of this failure – and incidentally the independence of Greece – lay in the specific geopolitical situation of the region created by the Congress of Vienna (1814-15) and the development of the Eastern Question.


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