Hagia Sophia was not built by Europeans – The “Euro-nationalism” of Margaritis Schinas

Hagia Sophia was not built by Europeans - The Euro-nationalism of Margaritis Schinas, Vaggelis Georgiou
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Let’s start with a lie: If the Hagia Sophia is not preserved as a museum, “that would undermine the tolerance and openness of Turkey”. This was the position of EU Commissioner Margaritis Schinas, who hails from Thessaloniki, in response to Erdogan’s decision on the Hagia Sophia. When Mr Schinas talks about the openness of Turkey he either has bad, overpaid assistants, or has no idea what is going on, or he is consciously lying.

Turkey is on the verge of being officially declared an authoritarian state, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit. But this is not what is most worrisome. In the hours following the announcement of Erdogan’s decision, as expected, announcements began to be made by Greek politicians and parties. So if one compares the reactions of three important Greek officials (Margaritis Schoinas, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Alexis Tsipras) it will be difficult to find differences.

K. Mitsotakis: “Greece strongly condemns the decision of Turkey to turn Hagia Sophia into a mosque,” said Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis in a statement. “This decision – and in fact 85 years since its proclamation as a museum – offends its universal character. It is a choice that also offends all those who recognize the monument as an asset of world culture. And, of course, it affects not only Turkey’s relations with Greece. But also its relations with the EU, UNESCO and the global community as a whole. ”

M. Schinas: “Hagia Sophia is a symbol of interfaith and intercultural dialogue. It is part of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, it is a museum, it is a symbol. It is also a symbol of a city, which is itself a symbol of what we would lke to see as values prevailing in today’s world.”

Main opposition leader Alexis Tsipras: “The decision of the President of Turkey to turn the Hagia Sophia into a mosque – a unique world heritage site of great historical and spiritual significance for Christianity – is a serious challenge that undermines interfaith dialogue and blatantly violates the global values which are as necessary today as ever … “. The chairwoman of the Greece 2021 Commission , Yanna Angelopoulou, stated the same things, but in fewer words.

Not a word about the Hellenicity of Hagia Sophia

The announcements correctly emphasize the ecumenical character of the church, as in this way the case is internationalized creating a pole that serves the Greek side, but also the cultural side of the case is somewhat strengthened. However, negative aspects prevail. In his announcement, PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis placed emphasis only on those who recognize Hagia Sophia as a monument of global culture.

In this way, he completely forgot about the Greeks who have another, deeper and more spiritual connection with the Byzantine cathedral. Tsipras and Margaritis spoke only about interfaith dialogue, avoiding seizing the opportunity to mention at least two words about the Byzantine-Greek identity of this impressive cathedral/monument.

Hagia Sophia has been a museum for 85 years, but for over 1000 years it was the largest church of Orthodoxy built by Greek Byzantines and not by Jean de Chelles who built the Notre Dame de Paris. Greek folk tradition has roots in the foundations of the temple. Proclamations by public figures are marked by an impressive silence about everything concerning all the above that borders on being shameful.

This monument is 1000 times more important for Hellenism than for the Finns, the Scots or the Teutons and that is a fact. A partial exception is the stance of MEP Manolis Kefalogiannis: “Hagia Sophia is not just a World Heritage Site. It is the global symbol of Orthodoxy. ”

Institutionally, the statements of Greek officials and politicians can not be facsimiles of statements made by international organizations. In addition to the universality that can be invoked by organizations, institutions and other states, Greek representatives must also emphasize the monument’s Hellenicity, because universality without its cradle is just a patchwork of unknown origin ready to be consumed and manipulated.

Emerging Euro-nationalism

Another point of Margaritis Schinas’ statements, which was not widely reproduced by the media, was: “I see European culture a mirror of the richness of what Europre represents in termes of language history, tradition, culture, literature, art, and this is what makes Europe in today’s ever uncertain and I may say darker world.” Indeed, events of great cultural significance have taken place on the European continent, along with its wars and the Holocaust.

Mr. Schinas, however, is the Commissioner for the Promotion of the European Lifestyle. If, today, a Greek government created a “ministry for the promotion of the Greek way of life”, all of creation would rise up and parallels would be made with the junta, mocking it for its nationalist approach. But when it is done at the European level, they call it “European unity”.

In fact, Brussels, after methodically baptizing localism as aggressive nationalism, replaced it with a more intense and dangerous Euro-nationalism that sets Messianic dividing lines with the rest of the non-European peoples of the “dark world”, as Schinas said. Let us not forget that the Crusaders were an extraordinary medieval “unification” of Europe that turned against the OTHER, the foreigner.

Mr. Schinas, being first a European technocrat and secondarily a Greek from Thessaloniki, speaks as if from a museum. The fact that different languages and literary cultures coexist in Europe does not mean that the political aspects of these national cultural features have ceased to exist. The story did not end just because the EU decided to put culture in a box and using money turn it into a tool.

Today, Goethe’s descendants have imposed austerity on Greece while petting Turkey, despite its hostility against Greece. The Finns are conducting anti-Greek propaganda about immigration. Cervantes’ descendants helped the Americans level Iraq and today recognize coup plotters in other countries. Montesquieu’s descendants are draining the African continent. The Europeans of the Enlightenment have turned their backs on Cyprus while financing forced child labor in Eritrea.

As far as Hagia Sophia is concerned, the reactions of many Europeans to Erdogan’s announcement were lukewarm and even supportive of his policy, see Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia, etc..

The great mistake

Greek leaders, perhaps more than any of their European counterparts, are eradicating indigenous characteristics to strengthen the degree of cultural affinity with Rome, Munich and Luxembourg. But is there a basis for such a thing? A difficult, even impossible task.

That’s why Anthony Smith wondered, “Is the Roman heritage as strong in Spain as in Poland?” How close can a Protestant Christian feel to an Orthodox Greek? “Event processes such as the Crusades, the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment were not understood by all Europeans to the same degree, while some did not even aknowledge them.” To be fair, Constantinople and Hagia Sophia suffered much worse at the hands of Europeans in 1204 than at the hands of the Ottomans.

The replacement of “bad” state nationalism with the supranational nationalism built by Schinas, Tsipras, Mitsotakis, through an adulteration of the past or its omission is happening now. Greeks – and not only – will receive European funds to “swallow” such spill over processes. The facts show that, for the time being, the “school” of Greek Europeanists (diplomats, politicians, military officers, academics) “who want nation-states to be obsolete”, as the late Europeanist politician Panagis Papaligouras put it, seems to have the upper hand.

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