For many in the Greek community, Rigas Feraios (Velestinlis) is probably best known as a proto-martyr in the Greek Revolution, though the details of his life and what he actually stood for may not be as well known. On June 13, the East Mediterranean Business and Culture Alliance (EMBCA) event “Romioi, the Balkans and the Rigas Feraios Charta on the 221st Anniversary of His Death,” presented a fascinating look at Rigas and his life and times.
One of the Balkan’s most influential writers, political thinkers and revolutionary Enlightenment figures of the 18th Century, Rigas Feraios (Velestinlis) envisioned for the Romioi (he did not use the word Hellenes in his writings) or Rum Millet (Hellenes, Arvanites, Albanians, Bulgarians, Romanians, Serbs, Vlachs, etc.) to liberate themselves from the Ottomans and to form a nation starting South of the Danube (his “Charta”) and encompassing what is now the Balkans (in total) and the Hellenic Republic.
The event held in Association with AHEPA District 6 and Delphi Chapter #25 was the 5th Canoutas Lecture in the AHEPA Canoutas Lecture Series. The speakers included EMBCA Founder/President and AHEPA Governor of Empire State (New York) District 6 Lou Katsos on “Rigas Feraios’ Charta, and his Vision of a Pan Balkan Federation,” EMBCA 1st Vice President and Former Executive Director of the Hellenic American Chamber of Commerce Stamatis Ghikas on “The Arvanites- Elena Ghika (Dora d’Istria),” and author, Byzantine scholar, and lecturer at Clemson University Alexander Billinis on “The Balkans in Rigas’ Era: Common Themes in the Mosaic.”
Also among the speakers were the Consul General of Serbia in New York Mirjana Zivkovic and Bishop of the Eastern America Archdiocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church His Grace the Right Reverend Irinej who thanked the organizers and all those in attendance for the presentation on Rigas who is also considered a hero in Serbia for his efforts to free the people from Ottoman oppression.
What emerged from the presentation was a historical figure whose vision for unifying the people of the Balkans combined the best of the ideals of freedom and the Enlightenment with Hellenic ideals of democracy without the divisiveness that nationalism eventually brought to the region. The struggle for freedom was not divided along religious lines either since everyone under the Ottoman Empire was oppressed.
SOURCE: Patriarchate of Serbia