Thermopylae 2020: Greek Nationalist Organisation Golden Dawn Commemorates 2,500th Anniversary of the Battle of Thermopylae
On the 5th September, a large crowd of Greeks – young and old alike – representing the Greek nationalist organisation known as the Golden Dawn, gathered at the site of one of the most famous battles in history – the Battle of Thermopylae. Already commemorated annually by Greeks across the world, and remembered by most nations on Earth as one of the most famous last stands in military history, this particular commemorative event was made even more significant, as it was held to mark the 2,500th anniversary of the famous battle.
Under the dusk sky, at the feet of the imposing monument of King Leonidas I of Sparta, leading representatives of the Golden Dawn – including party leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos – gave rousing speeches to a large crowd of Greek nationalists, all waving Greek flags, bearing banners with nationalist slogans and carrying lit torches, brightly illuminating the area around them (VIDEO). Prior to Nikolaos Michaloliakos’ appearance at the podium, a young member of the Golden Dawn retold the events that took place exactly 2,500 years ago, on the soil on which the crowd stood on. The atmosphere during the retelling of the battle was reportedly quiet and sombre, as everybody in attendance could almost feel the spirits of their warrior ancestors among them.
Below is the transcript of the event’s official speech, delivered by the leadership of the Golden Dawn:
“We are once again here to commemorate the fallen heroes of the Battle of Thermopylae – Spartans and Thespians. Here is a banner that says, “2,500 YEARS: ONE LEONIDAS – MANY TRAITORS”. No matter how many traitors come our way, we will be here! We will be alive and haunt their dreams!
So it was Sparta's turn to add to the glory of the Athenian Marathonists of 490 BC, and sacrifice its children’s blood for the nation’s freedom, heroically defending – according to Herodotus – the triptych of Greek identity: common blood, common language, common way of life, and common religion. In spite of the times, we are all called upon to do our utmost in the wonderful struggle of [the] Golden Dawn, for race, faith and freedom. WE AGAINST ALL!
I would like to confess that this ceremony is not a political event. It's not a gathering like all the others. It's a ceremony, a mystique. This is the place where the Greek spirit lives. We feel the souls of the brave – the bravest of the world's history – who spilled their blood upon this holy ground – for freedom, for virtue. But those 300 brave men, who fell alongside King Leonidas, were soldiers of a state called Ancient Sparta, obedient to the laws of Lycurgus, where money had no value. What was valuable was the virtue of war. They can't understand that they can’t bring down [the] Golden Dawn because of you, most of which are young people – men and women who weren't even born when our first gathering here in Thermopylae took place. And these torches – the sacred ones – will be passed from generation to generation, knowing that one day our golden dawn will come. The time of the Greeks will come. Dear comrades, the poet's verse says, "Honor to those who in the life they lead define and guard a Thermopylae." We nationalists guard the Thermopylae of our own times, fighting against the decay and decline of our nation. And you all should be proud. One day it will be written that there were Greeks who resisted slavery. And this is an achievement which belongs to all of you who are gathered here today.
But we are gathered here to honor King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans and 700 Thespians, fellow soldiers. Let our imagination fly. Let us become one with this sanctuary of the Greek Homeland, this trace of history. Let's celebrate and honor their memory. And let us end this event with just one phrase, that we will shout out loud together – LONG LIVE KING LEONIDAS!”
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While most Europeans – and, indeed, the wider world, thanks to the global success of the 2007 film about the battle, 300 – are very likely already aware of the events that took place on that battlefield in 480 BC, it is still worth touching upon one of the most important events that ever took place on the European continent – an event that continues to inspire generations of Europeans to this day.
In 480 BC, facing the encroaching threat that was the Persian Empire, led by King Xerxes I, a force of 7,000 Greek warriors (according to modern estimates, as historical sources differ wildly), led by King Leonidas I of Sparta and his famous army of 300, held off a massive army of between 100,000 and 300,000 Persians (again, according to modern estimates) attempting to invade and conquer Greece for the second time, following their withdrawal from Greece after their defeat at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC. After three days of brutal fighting, at the narrow mountain pass of Thermopylae, nicknamed the Hot Gates, a local Greek, called Ephialtes, betrayed his Hellenic kinsmen – hoping for a reward by the invaders – by leading the Persians to a secret mountain pass that led to the rear of the Greek army. The defending Greeks were subsequently outflanked and massacred by the Persians.
Despite their defeat on land at Thermopylae, the Greeks continued to fight at sea against the Persian invaders, subsequently fending off the invaders at the Battle of Salamis soon after Thermopylae. His armies exhausted from the brutal fighting against the defending Greek forces, Xerxes withdrew back into Asia, leaving behind one of his best commanders, Mardonius, to continue the Persian campaign of conquest against Greece. Once again, the Greeks proved to be unbreakable in their resilience, and the final victory against the Persians was secured at the Battle of Plataea in 479 BC, almost exactly one year after the defeat at Thermopylae.
The question that we must ask ourselves is this – what makes the Battle of Thermopylae such a significant source of inspiration to European nationalists today? It is a question with that has many answers, but the simplest explanation would be this one – imagine yourself to be a soldier of your home army; imagine that an invading force of hundreds of thousands, far outnumbering your own forces, encroaches onto your native soil, in order to conquer it for themselves; imagine asking yourself, “What should I do – fight, surrender or retreat?” The Greek answer in 480 BC was to fight for the homeland, even if it meant to suffer death itself at the hands of the invaders. Even today, the Battle of Thermopylae remains one of the greatest examples of how powerful the will to defend your nation can be, and how powerfully that sense of patriotism and duty to your nation can manifest in the face of existential threats, no matter the cost.
This eternal message, and the show of immeasurable courage from the Greeks at Thermopylae, was enough to inspire future generations of Europeans in their own fights against invading forces, whether these defenders be the Serbs and their Christian allies at Kosovo in 1389, or the Poles at Wizna in 1939, or other equally important battles that Europeans have faced in our continent’s long history.
Today, in 2020, Europeans face similar battles – albeit social and political in nature, not armed – in defence of their respective homelands against invading forces, and even after 2,500 years, the legacy of the 7,000 Greeks who fought, bled and died at Thermopylae must continue to be a torch that all Europeans must follow, if we are to create a better future for our descendants.
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