The Founder of the European Idea


Try to bring back to your memory the “Dying Galatian”, the ancient Roman marble copy of a lost Hellenistic statue that is now in the Capitoline Museum. At the beginning of the 19th century Europe bears a certain resemblance to this figure, the wounded soldier. The open wound was France. The revolution of 1789 had enthralled the minds of all Europeans able to read Rousseau or dream of a life with greater justice.

France had executed its monarch and established the radical republic of the Jacobin revolutionaries. A general had defeated its enemies and exported its principles to the rest of Europe. But such was his ambition that he had ended up just as absolutist and arrogant as the old monarchs. Napoleon Bonaparte was a force that to the peoples at times appeared to be their liberator and at times their oppressor.

This takes us to discussion of the first serious assignment to be undertaken by Capodistrias, in 1811-1812. As head of counter-espionage, first for Admiral Chichagov and later for Barclay de Tolly he was put in charge of psychological warfare before and after every encounter between the French and Russian armies on the battlefield.

The most important factor for an army on foreign territory is the friendship of the inhabitants. This was to be secured by representing Napoleon as an oppressor and the Czar as a liberator. The battle had to seem for the locals like a battle for their own country and not for a monarch. Achieving this was the secret of Capodistrias’ success on the battlefield, for which by the way he was awarded numerous decorations, the most distinctive being the white colour of his hair.

He had the good fortune to serve Czar Alexander, who at that time was the most liberal of all Europe’s hegemons. The Czar noticed the ability, but also the similarly liberal convictions, of the Corfiot count, who at 35 was the same age as himself. He charged him with the difficult task of achieving a political settlement for Switzerland. The day that was achieved can be celebrated by the Swiss as the anniversary of their republic, of their freedom and neutrality, the foundation of their society’s prosperity to this day.

Napoleon was decisively defeated. The leaders of the old political world wanted to re-found Europe in such a way that they would not have to fight any more wars. For that purpose they organized a protracted dancing party with tons of champagne and delectable food which they gave the name the Congress of Vienna. The situation in the capital of Austria in 1814 and 1815 could be characterized as follows:

The Tsar of Russia copulated for everyone.
The King of Prussia thought for everyone.
The King of Denmark spoke for everyone.
The King of Bavaria (father of Otto) drank for everyone.
The Elector of Saxony ate for everyone.
The Emperor of Austria paid for everyone.


It was into this climate of merrymaking in the imperial pavilions that Capodistrias entered, always dressed in black but with a serenity and an incredible grace both of manner and appearance. Metternich called him Saint John of the Apocalypse. He was not interested in celebrating, dancing or lovemaking. He was steadfast in his censure of the light-mindedness of his age. He could not relate to it because he was being impelled by another agenda: that of liberating his country.

The real challenge for the winners of every war is how they will divide the spoils after their victory. This is why the Czar’s great enemy was Austria’s foreign minister and their current host, Metternich, who had a powerful agenda of his own for the future. The Czar wasn’t able to deal with him effectively until Capodistrias came into his private chambers to study his correspondence. The world thus had one last hope for progress being possible.

To understand what Capodistrias achieved on the international diplomatic scene, what world he was attempting to defend, and what way of looking at the world, it is indispensable to understand what world his opponent Metternich was trying to prop up. For Metternich the peoples had no country. They had a hegemon. The basis of a state was not the people but the hereditary rights and the matrimonial links of the monarchs. The world was being required to go back to the ancient regime, as if the French Revolution had never taken place and as if there was no such thing as the Enlightenment.

Metternich had two instruments at his disposal: his direct connections with England, Prussia, Russia and Austria and the ability to drown in blood every attempt to dispute his decisions. All that was necessary was the Quadruple Alliance. He characterized everyone else as sub-allies if they approved of his decisions and terrorists, Jacobins, revolutionaries, if they did not respect them. Metternich was quite simply the embodiment of Restoration.

In such a world, bound hand and foot to agreements between monarchs, it was impossible that Greece should ever be liberated. This was primary data for Capodistrias. The second consideration was that this world of Metternich had no hope of prevailing in a future where more and more European citizens were awakening. For Capodistrias the basis for the state was not the hegemon but the decision of the citizens to establish a state for themselves and their children.

For all his admiration for republicanism and democracy, Capodistrias did not want to abolish monarchies. How could he, anyway, as the Foreign Minister of a Czar? What he wanted was to reform monarchies. He believed in introducing institutions, constitutions, and wherever he could, he did so. Even in the Czar’s possessions such as Poland and Bessarabia.

He urged all parties, even his own hegemon, to embark on the necessary preparation for a constitutional monarchy. People must be enlightened through education so as to be able to demand a Constitution. Specifically, he familiarized the Czar with the method of Pestalozzi through the schools of his friend Fallenberg in Switzerland. On Fallenberg’s estate young people were brought into contact with the land through an incredibly progressive, for those days and for our day, programme of agricultural economy, acquiring ethical substance and independence of mind.

He believed that at the end of the road where just one generation was educated in that way, the citizens of a state – for the most part free cultivators of the land, – could expect a life of freedom, social progress and an economy that would foster a disposition for peace and human happiness. Specifically, Capodistrias was here in Aegina when he said that he had no faith in Greeks who were over thirty. He believed only in the younger generation. This is why he was a governor, prime minister we would say today, one of whose daily tasks was to go to lessons and see, and hear, how the teachers were imparting their knowledge to the students. He had a great belief in the younger generation and not so much in those who were over the age of being able to learn.

So Capodistrias was at the opposite pole to the world that was being constructed two hundred years ago. He was Europe’s first and greatest reforming politician.

At this point we need do no more than enumerate the endeavours of Capodistrias that substantiate this characterization:


  1. He gave the Swiss the most liberal of constitutions, with provisions for neutrality. .
  2. He helped the Germans as much as anyone of his time in their course towards federation. Indeed in 1815 he demanded for their country that neutrality and disarmament that would bring peace to Europe one hundred and fifty years later.
  3. He demanded the step-by-step disarmament of the whole continent.
  4. He proposed public condemnation of unilateral interventions by a great power into the affairs of another state
  5. Specifically, he made two attempts to defend the Italians from interference by a foreign power (Austria).
  6. On countless occasions he compelled abstention from secret diplomacy in the interest of transparent and honest communication between peoples (e.g. in Poland, in France, in the Triple Alliance against Russia, etc.)
  7. He attempted to impose a Constitution on the corrupt monarchy of Spain, along with general amnesty, release of political prisoners, abolition of tax privileges for the nobility in Spain. .
  8. He proposed abolition of the slave trade through which Europeans were exploiting the African continent, and the establishment for this purpose of an international supervisory authority.
  9. He proposed the securing of independence for the Spanish and Portuguese colonies.
  10. He saved France from dismemberment and Europe, perhaps, from new wars between nations for one hundred years.


Coming closer to Greece:


  1. He saved the Moldavians and the Vlachs from massacres at the hands of the Ottomans.
  2. He saved the Serbian revolution from total annihilation.
  3. He saved the Ionian Islands from the Austrians, though admittedly subsequent British oppression proved equally harsh.
  4. From behind the scenes he organized the outbreak of the Greek Revolution.
  5. On at least four occasions he saved the Revolution from definitive ruin (this must be the subject for another meeting however).


There is a historical question that at some point today’s short-sighted authorities must allow to be investigated. To what extent was Capodistrias simply a person who saw revolutions break out all over Europe and sought through his reforming activity to defuse them, as most historians believe, and to what extent was he their secret inspirer, financier and leader as Metternich and the king of England – the Prince Regent of England – believed. Metternich regarded him as the “chief of the ultra-liberals”. George IV called him “a vagabond”. Only unimpeded access to the state archives can provide us with the details. There is the well-known question of the Rumanian historian Otetea and the answer from Despotopoulos, from our side.

Returning to matters of which we can already be certain, I want to emphasize an aspect of the political activity of the Corfiot count that is little known today. In an endeavour at the Congress of Aachen in 1818 to impose his reforming and liberal programme Capodistrias submitted a memorandum outlining the principles of a United Europe he said that an agreement between the four great victorious powers was not reached for the purpose of oppressing the remaining people, nationally and socially. He said that these great powers did not possess the right to intervene unilaterally in the affairs of small states. He was foreshadowing a more general alliance between all the European peoples as equals, who should together make decisions on European questions. The four great powers – five with France – would function as a security council, intervening together in matters where Europe as a whole agreed that they should. This memorandum laid the foundations for the European Union, but also for a world-wide community of nations.

Capodistrias once wrote: “We are no longer in an era when secret and hypothetical alliances can save empires. What can protect them today is a generalized alliance, which to succeed must be public and not secret or merely surmised.” And in another instance: “On one side is the prospect of a sincere friendship between all states and the prospect of progressive improvement of social institutions. On the other is the atrocious rule of anarchy and revolutionary despotism, with all the dangers of ‘divide and rule’ that are familiar from the old diplomacy.”

Returning to the opposite camp: in 1819 Metternich wrote confidentially of his great opponent. “Capodistrias is not a bad person, but to be frank he is an absolute fool, a perfect example of stubbornness and a wrong outlook. He lives in a world that for us is a nightmare.”

Τhe following year Metternich was drinking tea with the Czar and enlisting all his preparatory efforts against Capodistrias, he persuaded Alexander that his minister’s new order of things represented a threat to the Czar himself. “If I had known,” he said, “that with a cup of tea I would be able so easily to change the Czar’s mind, I would have brought a shipload of tea from Asia to persuade his minister also.”

And so it was. Capodistrias tried to induce the Czar to make war against Turkey but it was already too late. Metternich was now free to reintroduce his own programme of repression of the peoples, the absolute power of hegemons and restoration of secret diplomacy in European affairs.

There were at least two moments in his later career to remind him of his old sparring partner Capodistrias. The first was in 1827, on the day of   his third marriage, when it was announced to him that France, England and Russia had crushed Ibrahim at Navarino and by so doing also destroyed Metternich’s confidence in the power of his Holy Alliance, and his ability to control it. The second was in 1848, when he made his escape through the back door and chancellory garden, secretly, through fear of the revolutionaries. The – for him and those like him – nightmarish world of Ioannis Capodistrias had prevailed, for him definitively.

What would Capodistrias say today, if here were at the summit of European diplomacy? Irrespective of the fact that two centuries have passed and the world has changed considerably, no risk is involved, no leap of the imagination or interpretation of his words. All that is needed is enumeration of these guiding principles:

Today Capodistrias would say to us:


Respect the freedom and self-determination of the peoples

  • Don’t allow powerful states to impose their views on smaller states and oppress them
  • Abolish secret diplomacy
  • Extend the institutions of democratic states. Enlarge them and introduce new progressive constitutions
  • Respect human rights
  • Abolish the contemporary slave trade
  • Advance the project of general disarmament
  • Reform your world, not neglecting in the process the happiness of each separate individual, his links to the land, education, ethics. Not neglecting cultivation.


Panagiotis Paspaliaris

Minutes 11.55 to 25.55

Giulietto Chiesa visit’s the Capodistrian buildings of Aegina

Daniel Cohn-Bendit is told of the importance of Capodistrias

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