Which Greece is collapsing?
A few years after the Athens Olympic Games, when the Greeks –at least the elite of this country– passionately lived a Cinderella fairy-tale, the tough reality turned the public discussion in exactly the opposite direction. The worldwide economic crisis, in addition to the euro crisis, led Greek society to an unprecedented crisis and political intolerance. In parallel, these issues brought to the surface all the structural malformations of the modern Greek state. So Greece became a special and unique phenomenon in Europe, a catalyst for big negative changes.
But what are those parameters that led Greece to being in such an unfavorable position? Is it only the reorganization of polity after the dictatorship (1967-1973), which turned the state into a servant of party mechanisms? Are there deeper causes to the way Greece was established as a nation-state, which were just exacerbated by recent management?
A problematic independence
The Greek rebirth, through the second biggest –after the French- anti-authoritarian European revolution, led to the creation of the young Greek state in 1830. But the geographical limits of the newly formed nation-state were far from the dreams of the progressive representatives of the Enlightenment that dreamed of and planned the Revolution.
The nation–state was a new form of state, which emerged after the French Revolution and expressed the rising bourgeois class in power against the old feudal aristocracy. In the Greek case, however, the nation-state was created in an area where bourgeois strata were entirely absent, that is those social forces that corresponded to the new state form.
The developments in Greece and the policies chosen in the early 20th century were determined by the developments inside the Ottoman Empire, i.e. the emergence of a militarized extreme nationalism and the defeat of the reform Ottoman forces.areas that formed the territory of the liberated state were in the backward region of the Ottoman Empire. The large centers where Greeks lived and developed immensely remained beyond the recently-established borders.
Within its borders, productive forces were poorly developed, as were the other conditions necessary to the function of a nation-state. A key feature in the evolution of Greek society was the absence of major bourgeois strata. So the state was established on the basis of pre-bourgeois and patriarchal relations. The real structural weaknesses led to an ideological “overcompensation” based on a revocation of ancient glory and the revival of a dead past, as a compensation to the real cultural identity of Greek centers abroad. In parallel, through self-recognition, the ideology of the “metropolis” was consolidated by a feeling of superiority.
Especially after the introduction of the Constitution of 1843, the strong local interests of feudal landlords and provincial chiefs from pre-revolutionary time, seized power fully and autocratically in the Kingdom and determined the monarchy. They established a parliamentary system based on private dealings. What occurred was a cultural integration of a population characterized by narrow-minded localism, limited to this small area of the country, which at critical historical periods, inevitably negatively contributed to developments.
This would lead to overly-active state mechanisms that created strong links between the party-state and few private interests. The administrative mechanisms corresponding to this form of state attracted, and were strongly linked to, almost all business activity of the new elite.
The elite, sucking the country
In contrast to the social development of the Greek Kingdom, the Greek communities in the Ottoman Empire developed dramatically in the second half of the 19th century, as a result of the “Hatt-i Humayun” and “Tanzimat” reforms (that is the Ottoman perestroika). A significant Greek bourgeoisie appeared which together with the Armenian and the Jewish communities formed the Ottoman bourgeoisie; however, after 1908, they were targeted for destruction and finally destroyed by the Young Turks (the Turkish nationalist movement).
Consequently, the only Greek bourgeoisie (as defined by the European typology), which was developed historically, was the one located within the remaining Ottoman Empire.
In Greece, the rise to power of the modernizing forces rallied under Venizelos, partially-guaranteed the participation of Hellenism in the significant global changes that would soon come.
The First World War, the post-war arrangements and the Greek military campaign to Asia Minor were the only opportunities to reverse the initial genetic paradox of Greek society.
The flourishing Greek bourgeoisie lived and developed economically in the areas along the Istanbul-Izmir axis. The integration of these areas into the Greek nation–state could help it to restore a normal social structure.
The failure of this operation, which was consciously undermined by the ruling elite of the Kingdom, irrevocably sealed the form of Greek society.
The unlucky 20th century
Although the 20th century seemed to have started out well for the Greeks, their luck eventually turned. The Asia Minor Catastrophe of 1922 had a cost of about one million victims to a nation that totaled seven million and until then, lived in the Balkans and Asia Minor. Eighteen years after the unprecedented Catastrophe, Greece would again be attacked by Fascist Italy and then, Nazi Germany.
Greece was ravaged and ruined by the Germans. Its production bases were destroyed.
At least 600.000 Greeks, i.e 13% of the population, lost their lives due to the robbing of the country’s reserves, the killing of civilians or because of fighting in the resistance. The Germans killed the residents of 89 cities and villages, burned more than 1700 villages in the countryside and executed many of the inhabitants of these villages. They turned the country into ruins, looted its archaeological treasures and appropriated its national capital with a compulsory loan.
The economic cost of this new Catastrophe reached the 60 billion dollars for war reparations and 18 billion dollars for the compulsory loan.
The indemnities have never been given.
The Nazi occupation of Greece had even further consequences. By destroying the social and state institutions, the Nazis created the conditions for a rough Civil War that took place after the end of the German occupation: right and left struggled for political supremacy. It was a Civil War that was favored by the geopolitical interests of the Cold War Competitors. In fact, as far as Greece is concerned, the War did not end in 1945 as it did for the rest of Europe, but in 1949.
At that time, Greece became an anti-Communist protectorate of the West, having merely a semblance of democracy. The pro-U.S right-wing dictatorship lasted 7 years (1967-1974). With the blessings of the Americans and the British, this dictatorship permanently jeopardized the future of the Greeks; one of the consequences was the destruction of the autonomous Republic of Cyprus which placed militarist Turkey first in the game.
In short, regardless of the internal antinomies and the occasional inability of their political leaders, the Greeks have paid very dearly for the policies of the Great Powers in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Near East region.