The Greek Tragedy
The complexity of our times simply means that everything that happens around us is somehow related to what happens, or will happen, to ourselves.
I would like to share with you my take on how Greece may have come to the point of no return.
Describing the political atmosphere at the birthplace of democracy is very hard without a historical context. There are four periods of modern Greek history that are directly related with today’s political environment.
1. The liberation from the Ottoman Empire (1821),
2. The Civil War (1946 – 1949),
3. The military dictatorship (1967 – 1974), and
4. The rise to power of the socialists (1981 – 1989).
Every period has added something unique that in my humble view led to the current collapse that the Greek society is facing. I will attempt to briefly describe the key points for each and every one of them.
The Ottomans oppressed the Greek people for four centuries from 1453 AD (the fall of Constantinople) till 1821 AD (Declaration of Independence). During that time, Europe and later on the Americas experienced philosophical and scientific movements that changed the course of humanity. The Renaissance, the European and American Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, changed the way that the world was operating.
Unfortunately, the Greeks didn’t have the chance to be a part of those movements. As slaves to the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire they would study only the Bible, and for many years in secrecy, in order to preserve their language.
Suddenly, and with the support of foreign powers (primarily Russia and France), in 1821 AD they got their own nation. It is admirable that the first Greek Constitution was fine tuned with the prevalent liberal (in the classical sense) rhetoric of those times. Among others, it was one of the first Constitutions to abolish slavery.
However, the complete lack of any form of political establishment meant that only two things could happen in the near future. The state would be controlled by foreign powers or by the already existing (and in almost all cases) corrupt political elite of the Ottoman Empire. Unfortunately these two took place at the same time, and since the beginning of the Greek State corruption has been synonymous with its existence.
In other words, one of the fundamental problems that Greece faces today is directly related to the way the state was founded.
The Greek Civil War was fought from 1946 to 1949 between the Greek government army—which was supported by the US and the UK –and the Democratic Army of Greece (DSE), which effectively was the military branch of the Greek Communist Party (KKE), backed by Greece’s communist neighbors.
In my view this conflict is the exception to the rule that the victors write the history of every war. In this case, the dominant opinion is that the leftists were beaten by the foreign powers that intervened, which automatically victimizes the left and criminalizes the right. Greeks, after the early days of their statehood, are very intolerant of foreign intervention in their internal affairs.
From a political perspective, the Greek Left has consistently been “politically savvier” and a better master of political technology and communications than the right. The fact that the narrative of this war favors the losers has been be a significant turning point for Greek political discourse until this day.
As an anecdote, I can simply say that every political discussion between the left and the right can be reduced to the implications of this war and the UK and US involvement.
In 1967 and until 1974, Greece suffered from a dictatorship that banned communism from any political discussion, arrested and imprisoned hundreds of communists and took away the fundamental freedoms (speech, press) of the Greek people. In addition to its totalitarian nature and oppressive governing, this era completely destroyed the brand of the Greek right simply because it again victimized the left. Although there were many conservatives who opposed the junta, including major conservative leaders like Constantine Karamanlis (first prime minister and historical figure of the movement), the defining reference point of that era was that the right persecuted, once again, the already victimized communist left. From 1975 till 1981 the father figure of Greek conservatism, Constantine Karamanlis, managed to restore growth and prosperity while achieving an amazing transition from an authoritarian to a liberal democratic regime. He legalized the communist party and achieved the accession of Greece in the EU. Back then the EU was named EEC (European Economic Community) and the country’s accession would secure a stable political environment under which the Greek economy would be able to compete in a free(er) common European market.
In 1981 the Socialist Party, under the guidance of its dangerously charismatic and extremely populist leader Andrew Papandreou, came into power with the promise to restore the terrible injustice that the left had suffered all these years since the civil war. It was one of the worst evolutions of the century in my opinion.
Karamanlis had left the country with a 28% debt/GDP ratio and with huge prospects (thanks to the EEC membership), which would automatically mean that the public sector and other areas of the economy would receive adequate funding in order to achieve modernization. (Note: though I am highly critical of the EU’s central planning, I will admit that at that time it presented a unique opportunity for the purpose of development).
Papandreou of course understood that his campaign promises of getting the country out of the EU and NATO would be disastrous for the future of the tiny nation. Instead he increased taxation, empowered the unions, dramatically increased the size and scope of the government, engaged into long term loans, tripled the debt to GDP ratio and made cronyism the golden standard of business and professional practice. After 8 years of his governance, corruption was accepted as the only way to succeed and the people, along with the political elite, where satisfied with the status quo until 2009.
Since 1989 we had governments that followed that “growth” model regardless of partisan affiliation with the exception of the Mitsotakis era (1990-1993). During his term as prime minister he tried to free the economy, deal with unionism, reform the public sector through privatizations, and deal with the public insurance funds that were bound to collapse. Unfortunately his government didn’t last thanks to the actions of the current conservative leader, Antonis Samaras.
He indirectly caused the loss of the parliamentary vote of confidence by resigning from parliament and guiding other MP’s to withdraw their confidence to the Mitsotakis government. Since then, the already existing combination of cronyism, corruption, unionism, government spending, high deficits and the addition of cheap credit (after the Eurozone membership) is what brought the Greeks to their current status.
My thoughts on the country’s future are very scary. I honestly believe that everything is on the table right now. I reckon that the changes in the people’s perception that would suggest a better future are not anywhere close.
Without education on free-markets, individual freedom and conservatism, there is no hope. The Greeks are used to blaming others for their grievances and right now the “others” are the capitalist predators, the “free” markets, the neo-conservative world order, the lenders, the EU, the chancellor of Germany; anyone but the statists (including the center-right governments) and the leftists who dominated the political discourse for decades.
My prediction for the Sunday Elections is that the radical left will win. If not, they will stop the government from making the necessary reforms and will lead the country to another election in 2-3 months.
How sad… It is The Modern Greek Tragedy.