Monday, April 27, 2015

"Greece Never Abandoned The West; The West Never Gave Up On Greece!"

I am presently reading, once again, a book about Modern Greece. This one is titled "Modern Greece" and it is written by Stathis N. Kalyvas who is a Professor of Political Science at Yale University. Among the many questions which Prof. Kalyvas addresses in his book, the one that really excited me was the question "What explains the love-hate relationship between the West and Greece?" I hope I am not violating any copyright laws when I reproduce the relevant section below. 

"For all the advantages it provided, the internationalization of the Greek rebellion had a flip side, helping set the stage for what would become an enduring love-hate relationship between the West and Greece, based on both shared admiration and mutual resentment.

On one hand, many Westerners saw the Greek national project with sympathy and helped to bring it to fruition. For many of them, modern Greece was a dream come true, a fantastic resurrection of a magnificent ancient world that had been left for dead. At the same time, however, they were appalled by the unreliability, infighting, corruption and fickleness of the Greeks. They were also annoyed by what they believed was an arrogant belief held by them, namely - that their nations owed them undying gratitude because of the legacy of classical Greece.

On the other hand, most members of the Greek intellectual elite who helped conceive and execute the modern Greek project saw themselves as fully European; they had studied and lived in European countries and fully took part in European intellectual debates. Yet, they resented the arrogance and sense of superiority they often discerned in the European gaze and couldn't help but realize that they were often used as pawns in a game of Great Power politics. The "more European" (or "modernizers") among them were also aware of the fact that the country they had dedicated themselves to, did not really satisfy the criteria of European modernity they held so dear and that its people often saw them as foreigners or "Franks". All this generated an intense feeling of insecurity and inferiority. As for the “less European” among the Greeks (the “traditionalists”), who were actually the majority, they felt little community with the Westerners, who often berated them as “Christian Turks” and resented their constant presence and meddling. Thus, both modernizers and traditionalists were, for their own different reasons, ambivalent about their relation to Western Europe, while at the same time being dependent on it – an attitude that endures to the present.

Likewise, a most sensitive issue in the relationship between Westerners and Greeks was the link between ancient and modern Greece. Every attempt to challenge this relationship – most famously by the Austrian writer Jakob Philipp Fallmerayer, who suggested in 1830 that modern Greeks were the descendants of Slavic peoples – caused an intense emotional reaction in Greece. The link between ancient and modern Greece remains a sensitive issue in Greece today, as it is simultaneously a cornerstone of Greek national identity and an expression of the nation’s pronounced insecurity.

Obviously, this mix of admiration and resentment is a key feature of the relationship between colonizers and the colonized. However, the Greek case is unusual in two respects. To begin with, the particular salience of classical Greece gave this relationship an edge that is rather unique, in the sense that the inferior party to the relationship (Greece) could claim ownership to the feature coveted by the superior one (the West). Furthermore, the Europeans were not the colonizers of Greece; rather, it was the Ottomans who had been its imperial overlords. In short, the Greeks had to manage a rather complicated relationship. 

This relationship is crucial for understanding how Greece interacts with the West - and vice versa. Most Greeks see Western Europe (and the United States) as unwelcome meddling foreigners, even though they have largely profited from their interventions. Conversely, Europeans (and Americans) are exasperated that Greeks have failed to see those benefits, even though their inverventionism has been driven primarily by their own self-interest and has been imposed over the Greeks - their discourse about the importance of ancient Greek civilization notwithstanding. Nevertheless, despite this animosity, Greece never seriously considered abandoning the West, and the West never gave up on Greece".


  1. I don't know if it is well-known to non-Greeks that Greece's first political parties (up to 1865) were the English party, the French party and the Russian party.

    The English Party leader who later became Prime Minister, Alexandros Mavrokordatos, acted so that Greece would secure its first loan in 1823 from England. The loan was mismanaged and Mavrokordatos was harshly criticized for burdening the new state with debts. His major argument to suppot his decision was that the loan was a decisive factor to force England to establish mutual relationship with Greece and commit itself to Greece's Independence struggle.

    1. What I recall from other readings is that of all the loans which were made to Greece in the 19th century, a huge portion always remained outside Greece as fees and commissions or whatever else.

    2. Thank you, Christos Y!

      If I understood all well then it is "England" who created the mess, together with France and Russia... Finally some truth is coming to the surface.
      How can all the smelling rotting rubbish of the past, be assimilated into something constructive?
      All countries, that have this kind of mentioned guilds to Greece, must rise, and take responsibility.
      Reparations. In the genes of all of us. If this will not be taken serious never ever a full agreement of Greece with Europe is possible.
      Is there somewhere a kind of a political therapist in Europe?
      Or: can somebody create a documentary film about Greece's history as it is, (also told by Greeks, and not only seen with "western-European" eyes) from the Ottoman empire, till now?
      EU should invest in it.

    3. I agree with Kalyvas's summary of the historical relationship, which relationship is not significantly different today, nor was it in 1945. The west was horrified at the idea of Greece becoming communist (and logically it should have ended up something like Yugoslavia, with a distinct form of social economy), so the UK and USA acted to suppress communism in Greece. Kalyvas is expert on the civil war period, of course.

      And, of course, the Marshall Plan and other military financing led to Greece being the highest recipient of funding per capita in western Europe. The actual results for the economy were far from impressive (in contrast to Germany), so again there is a high degree of continuity with the past.

  2. Klaus, my crystal ball shows that you have overdrawn the legal copyright limit by a few words - be warned ;)

    >"Most Greeks see Western Europe (and the United States) as unwelcome meddling foreigners"

    This attitude is visible also in the remote parts of the Swiss alps. I guess that it has formed in the last centuries because that territory had no good connecting paths and people got used to independently solve their problems the way they preferred. People in the Swiss alps learned to cope with hard winters and very scarce resources without much food bought from other parts of Switzerland.

    People in Greece learned to cope with long during occupation in a similar way.

    Now, after all that fiasco of the past 5 years, I am convinced that it is not possible to keep Greece in the Euro because the mandatory reforms, if they ever get implemented by Greek people in Greece, will take much too long.

    The only way not ending soon in yet another deadlock between what will no longer be called "the institutions" (aka Eurogroup) and a Greek government (which most probably will not be named Syriza) is an independent local currency governed solely by the Greek governments.


  3. Just stumbled across the following:

    "Doctors are now being allowed to recommend specific generic drugs when they issue prescriptions..."

    In Switzerland, the basic insurance only pays for generics, if a certain substance is available at this lower price. Therefore patients like me always tell the doctor to make sure that, if available, he prescribes the generic drug.

    I wonder why in a country with problems like Greece doctors must be allowed? And why are they not obliged???

    Switzerland made this ruling years ago, what is so different in Greece that today they have not yet implemented a firm obligation?


    1. As I recall the situation explained to me some time ago, the reason of course is corruption -- but the problem is not only the corruption of Greek doctors and the political establishment. It is the power and corruption of international (including Swiss) drug companies, relative to the weak power of the Greek state. With this imbalance, it is doubtful that a sufficient supply of generic drugs plus non-generics actually needed would be available.

      Also, do not forget the corrupt EU market in pharmaceuticls. There is no free market or free movement of drugs across the EU; there is no regulation; and there are massive disparities in prices. For example, you cannot buy online non-prescription drugs and health supplements from German ebay or pharmacies and have them posted to you elsewhere. Experts in the field have told me that all attempts by the European Commission to create a common market in pharmaceuticals has been blocked by France, Germany and others.

      So, the answer to your question is: European big business interests; international pharmaceutical industry interests; and Greek doctors' interests. All are corruption.

  4. Yet another interesting text about Jannis Boutaris, president of the city of Thessaloniki. That is the kind of personality needed to reorganize Greece!