Monday, July 30, 2012

The Greek Tragedy



Greece is a country that cannot be ignored. That is true in terms of current events but is also just as true when taking a broader, historic view. Alongside ancient Rome, probably no other culture in the world has had so great an impact as Greek culture, much of which was adopted by the Romans. All of our founding ideas about good government, philosophy, reason, medicine, history etc were all built on Greek foundations. Christianity as well, first grew up in the more Greek-dominated half of the Roman Empire and Christianity would have had a much harder time in its formative years were it not for Emperor Constantine the Great who later founded the city of Constantinople and more or less established what became the Greek Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire. After the fall of Rome, it was the Eastern Empire, the Greek Byzantines, who continued to hold on, who defended the Church, fought off the invasions that came from every side and under rulers like Emperor Justinian or Emperor Heraclius, even managed to somewhat rebuild the crumbling edifice that was Imperial Rome. But, in a way, the Greeks were TOO successful. The Byzantine Empire became such a tempting prize that coups became commonplace and even the word “Byzantine” became synonymous with intrigue.

Rather than fighting foreign enemies, the Byzantines fought each other for power and external warfare was increasingly left to hired mercenaries while Constantinople became wealthy and prosperous as the hub of all trade with the near and Far East. It is ironic that, during this period of decline, the Turks, who ultimately became the arch-enemy of the Greeks, were actually invited into the Empire by the Byzantine Emperor to help suppress rebellions in the Balkans. Calling in outsiders to deal with internal enemies ultimately proved to be an unwise policy. If the assumption was that the Turks could be easily manipulated and expelled later, they were very much mistaken as to Turkish strength and determination. Unfortunately for the Greeks, once the Turks had their foot in the door, the combined powers of Christendom were never able to force them out again. One also cannot help but notice the difference with today, when Greece is so indebted and in such dire financial difficulty, that the city of Constantine was once the most fabulously wealthy city in the world. How things change. The Greeks spend several hundred years under Turkish rule but, eventually, that changed too. The Greek War of Independence attracted volunteers from across Europe and moral support from countries across the western world. The war was finally won in 1829.

First, Greece was established as a republic, but it proved totally unable to unite and solidify the new Greek state and, after a period of some chaos, a monarchy was established under the Bavarian House of Wittelsbach, which gave Greece their national colors of blue and white. Their first King was Prince Otto, who took the Greek form of King Othon of Greece, who reigned for thirty years but who became quite unpopular due to the actions of his ministers who favored German over Greek traditions. A military coup overthrew King Othon in 1862 and with the cooperation of the international community a new monarchy was established by King George I of the ancient Danish Royal Family. Many liberal reforms were adopted in this time, with the powers of the king being reduced and the vote extended to all adult males. The country was very poor at this time, but the sort of modernization Greece required after so many years of Ottoman rule could not happen overnight, and the situation slowly began to improve. After the defeat of Turkey by Britain and Russia, Greece was able to reclaim some lost territories, though the strategic island of Cyprus was denied them (sure to cause trouble in the future). The fate of those Greeks still living under foreign control continued to be the main concern of the people for some time. During the Balkan Wars, Greece was able to double her land and population, though at considerable cost.

In 1913, King George was assassinated by an anarchist and was succeeded by his son, King Constantine I. Due to the fact that he was the first king born in the independent Greece, and the first to be Greek Orthodox, he was proclaimed by many of his subjects as “Constantine XII” heir to the legacy of the last Byzantine Emperor. Greek pride was still alive and well. However, the reign of King Constantine I was soon overshadowed by the outbreak of World War I in which many wanted to enter the war on the allied side in order to attack Turkey, but in which the King, knowing how exhausted the army was since the Balkan Wars, wanted to stay out of. His preference was to remain neutral but it was a neutrality that the allies did not always respect. Factions emerged, for and against the war, with some Greeks acting on their own to occupy parts of southern Albania. Pressures increased and eventually King Constantine abdicated in favor of his son and Greece did enter the war on the allied side which won Greece some more territory, though they never regained the highly symbolic prize of Constantinople. In the following war with the new secular government in republican Turkey, Greece lost some of her prior gains which caused a great deal of dissatisfaction and government turmoil, opening the era of conflict between the liberal republicans and the conservative monarchists.

One of the first big trouble-makers was Prime Minister Venizelos, a republican, who, after the downfall of King Constantine I during World War I, replaced him with his brother, King Alexander, who died in 1920 after being bitten by a monkey (you can’t make this stuff up!) and King George II came to the throne in 1922. However, the republicans were desperate to ruin the power of the King and to keep George II off the throne. A royalist coup in 1923 gave them the pretext to demand that George II leave the country but he refused to abdicate. The republicans, again, made a mess of things and finally the military took control and held a plebiscite which saw 98% of Greeks vote to restore the monarchy in 1935. King George II happily returned but trouble still remained, particularly as the communist revolutionaries were becoming a force to be reckoned with in Greek politics for the first time. This caused a chaotic and dangerous situation which was not relieved until the coming to power of the former general Ioannis Metaxas, an ardent royalist, who King George II granted extraordinary powers to in order to save the national situation. Subversive groups were suppressed and pride in Greek civilization was encouraged under the new government, known as the “Fourth of August Regime”.

A great deal of negative material has been written about Metaxas and his government, many referring to him as a dictator. However, he never encouraged the sort of cult of personality seen in most dictatorships. Everything was done in the name of the King and the monarchy was always given pride of place in national life. His aim was not to transform Greece but to strengthen the Greek kingdom, defend Greek culture and restore a sense of patriotic national pride among the people. The need for a strong country was clearly felt with the outbreak of World War II in which King George II naturally favored Great Britain and the allied powers. This caused tension with the Fascist regime in Italy and when Mussolini demanded certain privileges from Metaxas he refused and Italy invaded Greece from Albania. Mussolini had expected to make short work of the Greeks but after coming to power Metaxas had greatly strengthened and modernized the Greek military and they were stationed in the right place in excellent defensive positions.

The King and Metaxas rallied the Greek people to war and in the resulting campaign the Italian invasion was halted and Greek counter-attacks cleared their homeland of the enemy and even advanced into southern Albania where the situation stalemated. Britain rushed aid to Greece and Germany rushed aid to Italy and in the end it was the Axis forces that prevailed. The King escaped to Crete but later had to withdraw to Egypt and later Britain when all of Greece was occupied by German and Italian forces. Everyone on the world stage still recognized George II as King but in Greece, alongside the Axis occupation, a civil war simmered with the communists being given great resources to wage a guerilla war against both the German and Italian armies as well as against the Greek royalists. In 1944 the Germans retreated from Greece and Athens was seized by the communists only to later be liberated by British troops. From 1944 to 1949 Greece became the first Cold War battleground as Greek royalists supported by Great Britain and the United States fought a civil war against the communist revolutionaries supported by the Soviet Union. Ultimately, the monarchists were victorious in gaining control of the situation, at least enough for elections to be held, followed by yet another referendum on the form of government. The first elections won a majority of seats for the monarchists and, once again, when the issue was put to the Greek people a majority of 69% favored keeping the monarchy in 1946.

King George II was finally able to return home but it was to a homeland torn by civil war, with a shattered infrastructure and facing economic crisis. Less than a year later George II died and was succeeded by his younger brother King Paul. In many histories today, King Paul is subject to a great deal of unfair criticism. The fact is that during his reign the Kingdom of Greece came roaring back to life with American aid from the Marshall Plan, a surge in tourism and the good relations with foreign countries established by King Paul on his many tours. During his reign, one of the few times there were no major problems with rebels but a period of peace and stability in which the people could enjoy their constitutional monarchy, Greece rapidly recovered, rebuilt and prospered. It was a great success story. But, of course, republicans never take “no” for an answer and they continued to try to encourage discord and to spread every sort of slander against the King and the Royal Family. When economic growth began to slow they were quick to point to the monarchy as the cause of the problems. In fact, King Paul had shown financial common sense and had actually cut his own salary, cut his own expenses and even handed over to the government valuable royal properties. To republican ideologues, of course, none of that mattered.

They didn’t care about national stability, economic prosperity or the new laws giving full equal rights to women, they continued to wage their subversive campaign against the Greek monarchy. This continued after the death of King Paul and the accession of the young King Constantine II in 1964. One of the main sources of trouble was Prime Minister George Papandreou, who had studied in Berlin where he became infatuated with the Social Democrat movement and who had been a republican from early on (Metaxas had exiled him for his opposition to the monarchy). However, he made friendly overtures to the monarchists even though he came to power with the support of the communists when he first became prime minister. Tensions rose between Papandreou and the King, especially after the Prime Minister tried to take control of the army. Papandreou also had ambitions and in-fighting in his own family and the political situation in Greece had fragmented. The turmoil on the left threatened to engulf the whole government and a center emerged that opposed the right and the left. The result was that the Greek government rested on the most unstable of structures; a political tripod.

King Constantine II finally came into open opposition to Papandreou over his effort to take control of the army by naming himself defense minister as well as prime minister. The King offered to appoint anyone Papandreou might choose for the post but refused to allow him to fill it himself. Papandreou refused the offer, ultimately resigned and a succession of weak governments followed as both sides tried to enlist the support of government officials. Papandreou took the radical step of openly trying to rally the people in opposition to the King. The results were mixed but this populism frightened the other politicians and made it impossible for the King to form a stable government. All of this worked together to create a fear by members of the army that the communists would take advantage of the situation to seize power. In 1967 a military coup was launched led by a brigadier general and two colonels. Within a few hours the whole country was under their control with leading problematic politicians and subversives arrested and troops stationed outside the royal palace.

Since that time, many have tried to blame King Constantine II for the coup and the subsequent military regime. However, nothing could be further from the truth. While many senior officers were ardent royalists and would have obeyed any order from the King, junior officers, such as those involved, refused to obey either the King or their generals and the instigator of the plot, Colonel George Papadopoulos, had long had republican sympathies having previously participated in an attempted coup against King Paul. Some have still argued that Constantine II could have rallied those forces loyal to him to suppress the colonels but this is mere speculation and the King did not want to bring on another Greek civil war. Finally, in 1967 he decided to take action and organized what he hoped would be a non-violent counter-coup against the junta. Unfortunately, junior officers refused to obey their royalist generals and the plan fell apart. The King and his family left Greece for Rome but was confident that, like so many times in the past, the monarchy would eventually be restored. This time, however, things were different. Colonel Papadopoulos simply declared Greece a republic on his own on June 1, 1973 and the next month held a staged plebiscite. Even long-time anti-monarchists campaigned for a “no” vote but with the regime in control of the whole process the result was naturally a 78.6% in favor of the republic with Papadopoulos as President.

After only about a year of life the military regime came to an end in 1974 and the republican constitution was declared illegitimate. King Constantine II expected to return to Greece but, again, he was betrayed and yet another referendum was organized with the usual troublemakers in favor of keeping the republic but, most troublingly, with many supposed monarchists refusing to take a stand. Again, the outcome was less than honest. The King was not allowed to return to Greece to meet his people face to face and campaign on his own behalf. Not surprisingly the result was 69% in favor of a republic and the King has remained a monarch-in-exile ever since. Since the birth of the new republic, Greece has often resembled a power-sharing enterprise between the Karamanlis and Papandreou families. The socialists have held most political power from the beginning and over the years turned the country into a very top-heavy bureaucratic state. In 1981 Greece joined the European Union and in 2001 adopted the Euro. With easy money on loan from the EU, the Greek government plunged down the road to economic ruin as politicians bought votes by promising more government spending, more subsidies, more lavish pension plans and so on which put the country into massive debt.

Eventually, the EU financiers began to doubt the ability of Greece to ever repay such a debt and the Greek economy went into a nosedive. The only response, so far, has been for bailouts from the EU, essentially more loans, but after a time greater austerity measures were demanded of Greece to get the money. When news of cuts in government spending reached the public there were riots in the streets. Greece has now seen more and more national decisions being made by the European Union and a resulting rise in extremist political parties along with widespread anger among the populace. Suicide rates have jumped up and record numbers of Greeks are abandoning their country to move abroad. Yet, even while their republican rulers have plunged the country into so desperate a crisis that it threatens to drag the Euro-zone down with it, all the years of vilifying the King and Royal Family seem to have been the one republican policy that has worked well. In recent elections, even with Greece in near chaos, openly communist and fascist political parties were allowed to stand for election but those advocating a restoration of the monarchy were banned from the political process.

Can Greece survive this current disaster? The country has certainly survived worse, however, it will require some honesty and hard decisions. The people will have to admit the mistakes that have been done, such as getting rid of the monarchy or thinking one can get something for nothing, and then press ahead with hard work and determination. It will be difficult, but it can be done. If the will exists, there is a way.

4 comments:

  1. Unfortunately, I don't think the will exists. Greece will skate by this crisis by the skin of its teeth on the EU-mandated "generosity" of Germany and France, and, as soon as its credit rating recovers enough to allow it, they will immediately plunge back into their high tax/high regulation/overspending/overborrowing MO. The Greek people have been so conditioned to desire and demand socialism and the elite political families have so entrenched themselves in power, real change is simply impossible.

    The only sensible things that have been done to remedy the crisis (the austerity measures) were done under external force and with the government dragged kicking and screaming the whole way. Samaras seems to be looking for a way to ditch them and go back to business as usual as fast as possible.

    No, I feel Greece is pretty well a lost cause at this point.

    They will survive, in that there will always been Greek people and there will always be a country in that general area called "Greece", but things will have to get much worse before they can even start to get better.

    And for all the stupidity and hatred the Greek people have shown him over the years, King Constantine still somehow stands by them and spends as much time in the country as the government will allow. If he was sensible, he would right the whole place off and go into a deserved retirement in Monaco.

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  2. I am always perplexed when Leftists continually hold referendums for their issues until they get the answer they want, but then the subject is never broached to the public again.

    It seems like Greece followed suit with this MO on the monarchy.

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  3. Personally, I say, "Damn referendums, and damn civility. It's about damn time we monarchists took up the sword again." You can't win a monarchy with a vote. Perhaps in the short term, but by putting it to the vote in the first place, you give the people the idea that the government exists by their will. War is never desirable, but sometimes it is necessary. And that's what it will take for a genuine restoration. The King must be restored by force. But it doesn't have to be brute force. Winning over popular support for a restoration is still good. Making it clear that the enemy is the current regime, not the people themselves. Then the people will *help* in the fight to restore the King. And that is how we win. He is restored by force, not a vote, so republicanism cannot take credit. Yet he is also restored by the people, not against the people, so he is not seen as an oppressor or an invader but a liberator. This will strengthen the position of the monarchy, and show that monarchists are not pushovers. We've been pushed long enough. It's time to push back.

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  4. As a Greek Royalist ( age 32, if that matters ),I congratulate you sir,for this excellent article.Unfortunately,we are a small minority.Our '' stronghold '' is the Peloponnese,were most of the Royalists reside.The country is full of corrupt to the bone politicians and their lackeys, leftists,socialists,radicals and '' revolutionaries '',dumb teenagers and indifferent pensioners,bad civil servants and millions of immigrants,plus some new hybrids,neo-fascists.A mad house.I am afraid that our problem isn't the economy,but the society as a whole.Regards to all fellow European Royalists from Greece....PS the '' referendum '' was,of course,a fraud.The Royal Family was the only obstacle that had to be removed so the political mafia could establish itself as the de facto ruler of Greece.We all see the results today.Filthy rich politicians with their army of well paid servants and a bankrupt shadow of a country.

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