Greece’s “strong democratic tradition”?

July 7 2015

Joseph Stiglitz’s phrase “Greece, with its strong democratic tradition” took some people by surprise. What democratic tradition in this rotten, almost third-world Balkan country? Did Stiglitz know anything at all about history?

Greece-bashing may not have reached such contemptible levels as some of the Greek rhetoric on Germany, but it, too, needs examining. Perhaps Greece does have a democratic tradition. Perhaps Greece has even on occasion behaved with maturity. I am not able to judge, but here are some extemporised thoughts.

Outside the mind of Condoleezza Rice, democracies take root over time. The Greeks have held regular parliamentary elections for nearly 200 years, with periodic electoral reforms. To have had at least fourteen constitutions during this time is not a sign of stability, but it may be a sign of political life.

They kicked out a lazy Bavarian king in 1863 and got a better Danish line. That spirited act is remembered by some as an earlier confrontation with Germany. The Wittelsbachs had nearly bankrupted the young state and “disfigured” a Byzantine nation. Mikis Theodorakis, quoted in the Telegraph, does sound third-world on all this, recently alleging “two centuries of European crimes against Greece” by the Western enemies of the Hellenic Orthodox world.

Still, Otto’s failings are admitted. His deposition by politicians was welcomed by the people.

The Greeks were no greedier for scraps of the Ottoman empire than anyone else.

Greek irredentism was not more fanatical than German or Italian. And the Greeks took their catastrophic defeat of 1922 rather well: instead of sulking and starting a cold war with Turkey, they had a diplomatic reconciliation. It was led by the very person, Venizelos, who, with the encouragement of the Allies (who were partly lying to him in 1916, as they were to TE Lawrence, but wanted him to join the war), had been such a champion of the Great Idea. Perhaps that would not have happened without an exchange of populations, but in any case it happened. The Greeks are not living in the past on that matter. Are they?

The Greek semi-fascist of the ’30s, Metaxas, refused to capitulate to the Italians.

George II did not become a German puppet in 1941. He presumably could have been one. His father had been removed in the First World War by Venizelos for being too pro-German.

The German invaders committed criminal acts in Greece. The destruction of the Jews of Thessalonika was one of the major acts of the Holocaust.

Is it a sign of immaturity to have had a struggle with communism?

The Colonels only stayed seven years and Constantine II wasn’t implicated.

Golden Dawn received a much smaller percentage of the vote (6.3%) in the 2015 Greek parliamentary election than the National Front did in the first rounds of the French 2012 presidential and parliamentary elections (17.9% and 13.6%).

And when one hears young Greeks talk, they often sound not very different from young Germans. Are there worrying signs of maturity here?

However corrupt the Greek system was, however much they lied to get in and deserve their fate (most of them surely deserve nothing), few deny outright that irresponsible lending helped to get Greece into the mess.

I’d rather spend an evening with the clownish Tsipras or insufferable Varoufakis than with Juncker or Lagarde. At least Varoufakis speaks good English.

This excruciating crisis might be the making, not breaking, of Greece.

3 Responses to “Greece’s “strong democratic tradition”?”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    In 1981 Greece took advantage of a northern illusion.

  2. Danny Says:

    Yeah, Greece’s democratic tradition is middling by European standards, not poor. On the other hand, its tradition of rule of law is bad by European standards. Also their tradition of blaming outsiders on their own problems is unhelpful.

    Surprised by Theodorakis blaming the West for only the last 200 years. What about the Fourth Crusade? The Celtic Invasion of Greece?

  3. davidderrick Says:

    “The Germans committed criminal acts in Greece” seems unduly offensive. I have changed it to “The German invaders […]”. Talk about “the Germans” starts to sound like The Sun unless one is careful.

    The “Nazi army” (old post).


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