Saturday, March 7, 2015

Understanding modern Greece: a Q&A

by Stathis Kalyvas

Oxford University Press

March 7, 2015

Depending on who you are, you may think of Greece as the country that we know today or you may think of that ancient conglomerate of city-states from long ago. In arguing that Greece—or modern Greece—is, in fact, a trailblazer of sorts, Stathis N. Kalyvas, author of Modern Greece: What Everyone Needs to Know, gives us some very compelling insights for us to consider in the following extract.

What is Greece’s lesser-known record of achievements?

Greece has frequently innovated, overcoming disasters and performing above expectations. It has a consistent record of punching above its weight. It was the first “new” nation to emerge out of the Ottoman Empire and it spearheaded an early democratic revolution, ushering in a long stretch of stable parliamentary rule. Military coups did take place, but the country experienced only three relatively short breaks in democratic governance from 1864 to the present: 1922–1929, 1936–1945, and 1967–1974. Despite difficulties, democracy was sustained by an egalitarian social structure, which was itself the outcome of a remarkably comprehensive and successful land reform. Greece was alone among its Balkan neighbors to escape communism. Its economic takeoff in the 1950s was so impressive that it became known as the “Greek economic miracle.” The 1974 transition to democracy set an example of how to peacefully exit autocracy and prosecute its leaders. Despite its current problems, Greece is a prosperous democracy and arguably the most successful post-Ottoman state.

What explains the love-hate relationship between Greece and the West?

The 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.


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