Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Let us trace back in this article the relation between Greece and the rest of Europe, from the Ancient Times to the modern and most recent ones. The reason? Partly to remind, expose, explain and understand the long relationship between them.
We will have to start from the Antiquity, when the Greeks colonized the south Italian peninsula, southern Galatia (France) and parts of Iberia (Spain) along with their colonies in the Balkans and the Black Sea. They established city states and colonies, trade ports and centers of culture that some exist even today.
With the rise of the empire of Alexander the Great, we see Greeks united for the first time under one ruler and expanding their sphere of influence and territories to the East. With the constant wars between the successors of Alexander though, the Hellenistic kingdoms had weaken and one by one fell under the occupation of a new super power, Rome!
Since then, Greece will never be a free and autonomous state until the liberation of the nation from the Ottoman Empire. During the Roman Empire, Greece will decline while Rome and other of its territories will flourish. With the Romans the Greek culture will spread in almost half of the European continent while Greek artifacts and treasures will be transported to Rome.
The Romans will not allow any further Greek cultural or political independence! Greece will also be the battleground for many wars between the aspiring Roman rulers and their civil wars they started, weakening even more Greece to the point of deprivation.
During the Roman Empire, but also during the Hellenistic years the Greek peninsula will receive attacks and raids from Celtic and other European tribes. Especially during the times of the Great Migrations in Europe and the collapse of the western Roman Empire, we have the appearance of many new tribes invading the lands of both Eastern and Western Roman Empires; the Goths, the Slavs, the Avars all looking for new fertile lands and riches to steal. Greece becomes a popular destination for their raids.
With the dominance of Christianity the Greek spirit suffers its biggest defeat and irreversible decline. In the beginning conversion to Christianity was voluntary but once the Christians became the majority they made sure that the "ethnic" Greeks as they called them were converted.
They attacked and destroyed many Pagan Greek temples, art and holy sites, notably the Parthenon. Later during the Byzantine Empire they would force immigration from Greece to Asia Minor and vice versa in order to weaken the Greek "ethnic" pagan spirit.
Despite all this Byzantium thrives and it is the most powerful and wealthy region of Europe for more than a millennium. Slavic tribes still pose a threat coming from Europe, but they are being converted to Christianity, coming in contact with the Greek Christian Orthodox heritage of the Byzantine Empire. For this purpose the Byzantine Emperors assign two Greek disciples from Thessaloniki, Cyril and Methodius, to convert the Slavs and stop them from being a threat to the Empire.
But the threat from Europe was not over. Greece continued to be raided by the European Vikings from the north and the Moors from the south! The biggest blow though came from fellow Christians. The Crusades may have started in order to regain the Holy Lands from the Arabs, but during the so called Forth Crusade they sacked Constantinople stealing artifacts, all the city's wealth, destroying its monuments, its library and transporting everything to the West.
They created Latin Kingdoms in the region and by dividing the Byzantine Empire not only they contributed in its decline, but also in its future surrender to the Ottomans. Inevitably, they pushed the Greeks to being for centuries under Islamic rule and to the further decline of their culture.
During the Ottoman occupation many Greek scholars will flee to Europe, participating in that way in the European Renaissance. The European powers will oppose any change in the European borders and any separatist or freedom movement.With politicians like Klemens Von Metternich and the Austrian Hungarian Empire, any chance of freedom for the Greeks or other Balkan nations under the Ottoman rule was impossible.
The Orthodox Church and the Patriarchate cooperated with the Ottomans and in fact it was them who preferred to fall under the Islamic rule, than to ask for help from their fellow Christian Europeans. Because since the events of the Crusades centuries earlier, they mistrusted the "Francs" or their Catholic cousins.
Meanwhile European archaeologists, collectors and "Indiana Joneses" of the time raided Greece to steal its artifacts, its last remaining wealth from the Ancient Times. They chopped and transported a lot of the monuments they found, from the Elgin Marbles of the Parthenon to the Dionysian statues that where named "Ta Eidola" (The Idols) from the city of Thessaloniki.
The statues are currently housed in the Louvre in Paris, France. Efforts are being made to return these to Thessaloniki. These statues have traditionally been the symbol of the city, since antiquity. Only after they were stolen by the French in 1864 did the White Tower rise to prominence as the symbol of the city.
They traded with the ancient Greek artifacts and treasures, making a fortune out of their activities. But at least their contact with Greece's art, culture, philosophy and heritage led to the Philhellenism movement in Europe. Also, in contributed to the change of the public opinion of the European populace and the support to the cause for Greek independence! The most famous among its supporters, was of course Lord Byron.
After the liberation of Greece from the Ottoman Empire though, the geopolitical interests of the big Powers of Europe in the region did not stop. Soon after the Balkan Wars the Greek territory expanded by gaining lands not only from the declining Ottoman Empire but from the colonial Powers of Europe too; The Ionian and the Dodecanese Islands belonged to Italy and Britain, with the Dodecanese uniting with the rest of Greece just in 1947!
During the wars with Turkey the European Powers originally favored Greece in its attempt and operations to regain some of the Asian Minor territories. Only to betray Greece with a shift of their interests that lead to the Greek Asia Minor Disaster, the destruction of Smyrne (today's Izmir) and the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey. While Smyrne burned and the Turks were killing civilians, the Western "allies" of Greece remained with their ships in the city's port...watching! They did not get involved to save the civilians.
Two World Wars followed soon after the bloody wars that Greece had to endure in order to regain its territories. In both wars Greece tried to remain neutral, only to be dragged in both by the Entente and the Alliance of France and Britain in the WW1 or Italy during the WW2.
In both cases Greece was not given the choice or the luxury to remain neutral, paying a huge price in lives both of civilian and military population, but also enduring an economic disaster and further deprivation. Raw materials and foodstuffs were requisitioned and the collaborationist government was forced to pay the cost of the occupation. That gave rise to inflation, further exacerbated by a "war loan" Greece was forced to grant to the German Reich which severely devalued the Drachma.
Requisitions, together with the Allied blockade of Greece, the ruined state of the country's infrastructure and the emergence of a powerful and well-connected black market, resulted in the Great Famine during the winter of 1941-42, when an estimated 300,000 people perished in greater Athens.
It is important to mention the very important role of Greece in the war, delaying the Nazis in Crete and giving time to the Russians to prepare, while the Soviet winter was creeping playing a decisive role in the outcome of the WW2! Germany never compensated Greece for the damages during the Nazi occupation.
As if all the above was not enough, Greece had to endure a bloody civil war right after WW2. The big Powers and winners of the war (Britain, USA and USSR) sat down in Crimea and divided Europe in half. Greece falls in the British pro-Western slice and any communist elements are expelled after the Civil War.
The British actively participated in the operations, fighting on the side of the National Army against the Communists. All this so Greece will remain in the sphere of influence of the West!
One would think that after all the exploitation, the raids, the theft, the wars, the invasions that Greece endured from the European nations, it would eventually find peace and recognition. Well no! The European powers established a kingdom in Greece with royal family coming from Denmark.
When they were ousted, the USA helped a military junta to be established in Greece during the early '70s, that led to the "Metapolitefsi" years and the restoration of Democracy. They established in this way a political elite that rules the country to this day, based on corruption and money coming from the West.
After a couple of decades of progress and prosperity, the EU and NATO membership and the adoption of the Euro we now see the European and American press categorizing Greece among the PIGS (Portugal, Ireland,Greece and Spain) nations. Even daring to demand its islands, the Parthenon and all its natural resources in order to repay the debt that Greece has accumulated over the years.
For a crisis that did not originate in Greece but in the USA and their irresponsible finances. For doing what the capitalist system that the Americans and the Europeans have established demands: excess debt and a consumerist attitude. All European western nations are heavily indebted, but Greece is the one to pay the price. Plus it is not allowed to exploit its natural resources on its own, or to develop heavy industry like its northern European "brothers".
According to all the above, who has given more to Europe than the Greek people and who has suffered more than them? Yet the European countries believe that the Greeks are lazy, thieving and corrupt. Well with a re-examination of history, we realize who is the thief and raider in Europe!