Two countries’ strong cultural ties

Geography has exposed Greece to two inevitable influences. Surrounded by the sea, it is subject to dominance by naval powers – once Britain, now the United States. Linked by land to the continent, it is subject to pressure from Russia and sometimes Germany. Another factor in modern Greek history is France, an influence, however, that is not geographical but chiefly in the realm of culture. The Enlightenment and the French Revolution were founded on Greek references. Greece’s contribution is therefore an integral part of the French national identity. The link between Modernism and Hellenism, made by the French, provided the impetus for the emergence of the modern Greek identity. Greece and France are therefore two complementary entities as regards their cultural nuclei, the construction of their national entities. The cultural attraction – from philosophical movements to consumer products and tourism – are a simple consequence of that. Compared to the necessary stability of Greece’s geographical relations with maritime and mainland powers, Greek-French relations have fluctuated between extremes – the frostiness of the 1950s, when Greece’s policy against colonialism in Cyprus coincided with the French-Algerian crisis, and the warmth of the Constantine Karamanlis – Valery Giscard d’Estaing period. Greece has chosen friendship with France of its own free will, therefore contacts are sincere and authentic and do not create mixed feelings. Yet strong and mutual cultural attractions do not automatically produce political results. President Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit to Greece is occurring at a fortunate period characterized by mutual concern over the role of the United States, a common vision for the Mediterranean and warm relations between the leaders. However, the freedom in Greek-French relations also means there is risk of missing an opportunity. That would be a pity. A free and culturally grounded convergence between the two countries could provide a guarantee of stability during the difficult geopolitical times that will come as American influence declines. G.S. Prevelakis is a professor at the University of Paris.