The end of Greek history?

Francis Fukuyama’s thesis about the end of history (Francis Fukuyama, «The End of History and the Last Man,» Penguin Books, London, 1992) quickly fell victim in the killing fields of the former Yugoslavia. September 11, the war against terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the challenges of globalization, the growing gap between the world’s rich and poor, and the rapid rates of environmental degradation, guarantee that history will continue to be ‘interesting’ in the sense of the Chinese ‘curse.’ The Fukuyama thesis, according to which liberal democracy constitutes the final point of humankind’s ideological evolution and the highest form of governance may, paradoxically, have some relevance in today’s Greece. Greece has for some years entered a phase of political, economic and social equilibrium. This is quite a departure from a turbulent past. The country has experienced since 1909 some 22 coups, 3 dictatorships, two political schisms, two Balkan wars, the Asia Minor catastrophe, two world wars, Nazi occupation, a ruinous civil war, the Cold War, as well as the 1974 events that triggered Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus. This period has been described as ‘heroic,’ and cost the country and its people dearly in terms of blood, morale and treasure. Some have argued that the end of history for Greece began in 1974 with the return and consolidation of democratic institutions. Others say 1981, which marked Greece’s EU accession. Still others will opt for 1995 and the normalization of relations with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. We are tempted to pick the Helsinki EU Council summit (December 1999) and the unanimous, if conditional, decision to invite Turkey to become an EU candidate. Since 1999 unilateral policies and actions have largely been eschewed by Greek policy-makers, and participation in multilateral efforts under the umbrella of the UN, EU and NATO have proliferated. Athens has joined in a series of international peacekeeping efforts (KFOR, SFOR, Amber Fox and, more recently, ISAF in Afghanistan). Crucially, as regards foreign policy, the major opposition parties have acted with responsibility, avoiding recourse to populism and nationalism, while constructively supporting Greece’s Euro-Atlantic orientation. The post-1974 ‘managerial’ phase in Greek history was heavily distracted by the cloudy and occasionally thunderous Turkish-Greek relationship. The main stumbling block was and remains the Cyprus issue. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan may yet untangle the Gordian knot without the use of a sword. An agreement on Cyprus, within the framework of EU membership, will improve, if not solidify, Athens’s rapprochement with Turkey. A Greek-Turkish strategic reconciliation will in turn usher in a new era for both peoples. Greece has solidly entered a period characterized by democratic stability, security, relative prosperity, absence of irredentism, friendly relations with its neighbors, as well as an irreversible European orientation. This ‘managerial’ and low-key phase in Greek history will not appeal to the news media. It will be boring compared to our tumultuous, and heroic, past. However, we should keep in mind Edward Gibbon, who in his study «The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,» could find no higher praise for the Emperor, Titus Antoninus Pius, than to stress that «his reign is marked by the rare advantage of furnishing very few materials for history.» As happened in Western Europe after World War II, the Balkans can escape from its turbulent history. Our region had long been plagued by the syndrome of the greater: Dreams of a «Greater» Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Turkey have fueled the irredentist exploits of leaders and citizens alike. In each case, these visions of greatness were defined territorially and competitively, resulting in bloody wars and lingering memories of hatred and revenge. It is now high time to redefine greatness in terms of quality of governance and quality of life criteria. Greater x or y in the Balkans is an entity that enjoys about 3 percent or less inflation, 3 percent of GDP or less budget deficit, 60 percent of GDP or less public debt, consolidated democracy, respect for the environment, women and minorities, and a safety net against poverty, homelessness, disease and alienation. We believe Greek history will prosper, for there will be scores of worthy goals to be accomplished at national and international levels. We respect our heroes of the past and will cherish their memories. However, the ‘heroic’ phase of modern Greek history appears to be over. We ought to welcome this development. Theodore Couloumbis is Professor of International Relations and General Director of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP). Aristotle Tziampiris is Lecturer of International Relations at the University of Piraeus and Research Fellow at ELIAMEP.)

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