Progress and decline

Progress and decline

From the eve of Greece’s 1821 War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire, the Orthodox Christian tradition and the Greek language that came with it fostered a cultural osmosis. The Italians of the Ionian islands, the Vlachs of mountainous and lowland Greece, the Arvanites of Morea (the Peloponnese peninsula) and of southeastern Roumeli (mainland Greece) and the various populations of the Epirus region all became an integral part of a unified nation state. The relocation of 700,000 Asia Minor Greeks to the country’s Macedonia region in 1922-23 consolidated its status as “the Greek North.”

However, settling in a homeland without relatives and guardians pushed many of the newcomers into radical political territory. Thanks to support from the refugees, the Greek Communist Party (KKE) gained enough strength to play a leading role in the resistance, the 1944 Battle of Athens – known in Greece as the Dekemvriana – and the 1946-49 Civil War.

It was a center-right state that eventually won the Civil War but the peaceful years that followed were influenced by left-wing intellectuals and teachers. The various manifestations of the Left, from EDA to SYRIZA, are still around and perpetuate the left-wing narrative. However, after KKE was legalized in 1974, it quickly shed its pro-European faction, whereas the more traditional counterpart remained very conservative in its revolutionary principles.

Social democracy is absent from the Greek Left (the center-left Movement for Change alliance, or KINAL, is perhaps an exception), and despite the predictions of the usually accurate Nikos Mouzelis, SYRIZA chief Alexis Tsipras failed to adopt a social democratic profile.

The reformist element in today’s Greek government originates from Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, a descendant of prominent liberal statesman and prime minister Eleftherios Venizelos. Mitsotakis is surrounded by some good associates including Digital Governance Minister Kyriakos Pierrakakis, who is not a political product of New Democracy, and a few who actually are, such as Labor and Social Affairs Minister Kostas Hatzidakis and Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias.

The conservative party was pushed in a reformist direction by Constantine Karamanlis, a former president, prime minister and founder of New Democracy. His groundbreaking decision to separate right-wing populism from Greece’s reformist relationship with the Europe of the Single Market left his socialist rival, Andreas Papandreou, without a clear reformist narrative.

It was actually Papandreou’s successor, Kostas Simitis, who succeeded in adapting Karamanlis’ reformist political credo to the environment of PASOK’s intellectual economists and pushed Greece’s integration into the European institutions (the Economic and Monetary Union, or EMU). Some of Simitis’ economists took over posts in the European bureaucracy, others worked with socialist Evangelos Venizelos and New Democracy in government. This collaboration, and especially the one between KKE leader Harilaos Florakis and Tzannis Tzannetakis in the conservative-communist coalition in the late 1980s, helped overcome old divisions and rivalries.

One thing that remains inexplicable to the present day is the clash between Georgios Papandreou, the founder of the Papandreou political dynasty, and young King Constantine, which facilitated the advent of the military junta.

The fluctuation between progress and decline still lurks and entails danger.

Thanos Veremis is professor emeritus of political history at the University of Athens and vice president of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP).

Subscribe to our Newsletters

Enter your information below to receive our weekly newsletters with the latest insights, opinion pieces and current events straight to your inbox.

By signing up you are agreeing to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.