“Our destiny lies with the West.” These were the words of former premier Konstantinos Karamanlis whose political career was marked by the strengthening of Greece’s European orientation. Undoubtedly, at many instances, Greece’s political elite had to decide between an “Eastern” or a “Western” future, especially with respect to the Euro-Atlantic institutions that the country is now an integral part of.
Greece suffered severe consequences whenever it chose to align itself with various Eastern powers. And History vindicates this point. One has only to recall in brief the following significant events in the country’s modern history.
First, there is the failed Orlov Revolt against the Ottoman Empire in 1770 (during the Russo-Turkish War of 1768-1774). This was instigated by Russia, specifically the Orlov brothers at the prompting of Empress Catherine the Great. Of course, the promised Russian support was never provided to Greece and the uprising was brutally suppressed once Russo-Turkish relations recovered.
Lampros Katsonis’ equally failed attempt is a similar case. Katsonis, an officer of the Russian Navy, attempted to liberate Greece. But the signing of the Treaty of Jassy of 1792 between the Russian and Ottoman Empires ultimately overlooked Greek interests. It was the West’s role, mainly Great Britain’s, that really proved pivotal for the establishment of the Modern Greek State.
Furthermore, in 1878, another Russo-Turkish conflict came to an end with the signing of the Treaty of San Stefano, in which the Russian Empire supported the creation of a Great Bulgaria at the expense of the local Greek populations that were ignored by the provisions of the Treaty. This is a striking case illustrating that Greece’s interests cannot be served through an alliance with the East, still operating under the influence of Pan Slavism. Again, it was the Western Great Powers that assisted Greece in enlarging the country’s territory during the nineteenth century (Arta, Thessaly, the Ionian Islands).
Finally, there is the Burning of Smyrna of 1922. It is historically well established that the then Bolshevik government of Russia assisted Kemal Ataturk against Greek forces during the Asia Minor Campaign which ended tragically for the Greek side. And afterwards, there was Comintern’s lasting desire to create an independent Macedonian (sic) state that would include part of Greece’s territory, the so-called “Aegean Macedonia.” There is an abundance of similar historical cases that eschew the extent of an article.
Lord Palmerston, the British Prime Minister, once said in the House of Commons that countries have no eternal allies, no perpetual enemies, only eternal and perpetual interests. Overall, when it comes to Greece’s strategic interests, History proves that they were always better served when cooperating closely with the West.
Balkan history since the eighteenth-century and the multifaceted emerging challenges of our time constitute the unremitting enhancement and further deepening of Greece’s involvement in European and Atlantic projects essential. Therefore, the country’s decision to support recent NATO’s and the European Union’s decisions were, again, on the right side of history.
Ioannes P. Chountis is a policy adviser at the Hellenic Parliament and a PhD candidate at the University of Aberdeen.