Does destiny come from geography or history?

Writing in Sunday’s New York Times, Robert Kaplan writes one of those geopolitical big-think pieces capable of launching a thousand blog posts.  He argues that Greece’s current predicament, and by extension that of Italy, Portugal, and Spain lies in its position on the Mediterranean and in the type of land in contrast to northwestern Europe which was less conducive to oligarchical land-owning patterns.  Religion then formed a crucial overlay on geography —

It is not only the division between north and south that bedevils Europe. In the fourth century, the Roman Empire split into western and eastern halves, with dueling capitals at Rome and Constantinople. Rome’s western empire gave way to Charlemagne’s kingdom and the Vatican: Western Europe, that is. The eastern empire, Byzantium, was populated mainly by Greek-speaking Orthodox Christians, and then by Muslims after the Ottoman capture of Constantinople in 1453.

Now if you’re into a philosophy of history that sees it all as tectonic plates of deeply-rooted influences, this will seem logical.  And perhaps because Kaplan doesn’t want to sound like too much of pessimist, he ends on this note —

In a century that will likely see a resurgent Russia put pressure on Europe, especially on the former Soviet satellite states in the east, the state of politics in Athens will say much about the success or failure of the European project.  The good news is that northern Europeans know this, and will not let Greece fail. Indeed, to let Greece drift politically eastward would forfeit any hope of a big and inclusive Europe — geographically, politically and culturally — in favor of a small and petty one, Charlemagne’s empire pretending to be Rome.

Yet for all the attention he pays to Greece’s position between Roman, Orthodox and Islamic worlds, there’s one thing missing: the resultant political meddling by the associated powers of each world and the distortions it causes in domestic politics.  Indeed, when it’s put in that light, Greece looks less unusual.  If there’s one thing worse than being a small country in the orbit of a very big country, it’s being a small country in the orbit of two (or more) very big countries.  Thus Europe has not just the Balkan complications that Kaplan knows well but a fault line right in the middle of what he sees as its Charlemagne core: Belgium needs yet another government this week.

In fact, for modern Greece, the Cold War context seems particularly important.  The negotiations between Stalin and Churchill over Greece are fascinating reading, and if you make your benchmark the fate of countries that were viewed as pawns on the Cold War chessboard, then Greece’s economic performance looks a lot better (think Africa, Middle East, and Latin America).

Anyway, this alternative approach makes one less optimistic about Greece’s bailout prospects.  Kaplan is essentially saying that Europe will sort out it because it has to.  But the people who actually live in Greece might see just another iteration of outside powers deciding what’s good for them and picking their horses accordingly.  Whatever is proposed in the debt package will need to be αὐτόχθων.

39 thoughts on “Does destiny come from geography or history?

  1. Well, Kaplan is pretty crap; we can start with that. He’s a decent travel writer, a bad journalist, and a godawful philosopher of history. He’s one of those writers you’d be happy to ignore, except that people inexplicably take him seriously.

    Samuel Huntington works a lot of the same ground, and is wrong in many of the same ways. But Huntington at least does his homework and is a real academic, if not a very good one. Refuting Huntington, you say “Okay, here’s where this analysis breaks down”. Refuting Kaplan… Jesus. Why bother?

    That said, I think you’re overstating the importance of the Cold War to modern Greece and its problems. Yes, the Civil War was between communists and (towards the end) almost everyone else. But Greek society was furiously and painfully divided long before the Cold War — they called it the “National Schism”. Greek history from 1916 to the establishment of the Metaxas dictatorship consisted of a bewildering string of coups, counter-coups, national protests, martial law, and near-miss brushes with civil war. So while the proximate cause of the Greek Civil War was Communist dominance of the Resistance combined with Allied refusal to let that translate into Communist dominance of the postwar administration, the duration and ferocity of that war were driven by the National Schism, which was already well into its second generation.

    In its details, the Greek conflict doesn’t really look like other Cold War proxy wars. Rather, it looks a lot like the Spanish Civil War of the previous decade. (With a sprinkling of 1990s Yugoslavia. Greece used to be a lot more ethnically diverse; various minority groups signed on with the Communists in the Civil War, for reasons which had nothing to do with the greater Cold War.)

    Similarly, the 1967 ‘Glorious Revolution’ was driven primarily by Greek internal politics. The leaders of the junta were anti-communist, and several of them were very special friends with the CIA, no question. And God knows the subsequent coddling of the regime by the US and (some) other Western powers was and remains a mistake. But no western power seems to have been directly involved in the coup. And while the Americans, at least, were happy to let it happen, that’s not the same as making it happen. The putschists weren’t working for anyone but themselves. And they didn’t rebel to avert a communist takeover; they rebelled because the center-left government that had been working to marginalize them was about to return to power, and they were afraid of losing their jobs and possibly being prosecuted.

    I don’t think the Cold War is irrelevant, mind you. I just think it’s less relevant than “Northern Mediterranean country that came late to nation-building and/or modernity” — a category that includes Spain, Italy, several former Yugoslav states and Turkey.

    Doug M.

  2. Oh please Mr. Muir,

    Your attempt at separating two inseparable thruths in modern Greek History (starting in the early 1800’s at least, and not 1916), is pathetic and misguided.

    You don’t find Kaplan academic enough, and I agree, try Mark Mazower for a change.

  3. Of course I refer to ‘being late in the nation-building process’ with ‘being just in the cutting edge of Imperialistic politics’. These two things are too tightly interwoven in Greek (and Balkan) history for someone with your weak historic and analytic skills to try to separate.

  4. I think you answered your own question about why bother with Kaplan, at least until he stops writing in places like the Sunday NYT. (I agree on Kaplan, btw; unless and until Russia has something positive to offer, “drift politically eastward” doesn’t mean anything at all. Except maybe just “drift”.)

    NikosR, please bring an argument rather than an insult. At least if you want a response.

    Doug, for our own amusement, what do you mean by “Northern Mediterranean country that came late to nation-building and/or modernity”? Because your short list looks awfully heterogeneous to me. Greek independence predates German unification by more than 40 years; Spanish unity is of course much older. On the other hand, the post-Yugoslav states you have in mind (which ones?) are very new. But maybe you mean something specific by “nation-building”? And “modernity” is one of those words we could write volumes about. So let’s kick it around a bit. Who’s in the category that you have in mind, and how does it work?

  5. Sure.

    Spain came late to modernity, I think we can agree. (Portugal, too. As late as the 1960s, Salazar was still trying to set the clock back to before 1800: a mostly agricultural Catholic patron-client state, with modest levels of wealth from exploiting the overseas colonies.) I’m defining ‘modernity’ here as your basic late Enlightenment philosophical / social / political package, along with at least a nodding acquaintance with the Industrial Revolution.

    Italy got modernity, at least in the north, but didn’t come together as a nation-state until very late. (And the process of creating a working Italian nation-state continued for a good long while after the 1860s.)

    Greek independence predated German and Italian by ~40 years, sure — but Greece at independence was tiny; it was less than half the size of modern Greece, and covered barely a tenth of the region where Orthodox Hellenophones were a majority or a plurality.
    And it wasn’t independent in the same sense as Italy or Germany; for a long time, the Greek state existed only on sufferance of the great powers.

    — This goes to one of my issues with the OP. Sure, Greece has suffered from imperialist encroachment. On the other hand, the Greek state only came into existence at the whim of the British Empire, and only survived the 19th century because at various times the British, Austrians, French and Russians found it in their interest to have a buffer state against the Ottomans. Without those imperial protectors, the Ottomans would have retaken Greece toute suite; as late as 1897, Greece suffered a crushing defeat at Ottoman hands when the powers refused to intervene.

    Anyway. Economically, 19th century Greece resembled a cross between a contemporary Central American banana republic and its larger neighbor, the Ottoman State. Industrialization came very late and slow; foreign trade consisted of the export of primary products for money to buy manufactured goods; investment levels were painfully low; the state was weak and corrupt, and went formally bankrupt at least once; and foreign debt was immense, to the point where an International Control Commission ended up running state finances.

    The problems of the late Ottoman state are too well known to need repeating here.

    So, while it is a heterogenous group, I see a lot of common elements. To generalize, in 1914 all these countries were going through a crisis of development. They had fallen far behind northern and central Europe by almost any measure — income, health, literacy, finance, industry, political organization, state efficiency, you name it. They all had painful internal divisions that their rickety social and political structures were not well equipped to deal with. And none of them were well equipped to handle the challenges of the European 20th century: World War, Depression, Communism, Fascism, another World War, Cold War.

    So while all of these countries had big problems in the 20th century — and some are continuing to have them in the 21st — at least some of those problems have roots that go much further back.

    Doug M.

  6. Mr. Muir,

    I insist on my comments above, which you or other readers might find insulting, but how else can I explain the discrepancy between your conscise account of modern greek history and the lack of ability to put 2+2 together, than attributing it to a lack of analytical skills? I’d rather think of that than attribute to you some sort of malicious predisposition. As an example I quote your paragraph:

    ‘Sure, Greece has suffered from imperialist encroachment. On the other hand, the Greek state only came into existence at the whim of the British Empire, and only survived the 19th century because at various times the British, Austrians, French and Russians found it in their interest to have a buffer state against the Ottomans. Without those imperial protectors, the Ottomans would have retaken Greece toute suite; as late as 1897, Greece suffered a crushing defeat at Ottoman hands when the powers refused to intervene.’

    Just your using of the expression ‘on the other hand’ above, rather than ‘the other side of the same coin’ shows my point, I believe.

  7. NikosR:

    I don’t understand how the Don Pacifico episode disproves what Doug said above.

    And what “two inseparable truths” are you talking about? Please unpack.

  8. We’re drifting a ways from the issue raised by the OP, which was the baneful effect of the Cold War on Greece and how its shadow reaches to the current day.

    My position is that while the Cold War was certainly very important, it wasn’t determinative. Greece had a godawful Civil War at the beginning of the Cold War, but Spain and Yugoslavia managed equally horrible civil wars before and after the Cold War. Greece had a military dictatorship, but so did Spain and Turkey. For that matter, Portugal, Yugoslavia, Romania, Italy, and prewar Greece itself had non-military dictatorships. Greece had a military coup; Turkey had three.

    I suppose we could try to run the counterfactual. In 1943, Churchill and Stalin agree that neither has the slightest interest in Greece. Events there are allowed to play out without any outside interference whatsoever. What happens then?

    I suspect you end up with a Communist Greece that, in terms of competence and craziness, would be somewhere between Tito’s Yugoslavia and Hoxha’s Albania. But I’m open to other suggestions.

    Doug M.

  9. As for the Don Pacifico state, it doesn’t show what being a “small new state in the Eastern Med” meant. The British and French were doing that stuff all over the world. The Greeks got off easy compared to, say, the Chinese. Google up the Arrow Incident, where Britain sacked half of Canton, sunk twenty-three Chinese ships, and then started a war because a ship sailing the British flag had been “insulted”. Or the Richardson Affair in Japan, where the killing of a British merchant resulted in an indemnity of 125,000 pounds and the punitive shelling of a large town when all the money was not paid promptly enough. Or see also the British blockades of Naples and Brazil, or the French blockade of Mexico, or the Anglo-French expedition against Argentina. The mid to late 19th century was the golden age for this sort of thing.

    Also, if you look at the details of the Don Pacifico incident? Yes, the British were arrogant and overbearing. But they were also — by 19th century British standards — reasonable and patient. Palmerston was a Hellenophile and had no desire to start a crisis that could cost him politically at home. (Indeed, it led to a vote of confidence that he only just survived, after his famous Civitas Romanus Sum speech.) The underlying British claim was, by the standards of the time, reasonable; the sum was large, but open to negotiation. The British made several polite requests for redress before sending in the Navy.

    The Greek government, on the other hand, showed a combination of stubbornness, stupidity, and Dunning-Kruger Syndrome. They refused to acknowledge any claim and refused to negotiate, blindly assuming that the French or Russians would step to defend them. It’s more or less an inversion of the OP’s point; the Greeks assumed that /because/ they were in the sphere of multiple powers, they could play them off against each other and come out unscathed. This turned out not to be the case.

    Doug M.

  10. Well I drift even further from the post, in the sense of looking for commonalities or rules-of-thumb that might be helpful in answering current (or especially future) questions. That’s why I wanted to kick around “northern Mediterranean” as a category, along with “nation-building” and “modernity” as items on the agenda.

    As more or less an area studies guy, I’d like to think that knowing the history and culture gives an advantage, either in predictive or policy terms, over the economist types, who will tell us to look at the figures and do the math.

    Sometimes yes; Germany’s experience with hyperinflation has gotten so deeply embedded in the political culture (even, or perhaps especially, if that memory is not entirely accurate) that an anti-inflationary policy will have support even when all the economic arrows are pointing in a different direction. Sometimes no; Hungary’s hyperinflation (worse than Germany’s) is no particular guide to contemporary policy. So I like the thought of being able to build categories, but I want to see whether it works.

    France, presumably, falls out of the “northern Mediterranean” category because of earlier and/or more thorough industrialization and state-building? Or should EU leaders be looking at the French national books with greater scrutiny?

    Talk of Greek finances in the late 19th century puts me in mind of the chapter in Gold and Iron devoted to Romanian railroad bonds and the headaches they caused Bismarck. The details are complex (though not quite up to Schleswig-Holstein complexity), but the gist sounds a lot like what is described here in terms of external powers compelling payment. You know a lot more than I do about Romania, but would you put it in the “northern Mediterranean” category?

    I’ll have to think about these questions a bit further, but I would tend to say that knowing the national histories can help one be a step or so ahead of the economics types, but that I am skeptical of larger regional groupings.

  11. Well, if Romania is there, Bulgaria and Serbia should be too…

    Here’s one common element: all entered the 20th century with essentially colonial economies based on the export of agricultural products and extractive industries. Serbia’s exports were dominated by plum brandy and pork; Romania’s, by timber, grain and oil; Greece’s by currants (Victorian Britain had a huge appetite for currants, and most came from France and Greece); and Bulgaria by — I am not making this up — attar of roses.

    Serbia and Greece also shared a sudden, late burst of economic rationalization, fiscal stabilization and investment in the early 1900s under enlightened liberal nationalists — King Peter in Serbia, Venizelos in Greece. I guess that’s a coincidence, but it’s interesting; many of the policies they pursued were exactly the same.

    Hyperinflation: at least one commenter has suggested that Greek ambivalence towards the IMF deal is rooted in their unhappy experience with the International Financial Control Commission, which ran a big chunk of Greek government finances from 1898 until the 1930s. I don’t know if this is true — it’s well beyond the scope of my modest acquaintance with modern Greek thought on these issues. It would be nice to have an informed, non-frothing Greek commenter or two who could tell us.

    Doug M.

  12. A frothing Greek says: The International Financial Control Commission, finally left Greece alone in 1978. Yes, you read right, just about 30 years ago…

    Colonial economies would not exist if it were not for the (financial) colonialists. That’s my point, and that’s what I’m frothing about. You seem to recognise the facts but you appear not to be able to attribute the correct causalities.

  13. BTW, the ‘Greek’ government at the time of the Don Pacifico incident, which led the fragile Greek economy to collapse, people to starve and a cholera outbreak in the capital, was really led by none other but the Bavarian King Otto, imposed to Greece by its ‘protecting’ powers.

  14. @Doug (not Muir)

    I think that a ‘Balkan’ classification works well for Greece, Bulgaria, ex-Yugo etc. including Romania (even though Romanians themselves dislike being called part of the Balkans) in the sense that they all more or less formed the European part of the Ottoman Empire. Iberian countries have their own individual characteristics and Italy is a case by itself, in the context of this discussion. BTW, Portugal is not a Med country geographically speaking.

  15. @ Doug Muir

    Counterfactual historical mental exercises are always a dangerous proposition. There are a lot of facts that would suggest that given your assumption the result might not have been what you suggest. Look at the history of EAM and, the state of the Greek Communist party and who its leader were at the time, and the role George Papandreou played at the time under the influence of the British, to understand what I’m suggesting. EAM-ELAS was only radicalised after the initial events following the Germans leaving Athens.

    This mental exercise is interesting but risky.

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  17. Thanks everyone for the comments. A few scattered thoughts. I’ve seen interpretations of France between WW1 and WW2 as a latent civil war country, explaining both its quick collapse in 1940 and the emergence of the Vichy regime. So that makes me think that the civil war dynamic is a much broader European phenomenon. And here’s a blog post, from, yes, The Economist, that lays out the link between modern social tensions and the economic crisis in more detail.

  18. That would be the post discussed here, no?

    France: prewar France was a deeply divided country, but I think “latent civil war” overstates. The accession of the Popular Front government, for example, generated murmurs and a lot of shifty looks on the part of the military… but nothing more.

    What made Vichy distinctive (IMO) was not its deep roots in prewar French conservative authoritarianism and proto-fascism. Pretty much every country in Europe had similar movements and structures. Rather, it was (1) the fact that France surrendered, making the Vichy regime the legitimate government of the country, and (2) Hitler’s brilliant stroke of dividing France into occupied and non-occupied zones. Most of Hitler’s other conquests saw a legitimate government escape to London without surrendering and/or had a German military administration coexisting with and overshadowing the local state. Vichy, on the other hand, was the “real” government of France, with both legitimacy and — at least in the early war years — considerable independence of action. That made it rather different from other governments in occupied Europe.

    Doug M.

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  20. Doing the counterfactual: if Stalin and Churchill exchange mutual shrugs, then there’s never any Soviet pressure on EAM to join Papandreou’s coalition government. On the other side, when the King complains to Churchill… nothing happens.

    [Note that this is really, really unlikely. In the 13 months between the Fall of France and the launch of Barbarossa, Greece was Britain’s only continental ally. So Churchill developed a pretty strong bond with the Greek monarchy, which he fondly imagined as the repository of the Greek national spirit. He became very attached to the King, and so completely ignored the fact that his Majesty was neither exceedingly competent nor particularly well liked. But let’s handwave it and see what happens.]

    So, Papandreou and the monarchists become a couple of empty vessels, and probably never even get back to Greece. EAM/ELAS takes over as soon as the Germans leave.

    An EAM government is going to pretty quickly turn Stalinist in the broad sense. By this I don’t mean pro-Stalin or “Muscovite”. In fact, a Greek Communist government is probably going to end up in a race with Tito to invent Titoism; a break with Moscow is pretty certain, for a variety of reasons. But they’re going to follow the general Stalinist model of central planning, “democratic centralism” and the police state, along with odds and ends like collective farming and fiercely anti-Western foreign policy. That’s because, in the context of the late 1940s, Stalinism was simply the most attractive and plausible model for a Communist party newly arrived to power. All across eastern Europe, you had postwar governments in 1944-5 that were happy shiny coalitions of Communists, Socialists, Social Democrats, Peasant Parties and whatnot; within a year or two, they all collapsed into very hardline Stalinism indeed. And this wasn’t just because they were puppets installed by Moscow. Tito, Hoxha and the Czechs all arrived at the same destination even without the Red Army putting them into power, as did the non-Muscovite Dej in Romania. You can argue that EAM would go a different route, but then you need to show what would make them magically different from every other Communist government in Europe.

    Note again that this has nothing to do with orientation towards Moscow. Tito was at his *most* Stalinist in the years around 1950, when the break with Moscow was sharpest and Stalin was actively trying to have him killed. Tito’s response — besides surrounding himself with bodyguards — was to build more and bigger collective farms, clamp down ever harder with the police state, nationalize and centrally plan everything, and send more dissidents and incorrect thinkers to Goli Otok.

    The interesting question is, how long would hardline Stalinism /last/? There are, broadly speaking, two possible responses:

    ‘Hey, wait a second, this whole Stalinism thing is actually pretty stupid. Let’s try something else.’ — i.e., Tito.

    ‘Stalinism is awesome! More of the same, stay the course!’ — i.e., Hoxha.

    So by the 1960s Communist Greece could be Maritime Albania, or it could be Yugoslavia South. I could plausibly see either.

    Doug M.

  21. I actually think the counterfactual from 1944 is rather dull. Greece ends up Communist, bleh. There are some interesting wrinkles (this alt-Greece ends up with more ethnic minorities; the role of the diaspora could get very gnarly) but at the end of the century it’s just another transition country.

    A more interesting question IMO is, what if Mussolini has a sudden attack of non-idiocy and cancels the invasion of Greece? Putting aside the effects on WWII generally, what happens to Greece? To keep it consistent with the OP, we’ll add that this alt-Greece never becomes a Cold War battleground and is, as much as plausible, free of Great Power interference. What then?

    That one gets interestingly complicated. Metaxas wasn’t popular, but he was competent, and there wasn’t much effective resistance to his rule. Assuming he dies on schedule in 1941, I suspect we’d have ‘after Metaxas, Metaxas’ at least until the war is well past.

    After that… I /think/ the two most likely outcomes would be “Portugal on the Aegean” (conservative dictatorship until the 1960s or 1970s, followed by an explosion of liberalism) or “Turkey West” (transition to civilian rule, but then a military coup every ten or twenty years when the generals become unhappy with how things are going). But a great many other outcomes seem possible.

    Doug M.

  22. Counterfactual No 1. Firstly you ignore the American factor which played a much more significant (although subtler) role than the British during the later period of the Civil War. But let’s say American imperialism had not been invented at the time. I believe that the probability of either of your two guesses happening is much less than a French or Italian style post-war left-of-center socialdemocracy quickly ‘deteriorating’ to socialdemocracy as we now know it. You ignore many factors, I’ll mention just 3:

    1. Communists were not the majority in pre-Civil War EAM.
    2. Communists lacked a leading figure similar to Tito or Hodja. Velouchiotis lacked the political skills. The rest were Moskow commisars.
    3. Your scenarios absolutely do not fit with Greek history and Greek mentality. Too much happy-go-lucky for any serious attempt at a longlasting dictatorship of any form to succeed.

    Your second counterfactual is equally not plausible since the very existence of Metaxas was intricately linked both with Great Power (including Germany) interference and the ascent of left wing Soviet Revolution inspired ideology in Greece in the post 1922 period. Again, French or Italian post war political situation seems to fit that scenarion better than Portuguese or Turkish. Reason being that both Portugal and Turkey were very different politically (for different reasons) to Greece. Both the Estado Novo and Kemalism had very little in common with the lack of a strong conservative nationalistic ideology in Greece at the time. Metaxas as well as the 1967 dictators were a joke (bloody and harsh) but still a joke.

  23. “1. Communists were not the majority in pre-Civil War EAM.”

    Not crucial in many of Communist takeovers along History.
    Organisation and willingness to combat by more violent means necessary is what matters.

  24. …as an American, the left-wing Greek attitude towards EAM reminds me of a common Southern (American) attitude towards the Confederate States of America. Oh, if they’d won the war, they would have abolished slavery right away! And Jim Crow, that was caused by Reconstruction!

    It seems to be an article of faith that EAM wasn’t really that bad — and, insofar as they were, it was caused by the wicked West.

    I’m skeptical. Not the majority? Communists weren’t a majority anywhere. In Romania, there were less than a thousand Communists in the entire country at the beginning of 1944. In Hungary, in the postwar elections of November 1945, they got just 17% of the vote and could not form a government without Soviet assistance. In Albania, they were maybe a third of the total Resistance in terms of numbers. Even in Yugoslavia, Communists were a minority in both the first and second sessions of AVNOJ. In early 1945, there were less than 50,000 Commmunists — youth movement and auxiliaries included — in the whole country.

    Leading figure: if you look at the guys who were running Eastern Europe in 1950, about half of them were utterly obscure in 1944. Matyas Rakosi, for instance, was a relatively minor party functionary; Laszlo Rajk was the clearly dominant figure. By 1950 Rakosi was in complete command and Rajk had been shot after a show trial. Todor Zhivkov, who would rule Bulgaria for 35 years, spent the immediate postwar years as Sofia’s Chief of Police; he wasn’t even elected to the Central Committee until 1948. Classic mid-century Communism was just really good at producing Supreme Leaders.

    Happy-go-lucky: oh, indeed. There’s some magical element in the Greek national personality that inoculates Greece against “longlasting dictatorship”. The Ethiopians lack this special element, as do the Burmese, Koreans, Pakistanis, Spanish, Russians, Chinese, Zimbabweans, Iraqis, Indonesians, Libyans, Nicaraguans, Albanians, Paraguayans, Sudanese, Bulgarians, Eritreans, Haitians, Egyptians, Zaireans, Portuguese, Dominicans and Kazakhs. All of those countries fell under long-lasting dictatorships in the 20th century. But it would never have happened if they’d been “happy-go-lucky”, like the Greeks. It must be nice.

    — I used to live in Romania, and I used to work in the Philippines. Trust me: you are not more happy-go-lucky than the Romanians. And compared to the Filipinos, you guys are a Lars von Trier movie. Two Lars von Trier movies. Seen with your ex.

    Greece has avoided long-lasting dictatorships by historical accident, not because of the innate wonderfulness of the Greek character.

    Again: no Communist party that came to power in 1940s Europe gave rise to anything resembling Social Democracy in the postwar decade — even when the Communists were a minority at the start; even when the Communists lacked a leading figure; and even when Communism seemed, at first glance, deeply incompatible with the history, social structure, and national character. All, without exception, went through a period of brutal Stalinist-style authoritarianism and repression.

    Some got past that and later evolved in different directions, sure. But that’s not the argument you’re making.

    Doug M.

  25. This discussion is too funny. Most of your above arguments with reference to your counterfactual scenarios presuppose the existence of the factors your counterfactual hypotheses suppose did not exist. Namely, the interest and involvement of 3rd party powers. I think that you are thinking in circles.

    Anyway, these counterfactual hypotheses are not very helpful in understanding either history of current afairs. In fact, they are silly games of thought and of course unprovable.

    You are ready to classify me politically although you are far from correct, so I can classify you as an American who knows facts but has no understanding of them. There has not been a long lasting dictatorship in Greece mainly because there is no fertile ground for long lasting totalitarian ideology and no other supporting conservative and powerful social structure that could help (one example, the Catholic Church.My reference is Europe, I can hardly compare 20th century Greece with the Philippines, although i’m sure you’d be happy to do it. Please also remember that we are talking under your counterfactual hypotheses (i.e. no external power involvement).

    You have chosen to forget your own hypotheses in your argumentation. I’m not hypothesizing what would have happened if the Communists would have won the Civil War. I’m working under your hypotheses and maintain that the Civil War would not have happened and the Communist party WOULD NOT have come to power. Instead socialdemocratic forces would have eventually come into power, absorbing or marginalising the Communists in the process. In the process many lives would have been spared and Greece would have avoided much pain lasting for another 60 years or so.

    The repercussions of the Civil War last until today and ARE related subtly to the current financial issue in indirect ways which might be the subject of another post. The about-that-greek-public-sector post begins to touch on what I’m saying.

  26. Nothing new under the sun. Maestro Kaplan continues to write under the influence of his master procrustean thinkers, Bernard Lewis and Henry Kissinger, following their traces along geographical pathways, which lead onto hilltops overlooking the remains of his “Balkan (and as a matter of fact, Middle East) Ghosts”. One has to keep in mind that for nearly 20 years now, Kaplan and his neo-con co-policy makers, made it their ultimate mission to downgrade all things Greek (political, historical and other) and upgrade military Turkish delights. Things though did not turn out the way they wanted to and the throne of father Ataturk is now occupied not by Kemalists but by mufti Erdogan. Thus, when Maestro Kaplan frightens to the possibility “… to let Greece drift politically eastward”, in reality he does not mean Russia, but Turkey. Good night, Maestro kaplan, if by accident you will read this post.

  27. As a postscript. What did not happen due to external intervention just after WWII, did in fact happen after 1974 after the fall of the 7 year military dictatorship (a brutal joke, I maintain). Communist party was made legal and in the process marginalised. Greece could have been a different place if the foreign policy of your government primarily would have allowed that to happen 30 years earlier. A figure like A. Papandreou would not have been historically required to mend what you call the National Schism by swinging the pendulum too far to the other side. The pendulum would have rested to its equilibrium by now.

    Let’s hope this will happen in the near future as we are currently seem to be living through the end of that period. If the Germans allow, that is…

  28. “If the Germans allow, that is…”

    That would be, “if the Germans pay for”.

    No fertile ground: so, not because of happy-go-luckiness? Okay, whatevs. But, again, you need to explain why there was “no fertile ground” for dictatorship in Greece. I mean, you had five years of Metaxas and seven of the junta, and in both cases they were only overthrown because of military disasters.

    No conservative and powerful structure like the Catholic Church: well, there’s the /Orthodox/ Church. But I think we can agree that is neither conservative nor powerful, and has never shown any interest in supporting authoritarian governments.

    And I understand that you were saying the Communists wouldn’t come to power. I’m saying, you’re wrong about that. There’s no example of that anywhere in 1940s Europe. Every single “popular front” government in Eastern Europe, without exception, collapsed into Stalinism within a couple of years. You’re saying “well but Greece is DIFFERENT” and round we go.


    Doug M.

  29. “it seems to be an article of faith that EAM wasn’t really that bad — and, insofar as they were, it was caused by the wicked West.”

    A personnel anedocte:
    Well my father told me that Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho a Portuguese far left revolucionary – latter in Democracy a member of FAP25 a terrorist, criminal group- in fall of Estado Novo was an hero in Greece. He once fed up with constant praising about him by Greeks said the truth – that he wanted to put enemies inside a known Lisbon bull fighting stadium , and was everything but an hero – to a greek merchant navy captain, the greek never talked back to him again.

  30. Paying while winning significant interest and at the same time protecting your commercial interests, I classify as good business. Maybe the Bild doesn’t but I would hope you are not a reader. Better let’s not start that discussion in this post eh?

    I maintain that your examples were directly related to Soviet intervention in the countries of Eastern Europe you are referring to. Yugo was a more complex case. In any case, this contradicts your counterfactual hypotheses. I thought I had made my argument clear by now. I told you it’s a silly game to play.

    Church. I’m not sure why you brought Orthodox church into that. I hope you understand the difference in the political and social roles of the Catholic vs Orthodox churches through the centuries and going back to early Byzantine period (and please don’t put words in my mouth again, I’m NOT saying Orthodox church has not had an effect in Greek society or history, not that I consider the one ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than the other. Just very different on their political effects).

    Dictatorships. All European 20th century disctatorships have either been a. enforced and/or supported by mighty external forces (a fact contrary to your counterfactual hypothesis, I hope we are still discussing under that context) or have been based on strong totalitarian ideologies often combined with ‘father’ type leading figures. Or a combination of any of these ingredients. I maintain, but of course I cannot prove, that Greeks and Greece, for all their nasty traits, have not been fertile ground for much of this. Mainly due to their habit of not talking anybody seriously for too long. Neither of the two dictatorships you ‘re talking about exhibited any of the above characteristics in a significant quantity. This should tell you something.

    The main way a long lasting dictatorship or totalitarian regime could have been established in Greece was if at Yalta, Joseph and Winston had decided differently. That is, by a massive external factor political and/or military intervention. I don’t know what form that regime might have taken after a while, but I suspect if it had lasted for more than a few years, it would have exhibited much more ‘lightness’ (for lack of a better world) than the regimes in European countries in colder climes.

  31. @lucklucky

    Your personal anecdote which I don’t find hard to believe only goes to show how things can be distorted by personal views or ideologies if things are viewed from afar. Say that to many Americans.

  32. Btw I have no idea who the guy was and I have never heard his name mentioned. So ‘hero in Greece’ is most probably an exaggeration.

  33. Albania was a country that was virtually a failed state for the first three decades of its existence, a society structured by highly independent tribal and clan lords, yet it ended up with one of the most severe Communist regimes in the world. Greece, I’m certain, could do just as badly.

  34. Indeed Albania was such a state (politically, economically, socially and culturally)so I fail to see the correlation with Greece in the 1930’s. If anything Albania at the time might have resembled Greece in the early 1800s.

    I also fail to see the contradiction in your above statements that would justify your use of the word ‘yet’ when joining them.

  35. …it’s magical thinking, Randy. You can’t reason a man out of a position that he didn’t reach by reason.

    Acknowledging that there’s nothing special about Greece would lead to conclusions that are not consistent with contemporary Greek nationalism. To give the obvious example, if PEEA really were like AVNOJ, and EAM weren’t just a bunch of plucky social democrats with a few moderate, not really dangerous Communists… then the Anglo-American intervention — no matter now selfish, clumsy, brutal, stupid, bloody, and utterly careless of Greek interests — would have ended up saving Greece from itself. Acknowledging that would be literally unthinkable.

    So, we’re going to get “EAM was harmless until the West radicalized them”, “the social democrats would have won out”, and “Greek Communism would have been different and harmless”, usw.

    The Albanian comparandum isn’t useless, BTW — late 1930s Albania resembled Greece, not in “the early 1800s”, but right around the first wave of attempted industrialization in the 1880s. The blood feud was still a huge problem, but modernization was getting under way regardless; literacy rose under Zog from about 10% to around 30%, Islamic law was replaced by a civil code, and the country had a press — not very free, but a press — and a banking system. Railroads and universities had to wait until Communism, but the larger towns had electricity and modern plumbing, and the mining industry and oil fields, though small, were by 1930s standards modern and efficient.

    Arguably Zog could have done a lot more, but he had to live next door to Mussolini. Fascist Italy’s policy towards Albania was erratic in the extreme, but always patronizing and colonial; Italy saw Albania as a source of petroleum and cigarettes and a naval base on the lower Adriatic, and that was all.

    That said, the more relevant comparison is to Yugoslavia — PEEA was explicitly modeled on Yugoslavia’s AVNOJ.

    Doug M.

  36. Does destiny come from geography or history? or is it just meteorology?

    First I want to repair some errors mr. Kaplan made;

    “It is not only the division between north and south that bedevils Europe. In the fourth century, the Roman Empire split into western and eastern halves, with dueling capitals at Rome and Constantinople”

    -The Roman empire was not split in the fourth century, but it only became a dual leadership (from 364 AD till 480 AD). A law that was made in the west was also valid in the east, visa versa. The unity of the empire was maintained.
    -despite of the name Roman Empire, Rome was not the capital, it has lost its status as capital already in 286 AD.

    But now back to my statement that destiny also comes from meteorology. Why is it that most of the Euro zone countries that suffer severe economical troubles are located around the Mediterranean Sea? In my opinion the influence of the climate on a society is often underestimated, although it is just one of many influences. From my own observations, I got to the conclusion that a warm climate invites people to enjoy much more time of their social live outside their homes. They will spend much more time outside, than people who live in much colder climate-zones who spend most time between the walls of their private homes. The more time you spend on the sunny streets, the more fun it has to impress others with your beautiful car, clothes, jewellery, girlfriend etc. Expensive but fun! To easily you feel the temptation to live for today, and to think not to much about the future. On the other hand, in colder climates where people live inside their homes, spending most of their time with their family, you don’t feel that temptation so easily. A attitude of spending today and not thinking to much about tomorrow, is of course not good when it comes to making debts. Not for a private person and not for a society. That climate has a big influence on people I notice every summer. It is amazing to see how soon people here in Holland adapt very quickly to a more Mediterranean lifestyle after only a few days of hot weather. A pity that all to soon it is cold again, and back to normal…

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