Most of our bloggers, those who have opened a book in their lives anyway, will know quite a lot about Greece already; cradle of civilization, founders of democracy, one of the great classical languages etc. If, alternatively, they open a newspaper occasionally, they will also know that modern Greece has been in every kind of trouble recently, because of poor government and even poorer knowledge of the science of economics.
Greece is a mountainous, maritime country in South-East Europe, bounded by Albania, Macedonia and Bulgaria to the north, and her arch and hereditary enemy Turkey to the east. Greece is comprised, like Japan only on a smaller scale, of islands, including Corfu, Crete, Mykonos, the Cyclades, the Sporades etc. The Greek peninsula itself is bounded by the Ionian, Mediterranean and Aegean Seas.
Greek history is also the history of the ancient world. It begins around 1700 BC with the arrival on the mainland of Greek peoples from the north. They created the Mycenaean Civilization, which managed to flourish until it was vanquished and overthrown by the Dorians by the end of the 12th century BC. There then followed a dark period in which hardly any history was recorded, until the city/state emerged.
In the early 5th century BC the Greeks repulsed Persian attempts to annex their land. By now Athens and Sparta were respectively the dominant sea and land powers. Thery did not get on however, and by 404 BC it was Sparta which had crushed Athens and destroyed the Athenian ‘Empire’ in the Peloponnesian War. Then, also in the 4th century, Thebes toppled Sparta, but Greece as a whole was forced to kneel before an emperor from outside, King Philip II of Macedonia – father of Alexander the Great. After the early death of Alexander, the Greek world was in turn dominated by the Hellenistic Kingdoms with the Greek cities playing relatively minor parts in the drama. Then came Rome.
146 BC saw the defeat of the Achaean League, the sacking and burning of Corinth, and finally the incorporation of Greece into the Roman Empire. The centuries passed, and Greece fell under the control of the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) in 1460. And so it remained under Turkish domination, apart from a brief period in the early 18th century, when Venice controlled parts of the country, until independence came at last in the early 19th century.
The Greek War of Independence (1821-33) resulted in the establishment of an independent Greece, but with Duke Otto of Bavaria as King. He was deposed, and a Danish prince, William was installed. He took the title of George I of Greece (1863-19); then exploded the first of many military coups which destabilized and unnerved the Greeks. A republic was set up from 1924 to 1935, when George II was restored to the throne, only to flee into exile in 1941.
Italian forces attempted to invade in 1940 but were repulsed, but Greece was instantly occupied by Nazi Germany and remained so, during periods of bitter fighting between the rival factions of communists and royalists. It remained to the British to restore the monarchy in 1946, but civil war broke out again, lasting until 1949, when the communists were allegedly defeated. By now the US was interested in this hot part of the Mediterranean, and aid, recovery and reconstruction began. A Greek field-marshall became civilian prime minister in 1952 and managed to stay there until 1955. During most of the 1950s a conflict between Greek and Turkish Cypriots needed the permanent presence of first, the British Army, and later UN troops trying (but hardly succeeding) to maintain peace on the island.
In 1967 yet another military coup took place, and King Constantine II fled first to Rome, and then to London, where his household was financed by the British Queen, a cousin. A military junta was set up in Greece (‘The Colonels’) which lasted for seven interminable years. The monarchy was officially abolished in 1973. A civilian republic was established in 1974, and in the 1981 general election Andreas Papandreou became the first ‘socialist’ Prime Minister. There he stayed in 1989.
By 1981, going back a bit, Grece had officially entered the European Community, whose agricultural policies (lots of money) temporarily helped boost Greek economies, but as tariff barriers were reduced, a balance-of-payments crisis ensued. During 1992 there was strong opposition to recognising Macedonia as a proposed independent republic, because Greece sees its own northern province as having sole right to that name. This problem, and the failing economy led to the fall of the brief right-wing government of Constantine Mitsotakis in June, 1993. ‘Papa’ Papendreou got back into power, and his government officially opposed recognition of Macedonia by other European countries. This has never been satisfactorily resolved. An argument over territorial waters in the Aegean Sea threatened open war with Turkey in 1994, and relations between Greece and Turkey continued to deteriorate in 1995. In 1996 Costas Simitis became PM, replacing Papandreou, who had resigned.
During the Noughties, Greece has suffered badly from the international recession, and recently needed aid from the IMF in order to meet her debts.
Population: nearly 11 million.
Currency: the drachma
Prime Minister: Giorgios Papandreou
President: Kardus Papoulies
International Organizations: The UN, EU, NATO, OECD, Council of Europe, CSCE.