After a series of despatches on wartime and post-war Greece, it’s time to draw some political conclusions about the ancient nation regarded as “the cradle of democracy”.
To all intents and purposes it is broke and living week-to-week on life support from Euro-bank loans. It is ruled by a weak three-party coalition whose partners are at war with each other as well as the Greek public. It cannot hold together.
THE STORY SO FAR
In the short eight years between 1941 and 1949 Greece fought a successful war against Mussolini’s invading Fascist army, she was smashed into submission by Hitler’s Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe, lived under Axis occupation until 1944 and was then plunged into civil war from 1945 to 1949.
Greece’s wartime experiences made the events in many other European countries look mild by comparison.
It has never fully recovered from these catastrophic and traumatic events.
Tens of thousands of Greeks saw no future in the country that Britain and the CIA resurrected after the war to keep communism at bay.
Greeks did something that no parent should have to do: they gave their children to the world, sending them abroad to find a better life. The best, brightest and strongest left for the US, Canada, the UK, West Germany and Australia breaking up families and communities.
Generally speaking, the hardest workers and the brightest thinkers went away, depleting the country’s social and cultural capital in brutal fashion: only Ireland in the 19th century has endured such a societal implosion.
Their mission was to find a job, work hard and send money home: it kept many families and businesses afloat for decades.
ENTER THE JUNTA
Meanwhile, the militarised state that was grafted onto Greece by London and Washington at the end of the war continued to grow, particularly after Greece became a NATO member in 1952.
US spy bases were established, warplanes and nuclear-armed ships freely used Greek facilities and the CIA established its biggest station in the Mediterranean to monitor the Arab world, the Balkans, Turkey, the Gulf states, the Suez Canal and North Africa and supply intelligence to Israel.
In 1967 when the fascist colonels staged a coup and ruled Greece until 1974 they were encouraged by Washington to re-ignite the embers of the “White Terror” which had been so effective in crushing the nation’s democratic spirit 20 years earlier.
Ultimately, Polytechnic student protests and popular defiance led to the downfall of the colonels’ junta and, as a concession to the popular left-wing movement, a plebiscite was held on the monarchy. The decrepit, reactionary royal family (and Britain) lost the vote, and Greece officially became a republic.
THE ARMED STATE
In the years since the restoration of parliament, the military has seized the lion’s share of the annual budget and become, for its size, one of the better equipped and better paid standing armies in the EU.
Since the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus in 1974, Greece has spent an estimated 216 billion Euros on armaments, according to Helena Smith, The Guardian’s Athens correspondent.
“No other area has contributed as heavily to the country’s debt mountain,” she added. Between 2002 and 2006 Greece was the world’s fourth largest importer of conventional weapons. Today it is 10th.
Dimitris Papadimoulis, a Syriza MP, said: “As a proportion of GDP, Greece spends twice as much as any other EU member on defence.”
Much of the armaments are surplus to needs. For example, Greece has 1,300 tanks, twice the number in service in the UK, and it paid two billion Euros for submarines that are not only faulty but are of questionable defence value.
Defence contracts are shrouded in secrecy and therefore open to bribery and corruption. In the past 10 years Greece has purchased 42 per cent of its arms from the US and 25.3 per cent from Germany amid allegations of widespread graft and kickbacks.
In summary: 1) the parliamentary wing of the Greek state is weak, divided and discredited by allegations of chronic corruption 2) the military wing is well armed but is widely distrusted and lacks social or political hegemony; and 3) the current three-party coalition Government is fragile and incapable of imposing the bankers’ bail-out plan without provoking a full-scale confrontation between the left and right, not only in parliament but on the streets as well.
While Washington supported the colonels’ regime in their 1968 takeover, times have changed and so has US policy on coups d’etats against friendly European nations. Without support in the EU or the US even the pro-fascist generals and ex-generals would face formidable hurdles in staging a sustainable coup.
The current situation is unique: the crisis-wracked Athens ruling class is too weak to impose a military or fascist solution and the working class and its middle class allies are too weak to initiate a socialist solution.
It is a balance that is inherently unstable and cannot last. Greece’s fate will be determined by political events beyond its borders in the Euro-zone just as it was in World War II.