تسير اليونان في رحلة تحديثها على طريقٍ وعرة ، إلّا أن العوامل التي توفّرت لنموّ هذا البلد خلال الستين عاماً الماضية ، مثل الديمقراطية والسوق الحرّة واحترام حقوق الإنسان ، ما زالت موجودةً وتقود عملية الإنتعاش الإقتصاديّ بعد الإنهيار الحادّ الذي تعرض له اقتصادها مؤخراً . فعلى الرغم من وعورة الطريق الذي تسلكه اليونان في تحديثها ، أرى أنّ عضويّتها في الإتحاد الأوروبي تضمن توظيف عناصر النجاح الأوّلي مثل الديمقراطية والسوق الحرة توظيفاً سلِساً .
Greece’s modernisation journey has been rather bumpy as of late but the elements that have seen the country grow in the past sixty years, such as democracy, free market and respect for human rights, are still present and driving the country’s economic recovery from a recent sharp decline. I argue that although the journey might have been bumpy, belonging to the European Union ensures the smooth operation of the fundamental elements of Greece’s initial success: democratisation and the common market.
In 2010 I wrote a book titled Europe’s Greece: A Giant in the Making, soon after the sovereign debt crisis broke out that ended with Greek insolvency, a European bailout, and chaos in the streets of Athens. A decade later, as the country is beginning to get out of its economic morass and looking forward to a new democratic election, I repeat my claim that Greece’s tenure in the European Union (1981 to present) has been nothing but a success and the main element in the economic trajectory of the country. In this essay, I will examine the conditions under which Greek democracy has grown and flourished in the past 40 years, while looking at the relevant historical arch of, say, one hundred years to depict a picture of the path to modernisation the country has been walking. To that effect, I will employ the Rostowian concept of “high mass consumption” to show that the modernisation story was neither inevitable nor a necessary outcome of Greece’s path. Rostow believed that there were five stages to modernisation: traditional society, preconditions for take-off, take-off, drive to maturity and, finally, the age of high mass consumption.
First, it was the independence of parts of Greece from the Ottoman Empire in 1830, which would engage the Greeks in a long process of state building that would not take its present form until the early twentieth century. The early Greek Republic, heavily influenced by French revolutionary thought, was quickly replaced by a kingdom led by a European king and monarchy which lasted well into the twentieth century (1832-1924; 1935-1973). During the two World Wars Greece was on the side of the allied forces and in the end became a founding member of the international organisations that followed the allies’ victory in 1945.
Greece’s economic story of growth and modernisation starts with the influx of foreign capital through the Marshal Plan, the defeat of Marxism in Greece, and the creation of a democratic republic. Firstly, the Greek civil war ended in 1949 with a victory for the government. The incoming government undertook a rather extensive program of electrification, road building and eventually industrialisation of the country. During Cold war Greece was highly influenced by the West. It applied to become a member of the budding European Union (at that time European Economic Community) fairly early but her problematic politics, meaning the seven years between 1967 and 1974 in which Greece was under the colonels’ junta, prevented her from completing the move to becoming a member until 1981. At that point the Greek GDP was ranging between $520 and $1,500 a year, according to the World Bank Historical data set.
After the end of the Greek Civil War in 1949 the political system of the country became increasingly authoritarian and then outright dictatorial in 1967, when a successful colonel coup unseated the government and took over the country for seven years. Greece’s dictatorship was brutal and ended in a total disaster opening the door for a speedy transition to democratic rule in 1974. The new Greek political system had to deal with the Cyprus debacle—the fact of losing half of the island of Cyprus to a Turkish military invasion. It was not until 1974 that the rebuilding of modern democracy in Greece became possible with the advent to power of a conservative politician named Kostas Karamanlis.
Karamanlis would lead the largest economic expansion in the history of Greece in modern times, while gradually strengthening institutional support for a democratic transition that would take place in 1981 by guaranteeing a smooth transition to socialist party rule. Karamanlis would also complete Greece’s accession to the European Union, a transition that, unfortunately, would prove to be inimical to a healthy development of a Greek democracy and a modern Greek economy. In 1980 the average income per capita was $5,893.66 per year.
1981 – 2008
For Several decades the Greek economy expanded due to major public works, profligate spending, and the growth of a solid two-party system that would last nearly forty years. The symbiotic relationship between the state and the party became the hallmark of these decades as both the socialists and the conservatives raided the state by appointing their own state personnel. The socialists were elected for the first time in 1981; their leader, Andreas Papandreou, dominated the political scene in Greece and his legacy would be one of promoting democratic growth by marginalising the Communists and keeping Greece within the EU despite early pronouncements of enmity. The prodigious Papandreou left his party in the hands of an economist and party elder, who would lead the country in the 1990s and enable Greece to become a major player in Europe. He would further Greece’s reach in the Balkans, keeping Greece within the European Union’s response to Yugoslavia—a political feat difficult for many Greeks to accept due to transnational and mainly religious ties with Serbia. In the 1990s the Greek average per capita income arose from $9,600 to $12,042. The conservatives returned to power in 2004, bringing a public finances expansion at the time when the public finances could not bear it any more. In 2008, the GDP average of the country was at $31,997 per capita. In 2009, the Socialists briefly returned to power led by the elder son of Andreas Papandreou and promised that there was money in the public coffers. However, what they said proved to be a lie as the economy proceeded to show signs of collapse under the weight of excessive debt. Several coalition governments were formed between the years 2011 and 2014; their primary concern was dealing with Greece’s creditors and preventing the collapse of the Greek economy. By 2014 the average GDP had fallen to $21,601, a massive contraction in a relatively short time.
2014 to Present
In 2014, for the first time in the history of Greece, SYRIZA (a coalition of leftist groups) became the government in Greece, riding a wave of mass disappointment, if not rage, at the state of the Greek economy and promising to use Greece’s leverage to get better terms from creditors. Unfortunately for the Greek people, the German government of Angela Merkel, which was vilified by the Greek left, was not in the mood for cooperating with the government of Greece. The discussions came to blows with the German Finance Schäuble offering to pay the Greeks for what would have been a first state departure from the EU, a Grexit. The Greek government did not accept the offer or listen to the 62% of the voters who voted for Greece’s eventual exit in a referendum conducted by the same government. As the SYRIZA government was without options and had to sign loans with heavy conditions, their original promises of financial relief seemed futile. Greece’s modernisation path took a serious stumble.
As a result, SYRIZA lost the elections to the current government, which managed to repay the most expensive IMF loans early and push for public financial accountability. As the Greek economy seemed to be going on the path of recovery with an average per capita GDP at $19,150, the COVID-19 pandemic happened and turned the economy downwards, when global and domestic trade halted briefly, reaching $17,676 in 2020, as the country lost some half of its productive capacity from the earlier decades.
So, what does the future hold for Greece and its modernisation journey? The answer depends on the geostrategic conditions and the progress happening in the EU front. The EU is promoting economic stability in its member states including Greece: having loaned Greece enormous sums of money, the EU now has an interest in the country and wants to protect its investment. Besides, Greece has now become an advanced economy, even after the terrible ordeal of the Greek financial crisis, and is drawing regional attention. It is becoming an attractive destination for people in the Mediterranean region who live in difficult conditions and/or are pushed away from their countries by war and famine. In 2015 alone about a million people made the dangerous trip to Europe; the vast majority of these entered from Greece by sea.
It is necessary to remember that Greece is a country from which immigrants traditionally originated and the Greeks who live around the world probably outnumber those living in Greece. However, the country is now becoming a host to an enormous wave of immigrants from abroad, which is putting a significant strain on the state itself. Managing the transformation of the ethnic state to a civic state will be the major challenge for the Greek governments in the future, regardless of their political affiliations. Accepting and integrating hundreds of thousands of refugees is a massive challenge even for the most advanced world states, much less for a rather small country like Greece. In such a situation as this one, there is a dire need for a major reform to point the way for this transformation; such a reform may be possible through a constitutional conference. That is because modernisation should not be an economic transformation only: it must include strengthened and revitalised institutions, and in that aspect, Greece still has some work to do.
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