Ancient History, Modern Problems

How Greek history influences the ongoing negotiations. 

By Dimitri Lippe


[dropcap]B[/dropcap]efore modern times, Greece was subjugated empires that were generally repressive and did not have progressive Western values. Due to its strategic location, it became a target for imperialist expansion beginning with its subjugation by the Roman Empire in 146 BC. Later, the Byzantine Empire created an Orthodox world and a bißpolar Europe, beginning with the foundation of Constantinople in 330 A.D. Eastern Christendom and Western Christendom had different values and policies, and Greece was swept under the influence of Byzantium, marking the beginning of the schism between Greece and Western Europe. The Frankokratia, or Venetian Occupation, ensued after the Fourth Crusade in 1204, and was followed by the Tourkokratia, the Turkish Occupation by the Ottoman Empire, which lasted for 400 years until 1829.

Greece has always had very distinct cultural values, which often differed from those of other countries in Europe due to a unique ensemble of influences on its politics and people. The mélange of ancient and Orthodox culture along with the impact of Venetian and Ottoman rule have created a distinct civilization that is not aligned with conservative social values, due to religious and Ottoman influences.

Even after the end of Greece’s subjugation by the Ottomans, it has rarely enjoyed sovereignty. Greece finally received its independence in 1829 after an eight-year war and a number of unsuccessful rebellions. The Great Powers—England, France, and Russia—were major actors that helped Greece gain independence and subsequently drew its borders. Backed by the Great Powers, Ioannis Kapodistrias was the first modern ruler who was able to galvanize the Greek people, establishing relative sovereignty and introducing contemporary values along with an effective, functioning government. However, he was assassinated due to his unpopular policies in regards to the nobility, leading to turmoil.

The London Conference of 1832 was arranged in order to establish stable government in Greece. Its result was to install King Otto, a Bavarian prince, in order to secure western European influence, which marked the end of Greece’s short-lived full sovereignty. The new King of Greece attempted to impose rigid laws on Greeks while refusing to grant a constitutional charter until 1844. This constitutional monarchy, with various fluctuations in the amount of power held by the Greek people, was the status quo until the 1970s.

World War II brought about the German Occupation and a Civil War directly followed in 1946, decimating the Greek population and severely undermining economic growth. The combination of a turbulent modern history and hundreds of years of subjugation by the Ottomans has created a country desperate for self-governance, which has contributed to the rise of the leftist party Syriza.

This history aligns Greece more with Eastern European nations that have been conquered by a number of different empires, either by Western empires or the Ottoman Empire. The result of this is a further divide between the eastern and western Europe, which makes negotiations in the European Parliament and the European Commission difficult, especially because all countries are held to the same standards of debt as a percentage of GDP. It is difficult for each country in the EU to be held to the same standards, primarily because each country has vastly different histories and economic backgrounds. Eastern Europe has not had the same sovereignty that Western Europe has enjoyed—many Eastern European countries have been subjugated by empires and have not been able to develop independently their own cultures, thanks to the constant drawing of borders by Western powers. Due to its years under Venetian and Ottoman control, as well as a strong religious influence by the Greek Orthodox Church, Greece is a generally conservative country, which differs from Western European nations such as France. This leads to disparate values, which influences negotiations, including those ongoing in the Greek debt crisis.


Dimitri is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College. Contact him at