“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” – Heraclitus

It took Greeks 400 years to regain their independence from the Ottomans and create the first Greek Republic initially in 1830, which evolved into the Kingdom of Greece in 1832. Greece remained a kingdom (with a few breaks in between) until 1967 when the Greek military seized power in a coup d’etat, established the military junta of 1967-1974 and abolished the Greek monarchy. Democracy was restored in 1974 and Konstantinos Karamanlis became the first interim prime minister of the first Greek Parliamentary Republic.

In between, Greece fought valiantly in 2 world wars. The Greeks stopped the invasion of the Italians in World War II and held them off for almost 6 months and until the Germans came to their rescue. After the war, Greece was in political and economic crisis due to the German occupation and the highly polarized struggle between leftists and rightists which targeted the power vacuum and led to the Greek Civil War, one of the first conflicts of the Cold War.

Evzone guarding the tomb of unknown soldier in Athens
Evzone guarding the tomb of the unknown soldier in Athens

Greece in World War II

The military history of Greece during World War II began on 28 October 1940, when the Italian Army invaded from Albania, beginning the Greco-Italian War. The Greek Army was able to halt the invasion temporarily and was able to push the Italians back into Albania. The Greek successes forced Nazi Germany to intervene. The Germans invaded Greece and Yugoslavia on 6 April 1941, and overran both countries within a month, despite British aid to Greece in the form of an expeditionary corps.

The conquest of Greece was completed in May with the capture of Crete from the air, although the Fallschirmjäger (German paratroopers) suffered such extensive casualties in this operation that the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (German High Command) abandoned large-scale airborne operations for the remainder of the war. The German diversion of resources in the Balkans is also considered by some historians to have delayed the launch of the invasion of the Soviet Union by a critical month, which proved disastrous when the German Army failed to take Moscow.

Greece itself was occupied and divided between Germany, Italy, and Bulgaria, while the King and the government fled into exile in Egypt. First attempts at armed resistance in summer 1941 were crushed by the Axis powers, but the Resistance movement began again in 1942 and grew enormously in 1943 and 1944, liberating large parts of the country’s mountainous interior and tying down considerable Axis forces. However, political tensions between the Resistance groups resulted in the outbreak of a civil conflict among them in late 1943, which continued until the spring of 1944. The exiled Greek government also formed armed forces of its own, which served and fought alongside the British in the Middle East, North Africa, and Italy. The contribution of the Greek Navy and merchant marine, in particular, was of special importance to the Allied cause.

Mainland Greece was liberated in October 1944 with the German withdrawal in the face of the advancing Red Army, while German garrisons continued to hold out in the Aegean Islands until after the war’s end. The country was devastated by war and occupation, and its economy and infrastructure lay in ruins. Greece suffered more than 400,000 casualties during the occupation. By 1946, a vicious civil war erupted between the British and American-sponsored conservative government and leftist guerrillas, which would last until 1949.

Athens towers
The Athens towers. Built between 1968 – 1971.

The Greek economic miracle (1950-1973)

Before the Greek economic crisis of recent years, Greece lived through an economic miracle, a period of sustained economic growth from 1950 to 1973.

During this period, the Greek economy grew by an average of 7.7%, second in the world only to Japan. The rapid recovery of the Greek economy following the Greek Civil War was facilitated by a number of measures, especially, as in other European countries, by the grants and loans of the Marshall Plan. They also included a drastic devaluation of the drachma, the attraction of foreign investments, significant development of the chemical industry, development of tourism and the services sector in general and massive construction activity connected with huge infrastructure projects and rebuilding in the Greek cities.

Greek growth rates were highest during the 1950s, often exceeding 10%, close to those of a modern tiger economy. Industrial production also grew annually by 10% for several years, mostly in the 1960s. Growth initially widened the economic gap between rich and poor, intensifying political divisions.

In total, the Greek GDP grew for 54 of the 60 years following World War II and the Greek Civil War. From 1950 until the 2008 economic crisis, with the exception of the relative economic stagnation of the 1980s, Greece consistently outperformed most European nations in terms of annual economic growth.

Greek crisis, Greece financial crisis, Greek economy
The economic crisis since 2009

Economic crisis since 2009

From late 2009, fears of a sovereign debt crisis developed among investors concerning Greece’s ability to meet its debt obligations due to a strong increase in government debt levels. This led to a crisis of confidence, indicated by a widening of bond yield spreads and risk insurance on credit default swaps compared to other countries, most importantly Germany.

The downgrading of Greek government debt to junk bonds created alarm in financial markets. On 2 May 2010, the Eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund agreed on a 110 billion Euros loan for Greece, conditional on the implementation of harsh austerity measures. In October 2011, Eurozone leaders also agreed on a proposal to write off 50% of Greek debt owed to private creditors, increasing the EFSF to about 1 trillion Euros and requiring European banks to achieve 9% capitalization to reduce the risk of contagion to other countries.

These austerity measures have proved extremely unpopular with the Greek public, precipitating demonstrations and civil unrest. In all, the Greek economy suffered the longest recession of any advanced capitalist economy to date, overtaking the US Great Depression. As a result, the Greek political system has been upended, social exclusion increased, and hundreds of thousands of well-educated Greeks have left the country.

External Links

History of modern Greece

History of modern GreeceGo!
Greece in World War IGo!
The genocide of Greeks in AnatoliaGo!
Greece in WW IIGo!
Massacre of Distomo (World War II)Go!
Massacre of Kalavryta (World War II)Go!
The Istanbul pogrom of 1950Go!
The Turkish invasion of Cyprus (1974)Go!
The destruction of Smyrna (1922)

The genocide of Anatolian and Pontian Greeks in Asia Minor

In 1922 Hellenism was erased from Asia Minor in the final act in Turkey’s genocide of its Christian minorities. Having survived — and thrived — for over 3,000 years, the Greek presence in Asia Minor was wiped out in the Great Fire of Smyrna, in 1922.

Mustapha Kemal’s army entered Smyrna on September 9th, 1922. By September 22nd, Smyrna was unrecognizable. The fire — lit by Turkish forces — swept through the city and burned the Greek and Armenian quarters to the ground, erasing anything that would remind future generations of their presence.

The genocide began in 1914 and ended with the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey in 1923. By 1923, more than 700,000 out of approximately 2 million Greeks living in Asia Minor at the beginning of World War I perished as a result of Turkey’s policy of “Turkification”. Overall, more than 2.5 million Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians were killed as a result of centrally planned and systematically executed deportations and murder.

The Anatolian and Pontian Greeks who survived the death marches, the Turkish brutalities, and the fires of Smyrna landed on Greece’s shores as refugees, rebuilding the world they lost in the shantytowns of Piraeus and Thessaloniki.

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