“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 Wordl War II, as with most the rest of Europe, Greece was in political and economic crisis due to the German occupation and the struggle between leftists and rightists which  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

On October 28, 1940 the fascist Italian government of Benito Mussolini delivered an ultimatum to Greece demanding the cession of Greek territory,  much how they had done with Albania in the spring of 1939.

The Greek prime minister Metaxas rejected the Italian ultimatum, however the Italian army invaded Greece from Albania on the same day (October 28, 1940), before the ultimatum had expired beginning the Greco-Italian War.

The Greek Army was able to halt the invasion and push the Italians back into Albania. The continuous Greek successes against the Italians forced Nazi Germany to intervene in 1941. The Germans invaded Greece on April 6, 1941, and overran the country within a month, despite British aid to Greece in the form of an expeditionary corps.

The conquest of Greece was completed in May of 1941 with the capture of Crete (Battle of Crete) from the air. However, the German paratroopers (Fallschirmjäger) suffered such extensive casualties in this operation from the local Cretan population that Hitler and the German High Command abandoned large-scale airborne operations for the remainder of the war.

The German diversion of resources in the Balkans and the Battle of Crete is considered by some historians to have delayed the launch of the invasion of the Soviet Union by a critical month, which proved disastrous for the Germans and possibly changed the course of the war.

After Greece was occupied by the Germans it was then divided between Germany, Italy, and Bulgaria, while the King and the government fled into exile in Egypt. The first attempts at armed resistance started in the summer of 1941 but were easily crushed by the Axis powers. However, the Greek resistance movement began in earnest again in 1942 and continued growing throughout 1943 and 1944, liberating large parts of the country’s mountainous interior and tying down considerable Axis forces. Despite the successes against the Axis powers political tensions between the resistance groups (leftists and rightists) finally resulted in the outbreak of a civil conflict among them as early as 1943. This intenral conflict continued until the spring of 1944 and finally led to the all out conflict between leftist and rightish resistance groups after the end of the war and until 1949.

In the meantime, during the war 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 Greek Navy and merchant marine, in particular, contrubuted enormously to the war effort and it was of special importance to the Allied cause.

Mainland Greece was officially liberated in October of 1944 with the German withdrawal in the face of the advancing Red Army, however German garrisons continued to hold out in the Aegean islands until after the war’s end. By the end of the war the country was devastated by war and occupation, and its economy and infrastructure lay in ruins. Greece suffered more than 400,000 civilian casualties during the occupation (out of a total population of around 7 million at the time) . By 1946, a 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 which time 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 helped by the grants and loans of the Marshall Plan, the attraction of foreign investments, significant development of several industries, 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 as high as 10% for several years, mostly in the 1960s.

After WW II and the Greek Civil war (roughly from 1950) and until the 2008 economic crisis, with the exception of the 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

Fears of a debt crisis started developing among investors as early as 2009, 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, which eventually led to the downgrading of Greek government debt to junk bonds and created alarm in financial markets all over the world.

On May 2, 2010, the International Monetary Fund and Eurozone agreed on a 110 billion Euros loan for Greece, conditional on the implementation of harsh austerity measures. In October of 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 Eurozone countries.

These austerity measures were proven to be 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.

It took Greece almost 10 years to start recovering (early 2019), during which time Greece lost almost 4% of its citizens to emigration – more than 400,000 mostly young educated people.

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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