Greek problems are not new

The birthplace of democracy has gotten used to turmoil, says Ryle Dwyer

THE 17 countries of the eurozone — Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxem-bourg, Malta, the Netherlands Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain — are almost as diverse as the continent of Europe itself.

In terms of history and tradition, democracy is a relative newcomer within the 17. None could be said to have been democratic throughout the 20th century. Most were occupied by foreign powers at some point.

Only Spain and Portugal could be said to have escaped foreign occupations, but both endured neo-fascist dictatorships under Antonio Salazar and Francisco Franco from the 1930s to the 1960s.

Different forms of fascism flourished in many of the countries, especially Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Greece. The likes of Belgium, the Netherlands, Greece, Luxembourg, France, Slovakia, and Slovenia were also occupied by the Nazis during the Second World War, while Finland was occupied by the Soviets. Estonia, Slovenia, and Slovakia ended up behind the Iron Curtain for much of the second half of the century.

Although the economies of Greece and Ireland are among the more troubled within the eurozone, the political stability of the two could hardly have been more different during the last century. In a sense, this country enjoyed probably the longest spell of continued democracy — since 1922. The Greeks may have originated democracy, but Greece has been a poster country for political instability for much of the past century.

During the First World War, Greece sided with the Allies and afterwards took part in the occupation of Turkey. In 1921 the Greeks marched on Ankara, but suffered defeat at the hands of Kemal Ataturk. Greek forces were compelled to withdraw.

The two countries agreed an exchange of populations in line with the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923, with about 1.3m Turkish Greeks moving from Turkey and 800,000 Greek Turks moving in the other direction. Éamon de Valera often talked about trying to emulate that settlement. Indeed, it could be said to be the only kind of compromise settlement he ever advanced to the partition question.

He talked a lot about partition, but never tried to influence or win over the Protestant unionist population of Northern Ireland. In 1938, when he was negotiating with the British to abrogate the defence clauses of the Treaty and end the Economic War, de Valera tried to persuade the British government of Neville Chamb-erlain to agree to a united Ireland behind the backs of the unionists.

Seán MacEntee, a Belfast Catholic and member of de Valera’s negotiating team, wrote a strong letter disapproving of Fianna Fáil’s attitude towards the Northern question. “In regard to partition we have never had a policy,” he wrote.

The Dublin government had never done anything to try to win over the Northern Protestants. Indeed, some Fianna Fáil coll-eagues had been “subordinating reason to prejudice”, he said.

“With our connivance every bigot and killjoy, ecclesiastical and lay, is doing his damnedest here to keep them out.”

It would seem that MacEntee’s assessment has been borne out in the light of the way in which Southern politicians betrayed their democratic responsibilities in allowing unelected Catholic Church figures to dictate policy over a series of decades.

De Valera seemed to think Greece was blazing a path for this country to follow with the Treaty of Lausanne. He thought partition could be resolved by transferring Protestant unionists to Britain and replacing them with Catholics of Irish extraction from Britain.

In reality, there was little the Greeks did during the 20th century that Ireland should emulate. In 1924 the second Hellenic Republic was declared, but this was essentially abolished with the reintroduction of the monarchy by popular referendum in 1935.

A military coup d’état followed in 1936 with the introduction of the fascist regime of Ioannis Metazas, but fascist Italy under Benito Mussolini attacked fascist Greece in 1940. The Greeks routed the Italians before being crushed by the Germans in 1941. The Greek communists waged a determined resistance, and after the war, Greece suffered a bitter civil war between communist and anti-communist forces.

It was mainly to prevent the expansion of the Iron Curtain and the fall of Greece to the communists in 1949 that the US introduced the Marshall Plan, which focused on the economic recovery of Europe.

After a succession of unstable governments, the military under Colonel George Papadopoulos seized power in Apr 1967. His junta collapsed in 1974 and the Greek monarchy was abolished by referendum. Greece became the 10th member of the EEC in 1981, and has enjoyed a period of comparative political stability.

However, Ireland should be aware of the turmoil in Greece throughout most of the 20th century and would be well advised not to try to emulate the Greeks.

In a sense, Greece poses some of the same international challenges today that it posed in 1949.

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