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GREEK CRISIS/ How the cradle of Europe became a peripheral country

Professor ELENI MAHAIRA-ODONI comments on the situation in Greece, which is on the brink of leaving the Eurozone, and the historical factors behind this predicament.

Greek Parliament   (Infophoto) Greek Parliament (Infophoto)

The Greek crisis is the most important problem in the European agenda. The institutions of Europe and its most representative members are monitoring the evolving situation with apprehension. While the main political parties fail to agree on a new government, the possibility of new elections becomes more and more probable, and the exit of Athens from the Eurozone also gains in likelihood. If a country of the Union were to take such a step, many could follow. How did we reach this point? Ilsussidiario.net asked Professor Eleni Mahaira-Odoni of Harvard University.

Greece is rightly considered one of the mainsprings of Western civilisation and, in many ways, the cultural cradle of Europe. How can one explain that Greece is in this moment considered the main problem for Europe and there are rumours of a possible exit for Greece from the EU?  With geographical, historical or economic reasons?

Greece is and remains the cultural cradle of Europe. Every socio-political value Europeans have adopted over the centuries was first examined, discussed, criticized and satirized in Greece and through Greek art, theatre and literature. However, the rise, decline and fall of countries and empires is the stuff of History. If in the 21st century Greece finds itself at the threshold of bankruptcy, the past is not canceled but it certainly doesn’t account for the present. After all, one could argue the same for Rome! In any case, much has to do with the skipping of Renaissance –because of the 400 years of  Ottoman occupation—as well as the circumstances created by Greece’s modern history and its dependency on the European Union.

During the Cold War period, Greece was a kind of border country between the two blocs, like Italy and Germany were in other ways. Now Greece and Italy are included in the peripheral countries and Germany seems to be considered the core of Europe. As a historian, how would you explain these different outcomes?
I am not sure that political historians are any better at explaining politico-economic outcomes than other social scientists. Much has to do with the fact that Greece joined the EEC and EU quite late, simply because of domestic economic handicaps, due in turn, to the outcome of World War II and the subsequent role of the United States in Greece’s post-war economic recovery.

How much has the conflict with Turkey – in a way, another border of Europe – influenced recent Greek history?