We must question the validity of the Westphalian model as it applies to Greece…
The Bishop of Old Patras Germanos Blesses the Flag of Revolution, Theodoros Vryzakis, 1865
Greece has a central position in the European imagination. Once modernity had established its legitimacy on the basis of antiquity, and a country such as Germany had constructed itself on a mystical affinity with Greece, it was impossible not to include Greece in the contemporary European scene. The creation of the modern Greek state in the nineteenth century thus needs to be understood first and foremost as a large-scale European identity project. Regardless of the climate of antagonism between France, Britain and Russia that accompanied Greek independence, it was one of the most important affirmations of a European identity.
It therefore comes as no surprise that Europe should have tried to build Greece in its own image. Anyone visiting the centre of Athens today can immediately see the two ways in which ancient Greece was appropriated by European modernity: every trace of the real past, whether Byzantine or Ottoman, was effaced and Athens literally taken over by its neo-classical, European image.
This symbolic appropriation was repeated a century-and-a-half later when Greece joined the EEC. On close examination, this event emerges as a real paradox, both culturally (orthodox, post-Ottoman Greece joined before Spain and Portugal) and geographically (the EEC was embracing a country isolated from its own territory). It was a paradox that nonetheless confirms the singular place that Greece then occupied as a symbol in European thought.
Given that its image as a modern country has become so important, it is now difficult to see the country as standing outside geopolitical norms. Europe has learnt to conceive of Greece as the perfect embodiment, almost the ideal, of “Westphalian sovereignty”, composed of the trinity of nation, state and territory. Admittedly, this ideal suffered from persistent flaws, such as banditry, nationalist conflict, government negligence, and political instability. However, since they were blamed on the legacy of Turkish domination, these could gradually be effaced, thanks to the influence of Europe.
European paternalism towards Greece met with some bitterness and several serious disappointments; however, these always seemed to disappear after a few years. The recent relationship between Greece and Europe (with or without its American extension) has thus been characterized by something like bipolar disorder. Positive and negative attitudes existed simultaneously towards the fascist-style “Greece of the Colonels” (1967-1974), the democratic, pro-European “Greece of Karamanlis” (1974-1981), the “Socialist Greece” in which freedoms and social justice were developed (1981-1989), the “Nationalist Greece”, involved in disputes about Macedonia and solidarity with Serbia (1989-1999), and finally the “Greece of the modernizers”, which joined the eurozone and organized the Olympics in 2004. Today, the picture has darkened once again.
If we are to go beyond the stereotypes we must first question the validity of the Westphalian model as it applies to Greece. At first sight, there are few nations that seem as simple and straightforward as the Greek one. It has existed since ancient times; for a few centuries it was subject to the “Turks”; then, in 1821, it supposedly re-awakened, creating a state, liberating its brothers and recovering its territories. Behind this account, one that Europe has been happy to accept, there lies concealed a reality that is much more complex.