Saturday, June 30, 2012

Greece at the crossroads

The Greek government's debt became unmanageable after autumn 2008, but the EU didn’t respond until over a year and a half later. (source)

In the post-national Greece that developed after 1974, the clear winners were the middle class.  Thanks to the strong purchasing power of other European currencies, and later the Euro, they could travel abroad and buy imported goods at little expense. Domestic goods and services likewise remained cheap thanks to outsourcing of jobs to lower-wage countries and insourcing of lower-priced labor for agriculture, shipping, domestic help, and construction.

The clear losers were the working class. Not only did they have to scramble for fewer and fewer jobs—those that could not be relocated to lower-wage countries— but they also faced growing competition from legal and illegal immigrants who would work for half the going market rate. This two-way movement of jobs and workers curbed the rise in wages of low-income earners and increased the rate of permanent “structural” unemployment.

And it has been the least skilled who bear the brunt of the effects of competition from clandestine immigrants on the job market. […]. In the functioning of the Greek economy, peripheral or marginal workers (women, unskilled young people, Roma, seasonal workers, etc.), who play a key role in the functioning of the parallel economy, have seen their status undermined by the mass entry of clandestine immigrants who offer their labor for even less. But this is also true for other categories of wage-earners such as construction workers, who are nonetheless among the most unionized and best protected of all workers. In this sector, clandestine foreign workers make up over 50% of the total workforce, and their wages reportedly do not even reach half the legal minimum.

The rise of unemployment in recent years more greatly affects unskilled workers whose traditional sectors of employment have today become the main ones where clandestine workers are most heavily concentrated. (Pteroudis, 1996, p. 178)

Native Greek workers thus became steadily impoverished, at first in comparison to other Greeks and, later, in absolute terms.

Responses of the Greek government

The Greek government was aware of the plight of the working poor and responded by greatly increasing social assistance, pensions, and public-sector employment. While this response provided displaced workers with more secure incomes, it also increased their dependence on the State. A kind of clientelism developed where recipients of government benefits supported the party in power as long as it maintained or increased their benefits. One example was the lowering of the retirement age to 55 for men and 50 for women in the case of arduous occupations. The definiton of "arduous" was then gradually broadened to cover even waiters and hairdressers. Early retirement became a way to create loyal voting blocs and also to thin the ranks of older unemployed people, thus making the unemployment rate seem lower than it really was.

The government did try to attack the root problem, i.e., the outsourcing of jobs to lower-wage countries and the insourcing of lower-priced labor. This two-way movement, however, benefited the middle class by providing cheaper goods and services, and it was this class that influenced public policy the most, either directly as politicians or civil servants or indirectly through the media and popular culture. For the middle class, it was too easy to portray the pauperized working class as losers in the new global economy.

As a result, protectionist measures were half-hearted. There was certainly an awareness that Greece was drifting into an uncompetitive dead zone: unable to compete against lower-wage countries for manufacturing jobs and also unable to compete against higher-wage countries for high-tech jobs:

The Greek sectoral structure consists mainly in low knowledge sectors. Many such sectors have lost their comparative advantage due both to the low labour costs of some less developed countries and to the high value added business strategies aiming at niche markets in more developed countries (Ministry of Development, 1997, p. 7)

For the Greek government, the solution was to specialize in “high technology and knowledge intensive sectors.” Such an industrial policy would evidently favor workers with high intellectual capacity, i.e., the upper third of the IQ distribution. But what about the other two-thirds?  To bring as many people as possible into the knowledge economy, there would be an expansion of technical education and “a policy to increase the mobility and to improve the quality of the labour supply” (Ministry of Development, 1997, p. 14).

This industrial policy was never really carried out. Part of the problem was lack of money. The main problem, however, was wishful thinking. Few of the structural unemployed were suitable for retraining as knowledge workers. It was even more naïve to see immigration as a way to meet this need. Finally, more should have been done to identify specific market niches where Greece could compete globally. It simply wasn’t enough to point to the knowledge economy as the wave of the future.

The government might have kept things from getting worse by halting the inflow of lower-wage migrants. It did make some attempts, which generally took three forms: 1) legalizing the existing illegal immigrants; 2) taking measures to prevent further illegal immigration; and 3) penalizing employers who hire illegal immigrants (Pteroudis, 1996, p. 179). Of the three, the first one was the easiest to put into practice. But it also made the other two even harder to implement. By raising hopes that future rounds of legalization would be in store, it encouraged even more immigrants to come. Employers responded similarly, seeing illegal status as only a temporary obstacle. Measures against employers were also difficult because lower-level inspectors could be bribed and higher-level functionaries pressured to water down enforcement.

The debt crisis

As Greece entered the new millennium, the pauperization of native Greek workers remained a worsening problem. More and more money had to be found to keep them at a First World level. For a time, this seemed possible, especially during the boom years of 2000 to 2007 when the economy was growing at an annual rate of 4.2% —one of the highest rates in the Euro zone.

Yet even during those boom years, with money pouring into the public coffers, the government not only continued to run deficits but also ran them at levels higher than what the EU officially allowed.

At the beginning of 2010, it was discovered that Greece had paid Goldman Sachs and other banks hundreds of millions of dollars in fees since 2001, for arranging transactions that hid the actual level of borrowing. The purpose of these deals made by several successive Greek governments, was to enable them to continue spending, while hiding the actual deficit from the EU.  

[…] the revised statistics revealed that Greece at all years from 2000-2010 had exceeded the Euros stability criteria, with the yearly deficits exceeding the recommended maximum limit at 3.0% of GDP, and also the debt level clearly exceeding the recommended limit at 60% of GDP. (Wikipedia, 2012)

The boom ended in autumn 2008 as the subprime mortgage crisis spread to Europe. Greece’s main industries of shipping and tourism were badly hit, and by early 2010 the government was openly admitting that its debt level was no longer sustainable. In April, rating agencies downgraded this debt to “junk bond” status. In May, the EU finally responded by organizing a bailout loan with the IMF in exchange for austerity measures.

Why did the EU take so long—over a year and a half—to respond? One reason was that it had been repeatedly misinformed on the extent of the debt crisis.  Another reason was the ongoing effort to admit Turkey as a full EU member. Greece’s support was crucial, particularly given the continuing Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus, and there was some reluctance among EU leaders to come down too hard on the debt issue.

Greece at the crossroads

Today, Greece has two options. One is to remain in the EU, pay off its huge debt, and accept a package of austerity measures. The other is to leave the EU, cancel at least part of its debt, and let the value of its national currency depreciate to bring imports and exports into balance.

For now, Greece will remain in the EU. There is a strong element of national pride at stake here, and also a fear of the costs of moving back to a national economy with its own currency. But the status quo will also be costly, as seen in the measures of the latest austerity package (February 2012):
  • 22% cut to the minimum wage from the current €750 per month
  • Holiday wage bonuses to be permanently cancelled
  • 150,000 jobs to be cut from the state sector by 2015
  • Pensions to be cut by €300 million in 2012
  • Laws to be changed to make lay-offs easier
  • Spending cuts to health and defense
  • Industry sectors to be given the right to negotiate lower wages
  • Closed professions to be opened up to allow for more competition, particularly in the health, tourism, and real estate sectors
  • Privatizations worth €15 billion by 2015, including Greek gas companies. Over the medium term, the goal will be €50 billion (Wikipedia, 2012)
There is nothing here to prevent further pauperization of native Greek workers. In fact, the business community will have an even freer hand to relocate jobs to lower-wage countries or bring in lower-priced migrant labor. The package will also scrap the remaining refuges from globalization by cutting back on public-sector employment, by lowering the minimum wage, and by opening up closed professions.

Staying in the EU is an option that lacks even the virtue of stability. It will probably worsen the existing class conflict in Greek society. To maintain their position of relative affluence, the post-national middle class may openly abandon the native working class and stigmatize them as bums who deserve to be replaced by hardworking immigrants.

In contrast, leaving the EU would shift the costs from the working class to the middle class. By going back to the drachma, and letting it devaluate, the country could stem the outflow of foreign exchange by making imports more costly and exports cheaper. Less money would be wasted on frivolous spending, especially trips abroad and imported luxury items, and more spent on Greek-made goods, thus creating local employment.

Rebuilding a national economy would not be easy, but the main stumbling block is not the transitional costs, however painful these costs may be. It’s the current post-national elite. Leaving the EU would severely undermine their legitimacy … and their lifestyle.


Ministry of Development. (1997). International competitiveness and a consensus-based industrial strategy for Greece: The main points of consensus, Project “The Future of Greek Industry”

Pteroudis, E. (1996). Emigrations et immigrations en Grèce, évolutions récentes et questions politiques, Revue européenne de migrations internationals, 12, 159-189 (Espagne, Portugal, Grèce, pays d'immigration).

Wikipedia (2012). Greek government-debt crisis

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Electing a new people?

Immigrants in the port of Patras, Greece (source). An immigrant community as large as three million people, in a country of eleven million.

It was during the early 1970s—the time of the Colonels—that Greece began to receive large numbers of immigrants, mainly Africans recruited for insecure low-paying jobs in construction, agriculture, and shipping.  In 1972, they numbered 15,000 to 20,000 officially and 60,000 unofficially (Pteroudis, 1996, p. 163).

The same years also saw the start of a related trend: loss of employment in manufacturing. These jobs were relocated to countries with cheaper labor and less stringent work regulations. But other jobs could not be relocated by their very nature—jobs in tourism, construction, agriculture, and shipping. It was in these same sectors that employers began to import low-wage labor:

 […] the economic crisis that hit Greece beginning in the mid-1970s led to a process of deindustrialization. But not all sectors of industry were affected in the same way. The more traditional labor-intensive sectors that served the domestic market were less penalized than the more modern sectors that were open to foreign competition. The traditional sectors that held up were also those in which the possibility of using foreign labor was greater (Pteroudis, 1996, p. 164).

When one employer began to hire lower-priced foreign labor, usually without authorization, pressure grew on others to follow suit. By the mid-1990s, foreigners made up 10% of all workers and even more of the “informal” labor force:

More generally, the development of the parallel economy was linked to clandestine immigration. Other than tourism and agriculture, the underground economy assumed considerable proportions in the sectors of construction, industry, and trade. The parallel economy contributed in the early 1990s to 30-35% of Greece’s GIP […]. For some authors it was the development of the size of the parallel economy that attracted the clandestine immigrants […], whereas for others the use of clandestine labor supported the informal economy (Pteroudis, 1996, p. 164).

In theory, the clandestine foreign workers were distinct from the documented ones.  In practice, legal immigration facilitated illegal immigration:

Not all of the non-European Community foreigners present in Greece were clandestine workers. In some sectors they coexisted with documented workers. This was for example the case with the merchant marine. As early as the late 1970s, this strategic sector of the national economy resorted massively to foreign labor, especially in low-skilled jobs. In 1990, there were around 10,000 foreign sailors out of a total of 37,000 people employed on Greek ships. But according to other sources, alongside the documented workers, the merchant marine was employing 12,000 to 14,000 workers from Egypt and Pakistan and 30,000 clandestine foreigners. (Pteroudis, 1996, p. 165)

According to a review of the literature in the early 2000s, this immigration was slowing down the rise in incomes of poorer Greeks:

[…] the wages of Greek workers have not been reduced during the period of immigration (since 1990) but the rate of increase is much lower, in real terms, than in the past. It is interesting to note that the money wages of workers paid with minimum wages have increased at very low rates, between 1% - 2% per year, whereas wages in general have increased by higher rates. The difference between the increases of the two wage rates may be attributed to the fact that those working with minimum wages are unskilled workers without work experiences and therefore these are the people who, in general, are in competition with immigrants in the labour market. (Lianos, 2004, p. 11)

Nonetheless, little has been done to restrain the influx of low-wage workers. In fact, it has actually increased. Why?

Several reasons may be given:

Costs and benefits fall on different people

A big reason is that the adverse impacts fall on those people (the working poor) who have the least input into public policy.

[…] immigration is increasing the inequality of income among various categories of income and profit recipients. A general equilibrium study […] has found that immigration to Greece has indeed this effect. It has reduced real disposable incomes of poor households and has increased the incomes of middle and rich households. (Lianos, 2004, p. 13)

The latter households, who benefit from immigration, have the most input into public policy:

It is interesting to mention that many economists in Greece see immigration as an important factor in keeping wages low, thus keeping the cost of production low and therefore the rate of inflation in a period when Greece was making a serious effort to join the economic and monetary union (EMU). One can go one step further and argue that the policy of low inflation was served by immigration and perhaps even better by illegal immigration. Thus, the lack of haste on the part of the Greek governments to regularise illegal immigrants is attributed to a conscious policy rather than to a lack of administrative ability. (Lianos, 2004, p. 11)

Besides influencing public policy directly, the elites also exert an indirect influence via the media, the arts, and entertainment. This influence builds on an existing tendency among artists, entertainers, and writers toward individualism and post-nationalism.


In Greece, post-nationalism has replaced nationalism since the Colonels left in 1974 and even more so since the country entered the European Community in 1981. The increasingly prevalent view is that the nation-state no longer matters and that there are only individuals buying and selling in a global marketplace

Post-nationalists are aware that many immigrants see things differently. But this fact is usually blamed on the host society; if the Greek people would just be more welcoming, fewer immigrants would seek refuge in their own cultural and religious identities.

Such refuge is even seen positively as an understandable response to the challenges of an alien society. Post-nationalism has thus become wedded to multiculturalism.

Belief in unrestrained markets

There has also been a growing belief in the virtue of unrestrained free markets, especially among government officials:

“I am enthusiastic about the Albanians. They certainly work illegally, but that is a prerequisite to their being able to offer their labor at a low price,” declared the minister of the economy in 1993 […]. The usefulness of this very flexible labor is to maintain the competitiveness of certain branches of work […] It is estimated that the cost of clandestine labor is 50% less than that of documented labor (Pteroudis, 1996, p. 177-178)

Collapse of the Eastern bloc

Finally, external circumstances have greatly increased the pressure of immigration, both legal and illegal. One set of circumstances was the end of the Cold War and the collapse of regimes throughout Eastern Europe:

But the increase in the volume of clandestine immigration is to be understood above all as a consequence of the opening of the countries of Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Until 1989 there were practically no citizens from the Eastern bloc in Greece. Only a few thousand Poles had requested asylum […]. But the collapse of the communist regimes and the opening of the borders fundamentally changed migration between the East and the West of the continent (Pteroudis, 1996, p. 165-166)

The 1990s brought hundreds of thousands from the former Eastern bloc. They were difficult to keep out because of the long land border and also because many were entitled to Greek nationality by virtue of having Greek ancestry (i.e., jus sanguinis, as in Israel and Germany). These “ethnic Greeks” usually had only a vague connection to their ancestral homeland. While studying in Voronezh, I worked at a language school where one of our students was preparing to “return” to Greece. He had in fact only a limited understanding of Greek.

These legal immigrants thus created a cosmopolitan environment that could support and conceal illegal immigrants from the former Eastern bloc and, increasingly, from elsewhere.

A Third World baby boom comes of age

Another external circumstance has been a baby boom in a zone stretching from West Africa and the Sahel, through the Horn of Africa and parts of the Middle East, and into South Asia. This boom is fueled by three interacting causes: traditionally high fertility, modern medicine, and relative peace. As these children come of age, most have nowhere to go but out. And “out” is increasingly Europe.

Initially, they went to the countries of their former colonial masters, usually Great Britain or France. This flow of people was seen as “chickens coming home to roost”—payback for the sins of colonialism and imperialism. In the 21st century, however, the chickens are also flocking to other homes. Something else is going on, and it isn’t payback.

How many?

In the mid-1990s, Pteroudis (1996, pp. 174-176) cited Greek estimates that ranged from a low of 180,000 illegal immigrants to a high of 1 million. The number of legal immigrants was likewise uncertain. The 1991 census gave a total of 167,000 whereas other sources pointed to a much higher figure.

Today, estimates range from a low of one million foreign-born to a high of three million. That’s a lot for a country of eleven million people. The low figure is extrapolated from the 2001 census:

[…] the number of immigrants living in Greece in 2001 was 762,191, making up approximately 7 percent of the total population. This figure includes all foreign born irrespective of immigration status, as well as the 46,869 individuals who were citizens of the countries comprising the European Union at that time.

[…] Nevertheless, the actual size of the foreign-born population is estimated to be significantly higher: Many analysts believe that there are between 1 million and 1.3 million immigrants in Greece, making up as much as 10 percent of the population. (Kasimis, 2012)

We may know more when the results of the 2011 census are fully released. But even those numbers will be doubtful, since illegal immigrants tend to shun census-takers. As Kasimis (2012) notes: “The data from the 2011 census […] are not expected to be detailed nor particularly credible because of the problematic organization and management of the census.”

The problem here is not just methodological, It’s also definitional. The term “foreign born” excludes Greek-born children of immigrants. Yet children tend to identify with their parents’ ethnocultural background, and this is especially true for Muslim immigrants (Gogonas, 2011).

Here we come to the high estimate of three million, which is denounced as fear-mongering and yet is probably close to the truth. There might indeed be that many if we add the children of the foreign-born. Of that total, fewer than a quarter are easily assimilable, i.e., ethnic Greeks and other Orthodox Europeans. The rest are mostly Muslim Albanians, Middle Easterners, South Asians, and Africans. 


The past forty years have drawn Greece into a two-way movement of jobs and workers. On the one hand, industries have been relocating to countries where labor costs are cheaper. On the other hand, low-wage labor has been coming in and displacing Greeks from those jobs that cannot be relocated.

This two-way movement initially caused wages to rise more slowly than they would have otherwise. Now, a second phase has begun: a downward leveling of wages and working conditions.

Of course, this phenomenon isn’t unique to Greece. It’s unique only to the extent that the Greek people are (1) less able to keep up the fiction of a First World lifestyle by borrowing money and (2) geographically more exposed to the forces of globalization. Greece is, so to speak, the canary in the coalmine.

But there’s a larger question at stake. Will the Greek people survive? If we accept the logic of post-nationalism and globalism, there can be only one answer and that answer is “no.”

Keep the following points in mind:

-        The Greek people number only eleven million and are on the front of a massive population expansion that is pushing out of Africa and southwestern Asia.

-        Their fertility rate is only 1.3 children per woman, in contrast to rates up to six times higher only a short distance to the south.

-        The ideological environment is hostile to any collective defense of the nation-state. There is a transnational system of defense, NATO, but its aims reflect the geopolitics of another age.

These are admittedly current circumstances, and circumstances can change. But change will have to come soon.


Gogonas, N. (2011). Religion as a core value in language maintenance: Arabic speakers in Greece, International Migration, 50, 113-129.

Kasimis, C. (2012). Greece: Illegal Immigration in the Midst of Crisis, Migration Information Source

Lianos, T. P. (2004). The impact ofimmigration on Greece’s society, European Migration Network, Greek National Contact Point, Center for Planning and Economic Research.

Pteroudis, E. (1996). Emigrations et immigrations en Grèce, évolutions récentes et questions politiques, Revue européenne de migrations internationals, 12, 159-189 (Espagne, Portugal, Grèce, pays d'immigration).

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Post-1974: Deconstructing Greece

Poster for multi-child families. Today, the average Greek woman has only 1.3 children.

Although the Colonels failed to turn back the clock, they did slow it down. When they lost power, Greece was still fulfilling its mission of perpetuating the Greek people. In 1975, the fertility rate was 2.4 children per woman, in contrast to 1.45 in Germany, 1.8 in England, and 1.93 in France. Immigration was only just beginning, whereas Western Europe already had large immigrant populations.

Greece has since caught up to the West. Fertility has plummeted to 1.3 children per woman—one of the lowest rates in the world. As Steyn (2011) notes: “In Greece, 100 grandparents have 42 grandchildren—i.e., the family tree is upside down.” Meanwhile, the country has taken in a foreign-born population that is as large, proportionately, as those of Great Britain and France. These trends may certainly change, but one need not extrapolate far into the future to see where they might lead …

How did things change so fast? First, the short answer. The Colonels left in disgrace, thus discrediting their nationalist ideology and creating a climate of indifference to the nation-state. But why, then, did things turn out so similarly in Spain? Its old regime died a quiet death, much like Generalissimo Franco himself, yet post-nationalism has triumphed there just as thoroughly as it has in Greece.

All right. Now the long answer. All of southern Europe had regimes that made patriotism their raison d’être. In short, nationalism had been nationalized. And these regimes used the schools, the media, and other norm-creating structures to instill love of country. In time, however, the structures succumbed to dry rot. The messengers no longer believed their message, and once a new regime came to power, for whatever reason, few were left to make the case for preserving the nation-state.

Another reason was the relative weakness of civil society. Since the State had little counterbalance to its power, whoever controlled it had much more freedom to control the direction of society. This was less true in the United States, for instance. Although university-educated Americans had massively converted to post-nationalism back in the 1940s, conversion proceeded much more slowly beyond this beachhead. Decades passed before the many pockets of resistance were finally overcome and mopped up.

Post-1974 Greece: the ideological motor for change

With the Colonels gone, change was not just moving faster. It was also becoming more deliberate. In the 1960s, it had been driven largely by young people who just wanted to do their own thing. After 1974, the new movers and shakers were more keenly aware of what they were doing … and the long-term consequences.

To some extent, they were merely following a narrative that the West had embraced earlier, after the Second World War. In its soft form, this narrative accepted that nationalism had helped create larger and more open societies. But the time had now come for the next stage: the formation of a “United States of Europe” and, eventually, an international superstate where everyone would be a citizen of the world.

This narrative had a harder version, as follows. Nationalism isn’t just outdated. It’s also evil, having caused the two world wars and the destruction of Europe’s Jewish community. To prevent an eventual third cataclysm, the nation-state should be progressively dismantled and its citizens reeducated.

Even before 1974, this post-national consensus had already been spreading into Greece. It was in the air, and only a totalitarian society could have kept it out. But things did accelerate when the Colonels left the scene. In 1975, Greece reratified the European Convention on Human Rights. That same year, the new constitution affirmed that such conventions “shall be an integral part of domestic Greek law and shall prevail over any contrary provision of the law” (Pollis, 1992). In the early 1990s, Greece embarked on a second round of efforts to comply with the norms of the European Community, which later became the European Union.

Although this process has been called “Europeanization,” a better term would be denationalization. “Europe” had become a transnational space where collective ethnic rights would be much weaker and individual rights much stronger. And such a space would eventually extend well beyond Europe. Turkey was touted as a prospective member, even though most of its land mass lay in the Middle East.

Europeanization was thus presented as a way to empower the individual at the expense of collective identities. Such empowerment would also bring material benefits: a higher standard of living and greater respect for personal freedom. Indeed, just as Greeks had earlier credited nationalism for the West’s success, a conviction now grew that post-nationalism was responsible.

This conviction held sway from the Right to the Left of the political spectrum, though for different reasons. The Right no longer saw institutions like the family, the church, and the ethnos as pre-conditions for economic success. Under the influence of libertarianism, it now viewed them as obstacles to competitive markets and economies of scale. By liquidating these collective restraints on the individual, Greece would replicate the same conditions that had earlier allowed the West to take off economically.

Meanwhile, the Left, under the influence of autonomy theory, saw unchosen collective identities, like gender and ethnos, as obstacles to self-realization. Since people do not choose to be men or women or to belong to an ethnic group, their freedom is diminished. They cannot realize their full potential.

Such thinking differed radically from what Greek nationalists had thought. For them, the secret of the West’s success was the nation-state: a community where one tended to treat fellow citizens with the same trust and deference as one would one’s own family. It was this secure, high-trust environment that made wealth creation so much easier.

The link between personal autonomy and prosperity is therefore neither direct nor causal. Rather, both are made possible by certain internalized restraints on behavior, namely a greater willingness to settle disputes peacefully and a stronger sense of empathy. In short, the “emotional space” of the family is extended to the entire nation. This behavioral evolution has been described with respect to England by Clark (2007, 2009), who sees other changes, such as increased thrift, sobriety, and impulse control, as being just as crucial to the rise of a market economy.

So personal autonomy alone isn’t the secret of economic success. It can in fact ruin a country if there are no internalized restraints on behavior.

Deconstructing Greece

Post-1974, few Greeks were arguing the above points. And those who did were usually Orthodox priests who spoke in the language of another age. Debate thus focused not on post-nationalism itself, but rather on the obstacles to implementing it. These obstacles were summarized by Pollis (1993): 

Historically, the dominant ideology in Greece considered the basic social unit to be the extended family, not the autonomous individual. In such a society, rights and obligations are reciprocal, hierarchical, and differentiated; they are not attributes of individuals possessed equally by all. As such, while equal individual rights were absent, the “family” was responsible for the material well-being of all. With the rise of Greek nationalism—the articulation of a nationalist ideology by the newly formed modern Greek state—, traditional culture and its value system persisted albeit in modified form.

[…] Such an organic conception of society, in which individual autonomy is irrelevant, obviously does not provide fertile soil for the flourishing of individual civil or political rights.

The take-home message, however, was not that post-nationalism is unworkable and should be shelved. Rather, it was the organic conception of society that had to go: 

[…]  Greece’s sovereignty will inevitably erode and its presumed “insularity” will fade as it is expected to conform to and be judged in terms of “European” standards, including those on individual rights, and not in terms of its claimed distinctiveness as an integral ethnos.

[…] While the visible changes are, and will be, in specific areas—the legal sphere, economic structures and policies, monetary policy, product standards, and control over borders—the cumulative impact will challenge and dilute Greek national identity as that identity has been conceptualized from the time of the founding of the modern state. (Pollis, 1992)

For post-nationalists, another obstacle was the school system, specifically the textbooks and their exclusion of the “Other”:

[…] “the Other” is different, for he was Muslim and not Orthodox like the Greek. With a solid and imperious spirit, the young pupil learned to move away from all those who tried to be like him by themselves, from all those who can only be humbler than him because, among other things, “the Greek national group has endowed itself with literary, theatrical, musical, and sculptural expressions that are different from those of the Others who surround it.” (Angelopoulos, 2007)

This rejection of the Other was seen as being inherent to the pre-1974 school system:

[…] beyond the awareness of being different, it is love of Country that helps strengthen the difference between the “Us” and the “Others”: “… in this case not only the language but also Greek education as a whole are elements of identity that distinguished Greeks from the “Others.”

[…] two areas of concern to this common education were particularly emphasized: the language of the ancestors and love of Country, a notion indirectly related to that […] of belonging to the same family […] to the extent that the Country is an entity whose substance is consubstantially maternal/paternal […], for it transfers […] the warm virtues of family relations among people belonging to the same household.” (Angelopoulos, 2007)

People outside this “family”—the Other—were to be viewed with mistrust and as sources of possible future domination or internal conflict (Angelopoulos, 2007). Thus, to bring about a post-national world, a new narrative would be needed:

[…] after the Colonels’ dictatorship, Greek historiography and particularly the national education planners and, consequently, the authors of school manuals, turned away from the nationalist cleavage [between Greeks and non-Greeks] and turned toward organizing a historical narrative that aims to manufacture citizens who are without hate for their neighbors of different origin, language, religion, and upbringing. (Angelopoulos, 2007)

The new narrative would achieve this goal by presenting the Other more respectfully, by showing that he seeks neither to dominate Greece nor to create disorder. In practice, however, this goal clashed with one of the primary duties of education: telling historical truth. The Other had dominated the Greek people, and that domination had been far from idyllic. The new narrative was thus no less prone to mythmaking than the old one. It tended to create a Big Other for whom one should feel only respect, deference, and … subservience.

A new balance might have been eventually struck between respect and truth-telling, either in Greece or in the West as a whole. As things turned out, however, there would not be enough time. No sooner had the Greeks learned deference to the Other than the Other began coming … in droves. 


Angelopoulos, C. (2007). Le contenu des manuels grecs d’histoire avant et après les Colonels, in M. Verdelhan-Bourgade, B. Bakhouche, R. Étienne, & P. Boutan (eds). Les manuels scholaires, miroirs de la nation ? (pp. 41-54), Paris: L’Harmatten.

Clark, G. (2009). The domestication of Man: The social implications of Darwin. ArtefaCTos, 2(1), 64-80.

Clark, G. (2007). A Farewell to Alms. A Brief Economic History of the World. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Georgiadis, K. (2010).Guardians of the nation: pronatalism, fertility politics and the multi-child family movement in Greece, British Society for Population Studies Annual Conference, September 2010, University of Exeter, England.

Pollis, A. (1992). Greek national identity: religious minorities, rights, and European norms, Journal of Modern Greek Studies, 10, 171-196.

Steyn, M. (2011). Mark Steyn: An upside-down family tree, The Orange County Register, December 23

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Colonels: How not to turn back the clock

The Colonels ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974. They tried to turn back the clock without knowing how a clock works (source)

In Greece, nation-building revolutionized social relations. It created a much larger web of reciprocal relationships among people who were not close kin and who often never met each other. This new environment was vulnerable to abuse, typically by individuals operating within family networks. The public treasury was especially targeted, with the country being forced into bankruptcy twice during the 19th century. The problem was not just that Greeks had to learn new rules for social interaction. They also had to feel motivated to obey them.

Nation-building had another down side. Since Greece was composed of lands that had once belonged to other countries, the Ottoman Empire in particular, the nationalist project became wedded to the idea of further territorial expansion. This all too often led to reckless military adventurism. The worst case was the catastrophe of 1921-22 when an expeditionary force pushed deep into Turkey in the hope of recreating the old Byzantine Empire. The Turks not only defeated the force but also ethnically cleansed Anatolia of its historic Greek community.

Yet the overall balance sheet was positive. Writing in 1977 about the Balkans as a whole, Charles and Barbara Jelavich concluded that the initial phase of nation-building had succeeded:

Conditions in the new nations at the end of the century were certainly greatly superior to those in the area at the beginning of that epoch. At that time the Ottoman government was unable to assure the basic conditions of civil peace in its lands. Not only were the local governors unrestrained, but bandits, groups of soldiers, and local warlords with armed retainers made life impossible for the peasant population, Christian and Muslim alike, in many areas. The national governments not only assured the establishment of an orderly system of administration, but they initiated measures directed toward the improvement of general conditions in the country. (Jelavich & Jelavich, 1977, pp. 326-327)

By the early 20th century, Greeks were living in greater personal safety than ever. But they still confined their relationships of trust to immediate kin and relied heavily on family connections to get ahead. The challenge now was to create a high-trust environment where people would treat each other as they would their own family. Only then would Greece take off economically as the West had earlier. The nationalist project thus sought to alter how Greeks viewed themselves and each other, particularly through the schools and, later, through the national youth movement of Ioannis Metaxas (1935-1941). Under Metaxas, this effort assumed totalitarian proportions with the use of propaganda, popular art, and mass public gatherings.

This social engineering continued after World War II, when a Western-style democracy was grafted on to the existing political culture. Schoolteachers, civil servants, army officers, and journalists were largely “graduates” of Metaxan nationalism. The regime was thus fundamentally nationalist and only superficially a liberal democracy.

The 1960s: a turning point

By the 1960s, however, nationalism began to give way to individualism and consumerism. This shift coincided with the victory of the Centre Union Party in 1964 and … the Swinging Sixties. A new counterculture was spreading among young Greeks. Many adopted its outward manifestations—mop hair, bellbottoms, miniskirts, and rock music—while still adhering to the norms of traditional family life. Others wanted to go further by experimenting with drugs, new forms of mysticism, and alternate sexual lifestyles.

It was against this background that the armed forces launched a coup d’état in 1967. The Colonels, as they came to be known, said they wished to prevent “communism”—a catchall term for anything that threatened the ethnos, the church, and the family. Their rhetoric echoed the ideology of the Metaxas period, when they had been cadets, and they hoped to turn back the clock to that time.

The Colonels stayed in power until 1974, a little longer than Metaxas. Yet their impact on Greece’s subsequent cultural development would be much weaker. In short, they failed to alter the course of history.

This failure had several causes:

Different circumstances

In the mid-1930s, the country was paralyzed by the Great Depression and a deadlocked parliament. Greeks were willing to go along with Metaxas if only for lack of a viable alternative. In contrast, the late 1960s were a time of unprecedented prosperity. Life had never been so good. People were apprehensive about the changing family and sexual values, but most were unsure how far the change would go. Many thought the pendulum would eventually swing the other way. In any case, the demographic implications were hardly critical. Fertility was still well above the replacement level, and the divorce rate remained stable at 6 divorces per 100 marriages.

In short, the Colonels seemed to be reacting hysterically to an exaggerated threat. Their sermonizing was not taken seriously, at least not by most of the population, and they were thus never able to build a popular movement to consolidate their hold on power. While many people collaborated with the regime, they did so largely out of fear or opportunism.  

Coming of TV

TV came later to Greece than to other European countries, and it came during the time of the Colonels. As elsewhere, it centralized the production of news, culture, and entertainment. Such central control would have especially sweeping effects in Greece because of the relative weakness of civil society:

[…] this situation has been associated with a weak atrophied civil society where the state has to take on additional politico-ideological functions. This fits the case of broadcasting. The overextended character of the state has coincided with the underdevelopment of capitalism in Greece. (Papathanassopoulos, 1990)

For the Colonels, central control was a feature, not a bug. They saw it as a way to overwhelm the cultural influence of the political Left, which had now retreated to the local level. They didn’t realize that this same central control would eventually pass into the hands of a post-national elite.

Once the Colonels were removed from power, television would make it that much easier to erase their legacy. The new medium proved to be a two-edged sword.

Beginnings of globalization

The Colonels’ years in power coincided with a general worldwide shift from protectionism to globalization. In this new global economy, Greece found itself drifting toward an uncompetitive dead zone. Wages were lower than elsewhere in Europe but still higher than in nearby African and Asian countries. Conversely, the economic environment was better than in Africa and Asia but still less secure and less conducive to trust than in Western Europe and North America.

The Colonels did little about these trends, largely because they trusted the business community and saw it as a natural ally in the fight to defend the nation from communism. The business community, for its part, had its own ideas about globalization. In 1972, the Association of Greek Industrialists called for the importation of foreign workers to fill unskilled and often seasonal jobs in agriculture, tourism, and shipping (Pteroudis, 1996, p. 163). The AGI was actually making explicit a policy that its members had already adopted:

In late 1972, there were according to the Greek government around 15,000 to 20,000 foreign workers in Greece who came mainly from Egypt and other African countries (cited by Nikolinakos, 1974:81; other authors put forward a figure of 60,000 workers, Rombolis, 1980:231). The proposals of the Greek industrialists highlighted the paradox of the situation. At a time when over 300,000 Greeks were working in European countries mainly in low-skill industrial jobs, Greece had to import African labor to meet its needs in the same sectors? For Marxist analysis, which was dominant at that time, the aim of the AGI and the government was to stabilize and even reduce the wages of Greek workers (Pteroudis, 1996, p. 163)

Some light is shed on this foreign labor program by a letter that the African student union published in a Greek newspaper in 1978 (albeit after the time of the Colonels):

We denounce the existence of a traffic in black workers from Africa by Greek industrialists and ship-owners, who promise the black workers high wages. Once in Greece, the Blacks, victims of blackmail in all its forms, accept the worst jobs for very low wages without managing to get a contract of employment. When their services are no longer wanted or when they organize and become demanding, they are fired and cannot even benefit from an airplane ticket to go home. (Abog-Loko, 1981)

The same newspaper had earlier published an article stating that a community of 15,000 African workers had become established in downtown Athens (Abog-Loko, 1981).

This time period thus saw the start of de-Europeanization and population replacement. The Colonels failed to see the long-term consequences, in large part because they conceived the threats to Greece’s social fabric in geopolitical or even conspiratorial terms. In reality, the most serious threats would come from banal sources, including supposed friends and allies.

Cold War as the first priority

The Colonels blamed the decline in traditional values on the Communists who, in turn, were said to be taking orders from Moscow. The Culture War thus became subordinated to the Cold War. There was a pervasive belief that the end of communism would bring an end to the assault on the family, the church, and the ethnos. At the very least, the Culture War would be half-won.

By committing Greece more than ever to the Cold War, the Colonels also committed Greece more than ever to NATO. This “NATO-ization” of Greece paved the way for the country’s entry into other supranational bodies, specifically the Common Market and, later, the European Union. As a result, Greek bureaucrats became accustomed to the idea of being accountable to decision-making bodies that lay outside the country.

The Cold War furthermore shifted the Colonels’ attention from their own country to more distant ones, about which they were prone to misinformation and self-deception. They were especially won over to the idea of Africa’s key role in the fight against communism, and to this end they sought to assist the continent’s anticommunist regimes by bringing its soldiers to officer training schools in Greece. Yet terms like “communist” and “anti-communist” often had no clear meaning in Africa. Many regimes sided with the West for opportunistic reasons, and more than a few tried to curry favors from both sides. In hindsight, Africa proved to be a sideshow with little influence on the outcome of the Cold War.

The Colonels would eventually be undone by military adventurism and Cold War thinking. In 1974, they backed a coup to depose the president of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios, and unite that country with Greece. Makarios seemed to be an easy target. He had sought closer relations with the Soviet Union (as a counterweight to Turkey’s claims on his island), and the Colonels presumed that NATO would view the coup favorably.

Turkey, however, was not amused and responded by invading Cyprus. As in 1921-1922, Greece was now up against a much stronger opponent. And, again, the West remained neutral. The Colonels could do nothing but watch Turkey ethnically cleanse the northern half of the island. They then gave up power, having lost all credibility.


History has not been kind to the Colonels. At best, they wanted to turn back the clock without knowing how a clock works. At worst, they unthinkingly aided and abetted the very processes that were eating away at Greece’s social fabric. In all fairness, however, social conservatives elsewhere were making many of the same mistakes.

If the Colonels had played their cards right, they might have hung on to power for a while longer. But they would still have had trouble stopping or even slowing down the processes of social atomization, dissolution of the family, and denationalization. These processes had a momentum of their own that could not be easily reversed.

First, the main motor of change lay beyond the country’s borders, in Western Europe and North America. Greeks could reject foreign culture and ideology, but they had neither the resources nor the population size to create an alternate world-system.

Second, the nationalist project was at least partly responsible for the Culture War. Nationalists wanted to move Greeks away from the little world of the family and toward the big world of the nation-state. In this larger world, however, behavioral norms would be determined by elites in the arts and entertainment who were often hostile to traditional values. In this and other ways, nationalism heralded what globalism would later bring.


Abog-Loko, J. (1981). La communauté noire en Grèce, Peuples Noirs Peuples Africains, 22, 55-84

Jelavich, C. & B. Jelavich. (1977). The Establishment of the Balkan National States, 1804-1920, A History of East Central Europe, vol. VIII, Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Papathanassopoulos, S. (1990). Broadcasting politics and the state in Socialist Greece, Media, Culture and Society, 12, 387-397.

Pteroudis, E. (1996). Emigrations et immigrations en Grèce, évolutions récentes et questions politiques, Revue européenne de migrations internationals, 12, 159-189 (Espagne, Portugal, Grèce, pays d'immigration).

Wikipedia - Greek military junta of 1967 to 1974