The year was 1832, and Greece had just won its independence from the Ottoman Empire. The “Big Powers” of the time — Britain, France and Russia — duly appointed a Bavarian prince as Greece’s first king. His name was Otto. He arrived in his new kingdom with an entourage of German architects, engineers, doctors and soldiers — and set out to reconfigure the country to the romantic ideal of the times. . . .I have mentioned before the irritation many Greeks feel when Germans or Frenchmen harass them about protecting the classical archaeological sites that turn up in the way of almost every construction project in the country. Zarkadakis places this irritation in the context of Greece's long domination by foreign powers, who created the country in the first place and regularly interfered in its politics, all the while taking much more interest in relics of the classical past than in the contemporary inhabitants. From 1945 until the 1980s Greece was a pawn in the Cold War, dominated by American-backed generals and then by weak political coalitions. With the collapse of the Soviet Union Greece entered a brief period of greater independence. The political and intellectual elite quickly surrendered that independence to immerse themselves in the European Union; Zarkadakis says they did so because they always felt greater kinship with the pan-European elite than with their own ordinary countrymen:
Athens, at that time a small hamlet of a few goatherds, was inaugurated as the new national capital. The architects from Munich designed and built a royal palace, an academy, a library, a university and all the beautiful neoclassical edifices that contemporary Greek anarchists adorn with graffiti. There was no Sparta in Otto’s kingdom, so a new Sparta was constructed from scratch by the banks of the Eurotas River, where brave Lacedemonians used to take their baths. Modern Greece was thus invented as a backdrop to contemporary European art and imagination, a historical precursor of many Disneylands to come.
The intellectuals, mostly foreign-educated and well traveled, dream of a truly westernized Greece through some miracle of economic and social science. When the loan referendum was announced, like a thunderbolt out of a clear sky, most of them opposed it. Greece had to show that it belonged to the European family of nations, whatever that may mean. Rebellion was not to be tolerated, lest the country was kicked out of the euro, the symbol of Greek westernization. In the end, the intellectuals and politicians — with a lot of persuasion from angry European leaders and technocrats — had the referendum quashed. Besides, the invention of fantastical modern Greece demanded that its people, the third division of society, also remained imaginary.The indifference of European political leaders to the wishes of their voters has come to the fore again and again in the course of ever closer union. The abandonment of the referendum plan means that Greece's citizens will once again have no say in their nation's affairs. The political leaders and the bankers will write the country's budget around a table in Berlin or Paris, and though Greeks protest and riot, nobody will pay much attention.
I am not normally much of a populist, or a nationalist, but this surrender of Greek independence feels like a corrupt back room deal to me, not democracy in action. Perhaps the Greeks brought this on themselves by the selfishness and sense of entitlement that bankrupted their country, but I would say that the bankers are just as guilty, and at the end of the day they will drive their Mercedes home to their comfortable houses, take off their Italian suits, and shed not tears for the travails of a Greece facing a decade of recession. If the European Union can't be made into a more truly democratic project, I think that it will fail, and that there is a real danger that failure will lead to a rebirth of fascism.