Capital Athens
Time Zone EET (GMT+2)
Country Code 30
Mobile Codes 690,693,694,695,697,698,699
ccTLD .gr
Currency Euro
Land Area 131,990 sq km
Population 11.3 million
Language Greek
Major Religion Orthodox Christianity

Book Reviews: The Cyprus Crisis, and The Making of the Greek Crisis Editor’s note: These two new books, reviewed by Director Chris Deliso, shed new light on two of the most important events in Modern Greek history- the Cyprus crisis and end of the military junta in 1974, and the ongoing financial crisis that continues to bedevil the country heading into 2013. While the Republic of Cyprus has wrapped up its successful term as temporary EU president, the island remains divided. The books presently reviewed provide, if not solutions to these two problems, at least new ways of looking at them that will certainly help interested parties seeking solutions. They also provide useful background context for readers with a general interest in contemporary Greek affairs.

The Cyprus Crisis: Examining the Role of the British and American Governments during 1974

By Andreas Constandinos

University of Plymouth Press (2012), 407 pp. (Click here to buy from publisher)

This is a formidable book. Not only because it is thick enough and heavy enough to crush a small mammal, but also because it succeeds in demolishing some lingering conspiracy theories surrounding the role of US and British diplomacy and intelligence in the period up to, during and after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in July 1974.

Based on recently declassified archival governmental sources as well as interviews with some of the figures involved, The Cyprus Crisis is required reading for scholars and anyone interested in this tragic period in Cypriot history, one that remains disputed and unresolved almost 40 years later. Having spent five years researching it, author Constandinos concludes with a plea for a renewed and more responsible take on these controversial events: “until both [Greek and Turkish] Cypriot communities are able to take responsibility for the events of 1974 and accept the roles played by their respective motherlands,” he writes, “the prospect of the two communities peacefully co-existing in a unified Cypriot state will continue to look bleak.”

More specifically, the conspiracy theories the author challenges in the The Cyprus Crisis, which have survived among some Greek and Greek Cypriot circles, hold that Britain, the former colonial controller of Cyprus, and the US assisted the military junta in Athens in its overthrow of Cypriot President and Archbishop Makarios, and then assisted a Turkish invasion of the island. The intensity of these feelings registered not only in protests but in the assassinations and threatened assassinations of officials from both countries in the days and years after the events, and in a legacy of anti-Americanism in Greek politics that had a negative impact on Greece’s diplomatic clout for many years.

In some ways, the truth is even worse than the theory. For rather than a malevolent and cunning master plan that would have at least required a certain amount of evil genius, the actions of the UK and US exemplified a range of less flattering attributes- cowardice, cynical disinterest, incompetence, arrogance and poor intelligence assessment, to name a few. Occurring as it did during a time of considerable external distractions (most conspicuous being the ignominious end of the Nixon presidency), this situation created the ideal conditions for both the Greek and Turkish governments to vie for control of the island.

The British come off as timid but righteous arbiters with a certain moral sympathy for the island they were legally obliged to protect, but little military capacity to do so, embarrassingly reliant on the Americans to influence the relevant parties. The US – dominated by the towering presence of Henry Kissinger – comes off as perceiving the conflict only within the grand geo-strategic parameters of the Cold War. The author proves how Kissinger’s ‘one-man show’ approach to diplomacy left him tone-dear to the views of more informed diplomats and led him to ignore important local intelligence from what he disparaged as a “third-rate island.”

Still, the voluminous amount of official transcripts cited indicate that both British and American officials followed events closely, but did not find sufficient ‘national interest’ to carry out measures that could have stopped the coup against Makarios, first of all, or the first and second Turkish invasions of the island thereafter.

As the author concludes, these allied governments were guilty only for sins of omission, not commission. Actually, the bulk of the blame is reserved for the recklessness and stupidity of the colonels in Athens, who incredibly did not believe that a coup in Cyprus would hand Ankara a golden opportunity for an invasion- one it had been planning in detail for over a decade.

According to the author, the US was apparently unaware that the previously existing direct communications channel between Athens and Ankara, which had successfully defused crises in the past, had been severed by de facto ruler Ioannidis. The exposition provided in The Cyprus Crisis is too complex to be summarized here, but in this and subsequent events, it seems that individuals (possibly, overeager Greek-Americans in the CIA supportive of the junta) rather than the Agency as a whole, were responsible for a communication breakdown that led Ioannidis to think that he had US support for overthrowing Makarios. (Indeed, as the author points out in further refutation of the ‘CIA vs. Makarios’ theory, on two earlier occasions the Agency had given Makarios specific warnings of assassination plots against him being planned by Greek Cypriot hard-liners).

Indeed, as much of the context-setting first half of The Cyprus Crisis emphasizes, it was the chronic internecine struggle between Greek Cypriots more than anything else that created the conditions for the Turkish invasion. The quixotic goal of enosis (unity with Greece) captivated and connected right-wing Cypriots and the junta in Athens, leading to bitter and bloody internal struggle. Whereas Turkey then and now has argued that it invaded the island to safeguard the Turkish minority, the author finds zero evidence for this (intriguingly, he notes that it was impossible to get any comments from a prior author who had supported the Turkish theory based on a document of dubious authenticity).

Rather, the sad truth that is reaffirmed time and again in The Cyprus Crisis is that none of the external protagonists – Turkey, Greece, the US or Britain – cared at all about the well-being of the Cypriot people of either ethnicity. The first two countries saw the island as a strategic element of their own power projection and as a symbolic element (with political application) for internal nationalist sentiment, whereas the latter two understood Cyprus as a host of strategic bases. And in dealing with the unfolding crisis, they understood the strategic role of Greece (and especially Turkey) as paramount in their policy-planning, which again had to do with other strategic bases and containing the Soviets.

At the time, it was deemed strategically unwise to use either diplomatic or peace-keeping means to prevent the junta from deposing Makarios, and/or to stop the Turkish armada from making landfall, and subsequently carrying out its orchestrated ethnic cleansing campaign against the Greek Cypriots of the north. In retrospect, Kissinger’s fear that an angered junta would ‘kick out’ the US 6th Fleet from Greek waters seems a paranoid fantasy, while the British reluctance to enforce a naval blockade when it had ships and soldiers on the spot unless the US join them comes across as pure cowardice (one could not imagine a leader like Margaret Thatcher having given up so easily).

And this is the great tragedy that The Cyprus Crisis reveals: that the unwarranted bloodshed in Cyprus could easily have been avoided. In hindsight, it does not appear that whatever temporary diplomatic hiccups would have occurred at any stage of the game could possibly have been worse than everything that has happened since, right up to the present day. Of course, there is ‘a reason for everything,’ and the author does admirably provide a very wide context that gives readers a broad view into what current events, past historical precedents, and future concerns influenced the decision-making of diplomats at the time, in a day-by-day treatment of the unfolding crisis.

The only question that does not seem to have been posed in interviews with diplomats active in 1974 for The Cyprus Crisis is that of cultural intelligence. A large part of the tragedy seems to have had to do with accidental or even willful ignorance of local realities. Transcripts of discussions between Kissinger and CIA Director William Colby, among other sources, indicate that the former had very little knowledge of the island (to the point of mispronouncing names of key towns) and very little interest in the mentality of the cultures involved. It does not take a genius in the art of diplomacy to know the precise ways in which Turks and Greeks will behave under certain conditions. It just takes the input of persons who know and understand these cultures. Unfortunately, the powers-that-were chose more often than not to ignore such sources of information, even when they were in their own employ. For future policy planners, this may well be one of the important unstated lessons of The Cyprus Crisis.



The Making of the Greek Crisis

By James Pettifer

Penguin Shorts (May 2012)

Appearing in a unique new series format from Penguin, this e-book by British scholar James Pettifer discusses the causes of Greece’ current financial crisis, placing it within the broader context of past Greek history. The author informs the work with observations made from his four decades of research and travels in Greece, as well as from secondary sources in the contemporary press, and older scholarly works.

It is important to note that this Penguin Short is not meant to be a searching academic study. Rather, it is a useful, and at times entertaining read that summarizes in informal and quick-flowing prose the major issues and particularly the context in which the Greek financial crisis should be understood- perfect reading for, say, an Athens-bound EU financial enforcer to read while on the plane.

Throughout the book Pettifer resolutely throws in his lot with the common man and woman of Greece, sympathizing with their current plight and reminding that throughout history foreigners with little local knowledge have often played disproportionate roles in running the country. Foreign interference has been a chronic factor in the history of Greece since its independence from the Ottomans, as Pettifer notes. “The European Union and International Monetary Fund negotiators who sit in authority in Athens in 2012 have many antecedents,” he writes. “Men and women completely ignorant of the Greek language have played their parts in the making of modern Greece, with varying degrees of success.”

The author begins by pointing out the interesting contradiction between the current gloom and the optimism of just a decade ago, when things seemed to be going so right for the Greek economy. Yet while the Greeks should have been aware of what was to come for them, they were hardly the only ones who failed to imagine or anticipate their and other financial crises that have occurred over the past five years around the world. As the author humorously notes, “modern social-democratic European politics has little room for the imaginary, in any shape or form; it is a terrain of flipcharts, number crunching, endless economic forecasting, and mass production of technocrats.”

Thus, the Greek crisis “was made within capitalism as the illusions of political elites in both Brussels and Athens fed on each other. A hopeless over optimism about what the European Union was or could ever be dominated their judgements and a sweeping belief in their own propaganda overtook them.” This amusing aside manifests the typically British take on the EU and its often excessive ambitions. In an interesting detail, the author points out that a continent-wide monetary union has been dreamt up and even attempted several times going back to Napoleon, and never worked. At the same time, “recurring debt crises had punctuated political life in nineteenth and early twentieth century Greece.” The past does seem to be repeating itself in many ways today.

Indeed, as Pettifer describes it, the much-publicized concealment of Greek debt for which the country has been so criticized is endemic, not something that recent governments invented. “In the post-Civil War period, debt was contained within the New Deal and Marshall Plan framework, but was an ever-present problem in the background,” recounts Pettifer. “Many infrastructure bills, for instance those that involved strategic roads of military interest in northern Greece, or port and airport modernisation, were effectively paid for by the United States or NATO. With the end of the Cold War and the Warsaw Pact, this funding role was taken over by the European Economic Community and then the European Union. Ever since the Greek state was established in the nineteenth century, infusions of foreign capital have been required at regular intervals to support state economic viability.”

In the modern case, the author traces the year 1996, and the ascendancy of German-experienced technocrat Costas Simitis as the turning point. It was at this time that “the genuine, if sometimes eccentric internationalism of [the late Andreas] Papandreou was replaced by the ever increasing commitment of the government to a federal European future. Greek nationalism was to be subsumed within the new Euro nationalism of the European Union. At the heart of this major policy change was the forging of a new Greek-German relationship.”

At the time of Euro-entry, in 2001, “the fact that Greek budget data was significantly ‘massaged’ to meet the Maastricht criteria [for joining the Euro] did not seem to be a major issue for those involved,” Pettifer recounts. “The German Foreign Minister Hans Dietrich Genscher had recently acquired a holiday home in Greece and relations seemed to be excellent.” Interestingly, he also posits that there were those around Simitis who saw the subsumption of Greek debt within the Euro as Germany’s tacit means of giving Greece WWII war reparations that had never been paid.

Along with general trends such as greed, consumerism and the effect of new Common Agricultural Policy marketing rules on small farmers, Pettifer notes the often unacknowledged effect of single events in exacerbating the crisis. The biggest of these was the 2004 Athens Olympics. Economists disagree on the impact Olympics spending would have on the later debt crisis, he notes, while adding that “normal government financial controls began to collapse in the 2003-2004 period as international pressure on Greece rose for Olympic work to be completed on time.” All in all, the price tag of the Games was billions of Euros beyond estimate, and debt repayment was not properly managed (Pettifer contrasts this with the case of Montreal, which is apparently still making incremental payments on debts incurred for the Olympic Games it held back in 1976).

While the author acknowledges the well-publicized role of tax evasion in Greece, he does not see it as a primary cause of the crisis, and suggests that the EU did not either: “not much tax was paid between 2001 and 2004,” he notes, “but no one in Brussels was concerned about it then when growth numbers looked good.” Rather, he sees this sort of discourse as a means for making the country “a scapegoat for the failures that were always inherent in the Euro project from its foundation. The Euro project was doomed because it is impossible to chain together 27 different economies to one currency and one central financial institution without any tax or revenue raising capacity. The fact that it is doomed to fail was not the fault of the Greeks. Their fault was to believe in it more than most European nations did.”

After laying the groundwork for his recounting of the crisis, the author outlines a concentrated presentation of events in the second half of the book. This narration of events starts with the media fixation over big financial crashes in 2009 (like Lehman Brothers and Northern Rock), which however distracted attention for a time from smaller countries like Greece. However, by year’s end the Greek budget deficit stood at 15.4% of GDP, with debt at 127% of GDP, along with “rapidly rising borrowing costs.”

By that time, the Papandreou government’s promised ‘opening of the books’ revealed for the first time the scale of statistical manipulation that had hidden Greek debt over the previous decade; “vast sums of international funds had been ploughed into Euro-denominated Greek government bonds in previous years, ever since Greek entry to the Euro zone in 2001. Yet it seemed to have vanished.” Internationally-enforced ‘austerity measures’ began, and the crisis worsened. Pettifer continues with a blow-by-blow account of credit agency downgradings starting in 2009, mass protests the following year, briefly touching on the evolution of bailout plans, ideas and negotiations in Brussels.

Following a short mention of the governmental crisis of 2011, he concludes with some general thoughts and speculations for the elections (which have since happened). However, regarding the latter he does not mention the growing power of the neo-fascist Hrysi Avgi, or what this might indicate for society though he does note that earlier periods of financial hardship resulted in periods of authoritarian military rule (this is precluded, he says, since the EU does not allow for such kinds of regimes). Still, considering that the author takes time to discuss the effects of the crisis on the Communist Party, the family, women, emigrants, the church and so on, the omission of an examination of the Hrysi Avgi is regrettable, considering its unprecedented success at the ballot box. Politically speaking, Pettier simply wrote that he foresees “a period of marked political instability and jockeying for position as old leaders retire and others try to take their place,” which would seem fairly obvious.

According to the author, there was in fact one solution that would have caused less suffering for the nation, but would never have been accepted by the international financiers and their political backers. “A Greek Euro exit in 2009 followed by a generous European aid and reconstruction programme could have done much for the real economy and confined the crisis,” he opines, “but it would have meant major losses for the banks and bankers.”

It is clear that the author is an unabashed fan of traditional Greece, and in the end, he seems to envision a brighter future as being possible due to the “extraordinary resilience” of the Greek people. The crisis, he points out, is already increasing self-sufficiency and sparking a return to traditional agricultural practices. He sees an enhanced role for the Orthodox Church as shepherd of the people, and even for a possible return to family values. Whether or not the Greeks will in fact come out of the crisis stronger remains to be seen, but it is for certain that there will be plenty more drama and uncertainty in the months ahead. This short survey provides a handy introduction for anyone seeking a basic understanding of the context and conditions that will inform coming events.


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