Greece Views the Modern World (April 2002)

By
Andreas Andrianopoulos

The future of Greece is intertwined with the fate and prospects of the European Union. The economic and social stability of Europe reflects upon the internal situation of Greece and influences its policies of economic and social reform. If Europe thrives and succeeds, Greece would follow an undisrupted road to prosperity. If Europe slips to turmoil and faces economic difficulties, Greece would inevitably find itself up against insoluble social and economic problems.

Reform and change appears to emerge in Greece as a consequence of European influences. Successive governments failed to take the initiative and explain to the public the need for courageous transformations of institutions and of routine economic habits. As a result, the various socially painful, yet necessary, measures are being sold to the public as part of a European package that contains some generous economic assistance.

Consequently, the country still clings to subsidies for the farming sector, views with awe the prospects of a necessary social security reform, and abhors the possibility of a much needed liberalization of the labor market. At the same time, privatization measures are slow and hesitant, while the public sector remains still quite big and powerful.

If Europe successfully proceeds to its target goals of complete market liberalization and limitation of state intervention, then, Greece would inevitably follow suit and achieve the necessary targets of reform. Otherwise, its destiny can only be bleak and rather grim.

Within the competitive environment of globalization and the hybrid multipolar-one big power system (the U.S. and numerous regional blocs and national powers), Greece is obliged to overcome a number of obstacles - such as the rigidities of statism, slow adaptation to change, and cultural egocentrism - and act assertively to gain its place in the new world order.

Greece's relations with Europe and the U.S. are of paramount importance for its future prospects. As a member of Europe and, hopefully, of the EMU, Greece needs to work for the successful implementation of European integration. Greece belongs to a club of powerful nations. Albeit, this club is an unstable one - with serious problems to tackle and overcome. Hence, joining the EMU does not connote for Greece the end of the road.

It is imperative that courageous reform policies are adopted, enabling Greece to finally implement the indispensable structural changes for the modernization of its economy. Some of these measures will be quite painful. And many EU countries, along with Greece, have to make some bold decisions. The liberalization of the labor market and the restructuring of the welfare system are not only Greek problems. These are major European issues of potentially explosive proportions. The implementation of these major structural changes may very well mark the viability of European prosperity, as well as the continent's relations with the U.S.

The U.S. is the major world power and, at least presently, the steam engine of world growth. The U.S. has already wholeheartedly embraced the principles of the new economy while manufacturing the architecture of the new world order. If Europe fails to timely adapt to the needs of globalization and the new economy, then the U.S. will seek partners in the Far East and Latin America. An apparent marginalization of Europe might then place in danger its internal cohesion. Internal conflicts and rivalries would ensue - such as Britain vs. France and Germany as well as a divergence among the latter two. In such a scenario, European expansion would collapse and the vision of an eventual European federal entity would disappear.

Greece should recognize the need to establish its firm presence on the center stage of European politics, while at the same time cultivate its relations with the U.S. Greece should never abandon its particular cultural characteristics. However, it needs to seek to not differentiate and deviate unnecessarily from the main trends that dominate the thinking and decision-making of the West.

It is relatively absurd to belong to an alliance, and to show signs of anxiety when this alliance becomes powerful! As it is obviously unorthodox to consume, on an almost daily basis, the products of the new economy - be this the information technology, rock music, modern fashion, or the entertainment and information outflow that emanate from Hollywood and the U.S. media - while simultaneously denouncing the values of Americanization and Westernization.

Greece should seek its own middle way. It is necessary to navigate a balanced course between the need to sustain the basic features of its national heritage and espousing the demands of its new international economic and political environment. Hypocrisy need not play a role in asserting its place in the new global architecture. Modernizing the bureaucracy, curtailing the powers of public sector corporatism, reducing public spending, expanding privatization, establishing an effective welfare system, remodeling education, and embracing the new economy will not only bolster the country's competitive advantages but will also reinforce its international forbearing.

To be heard, you will first have to be respected. And this is almost untenable unless you manifest your aptitude to modernize and get sturdy. Respect comes with power - that is, economic power in today's world. Whining on the sidewalk about cultural handicaps and the new world order, while pleading endlessly for economic assistance and political support, does not bolster a nation's credibility, neither does it buttress its international standing.

Situated at the edge of the Balkan peninsula, Greece has the advantage of being simultaneously a western European, a Balkan, and a Mediterranean country. With a foothold in all three important hubs of European identity, Greece has the chance to act as an intermediary between different cultures, political experiences, and levels of economic development. Its western European identity allows Athens to play an important role as a mediator in local Balkan conflicts and as a promoter of regional aspirations for European Union membership. Its Balkan credentials facilitate its role as a western European watchdog for developments in the area, and as the natural arbiter of the West and of the various international institutions for whatever problems arise in the region and for the solutions warranted. As a Mediterranean state, Greece is the West's closest link to the Middle East and, along with Italy and Spain, a country closely related with events in North and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Greece's Role in the Balkans

During the early 1990's, Greece failed to stand up to the above described roles, primarily due to its proximity to and consequent implication in the imbroglio of inter-Balkan conflicts. Greece's well-known difficulties with Turkey were further aggravated by the disputes with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia over the use of its irredentism-inspiring official name. Additional enmities were also observed with some of the various fractions that ruled over Albania. Likewise, the solidarity expressed by large portions of Greek public opinion with the orthodox Serbs during the bloodshed in Bosnia, and later in Kosovo, alienated many neighboring countries from the idea of a neutral and even-handed Greece.

Lately, however, there have been considerable amends and the government in Athens has managed to build a fair image of an honest broker. If Greek diplomacy continues to remain on track, then considerable benefits may arise for the future of peace in the area, as well as for Greece's overall image, not only in the Balkans but in Europe in general.

There are two main issues that dominate Balkan politics and which become, in the near future, issues of global importance and concern. The first is the prospect that most of the countries in the region will become members of the European Union. Although this issue does not spill over to become a major international point of concern, it nevertheless has the potential to function as an instrument of diffusion for a different series of problems.

Balkan States and Membership in the EU

If the Balkan countries succeed in becoming EU members, their internal difficulties and ethnic conflicts will inevitably take a different dimension. Animosities among them will subside, they will become less edgy and their differences will be manageable. The question is whether the EU can undertake the task of allowing all of these countries to join and under what conditions. Further expansion of the EU will impose tremendous strains on the viability of its institutions. The administrative structure of the EU will become extremely extended and complicated in its efforts to function properly, while its finances will run the risk of crumbling under the strain of impossible new demands. How can one sustain the developmental process of economies in grave need of basic infrastructure, with no market culture, and with a huge state bureaucracy feeding on corruption, clientelism, and an impossibly complex regulatory regime? For the EU, any further expansion to the East may signal the final test of its ability to survive. And I do not know of many Europeans appearing to be willing to take that test.

If the EU does not successfully, and timely, deepen and adapt the strengths of its institutions and fine tune their functions, it will be almost impossible to seriously contemplate the possibility of a further widening by incorporating new country-members. At the same time, the economic hardship that Europe is currently facing - unemployment, social security crisis, weak industries, a weak Euro, and the astute standing of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt - further aggravates the possibility of successfully fulfilling the aspirations of its latest enlargement. Talk, therefore, of more financially backward states joining the existing 15 members - and after the next couple of years, the 17 - is highly improbable.

The Costs of Exclusion

For the future of the Balkans, reducing the possibility of membership in the EU for most of the region's states, poses some serious problems. First, the economic difficulties under which the local populations struggle will become steeper and, perhaps, dangerous. Unemployment will widen, the closure of state enterprises will create immobility and market decay, while hard currency earning exports will almost disappear. Under these circumstances, economic chaos will prevail and social cohesion will be brought into question.

Secondly, the fragile institutions of the newly established democracies of the region's countries will inevitably shudder under the strains of the resulting poverty and misery that will dominate their populations. Ethnic minority aspirations, coupled with an economic environment of dysfunction and hardship, will further promote demonstrations and violence. Unemployment breeds discontent. And discontent leads to mobilization, dissent, and violent outbursts. The social stability necessary for the pursuit of progress will disappear and the future of these societies will be in question.

Of course, everything does not necessarily have to appear so grim. Hard work, discipline, and an enlightened leadership may pull some of these societies out of the above described impasse. And of course, everything will depend on the complexity of the internal difficulties that these societies are destined to encounter.

The Role of Islam in the Region

The role of Islam in the Balkans is the second serious problem that some of the region's Balkan states will encounter in the near future. The reemergence of Islam in the Balkans has already caused bitter conflicts and rivers of bloodshed Nobody, however, really knows what may happen in the future. Bosnia is already a focal point of inter-racial strife, with particular reference to religious fanaticism and fervor. Islam and orthodox Christianity have already clashed in the former Yugoslavia and may cause further clashes in the future.

Islamic minorities are, however, present in other parts of the Balkans. In southern Bulgaria, Muslims comprise a distinct regional majority and, during the last period of the former communist regime, Muslims had been the target of persecution and ethnic cleansing. Today, Bulgaria's Muslim population appears to blend well together with the Christian majority of the country. Their fate, however, is closely intertwined with developments in Bulgaria's domestic politics. If societal developments in this country follow a smooth course and progress enables the upward social mobility of the majority of the country's population, then peace will most probably dominate relations between the two communities. If, on the contrary, the economy follows a course of decline and deterioration, then inter-racial tranquility will be a thing of the past. The proximity of Bulgaria to Muslim Turkey is another potential source for inciting irredentist feelings among the suffering Muslims.

This phenomenon - i.e., irredentism fomented by leaders of hard trailing religious minorities - is a possibility not confined to the Muslim minority of Bulgaria. In the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), the stakes are already high with the Albanian minority in the region of Tetovo having recently resorted to arms. Allegedly, the demands of the Macedonian-Albanian population are confined to the achievement of equal educational and social rights. The liberation fighters of the Albanian Muslim factions, on the other hand, are clamoring for the need to achieve independence. Their ultimate goal, without doubt and although not stated clearly, is the incorporation of Tetovo into neighboring Albania.

The same aspirations are harbored by Kosovo's Muslim Albanians, thereby endangering the whole of the southwestern Balkans with a whirlwind of conflict and, possibly, regional war. The Albanian government denies, officially, that Tirana entertain such visions of national grandeur (the prospect, that is, of a "Greater Albania"), but they do nothing to discourage the Tetovo guerillas and the UCK fighters in Kosovo from declaring such intentions.

The fact that Islamic fanatics from other parts of the Muslim world appeared in the Balkans and fought at some point in Bosnia and in Tetovo has given strength to the belief of many indigenous Muslim populations that there may be a world-wide movement encouraging them to pursue novel goals. This endangers stability in the area because it fuels irredentist aspirations and draws in the equation neighboring powers. Turkey and Albania cannot possibly ignore the struggle for independence or self-determination that the indigenous Muslim populations may declare. The result may be an unprecedented violent entanglement in the region with unpredictable outcomes. Serbia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Greece may find themselves involved in a regional domino game, where the awakening of religious-ethnic aspirations among the Muslim minority of one country may cause serious disturbances among the various religious/ethnic populations of a neighboring country. This scenario of course refers to cases where an outside power does not purposely stir up trouble to undermine its historic adversaries. There is always the danger that if nationalist aspirations couple with feelings of religious fanaticism, together they may form an explosive cocktail.

This is why we are very much concerned about events in the Middle East between Israel and the Palestinians. If the conflict escalates, there are fears that it may stir unrest and spill over to neighboring Muslim populations, thus causing new eruptions among the Balkan religious and ethnic minorities. The West cannot operate with double standards. Our democracies have to cling to principles. NATO intervened militarily to prevent Milosevic from ethnically cleansing Kosovo of its Albanian majority. What Mr. Sharon is doing today in the West Bank does not differ substantially from the Serbian aggression of two years ago. They both labeled their bloody intervention an effort to eliminate terrorism. And, in both cases, the offensive ended up as a military operation targeting innocent civilians. In as much as one may deplore Yasser Arafat's treachery or feel repulsed by the murderous suicide attacks in major Israeli towns, one cannot condone Sharon's efforts to eradicate a nation from the face of the earth.

The fact, however, that there is a powder keg lying deep in the heart of the southern Balkans does not necessarily mean that the explosion is inevitable. The Greek people have been living "in the heart of Islam" for centuries. With the exception of the occupation of mainland Greece by the Osmanli Turks, the Greek people never confronted Islam as an aggressive force in the area. There have been, of course, conflicts and bloodshed in this part of the world. But never was the cause religious fanaticism or an Islamic resurgence.

Living with Islam

In some respects one may describe the southern Balkans as lying deep in the heart of Islam. The south of Bulgaria, the northeast of Greek Thrace, at least one half of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the whole of Albania, and the majority of the population in Kosovo and almost the same percentage in Bosnia are inhabited by Muslims. Likewise, in the whole of Asia Minor to the east, in the Middle East further to the south and in the countries of Magreb in North Africa to the southeast, the forces of Islam have been present and dominant for centuries. The peoples of the southern tip of Europe, however, have never been obliged, since the early Middle Ages, to defend themselves against an intrusion by Islam.

Living peacefully with the Islamic peoples is not, therefore, an impossible accomplishment. It depends on the version of Islam that dominates the faith of the respective populations and it relates closely with the overall political situation that permeates the regimes of the area. Sometimes, entirely different problems stir trouble among peaceful people - i.e., struggles of liberation or lack of democratic expression - and some observers tend to ascribe them wrongly to the Islamic faith. With the fall of the Iron Curtain and the reemergence of religion as a critical link that holds together the fabric of modern society, Islam came to the forefront as a major cause of political disturbance and irredentism.

In the context of societies that do not face problems of self-identity or political independence, however, the role of religion in modern affairs is almost negligible. Relations with those societies are not grounded in religious animosities or nationalist fanaticism. Everything depends on the mutual interests that dominate relations among countries in the area, as well as on historical ties that, irrespective of religion, bring peoples together and forge ties of trust and friendship. Within the context of those societies, however, the problems sometimes tend to run out of hand. In Algeria and in Turkey, for example, Islam plays a crucial role in their internal tranquility, stability and well being. It does not affect so much the external relations of those countries in as much as the proper functioning of democracy does not define the real nature of each regime.

The threatening presence of Islam prohibits Turkey from participating fully in the European Union. The Turkish army has difficulty withdrawing peacefully to its barracks as long as Islamic extremists threaten the non-secular nature of the state. The presence of the military in politics, on the other hand, keeps Turkey excluded from the democratic European family.

In Algeria, on the other hand, Islamic insurgents force the regime to mobilize militarily against an obvious threat, while sacrificing basic human rights and, thus, excluding democracy from its short term-agenda. This situation, however, does not affect Algeria's foreign policy, since very few of its neighbors actually care about Algeria's internal political situation or that the country's political and military authorities are violating human rights.

It is evident that Islam, by itself, does not pose a problem of instability, irredentism, or conflict. Its presence interrelates with the internal respect of democratic institutions, with the general economic welfare of the country and, of course, with aspects of nationalism and self- determination. The prospect that some countries with strong Muslim minorities or majorities on the periphery of Europe might join the European Union - i.e., Turkey, Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria - is definitely a paragon of peace and stability in the area. The experience of Greece has shown that Europe has a soothing effect in calming down nationalist exaggerations and religious fanaticism. Why could this not also prove effective for the rest of the Balkans with its Muslim and ethnic militant minorities?

Conclusion

The future is fascinating. Greece can succeed in capturing its grandeur. Being a small country can be an advantage in the era of rapid changes and technological innovation. Nationalist isolation, ideological rigidity, and religious fundamentalism comprise the only serious drawbacks to accomplishment. Great care is needed to guard against their forceful manifestation. Participation in the new era entails joining in the values of democratic government, open commerce, free markets, respect of human rights, international cooperation, and cultural toleration. These are primarily the values of the West, which trace their origins to the ancient Greek heritage. By adhering to them, Greece reinforces its own involvement in the construction of the new era.

Andreas Andrianopoulos spoke at an EES-sponsored Director's Forum on April 16, 2002. The above is a summary of his remarks.

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