Far-left party Syriza’s victory in the recent electionhas heralded a new age of politics in Greece. It signals another enormous shift in the political landscape of the country. It signals the end of the customary, pragmatic, rational status-quo in existence since the transition to democracy in the 1970’s. But despite Syriza’sradical, far-left agenda, this isn’t the first fundamental political change to have hit the country.
With the help of the colonial powers of Britain, France and Russia, Greece finally gained independence in the 19th century after severe nationalist uprisings against the ruling Ottoman Empire. However, it wasn’t all straightforward. Political instability continued until the Bavarian Prince Otto was proclaimed King; and Greece was transformed into a constitutional monarchy on the founding of the first Liberal constitution, dated 1864.
The new state survived bankruptcy, corruption and poverty; plus ashort war with the Ottomans. But over the next thirty years, through war, expansion and treaties, the Greece we know today began to form. This was primarily down to the Goudi coup of 1909. Here, a new liberal direction began under the rule ofEleftherios Venizelos. For twenty-five years his government would battle the Conservatives.
This era was defined by a new political system, reforms to the military, and creation of state defences in case of attack. Domestically, his policies can be compared to those of the New Liberal government in Britain under Asquith and Lloyd-George.
The Balkan wars and the Great War gave Greece leverage to claim back territory from the Ottomans, despite Greece’s request to maintain a neutral stance in the First World War. Whilst Prime Ministers wanted to help the allies in the war against the Ottomans, the King wanted neutrality to continue. The defeated Turks then bombarded Greece in 1919 as 800,000 were killed. At the Treaty of Lausanne, Greece gainedthe territories of Cyprus and Salonika: the Greece we know today finally had its modern borders.
Following Italian occupation and allied battles in the Second World War, Greece entered a civil war in 1946 following the Communists decision to boycott elections as they held the balance of power in Northern Greece. 100,000 people died in a war whicheventually led to Nationalist success. In 1967, military juntas took power in a coup, establishing martial law and a military state. But with a nationalist uprisingand a worsening economy, the regime lasted just six years before Greece began its long journey once more to democracy. This time a parliamentary republic was created and has until now been dominated by the centre-left and centre-right.