Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Is the Cradle of Civilization Broken - or Is Civilization?

I don’t know if it’s still being taught in K-12, but I learned that ancient Greece was the cradle of Western Civilization - you know, the Parthenon, the original Democracy 101.

The Golden Age of Greek culture, known as Classical Greece, occured five hundred years before the birth of Christ.  The death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC marked the beginning of the Hellenistic period, which ended with the annexation of Greece by Rome in 146 BC.

Greek culture conquered Rome, but the importance of "Greece proper" (that is, the territory of modern Greece) declined sharply. The great centers of Hellenistic culture were now Alexandria and Antioch, capitals of Ptolemaic Egypt and Seleucid Syria, their influence reaching as far as Afghanistan until the advent of Christianity

Roman rule marked the end of Greek political independence for centuries. After that came the Greek Byzantine Empire, which in turn was conquered by the Ottoman Turks whose rule lasted to the early nineteenth century. (Turkey ruled over all of Eastern Europe for 500 years, creating the economic lag that many in the West thought was the result of Postwar Soviet rule.)

Following the Ottoman defeat, Greece had several interim governments, until the Kingdom of Greece was founded in 1832. It lasted until 1924, when it gave way to the second Hellenic Republic. Republican Greece was largely dominated by the revolutionary and statesman George Venizelos, known as the father of modern Greece.  After several premierships and revolts, he was exiled in 1935, and Greece again became a Kingdom.

When the Second World War broke out, the Greek King was allied with the Germans. As in many European countries, it was the Communist Party that organized the resistance, first against the Germans, then the Italians. The world war was succeeded by a civil war in Greece, as progressives fought for a republic, with the Communist Party remaining legal until 1948. With British—and later the US - help, the monarchy won the day. The Marshall Plan, enabled Greece to begin to develop. But in 1967 a military junta took power in a coup, ruling Greece until 1974.

From 1974 until the present, power has alternated between conservatives and socialists. Greece joined the European Union in 1981 and adopted the Euro in 2001. New infrastructure, funds from the EU, and growing revenues from tourism, shipping, and light industry brought Greeks an unprecedented standard of living.

During that period, left and right alternated in power.  But from 2004 to 2009, as the international financial crisis was building, Greece was led by the conservatives. The socialist George Papandreou took over a country deeply in trouble, and as in many countries across the globe, has not been able to satisfy both his people and international finance.

Whether or not the Greek crisis further imperils the Euro by spreading to Italy - a much larger economy - it marks the end of the civilization to which it gave birth.

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