Can Putin Survive?
The Lessons of the Soviet Collapse
THE Greek people are a small nation. In allegiance to their special form of nationalism and the Hellenic Idea they are as homogeneous as any people in the world. Nearly all Hellenes are now within the territory of the Greek state; of the exceptions -- the half-million voluntary emigrants to America, the populations of Cyprus and the Dodecanese, of Constantinople and Egypt -- only those in Cyprus and the Dodecanese make an irredenta question, and such questions between Greece and England or Italy will have to find some peaceable solution. The land of the Greeks is not over-populated, and they have no inducement towards small-scale imperialism which might affect the course of their history. Their resources are definite in character, limited in extent. These facts should afford grounds for a reasonably safe hope as to the future of Greece -- for that brief period of her future, at least, which it is safe for the wit of man to attempt to compass, a period let us say of twenty-five years. The incalculable element in the problem is the extent of the ability of the Greek people to organize their economic and political affairs and to manage them in conformity to the standards and processes of modern industrial civilization.
Those standards and processes grant no indulgence on account of a country's history and the date of its arrival in the economic world. Greece had four centuries of political and economic servitude to the Turks; there followed sixty-five years for the development of a national consciousness, the formation of habits of self-government and the concentration of resources. At the end of this period came a long succession of bitter and costly wars of liberation due to the illogical frontier of 1830, which excluded Crete and all Greek-inhabited territory north of Lamia and the Ambracian Gulf. These wars were accompanied towards the end of the period by fundamental internal political changes which more than once brought the country to the verge of civil war. It is needful to keep these facts in mind; the wars were critical ones for the status, perhaps even for the life, of Greece; they cost much treasure and untold suffering; they involved a question of policy which divided the nation, wrecked a dynasty, and transformed a monarchy into a régime of avowed republican principles; and they ended in a major national disaster and the addition to the nation's burdens of destitute deracinated refugees numbering a quarter of the population. The ground-swell does not subside until long after the storm is over, and only tenacious and elastic peoples recover from such convulsions as promptly as did the Greeks. Certainly there was small opportunity in such violent overthrows of fortune for the development of industrial and commercial organization, the standards and processes which it requires, and the political experience in self-government which is essential to its healthy existence.
Foreign critics of Greece should, therefore, avoid austerity. They should remember the eagerness of the Greek to improve himself, and help him to transfer that eagerness to his corporate affairs. American critics, in particular, might bear it in mind that the population of Greece is about the same as that of the City of New York, that its experience in self-government has been often interrupted, that its period of independence has been brief, that the dangers to its existence in that period have been frequent and sometimes critical, that the financial burdens of its frequent wars of liberation against the Turk were heavy, -- and then those critics might consider how far they are satisfied with the political and financial record of our metropolis, and its ability unwastefully to manage its affairs. Those who are pessimistic about Greek political and economic stability may recall the stages through which Mexico has recently passed -- Madero, Huerta, Carranza, Obregon, Calles -- and the present encouraging status of Mexican national development.
The Ægean is a bowl; its islands are the mountain-tops of a sunken Switzerland; its semi-circular rim offers homogeneous conditions for a pushful, trading people, fond of navigation and enterprise, curious of eye, of experience and of intellect. If it were a purely economic world, not cross-cloven by the politics of force, the Greeks would fill the Ægean littoral and that of the Pontus, and do the commerce of the eastern Mediterranean and Black Seas; but events have decided that those who desire to remain Greek citizens must live in the Greek homeland, the peninsula and the islands. While the effect may be to limit their opportunities and the spread of the Hellenic Idea, the sovereignty known as Greece will be the gainer from the concentrated resourcefulness and powers of the million and a quarter Hellenes who once thickly inhabited "the Pontus," the Chersonese, the vilayets of Smyrna and Aidin, and were scattered over Anatolia itself and the eastern Ægean littoral as far as Iconium. Substantially all Hellenes are now contributory to the protection of Greece: Greek Macedonia, so long the lodgment of unfusable races, and the breeding ground of savage warfare, has been almost completely Hellenized, and Western Thrace is already two-thirds Greek.
Greece is thus provided with effective frontier populations. No intermixture of Turks or Serbs or Bulgars furnishes any longer an excuse for the "redemption" of inhabitants or territory. The effect of this geographical security upon a sound foreign policy for Greece is evident. Turkey is under-populated and so financially weakened as to be incapable of a considerable military enterprise; the Turk has no sufficient motive for a new war of conquest of European territory, his own international menace looms upon the horizon, and in any case he will be kept busy with home difficulties for a long time. Jugoslavia has minority problems enough without adding to them a Hellenized Macedonia; a "corridor" to Saloniki would be a long and precarious one, and Jugoslavia is not likely to hold out for it if reasonable port facilities are maintained for her. Bulgaria cannot be a military menace within such time as will suffice for the development of new international attitudes and a peaceful Balkan policy.
Greece's need of an army and navy for territorial defence is thus greatly diminished for the first time in her history, and she does not need them to assist a territorial or economic imperialism. The Greeks are a mercantile people, politic rather than aggressive, solvent rather than dominant in character. Non-militant by nature, they are not likely to undertake a war of conquest, nor would they be successful in the management of conquered territory. It would seem, therefore, the obvious policy for Greece to avoid the provocation which comes from an armament race -- in any case she could not compete with Jugoslavia, -- to relieve herself of the burden of military establishment, to recognize that, as President Masaryk has said, "the safety of the small countries of Europe depends on the moral restraint of the great ones," and to support the League of Nations as the agent for the expansion and expression of that spirit. It is a paradox in seeming only that he would do the most for Greece who would be least insistent on its sovereign prerogative. "Venizelos," says a Greek historian, "owed his grasp of foreign politics largely to the fact that he could envisage Europe as a whole, and, perhaps alone and perhaps first of his countrymen, did not regard Greece as the centre of the world." Although his people were unable to see the coincidence of Greek interests and internationalism, the most far-sighted Greek patriots will be the best "Europeans."
Security being reasonably assured, the Greeks are free to apply their extraordinary enterprise to the full development of their economic resources. The first of these is, of course, the merchant marine. The Greeks are much more a people of the Mediterranean Sea than of the Balkan mountains. Most Greek exports, and the greater part of the imports, are now carried in Greek bottoms. The Greek merchant fleet through Saloniki and Alexandropoulis (Dedeagatch) serves many of the export and import needs of Jugoslavia and Bulgaria. Constantinople, which once had the jobbing trade of the Black Sea and Asia Minor ports, is now suffering from marasmus, and cargoes are being broken at the Piraeus and re-shipments made for the eastern Mediterranean. With this increase of trade has come a steady increase of the Greek fleet. Reduced by war losses to less than a quarter of its highest figure, it has grown again and in July, 1925, had reached a new high mark. The Greek, smart sailor man, has capital and experience, and he is athwart the sea-caravan routes of the eastern Mediterranean; the future carrying-trade should be his.
Agriculture is the second major resource of Greece. The soil is rich, and its suitability for special crops gives them a great advantage in the world markets. The dried fruits of the Peloponnese, the delicate wines of the islands and of Attica, cotton from Bœotia, Thessaly and Macedonia, the oil from thirty million olive trees, are all exportable products of high value, and Macedonia newly planted to cereals by the refugees should be the granary of the nation and supply the food-stuffs which have had for years to be imported from Russia and Canada. In the special qualities of her soil for tobacco production, and the skill of her population in working it, Greece surpasses her competing neighbors.
There are, of course, other resources which have potentialities of growth. There is a strong domestic demand for commodities which has caused the development or new establishment of a number of industries in Greece, and the profits they offer have brought home much capital hitherto invested abroad. The income from the considerable Greek wealth invested in other countries, the remittances of Greek emigrants which have been as high as forty million dollars a year, and the increasing tourist travel play a part in the "economic balance."
The people thus finitely placed and equipped have definite characteristics. Their "genius" is a positive one, and its weaknesses are in large measure the defects of pronounced qualities -- qualities which in their present stage of evolution are not especially suited to an era whose dominating principle is industrial and political organization. The Greeks are energetic and lively, have a high degree of intelligence, intense feelings, a very sensitive nervous organization, a constitutional restlessness and habit of disputation, are volatile in their political allegiances, and do not possess the stolidity or the stupidity, a certain amount of which, according to Bagehot's dictum, is necessary to the best working of parliamentary government. Docile under outside control and sympathetic to instruction, they do not like submissiveness to each other, and often criticise their superiors in organizations, and their restlessness makes them the despair of disciplinarians. "The Greeks never had," says one of their commentators, "the spirit of continuity or of common action which characterized the Roman . . . The Hellene, being in general free from the spirit of domination, never felt the imperious desire for unity. What he did have was the desire to be himself and to be master of himself, and the defect of this quality was the want of . . . constancy. The Greeks never felt the need of subordinating themselves to a great whole."
It is certainly true that political changes have been frequent. Beginning only with the departure of King George on December 19, 1923, there have been the following governments:
Revolutionary Administration, to January 2, 1924.
Venizelos, January 2, for a few days.
Kaphandaris, to March 10.
Papanastassiou, March 10 to July 20.
Kaphandaris (summoned to form a new Cabinet but failed).
Sophoulis, July 20, for ten days.
Michaelacopolous, to June 25, 1925.
Since last June, the army-chosen government of General Pangalos has been in power, and government by a Chamber has been suspended.[i] This is a record of political deliquescence; indeed it is on the basis of this record that the present government has declared that parliamentary government in Greece is a failure and that only an all-powerful single executive can give Greece the stable administration she needs.
Whether this be the needed remedy or not, the ill effects of rapid political changes, interspersed with constitutional upheavals, are obvious: continuity of policy is difficult, continuity of administration becomes impossible; foreign capital, so badly needed by a small country suffering from the war's after-sickness, is distrustful; loans and contracts are difficult to obtain; budgets are hard to balance, and credit declines.
A foreign minister finds it more difficult to negotiate with a weak government than with a strong one, which does not mean a government that takes strong measures but a government which is not afraid of falling under domestic pressure because of taking a conciliatory line in negotiations. The same difficulty exists in negotiation with rapidly changing governments; and if other governments cannot effectively negotiate with Greece, Greece cannot to her own advantage negotiate with them. Internally a rapid succession of governmental administrations is demoralizing to public opinion in that it separates political causes from their consequences and makes a sound public opinion on administrative action impossible; if the consequences arise under a later administration, either the successor may be made responsible for what the predecessor set in motion, or the normal action of public opinion is paralyzed.
There are available means for limiting the effects of such political changes. There is, for example, a need of permanent undersecretaries in the different ministries. Continuity of policy in the government is important, but even more so is continuity of knowledge and technical capacity. A beginning has been made by the appointment of a permanent under-secretary in the Finance Department; the principle might well be generally applied. For similar reasons a permanent civil service, holding successive governments together and representing the permanent tendencies of the people, is indispensable to improvement.
Measures to decentralize power would also be helpful. That national unity which was first attempted in the form of classical Athenian imperialism, and was re-inspired in the nineteenth century by the struggle for national freedom, has been achieved. A contest for control which results in frequently taking down and reconstituting a highly centralized form of government affects the administration of the whole of Greece. If the national government is not highly centralized but has mainly coördinating powers, the tendency continually to make it over is naturally abated, and the effect of so doing diminished. An increased local autonomy would restore local initiative, now largely atrophied, for local reforms and local works, and would give critical local scrutiny of local measures and local administrators at the point where both are best understood. Between the admirable military road built by the Germans northeast of Serres in Macedonia and the equally admirable road built by the Allies southwest of Serres is a gap of three-quarters of a mile representing the "No Man's Land" of the Saloniki front in the Great War; one surmises that if local authorities had the responsibility for satisfying a local demand there would be a link between the two. An abatement of control from Athens and of all the intrigues and wasted effort towards gaining that control, ought to lead towards local action and responsibility.
A greater political stability, especially if accompanied by a certain amount of decentralization, would diminish the tendency to experiment with economic heresies, often for political reasons under the pressure of interested groups. Subsidies to special working classes, which have been tried, create a demand for more subsidies; valorization of a special crop leads to more valorization, unbalanced agriculture and unprofitable development, and a burden on taxpayers; efforts to suppress the speculation which is normal to commercial countries make it unhealthy but never stop it; the taxation, regulation and ministerial interference with the tobacco industry in the past has tended to produce an alteration of tobacco and labor crises. Such paternal solicitude is not necessary.
Yet it is true that political restlessness in Greece bears less directly on the economic situation than in almost any other country. The most subversive political change does not make civil disorder. This is evidence that the Greeks are more a commercial than a political people. If you are a "political" people your institutions mean much to you and you will fight for them; a Greek would fight for a national or a personal cause, never for a political institution, and the frequent changes of administration or radical alterations in the form of government have no such significance as they would have in a country of northwestern Europe. When King Otho was deposed in 1862 the damage was limited to the breaking of some windows, and no disturbance whatever occurred when King George was deposed in 1923.
Sound public finance is essential to Greece. A rapid increase of national indebtedness, even if incurred for what seem to be capital expenditures, is a hazardous policy. The distinction between a sound economic organization and an unsound financial mechanism which sustains and animates it, presents a warning for other countries than France.
The taxation of Greece is heavy for a country of its size and resources, and must be diminished if the country is to prosper. There are simple and compound income taxes with severe surtax rates; a tax on profits of limited companies, a tax on profit realized from the transfer of real property, and a tax on increased income coming from the increase in value of property, a tax on inheritance and on gifts of property with heavy surtax rates, a tax of 3 to 4 drachmae per stremma for all cultivated land, a tax on net profits from large agricultural enterprises, miscellaneous taxes on the production of tobacco, silk, cocoons, sultanas, olive oil, figs, currants, on mines, forest produce, sheep and goats, on trading and professional licenses, insurance premiums, exemption from military service, education, registration of foreign companies, on patents and trade marks, on stock exchange operations, on hotels, restaurants and museums, advertisements, signs in foreign languages, tourists, steamship fares between Greece and abroad, and registration and stamp duties of all kinds, taxes on the consumption of tobacco, wines, alcohol, malt, acetylene, explosive gas, and electricity, import and export duties, and municipal, statistical and charity taxes connected therewith.
Fortunately, other elements which might seem to give grounds for apprehension exist in Greece only in part. Greece has given an international undertaking not to create any charges on its revenues by way of security for any loans not intended either for productive purposes or for carrying out its obligations under the treaties of peace, and revenues cannot, therefore, be pledged for current obligations or to balance budgets. Furthermore, a force making for financial stability will be found in the great increase of the investment of Greek fortunes in the country. Thanks to the integrity with which gold payments on the foreign debt have been maintained under the International Financial Commission, the "external debt" of Greece, two-thirds of which was once in the hands of foreign investors, is now to the same extent in the hands of Greek citizens. Greek capital invested abroad has also been coming home to seek the large profits open to domestic industrial enterprise. In 1923 forty-one new enterprises were launched; in 1924 seventy-seven with a capital of 120,000,000 drachmae; and existing concerns made large increases in their capital. Managers of such enterprises, stockholders, the banks which finance their needs, will of course have the strongest interest in the stability of public finance and a powerful influence in bringing it to pass.
The commercial standards of the eastern Mediterranean had an Asiatic origin, and have been too oriental in their character to satisfy the merchants of western Europe; the traders have been not infrequently so eager for gain as to exhibit an inferior commercial morality and to injure their own permanent interests. But this is a case where practice makes principle. In commerce, at least, "morals," as Morley said, "is the doctrine of things as they are," and the commercial intercourse of the Greeks with western Europe, which has already raised the Greek standards, should in time approximate them to those of the great trading nations. It is not a difficult lesson to learn that honesty is the best policy, that goods ought to correspond to sample, and that a satisfied customer means business and profits in the future. The Greeks have an alert understanding of their own weaknesses, and of the educational means for correcting them. As their commerce develops they are likely to look more and more towards the nations of western Europe because they desire the same scale of living for themselves, and their adaptability should stabilize their economics and have in turn a secondary repercussion on their political practices. Characteristics which severe critics assume to be ineradicable weaknesses may conceivably disappear under the influence of the Greek ambition for a higher economic welfare.
As the Greeks have had a longer practice in the art of living than in administration, the social attitude of the average Greek government is superior to its administrative experience, organization and technique. The general tendency has been towards liberality in the permission of free speech, of public discussion, and of newspaper publication, which with all its faults of slander and misrepresentation is better in the long run than a repressed press. Greece is reasonably certain to remain, as the encyclopædia says, "the only country in the Balkan Peninsula in which the government cannot count on securing a majority by official pressure at the elections." A Greek Fascist party is therefore a paradox to those who know the Greek character. Zeus was only one of a hierarchy and held council meetings whose decision was apparently superior to any fiat of his own.
This equalitarianism has fortunate practical results in Greek agrarian policies. Insistence on equality in land ownership existed throughout the whole classical period. Venizelos gave expression to the same instinct in the adoption of an agrarian policy which has been followed by all subsequent administrations. Not only have the estates of the departing Mussulmans been divided among refugees and natives, but the domains of large proprietors, including some of the most influential and richest men of Greece, have been freely expropriated and divided among the native and refugee cultivators. The cultivator in Greece now owns the land, and that conservatism and slowness of movement which is one of the "virtues of a tyrannical passion" for the land should create a social stability and the foundations of a greater political stability.
To summarize, then, the resources of Greece are definite and sufficient for the prosperity of her people, and their social policy gives the prosperity a general distribution. The extreme individualism -- 'A&tgr;&ogr;&mgr;&igr;&sgr;&mgr;&ogr;s -- of the Greek disinclines him to personal or organization control, and his effervescent temperament and tendency to oscillate between intense activity and repose make the political future a problematic one. It is an open question whether the Greeks can subordinate their nerves and emotions to their excellent understandings in the fashion required for the successful working of democracy. Politics and economics being closely interwoven in a small centralized state, the effect of domestic political instability on economic welfare would be pronounced, were it not that from his very individualism the Greek derives a vitality and resourcefulness which pull him through difficulties, whether those of fate or of his own making. "If the Greek nation were reduced to the island of Ægina," said a representative of the League of Nations, "I should still be confident that it would rise again to its full national life."
In external relations the best intellectual leaders of Greece show a strong bias towards a thoughtful internationalism, and the people are disposed by instinct and interest to follow that lead. The nation is not aggressive, does not instinctively lust for combat or for territorial aggrandizement, is inclined to pacific pursuits. Though southeastern Europe has not entirely ceased rocking from a succession of wars and territorial changes, the present security of Greece is reasonably established. An energetic and persevering policy of conciliation towards her neighbors will bring the moral opinion of Europe to her support, and Greece may measure the value of that opinion by the assistance which the League of Nations has given her in solving her crushing refugee problem.
This paper has dealt with the material side of Greek life, but there are other elements of welfare not dependent on the most complete realization of economic prosperity. The Greeks are persuaded that they form a single "family"; they have a belief in the destiny of their race which has carried it out of bondage and through extraordinary dangers. Their wealthy men make gifts and legacies to the nation in a way which is not paralleled in the rest of Europe. The people are cheerful, tactful and responsive, hospitable to strangers, kind to dependents, thoroughly democratic in their dislike of class distinctions and titles; the snob is unknown among Greek social types. Habits are temperate, family life is united and affectionate, and harshness in personal relations is exceptional; the common temperament is optimistic with a youthful buoyancy. They take a greater pleasure in the pure process of thinking than most other races, and a people which has such intellectual enjoyment is capable of high results, especially in the field of speculative activity. When the ancient Egyptians were questioned by Herodotus as to the reason for the periodic inundations of the Nile, the Egyptians could make no answer, never having formed any hypothesis as to the most important feature in their national economy; but the Greeks, for whom the question had no practical concern, had already imagined three hypotheses, and Herodotus discusses those in order to propose a fourth.
In short, the Greek, like the Frenchman, is interested in life itself, in beauty, in the satisfaction of the intelligence and of the senses in their higher development. He has, as of old, the desire to be a rounded human-being, to be maître de soi. That is the flame of the Hellenic Idea, and who shall say that it is a motive inferior to that provided by the latest forms of industrial civilization?
[i] Frequency of change is not a special characteristic of the republican régime; in the early days of the second monarchy there were nine ministries in thirteen months.