The Overstretched Superpower
Does America Have More Rivals Than It Can Handle?
AFTER more than four years' absence from political life, Mr. Venizelos on July 4 of last year became Prime Minister of Greece for the fifth time, and in the subsequent General Election obtained such an overwhelming victory that he became the constitutional dictator of his country. Only fifteen Royalists, including only one Royalist leader, Mr. Tsaldares, were elected, and even such a Royalist stronghold as the Peloponnese returned Venizelist deputies. The Royalists have taken their defeat like sportsmen; the bitterness between them and their opponents has sensibly diminished; and, if some extremists still refuse to have converse with Mr. Venizelos, the less intransigent admit that the Greek people, tired of frequent political changes, wanted a strong man at the head of the Government. On his side, the Premier has been generous to his adversaries. He included two Royalists in his Cabinet and has praised the Royalist opposition in the Chamber for its objective and useful criticism.
Like the late Lord Salisbury, Mr. Venizelos is specially interested in foreign policy, and as soon as he had recovered from the dengue fever he started on a diplomatic tour to Rome, Paris, London and Belgrade. In Rome he negotiated with Sig. Mussolini, signing on September 23 a treaty of friendship, arbitration and judicial settlement. On that occasion he made the statement to a journalist that "a Dodecanesian question does not exist between Greece and Italy, just as a Cypriote question does not exist between Greece and Great Britain. Just as Cyprus, during the half century of the British occupation, has not prevented the best relations between Greece and the latter, so the Dodecanese cannot and should not prevent the development and strengthening of relations of friendship and trust between Greece and Italy."[i] At the same time he expressed the opinion that the signature of this treaty of friendship "cannot fail to have a fortunate influence upon the relations between the Italian administration and the Dodecanesians." Two months later, Dr. Skevos Zervos, the leader of the Dodecanesians in Athens, pointed out in the Messager d'Athènes[ii] (which, although considered to be semi-official, maintains complete independence in this question) that experience so far had not confirmed the Premier's optimistic forecast. Nevertheless, official relations between Italy and Greece have improved, although unofficial Dodecanesians continue to write about their "question." Sig. Grandi, Italian Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, visited Athens in January and received marked attentions from the authorities, and the Italian officials have taken several opportunities to show courtesy to the Greeks.
To be friends with both Rome and Belgrade is almost as difficult as to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. But Mr. Venizelos has attempted this difficult feat. As far as Belgrade is concerned, no Greek statesman is better qualified for the task, for he is personally popular there in memory of the Græco-Serbian alliance concluded under his auspices in 1913, and more recently he offered to serve his country by becoming Minister in the Jugoslav capital. But the Greeks have had difficulty in negotiating with Belgrade because there has been no durable Government there with which to negotiate. The arrangements for the existing "Serbian free zone" at Saloniki have caused the usual oriental delay; one concession that Belgrade demanded, that of importing munitions of war through Saloniki into Jugoslavia, no Greek Government could permit. For if the imported munitions were used against a Power with which Jugoslavia was at war, that Power would bombard the "Serbian free zone," and in so doing hit Saloniki. Moreover, to import munitions from the Ægean across Macedonia would tempt the Bulgarian comitadjis to blow up trains after the fashion of which they gave a sample in September 1927. It is regrettable that, although they have been neighbors since 1913, few Greeks know anything about Jugoslavia, and few Jugoslavs anything about Greece.
With Turkey, negotiations about outstanding difficulties have not been more successful, owing principally to the attitude of the Turks. At a moment when it seemed likely that Mr. Venizelos might accept the invitation to go to Angora, whither Sig. Grandi had preceded him, the Turkish press opened an attack upon Greece. The late Turkish Minister in Athens, Djevad, was personally popular, but the Turks are proverbially exasperating as negotiators, because they are past-masters in the art of procrastination. The famous dragoman of the British Embassy at Constantinople, Mr. Fitzmaurice, once remarked to me: "There is only one place in which to negotiate with the Turks -- the battle-field." The assessment of the relative values of Turkish properties in Greece and of Greek properties in Turkey lends itself to interminable discussions, and the good offices of Sig. Grandi have not yet produced a Græco-Turkish agreement. This is the more unfortunate because the Greek Government has no longer either the wish or the interest to be hostile to Turkey. Hellenism has practically ceased to exist in Asia Minor; and the Moslems have almost wholly evacuated Macedonia.
Mr. Venizelos has expressed the desire to be on good terms with Bulgaria, and there is no longer that strongly anti-Bulgarian feeling in Greece which made people apply the name of "old Bulgarian" to anyone whom they disliked. It is recognized that a direct railway communication with Bulgaria would benefit Greece; and the "Macedonian question," which so sorely perplexed diplomatists at the beginning of the century, has been solved so far as Greek Macedonia is concerned. The Greeks are willing to give the Bulgarians a commercial outlet on the Ægean at Dedeagatch, or even at Saloniki, without, of course, a territorial corridor, but they justly view with disapproval the proposed suspension of the Bulgarian reparations. Mr. Venizelos emphasized in the Chamber the injustice which would be inflicted by the Great Powers upon Greece if they reduced her quota of the Bulgarian reparations without reducing the Greek war debt to themselves. This, he added, would hinder those close relations between Greece and Bulgaria which he desired. As an earnest of this, the Chamber ratified the agreement of December 1927 concerning Greek refugees and Bulgarian property. But the Greek Government has notified Great Britain, France and Italy that in case the payment of the next two half-yearly Bulgarian reparations be postponed, it will neither apply this agreement nor pay its debts to Great Britain, nor yet submit for the ratification of the Chamber the arrangement made by Mr. Kaphandares for the settlement of the debts to France. Greece argues that an ex-ally should be as well treated as an ex-enemy. But experience since the war has shown that nations are apt to act upon the principle that, while the Bible bids us love our enemies, it does not expressly bid us love our allies. In the present case, Greece has all the greater reason for complaint because after the Demirkapu incident with Bulgaria in 1925 she was not allowed to deduct from the reparations due to her from Bulgaria the amount of compensation which she was ordered to pay to Bulgaria.
With Great Britain the relations of Greece are excellent. The doubts with which a portion of the British press regarded the unexpected return of Mr. Venizelos to power, owing to his possible financial policy and to the probable effect which it might have in retarding domestic "reconciliation," have been largely dissipated. A big British fleet, always the best form of British propaganda, visited Greek waters in January and had a cordial reception, and the Greek Government has asked for, and obtained, a new British Naval Mission, to arrive when that headed by Captain Turle completes its term of service this spring.
The United States have been the subject of enthusiastic praise in the Greek press in consequence of the speeches made in Congress upon the subject of the loan to Greece. American institutions, notably the Græco-American "Athens College," play a considerable part in Athenian life; and, now that it is installed in its new quarters in the garden-city of Pyschiko, that school will be able to develop its activities still further. The fact that the Chairman of the Refugee Settlement Commission has always been an American and the Vice-Chairman an Englishman, and that Dr. Hill, the former Director of the American School of Classical Studies, who has lived twenty years in Greece, has latterly acted as their substitute, has closely connected Anglo-Saxons with the great work of the reconstruction of Greece. Mr. Venizelos is desirous of prolonging the life of the Commission beyond next spring, when it would probably end, by entrusting it, on a smaller scale, with the settlement of agriculturists upon the lands which will have been reclaimed by the drainage of the Vardar and Struma valleys. He has recognized the importance of Macedonia, the future granary of Greece, by his decision to decentralize the administration, cutting the red tape which ties it to Athenian bureaucracy, and bestowing large powers upon the Governor-General. This will doubtless be a politician of the first rank, probably Mr. Michalakopoulos, who has been Premier and Foreign Minister and who lately made a tour of inspection throughout his future province. Saloniki, the "second capital" of Greece, possesses such importance and its problems are so special that it cannot be satisfactorily governed from Athens, just as its University, intended to produce agriculturists and industrialists, cannot be conducted on the same lines as the Athenian.
Peace, external and internal, is the greatest blessing which a statesman can bestow upon Greece, for her most urgent problems are those of internal administration. Since the return of Mr. Venizelos, government departments have admittedly been more active and questions are solved more rapidly. The influence of the Premier is felt in every Ministry. Working thirteen hours a day, speaking on almost every departmental problem in the Chamber, never missing a public function, he is the one man upon whose decision everything in the last resort depends. Now this system has also its drawbacks. Mr. Venizelos cannot know the details of technical subjects, which he sometimes decides; yet the details are the essentials. If he justly receives the credit for all that succeeds, he will inevitably be blamed for all that fails, and he is not infallible. At his age can he, even with the examples of Gladstone, Clemenceau and Pashitch before him, continue work at this terrific pace? He has, indeed, appointed an Under-Secretary to the Premiership, to relieve some of the strain; but in democratic Greece people like to talk with the leading man, not with his understudy, and daily a crowd may be seen waiting outside the Premier's office. His long continuance in power is desirable, if for no other reason than that frequent changes of government prevent the adequate study and prompt solution of questions which are far more important than tinkering with the political machinery and rearranging Ministerial portfolios so that various worthy persons may erase the adverb "formerly" before the word "Minister" on their visiting-cards or so that a fresh Premier, after a few months of office, may be addressed as "Mr. President" for the rest of his life. In Greece the best government is that which will stay in power, so that people can get on with their business without interruption, and the worst enemy of the best government is the desire to have something better. The Greek Republic has had ten administrations in five years.
The work of the Chamber has also been accelerated. At last the Senate, projected in 1924, has been created, and Greece today, for the first time since the revolution of 1862 abolished the Othonian Senate, possesses a second chamber. Whether it will prove to be a useful addition to the constitution or another source of friction, an assembly of sages or an asylum for old men, an American Senate or a House of Lords (without the social prestige), remains to be seen. The Council of State, abolished in 1865, and restored on paper in 1911, has now begun to function under the presidency of Mr. Raktivan, a former Speaker of the Chamber. More important in practice than these alterations of the constitutional machinery is the serious attempt to improve the health and sanitary condition of the country, with the assistance of doctors sent by the League of Nations. If the terrible lesson of the dengue epidemic be taken to heart, it will be an example of the Italian proverb that "not every evil is bad." To the strong hand of the Premier is due the settlement of the long-pending question of the Town's Police, a force under the direction of a British officer, Sir Frederick Halliday. General Pangalos, who owed his elevation in part to the rival force of gendarmerie, had rewarded the latter by transferring to it from the police the duty of conducting criminal investigations. This has now been restored to the police, to which is assigned the complete jurisdiction over Athens, the Piræus, Corfu, Patras and (in the future) Saloniki, while the gendarmerie looks after the smaller towns and the country-side. The plague of brigandage which infested Epirus and the adjacent districts of Macedonia, and culminated in the arrest of the two Kaphandarist candidates, Messrs. Mylonas and Melas, during the late election campaign, and of the Dutch Vice-Consul and his wife, has been stamped out and the chief brigands handed over to justice.
Mr. Venizelos found General Pangalos, who had been arrested in 1926, still untried. In October he granted an amnesty for all political offences committed since 1925, and this included Pangalos, but the ex-dictator was re-imprisoned on the charge of firing on the people during the elections of last August. He was, however, released on bail, and is now living in obscurity. Some of the evil which he did, however, lives after him, notably the contract for the electrification of Athens by the system of 220 volts, which "Power and Traction" managed to obtain during his domination and which the present Minister of Communications, Mr. Chrestamanos, has been trying to alter in the interest of the public safety. This episode furnishes an example of the danger to small states of granting big contracts to foreign companies. In this case the danger is not merely moral but physical, for several persons have died from the shock of the "homicidal current."
Another reform of great benefit to tourists has been recently effected. Every visitor to Greece knows the horrors of landing in small boats, especially in bad weather. Originally due to the lack of quays, the practice was perpetuated in the interest of the boatmen, who had a monopoly and were resolved to keep it. Now, however, passengers are landed direct on to the quays at all Greek ports where quays exist, while the boatmen, as is just, have been compensated in proportion to their age out of a fund provided by a small tax on landing. Great stress is laid upon the desirability of increasing the tourist traffic as a source of revenue. Mr. Venizelos has an extensive roadmaking program -- it is a century since the first road in Greece, from Pylos to Methone, was made by the French expeditionary force, and that from Athens to the Piræus was not made till 1835. There are still rural districts where the nearest doctor is a couple of days distant by mule-track. The great development of motor-traffic in Greece has facilitated travel in a manner unknown to the English guidebooks, the latest of which is twenty years old. In these days when classical education is rarer, the apostles of Greek travel would do well to lay less exclusive stress upon the antiquities and more upon the natural beauties of the country. They might also endeavor, by erecting hotels in high places, on the lines of Troodos in Cyprus, to keep in Greece during the summer those well-to-do Greeks who are now compelled to travel two or three days' journey abroad in search of a cool "hill-station." But for all these practical and ultimately remunerative reforms money is wanted, and there is a limit to the issue of loans. Efforts are also being made to check the increasing tendency of the rural population (as clearly shown by the census of May 15, 1928) to flock into the towns, and it is proposed to put a tax upon bachelors, in view of the fact, also revealed by the census, that the female population is in excess of the male -- a phenomenon not noticed before 1920. The difference -- 52,214 -- is not yet large, and the taxation of bachelors in Greece is complicated by the custom of the celibacy of a brother until his sisters have married, and by the cost of living -- last December 19.11 times what it was before the war -- which tends to raise the age of marriage. During the last six months of 1928 the index-figure fell a little, from 19.47, but the cost of several articles of consumption increased, and salaries have not risen in the same proportion.
Thus while Greece has made undoubted progress during this Venizelist administration, there are difficulties ahead. The Premier, like Gladstone, is thought to know mankind better than individual men. His appointments have sometimes been criticized on the ground that, being a man of spotless integrity himself, he is apt to imagine that other persons have the same standard of public morality. This was one of the causes of his fall in 1920, because the proverb noscitur a sociis was applied to him by his opponents. As Gladstone said that he was not a Gladstonian, so Mr. Venizelos might say that he is not a Venizelist. It is unfortunate that one of the most upright and sterling characters in Greek public life, Mr. Kaphandares, cannot collaborate with him after the difficulties between them last May, for which the separation of Gladstone from Lord Hartington supplies a parallel. Now the former leader of the Liberal party has only two followers in the Chamber, where Mr. Papanastasiou alone of the Republicans raises any opposition to the Premier's proposals. The other leaders who were prominent during the last five years have been temporarily eclipsed, among them the so-called "stratocrats," who played such decisive parts in the earlier years of the Republic. One marked advantage, indeed, of Mr. Venizelos's hegemony is the complete subordination of the military element. His authority is such that he can keep ambitious generals in their proper places, and the familiar phrase of official communications to the press that "the army is entirely engrossed with its duties" is now true. Nothing did Greece more harm abroad than the exaggerated reputation which she obtained for coups d'état. That is now a thing of the past, for Mr. Sophoules, the Minister of War, is the first lieutenant of Mr. Venizelos, and the presence of the latter in power is a guarantee of civil government.
It was the February protocol of 1830 which declared Greece to be an independent state. If nothing unforeseen happens before next year's celebration of the centenary, it will be possible to record that the country's condition is much improved from what it was immediately after the Asia Minor disaster. This is the more creditable to the Greek people's vitality -- its characteristic in all ages -- in view of the immense economic losses caused by the Corinth earthquake, the inundations, and above all the dengue fever last year alone. It is calculated that 85 percent of the Athenian population were laid low by that epidemic, so that the number of working days lost was in the aggregate enormous, besides the large sums expended in combating it.
The diplomatic situation of Greece has, as I said, improved. It remains to be seen whether Mr. Venizelos will achieve in the field of internal and social legislation successes similar to those which he reaped in foreign policy during his first three Premierships. Bismarck attempted both tasks, but with unequal results; Trikoupes, the most eminent of dead Greek statesmen, succeeded in both. Especially difficult for Greece is the financial problem, which is the keystone of the arch, and which requires expert knowledge not usually within the range of statesmen's acquirements. Numerous British Chancellors of the Exchequer have been duffers at arithmetic, but they had the advantage of being supported by an expert permanent civil service such as does not exist in Greece. Besides, Greece has the expensive task of developing provinces such as Macedonia, which the Turks neglected for five centuries, of connecting Macedonia with Epirus by rail, and of completing the settlement of the refugees. Here the prompt grant of the projected American loan would assist, for the delay has caused necessary reductions of the program.
To prophesy what will happen in Greece is the privilege of hasty visitors; but a calm survey of the last few months encourages optimism. If Greece can have a few years of firm and stable government, her immediate progress should be assured. But the problem of one man rule everywhere is the same -- the question of the successor. Happily, there is less interest than formerly among Greeks in politics as a profession. Other interests have arisen to challenge that once all-absorbing theme. Greece is becoming more industrialized; sport has ardent votaries; the rising generation looks forward to other careers than the quest of governmental posts, for business pays better; and the newspapers devote considerable space to social questions. If the Premier reserves his energies for the larger issues, leaving details to competent subordinates, and if no event disturbs the peace of the neighboring states -- for there are danger spots alike at Belgrade and at Tirana -- he may be able to add to his past record as a great Foreign Minister the less spectacular but more permanently useful one of a regenerator of his country's internal life. Extension of territory characterized the first acts of his career in Greek public life, its intensive cultivation should mark the last.
[i] Hestia, Sept. 26, 1928
[ii] Nov. 24, 1928