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Greece History: Modern Greece



The Ottomans directed Greece until the early 19th century. On March 25, 1821, the Greeks rebelled and declared their independence, but did not succeed it until 1829. The big European authorities saw the war of Greek independence, with its accounts of Turkish atrocities, in a romantic light. Scores of non-Greeks volunteered to fight for the cause, including Lord Byron. At times the Ottomans seemed on the point of suppressing the Greek revolution but for the threatened direct military intervention of France, England or Russia. The Russian minister for foreign affairs, Ioannis Kapodistrias, himself a Greek, returned home as President of the new Republic following Greek independence. That republic disappeared when the European authorities helped turn Greece into a monarchy; the first king, Otto came from Bavaria and the second, George I from Denmark. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, in a series of wars with the Ottomans, Greece sought to enlarge its boundaries to include the ethnic Greek population of the Ottoman Empire. (The Ionian Islands were returned by England upon the arrival of the new king from Denmark in 1863, and Thessaly was ceded by the Ottomans without a fight). As a result of the Balkan Wars of 1912-13 Epirus, southern Macedonia, Crete and the Aegean Islands were annexed into Greece. Greece reached its present configuration in 1947.

In World War I, Greek troops fought on the Allied side and occupied Thrace. After the war, Prime Minister Venizelos directed forces to 'liberate' the Turkish territory of Smyrna (present-day Izmir), which had a large Greek population. The army was resisted by Atatürk's troops and several Greek residents were slaughtered. This led to a brutal inhabitants exchange between the two countries in 1923, the resultant population increase (1,300,000 Christian refugees) straining Greece's already weak economy. Shanty towns spilled from urban centres, unions were formed among the urban refugee inhabitants and by 1936 the Communist Party had extensive popular support.

In 1936 General Metaxas was appointed as prime minister by the king and quickly established a fascist dictatorship. In spite of the country's numerically small and ill-equipped armed forces, Greece made a decisive contribution to the Allied efforts in World War II. At the start of the war Greece sided with the Allies and refused to give in to Italian demands. Italy invaded Greece on 28 October 1940, but Greek troops repelled the invaders after a bitter struggle. This marked the first Allied victory in the war. Hitler then reluctantly stepped in, primarily to secure his strategic southern flank: troops from Germany, Bulgaria and Italy successfully invaded Greece, overcoming Greek, British, Australian and New Zealand units. However, when the Germans attempted to seize Crete in a massive attack by paratroops with the aim of reducing the threat of a counter-offensive by Allied forces in Egypt, the Cretan civilians and Allied Forces, offered violent resistance. The Greek campaign delayed German military plans against Russia and it is argued that German invasion of the Soviet Union started fatally close to winter. Throughout the years of Occupation of Greece by Nazi Germany, thousands of Greeks died in direct combat, in concentration camps or of starvation. The inhabitants murdered the greater part of the Jewish community in spite of efforts by the Greek Orthodox Church and many Christian Greeks to shelter Jews. The economy was devastated. After liberation, Greece experienced an equally bitter civil war between communist insurgents and government forces (that encompassed republicans, liberals, royalists and conservatives) ; it lasted until 1949.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Greece progressed promptly, initially with the help of the U.S. Marshall Plans' grants and loans, and later through growth in the tourism sector. In 1967, the Greek military dominated command in a revolution, overthrew the centre right government of Panagiotis Kanellopoulos and established the Greek military junta of 1967-1974 which became known as the Régime of the Colonels. The Central Intelligence Agency was involved in the coup and President Clinton later apologised for the interference. In 1973, the régime abolished the Greek monarchy. In 1974, dictator Papadopoulos denied help to the U.S. and rumor has it that as a result the U.S., through Kissinger's efforts, initiated a second coup. Colonel Ioannides was appointed as the new head-of-state. Many hold Ioannides responsible for the coup against President Makarios of Cyprus the coup seen as the pretext for the first wave of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 . The Cyprus events and the outcry following a bloody suppression of Athens Polytechnic uprising in Athens led to the implosion of the military régime. A charismatic exiled politician, Konstantinos Karamanlis, returned from Paris as interim prime minister and later gained re-election for two further terms at the head of the conservative Nea Dimokratia party.

In 1975, following a referendum to corroborate the deposition of King Constantine II, a democratic republican constitution came into force. One more previously exiled politician, Andreas Papandreou also came again and created the socialist PASOK party, which won the elections in 1981 and dominated the country's political course for almost two decades. Since the restoration of democracy, the stability and economic prosperity of Greece have remarkably grown. Greece united the European Union in 1981 and assumed the Euro as its currency in 2001. New infrastructure, funds from the EU and growing revenues from tourism, shipping, services, light industry and the telecommunications industry have brought Greeks an unprecedented standard of living. Tensions continue to exist between Greece and Turkey over Cyprus and the delimitation of borders in the Aegean Sea but relations have considerably thawed following successive earthquakes, first in Turkey and then in Greece and an outpouring of sympathy and generous assistance by ordinary Greeks and Turks.

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